Changi Airport food street hawkers not from original stalls

From ‘Airpost’s hawker stalls: Not so famous after all’, 2 Aug 2014, article by Rebecca Lynne Tan, ST

THE week-old food street at Changi Airport, which was touted as offering 13 popular hawker stalls from different corners of the island, is not what it has been made out to be. The Straits Times has found that of the 13 stalls at the 10,800 sq ft Singapore Food Street in Terminal 3’s transit area, seven bear no direct links to the original famous stalls.

Some are new start-ups while others are named after streets or areas well-known for particular dishes, but have no connection to the original brands. For instance, Jalan Tua Kong Minced Pork Noodles at the airport food street is not an offshoot of the famed 132 Meepok in Marine Terrace, which was located in Jalan Tua Kong in the 1990s. It is also not related to Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee in Bedok Road. Instead, it is run by Mr Tan Dee Hond, 33, who told The Straits Times that he had worked at the Lau Lim stall for about two years.

The owners of two popular char kway teow stalls at Old Airport Road, Dong Ji and Lao Fu Zi, said they did not open the Old Airport Road Fried Kway Teow & Carrot Cake stall at Terminal 3. Nor is Mr Elvis Tan, 54, who owns East Coast BBQ Seafood at East Coast Lagoon Food Village, behind the airport’s new East Coast Lagoon BBQ Seafood stall.

When asked if naming the stalls after a street or an area famed for a particular dish was a misrepresentation, Select Group’s executive director Jack Tan, 45, said: “If you use the name of the stall, then you’re in trouble, but if you don’t use the name and just use the street, it’s a free-for-all.”

…It is a common practice for hawkers to capitalise on the name of a well-known location-specific dish such as Katong laksa and Jalan Kayu roti prata. But the prevalence of the practice does not make it right, said Mr K.F. Seetoh, 50, street food advocate and founder of street food guide Makansutra.

He said: “The new stall will be living off someone else’s reputation, someone else’s good will. You cannot register a street name and there is no law against it, but it is not right.”

When the ‘food street’ was launched last month, it boasted ‘household hawker names’, yet with a surprising omission of a dish that even Gordon Ramsay swears by; Laksa. Otherwise, it came across to me then as a rather obvious tourist trap and I was skeptical that our hawker heroes would sell out to a place that calls itself a ‘street’ when it’s actually in a building. Changi Airport’s media release was also damningly cringeworthy, describing the assemble as ‘specially curated’ from all over Singapore, as if they sent hawker archaeologists out with a bag of money to hunt down the holy grails of local delights.

If even our locals could be fooled into thinking that the char kuay teow in Terminal 3 is the same as what you get in an old-timey hawker centre, what more foreigners? Location, location, location. One reason why ‘Katong Laksa’ wasn’t in the list could be that food enthusiasts have been doing so much detective work over the years on a brand notorious for its copycats, that it would have hawker geeks up in arms in protest should anyone even have the cheek to ‘borrow’ the Katong name once more. According to Leslie Tay, the real Mccoy, the ‘Janggut’ style, is from an unassuming stall in Telok Kurau. Fans of prata would also appreciate that there’s only one ‘true’ Jalan Kayu stall, the Thasevi one.  Some hawkers continue to exploit the good name of a place that doesn’t even exist anymore, like ‘Blanco Court’ Kway Chap.  Ponggol Nasi Lemak and Punggol Nasi Padang  are also two completely different entities.

In 2010, a relative of the man behind the original Tai Hwa Hill Street ‘Minced Pork Noodles’, or more affectionately known to Singaporeans as bak chor mee, was brought to court for claiming that his own version in Vivocity food court was the original and in the process ‘misleading the public’ with this ‘publicity gimmick’. Since then, we’ve only heard of such name-stealing suits from the big boys in the FnB industry, like Subway trying to take down Subway Niche for example. If anything, ST’s reveal on the Changi Airport Food Street misnomers helps to raise awareness of where the real deal is located, and if you’re a savvy traveller in transit who’s done your fair share of culinary homework, you would skip the wannabes and go for something less pretentious like Ya Kun Kaya Toast. If you’re a Singaporean and you’re willing to travel all the way to Changi Airport to queue up for counterfeit char kuay teow on a weekend instead of going to Old Airport Road hawker centre, then shame, SHAME, on you.

