Ivan Heng is a happily, openly married man

From’ Ivan Heng weds his partner of 18 years on a perfect British summer’s day’, 3 Aug 2014, article by Boon Chan, ST

Cultural Medallion recipient Ivan Heng has tied the knot with his long-time partner Tony Trickett in London. It took place on Aug 1. Heng, 50, is the founding artistic director of Wild Rice theatre company and Briton Trickett, 57, is its executive director. They were married at the Chelsea Old Town Hall in London on the 18th anniversary of the day they met and fell in love, according to Heng’s Facebook post.

…Growing up, he explained, there were no positive gay role models to look up to, nor were there happy endings in gay-themed entertainment. With marriage equality now a reality in the United Kingdom, Heng and Trickett decided to tie the knot at a ceremony attended by “our family and our closest friends”.

Heng wrote: “Our marriage is a declaration of our love, and we invite the world to share in our joy. In closing, I would like to report that your fellow Singaporean, Ivan Heng, is now ‘openly married’.”

A law graduate with Honours and one of our theatre pioneers, Ivan broke into cinema with a bit part in The Fifth Element, a Luc Beeson film that featured a gay-ish ‘Ruby’ character (Chris Tucker) that Ivan himself would have felt perfectly comfortable in. Since then, he’s gone from subordinate to evil mastermind Gary Oldman to a bartender and most recently, a pole dance competition judge. His ode to his husband Tony on Facebook reads like a Richard Curtis feel-good movie script, though if it were adapted into film or play, you’re unlikely to ever see it in Singapore.

MDA must be desperately looking for the ‘balance’ in Ivan’s love story to justify it suitable for print in the ST, of all places. After recent crackdowns on comic characters getting married, male penguins rearing a chick together and Mandarin songs about Rainbows, it’s surprising that the media decided to announce our theatre doyen’s happy marriage to another man, a union that’s still illegal here. There was no official ‘coming out’ prior to the ceremony to the extent of Vincent Wijeysingha’s confession on Facebook last year, but to many familiar with Ivan’s cross-dressing tendencies from Emily of Emerald Hill to M Butterfly and his Pink Dot involvement, it wouldn’t have been much of a surprise either. He even appeared on the ST front page in almost full-frontal nudity with Glen Goei, which was, well, super-gay.

Somehow we managed to ban fiction like Archie and educational material like ‘Who’s in my Family’ from shelves, but not block a real life same-sex marriage story from our newstands. Some years back, we even had a real life ‘And Three Makes Tango’ situation when we named an orchid after Elton John in the presence of his partner and adopted child, much to the dismay of some critics. There will be at least 2 famous people we know who won’t be giving Ivan his blessings, the imam behind the Wear White campaign and fellow Christian Lawrence Khong, both probably concerned that this piece of news would encourage gay Singaporeans to tie the knot overseas and give the LGBT/Pink dot community a glimmer of hope at claiming marriage equality, though I doubt Ivan may be the first Singaporean to do so.

LGBT site Fridae reported the marriage of Nic and Tim in 2012, both of ‘Singaporean Chinese heritage’ possibly living in Australia now. The same year, some viral video (that turned out to be ‘fake’) featured Naresh proposing to Clement in the middle of Orchard freaking Road. It was only a matter of time before a flamboyant personality like Ivan Heng decides to take the right to love one step further.

When Ivan met Tony, they were at a gay bar called, ironically, ‘Brief Encounter’ and a disco song titled No More Tears (Enough is Enough) brought them together. A song that wouldn’t strike me as a gay anthem, but a great choice as a dedication to wet blanket naysayers like Lawrence Khong, or those spouting vicious slurs about how ‘unnatural’ this all seems. More importantly, it has Barbara Streisand singing in it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Chelsea Old Town Hall starts swelling with Singaporean bookings as we speak. In any case, there’s no reason why we should continue to ban narratives about ‘alternative families’ if our dear ST has already put such a positive spin on Ivan’s life event before the censors could do anything about it. Speak now, MDA, or forever hold your peace.

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Women’s Charter penalising men unfairly

From ‘Stop abuse of Women’s Charter’, 26 April 2014, St Forum

(Derek Low): I SUPPORT Justice Choo Han Teck’s suggestion to reform the Women’s Charter (“Maintenance not an unalloyed right of women: Judge”; Tuesday), although his idea of a Marriage Charter may take years to become reality. Women in our society have often pleaded for equal rights in every aspect of their lives. So why do we still allow double standards that penalise men under the Charter?

The Charter was enacted in the 1960s to protect the many housewives who were supported by their husbands. But times have changed. Our Government has encouraged women to join the workforce to be independent and contribute to nation building. Women have come a long way since then. Many are more successful than their husbands, who are proud of their spouses’ achievements.

I urge Singapore’s modern women to take pride in who they are, what they do and the effort they have put into their marriages. But when the marriage fails, they ought to be logical and sensible, instead of making unreasonable demands under the outdated Charter.

Justice Choo called for a fairer ‘Marriage Charter’ after rejecting a woman’s $120,000 claim from her ex-husband. She’s a regional sales manager while he’s a senior prison officer, the latter already currently paying $1000 monthly for a 17-year old son from her PREVIOUS marriage. The judge cuttingly refers to such arrangements as ‘patronising gestures of maintenance that belie deep chauvinistic thinking’. In 2011, ST reported that an average tai-tai can expect to earn $15-30K of monthly maintenance from ‘high net-worth’ husbands. The Queen of Instagram herself, Jamie Chua, sought a jaw-dropping $450,000 monthly from her ex-husband.

