Singapore is not a SIN city

From ‘Take the SIN out of Singapore’, 6 Oct 2014, ST Forum

(Andrew Choo Ming Sing): SEEING the word “SIN” emblazoned across the chests of our beaming Asian Games athletes (“Finally, a golden day for Singapore”; last Wednesday) evoked a feeling that was somewhat bittersweet. “SIN” is the International Olympic Committee code for Singapore and is used to represent our country in sporting events. “SIN” is also the International Air Traffic Association code for Changi Airport, the gateway to our country.

Sports and travel are two of the most visible platforms through which we project ourselves to the world. “SIN” is the word projected when we make a name for ourselves on these platforms. Sin cities of the world are well known, for better or for worse. Whenever Singapore is elevated into focus, the image must be one that is in keeping with our cultural and social mores.

Singapore is not a sin city. But, with the use of the code “SIN”, the eye will make the association, even if the heart and mind know otherwise. Is it in our national interest for “SIN” to be associated with Singapore?

We should consider adopting the less-used (but not lesser) code “SGP” instead of “SIN”. “SGP” is, after all, the United Nations’ country code for Singapore. Indeed, the Internet domain designation for Singapore is “.sg”. Furthermore, “SGP” corresponds to the syllables that make up the word “Sin-Ga-Pore”.

It looks better, sounds better and unifies all usage and application.

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Team SIN

In 2010, the Today paper published a tongue-in-cheek feature titled I LOVE SIN, instead of the more frequently hashtagged, less embarrassing ‘ I LOVE SG’. Indeed, it’s the only code that stands out among the list of countries which participated in the Incheon games, but only if you’re suffering from excessive self-consciousness, or are more interested in scrutinising 3-letter codes instead of the number of medals that our beloved team has brought home. Incidentally, SIN ranked higher than both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, countries that many people don’t know even exist, let alone realise are part of Asia.

One may argue about how ‘sinful’ Singapore really is. Our 2 IRs already give us something in common with the original ‘Sin City’ Las Vegas. In fact, a report in 2012 states that Singapore’s 2 IRs may have surpassed all 39 casinos in Vegas in takings, making it the global gambling ‘hub’ second only to Macau. The current courtroom news gripping the nation is about church founders embezzling donations to fund a celebrity pastor who exposes a gyrating torso in her music videos. There’s a seething undercurrent of vice online, in the backstreets, occasionally in the highest public offices, right up to the dirty LUSTY antics of a certain Speaker of Parliament. Although adultery site Ashley Madison is banned, it still has a reported 25,000 registered users from Singapore. If you want to argue based on biblical technicalities, we also aim to be among Asia’s top ‘sinners’ when it comes to our fetish for local cuisine (GLUTTONY). If rich, oily food were a sin, we would rank among the most enthusiastic purveyors of food porn.

To still insist that Singapore has to upkeep a squeaky-clean image, to the extent of amending a code used for so long in sporting events which hardly anyone ever notices unless someone mentions it, is like telling a prospective son-in-law to trim his moustache because you don’t want him to resemble a brutal genocidal dictator. It just makes the association more OBVIOUS. Otherwise, no one would even think of Hitler under any circumstance. It would have been a ironic case of ‘Hmm, now that you mentioned it…’, though I doubt anyone would avoid stepping into the country just because the boarding pass tells us that we could be disembarking right onto a land of pure, perverse, EVIL.

Besides, ask a linguist and he would probably disagree that we should even pronounce Singapore as SIN-GA-PORE, with the ‘hard G’. By syllabic emphasis alone, it should be ‘SAP’ instead. But between a word that implies ‘weakling/loser’ vs SIN, I’d much prefer the latter, even at the remotest possibility that the international community, who have many better things to do with their lives, might be scoffing and shaking their heads in utter disappointment at it.

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ACS chartering 5 MRT trains for rugby match

From ‘SMRT acknowledged prior approval should have been sought: LTA’, 27 Aug 2014, article in Today online.

Transport operator SMRT has explained to the Land Transport Authority (LTA) why it let Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) charter five of its trains to transport students and staff to a rugby match yesterday (Aug 26) at the National Stadium. SMRT has also “acknowledged that prior approval should have been sought”, said an LTA spokesperson in a statement today.