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Tourists charged $707 for Alaskan king chilli crab

From ‘One meal equals to one meal’, 11 May 2014, article by Melody Ng, TNP

Seafood meals can be expensive. But a Filipino family on a trip here were stunned when they were hit with a bill for $1,186.20. Just the crab alone cost them $707.

Their meal on April 26 at Forum Seafood Village Restaurant at Boat Quay also included prawns, a fish and a plate of vegetables. Mr Santiago Caaway, 54, said the total bill was more than what the family paid for their flight here and back. The restaurant had been in the news previously after tourists accused it of over-charging. But Forum Seafood spokesman Thomas Tham said the restaurant clearly states its prices and patrons know how much the dishes cost.

And it was no ordinary crab that the Caaway family ordered. They had chilli Alaskan king crab, which other restaurants and seafood suppliers say is expensive. Was Mr Caaway aware that he was getting the Alaskan king crab instead of the more common and cheaper mud crab?

Mr Caaway claimed his family did not know there were different types of crab on the menu but said they wanted it cooked in chilli gravy. “We heard that Singapore is known for its chilli crab, so we thought we must have this,” said Mr Caaway, who has since returned to the Philippines.

The Alaskan king crab rip off aside, Caaway paid a remainder of almost $480 for ‘prawns, fish and vegetables’. They may not have heard of the Newton Tiger Prawn saga back in 2009, when a group of Americans were charged $239 for EIGHT tiger prawns at the iconic hawker centre. NEA ordered Tanglin Best BBQ Seafood to shut down for 3 months after STB relayed the complaint. Not sure if the prawns the Caaways ordered were of the tiger variety, but it was fortunate that they didn’t order the lobster, which was priced at $348 for 1.6kg in 2011, incidentally the target of an expat’s complaint. For the price of 1 Alaskan king crab, the Caaways could have had 6 servings of Sin Huat Crab Bee Hoon instead.

A case of following bad advice dished out by their hotel concierge, the Caaways could have avoided getting fleeced by Forum if they had read TripAdvisor’s reviews of the place, where hopping mad patrons reported the following prices and called the place a blatant tourist trap, with little being said about the actual quality of the food. Wonder if anyone told them about this other thing we have called ‘zi char’. Not in STB’s brochures or website, I suppose.

Fish – $115
Broccoli – $27
Asparagus – $20
Fried rice – $18
BBQ King prawn – $23. Each.
A ‘tofu dish’ – $30
Plain rice – $1.50

Philippine media also reported that a STB director had apologised personally to Caaway and made sure that they were ‘properly remunerated’ since this arose from a case of miscommunication between patron and staff. Despite the online flak, calls for boycott, and demands for closure, this place is still in business, just like how tourist traps remain viable in any other country. Rival Boat Quay restaurant Fuqing Marina Bay Seafood also has a reputation for charging ridiculous prices, with STB having to deal with a similar PR fallout after an American complained about his $210 crab a few years back. No wonder expats have rated us the most expensive city in the world.

It takes a savvy or experienced traveler to avoid such scams, and I’m not sure if we’re spoiling visitors by giving them partial refunds if they aren’t very streetwise when it comes to identifying potential daylight robbery. You can imagine other ‘crabby’ tourists exploiting STB’s niceness by claiming that they were ripped off by a seafood restaurant and expect compensation. In 1986, an exasperated Briton called it the ‘Singapore Rip’, after having to pay $30 for chilli crab at Punggol Point. These days, that’s the price you pay for a BBQ Prawnzilla. Buyer beware, especially if the menu reads ‘Seasonal prices’ and the staff spotted you entering the premises with your DSLR hung conspicuously around your neck. Not all foreigner complaints are valid of course. In 2001, one K. Will whined about paying TWO DOLLARS for one prawn at a East Coast seafood restaurant. Pretty average in those days if you ask me, unless he was talking about belacan-sized prawns instead.