Unfortunately for some not-so-well-off men, such flexibility wasn’t so readily applied in the past. In 1980, divorcee ‘Born Losers’ cried foul when his ‘recalcitrant wife’ got to benefit from his maintenance, even though she wasn’t the one looking after the kids. It was already known in 1970 that men get the shorter end of the stick when a marriage fails, with one writer referring to the Charter as the ‘additional FANGS to a woman’s natural armoury of feminine weapons and wiles’, and that marriage was mostly beneficial to women, the men being ‘unappreciated, unsung martyrs’. Some fall victim to frivolous accusations of defying ‘personal protection orders’, especially if they’re twice the weight of their wives and naturally viewed as the bully in the relationship. This call for ‘gender equality’ isn’t new really, with people recognising the unfairness in the laws as early as 1971 – more than 40 YEARS ago!

We have to thank a certain Mr K.M Bryne, Minister of Labour and Law, who in 1959 decided that ‘women and girls’ needed to be protected from the abominable pigs that are men, which interestingly included elements such as ‘sweeping powers against patrons of brothels’, and a ‘one-man-one-wife law applicable to all EXCEPT Muslims’. The intention was to bring the laws ‘up to date’ with other countries ‘like England’, based on the assumption that women are the more devoted parents who only want the best for their children that they would give up their careers for them. That they would never marry a rich dude for money, find a reason to desert him, then ask for maintenance leveraging on this wife-protecting charter. Meanwhile, men are compelled to read the laws carefully before deciding if marriage is worth the risk of a lifetime of indebtedness, and even if they are financially worse off than their spouse, they’re sometimes liable to give what the law refers to as a ‘token fee’. In some cases, this can be even as low as 1 freakin’ DOLLAR.

In an attempt to nullify its image as a male-bashing organisation, AWARE stepped up to propose that the charter be renamed the ‘Family Charter’ (Tweak Women’s Charter for gender equality, ST Forum, 25 April 2014), claiming that they have ‘LONG ARGUED that much of the Charter needs to be rethought’. Well have they really? What have they been doing to urge ‘rethinking’ of the Charter to ease the burden on men since their formation in 1985? It’s not stated anywhere in their list of milestones, though in 2010 then Executive Director Corrine Lim defended that it was a ‘misconception’ that the Charter was ‘anti-male’, yet at the same time admitted that the maintenance issue was ‘outmoded and unfair’. Well of course it can’t be ‘anti-male’, it was a MAN’s idea in the first place.

Maybe more men could have been rescued from such archaic laws if the organisation had focussed more on pushing for revisions of the charter rather than slamming ads for being sexist or getting misogynistic army songs banned. More recently AWARE has complained about NSmen receiving benefits as reward for service because NS isn’t the ‘single gold standard for citizen belonging‘, and that this threatens to create ‘different tiers’ within society. As one who served himself, such handouts are well appreciated, though it’s tempting to brag it’s only one’s duty to serve and that we’re not doing this for housing or education benefits but for the NATION. We especially didn’t ask for AWARE, who is obviously in no position to comment on NS matters, to urge that we should be deprived of the fruits of our labour should the Government deems us deserving of such. Maybe this gender-neutral Charter response is really a smokescreen for the backlash from that previous NS comment.

But back to the Charter. AWARE weren’t the first to suggest a change of name and have no right to claim credit for it.  In 1980, some Christian societies called for the courts to exercise discretion to grant maintenance to the husband ‘where circumstances justified it’, like the handicapped or those too poor to maintain themselves. The name ‘Family Charter’ was proposed then. Others called for a counterpart to the Women’s Charter called the MEN’s Charter. Maybe we should have a CHILDREN’S Charter too, one that protects kids against neglect because their splitting parents are too busy fighting over money to perform basic childcare duties.

As a credit card company once famously said: The men don’t get it.

More spouses straying within 5 years of marriage

From ‘Rise in couples who split within five years’, 16 Feb 2014, article by Janice Tai, Sunday Times

The first five years of marriage are proving a challenge for more Singapore couples – that is when partners stray, and a rising number of marriages break down. A study on straying couples by Touch Family Services found that slightly more than half the 164 respondents polled had affairs within five years of marriage. For one in three, the affairs happened in the first two years of married life.

…The Touch study, done over the past two years, invited individuals who had unfaithful spouses to complete questionnaires online. Close to 1,000 people responded, but only 164 met the criteria of having been married and of having an unfaithful spouse. The researchers found that nine in 10 of the troubled marriages involved dual-income couples and one in three cheating spouses earned more than $5,000 a month.

…Counsellors point to several reasons the crisis point of the modern marriage seemed to be arriving sooner, and especially among better-off working professionals. They say there is a diminishing social stigma attached to divorce and some couples are more willing to give up on a marriage in trouble.

…As to why adultery seems more prevalent among better-off couples, he (Dr Terence Yow, Reach Family Service director) said overseas studies have also established that people with a higher socio-economic status have a higher risk or propensity for infidelity. They tend to be more stressed, have the means to maintain an extramarital affair, have a bigger social network and are more attractive to others.

In a separate CNA report of the same study, 6 out of 10 people surveyed would remain married despite having a spouse cheat on them. CNA also revealed that Touch Family Services is an affiliate of Touch Community Services, whose chairman is renown as a staunch opponent of the ‘looming threat’ to family that is homosexuality. His name? Lawrence Khong.

Knowing who’s in charge behind Touch, it’s only natural to scrutinise this study for selection bias. A surprisingly high number of those 164 polled were spouses who were earning good money, a finding milked by the investigators to suggest that the higher your income, the more likely you’d stray. This simplistic assumption correlates status with sex but ignores other factors that contribute to infidelity. No details were given on how the researchers defined ‘unfaithful’ and how the subjects and investigators verified that cheating was even real, or whether they were delusional. Did the spouse go out on a ‘date’ alone? Did the subject stumble upon a naughty Whatsapp message? Did the spouse surf porn behind her back? Were ‘in-depth’ interviews conducted such as those in a 2012 study which concluded that half of about 500 married couples ‘considered’ divorce?

