Monday 30 August 2021

Oh, ‘Kamala’ spelt backwards is ‘alamak’? Shut up your face

Alamak, nasi lemak.

Do you know that “nasi lemak” spelt backwards is “Kamel Isan”, which happens to be the name of my Facebook friend in Indonesia?

Sure, she is no Vice-President of the United States of America, but still, what a coincidence!

When US V-P Kamala Harris visited Singapore last week, I saw a bunch of posts online pointing out with some glee that “Kamala” spelt backwards is “alamak”.

Even though the meme spread faster than the Delta variant, I shall resist referring to it as the Kamala virus. There is no vaccine for it – Michelle Pfeiffer-BioNTech, Madonna or otherwise.

Apparently, many were so tickled by the alamak-Kamala joke (if you can call it that) that they couldn’t help infecting others with it.

One of them was a friend of Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng.

Mr Seah then became a super spreader himself by sharing the joke on Facebook last Monday:
“As we know, VP of USA, Ms Kamala Harris chose Singapore for her first stop of her Asia tour. And with it, a friend pointed out to me that Kamala’s name spelt backwards is Alamak… what a coincidence! #singapore #usa #alamak #coincidence #humour”
Thank goodness for that last hashtag. How else would you know the post was meant to be humorous? I’m speaking from experience.

But you can’t find the post any more.

Mr Seah told "Yes, I did post this on my FB page last evening just before I went for my MPS (Meet-the-People Session).

“Midway through my MPS, a friend ping me and as I reflected on it, I agree it was not appropriate and decided to take down the posting.”

Unfortunately, the Internet doesn’t forget.

Although Mr Seah, who is also CEO of NTUC FairPrice, deleted the post, someone has already taken a screenshot, which went viral with people calling the joke racist and misogynist.

I’m more offended by the repetitiveness of seeing versions of the same joke over and over again.

Before Mr Seah, others have also shared the joke, including SGAG and Goody Feed, and it remains on their Facebook pages. They have yet to be shamed into removing it.

In fact, the joke has been going around long before Ms Harris landed on our sometimes rainy shores.

I first started encountering it last November after Mr Joe Biden won the US presidential election with Ms Harris as his running mate (alleged voter fraud and deadly insurrection notwithstanding).

Even shared the joke, together with this knee-slapper: “China is already welcoming Biden. China is prepared. They have even named a famous landmark in central Beijing for Biden since the Ming dynasty in the 14th century.”

The punchline: “FOR BIDEN CITY!”

Get it?

And it is still there on Facebook.

(By the way, the Forbidden City was actually built in the 15th century, but what’s a century or two between friends?)

So if the alamak-Kamala joke has been around for at least nine months, why are people seemingly taking offence only now?

As author Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh wrote online: “I’ve seen this Alamak-Kamala ‘joke’ on private forums and comedy boards, but for a politician to do so publicly… hmmm.”

In other words, Mr Seah is an elected official, not SGAG. Or me.

The one good thing to come out of the backlash the MP received is that hopefully, it has made everyone realise how inappropriate the joke is – which he acknowledged – and this is the vaccine that will prevent folks from spreading this over-repeated so-called “joke” ever again.

Don’t be anti-vax.

My friend Kamel and I thank you.

- Published in The New Paper, 30 August 2021

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Oh, brother! I once pitched to Mediacorp Channel 5 an idea for sitcom about a Malay family and was told to add a Chinese character

Oh no, she didn’t!

But she did. I think someone just called Mediacorp racist.

Or did she?

That someone is broadcast journalist Sharanjit Leyl.

In a BBC radio programme that aired two days before National Day, she said: “My pride in multicultural Singapore comes with the acknowledgement that had I been born Chinese, my life would have been a lot easier.”

She talked about how even though she had a master’s degree and broadcast journalism experience in Canada, “I struggled to get my foot in the door at the local news broadcaster”.

The “local news broadcaster” she was referring to is, of course, Mediacorp.

So she got a job at Bloomberg, where one of her duties was to provide currency updates to Mediacorp.

“They told my bosses they didn’t want me doing TV updates for them,” said Ms Sharanjit.

“I know the man who ran the newsroom of that same TV channel, who ironically happens to be Indian Singaporean.

“And I confronted him about why there were still so few Indian and Malay anchors presenting their programmes.

“His response was that viewers did not like watching darker-skinned presenters.”

So she was not actually accusing Mediacorp of being racist. She was accusing Mediacorp of accusing its viewers of being racist.

Mediacorp has since released a statement that Ms Sharanjit appears to be referring to its editor-in-chief Walter Fernandez, who did not say what she said he said.

He said: “To my recollection, I did not reference race or skin colour at all in our conversation.”

The company also said that it is “committed to equal opportunities and diversity in our workforce” and its “hiring policies and practices are based on merit”.