A holiday gone terribly wrong for the Caaways, and such a shame and irony that it takes a national dish sampled in a wrong place to put all the efforts spent on a recent STB promo ad to utter waste.  Singapore always has a surprise for you indeed.

Tissue paper sellers paying a $120 licence fee

From ‘Tissue paper peddlers are unlicensed hawkers, says NEA’, 17 April 2014, article in CNA

Mobile peddlers selling packets of tissue paper on the streets are unlicensed hawkers, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in response to a letter posted on a website that these peddlers are charged a S$120 licence fee. “Although technically in breach of the laws against itinerant hawking, those peddlers who are needy are referred to the relevant agencies by the NEA for appropriate assistance,” the agency said on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

In a letter posted on the socio-political website The Real Singapore, the writer had questioned the need for street hawkers to pay S$120 to get a licence following his encounter with a visually-impaired man who sells tissue paper for extra income.

The NEA said that, at present, only 11 street hawkers under its Street Hawking Scheme are licensed to sell tissue paper in town council areas. Under the scheme, which started in 2000, those who meet the eligibility criteria pay a nominal fee of S$120 a year, or S$10 a month, to peddle their wares at fixed locations without having to pay rent.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the NEA said unlicensed peddlers selling tissue paper at coffee shops and hawker centres will be warned to stop selling their wares….”If they ignore the warning, the NEA will take enforcement action against them, just as it does for other illegal hawkers,” it added.

‘Enforcement action’ against what the law describes as ‘itinerant hawkers’ entails a fine not exceeding $5000, or up to $10,000/imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months for repeat offenders. On surface, this appears to be a major ‘compassion deficit‘ on the part of NEA to anyone who’s ever encountered a blind tissue peddler led by a relative walking around hawker centres, or the lady in a wheelchair who sings ‘Tissue paper One Dollar’ around MRT stations. I wonder if she’s also required to apply for an Public Entertainment licence.

Tissue paper ‘hawker’ Edwin Koh, 43, makes about $30 to $40 over the weekend, charging $1 for 3 packets. Rejected by his family, he sleeps in the playground after getting thrown out of a shelter for smoking. 75 year old Chia Chong Hock is reported to be the ONLY licensed tissue vendor in Singapore, earning his keep at Tiong Bahru MRT wearing a Santa hat, his makeshift ‘stall’ decorated with cherry blossoms and a Singapore flag. Even with all the props and decor, he still makes $20 to $30 a day. A Madam Rani who used to hang around the junction at Orchard Road facing Heeren (and someone I personally encountered) was reported to earn only $14 a day even for a busy district. Most of us spend that same amount in a single meal without even thinking about poverty lines. There are exceptions of course, foul-tempered peddlers who curse at you for rejecting their sale, or pushy ones who stuff tissue packs in your face as you’re eating bak chor mee.

While the cost of everything else seems to be going up these days, it’s a sobering thought that these Singaporeans are still keeping their tissue prices at 3 for $1,  especially since there is a constant demand for the goods, being used to reserve tables and all. Without the milk of kindness by strangers giving beyond the selling price of tissue paper, I wonder how these folks even survive. Some ugly Singaporean customers however, have even been known to compare prices (5 for $1 vs 4 for $1) between peddlers and haggle. If you take a closer look at some of the brands of tissue hawked, you’ll find a popular one called ‘Beautex’, with a tagline that reads, rather ironically, CHOICES FOR BETTER LIVES.