I’d be interested in the demographics of those polled, namely their race and religious inclination and whether it was representative of the general population. Are people who respond to Touch initiatives more likely to be Christian than Muslims, Buddhists or Hindus? Or the fact that they were looking for resources or help from the Touch website before even participating in the poll suggests that they’re already motivated to salvage the marriage (hence the 6/10 who want to remain married).  Given the complexity and diversity in attitudes towards marriage across cultures and social class, the Touch results appear skewed towards those ‘well-off’ and puts high income earners under an unnecessary spotlight. As for keeping marriage alive, whatever motivations you have in saving it may also depend on what your religion says about it, rich or poor.

The jury is still out on what causes spikes in early cheating and ultimately divorces given recent mixed results and anecdotes from elsewhere. One report last year cited wedding expenses as a reason for Muslim couples splitting. Another concluded that OLDER couples above 45 are breaking up because parents ‘don’t know what to do with each other’ once the children move out. In 2011, the top factors were ‘unreasonable behaviour’, ‘infidelity’ or ‘domestic violence’ depending on whether it’s a civil or Muslim marriage.  There’s also the issue of parenting troubles, dealing with crazy in-laws and in some cases, taking offence toward one’s cooking. Other counsellors have encountered relationships strained over simple household chores. Why not blame the rise of social media, online dating/chat apps, and sexting too?.

In short, a broken marriage can’t be explained by income alone without adjusting for all the little petty things unique to each couple that pave the way to destruction. Experts also talk of this ‘diminishing social stigma’ but don’t have any data to back up what appears to be a ‘still-hot divorcee’ theory. Even if the stigma is diminished, it doesn’t mean more people are taking divorce lightly. Divorce is emotionally and financially taxing, and the possibility of being back ‘on the market’ instead of branded as ‘used goods’ may not be worth the cost, time and effort of killing a marriage especially one with children involved. Unless you’re ‘born again single’ Allan Wu, of course.

Ashley Madison banned in Singapore

From ‘MDA blocks access to Ashley Madison’, 8 Nov 2013, article by Mohd Azhar Aziz, Today

The Media Development Authority of Singapore (MDA) announced today (Nov 8) that it will not allow the Ashley Madison website to operate in Singapore and has blocked access to the site. In a press statement, the MDA said that the website was banned in Singapore as “it aggressively promotes and facilitates extramarital affairs”.

“It is against the public interest to allow Ashley Madison to promote its website in flagrant disregard of our family values and public morality,” MDA said.

Life is short. And so is Ashley Madison’s ill-fated attempt, as creator Noel Biderman explained, to ‘migrate infidelity to a platform wherein two like-minded (Singaporean) adults can explore what it is they are seeking in a discreet manner’.  One Today writer described such a move by the MDA as a ‘paper tiger’, only to raise the forbidden fruit status of AM, though there are various tricks to bypass the censors altogether, Go Away MDA being one of them.

Pressure from Minister Chan Chun Sing aside, the 27,000 strong petition community known as ‘Block Ashley Madison‘ on Facebook yesterday fired a bellowing tirade at MDA for allowing AM to tag ‘sg’ in their domain address and ignoring the threat of weak-minded Singaporeans succumbing to the moral cesspit that is adultery. The page owner, ‘Mr Tan‘, also issued a stern warning to AM that they’ll ‘not have the last laugh’, would get what’s coming to them ’10 times harder’, and that the ‘light will always overcome the darkness’, with all the evangelical fire-and-brimstone passion of a grandmaster exorcist coercing Satan out of His human vessel. Let him who has not sinned cast the first stone, I say. Or in this case, a boulder.

Well, now that the site is blocked for good, mission accomplished BAM! You all can rest easy knowing that your spouses are safe by your side, divorce rates won’t skyrocket, that our children can focus on their PSLE with a loving stable family behind them all the way, while the rest of us continue to watch Desperate Housewives reruns on cable, reliving torrid fantasies of Eva Longoria screwing her gardener in the kitchen while her hubby is at work. Without AM’s corrupting influence, we shall no longer have the urge to take our foul thoughts a step further, log in to find the perfect willing partner to come over wearing nothing except mud-streaked overalls and getting frisky right next to the sink. Hallejulah!

I believe BAM supporters are not THAT naive and generally acknowledge that infidelity will continue to happen anyway, with or without AM. A chance meeting with an old flame, a colleague in the office, a business partner, your own student, sometimes right under the nose of our Almighty lord God. The last thing they need is something to facilitate such taboo relationships further, especially one ‘aggressively marketed’ like the Facebook for Flings with a brand name that sounds like one of the Olsen Twins or a spinoff Victoria’s Secrets catalogue. Alas, like the 100 sites ‘symbolically’ banned by the MDA, AM too has become the ‘whipping girl’ among the many platforms available for people to fool around at the swipe and a click. Like adultfriendfinder.sg, for example, where you can choose to have a ‘discreet relationship’, which isn’t exactly mystery pen pals in this day and age. Is there going to be a BAFF petition now?

Not sure if this is a case of MDA caving in to high-horse orthodoxy, or they sought guidance from moral philosophers and religious leaders before dropping the axe on AM. They’re forgetting about other debauched sites though. On the same day that AM announced its launch here, 5 Singaporeans were caught in a sting op offering to pay ‘Sweetie’, a computer generated TEN YEAR OLD GIRL, to perform very naughty things. We’re so caught up with something that’s technically not ILLEGAL that we forget about portals that encourage men to defile girls young enough to be their daughters, some granddaughters even.

