Zouk an institution that needs saving

From ‘Zouk may shut by year end’ 18 June 2014, article by Joyce Lim, ST

The founder of Zouk, Mr Lincoln Cheng, says he is tired of getting short lease extensions for the popular dance club’s Jiak Kim Street site. If he does not get a three-year extension he is now requesting, he will close the 23-year-old iconic nightspot for good by the end of this year.

…When the club first opened in 1991, the land around it was largely vacant. But today, the club – which is situated within three recently conserved riverside warehouses – is dwarfed by neighbouring condominiums and hotels. It was no surprise, therefore, when questions about the fate of Zouk started making the rounds in 2012.

…When told of the news, celebrity presenter and Zouk regular Najip Ali said he was shocked. “When Zouk opened, it was ahead of its time. In the 1990s, Zouk put a stamp on the kind of nightlife that didn’t exist.” It was where he learnt about music and deejays. “Zouk has been and is still an institution,” he said.

Development plans aside, it was MP Indranee Rajah (“If Zouk was not there, then it is unlikely the youth would congregate there.”) who indirectly blamed the rise in drunken rowdiness in the Robertson Quay area on the dance ‘institution’. Since complaints by residents, the Government has been mooting the idea of a ‘no-alcohol’ zone so that babies from nearby condos can sleep at night. If Zouk were an ‘institution’, then its graduates are Masters in Inebriation. No riot has broken out on Jiak Kim Street so far, though there may soon be a protest or two. Like the SaveZouk campaign for example. I wonder what colour these guys will be wearing. Maybe neon rainbow.

I’ve been to the club myself a few times, and back in those days it was a hedonistic eye-opener seeing people gyrating on raised platforms, revellers decked out in the wildest accessories, meeting gays, transgenders and Najip Ali, sweating and grinding to guest DJs spinning revolutionary dance tracks that no other disco at the time were keen to play. In the 90’s, Zouk WAS Clubbing, a place that has become synonymous with a street with the unlikeliest of names in ‘Jiak Kim’. You didn’t need to give taxi drivers directions or addresses. You just had to say ‘Zouk’, and he’d give you that knowing wink and a nod, sometimes breaking out into small talk about how ‘happening’ you are. Then again, it’s also the same place that revived Rick Astley’s popularity, thanks to Mambo Jumbo Nights, a phenomenon that has even been exported out for the 2012 Singapore Day in New York.

For 23 years, Singaporean merrymakers have stayed faithful to the icon of glam, the ‘queen’ of clubs, despite intrusions by global players like Ministry of Sound and Supperclub, which all bowed out of the scene entirely while Zouk continued to attract 24 hour party people, even till now, except to the wrath of condo owners, who obviously didn’t have a clue about what Zouk was about when they decided to move in right next to it. In the spirit of MP Indranee’s argument: If the condos were not there, there would be no one to complain about noise, piss and vomit. And we probably would have let the kids drink themselves to death or fall off the bridge and drown or something.

Here are some facts every Singaporean should know about our homegrown premier club:

1. Zouk means ‘village party’ in French Caribbean, and was refurnished out of 3 abandoned riverside godowns. The logo was inspired by Arabic script and is a mixture of the ‘sun, all-seeing eye and the sea’. Zouk’s address is 17 Jiak Kim Street, though no one knows what happened to the other 16 numbers.

2. Founder Lincoln Cheng is an architect by training. In 1995 he was charged for bringing in 376 diazepam tablets and having possession of 125 Upjohn tablets, 4 Playboy magazines and some porno tapes, all part of a high profile drug bust which forced the club to close temporarily.

3. Tan Jiak Kim was a fifth generation Baba merchant who formed the Straits Steamship Company in 1890 with a few other rich businessmen, in addition to sterling work among the Chinese community and setting up a medical college. He would have qualified for the Pioneer package. Most of us would have never heard of him if not for Zouk. Thankfully, there’s also a nearby bridge named after the man, a bridge that the very same drunk kids are puking and dumping trash on.

4. In 1993, a brewery bar named ORANG UTAN opened in the Zouk complex. No it wasn’t a place where you could pet Ah Meng for free over beer and grub like what you do in a cat cafe. Though that just MIGHT work elsewhere.

5. A ‘Healthy Lifestyle Party‘ without cigarettes and booze was held for 1000 SAF personnel in 1992. As fun as your Grandaunt’s birthday bash, I reckon. The words ‘healthy’ and ‘party’ belong together like ‘innocent’ and ‘sex’. I hope there was at least Hokkien techno.

6. ‘Zoukette’ is what you call a fashionable female club regular. It was also the name of one of the more popular IRC channels in Singapore. Yes, Zouk has outlived even IRC, ICQ and Windows Messenger.