To be fair, the government hasn’t completely turned a blind eye to their plight. Amy Khor calls tissue peddling a ‘ very uncertain livelihood’ and that such elderly folks should be referred to the MCYS and CDCs for financial assistance. Then again, there are ministers like Wong Kan Seng who in 1987 slammed a group of blind tissue sellers for ‘acting like beggars’, his Ministry even accusing members of the ‘Progressive Society of the Blind‘ of duping the public with claims that proceeds were going into building a music school. It would be temporary blindness of the officers under his charge that led to the escape of a very famous fugitive 10 years later.

Still, I question how the statutes define ‘itinerant hawker’ (any person who, with or without a vehicle, goes from place to place or from house to house carrying for sale or exposing for SALE OF FOODS OR GOODS of any kind) and why selling tissue paper is subject to NEA’s regulations. If the NEA clamps down on people selling curry puffs or otak-otak, I doubt anyone would complain, since you could get sick from consuming their wares without proper sanitary controls. How does the need to control something as benign as tissue paper fall under the Environmental Public Health Act? Does tissue paper give you lip salmonella? Has anyone been hospitalised from severe allergic reactions after wiping their faces with tissue paper? If you use tissue to chope tables at food centres, do they leak toxic fumes all over the place? Does tissue paper turn your pimples into 3rd degree burns?

Since the rise of tissue peddling in the early 2000’s, NEA have not relented on their stand against illegal hawking, with a spokesperson in 2004 deriding the hardship as ‘disguised begging’. Tell that to the Santa Claus uncle, NEA.

 

Lavender food heaven closing for development

From ‘Losing our food heritage in the name of development’, 31 March 2014, St Forum

(Edwin Lim): I READ with disappointment the article “Clock is ticking for Lavender’s ‘food heaven'” (last Friday). This marks the demise of yet another popular food haunt.

A few weeks ago, Singapore’s largest McDonald’s outlet, at King Albert Park – a place that many Singaporeans remember fondly as one where they “mugged” for exams and had their first date – also made headline news when it closed down to make way for redevelopment.

In place of these local favourites will rise yet more mixed-purpose developments of retail outlets, offices and residences.

Singapore is fast losing a generation of hawkers and efforts are being made to train a new generation of hawkers. Yet at the same time, we seem to be speeding up their disappearance by making their future uncertain. Will the future Singapore landscape be filled with just HDB blocks, condominiums and mixed-purpose developments? Of course, there is a need to build more homes for a growing population. But many residential units are also being bought for rental income.

How many patches of forest and popular haunts are making way for buildings that are aimed solely at property investors?

The essential guide to Singapore’s lost (and never found) hawker centres/markets can be found at the Remember Singapore Blog, a must-read for all hawker nerds and gluttons alike. Other than HDB blocks, condos and malls, another major culprit of hawker extermination is our MRT system, with food centres at Farrer Park, Labrador and Lakeview making way for development directly or indirectly related to MRT construction. The other dreaded word is ‘upgrading’, which may affect not just the ‘character’ of the hawker centre, but more importantly the livelihoods of hawkers too.

It’s also interesting how people remember certain McDonalds outlets (King Albert, East Coast) fondly but not other ‘lost’ fast food joints like BK or KFC. People even ‘mourn’ the loss of just ONE out of 120 of McDs to greater tribute fanfare than your neighbourhood coffee shop. Chicken McNuggets will never go away even if the CEO of McD’s dies, and it’ll taste the same for eternity whether it’s at King Albert Park or People’s Park.  Not the case for your favourite Cheng Tng at Bedok Corner hawker centre.

The former Bugis Square was itself a relocation of hawkers originating from Bugis Street, sans the ‘transverstite habitues‘ who were often the ‘centre of attraction’. Lavender Square’s demise comes quickly after news to shut down Longhouse at Upper Thomson Road, a food loft that used to be from the Jalan Besar stadium area, the taste of the famous duck rice still fresh in my mind long after my family brought me there in my teens (The duck rice stall, Soon Lee Kor, is slated to move BACK to Jalan Besar).