Temptation to commit sins of the flesh are everywhere, whether it’s an adultery app, online casinos, a sleazy spa or a 7 Eleven selling booze and cigarettes right around the corner. It’s like restricting sex shops or R21 movies from heartlanders, or a nanny stowing away a child’s favourite toy because he’s playing with it too much. Nobody’s doing anything about our gay spas either, which harbour death traps that kill you while you’re trying to strangle yourself for erotic kicks. MDA’s ‘light touch’ regulation is really an excuse for ‘we can’t do anything about it’. Yet when something like AM stands out and should be made an example of, they pound on it like Thor’s hammer on a protruding nail.

Bye, Ashley Madison. You could have been the flirty girl next door, but the neighbours are welcoming you with burning stakes, pitchforks and crucifixes instead of wine and roses. Now that you good folks have done Singaporeans all a proud and just service that we should be eternally grateful for – expelling this wicked temptress from our doorsteps – you can all take a much-deserved break from the complaining and go back to knitting sweaters and hunting eggnog recipes for Christmas, thank you very much.

Sumiko Tan cheating at Candy Crush

From ‘Candy crushed’, 15 Sept 2013, article by Sumiko Tan, Lifestyle, ST

In the universe I inhabit before I go to sleep every night, I am already in 2014. To be exact, Jan 18, 2014, as of last night. That’s because I am a Candy Crush cheat.

…Googling Candy Crush, I discovered that I could actually get “lives” without waiting. All I had to do was set the clock on my iPad ahead by two hours. Sometimes, though, the clock goes haywire and I’d still be locked out. I then discovered an easier option to get as many lives as I want – setting the clock ahead by days instead of hours.

…At an average of one hour a weekday and two on weekends, I’ve devoted about 180 hours to Candy Crush so far, or nearly eight days of my life. I’m also a little poorer because I’ve had no choice but to pay to gain entry to new levels. I’ve never been a fan of games. The only other online game I was keen on was the wordgame Scramble, but that at least was educational. I learnt new words.

Candy Crush, on the other hand, is utterly meaningless.

…I rather play Candy Crush than talk to my husband. I rather play Candy Crush than go to sleep. Even when I’m sleepy, I feel compelled to play on because I am desperate to get to the next level. And because I’ve discovered the trick to getting unlimited lives, I can play on forever.

…If you have overcome your Candy Crush addiction, pray share how you did it.

I need help.

I can understand Internet addiction, whether it’s surfing, blogging, Facebooking or playing Candy Crush. Fortunately I have observed enough human beings being boggled by the game to NOT get started. Those aren’t jelly beans, they’re parasitic alien worms that burrow into your consciousness and take control of your nervous system like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  This may not be helpful advice to a close-to-50 year old woman, but in the case of CC, prevention is far better than cure. If all else fails, there’s always IMH to render medical assistance.

Not an avid player of casual games myself, hacking gameplay is not something most people should be proud of, not least telling it to the world. Where’s the sense of achievement or satisfaction in that? Sumiko once claimed that she’s ‘OK with losing’ 2 years back, but doesn’t want to let go of her quest to attain higher levels in the game, even if she had to pay for it.

I’m lacking in the “must-win” gene – if there is such a thing. I’ve never felt any desire to be top in class or No. 1 in anything, and am happy if I’m somewhere in the upper half of any ranking. This lack of fighting spirit is also why I avoid games of any sort. I don’t play sporty games, or board games, or even video games. Competition both bores me and makes me queasy.

There’s something about CC that drives a woman who eschews ‘boring’ competition to ‘beat the odds’ just to progress in the game. Mental health experts may wish to explore CC as a training tool for people who lack any fighting spirit whatsoever. Side effects include boarding the wrong train or falling into sinkholes.

Although Sumiko labels the game ‘meaningless’ and ‘no fun anymore’ like how a chronic smoker says cigarettes are killing him while puffing 30 sticks a day, there are some benefits to playing instant gratification dopamine-boosting games like CC. It bonds mothers and daughters-in-laws, it hones your reflexes and by keeping your fingers busy it actually burns more calories than watching K drama on TV. It turns a dreary train carriage into a pachinko wonderland, and in those moments of crush ecstasy your universe is a Willy Wonka wet dream, where unicorns puke rainbow Skittles and anime imps shit eclairs. You’re enclosed in your personal magic bubble, immune to grotesque sights and smells of peak hour train crowding, immune to the grating nagging of the SMRT aunty telling people to ‘move to the centre’. You are even providing entertainment to the elderly man struggling to stand while you’re latched to the priority seat mesmerised and transported into your little slice of sugary heaven.

I’m not sure, though, of the effects of such sweet seduction on Sumiko’s very public marriage to a man known to us only as ‘H’. The game has been referenced in a couple of recent Sumiko articles. In ‘The 3 year itch‘ she admits that she ‘plays Candy Crush late into the night when she should be looking into his (H’s) eyes’. In the same article, she mentions the word ‘divorce’. In July this year she introduced the game to her stepdaughter, which is like a drug pusher tempting a child with cannabis, or in this case ‘CANDYbis’. I wonder how the kid is doing now. There have been anecdotes of children playing CC non-stop till they bleed strawberry syrup from their noses.

Here’s hoping Sumiko weans off her sweet addiction in exchange for candy kisses and honeyed hugs instead. Meanwhile, here’s a totally meaningless video of a kitten playing the same game that gets millions of intelligent adult human beings hooked.

