Shisha ban affecting the ‘character’ of Arab Street

From ‘Shisha smoking on decline over past 2 years’, article by Amir Hussain, 10 Nov 2014, ST

…Last year, the authorities revoked the outdoor smoking licences of 12 out of 23 shisha cafes in the area for allowing shisha smoking outside designated areas. Under the law, food establishments are allowed to have smoking areas of up to one-fifth of their outdoor refreshment areas. There are now 16 licensed shisha retailers, with the majority in Kampong Glam. This is a far cry from the 49 in 2012.

A ban on the import, distribution and sale of shisha, which will kick in later this month, will allow existing retailers to sell the tobacco product until July 31, 2016. Noting the gradual decline in shisha providers over the past two years, seven businesses, ranging from carpet shops to an outdoor gear retailer in the Arab Street area, told The Straits Times they were not surprised by the ban announced in Parliament last week.

…But the first shisha retailer in Singapore, Cafe Le Caire’s owner Ameen Talib, said: “The fact is that shisha brought a certain character to the area, led it to be known as an Arabic Quarter and added a certain vibrancy.”

Dr Talib, 52, first received a tobacco retail licence from the Health Sciences Authority in September 2001, two months after opening his restaurant in the then sleepy Arab Street. The former accountancy professor, a third-generation Arab Singaporean, said he wanted to rejuvenate the former Arab Quarter of colonial-era Singapore.

“When you walk around, you need to smell the aroma of kebab, the aroma of shisha. Visually, you need to see people sitting on the road relaxed, smoking shisha. You get the feeling you are in the Middle East. And you need to hear Arabic music as you walk down the road,” he said.

In 2004, 3 years after Dr Talib first introduced Singaporeans to shisha, or ‘sheeshah’, he called Arab Street the ‘only bohemian village in town’, where one can have ‘nice, CLEAN fun’ without alcohol. A shisha contraption, of course, other than having a pipe that you stick in your mouth and trade saliva with others, is far from ‘clean’, despite the use of a bubbling water vessel that gives the illusion of ‘purification’. Before MOH resorted to a total ban, HPB had to rely on public education i.e scare tactics to warn users that shisha wasn’t just another form of social smoking. Unlike a standard cigarette, you risk contracting not just lung cancer, but Tuberculosis and HERPES. It’s like putting an ornamented pubic toilet brush in your mouth and sucking on it for hours. Yes, don’t let that cute Ninja Girl blowing a dildo-shaped watermelon shisha fool you. That thing is a biohazard.

The same shisha-pushing professor also called for a blanket ban of alcohol throughout the area back in 2012, in order to preserve the ‘core and heritage’ of Kampong Glam, the same shisha-centric ‘character’ that he pioneered back in 2001. There was no shisha before Talib opened the floodgates, but it doesn’t mean that Arab Street, with its carpets, textile, spice shops, tomb-makers, didn’t have any less of its Islamic ‘charm’ then, even if it didn’t immediately transport visitors to the bustling smoky, dusty bazaars of Baghdad sans camels and belly-dancing slave girls. In fact, some shop owners in the area even agreed that shisha was a relatively new trend, and was NEVER connected to Kampong Glam’s identity and history. Maybe the Sultan and his royal family imported them secretly from the Middle East back in the 19th century, but it was never a feature of the ‘kampung’ vibe on the streets.

So what’s Talib’s cafe going to do now that it doesn’t sell alcohol and recently had its shisha licence revoked for flouting outdoor smoking regulations? How about some nice, clean, live screenings of football over authentic Samovar tea then? The total ban may be a little extreme, given that cigarettes are spared because they have become ‘entrenched’ according to MOH spokesmen (and also taxable), but to say that banning shisha will make the ‘Arab Quarter’ lose its ‘character’, ‘vibrancy’ or ‘heritage’ is a pitiless excuse for the real reason; Fear of business going up in smoke. Ban prostitution and you’ll have pimps complaining that, like losing shisha, it’ll deprive Geylang of its ‘character’ and ‘colour’ as well.