It’s sad to see anything make way for development really, whether it’s an open field or a cemetery, but if we can’t save Buona Vista swimming pool from decimation, even with celebrity Pam Oei fronting a petition to Chan Chun Sing for it, what more a hawker centre? How many of us are even willing to stop complaining about hawker extinction and give up our day jobs to pursue the trade in the first place?

Here are 12 facts inspired/extracted from the Remember Singapore piece that you never knew (or at least I never knew) about Singapore’s hawker history.

1. Taman Jurong Market & Food Centre, a merger of a market and 2 food centres, included the very FIRST hawker centre in Singapore: Yung Sheng Food Centre. Prepare your mecca now.

2. Telok Ayer Market was the first ever market in Singapore. It survived a demolition in 1879, was torn down due to MRT construction in 1984, and was refurbished in 1991 as ‘Lau Pa Sat’, which translates to ‘old market’. It wouldn’t exist without the work of  Municipal engineer James Macritchie. So he didn’t just build a reservoir here.

3. The sprawl of watering holes that is Boat Quay used to be Boat Quay Hawker Centre.

4. What used to be Simon Road Market is now string of plush condos, including one named Kovan residences.

5. Seletar Hills Market and Food Centre Centre is now a shopping mall that no one has ever heard of: Greenwich V.

6. The former Neo Tiew Market and Food Centre is now a training site for NSmen and a place to shoot a zombie apocalypse movie.

7. Tekka Market was for a while known as Zhujiao Market, or literally ‘bamboo feet’.

8. The Gateway at Beach Road was once the Clyde Terrace Market, also known in Hokkien as ‘thi pa sat khauor’ or ‘Iron Market’.

9. The Golden Bridge at Shenton Way used to be an overhead bridge CUM HAWKER CENTRE. In 2011, it was reported that there may be signs of a revival, but its fate remains uncertain till this day.

10. Taman Serasi Food Centre, near the Botanic Gardens, used to be famous for roti john. I’m not sure if the revamped Taman Serasi Food Garden is still around. Or has it devolved into ‘Food Canopy’, a glamorised food court?

11. The original ‘Glutton’s Square’ was located at Orchard Road Car park, what’s now become the much under-patronised Orchard Central. (Another Orchard Road favourite Cuppage Centre is now Starhub centre)

12. If you thought Golden Bridge was cool, we used to have a hawker centre UNDER A FLYOVER along Whitley Road. Another unforgettable place for a family outing which my folks referred to affectionately as ‘Under the Bridge’. An empty desolate patch where foreign workers like to hang out drinking remains.

Sumiko Tan believed that Singapore is in the midst of a ‘Golden Age’ in 2012 and that she preferred ‘progress’. If progress meant the loss of our food heritage and our local haunts replaced by bogus 24 hour ‘kopitiams’ if not spanking condos, then many Singaporeans who were born and bred on the foodstuff of our forefathers would rather starve to death than settle for ‘Mixed Economic Rice’.

So yeah, in the vein of a classic Paul Young 80’s song, everytime you close down a hawker centre, you take a piece of Singapore with you.

 

Indranee Rajah defending uncle with holey moley shirt

From ‘Indranee Rajah stands up for man mocked for hole in shirt’, 22 March 2014, article by Goh Chin Lian, ST

People still do not appreciate enough that their actions can have unintended consequences for others, especially on social media, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah in a Facebook post on Saturday. The Tanjong Pagar GRC MP was defending a resident in her ward whose attire Miss Singapore Universe 2013 finalist Jesslyn Tan had mocked in a recent Facebook post.

Mr Koh Hee Huat, 55, was asleep in the MRT and wearing a T-shirt with a hole in it. Ms Tan, 25, posted a photograph of him on Wednesday with the caption: “Holey moley. Sibei trendy worzxxz.”

…”If anyone merits a boost, it is this quiet, hardworking, unassuming man. He may not be sibei trendy but he is definitely ‘SIBEI HO.'”