7. The PAP celebrated its 50th anniversary there in 2004, an event that most true-blue Zoukers and Zoukettes would rather forget. Amongst those boogieing the night away then was PM Lee himself, Lim Swee Say, and a certain Indranee Rajah, the same MP who thinks Zouk turns our kids into raving alcoholics. Look, here’s proof!

Party people in the house, y'all.

Party people in the house, y’all.

Wait, that means 2014 is the 60th year of PAP’s reign. How about a farewell All-White Zouk party again this year, for the club to go out with an unforgettable BANG?. After all, who WOULDN’T want to see our ministers dancing?Not sure if invitations will be extended to Ms Indranee though.

8. Zouk is likely to have played host to a more diverse range of international stars than any other stadium or concert hall in Singapore. From 80’s synth-pop band Erasure to techno/trance maestros, Kylie Minogue to K-pop girl groups, even a crooning Tony Leung.

9. In 2007, Zouk was where you could watch girls in skimpy attire wrestle one another in spaghetti sauce. 3 years later, the club organised an event called ‘Baby Loves Disco’, where hip parents could bring their babies for an afternoon party, some as young as 2 MONTHS. It looked like the beginning of a slow demise, less an ‘institution’ than a free-for-all venue for any event under the sun.

10. In 2008, it was reported that Zouk hired 70 security officers and had 100 surveillance cameras installed. What would become of these bouncers once Zouk is gone? Maybe protecting our ministers when they queue for chicken wings, perhaps?

So those were the days, my friend, we’d thought they’d never end. Thanks for the memories, Zouk. The puke on the sidewalk, the awesome live DJ gigs, the vodka-Ribena, the silly dancing, for being the only place in town where you could impress the girl of your dreams with cheesy 80’s moves. Unlike high-end exclusive clubs like Ku De Ta, Zouk welcomed mopey teens, the fuddy-duddies, the geeks and the wannabes with open arms. You did well to put us on the map of ‘cool’ and convince the world that Singapore was not THAT boring after all, but like all good parties, this 23-year-long one must come to an end. Good night, and Zouk Out.

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Clubhouse for maids a space to call their own

From ‘Clubhouse for maids a good move, but charity leader’s remarks irksome’, 17 March 2014, Voices, Today

(Mannat Johal):…I am heartened to read about the clubhouse, which will provide facilities such as a computer lab and library, as well as various courses, for only S$4 a year. This will greatly benefit domestic helpers and make their experience working in Singapore a lot better. They will have something to look forward to each week, knowing that they can enhance their skills and spend time fruitfully at the clubhouse.

What irked me, though, was the statement by the President of the Foreign Domestic Worker Association for Social Support and Training (FAST). He said: “We want (the workers) to go to a place where they can be among themselves, where they will not be disturbing the owners of the building or residents of the area.”

This gives the impression that domestic helpers generally cause owners and residents annoyance by simply patronising places such as tourist attractions. No such problems are said to exist when Singaporeans and tourists patronise these areas. Are domestic helpers that different? Should they not be allowed to enjoy these areas as we do? Are they that much of a nuisance compared with tourists, who are possibly more unfamiliar with Singaporean culture and etiquette?

Also, why does FAST want domestic helpers to be among themselves? Singapore is a multiracial society where harmony between people of different races, religions and backgrounds is a significant feature.

In 2001, Sri Lankan maid Sanda Perumal, along with her employer Angie Monksfield were given the boot out of Singapore Cricket Club because having maids in the premises was against internal club policy. As recently as 2011, some condos were still banning maids from using swimming pools.  Having a clubhouse just for maids would seem like an apologetic gesture for years of discrimination bordering on colonialism, a place where FDWs may benefit from the enrichment activities that such centres can offer rather than doing wild stuff like turning a stretch of Orchard Road into a street party . The other unspoken purpose here is to keep foreign workers out of sight, out of trouble, though you can’t stop them from murdering their rich employers. It’s like how people are uncomfortable with having workers’ dorms just down the road, treating the living quarters of others like a concentration or leprosy camp. The next question then: What about having a club for workers from Little India? One which holds a masterclass on anger management perhaps? A place where they can bond over some Darjeeling tea instead of Tiger beer?

Ethnic enclaves form all over the world as part of natural urban progression, and some even serve as tourist attractions, classic examples being Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam. What FAST is concerned with here is gatherings of FDWs disrupting business, but one can think of some iconic commercial spaces that may have benefited instead from foreign workers milling about, never mind the occasional drunken brawl, sleaze or spontaneous mass dancing.

1) Lucky Plaza

Though initially viewed as an ‘image’ problem, Lucky Plaza remains till this day Orchard Road’s premier maid hangout, and some businesses have learned to adapt to capitalise on the loyal throngs, from fast food chains like Jollibee to IDD sellers and remittance. It’s also the first place I would think of if I have a sudden craving for Pinoy fare like sisig and pata.