Queen of Instagram promoting shallow, glitzy lifestyle

From ‘Glitzy lifestyle vs sheer inspiration’, 31 Aug 2013, various letters in Life!Mailbag

(Henry Lee): I refer to the article Queen Of Instagram (SundayLife!, Aug 25), highlighting the fashionista lifestyle of Singapore socialite Jamie Chua. It seems like an attempt to promote a narcissistic personality at best.

(Heng Lih Hooi): …Is Ms Jamie Chua aware that a small fraction of the money she spends on a Birkin bag can help a lot of less-blessed people in this world?

(Khoo Kiat Chin):…Queen Of Instagram seems to be shallow, promoting nothing other than a glitzy lifestyle that ordinary Singaporeans cannot afford. The promotion of such “materialistic mindsets” will only serve to further divide the haves and have-nots.

In a 2010 interview, Jaime Chua, then known as Jaime Cuaca, said she was ‘happy with the way she looked’ when asked about what facial feature she would like to change. She also defined beauty as ‘being herself without worrying about what others think.’ A teen model, ex SIA-stewardess, and regular user of intravenous Vitamin C, a very well-heeled Chua was then managing director of Manolo Blahnik, a Spanish luxury brand famous for $1000 stilettos.

This was her 3 years ago, a look that wouldn’t look out of place in Cold Storage, a Food Republic or HnM, much like Cantopop sweetheart Vivian Chow in my opinion. I’ll leave it to fans to judge whether or not she has done anything to her face since.

Chua was later embroiled in a divorce suit with Indonesian tycoon husband Nurdian Cuaca, where she sought almost half a million dollars in monthly maintenance. Today, she lives in a Merryn Road bungalow and reportedly has the largest collection of Birkin bags (each worth up to $65K) IN THE WORLD, beating the likes of Victoria Beckam. That’s enough dead cattle in there to feed a small African nation.

An ostentatious lifestyle isn’t all about pouting, preening and posing, attending high-society events or getting spa treatments and vitamin injections. This is a rare glimpse of Jaime doing some cleaning around the house. Who says tai tais don’t do housework? She’s also known to COOK. Over a stove!

The ‘Queen of Instagram‘ article is unbridled glamour porn, a ‘glitzkrieg’ of high-end name-dropping from ‘Chateau Lafite Rothschild’ wines to hair clips from ‘Alexandre de Paris’. Branded HAIRCLIPS. I wonder what toothpaste she uses. Maybe one that’s named after its creator like Vidal Sassoon shampoos.

Reality check, folks. Jaime’s not the only one living the high life out there, they’re privileged people living in $300 million bungalows and driving $5 million cars but just less social media-savvy or good-looking.  Deal with it, or view such lifestyles with bemusement rather than petty jealousy disguised as self-righteous contempt. If a billionaire shows off his Ferrari collection online we hardly blink, whereas if a tai-tai prances around with a fancy handbag, we bang the elitist drum and demand that she spends her money building nursing homes and finding a cure for Alzheimer’s instead. There are parents who treat their own daughters like princesses, yet when they meet an adult living like one, they complain that it’s the greatest injustice to humanity and suddenly realise there are poor, starving people in the world.

It’s unfortunate that the likes of Paris Hilton have given the job description of ‘socialite’ a bad name, a title that today brings to mind sexed-up, spoilt, loud, vainpot princesses who dress up, mingle, party, hook up with (and drop at a hat) rich bastards and don’t have to toil a single day of their lives other than polishing their jewel-encrusted leather babies; women who live their fairy-tale Cinderella dreams as Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly in ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s (incidentally Jaime’s favourite film). The male equivalent would be Richie Rich, or Scrooge McDuck.

The pejorative, anglicsied ‘tai-tai’, has been used since the 20’s, and generally referred to ‘married women’. ‘Socialite’ is just slightly less ancient in its origin, emerging in the 60’s, an era where rich women spent more time in salons gossiping than indulging in spas and occasionally promoted worthy causes, rather than building walk-in wardrobes that could house 3 generations of ordinary Singaporeans. Role model socialites were more entrepreneurs than ‘Instapreneurs’. Today, we pay more attention to how they groom their silky terriers than their contributions to society, if any at all.

Like Jaime Chua, socialite Christina Lee was involved in a high-profile divorce in the early 1960’s, with cinema magnate ex-husband Dato Loke Wan Tho settling with a $800K cheque for her maintenance. Three years later, she married American film producer Jeffrey Stone, and in the late 60’s had planned to launch SARONG island, Singapore’s first tourist isle and precursor to the Sentosa that we know today.  It’s also ironic that socialite and SPG, or ‘sarong party girl’, are used interchangeably these days, though you’re unlikely to put either on your business card (She divorced again in 1972 and went on to marry perfume maker Dadi Balsara. One of the products the pair created was called ‘Singapore Girl’).

Jaime’s Instagram timeline is a treasure trove of hedonistic excess, mostly boring fluff to the average dude but a fashion bible to the girl who desires only the finest things that money can buy. It’s the real-life ‘Princess Diaries’, a Cinderella catalogue for grown-ups and teens alike. This quote which Singapore’s most popular socialite posted sums up her attitude toward all her ‘stuff': ‘The best things in life are free, the second best are very expensive’. Spoken like a queen indeed.

Ng Boon Gay’s wife making the deepest form of self-sacrifice

From ‘Strong spouses in their own way’, 1 Feb 2013 and ‘When men stray, women should not feel that they are expected to stay’, 30 Jan 2013, Voices, Today

(Donovan Chee Kwok Hoe):…I do not condone cheating. When I see pictures of Ng Boon Gay’s missus holding his hand, I would never assume that she has forgiven him. But whether she is holding his hand because of the need to maintain a public facade or otherwise is not for us to judge or assume. That would be venturing into dangerous territory.