“The operator is required to obtain LTA’s approval to run trains for non-public transport purposes because as regulator, LTA is responsible for ensuring that train services to the public are provided as scheduled, and that any additional trips in the network do not adversely affect such services,” the spokesperson added.

ACS(I) had chartered the trains to transport 3,000 of its students and staff to the Schools National C Division rugby final match, which was the first school final to be held at the new National Stadium at the Sports Hub. Yesterday, the LTA said it was looking into the appropriate action to take against SMRT after the public transport operator failed to seek the necessary approval from the authorities before letting the school charter its trains.

They've got a ticket to ride

They’ve got a ticket to ride

When asked about why they supported this private entourage, SMRT said that they believed in ‘supporting local education’ and ‘national initiatives’ without compromising core service delivery (Rugby: ACS(I) to charter five MRT trains…25 Aug, ST). This was a rugby championship match between rival schools, not a mass deployment of martyrs to the battlefront. It’s MRT playing host to a private event, where instead of your favourite restaurant or theatre being closed off for some company party, it’s 5 entire trains. I doubt LTA would have said NO anyway even if SMRT had asked for permission. The alternative would be 80 buses clogging up the roads and this is one premier school which is more than able to afford hiring a Zeppelin or cruise liner if they wanted to. Better to inconvenience some lowly train commuters than aggravate those car-drivers, eh?

Still, when you see ACS’s motto being flashed on the LED scroller in the image above, you can’t help wondering if SMRT the public transport provider is sidelining as a party organiser here. If a school like ACS could hire MRT trains to bring their students to a sports competition, what’s stopping a multimillion, Government-endorsed company from doing the same to bring their employers to a Dinner and Dance, or from office to Changi Airport for an overseas AGM? If I’m very influential, could I hire one train just to ferry people to my gala wedding in style, complete with buskers and champagne? After all, it’s cheap, eco-friendly and SMRT has given us the assurance that normal passenger service would be minimally affected. Imagine if traditional rivals like RI or Hwa Chong followed suit with their own mass events. Hwa Chong even wanted an MRT station named after them for God’s sake. In fact, managing director Lee Ling Wee went on to ENCOURAGE more schools located near the CCL to charter trains during off-peak hours because it seems that they could afford it. You know, just to dispel the notion of MRT chartering being the sole right of elite institutions. Maybe SMRT should have an online booking system too, and exclusive themed trains like ‘Summer Wedding’ or ‘Ruggers’ Fiesta’ which you can choose to upgrade to.

I think if the event had been a charity fundraiser or a Big Day out for pioneers or the handicapped, few would complain. But this was for a select group with no noble intentions outside of flying some school flags or chanting slogans for a sport that only gets screened live in dingy Irish bars. I for one would rather watch a Bonsai pruning competition than the Rugby World Cup final. ACS’s private joyride had no philanthropic, ‘educational’ value or ‘national’ objective worthy of inspiration or pride. So why does rugby warrant this special privilege? Vivian Balakrishnan could have skimmed his YOG budget had he thought of chartering for volunteers and participants back in 2011. If you accept the argument that this is ‘cost effective’ then anybody can justify using the MRT as their grandfather’s train to move thousands of people for other frivolous reasons. Does SMRT have any qualification criteria at all?

As for that LED marquee screen that otherwise no one ever gives a shit about, now there’s an idea for a wedding proposal, guys.

Playing football on Sports Hub field like running on the beach

From ‘Inaugural football game at Sports Hub a letdown’, 19 Aug 2014, Voices, Today

(Mohamad Farid Harunal Rashid): I watched the game between the Singapore Selection and Juventus at the Sports Hub on Aug 16, and was disappointed on several levels. First, while the National Stadium’s physical structure was impressive, the pitch was below par.

It was sandy, with many barren patches, not at all like the state-of-the-art turf mentioned in reports. Indeed, Juventus rested one of their star players, Carlos Tevez, reportedly due to concerns about the safety of the pitch.

The game itself was lacklustre and pedestrian. Notwithstanding that it was a friendly at the end of a long and busy post-season in a World Cup year, the quality of football was below expectations.