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‘Lau Pa Sat’ in Tamil can be used to curse people

From ‘STB to correct Lau Pa Sat and tighten translation process’, 7 Nov 2014, article by Chew Hui Min, ST

The Lau Pa Sat sign which was incorrectly translated has been removed and will be corrected, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said in a statement on Friday. STB also said that it will tighten the process of translating its brown signs, which indicate tourist attractions or landmarks.

“We had notified the operator and they had taken immediate steps to remove the sign and work on correcting the translation,” Ms Ranita Sundramoorthy, director of attractions, dining and retail said in the statement, referring to the erroneous Lau Pa Sat sign.

She added that the board will ensure the new sign is checked by language experts. A photo of the sign, which translated “Sat” as “Sani” or Saturday in Tamil, was being circulated on social networks. The word can have a negative connotation, and can be used to curse people.

Mr Samikannu Sithambaram, president of the Singapore Tamil Teachers’ Union, told The Straits Times on Thursday that the mistake could have come about because the translators thought that “Sat” in Lau Pa Sat was a truncation of “Saturday”.

SAT you, STB

SAT you, STB

Notice that this brown sign has Chinese, Tamil and Japanese on it, but no Malay. Contrast the selection of languages with other tourist attraction ‘brown signs’, such as East Coast Park, which has Malay, Japanese but no Tamil. There are inconsistencies elsewhere. Sri Krishnan Temple has no Malay or Japanese, while Little India has Malay, Chinese, Japanese but not Tamil. The image next to the Lau Pa Sat text doesn’t look like Lau Pa Sat at all, more like the Supreme Court dome. Why didn’t anyone spot this glaring error instead?

According to ST, the Tamil translation for ‘Sat’, or ‘Sani’, is also a reference to ‘Satan’, the only diabolical connection to the Lord of Darkness being that Lau Pa Sat is owned by food court conglomerate Kopitiam. Other Tamil speakers from the ST FB page were quick to clarify that ‘Sani’ refers to the planet ‘Saturn’. This isn’t the first time STB made a mess of their promotional material, summoning the Devil or otherwise. In 2002, the Hungry Ghost Festival was translated in Chinese to ‘HUNGARY Ghost festival’.

I’m not sure if Tamil is notoriously difficult to translate, but getting lost in translation has haunted Tamil linguists for more than a century. In 1940, a slogan on signboards campaigning for people to grow their own vegetables for ‘health and victory’ was read as ‘Unless you grow vegetables we shall lose the war’. Or maybe that was secretly intended to serve as war propaganda to rally Indians into amassing combat rations for our comrades. A Malay song in 1952 titled ‘A yoyo Ramasamy’ riled some Indians because it translated into derogatory lyrics describing labourers who ‘drink toddy and get intoxicated’.  In 1989, a multi-lingual No-smoking sign on a TIBS bus was slammed because it contained a nonsensical Tamil word. You also don’t see Tamil subtitles for English movies on national TV, or hear any of the PMs in the 60-year history of the PAP speak a single full sentence of it during their National Day Rallies. It can be a problem too if you even attempt to anglicise Tamil. Some years back Bread Talk were accused of mocking the race and language by naming one of their creations ‘Naan the Nay’, which probably has the same racial connotations as someone mocking Mandarin with ‘Ching Chong Ching Chong’.

But it’s not just STB who deserves Hell for their laziness in translation. NHB made a more humiliating mistake previously by translating Bras Basah in Chinese to the literal ‘bras’ (undergarments) on their Night Festival website. They soon made a ‘clean breast’ of it and fixed the atrocity. I wonder if STB has a brown sign for Sim Lim Square. Now if that were translated into Satan’s Square because of its reputation of scamming tourists out of their hard earned money and forcing people to get down on their knees and wail to the gods, they wouldn’t be that far off.

Car dealer paid $19,000 in coins smelling of fish

From ‘Customer leaves $19,000 of coins at car dealer’s showroom’, 5 Nov 2014, article by Priscilla Goy, ST

In yet another case of settling scores with loads of coin, a customer left $19,000 of coins at a car dealer’s showroom on Tuesday. Mr Lester Ong Boon Lin, said to be the son of a famous nasi lemak franchise owner, had been ordered by the court a few months ago to pay Exotic Motors the amount, and he did so – in coins which reeked of fish, said a report by Chinese paper Shin Min Daily on Wednesday.