2) Golden Mile Complex

Earning its title as ‘Little Thailand’, Golden Mile is renown as a foodie destination if you’re looking for authentic, homely cuisine. Some Thais refer to the Beach Road complex as their ‘second home’. Locals looking for some alternative entertainment to Bangkok barhopping can boogie all night long at places like ‘Pure Thai Disco’.

3) Peninsula Plaza

A lesser known enclave, this place is our very own ‘Little Myanmar’. Not all’s rosy in terms of local business though, with some lamenting that Peninsula has turned from a ‘classy mall’ into a ‘Myanmar market’. It has also become a collection centre for Cyclone Nargis donations and a place to congregate and discuss politics. In my youth, it was a place to get rare records and band merchandise. Yes, those were the days when it was cool to wear a cap with your favourite band’s logo on it. Backwards.

4) City Plaza and Joo Chiat

The newest enclave on the block, City Plaza is turning out to be ‘Little Indonesia’, and would have been a ghost town if not for maids flocking there on weekends. For obvious reasons, it attracts Bangladeshi workers too. Joo Chiat, with its string of bars and restaurants, is close to becoming ‘Little Vietnam’. Now you know where to go if you’re in the mood for pho or Ayam Penyet. Or some intimate Vietnamese hospitality, if you know what I mean.

So, with or without these club facilities, our FDWs already have a place to mingle (sometimes with other foreign nationalities) and be seen, even if it means moonlighting on the fly or simply fooling around. The fact that places like Lucky Plaza and Golden Mile have hardly changed at all means that the authorities are silently aware of their social (and economic) significance.  It is, however, unrealistic to expect migrant workers to integrate with Singaporeans on weekends, when they already spend almost their entire working lives dealing with us. In some situations, in fact, we’d rather they leave us the hell alone.

Let’s not forget the many other ‘enclaves’ and invisible boundaries that we draw around us every single day. Christians have their mega-churches, Muslims their mosques. Billionaires have their fancy clubs, golf courses, Iggy’s and Nassim Road. Women have Ladies’ Night and entire shopping mall levels dedicated to them. Hipsters have arty-farty cafes, expats Robertson Quay, and even seniors have ‘retirement villages’. What’s the big deal about a clubhouse for maids?

We’re a motley nation, not an orientation camp where everybody sits around the campfire singing ‘That’s What Friends Are For’, and by all means let FDWs have places to ‘call their own’ as long as they abide by our laws and don’t have mass orgies in public. A artificial enclosure like a clubhouse may be a place for maids to be ‘among themselves’, but without the flavours of home and the calming familiarity that Lucky Plaza brings, it’s unlikely to be a place to ‘belong’.

Le Restaurant’s Buddha statue in the wrong place

From ‘Buddha statue in wrong place’, 5 Oct 2013, ST Life!

(Danny Cheong): I refer to the story Chinese Goes Chic (SundayLife!, Sept 29).

In Buddhism, devotees become vegetarian in order to refrain from killing livestock. It is improper and discourteous of Le Restaurant of Paradise Group to place a huge Buddha statue in its meateating outlet.

Even if it is a piece of art, it is certainly in the wrong place

Amita-Bar

Le Restaurant is the brainchild of former Entrepreneur of the Year Eldwin Chua, and has been described as a ‘bar featuring Nordic-style wooden latticed ceiling, sexy pink lighting, and a DJ spinning soulful house music'(Chinese goes chic, 29 Sept 2013, Sunday Lifestyle). It also serves ‘Asian tapas’, which sounds to me like swanky fusion dim sum with toothpicks, where you can pass off mantou as ‘sliders’. Not a place to celebrate Grandma’s 80th birthday I suppose.

A Buddha statue in Le Restaurant or plush ‘Asian bistros’ like Tao in New York seems ‘right’ for the concept, since the idea of Buddha and Buddhism has come to represent everything ‘hip’ and ‘mystical’ about the Orient, but wrong to those who revere the image as how one prostrates before the same statue at an altar. Other than sprucing up the place, a Buddha statue can even double up as a feng shui talisman for prosperity and luck. Westerners may find such themes appealing in a ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ kinda way but to me it’s just tacky decor, like a stuffed antelope in a BBQ diner, or a wax figure of Sly Stallone as Rambo in Planet Hollywood.