What I see, instead, is her willingness to support her husband through his darkest days. She has made the deepest form of self-sacrifice and should be applauded.

(Magdalene Sim Jia Ling):…In my view, a brave woman is someone strong enough to walk away as and when it is necessary to do so, someone who can stand up for what is right and wrong in her life, including standing up against her husband’s infidelities.

It is not that women should never forgive their unfaithful husbands, but it is for them, in their own circumstances and capacities, to decide. There should never be an expectation on them that staying with their husbands or publicly supporting them through scandals is the mark of a smart woman, or worse, a loving wife who is woman enough to stand by her marriage.

She stands by her man

Yap Yen Yen once told reporters that she ‘continues to believe in her husband, and that her love for him hasn’t wavered’. Throughout the trial, she has been portrayed by the media as the stoic, silent victim. Only time will tell if this display of bewildering affection is really a ‘public facade’ to garner sympathy, or a genuine show of solidarity and forgiveness. The latter, of course, is a virtue that’s been enshrined in all major religions and moral ethics, and between filing for immediate divorce and sticking by her man, it’s often the latter gesture that casts the victim in the glowing light of the ‘loving, magnanimous wife’ persona. It also helps that men are always seen as scheming bastards and are automatically thrust with the blame whenever they stray, regardless of how their wives have treated them previously.

The ‘suffering wife rising from the flames like a phoenix’ is a phenomenon that is publicly celebrated; the classic example of Hilary Clinton giving president husband Bill a second chance comes to mind. An ST journalist in Singapolitics called 2012 the year of the STRONG WOMAN, citing examples such as Diane Palmer and Howard Shaw’s model wife Jessie Xue. Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion editor, lauds Yap as the BRAVEST WOMAN in the news last year. Nobody knows anything about these women other than their apparent willingness to accept their husbands’ philandering nonsense and simply move on. They have become a fighting symbol of womanhood and little else. No one said anything worth applauding about Cecilia Sue’s husband, or Laura Ong’s boyfriend/husband, who are also victims in their own right. Nobody’s going to call a man a BRAVE SOUL for accepting a wife who sleeps around. If a woman keeps quiet about the affair, she’s grieving or struggling to keep the marriage afloat. If a man keeps silent, he’s plotting revenge and imagining running the lover through with a chainsaw.

Still a Great romance

A woman may be viewed as ‘strong’ whether she forgives her husband or packs her bags and leaves. Men, on the other hand, may be described as ‘strong’ in the same emotional sense if they can overcome immense grief like from the death of a loved one, but if they stand by a cheating wife, they are cast as weak cuckolds and not worth swooning over at all, unless they use it to their advantage as sob-story pick-up bait in their quest for one-night stands at the club. For all you know a woman’s sweet acts in public are secretly  out of personal repentance or even relief, if she herself has also been guilty of fooling around with other men.  Yap Yen Yen isn’t a heroine; she’s just a woman coping with her husband’s and her own shame her way, caught in the headlights by a public yearning for a story to tell and for her to be made a shining example for women in similar situations everywhere, even if Mother Theresa standards of forgiveness do not necessarily guarantee a lasting marriage.

Double-barrelled surname sounding like CNY

From ‘Bound together in name’, 30 Dec 2012, article by Lisabel Ting, Sunday Lifestyle

When freelance writer Yu-Mei Balasingamchow was in school, examinations were more of a nightmare for her than for most other students. “It was really troublesome to fill in my name on optical answer sheets. Sometimes, by the time I was done, it felt like half the exam had gone by,” says the 38-year-old.

Ms Balasingamchow’s unique last name is an amalgam of the names of her parents – Chow is her Chinese mother’ family name, and Balasingam is the name of her half-Chinese, half-Ceylonese father.

Her parents created it to “give people an idea of my heritage, although they did acknowledge that it would be troublesome”, she says.

…Double-barrelled surnames such as Ms Balasingamchow’s seem to be more acceptable now, and raise fewer eyebrows than in previous generations.

Mrs Wendy Chiang-Cheong, 40, who wed in 1998, recounts that her mother did not take similar steps to retain her family name as it was uncommon then.

…Mrs Chiang-Cheong, who is married to a 41-year-old IT project manager, admits that her last name can be quite a mouthful. “Some people have told me that my last name sounds very noisy and reminds them of Chinese New Year,” says the counsellor.

If you’re a member of British royalty in the 1930’s you could collect women surnames like Pokemon. There was an Earl of Buckinghamshire called John Hampden Hobart-Hampden-Mercer-Henderson, which made it much easier to just refer to him as the Earl of Buckinghamshire. Today if you want to sound like a conqueror you don’t need multiple surnames. You just need to give yourself a name like Romeo Tan. 

Having a double-barrelled surname that is onomatopoeia for cymbals clamging or almost a soundalike for a dim sum staple is awkward, but not as awful as the wacky permutations that Tweeters contributing to the hashtag #SurnameMashups have come up with. Here’s a sample of dual combinations of Chinese surnames that you may wish to avoid adopting or bequeathing to your children:

Hong-Gan, Chee-Tan, Long-Kang, Yam-Seng, Ngiam-Kheng, Seow-Leow. And the list goes on.

Some would use hyphenated/combined surnames to their advantage as a killer ice-breaker and personal marketing tool. Yu-Mei Balasingamchow herself mentioned in an interview that her surname made her more ‘Google-able’. Try it yourself (type Balasingamchow) and you’ll find her filling the entire first search page. And just about every page thereafter.