Before she took part in MSU, Jesslyn was a 2012 FHM model, and when asked what superpowers she would like to have in an interview segment, she replied that she wanted Wolverine’s healing powers. Not to mention razor sharp claws so that she can take a vicious swipe at innocent passengers on a train. She probably thinks it’s a better idea to have Invisible Woman’s powers now.

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Jessyln’s intrusion of privacy and insensitivity is one thing, but as a MSU wannabe, poking fun at someone’s dress sense and suggesting that he can’t afford to buy new clothes is against the image of a compassionate, world-peace loving beauty queen that every contestant aspires towards. Imagine sending a representative like Jesslyn to help rebuild a school for impoverished kids, only for her to spend more time commenting on the kids’ shabby uniforms (or lack of) rather than do anything remotely charitable.  It also takes some serious cheek to comment on others’ outfits considering the kind of fashion abominations that MSUs have had to put on over the years. Oh, and THAT spelling. I can’t tell if ‘worzxxz’ is a typo or the language of an alien insectoid race.  She happens to be a Bachelor of Communication graduate too, maybe one who specialises in exotic languages.

MP Indranee was quick to come to Koh’s rescue, explaining why he wears ‘holey’ shirts to work and how he works his ass off till 3 am at Ye Shanghai Teochew Muay stall. Koh was apparently so affected by the post that he thought of quitting the job, and if an aspiring MSU can’t be bothered to come forward to apologise personally or even buy him some new shirts out of goodwill, then it’ll take an MP to soothe some nerves and offer protection. Thankfully for Jessyln, his salvation comes in form of Indranee, and not some furious kopitiam friends out for revenge who also happen to be Ah Long associates.

Or this guy.

This guy knows Teochew Muay Thai worzzxxzzz!

If I ever get verbally abused by Stompers for wearing ugly Crocs on the train, I doubt my MP would speak up for me, even if I threaten to kill myself because I got cyberbullied by a beauty queen. In fact, people get ruthlessly mocked for the way the dress all the time, the sloppy uni student, the aunty with a bucket on her head, the oversexy bareback with bra showing. Where were our MPs then?

There are many people like Koh out there, of course, sweating it out to earn a living and having to tolerate snobs like Jessyln Tan. They may not have holes in their clothing but have deeper holes in their pockets than most of us. If they weren’t sensationally victimised like Koh here on social media, would our MPs share real-life sob stories so readily with the rest of us outside of election rallies where such anecdotes are potential speech (and vote) winners?  You don’t need a beauty queen shooting her mouth off before you realise people like Koh exist and celebrate them for making sure we have porridge supper to eat at 3am. I’m also not sure if there’s an unintentional pun with Indranee describing Koh as ‘SIBEI HO’ following this ‘HOLE’ in a shirt saga. It sure was ‘SIBEI SUAY’ for Jessyln to get caught, though.

Well, if you do drop by for supper at Mr Koh’s Bukit Merah stall (thanks to his MP’s free publicity), try to refrain from inspecting his shirt, or it’d look like people are flocking to Ye Shanghai just for a glimpse of the famous hole like it were national treasure rather than the Teochew Muay. Meanwhile, it’ll probably be a while before we see Jessyln participating in any kind of pageant whatsoever, nor should she even think of going into fashion consultancy. I’d also suggest that she think twice before appearing in public wearing ‘trendy’ ripped jeans, before someone goes up to her and says: Hey Jessyln! HOLE SAY BOH??

Vivian Balakrisnan calling Low Thia Khiang an honourable man

From ‘WP MPs ‘untruthful’, says Vivian’, 10 July 2013, article by Elgin Toh, ST

WORKERS’ Party MPs Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh made “false and untruthful” statements to cover up their town council’s demand for extra charges for hawker centre cleaning, the Government charged yesterday.

Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan reprimanded them thus in Parliament, before telling the media he was withdrawing his parliamentary privilege for his statements. The highly unusual move means he is effectively challenging the two MPs to sue him for defamation for accusing them of lying.

