Monday 31 May 2021

Oh no, am I part of the Jem-Westgate cluster?

Dear Ministry of Health,

I thought I could get away with it.

The pandemic had been going on for more than a year, and I had managed not to get swabbed for a Covid-19 test. No sticks up my nose, thank you very much.

And then Jem happened.

All I wanted was some bananas and bacon bits.

That was why I was at the FairPrice Xtra hypermarket in the Jurong East mall that day.

So on May 18, when I read that you were “encouraging” those who visited Jem or Westgate shopping malls between May 10 to 14 to go for a free swab test, I knew. I just knew.

I reviewed my TraceTogether history. Yup, I checked in at Jem on May 12.

My nose can kiss its virginity goodbye.

On your website, you provided a list of options for the swab test, including “walk in to Raffles Medical at Shaw Centre Orchard”.

But on May 19, when I attempted to walk in to Raffles Medical at Shaw Centre Orchard, there was a queue extending dangerously into the multi-storey carpark.

I was willing to wait, but then I was told that only those who received an SMS from you could take the test that day. This was not mentioned on your website.

Since I did not get any SMS, I had to go back the next day. So I had gone all the way there for nothing.

Not cool, MOH. This was what I got for trying to be a good citizen?

I was so annoyed at you that I decided to skip the swab test altogether. I had no symptoms and was fully vaccinated anyway.

Since I am okay with needles, you may ask, why am I making a fuss over a swab test?

The difference is I have had injections all my life, but a long stick up my nose was terra incognita.

What if I sneeze in the middle of a swab? Would my brain be punctured?

So it is something I'm happy not to do if I don't have to.

A few days later, Jem and Westgate were forced to shut for two weeks as the cluster grew and grew. It was alarming enough that I reconsidered getting the stick up my nose.

So last Tuesday, after getting turned away at a couple of clinics near my home because I did not book beforehand, I finally ended up at Keat Hong Family Medicine Clinic where I was told I had to wait about 45 minutes for the test. No problem!

At least I was not queueing in a multi-storey carpark at the risk of getting knocked down by oncoming vehicles.

All this for some bananas and bacon bits. Damn you, alliterative grocery items.

After everything I went through, I wanted something to commemorate my hard-to-get first Covid-19 swab test.

So as I sat down for the swab, I set my phone to video mode and placed it discreetly on my lap to record the stick going up my nose.

I guess I was not discreet enough because the nurse said: “No filming.”

I thought I could get away with it.

As I fumbled with my phone, trying to switch it to photo mode, she said: “Please keep your phone in your pocket.”

Oh. She had to swab God knows how many people a day and did not need to deal with any more idiots like me as well.

Then I realised it might not have been the best idea in the world to antagonise someone who was about to insert a stick up my nose.

It was my first time. Please be gentle.

With my head tilted back, she went disconcertingly deep into both my nostrils. It tickled a bit but wasn't painful. I did not sneeze.

And thus my nose cherry was popped. I survived my first Covid-19 swab test and didn't even have a selfie to show for it.

The good news is I got my test result the next day – negative. I would not be adding to the Jem-Westgate cluster.

Ironically, that was also the same day I received an SMS from you “encouraging” me to go for a free swab test.

Where was this SMS when I needed it, MOH? You were a week late.

The information on your website has since been updated several times – no more walk-ins, it seems.

I just wish you had planned this whole testing thing better from the start.

To make up for it, the least you can do is allow selfies during the swab test.

You know, for the Gram.

Thank you.

- Published in The New Paper, 31 May 2021

Monday 17 May 2021

Hey, NEA, how do we return our trays when we’re not even allowed to eat out now?

Dear National Environment Agency,

It was one of the most humiliating experiences in my life.

And I wrote Phua Chu Kang The Movie, so I am very familiar with public humiliation.

I was having lunch at a staff cafeteria that I had never been to before.

This was a number of years ago, so I don’t recall exactly where it was and why I was there even though I wasn't a member of the staff.

What I do remember is after finishing my meal, as I started to walk away from my table, I was startled when the cafeteria suddenly erupted with angry shouting.

It was alarming how quickly the previously civilised office workers calmly eating their food just a second ago turned unhinged and rabid.

What was even scarier was realising that their feral rage was directed at me. It was as if I asked them a question about editorial independence or something. They looked like they were about to rip me to shreds.

What did I do?

Eventually, I figured out from the angry shouting that my fellow diners were taking rather extreme umbrage at me leaving behind my tray of dirty dishes on the table.

I looked around and saw signs reminding people to return their trays, which I hadn’t noticed before. I felt like such an idiot.

I swiftly picked up my tray and searched for where I could return it.

The shouting finally died down and my fellow diners let me live.

How was I to know that returning trays was part of the workplace culture there?

Talk about peer pressure. I wonder how many noobs were similarly traumatised into compliance like I was.

Yes, there were signs, but in most places where I have eaten, the signs are ignored and no one cares.

Whatcha gonna do?

And that’s probably why you announced last Friday that you are making it mandatory for diners in hawker centres to return their trays and clear their table litter from June 1 with the threat of fines up to $2,000 for repeat offenders.

Wait, but on Friday, it was also announced that from yesterday, dining out is banned until June 13 because of the surge of Covid-19 cases in the community.

So as much as we would love to return our trays and clean our table litter after we eat in the hawker centre from June 1, unfortunately, we won’t even be allowed to eat in any hawker centre from June 1 to 13.

This throwback to tighter Covid-19 restrictions must have caught you by surprise. Like Bennifer, it’s a sequel or reboot no one asked for.

I get it. The Government is a huge place. Sometimes the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. This just slipped through the butt crack. It happens.

All I’m asking you for is this.