Ex-national player Nasri Nasir described his experience playing Juventus as ‘running on a beach’ (Sports Hub field far from pitch-perfect, 19 Aug 2014, ST). With all the patches of sand on the crowning centrepiece of our new Sports Hub, maybe it was a tad ambitious challenging the Italian Serie A champion on its first run. We could have started with a celebrity model bikini beach volleyball charity extravaganza instead. Then no one would be complaining about uninspiring attacks, balding pitches or miniature sandstorms being kicked up all over the place.

The ‘state-of-the-art’ field in the Sports Hub is the Desso Grassmaster, dubbed as the pitch of the 21st century. It boasts ‘good traction’ and ‘modifiable levels of hardness and ball bounce’ all thanks to its 3% artificial fibre meshed with 97% natural grass. Installed in global arenas like Wembley and Emirates stadium, the Grassmaster is undoubtedly the field of champions, able to withstand the harshest, most unpredictable weather and the most violent of rugby scrums. You’re not just running around on a grassy field, but a SYSTEM engineered to bring out the best in athletic performance. Unfortunately the Singapore version also happens to be too dangerous to play Carlos Tevez on. You came all the way to Singapore for nothing, Tevez. Nothing at all.

Spending $800K on reinforced grass alone is nothing more than a mere vanity project if you don’t have internationally recognised National teams making it its home turf. The only thing more wasteful is building a massive indoor snow landscape as a Winter Olympics training facility. That amount of money could have went into school sports development programmes, maybe more swimming pools or badminton courts for the public, but instead we blow it a technological showcase which not only has to accommodate rugby players, but stampedes of Jay Chou fans come November. To purists who still gush over Malaysia Cup nostalgia, no amount of grass science can bring back the glory days of the Kallang Wave.

In the 80’s we experimented with the artificial football field known as ‘Astroturf’, which sounds like what the Jetsons play Astro-Golf on. Heralded as the ‘future of football in Singapore’ in 2004, it was supposed to optimise training rain-or-shine. A decade has passed since and the only thing ‘space-age’ about the state of football today is that it is still in deep LIMBO. Let’s hope the Grassmaster holds out in this crazy weather and not turn into a hybrid beach instead of the perfect luxurious pitch as promised. Otherwise, there may be other avenues which we may want to consider in our pursuit of sporting excellence. Like, I dunno, chariot racing or something.

World Cup Public Holiday hoax reported to Police

From ‘President Tony Tan did not declare July 14 a public holiday: Istana’, 14 July 2014, article in Today

The authorities have clarified that the President’s Office did not issue any letter declaring today (July 14) a public holiday. According to a statement issued by the President’s Office, a “letter circulating on mobile and online platforms in the name of President Tony Tan Keng Yam” had declared July 14 a public holiday.

The President’s Office reiterated that it had issued no such letter, adding that public holidays are announced by the Ministry of Manpower. According to the hoax letter, the holiday was meant to allow all Singaporeans to have a chance to watch the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina, and had the approval of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Government offices would be closed today, the letter claimed.

A police report has been lodged and  investigations are ongoing, police said.

Last year, MP Irene Ng was impersonated by someone posting a fake haze article on The Real Singapore website using a bogus email account. A police report was lodged but I’m not sure if the culprit was ever caught. In the President’s case, not only do you have a potential impersonation charge, but another on ‘false transmission of information’.

The letter is unlikely to cause a premature rapture followed by mass absenteeism in offices since we would typically trust the mainstream media to feed us such vital info. Also if this were genuine, the President wouldn’t have announced the good news only during the FINALS. I doubt the prankster had any malicious intentions, and no one would be dumb enough to take the letter seriously. After all, this ‘Tony Tan’ isn’t declaring war on a neighbouring country, or freaking us out by saying there is a giant asteroid on a collision-course with the planet like what more illustrious presidents do in cosmic disaster movies, so the Police shouldn’t worry about widespread panic or looting on the streets.

There was never a time when a World Cup holiday, or even half-day, was granted in Singapore, not least because we were never in the tournament and therefore have no reason to celebrate as a nation. But that didn’t stop people from urging the government to declare public holidays for other less spectacular occasions, to no avail of course.