…Explaining why he would not let the matter rest, he framed the issue as one of integrity and clean politics, and not the cleanliness of hawker centres. “All of us will make mistakes. But when a mistake is made, just come clean and say so… don’t cover up. That’s why I have not let this go.”

…Rising to speak, WP chief Low Thia Khiang said he agreed with Ms Lim that the episode arose from a misunderstanding over annual versus quarterly cleanings. As the 36-minute exchange came to a close, the minister urged Mr Low:

“Because I know you to be an honourable man, I appeal to you: Go back, do a thorough investigation of what’s gone on and what’s gone wrong in your town council and put it right.”

The Environment Minister may think the PAP is the epitome of ‘clean politics’, but as Low Thia Khiang retorted after the backhanded compliment, his confrontational style akin to a pitbull not letting go of a bone may not necessarily be ‘good’ politics either. Earlier in June, Balakrishnan said: “Either Mr Pritam Singh OR the hawkers are telling the truth. It is obvious that the hawkers are speaking the truth.” A terribly long-winded way of calling someone a LIAR, for someone who insists on calling a flood a flood (and a spade a spade). It is set theory for babies; Either a Circle has edges or a Rectangle has edges. It is obvious that a rectangle has edges. Duh.

This hawker spat was given a rest due to the haze, but now that it’s clear skies, the Minister decided it was time to exhume the ceiling cleaning debacle. While people are DYING of dengue. This time, he suggests that Sylvia Lim and Pritam Singh are ‘dishonourable’ by taunting Low Thia Khiang and cornering him to do the ‘right thing’. The Parliamentary Privilege allows MPs to speak ‘freely and frankly without fear of consequences’, but it doesn’t say anything about penalising you if you act like the whole world owes you an apology.

Breaching this privilege comes with consequences, including imprisonment. That, I would assume, includes stuff like insulting the PM’s dead mother, or exposing a fellow MP’s racy affair, though it’s unlikely that anyone would put a PAP MP, not to mention a Minister, in jail for abuse of this immunity and spewing nonsense in Parliament (In 1987, however, JBJ was fined $1000 for acting in a ‘reprehensible manner’ and threatening to TEAR down the very pillars of society). Being a wise guy who takes smug digs at fellow parliamentrians doesn’t make you any more a ‘clean’ politician than the possibility of a ‘clean’ hawker centre. For a profession that is known throughout the world as a ‘dirty game’, it takes some serious cheek to believe that you’re setting an example of something totally opposite.

This style of ‘clean politics’, or rather ‘come-clean politics’ is similar to LKY pouncing on James Gomez during the 2006 election, where he called the then WP candidate a LIAR, a ‘bad egg’ and wondered what he ‘uses those brains for’. He even dared the WP to sue his ass, which is what Vivian is doing here. At least the old man didn’t need to tease us with logic puzzles in his accusations. Last year, Khaw Boon Wan accused the WP for misleading voters during the Yaw Shin Leong incident and to COME CLEAN too, which we all know by now is an euphemism for ‘Stop the goddamn BULLSHIT already’. Except you can’t say Bullshit in parliament without breaching your bullshit parliamentary privilege.

I guess it’s pretty obvious right now that Low never did accept Vivian’s invitation to chit-chat over a cup of kopi after all. Some may call the Minister’s hawker ceiling obsession a tenacious pursuit for truth. In the face of more dire matters at hand, I see it more as a crafty diversion.

Gordon Ramsay hawker cook-off a publicity stunt

From ‘Hawker cook-off with Ramsay a publicity stunt’, 6 July 2013, Mailbag, ST Life

(Dr Michael Loh): Is the cook-off between foul-mouthed British chef Gordon Ramsay and Singapore’s so-called Top 3 favourite Hawker Heroes on Sunday (Gordon Ramsay Takes On Hawkers, Life!, July 4) an irresponsible publicity stunt?