The liberal use of religious artifacts as a restaurant/bar/lounge theme isn’t new. The Buddha Bar was the pioneer of modern ‘buddhist chic’ back in 1996, with its own range of exotic new age CDs to bring the ‘neo-spiritual’ vibe of the establishment right into your living room.  Nevermind if the tracklisting contains titles like ‘Egyptian Disco’ or ‘Salaam‘, which makes you wonder if the French who came up with the idea thought Buddha resided in the ancient Pyramids or traversed vast Deserts on the back of a magical camel.

In 2010, Indonesian Buddhists in Jakarta protested against Buddha Bar for insulting their faith and tarnishing the ‘good name of Buddha’, not because of the meat they served, but that it came across as a debauched hangout for drunkard party-goers and prostitutes. Here, the Buddha Bar owners already decided in 2000 to change the ‘controversial’ name of their UE Square branch to ‘Siam Supperclub’ (Buddha at the Bar has gone off the Siam, 26 May 2000, ST), where not only can you gawk at Buddha statues but order a lychee martini called ‘Laughing Buddha’. If turning your restaurant/club into a temple alone isn’t New Age enough, why not name an alcoholic beverage after a deity too? Some practitioners believe the Buddha himself would turn a blind eye to the glamorous exploitation of his image. Not sure if you could pull off the same gimmick with Jesus on a crucifix; your menu would have to be restricted to wafers and red wine.

Cocktails aside, there’s even a meat broth named after Buddha, containing sharks’ fin, ham, abalone and scallop. An origin story behind this renown dish describes how monks would leap over temple walls just to have a whiff of this fragrant concoction. Why, it’s the famous ‘BUDDHA jumps over the wall’ of course, a delicacy that I’m sure some Buddhists do enjoy nonetheless without complaining that it’s not vegetarian. Not sure if Le Restaurant has its own version though. Maybe it’s called ‘Bouddha saute par-dessus le mur’ and comes in shot glasses with tiny umbrellas in it.

Sukki Singapora’s ‘albino Indian’ look

From ‘Burlesque babe’, 21 April 2013, article by Melissa Sim, Lifestyle, Sunday Times

For more than a year, burlesque dancer Sukki Singapora, 26, led a double life. By day, she worked in IT support – wearing formal skirts and fitted shirts – but once the work day was over, she cast off her office wear for corsets and sequined outfits. “It was very much a Clark Kent existence,” says Singaporeconnected, Britain-based Sukki, who quit her IT job with the British cycling Olympic team to become a full-time burlesque performer in April last year.

…“I was fortunate enough to be offered enough shows that I no longer needed a day job,” says the dancer, who uses a peroxide cream to create the look of an “albino Indian”

…What keeps her going, she says, are the letters she receives from Asian women and men, nearly 100 from Singapore alone. “Some want to learn how to do it. However, more often than not, they are too scared to try because of their strict backgrounds and feel they have no one to talk to except me,” she says.

So she set up The Singapore Burlesque Society, a Facebook group which has 64 members, to provide a “safe community” for those interested in burlesque in Singapore. She also started The Singapore Burlesque Club, a touring show which has a policy of hiring at least one Asian burlesque performer at every event.

…Denying that she chose her stage name because it was more exotic to be from Singapore than the UK, she says: “I picked it because it represents where I felt I was from. I still consider myself a citizen.”

Born to an Indian Singaporean father and a British mother, both doctors, Sukki Menon was a Geography major before achieving grand diva success. She became a British citizen when she was 18, and would give our very own drag queen Kumar a run for the money. Most Singaporeans, however, would rather play Angry Birds than see dancers dressed up as peacocks, this despite Moulin Rouge and the less successful Burlesque movies spurring the revival of a vintage stage show. ‘Showgirls’ probably gets more illegal downloads than both movies combined.

Sukki isn’t the first Asian sensation to seduce audiences with wild, sexy dancing. Malaya used to have her very own ‘Queen of Striptease’ in the 1950s, none other than the late, great Rose Chan. Referred to as a ‘stripper’ in those days, her shows were banned here by the police in view of its ‘improper nature’. She was also badass enough to wrestle with pythons. Today’s burlesque artistes settle for boas instead.

I suppose many Singaporeans have matured since then to accept burlesque dancing as a respectable profession, nude or no-nude, but it’s mostly viewed as a hobby to tone your abs or surprise your husband on Valentine’s Day (for $180 you can have 10 hourly lessons of Exotic Dance/Lap Dance). I’m not sure if albinos or Indians would take offence at Sukki’s use of whitening face cream. I’ve never seen an Indian albino in the flesh, but I doubt they look like Courtney Love as Sukki does. Going ‘Blackface’ for your company DnD with a Bollywood theme, however, is a terrible idea.