Even if, thankfully, your double-barrelled name doesn’t sound like food, drains, toasting or Hokkien expletives, there’s the question of order: Husband or wife’s surname first? This was a question posed since the early 1980s, when women were already using such combinations professionally. Without any formal convention on how hyphenated names should be arranged, you’d have people second guessing your actual maiden name.  Or perhaps the order is chosen solely to avoid the catastrophic reverse; Tan-Chee, for instance.

In fact, double-barrelled names were actively DISCOURAGED by the Registry of Births in 1981, when there was the possibility of quadruple surnames if two individuals with dual surnames married and had children. Things would get more complicated if you were of mixed race. If you took up your Caucasian husband’s name entirely, you may be accused of ‘selling out’ your Asian heritage. Yet, too much cross-fertilisation to the extent of triple and quadruple-barrells would make you sound like a theory discovered by a team of physicists or mathematicians rather than an actual person. And if pulled off creatively, that may not be a bad thing after all.

LKY’s Haram Truths

From ‘M’sia religious body still studying Hard Truths’, 10 Dec 2011, article in Today

Malaysia’s government has said that a book on Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew is “still being studied” despite federal Islamic authorities earlier confirming that it has been placed on a list of books declared “haram”, or forbidden to Muslims.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Mr Jamil Khir Baharom, said the book, Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going (picture), was being “examined”. “It is under the Home Ministry … it is not haram,” he told The Malaysian Insider.

When told that the book was one of 15 listed by the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) as haram, the senator replied that “this just means it is being examined by the censorship committee”.

In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a ‘fatwa’, technically a death sentence and manhunt, against Salman Rushdie for ‘The Satanic Verses’, declaring it ‘against Islam, the Prophet and the Koran’.  LKY’s Hard Truths, as its title suggests,  isn’t a work of fiction (though probably no less entertaining) like Rushdie’s Verses. If it weren’t written by a powerful politician, Hard Truths might have been regarded as more blasphemous than it really is and incite Muslim extremists to call for the old man’s head as well.

Our own authorities have a habit of putting authors in prison for exposing the criminal justice system (Alan Shadrake’s Once a Jolly Hangman, for example), so it would be indeed ironic if certain religious councils in our neighbouring countries call for more than just a ban on Hard Truths the book, but issue ‘fatwas’ on its prolific and outspoken author as well. Incidentally, Hard Truths speaks of Muslims marginalising themselves from society by being too ‘strict’ with their beliefs.

Memoirs aside, here’s a terrifying list of non-food things classified as ‘haram’ by Islamic authorities around the world.

  • Yoga: A fatwa was issued against yoga in 2008 by Sarawak authorities, and Muslims were advised to do other forms of physical activity to keep healthy, because yoga originated from ‘Hindu spiritual teachings’.
  • Aerobics: According to the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), aerobic moves ‘tended to spark sexual desire and therefore were contrary to Islamic mores’. Practitioners of this erotic exercise should also refrain from wearing ‘transparent clothing’.
  • Valentine’s Day: The JB state Religious Department issued a fatwa for V-Day in 2005, stating that such celebrations ‘involved elements of vice’.
  • Poco-poco: Though not eventually banned, this dance routine was frowned upon by the Perak Fatwa Committee, not because it was overtly erotic, but because the steps involved making a cross with your feet. Heck, some states even ban public SINGING and dancing altogether (No public singing and dancing, decrees Kelantan government, 7 Oct 1995, ST). Yet there’s a Malaysian Idol?
  • Sperm banks: The Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI)  declared that the presence of sperm bank in the country was haram or prohibited. “Sperm donor is haram, so is sperm bank”, so says a spokesman. One can only speculate why the generous life-giving  act of donating sperm is forbidden.
  • Taking part in SMS contests: Jakim says this tantamounts to betting, and betting is a form of gambling, which is forbidden in Islam. I guess carnival ‘games of chance’ should be banned as well.
  • Tomboys, or ‘pengkid’: The fatwa reads ‘Pengkid, that is, women who have the appearance, mannerisms and sexual orientation similar to men, is haram in Islam’. It was supposed to ‘save these women from lesbianism’.
  • Marrying a transgender: In 1982, the national Fatwa committee in Malaysia ruled that it is haram for a man to marry another man who has undergone a sex change to be a woman (Sex change marriage is haram, 17 April 1982, ST)
  • Buying a cucumber: Not surprisingly this comes from Al Qaeda in Iraq. What about bananas then?
  • Elton John:   Josephine Teo would surely approve.
  • Wearing wigs: Especially those made of human hair
  • Body building contests: Banned by the Sarawak Religious Affairs Dept (Jais) for over-exposing bodies (Sarawak bans bodybuilding contests for Muslims, 24 Aug 1997, ST). I suppose Abercrombie and Fitch is haram too.
  • Delivering a buffalo head to appease a sea demon: Don’t ask why.

Viet brides bought for threesomes

From ‘Childless couple has threesome with Viet bride’, 1 Oct 2011, article in insing.com, translated from Sin Ming Daily

The boss of a matchmaking agency that specialises in Vietnamese brides has come out to share some of his more bizarre experiences with clients. Lin Ma Ke recalls one of his clients, a well-to-do businessman in his 60s, had approached him specifically for a Vietnamese girl to bear illegitimate children for him.

The businessman had approached Lin three times for girls, the latest time only a few months back. According to Lin, the man is married but childless and wants children to hand down his business to. The couple decided to have a Vietnamese girl bear illegitimate children for them.

Through the agency, the couple went through two Vietnamese girls, both of whom packed up and returned to Vietnam after merely two weeks. Lin found out that the girls had left because the couple had tried to have ‘threesomes’ with them.