1. Former President S R Nathan’s Inauguration Day

2. Hindu and Sikh New Year’s Day (April 13)

3. Lao Zi’s Birthday (Taoist Day)

4. Raffles/Founder’s Day, Lim Bo Seng’s Day, Multi-Racial Day

5. An additional day off for our 25th National Day. We can try asking for this again next year for our 50th.

6. Confucius’ birthday

And here are some facts you never knew about our public holidays.

1. Thaipusam used to be a public holiday.

2. We used to have BANK holidays. THREE in 1960 alone. These were subsequently abolished in 1966.

3. Vesak Day used to be called WESAK Day.

4. Dr Sun Yat-Sen’s birthday, Nov 12,  used to be a public holiday.

5. Before 1968 we had 16 PHs. Today we have 10.

If there’s one thing this hoax taught us though, it’s that there’s actually one LESS thing that our president can do. Now, MOM, how about bringing back a bank holiday or two, then?

Parents sending kids for ‘sports tuition’

From ‘Sports tuition a growth field’, 13 May 2014, article by Adelene Wong, Today

…Introduced in 2004, the DSA (Direct Schools Admission) scheme provides an alternative avenue for P6 students to gain admission into secondary schools. Under this scheme, participating schools have flexibility to admit students on the basis of their sporting abilities. As a result, an increasing number of primary school students are taking up private coaching in the bid to be better in their sport.

…Schools administrators and sports coaches TODAY spoke to are already warning that this growing trend to take on an extra sports load is becoming a cause of concern and can work to the disadvantage of the student-athletes.

Said Nanyang Primary School athletics coach Lim Chee Min: “The primary schools’ sports scene is not just about kids enjoying their sports anymore … It has evolved into a pressure-cooker situation for some of them. Higher likelihood of injuries and the dulling of a child’s interest in the sport are just some examples I have noticed with students who can be overwhelmed by the amount of training they received.

The DSA may seem like an automatic ‘Wild Card’ selection for kids whose talents lie in sports rather than in their studies, with the intention of expanding the scope of student excellence beyond rote learning for the PSLE. From the Ministry’s perspective it’s a way of pushing for ‘holistic education’, but for years it has appeared to the rest of us that the odds are in favour of those who’re willing to pump in money to improve their child’s chances of success with tuition, for PSLE subjects or otherwise, so much so that they hardly get to see him at all.

As if staying back for CCAs isn’t enough, now there’s supplementary coaching for the very same CCAs that deprive your child from experiencing the rest of the world, a world where you don’t have to be the BEST at everything you do, a world where your worth is determined by your aptitude, compassion and integrity, and not whether you’ve won at least 4 medals over the past 2 years. The worst that could happen is if the kid starts to resent not just the sport that he’s grilled in, but loses his general interest in SCHOOL. Period.

But even with the most severe all-week long specialised coaching with companies like Fabian Williams Coaching Concepts, you still may not get into the school of your choice, because no one controls how schools select their candidates. The criteria for DSA set by some schools are ridiculously stringent, like how a Roman emperor selects a gladiator to be his champion in the arena for the fight to the death. Clearly, your achievements and past years’ report card matter far more than your character, something which the Ministry is gradually losing sight of. I mean, so what if you manage to snare the best high jumper in the nation and win some awards along the way. The kid’s just as likely to end up in a deadbeat office job with a mediocre CV, never doing any backward flipping for the rest of his life. His legacy with the school is a mere plaque on the shelf, a feather in the cap, and that prestige is all that matters.

Here’s a sample of DSA criteria:

Hwa Chong
TWO ROUNDS of DSA. For sports, you’ll have to go through interviews and sports trials, as well as submit your competition results. Good chances for those involved in Wushu, Judo and Squash among a list of others.

Dunman High
Represented school at Zonal or National Level for Softball (girls only), Volleyball, Air Rifle (for girls only). Good results for P5 and p6 Mid-year exams. Talent in Chinese orchestra (including GUZHENG).

SJI
Hockey, sailing, rugby among others. Advantage if you’re a quarter finalist in National Age-Group Individual Championship.