Exotic Motor’s owner Sylvester Tang told the paper: “His lawyer told us that he would come to return the money, and even do it in cash.” After a shop staff member had signed the receipt, one of Mr Ong’s workers used a trolley to deliver a styrofoam box containing the coins. Surveillance cameras at the shop showed the coins being poured out on to the carpeted floor and the worker leaving promptly with the box and trolley.

Mr Tang, known by many as Mr S. T. Tang, 44, said his shop has had a foul smell since Tuesday afternoon and customers have been staying away from his store because of that. The coins were later placed in plastic bags and put in his car boot. He said then that the coins would be returned to Mr Ong’s lawyer.

Mr Ong, 34, told Shin Min he paid in coins to express his strong dissatisfaction with the court’s judgment and the car dealer’s actions. He also said it was not illegal to pay the amount in coins. But according to the Currency Act, coins in denominations of less than 50 cents cannot be used for payments of more than $2. Mr Tang said most of the coins left at the shop were 20-cent coins.

In 2010, this son of a nasi lemak tycoon was sued by MBS for owing the casino more than $240,000.  Ponggol Nasi Lemak were quick to clarify that they had nothing to do with Lester Ong’s troubles with the law, and it was later revealed that Lester’s dad owns Chong Pang Nasi Lemak , which is supposedly rated one of the best in Singapore. I wonder if he had thought of paying back the casino in ‘cash’, which probably amounts to enough coins to fill half the Infinity Pool. Or perhaps he got the idea from Mobile Air’s Jover Chew, who dropped $1k worth of coins on a hapless customer as a refund, and worse, made a grown man beg and cry in public.

According to the Currency Act, it’s forbidden to use only 20 cent coins to pay for a standard plate of chicken rice ($2.50), though there have been cases of stall owners rejecting even 4 x 5 cent coins in combination with a $5 note for a bowl of $5.50 noodles. You may however, pay up to $10 worth of 50 cent coins, and nothing’s stopping you from bringing a sack of $1 dollar coins to buy furniture from Ikea because technically, there’s no limit to what you can do with this denomination. The law is silent, however, on whether you should wipe your stinky money with Dettol before paying, or if it’s socially acceptable to cart your load in a wheelbarrow and dump it all over someone’s floor. It’s a different story, of course, if you’re a king, have barrels-loads of coins to give away, and toss them from your palace balcony to the grateful, fawning peasantry below you.

But what I’m really curious about is HOW exactly people like Jover and Lester, birds of a feather, got their underlings to COUNT and CARRY all these coins for them. $19K, or 95,000 20-cent coins, or 380 KG of coins(assuming roughly 4g per coin), is probably still, well, ‘ikan bilis’ to filthy rich buggers like Lester, and since he’s so certain of his currency laws, maybe every merchant he encounters in future should return him his change in kind, by dumping a pail of coins of varying denominations over his head, because there’s no law against paying in coins or delivering it with the same eloquence as taking a poop in your neighbour’s garden.

It’s a pity that we decommissioned the 1 CENT coin. I want to see the look of his face if someone sends truckloads to his place of residence and floods his porch with it so he can swim in the brown sludge like Scrooge McDuck. Maybe SMRT (Feedback) can help with that.

4 year old boy’s death from Nasi Padang a misadventure

From ‘NEA to take action against stall owner’, 1 Nov 2014, article by Hoe Pei Shan, ST

THE National Environment Agency (NEA) yesterday said it will be taking action against the owner of the nasi padang stall linked to the death of a four-year-old boy. A coroner’s inquiry completed the day before found that Shayne Sujith Balasubraamaniam had likely contracted salmonella from food which his mother bought from the stall in Northpoint Shopping Centre’s Kopitiam foodcourt, before dying four days later on Jan 22. The coroner called the tragedy a “misadventure”.

Operations at the stall were suspended for three weeks for the NEA to conduct investigations. After the coroner’s inquiry, netizens wondered if stall owner Siti Abibah Guno would face further action. Responding to queries from The Straits Times, an NEA spokesman said yesterday: “With the coroner’s inquiry now completed, NEA will proceed to prosecute the licensee in court.”