Crazy Horse, which bears similarities to burlesque though it boasts as the most ‘avant garde’ all of Paris cabarets, failed in Singapore after just 14 months.  Supporters were quick to denounce the country for being intolerant of such ‘raunchiness’. But it also offended housewives who thought it was ‘pornographic’, ‘derogatory to women’, and promoted all sorts of wrong values. A layman would find difficulty differentiating burlesque, cabaret and exotic dancing, though flashy costumes (and eventual lack of it), ample cleavage, flirtatiousness and feathers are all common elements. Some would call her a ‘high-class’ stripper, and in fact Sukki in her Facebook page has acknowledged her job as a ‘striptease artist’. Here’s a video of her jiggling out of traditional Indian dance costume into a slutty red bikini:

Burlesque dancers tend to give themselves names indistinguishable from adult movie stars or James Bond girls (think Pussy Galore).  Not all have glamorous monikers like Dita von Teese, which sounds like a villain from a 101 Dalmations cartoon. Here’s a quick test to see if you know your burlesque from your XXX stars.

1) Aurora Galore
2) Aurora Snow
3) Lexi Belle
4) Dottie Lux
5) Dirty Martini
6) Summer Haze
7)Lady Beau Peep
8)Vicious Delicious
9)Kalani Kokonuts
10)Calamity Chang
11) Kitten de Ville
12)Lily Labeau

*2, 3, 6 and 12 are porn actresses

Dancers also tend to argue that their art is a ‘celebration of feminity‘, yet  there is an internet magazine for ‘all things burlesque’ named BurlesqueBITCH.com. An organiser for international events like the All Asian Burlesque Spectacular calls itself THIRSTY Girl Productions.  Sukki herself acts in The PEEP SHOW, and performs at a La Bordello Boheme. It’s all in the name of good ol’ naughty fun, of course, but I doubt the folks at AWARE are amused. I’m sure the Esplanade can bend its ‘No Sleazy Uncles’ rule to slot in a Sukki show somewhere.

Incorporating Singapura in her stage name aside, she has also wowed audiences with what she calls The MERLION strut,  a homage to a ‘mythical beast’. There is also the “Sparkle for Singapore’, complete with ‘glistening Singapore orchids’. We should rope Sukki in for the next National Day Parade since we’ve done pole-dancing anyway, and pair her up with Kumar in a Battle of the Divas. With our ailing fertility problems, perhaps sexy burlesque is one way to sizzle up our bedrooms, and no one better to promote it than our Burlesque Ambassador and Superheroine, Sukki Singapora herself.

Liquid nitrogen cocktails not relevant anymore

From ‘Liquid nitrogen cocktails passe’, 21 Oct 2012, article by Melissa Kok, Sunday Lifestyle.

…In Singapore, liquid nitrogen cocktails – a popular novelty beverage two to three years ago – seem to be hard to find these days. SundayLife! contacted several leading bars and restaurants believed to have served cocktails prepared with liquid nitrogen but they said they had stopped serving such drinks a while ago, or had never served them.

The Tippling Club in Dempsey Hill used to serve cocktails that were chilled with liquid nitrogen instead of ice to keep flavours potent, such as their nitro-chilled dry martini, back in 2008. But its general manager Marcus Boyle, 30, says it stopped serving such cocktails about a year ago, long before the UK case happened because there was “basically no relevance” anymore.

…Mixologists use liquid nitrogen in small doses to keep cocktails chilled. Of course, there is also the novelty factor in serving a drink with swirls of white vapour wafting from the cocktail glass. Mr Mac Lee, 54, honorary president for the Association of Bartenders & Sommeliers Singapore, says bartenders here are not required to undergo formal training or be certified to serve drinks containing liquid nitrogen. In fact, he says many mixologists who incorporate the chemical in cocktails are self-taught or learn the art from fellow bartenders.

However, experienced bartenders say such cocktails are safe to drink, as long as the bartender is familiar with the chemical properties of liquid nitrogen, and knows how to prepare and serve it with care.

…It is unclear which government agency regulates the use of such chemicals in the preparation of food and beverage items. The National Environment Agency, which regulates food and beverage outlets, did not respond to SundayLife!’s queries by press time.

A spokesman for the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore, which oversees food safety, says nitrogen gas is a permitted food additive under the Food Regulations.

Heaven in a glass literally sends you to Heaven

The death-defying thrill that comes with consuming industrial refrigerants may lead to a comeback of the ‘nitro’ alcoholic beverage. Liquid nitrogen is the ‘fugu’ of alcoholic drinks, except that I would rather trust a certified chef who has trained for years dissecting poisoning fish than someone who claims to be a ‘molecular mixologist’ who may not even know offhand how many protons, neutrons and electrons the Nitrogen atom contains (I know it’s number 7 on the Periodic Table).  A ‘molecular mixologist’ sounds more accomplished than a ‘chemist’, though the closest the mixologist has probably come to conducting a proper science experiment is seeing litmus paper turn from blue to pink. He may not blow up a lab, but a novice may feed you something that will probably explode your intestines, like what almost happened to Gaby Scanlon. It would be the perfect way of assassinating someone important at a cocktail party.