I was once (actually thrice) a Mediacorp employee and this reminds me of my own experience there.

I used to work on Channel 5 shows like Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, Under One Roof, Living With Lydia and Shiver.

We regularly had pitch meetings where we proposed new show ideas for the channel.

One day, I decided to pitch a sitcom about a Malay family. It had never been done on Channel 5 before. The closest we got was Police & Thief, starring Mark Lee and Suhaimi Yusof, which was about a Malay family – and also a Chinese family.

It seems that on Channel 5, while Chinese characters can be the leads, if there are minority characters, they are part of the ensemble or co-leads at best.

The rationale, of course, is that since Singapore is majority Chinese, this should be reflected in the casting of the show to get the most viewers.

But when I analysed the viewership of the most popular Channel 5 programmes, what I noticed was that Malays comprised a sizable chunk disproportionate to their population.

I figured that if I could grow this demographic, I could get boffo ratings for my show. Most Chinese viewers are watching Channel 8 anyway.

So my motivation was more commercial than woke.

I also thought that a Channel 5 series with an all-Malay cast would be a first and make a great marketing hook.

When I pitched my concept, the feedback I got from the executives running Channel 5 (all Chinese) was they liked the idea – but could I include a Chinese character as well?

What? That would defeat the whole purpose of the show!

No, I wasn’t going to change anything, I snapped.

My reaction was so antagonistic that the executives just didn’t want to deal with me any more and moved on to another pitch.

I immediately regretted my outburst. I guess I could have added a Chinese character. Or pretended that I would.

But in hindsight, perhaps it was for the best. A blessing in disguise. I am probably not the most qualified person to create a sitcom about a Malay family.

My idea was a show called Brudder! which would centre around two brothers. A lot of the dialogue would just be them going “Brudder!”

That would not have aged well. I definitely dodged a bullet there. I should thank those Channel 5 execs for saving me from myself by rejecting my pitch, even though it was due less to its lack of merit and more to my obnoxiousness.

But I did do a pilot about an Indian family starring Gurmit Singh for Channel 5 that didn’t go to series and was never aired.

Yes, it did have Chinese characters.

Well, at least nobody told me that Channel 5 viewers did not like watching darker-skinned characters.

- Unpublished

Monday 16 August 2021

Strong arm of the law minister: Shanmugam does some heavy lifting

Last week, we were finally allowed back in the gym for no-mask high-intensity workouts with the easing of Covid-19 measures.

And probably none too soon for Singapore’s overnight gym bro sensation, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam.

While the rest of us were stuffing our faces with the Hainanese Chicken Burger on Saturday, our new Minister of Swole posted on social media an 84-second video of him in a gym, deadlifting progressively heavier weights to applause.

He wrote:
“For slightly more than a year now, I have added weight training to my exercise routine.

“After some months of training, (with Covid interruptions), I did a test to see what weight I can carry.

“Here is a video, it starts with my attempt at 80kg, and then increased weights, going up to 105kg – my body weight is 70kg, so 105 kg is 150% of my body weight. (This was when gym training, with masks off, was allowed for a period, last year.)”
Too bad he did not also tell us his height so we can calculate his body mass index.

Trying not to appear like he was just showing off his gains, the 62-year-old also threw in this health advisory:
“We have to encourage more people to exercise – walk, go to the gym, swim, do something to move.

“And add weight training, for strengthening bones, other benefits. For older persons, it helps reduce muscle loss. Good to have a varied routine.”
Way to lead by example, Mr Shanzenegger.

But he was not done. He was not going to stop at just 150 per cent of his body weight. He continued:
“In the next few months, I am going to try and lift 120kg.”
Then it was his turn to get advice from a Facebook user named Ben Ho, a former strongman competitor, who commented: “You can hit 120kg faster if you wear proper shoes for deadlifting. Normal sneakers like those, with their squishy soles and relatively high heels are the worst for these exercises.”

Yeah, those chunky dad shoes ain’t gonna cut it although they do match the People’s Action Party Men-In-White tee-and-shorts ensemble.

The post ends with a sneaky humblebrag:
“Reality check: the lady you see in the gym, in background in the video weighs less than 50kg and lifts 120kg!”
Which would seem like he was being modest by comparing himself unfavourably to the buff babe standing nearby – except that she was staring admiringly at him like he was Asian Thor.

The video has since been viewed more than 250,000 times across Facebook and Instagram. It’s no Jia Jia popping one out video, but still.

The MP for Nee Soon GRC may not be a panda, but you should see him in beast mode.

So what if we didn’t bring home any Olympic medals this time? We have an Olympian god in our Cabinet.

Or is it Norse god? He was certainly bringing the thunder in the video.

Will he make it to 120kg?

A Crispy Hainanese Chicken Burger might help.

- Published in The New Paper, 16 August 2021