Under the Environmental Public Health (Food Hygiene) Regulations, Madam Siti faces a fine of up to $2,000 for each charge. Investigations had revealed unsafe levels of bacteria at the stall because of two main hygiene lapses – failure to register a food handler as required and failure to protect food in a covered receptacle.

Madam Siti was adamant when she told The Straits Times over the phone on Thursday that she had done nothing wrong as her licence to run a food stall had not been revoked.

According to the NEA’s advisory webpage, ‘3 persons’ were reported to contract ‘food poisoning’ on 18 Jan 2014, and NEA decided to drop the grading down to ‘C, but only effective from 10 April 2014, nearly 3 months after the boy’s death. My Paper reports that other than the deceased, his mother and 2 year old sister were also hit by the salmonella bug, the culprits being curry chicken and tahu goreng. If you check the latest grade for Siti’s stall from NEA’s online database, you would find, to anyone’s befuddlement, that it had since been upgraded to A. But what’s more surprising is that Siti was awarded NO DEMERIT POINTS and listed as NO SUSPENSIONS at all the past year, despite the Jan incident. You might even say it’s an unblemished track record just looking at the details below. No wonder she thinks she has done ‘nothing wrong’.

Screen Shot 2014-11-01 at 7.47.12 AM

 ‘C’ means a score of 50-69%, or barely meeting the passing mark, though the running joke among fans of hawker food is that the lower the score, the tastier the food, with the lowest rating ‘D’ standing for ‘Delicious’. With this Nasi Padang tragedy, you can’t tell that joke anymore without someone groaning at its, well, tastelessness. D is diarrhoea, then death. So, the question remains, how reliable are these ratings anyway? How does the public make an ‘informed choice’ from these grades if there’s a lapse of a few months between a tragedy and the actual ‘demotion’? Or if your online licensing details says there were no suspensions the past year when in fact there was?

It seems that NEA will only issue some kind of strained apology or reassurance when hundreds of people are affected, like the Geylang Serai rojak poisoning back in 2009, which also took 2 lives thanks to an outbreak of Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a bacterium that also sounds like a Harry Potter spell to induce instant faecal incontinence. Back then, the CEO of NEA himself wrote a letter to Today saying he was ‘deeply saddened’ and that NEA ‘should have moved in firmly’ to tackle the rat infestation problem at the Temporary Market. In this Nasi Padang case, they’ve decided to go on the litigious offensive straight off, before telling us how ‘affected’ they are by the tragic demise, or what measures, other than tweaking gradings up and down, are going to be implemented to ensure that such ‘misadventures’ don’t happen again. Incidentally, the rojak stall was also rated C (Rojak stall given C grade for hygiene in Dec, 8 April 2009, ST).

 Meanwhile, if you think you’re safe if you avoid stalls which display uncovered food, whether it’s economic rice, rojak or Taste of Nanyang Chicken Rice, think again. Even dipping your fishballs in a Sichuan hot pot may not avert a gastrointestinal holocaust. Nor eating Prima Deli chocolate cakes. You should also worry about what your kids eat in their school canteens. If you see a food stall with a ‘C’ rating, don’t think of it as ‘satisfactory’ or ‘average’, but ‘CAUTION’.  Do a quick spotcheck of the premises before ordering, and don’t gobble down the food in case it’s swarming with gross, hidden maggots, as what happened with another case of Nasi Padang last year (also from a stall in Yishun), an image that is enough to turn you into a vegetarian for a week. Watch out for Ecoli in salad though.

As for NEA’s online database, if it’s really a case of wrong information displayed, then you’ve just scored a big ‘F’ in my book.

Pizza Hut calling customer a pink fat lady

From ‘Pizza hut Singapore apologises for calling customer ‘fat”, 14 Oct 2014, article in CNA

Pizza Hut Singapore has apologised to a customer who found the words “Pink Fat Lady” scrawled on her receipt. The customer, Ms Aili Si, who was at the chain’s Bukit Merah outlet on Sunday (Oct 12) evening, found the words written on her pizza takeaway receipt.