You announced that there will be a grace period of three months from June 1 for people to adjust to this new return-your-tray rule. You will start enforcement only from Sept 1.

But since we will only be permitted to start eating in hawker centres again from June 14 (fingers crossed), can you also start enforcement from Sept 14 so that we get the full three months of the grace period?

Thanks. We need all the time that we can get to adjust to this new new normal.

Don’t you wish Miss Universe Singapore had “Return your tray” written on her national costume instead of “Stop Asian hate”?

Did you try to get Phua Chu Kang to do a “Don't play play, return your tray” video? I guess he’s too busy promoting Shopee and Covid vaccination these days. Did I mention I wrote Phua Chu Kang The Movie?

Anyway, it’s really too bad you have to resort to fines to force people to return their trays.

If only angry shouting could work nationwide.

Or can it?

- Published in The New Paper, 17 May 2021


Tuesday 11 May 2021

You've seen the page 1, but what was inside the paper that day? Here's The New Paper's 1997 General Election polling day coverage

You have probably seen this image of Workers' Party secretary-general Pritam Singh holding up a copy of The New Paper page one in Parliament yesterday.

Pritam Singh clash with S Iswaran over funding, editorial independence of SPH's new media entity

Posted by AsiaOne on Monday, May 10, 2021

Here's a close-up of the page:

It's from 2 January 1997, the day Singaporeans cast their vote in the 1997 General Election and more than a decade before I joined the paper.

This image of the TNP page one has been circulating online long before yesterday, but no one ever showed what was actually inside the paper. A case of judging a book by its cover perhaps?

I was curious enough that I found these pages from that day's TNP in the NLB online archives.

Sorry, I didn't look up the football pages.

To recreate more of that 90s vibe, here are the No. 1 songs that week in the US and UK.

The New Paper editor at the time was PN Balji, who ironically wrote this commentary for Yahoo:

"The government, the biggest stakeholder in the media business, needs to relax its vice-like grip on The Straits Times....

Posted by Yahoo Singapore on Monday, May 10, 2021

Monday 3 May 2021

Coronavirus pandemic: How Bloomberg and a bunch of Harvard nerds jinxed Singapore

Dear Bloomberg,

Let me first say, I’m not a superstitious person.

But I can’t help but notice a pattern – and not the badminton kind.

Someone saying something good about our MRT usually results in something bad happening to our MRT.

I wrote a column about this back in 2015.

Early that year, SMRT won some Global Risk Award for “delivering value through risk management” in London. The presenter was actress Joanna Lumley, star of Absolutely Fabulous.

The award was followed days later by a spate of MRT-related incidents that included a fire, a man walking on the tracks and a girl getting her leg stuck in the platform gap.

Which made the award absolutely ironic.

Months later, then SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek boasted about that and another award during the company’s annual general meeting, saying: “These external endorsements are important signals that we are on the right track in bringing the group to higher levels of excellence in every field.”

This was followed mere hours later by what was described as “possibly the worst MRT breakdown Singapore has experienced”, affecting the East-West Line, North-South Line and more than 250,000 commuters during evening rush hour.

Can you detect a pattern here?

Praising our MRT jinxes it.

Want more evidence? How about something more recent?

In March, Transport Minister (though not for long) Ong Ye Kung was at the ground-breaking for the new integrated train testing centre in Tuas.

The centre will be able to test different trains and rail systems at the same time without disrupting regular passenger services.

Get the latest news delivered to you on Telegram:

Posted by The Straits Times on Wednesday, March 17, 2021

In his speech, he acknowledged: “No matter how hard we work and try, the occasional disruption in any engineering system will unfortunately be quite inevitable.”

But he could not resist working in this tiny brag: “Today, the Mean Kilometres Between Failure, or MKBF, of our MRT network is over 1 million train-km. This is a great encouragement and source of pride for the team, and we will do what we can to maintain it."

Even this sliver of self-congratulation was enough to rile the rail gods as in less than two weeks, commuters suffered train service disruptions on two consecutive days.

The train service disruptions today and yesterday happened on different lines and for different reasons, says LTA.

Posted by CNA on Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Land Transport Authority called it “very unfortunate and frustrating”. I call it karma.

MKBF should stand for MRT Keeps Breaking - Fuck!

But what is more troubling is that like a virus, the curse appears to have mutated into new deadlier strains to spread beyond the MRT.

Let me take you back February last year at the beginning of the pandemic.

Singapore was averaging fewer than 10 new coronavirus cases a day. We thought we were doing so well.

A bunch of Harvard University researchers described Singapore as “a gold standard of near-perfect detection”.

But in two months, we were averaging up to 1,000 new cases a day, mostly migrant workers. We were no longer doing well.

One news headline read: “From ‘gold standard’ to ‘cautionary tale’.” Those damn Harvard nerds jinxed us.

Fortunately, the numbers have come down since then with zero new cases in the community on most days over the last few months. We didn’t even cancel Chinese New Year.

Then last week, it happened again.

We were doing so well that you declared “Singapore is now the world’s best place to be during Covid” as we overtook New Zealand in your latest Covid Resilience Ranking.

Along with the recent hoopla over another attempt at the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble, we were just tempting fate.

You and I know what happened next.

Recovered migrant workers at a dormitory tested positive for Covid-19. A cluster emerged at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

On Saturday, we had our first Covid-19 death since March. Those days of zero new community cases are over.

Our Prime Minister even warned of another circuit breaker.

From “world’s best place to be during Covid“ back to square one.

See what you did?

You jinxed us like those Harvard nerds did last year.

I guess we won’t be topping your damn Covid Resilience Ranking this month.

Thanks a lot, Bloomberg.

- Published In The New Paper, 3 May 2021