Monday 27 September 2021

What do PSLE parents fear most – Covid, clowns or going to a ‘lousy school’?

It’s that time of the year again.

I feel sorry for Primary 6 kids and their parents. How stressful it must be for them right now. The Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) starts this week. More children are getting infected with Covid-19 and so far, none of the Covid-19 vaccines available in Singapore have been approved for use in children under 12.

But despite all that, you know what parents could be more afraid of more than the coronavirus?


And Singapore tested positive for them last week.

The bad news is there is no vaccine against them either – for children and adults. Pfizer and Big Pharma are sleeping on the job.

But then who could’ve predicted we would have an outbreak of a Stephen King movie? And I'm not talking about The Stand.

Last Monday, Singaporeans woke up to the bizarre reports of clowns terrorising children outside their schools.

It turned out to be maybe just one clown sent by an education company called Speech Academy Asia to promote its classes.

No, it isn’t bliss and no, we don’t approve. And yes, it is kind of queer.

Sondheim aside, not everyone is down to clown around town.

What the company probably hoped to be more like Ronald McDonald turned out to be more like It, prompting multiple police reports and Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin to post on Facebook last Monday: “Whoever is doing what I assume to be some viral marketing nonsense, stop it!”

Or at least wait a month until Halloween if you want to frighten children with your budget Pennywise cosplay.

The story was even picked up by overseas media outlets such as The Washington Post, South China Morning Post and Vice.

The Sun had this headline: “Parents terrified after creepy ‘killer clowns’ spotted lurking outside school and asking kids to ‘follow them’.”

Fact check: Unlike the coronavirus, the supposed “killer clowns” didn’t actually kill anybody, although safe distancing from clowns is still advised, preferably a lot more than 1 metre.

Speech Academy Asia has since apologised, posting on Facebook:
“We would like to clarify that; although indeed, the promoter is an employee of Speech Academy Asia, our team does not offer any form of monetary rewards for children to follow them.

“Additionally, our promoters strictly do not take any children out of the vicinity.

“We truly understand your concern for the safety of your children; hence we will be putting an immediate stop to our roadshows.”
And thus, the clownoravirus cluster was quickly closed to the relief of all.

Taking the PSLE in the middle of a pandemic is harrowing enough without having to fend off circus acts too.

Well, at least you no longer have to worry about your child not making it to Raffles Institution (RI).

I remember my parents really wanted me to go to RI. But after my PSLE, I was posted to Bukit Merah Secondary School.

For a long time, I felt like such a failure for disappointing my parents.

But I don’t anymore, thanks to Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan. Or at least I think it’s him.

About two weeks ago, Dr Balakrishnan posted on Facebook:
“I called Mr Leong Mun Wai today to apologise for my private comments to a colleague in Parliament yesterday.

“I disagree with him on the issue, but I should not have said what I said. Mr Leong has accepted my apology.”

However, the minister did not specify exactly what comments he was apologising for.

The Straits Times reported that during a Parliamentary debate on Sept 14, after Mr Leong spoke, a voice could be heard saying “he’s illiterate”.

Later, a microphone picked up someone saying: “Seriously, how did he get into RI?... Must have been a lousy school.”

Mr Leong, who is a Non-Constituency MP from Progress Singapore Party, was an RI student. ST said that it is understood that these remarks were made by Dr Balakrishnan, who was from Anglo-Chinese School.

However, there has also been some conjecture online that not all the offending remarks were made by Dr Balakrishnan, who was sitting next to Finance Minister Lawrence Wong in Parliament.

Last Wednesday, in Mr Wong’s Facebook Live post about jobs, someone daringly went off-topic to write in the comments section: “Actually I think people are more interested to know whether you were the one who made the ‘lousy school’ comment in Parliament.”

And Mr Wong actually replied: “Thanks for the question. I assure you that I did not make any of those comments.”

And there you have it.

I believe the minister, who was from Tanjong Katong Secondary School.

So yes, it is thanks to Dr Balakrishnan that I no longer have to feel like a loser for not going to RI. I can feel like a loser for other reasons.

And parents don’t have to pressure their PSLE-taking kids to go to RI anymore.

Tanjong Katong will do. You can even become Finance Minister.

Or Bukit Merah and become a famous alleged humour columnist like me.

Just don’t call me a clown.

As for the pandemic, is it ever going to end?

Well, maybe next year.

- Published in The New Paper, 27 September 2021

Monday 13 September 2021

Soh Rui Yong's 2.4km challenge and the Commandos: ‘Never a me vs them scenario’

Well, that escalated quickly.

Maybe even quicker than marathoner Soh Rui Yong running 2.4km in 6 minutes 53.18 seconds.