She posted a photo of the receipt on the company’s Facebook page, along with the message: “I don’t think it is nice for your staff to describe me as such on my receipt. As a customer I definitely hope to be treated with basic respect deserved by any others. I hope to receive an apology from the staff and Pizza Hut.”

She added: “Just feel insulted. What’s wrong with being plus size? I’m a customer and I pay for my pizza! Not that I’m getting it for free!”

It ain't over till the fat lady complains

It ain’t over till the fat lady complains

No, there’s nothing wrong with being ‘plus-sized’, ‘big’, ‘chubby’ or any other euphemism for ‘fat’. What went wrong was that the Pizza Hut server should have just asked for a name instead of writing out 3 words that would identify her most accurately. Would the customer be any less angrier had the receipt read ‘Pink Big Lady’? Or the exotic bubble tea sounding ‘Pink BBW’?  Some feminists, in fact, even take offence to the word ‘Lady’. If you didn’t get the name of a customer like Aili, or afraid to make a catastrophe of it like they do at Starbucks, perhaps the safest way to describe her on a receipt without getting flamed on social media is ‘Full-figured Woman in pink’. Which is how some people would describe rose wine.

Some years back, a bunch of women displayed ‘plus-sized’ pride by posing nude in a calendar for charity, as a crusade against the fat stigma, and incidentally during a time when the BBW fetish community was gaining ground. The word ‘Fat’ to describe someone’s physique in everyday conversation, particularly that of a woman, may be even less frequently uttered than another taboo word ‘Pregnant’, unless it’s used as a superlative for some over-achievers, like the lady who holds the  Guinness Book of Records for the World’s ‘Heaviest’ Woman. Back in the seventies, we had no qualms about blasting fat people for not looking after their health, or even celebrating their rotundness. Today we’re more afraid of hurting their feelings than worry about them hurting their heart and arteries. In 2008, the Ministry of Education scrapped the TAF CLUB , a national school fitness programme that spelt FAT backwards, and renamed it to the HHF (Holistic Health Framework), which tells you absolutely nothing about how chunky these kids are. Conversely, you don’t hear people complaining about the words ‘THIN’, ‘SKINNY’ or ‘SMALL'; in fact sometimes these are even taken as compliments. If you wrote ‘Pink Skinny Lady’ instead, you may even get a tip.

If you’re on the curvy side and want to get some XXL clothes, you don’t go to a ‘Fat Lady Boutique’, you shop from ‘Joy in Curves’, Big on Attitude, and the god-awful sounding ‘PLUSYLICIOUS‘. From the names of such shops alone, you’d notice this patronising tendency to associate women on the heavy side with ‘attitude’, ‘confidence’ and ‘sexiness’, when most overweight women are, well, just plain Janes.  We restrict the F-word to the realm of food science, as in calories from FATS, or when used in the beauty industry to denote something repulsive that needs to be destroyed with fire, like ‘fat burner’, or ‘eliminates fats’. There are movies titled ‘Big Momma’s House’ and not ‘Fat Momma’s House’, or ‘200 pounds beauty’ and not ‘OBESE beauty’. Hipster FnB establishments are named ‘Fat Boys’ or ‘Two Fat Men‘ but not ‘Two Fat Women’. The IMDB synopsis for Shallow Hal reads ‘ A shallow man falls in love with a 300 POUND woman because of her ‘inner beauty”, not ‘falls for a FAT woman’. It seems more socially acceptable to be as heavy as a pregnant sow, than to be called the 3-letter word FAT.

There are some instances, however, where adopting a PC-stance against fatness would just seem out of place. You don’t say ‘It ain’t over till the plus-sized lady sings’ for example. The ‘Yo Momma so Big’ insult just doesn’t have the same sting as ‘Yo Momma So Fat’. Weird Al Yankovic would have never pulled off a MJ parody hit had he sung ‘Curvy’ instead of ‘Fat’. Some do take the euphemism to the extremes, the worst examples being ‘Queen-sized’ and ‘Natural Body Type’, which is like calling a complete idiot ‘selectively talented’.