Liquid nitrogen infused drinks is more spectacle than science, and I have to admit it looks pretty cool in a Sorcerer’s Apprentice sort of way. Who wouldn’t be tempted to sip from a glass that has chilly fumes swirling out of it? A smoky drink is mysterious, magical and alchemical all at the same time, and has been portrayed in fable and pop culture as Pandora’s elixir. If Man weren’t attracted to misty potions, Dr Jekyll wouldn’t have turned into Mr Hyde, witches would have nothing to brew, a ‘cauldron’ would just be a big ‘pot’ and Harry Potter would have been shortened to 3 movies instead of 7.

A life-changing aperitif

But can’t you achieve the same effect with dry ice, you say? Solid carbon dioxide has a sublimation point of -78.5 degrees Celsius, while liquid nitrogen ‘boils’ at -196 degrees, but I believe eating both can kill you anyway. Dry ice is probably cheaper, since you could get it for free whenever you buy ice-cream cakes from Swensens, and in fact some mixologists do use it for the same ‘misty’ effect. City Space’s resident ‘cocktail ARCHITECT’ uses dry ice in his ‘Bubble Tea’ concoction, which creates a ‘bubbling effect’ as well as keeping the cocktail chilled. (Side note: I’m quite a good sandwich ‘architect’ myself. I stack layers of food between bread without my ‘work’ collapsing). Not sure how safe this is, but you can get ‘burned’ as easily from biting cold as scorching heat. More ‘Bubble Lava’ than ‘Bubble Tea’, I think. The F1 in 2008 brought us TURBO SHOTS, which consists of ‘grenadine syrup, Midori, Baileys and vodka served with dry ice’. The only thing ‘turbo’ about this is how soon it’ll get you to the AnE if you gulp it down a bit too hastily.

Such an ‘experimental’ approach to the once humble profession of bartending gives new meaning to the term ‘cutting edge’ when you risk perforating your stomach. Bartenders no longer wipe glasses with the towel around their necks or discuss football with customers when they’re not preparing drinks, they’re toying with ‘flavour-enhancing’ inert gases and Frankenstein goo with fancy instruments modelled after those used in Dr Evil’s cryogenic laboratory. They’re taking the phrase ‘too cool for school’ rather too literally.

Soon they’ll be wearing labcoats instead of bowties, naming their bars after gas scientists like Robert Boyle (the Tippling club’s GM is called Marcus BOYLE. Coincidence?) or Fritz Haber, and instead of being the surrogate uncle that you can confide about marriage problems they’ve become as aloof as nuclear scientists at an alternative energy convention. If you’re the kind of mixologist who would rather play it safe but still wants loads of attention from the ‘It’ crowd, you can wow them by ‘garnishing’ your creations with expensive pretty jewels instead. Drinking the Jewel of Pangaea does seem pretty shameless of you, but at least you wouldn’t end up like the bad robot from Terminator 2 below:

Nothing like liquid nitrogen to break the ice

There haven’t been reports of people here having their guts ripped apart by dangerous cocktails so far, though bartenders playing fast and loose with chemicals and describing themselves as ‘architects’, ‘mixologists’ or  ‘consultants’ needs to be looked into. How about a ‘cocktail pharmacologist/chemist’ for a change, you know, someone who actually knows what is safe enough to entertain your taste buds but not toxic enough to send you to hospital?  What’s wrong with being a good ol’ fashioned blue-collar bartender like Ted Danson’s Sam from Cheers, a man who handles beer mugs and not test tubes and liquid nitrogen generators that look like high-end ice-kacang machines? A man who’s committed to serving you an actual drink and not an entry for a primary school science competition?

Cheers to non-smoky beer

Tippling Club’s Nitro Martini has been described as a ‘nice’ punch in the face. If I wanted that feeling I’d run into a wall without having to pay a single cent. A variation of the Tiger Crystal beer cocktail ‘cooked’ with liquid nitrogen is supposed to deliver a ‘mega brain freeze’. Purveyors relish such frosty drinks as BDSM fans enjoy having hot wax dripped down their nether regions. I would never trust anything that is described as ‘cooked’ in quotation marks. It’s like drinking ‘chlorinated’ water, or driving a ‘safe’ car. Unless you’re into that sort of thing, like the JACKASS crew.  Perhaps this little medical nugget will turn people off liquid nitrogen for good: It’s often used for the removal of GENITAL WARTS. So before your dip your nose in a ‘little bit of heaven’, think of the crackling fizz that comes with the application of the same ingredient to mushroom-like growths around someone’s anus.