The reasons given for this event, organised by SingTel, are wishy-washy. SingTel’s publicity materials say: “Recently, there’s been great concern regarding the decline of local hawker culture and whether Michelin-starred accreditation would encourage fresh blood to join the trade and preserve our beloved heritage.”

If you cut through the gibberish, anyone will know that this is just another publicity stunt for the telco. There is nothing wrong for companies, in the face of fierce competition, to clutch at straws to win customers. But, to have an expletive-spewing, abusive, megalomaniac – who is hardly a role model for our children – come to Singapore and take on our hawkers is, to me, a shameless act by SingTel.

I haven’t watched a single episode of Hell’s Kitchen, but just an uncensored swearing compilation alone would give you some idea of what a nasty, violent bastard Ramsay the TV personality is, cussing at women, spitting into food and short of bashing participants senseless with crockery. As entertainment, the boot camp-in-a-kitchen concept is a success, though the vulgarities tend to lack imagination after a while.  Fans believe that his volcanic personality and potty mouth is what makes the Gordon Ramsay brand, hence the mobbing at Maxwell hawker centre while he was chopping chicken at Maxwell’s Tian Tian (incidentally the same stall that fellow celebrity chef Anthony Bourdian promoted when he was here some years back).  Singaporeans gravitate to the rude ‘bad-boy’ celebrity chef the same way they idolise meanies Simon Cowell and Donald Trump on the Apprentice, though some of the hawkers interviewed had no idea who Ramsay was (‘Is he Singaporean?) or what, or who, Michelin is (Name of a KTV girl?).

Ramsay’s promo for the Hawker Heroes event was designed and scripted to irritate the most passionate hawker food lover, and nothing would please a Singaporean more than seeing a brash, haughty ang moh beaten at his own game. Yes, it’s a publicity stunt that banks on the clash of cultures – Obnoxious Western chef meets the heartland hawker – and I’m not sure how getting Ramsay to cook his own version of chicken rice, laksa or chili crab would help the hawker dilemma in any way whatsoever. If nothing is done to change the way we educate our kids or how they view employment, we will lose our heritage no matter how many top chefs we fly in to help boost it. You don’t get into the business to just to please the occasional celebrity visitor, but the people who keep you employed, Singaporeans themselves. In fact, Michelin maestros have been settling down rather nicely here since 2007 with their fancy brand extensions. If anything they’re inspiring fine dining as a profession rather than saving hawker cuisine from certain death. I, for one, wouldn’t eat at a ‘Michelin-starred’ char kuay teow stall because it’s patronising to tradition and utterly pretentious. What next, gold leaf on carrot cake?

But so what if it’s just shameless publicity? I didn’t even know this was Singtel sponsored until I read this letter. Singtel doesn’t need to sell its services anymore than the Army needs recruitment videos. This is, after all, the same telco that brought you the F1 and Singtel Grid girls. In fact, I’d rather a naughty celebrity chef fly in here to promote the country as a culinary destination, than them holding a energy-consuming, air-polluting monster night race. So far, reports of Ramsay’s behaviour have been described as ‘kind’ and somewhat humane and I doubt he’d throw a hissy fit at the chicken rice aunty and jeopardise his contract with Singtel and even reputation by giving her a heart attack. Interviewers would have to tread carefully when it comes to personal questions with the chef though, in case they get labelled as ‘old, ugly, lesbian pigs’ behind their backs.

As for whether children care enough about celebrity chefs to look up to them as role models I’m not sure. Ramsay’s popular TV shows sure as Hell don’t look appealing to the young and impressionable, though in the ‘F word’ he talks to his children about the harsh reality of where pork comes from. He even teaches them how to make Christmas Mint Chocolate Truffles in the clip below. Given his kitchen persona as a sadistic, arrogant bastard, Ramsay mentioning ‘honey’ and ‘chocolate’  in the same sentence is as creepy as a serial killer singing a nursery rhyme.

Postscript: Of the 3 dishes, Gordon won for chilli crab, which was the odd one out in the first place. Well, they had to give the man something.

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