I’m not sure if ‘Veg Lvr’ or ‘Shrm Dlt (mushroom delight?) from Aili’s receipt refers to vegetarian pizzas, which may be a sign that she’s conscious about her weight, despite being defensive of her ‘plus-size’. Perhaps to test just how sincere Pizza Hut is in their apology, I should do down to any of their branches for a takeaway order, make a nuisance of myself,  and see if the staff would write ‘Crazy Ugly F**ker’ on my receipt.

 

 

 

 

 

MBS food court chicken rice stall infested with cockroaches

From ‘NEA to take action against Marina Bay Sands stall for cockroach infestation’, 11 Oct 2014, article in CNA

The National Environment Agency (NEA) will be taking enforcement action against a chicken rice stall at the foodcourt at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) for cockroach infestation.

In a statement on Saturday (Oct 11), NEA said it has found cockroach infestation at the stall in the 1983 – A Taste of Nanyang foodcourt. The foodcourt has voluntarily closed since Tuesday evening (Oct 7) for cleaning and pest control treatment, in the wake of customer complaints and photographs of cockroaches that went viral online.

…The 1983 – A Taste of Nanyang food court is located at the South Promenade of The Shoppes at MBS and is run by Koufu. Other branches can be found at Changi Airport Terminal 1, JEM, Republic Polytechnic, ITE Ang Mo Kio and the Nanyang Technological University.

When Facebook user Kovit Ang posted his image of a troop of five roaches ready to attack pieces of fried meat, he did weight-watchers all over the country a huge favour. Now if you find yourself having a ridiculous craving for chicken rice between meals, it helps to recall that horrific photo, feel the surge of bile up your throat, and switch to an apple and a protein bar instead. But before one tars all Food Republics, Kopitiams and Koufus with the same brush, remember that one of the reasons why food courts exist is because people wanted to avoid pests like stray mynahs and, in the case of the recently shut down Ghim Moh Market, rats living in up to 71 burrows.

Not much is mentioned about the significance of ‘1983’ in the Koufu website other than a story that suggests the origin of nasi lemak at Malacca Street. It wasn’t that far from ‘1983’ when Singapore had its very first ‘food court’. Scotts Picnic in Orchard, established in 1985, was supposed to be an ‘upmarket’ hawker centre, where patrons could eat in air-conditioned comfort. A string of food halls with the same dining concept and similarly snazzy titles (Food Paradiz, Food Palace) followed suit, but within 3 years owners were reporting slumps in takings, with complaints that the air-conditioning made oily smells cling to one’s office attire. This despite attempts to install roman columns and chandeliers or employ a live DJ to spin the latest 80’s hits.

The food court idea was meant to be an improvement of the existing hawker centre infrastructure, a culinary ‘renaissance’ so to speak, for the busy office worker in the heart of town. Today, with a near patriotic resurgence of hawker culture, these places have been reviled by food lovers all over, not so much for the hygiene or stubborn oily smells, but because it’s the only place where you’ll get charged $8.50 for chicken rice, cockroach or no cockroach, that tastes mediocre, if not downright terrible. There are exceptions, of course, though seeing a Hokkien Mee seller in a food court wearing a straw hat doesn’t mean the dish is any good.

Food guru Dr Leslie Tay is all too familiar with how the food court subletting system compromises the quality of one’s cooking, himself declaring that he would never visit such a food court if he could help it.  Koufu Sentosa has even found itself listed on Lonely Planet, the nadir of the evolution of the food court from hawker centre upgrade to campy tourist trap. The operator has even masked its hydra arms in various guises, calling its Star Vista branch in Buona Vista ‘Kitchen’, among others including ‘Gallerie’, ‘Rasapura’ and the ultimate, ‘GOURMET PARADISE’. The only thing ‘nostalgic’ about 1983’s Taste of Nanyang after this roach incident is how it suddenly reminds you of the conditions on board the overcrowded boats our migrant forefathers arrived in, like in ‘The Awakening’.

But if you’re a Koufu devotee and still believe that the cockroach incident in an iconic building is an isolated incident simply blown out of proportion, maybe this photo below, snapped at Koufu HDB Hub Toa Payoh circa 2011, will change your mind not just about the franchise, but chicken rice forever.