If you want the kick of a brain freeze without losing a vital organ, have a Mr Slurpee instead.

F1 extension delights almost everyone

From ‘News of F1 extension delights all but bay area businesses’, 23 Sept 2012, article by May Chen, ST online

Almost every one, from fans to hotels to Formula One drivers, welcomed the extension of the Singapore Grand Prix on Saturday with open arms – every one except several retailers in the Marina Bay area.

Their main beef: The disruption to business when the area goes into lockdown for the three-day extravaganza.

“The race brings a buzz to town, but not everybody is impressed. A lot of people try to stay away and it affects our business, and a lot of other people’s businesses,” said Indochine chief executive Michael Ma yesterday, a refrain echoed by Allan Chia, who operates a pushcart in Suntec City selling mobile phone accessories. “People avoid Suntec City altogether because of the road closures,” said the 35-year-old.

Well, not just the bay side retailers. While the hotels and banks may be popping the champagne with all the money flowing in, the latter flying in VIPs to hobnob with drivers and the rich and famous at the Paddock Club, there have been opposing voices to the F1 Night Race right from the get-go. So it may be rather presumptuous to announce how everyone will embrace another 5 years of night racing, when some groups were already up in arms over the inaugural one in 2008. It’s also worth noting that we didn’t get off to an auspicious start either, with Fernando Alonso winning the first Night race because a Renault teammate deliberately crashed his car to give him an advantage (I don’t know enough about racing to see how that helps). Nobody ever mentions ‘Crashgate’ anymore since, though we had a multi-religious prayer this year to make sure such ‘accidents’ don’t happen. It’s also taboo to even discuss the Ferrari accident near race period, and it’s somewhat ironic that we label supercar drivers here a menace to our roads on one hand, yet embrace the F1 with gusto on the other.

F1 claims to be making conscious ‘green’ efforts to improve on their fuel efficiency and emissions, like planting trees in Mexico or using biofuels, though such actions may register nary a blip on the carbon ECG, especially if they neutralise each other when you need to starve viable forest land to make way for fuel crops. Our Government continues to enthuse over how this event is putting our tiny country on the map, high on the ‘buzz’ that the addictive cocktail of fast cars and posh celebrity delivers, but conveniently forgetting in their delirium that we once made a PLEDGE to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 16% by 2020. Oops.

In 2007, some forum writers spurned the energy-guzzling and glamour posing that comes with each F1, that hosting this event sends conflicting messages to the rest of the world about our stand on energy conservation and combating climate change. One moment we’re talking about supertrees and the next thing you know we’re pounding our streets with oil-guzzling supercars. According to a senior ST correspondent, a single race produces up to 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide, this excluding that spewed from freighting cars and equipment into and out of the country. But it’s not so much the noise, the exhaust or the heat that brands every night race an eco-nightmare; It’s the damned lighting.

According to one website dedicated to the F1 Night Race, the lighting statistics are as follows:

Total Power   3,180,000 watt
Track Projectors  1, 485, 2,000 watt each
Power Generators  12 pairs (with back-up)
Aluminium Truss 6,282m
Steel Pylons   240
Power Cables  108, 423m

At 3000 LUX levels, the lighting is FOUR TIMES the lights at sports stadiums. The gorgeous illuminated skyline that we’re so proud of, the one that helicopter cameras glide across every year like a director lingering over naked thighs in a porno film, is the result of a dozen generators belching 3 megawatts of electricity, the same amount that could light up a few Malaysia Cup final matches at the National Stadium, or serve a few underprivileged households. Will Singapore compromise when we face an oil crisis within the next 5 years, or perhaps consider switching to a less wasteful DAY race instead? But you can’t argue about electricity expenditure without sounding like a spoilsport who doesn’t appreciate the exhilaration of night racing. Singapore NEEDS the F1, so they say. But you don’t need bright lights and dozens of expensive parties and concerts to make an icon out of Marina Bay. Sometimes, all you need is an amateur porn star and a camera.

No it’s not about our national identity, the Marina glitter, the F1 fans or the small pushcart businesses in Suntec City. It’s about the after-race Dom Perignons, the $26,600 per table at Amber Lounge,  the $6850 Paddock Club pass.  Few people who could spend thousands on a ticket are really interested in the technicalities of the sport, rather using it as a backdrop for business or high-society pleasure. Money is all there is to it, and while we rush headlong into this glitzy fantasy, our heads reverberating with the erotic growl of the engine and our hearts pumping with adrenaline, our most influential supporters of the race continue to sleepwalk through our energy conservation efforts, dump flyers at us telling us how to save electricity (but not the trees obviously) while raising tariffs, yet preparing for the next race bash by hugging for dear life onto whatever surplus oil barrels we have.