Some time ago, Lin introduced another 25-year-old Vietnamese girl to the couple, but she also gave up and left after three months. Lin made further queries to find out why the girls were leaving.

The businessman’s 50-year-old wife was said to be a control freak and had insisted on watching when the man had sex with the Vietnamese girl. The man’s wife also controlled when the man is allowed to have sex with the Vietnamese girl and does not allow the girl to be alone with the man. She also confiscated the girl’s passport and does not allow her to make phone calls.

Lin said, “Although the girl liked that the businessman was very kind to her, she could not bear with the way she was controlled.”

Foreign bride matchmakers are usually thorough in screening their bridal ‘stock’, but there appears to be no measures in place to protect helpless brides from abusive clients. These agencies used to specialise in helping lonely, aging men find a life partner if they could afford it, but have evolved into legitimate facilitators of kinky sex slavery. If Lin knew that his client was already married, why allow the trade? What was once a business of ‘finding one’s soulmate’ has branched into unlicensed womb rental, when all he really did was unknowingly pimp out his ‘bride-to-be’ as a sex-slave to be toyed about by a very depraved, decadent elite businessman with an unquenchable sex drive and a wife with a voyeur-dominatrix fetish.

Bride ‘shopping’ is really a more ‘humane’ form of human trafficking, with the formality of marriage thrown in as a guise of decency when the fact remains that these women are paraded like wares in a slave market, are haggled for a price, put through some ‘test drives’ and are asked to be ‘returned’ if deemed to be ‘defective’. For men who desire sex slaves but can’t afford to go through the ‘legal’ channels, there’s the riskier avenue of hunting young  innocent flesh in nearby Batam. But who wouldn’t be tempted by a $4000 price tag for a Viet bride (slashed by 50% in 2008 during the recession)? That’s even cheaper than that Chanel bag local husbands buy for their wives on wedding anniversaries.

The name of the agency was not mentioned in the article, but from  the  boss’s name (Lin Ma Ke), my guess is ‘Vietnam Brides International’, headed by one of the pioneers of Viet bride trading, Mark Lin of Taiwanese descent. Lin started out with ‘Sin Ye International Matchmaker’ and was featured in an ST article almost 10 years ago (Mate-in-Vietnam marriages, 21 July 2002, ST). According to the report, you had to fork out up to $22k for a wedding tour ‘package’, which includes a virginity check, transport, bridal passport application, and of course, a take-home bride. Viet brides also had the reputation of being ‘demure, conservative with simple needs and expectations’, which was perfect for not-so-well educated local men who have problems marrying ‘upwards’, or finding a  Singaporean woman who would give him a foot massage and a warm home-cooked dinner after a hard day’s work. China brides were out of favour by then, presumably because of increasing cases of men getting conned by them and not vice versa. Lin’s shrewd enterprise of combining matchmaking, holiday and wedding banquet all in one package was a godsend to many lonely Singaporean men with cash to spare.

Just a few years later in 2004, Sin Ye had Viet brides ‘imported’ to deal with the competition, with the Vietnamese embassy reporting that at least 300 brides had arrived in Singapore (Four hours – and he finds a Viet bride, 19 Oct 2004). The majority of clients were middle aged, and obviously wealthy, Chinese bachelors, who simply wanted an ‘obedient and gentle’ wife, contrary to the ‘materialistic, independent’ nature of the modern Singaporean woman, whose ‘spoilt princess’ label persists till this day. The Viet brides themselves were also reportedly ‘seeking’ out foreign grooms, in a bid to break away from a hard life of ‘backbreaking rice-planting’. To many, these agencies, and Singaporean men who craved genuine companionship, were lifesavers indeed. It was a hugely profitable win-win situation for matchmakers like Lin.

The dark side of choose-your-bride quickie marriages emerged in 2005, when an agency in Pearl’s Centre was conned by an old cobbler from Bishan and ‘sold’ a Vietnamese bride for $1 instead of the initial price tag of $10,000. It turns out that the client was already married, and sexually exploited his ‘bride’ for a week in a Geylang hotel, a fate worse than if she had been a prostitute instead. But the issue here isn’t the incompetence of the said matchmaking agency’s accounting department, but rather the lack of regulations to prevent men, rich or poor, single or married, from using such ‘legal services’ to fulfill their sicko sex-in-a-dungeon fantasies.

In the same year, a booth was set up an agency at a family carnival featuring ‘Viet brides on sale’ in a ‘fishtank’ . Note that this was 2005 and our quest for foreign brides had somehow thrown us all the way back to the days of Spartacus by putting human goods on display like chickens at a wet market, except that instead of cages we have ‘glass enclosures’. With such demeaning practices it’s no wonder that Viet brides are being treated like sex objects, used not only as nubile, fertile vessels for someone’s heir, but also forced to participate in lewd orgy games.  It’s not easy to have local men change their mindsets on the ‘ideal’ wife and start courting smarter women, or have successful women accept less well-off men to starve off these matchmakers. Or one could set up a watchdog group to keep all these agencies in check and ensure that their ‘livestock’ do not end up being living sex dolls locked up in a rich man’s wine cellar.  Clamping down on dubious transactions also wouldn’t stop rich perverts from taking their dirty business straight to the source, cutting out the middleman completely.  Despite the modern picture of unconditional love, as well as the sanctity and civility of marriage which we have painted ourselves, there are still things – dirty, sleazy, immoral things –  which money, sadly, can always buy. Meanwhile, Lin is already venturing into Myanmese brides as we speak, having milked dry developing countries of their village women. Before you know it he will be casting his fishing line at Laos or Papua New Guinea. As Bon Jovi once crooned: You give Love a Bad Name.

How much is that human in the window


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