The menu at Koufu has gone beyond ‘exotic’

F1 Grand Prix is not a $25 chicken rice race

From ‘Singapore GP not a $25-chicken-rice race: organisers’, 14 Sept 2014, article in CNA

The Singapore Grand Prix is meant to be a great experience and not a ‘$25-Chicken-Rice’ race, said the organisers of Formula One’s (F1) only night race, in response to a report that showed the city-state may not be the most affordable place to catch an F1 race.

Race organisers say Singaporeans consistently make up about 60 per cent of the over 80,000 race-goers each year. This applies to every price category – from the cheapest walkabout tickets to the Pit Grandstand.

“Over and above a sporting occasion, it is a huge social occasion now. Singaporeans like a good party,” said Mr Michael Roche, executive director of the Singapore GP. “I think this loyalty has grown among Singaporeans – they’ve become quite proud of the Singapore Grand Prix and they like it when the world is watching Singapore and the skyline.

“We don’t want to be a ‘$25-chicken-rice Grand Prix’. We want to be a great experience.”

But there is a price to be paid for the chance to experience F1’s only night race. Travel website TripAdvisor ranked the Singapore Grand Prix as the seventh most expensive, out of the 19 races worldwide. It said the price of catching the Sunday final race here is S$622.67. This includes the cost of the cheapest tickets at S$207.33, a meal and a night’s stay at a hotel near the track.

Roche’s analogy of a ‘$25 chicken rice dish’ is likely a snub at the famous house special at Meritus Mandarin’s Chatterbox, which now incidentally costs $27. Curiously enough, the ‘legendary’ chicken rice was created by a German chef back in 1971, who was inspired by the hawker version to create a premium dish, made from COBB 500 chickens, medium grain jasmine rice and homemade ginger and chilli sauces. I wonder what former executive chef Peter Gehrmann would think of the comparison, with Roche suggesting that $25 for a plate is overpriced, overrated when it seems like only top-grade ingredients went into its concoction. Chicken rice will never be ‘sexy’ or ‘glamorous’ like an F1 race no matter how you mark it up. And honestly, thank God it’s not.

While Chatterbox used to be a ‘coffee house’ in those days, today it’s a casual diner and its ‘award-winning’ chicken rice still wins the hearts of some locals who appreciate the generous servings of meat, describe the sauces as ‘sublime’ and the meal as an ‘annual pilgrimage’ (WHAT awards exactly, I wonder). Perhaps the Night Race is more of a $25 XO Chai Tau Quay instead? 20 years ago, Chatterbox charged their chicken rice at $16 per plate (Is $16 too high a price for chicken rice, 17 Aug 1995, ST), which is still cheaper than what you can get for a BURGER at F1 ($17) today.  In 2009, food stalls in the F1 zone were charging chicken rice and HOKKIEN MEE at $8, which was expected since the whole event was designed to milk the most out of rich people, though if I had to choose between a sub-par, measly $8 chicken rice and the Chatterbox dish, I’d rather splurge on the latter. According to Trip Advisor, we also sell the most expensive pint of beer in the history of F1 ($13.58), no thanks to our recent increase in sin taxes. Nobody seems to be overly concerned about a riot breaking out on the grandstands.

But look at the discrepancy between our minimum ticket price vs Malaysia just across the Causeway ($207.33 vs $39.12). The CNA article also didn’t mention that, according to the BBC, Singapore has the MOST EXPENSIVE 3-day ticket OF ALL (1,109 pounds) (2013). The second most expensive ticket in the world was from Brazil, at a distant 745 pounds per ticket. This year, for $42276.50 you could book a GREEN ROOM (Oops, you can’t now, it’s sold out!). What the F1 organisers are avoiding to explain really is WHY so expensive compared to the rest of the region (i.e Malaysia), even for a night race. It’s not that we have the most ardent racing fans so much as we have the greatest concentration of goddamn billionaires  (26) here.

Not to mention the other intangible costs of a night race on our environment, namely the excessive use of lighting. No, the F1 isn’t a $25 chicken rice dish. Ecologically speaking, it’s a $25 triple-decker Big Mac, sinful beyond redemption, greasy, artery-clogging, too much of which will eventually kill you. In the government’s eyes, it’s a billion-dollar baby.

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