Orchard streetwalkers soliciting expats

From ‘Streetwalkers: Stores vigilant’, 16 Sept 2012, article by Nathaniel Fetalvero and Nicholas Yeam, and ‘Streetwalkers getting more blatant at Orchard Road’, 10 Sept 2012, TNP

Foreign women touting sex services are no longer just operating around Orchard Towers. They are now covering areas as far as Far East Shopping Mall. The minute they spot a potential customer, usually a male tourist, they would approach them with offers of ‘massage’. Said one expat: “It’s like running a gauntlet. If you make the mistake of looking at them, they’ll be all over you in seconds.”

…ON WEDNESDAY, two days after The New Paper reported on foreign women soliciting expatriates on Orchard Road, it appears that not much has changed. At the stretch between Orchard Parade Hotel and Orchard Towers, we spotted one or two women standing around, but after an hour, more emerged, loitering on the sidewalks.

Businesses, like Modesto’s Singapore, said the women do not pose a problem. A spokesman for Modesto’s Singapore told TNP that “if some ladies enter and ask for a table, they will be seated and served because we cannot judge who they are. “However, if they are seen to be then going to single men and hassling them, they will be immediately asked to leave our restaurant.”

Orchard Towers, also known to foreigners as the ‘Four Floors of Whores’, wasn’t always the dark seedy underbelly of our country’s premier shopping district. In 1974, it was hyped as a ‘new-idea in office home development’, boasting a state-of-the-art theatrette on the 3rd floor, as well as ‘medical, scientific or technical’ offices on the 4th and 5th floors of the front block facing Orchard Road. It was also home to ‘fine art’ exhibitions, and its Premier Theatre screened selections of the ASEAN film festival in 1980. From Gallery of Fine Arts to Bongo Bar and Top Ten Disco; what the hell happened that turned a centre for art appreciation into the girly-bar hotbed of sleaze and sex that we know today?

In April 1980, Johnny Teo (a name as pimp as it can get) was fined $3000 for managing a brothel from his Orchard Towers apartment, housing mostly Thai prostitutes. Things started to heat up once Premier cinema shut down operations in 1983, with Top Ten Disco taking over after a brief conversion of the auditorium to a ‘live show theatre’.  By 1988, Orchard Towers was an entertainment hub and yuppie den with bars, pubs and ‘social escort agencies’ making their foray into the premises. Some recognisable names in the entertainment business also cut their teeth in Orchard Towers, including singers Wendi Koh (Celebrities bar), Cantopop sensation William Scorpion (Utopia) and DJ Brian Richmond (Peyton Place). Before there were ‘streetwalkers’, pubs like Utopia had ‘public relations officers’ to provide ‘companionship’ and ‘conversation’. By then it would also have its fair share of transvestites and transsexuals, who found acceptance and metaphorical ‘beginnings’ within the building’s four walls, only to be rounded up by the police, who were also on a rampage against homosexuals.

By 1991, Orchard Towers began to be ‘plagued’ by fly-by-night foreign hookers, with the police cracking down on the trade in Dec the same year (Orchard Towers cleared of fly-by-night prostitutes, 28 Dec 1991, ST). In 1992, Singapore’s ‘largest KTV’ opened at the basement of the building (Orchard KTV). In 2002, Orchard Towers was the scene of a high-profile murder, after bodies were found in an abandoned vehicle in the car park. 4 years later, Top 10 rebranded itself as Top 5, its evolution over the years in sync with the gradual moral decline of the entire complex. Today the disco houses private rooms named ‘Desire, Passion, Seduction, Temptation, Obsession’, named after ‘ladies’ emotions, which also describes perfectly the naughty shebang happening on the streets outside. Cross-dresser comedian Kumar also performs there at 3 Monkeys bar these days, and being risque in Orchard Towers is like baring it all in a nude colony.

Sex, rock n roll, transgender performers, has-been celebrities, even murder. This building has seen it all, and should be curated for being a seething well of all imaginable contradictions, an antithesis to the safe, sterile Singapore brand. If the National Stadium is the Grand Dame, this place is the Wretched Slut. Orchard Towers remains the ‘original’ sex destination for rich foreigners on exotic dirty pilgrimages, despite the vice and sleaze leapfrogging over to the other end of Orchard Road at Orchard Plaza and Concorde Hotel shopping centre. Unlike the sleek, squeaky clean, ultramodern behemoths like Ion and 313, the one and only ‘Four Floors’ remains unabashed about its sordid associations and services, one of the last buildings in town with a hint of CHARACTER and history. A stubborn stain on the gleaming tourist showcase that is Orchard Road, it still has many stories to tell, even if they’re not ones you really want your children to hear.

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