On Sept 4, the two-time SEA Games gold medallist officially became the first Singaporean to complete the distance in less than 7 minutes.

Is that fast? You may ask.

For reference, in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), if you are younger than 22 years old, you need to run 2.4km in only 8 and a half minutes to get the maximum points. Any faster, you’re just showing off.

Soh wasn’t taking his IPPT, but he isn’t averse to showing off either.

Someone must have said something because last Wednesday, Soh posted his lap splits on social media with the comment:
“Somehow, some people still think their ‘army/commando bmt mate who smokes’ ran faster.”

That comment didn’t go over well with everyone.

So the next day, he posted:
“It has come to my attention that a number of former Singapore Army Commandos are taking offence to the last line of my previous post, and are doubling down on their claims, insisting that a sub 7 minute 2.4km is a common occurrence within the Commandos.”
He continued:
“Firstly, that line, read in context and in entirety, was not targeted at Commandos specifically.

“The point is this. Army 2.4km myths always go something like, ‘last time my friend from BMT/Army/Commandos/NDU/Guards can run (insert magical number here) for 2.4km. Some more ah, he is a smoker.’

“I’m just making reference to those kind of statements.”
Meaning he wasn’t dissing Commandos – he was just calling out the unsubstantiated claims.

To make his point, Soh issued this challenge:
“Any Singaporean who runs sub-7:00 for 2.4km at next month’s Pocari Sweat Singapore 2.4km Run (Ground Race, 9-10 Oct) will receive $700 and 700 bottles of Pocari Sweat, both paid for by me.”

Many responded with the same army joke about their encik’s grandmother.

Soh did not specify whether the bottles of Pocari Sweat would be 500ml or 2 litres, but what the hell is anyone supposed to do with 700 bottles of “ion supply” drink anyway, whatever the size is?

Why Pocari Sweat? Because 30-year-old Soh is its brand ambassador.

But other companies have also jumped on the bandwagon for a free ride, such as Circles.Life, Fitness Best Asia and Smoobar.

The prize pot has grown to include a Suunto watch, two 90-minute deep tissue sports massages, 700 packets of chicken rice and a year’s supply of toilet paper, which would come in handy after eating 700 packets of chicken rice.

Then out of nowhere, Olympic swimmer Joseph Schooling crashed the party by randomly issuing his own challenge on Instagram: “I’ll give anyone a 10-second head start for a 200. Winner gets to pick a @boss suit paid for by me.”

Wait. What? Where? When? Why?

Is anyone claiming that they know naval divers who can swim 200m faster than Schooling?

At least Soh’s challenge has a venue, a date and a purpose.

Schooling’s challenge is like something he just made up on the spot to give his sponsor, Hugo Boss, a shout-out.

But while all this may seem like fun and games, things took a dark turn early yesterday morning when Soh posted on Facebook:
“Over the past week, I’ve seen hate comments from some members of the Commando fraternity on Facebook and leaked messages from Commando whatsapp chat groups strategising how to get back at me for announcing the 2.4km Challenge. (Apparently, because it makes them look bad, or so I've read.)

“Sabotage tactics I’ve seen being discussed range from writing in to my sponsors and calling for them to drop me, to finding ways to smear my character in public.

“The Commando motto is ‘For Honour And Glory’. I think most Commandos live up to this. I hope these black sheep can strive to do the same. There is nothing honorable or glorious about turning down a fair challenge and resorting to sabotage schemes. While trying to smear me, what you’re really doing is smearing the reputable name of the Commandos - your own band of brothers.

“I believe that a bit of this may have come from keyboard warriors having fun stirring the pot to pit me vs the Commandos and enjoying the show.”
In hopes of de-escalating the situation, he added:
“To clear up any misunderstandings, I reiterate that I respect what the Commandos have gone through, and there is so much more to being a Commando than just running.

“I can’t do what they do because I don’t train like them, similar to how they can’t do what I do without training like a distance runner. There was never a me vs them scenario.”

Clearly, this is spiralling out to be more than Soh bargained for when he started the challenge. The runner has a knack for running off at the mouth.

After run-ins with Singapore Athletics and fellow marathoner Ashley Liew, now the Commandos?

Who knew the perennial winners of the SAF Best Combat Unit could be so thin-skinned?

Perhaps Soh could offer the 700 bottles of Pocari Sweat as a peace offering – the big 2-litre ones.

And throw in 700 deep-tissue sports massages as well.

We all want a happy ending, don’t we?

The big twist could be his rival Liew shows up at the 2.4km challenge and beats Soh (again).

- Published in The New Paper, 13 September 2021