Such schools are not looking for ‘well-rounded’ individuals, they are drafting for their own championship teams. You could be the best baton twirler in your cohort but fail to get into a top school because they don’t have a marching band. There was a time when your fellow Wushu Club members were friends. With the DSA implementation, they’re your goddamn RIVALS.

This is why we’ve never had a reputation for producing creative geniuses. The PSLE, in spite of all the Government’s attempts at downplaying it recently, has either turned us into a tuition-obsessed nation, or physical specimens moulded and coached into performing well at only ONE SPORT. A one-trick pony machine who can sprint like hell but can’t catch a frisbee. Thanks to this overemphasis on CCAs, the line between school and ‘play’ has been blurred.  The DSA-chase also raises the spectre of some extreme scenarios, kids getting early permanent injuries from overdoing their training, kids treating the P5 and P6 Mid-year exams as if they were the PSLE itself hence getting stressed out earlier, or most outrageous of all, doping themselves with performance-enhancers before their DSA trials, like how some take Ritalin for their studies. Maybe Brands Essence of Chicken will capitalise on this and claim benefits in stamina-building in addition to being a brain tonic.

Unless your kid is exactly like the protagonist from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, you can’t go wrong nudging him into Track and Field, which has the widest range of events for him to excel in. Good luck if he insists on joining the Gardening Club, or God forbid, become a LIBRARIAN. How ironic and sad that someone who the most exposure to books in all his primary school years loses out in the DSA to another who happens to be the Eric Clapton of the Guzheng.

Foreign workers rioting over cricket match

From ’17 charged after fight at Kaki Bukit’, 28 March 2014, article in CNA

17 foreign workers were charged in court on Friday following a brawl that broke out at a dormitory in Kaki Bukit. 14 of them are from Bangladesh and were charged with rioting. The other three from India were charged with affray for their alleged roles in the fight.

Their cases will be mentioned again next month. They were among 35 workers arrested following Tuesday evening’s fight, which allegedly took place during a live screening of a T-20 cricket match.

The match was between Bangladesh and the West Indies, in which the West Indies won.

I probably know a bit more about golf than cricket, but I never heard of anyone throwing furniture over the former. Like any spectator team sport, cricket has its fair share of violent hooliganism. In 2006, Indian fans unhappy with match cancellation set bonfires and burned advertising billboards, injuring a few policemen in the pandemonium. 10 years before that in 1996 at the World Cup semi-final between India and Sri Lanka in Eden Gardens, Kolkata, the game was awarded to the visitors after things turned ugly and the riot police had to be deployed to quell an Indian mob angry that their side were on the losing end. You’d never think a sport with a lengthy glossary of confusing terms (Boot Hill, Cart-wheeling stump, Left-arm Unorthodox Spin among others), suggesting some quiet civility about it,  would have some of the worst ever sore losers in the history of sporting competition.

A wicket crowd

A wicket crowd

Emotions run high easily in crowded dorms. In 2001, an Indian national was fatally stabbed with a kitchen knife by a housemate because he spent too much time in the TOILET every morning. So when is a brawl a riot and when is it an affray? According to our statutes, an affray is ‘where 2 or more persons disturb the public peace by fighting in a PUBLIC place’. ‘Rioting’ occurs ‘whenever force or violence is used by an unlawful assembly or by any member thereof, in prosecution of the ‘common object’ of such assembly’, unlawful assembly meaning FIVE or more persons engaging in a ‘common object’ of wrongdoing. If you decide to throw punches with someone on the MRT, you are committing affray. If you’re part of a gang and slash people over staring incidents, then you’re ‘rioting with a dangerous weapon’.

Both terms appear to be have been used interchangeably in the past. In 1939, 17 Chinese and Indian workers got into a ‘disturbance’ at Alexandra Brickworks, resulting in several injuries and a broken arm, an incident reported as an ‘affray’. The way similar battles were described suggests that an ‘affray’ was considered a milder version, or precursor, of a riot, like a poke in the chest escalating into a kick to the face. Which doesn’t explain how in a group of 17 men involved in a free-for-all over the same thing, a few can be engaged in affray while the rest were rioting.

You may, however, avoid a rioting charge if you get into a fistfight while IN a football (or cricket for that matter) match, as long as nobody makes a police report. Being involved in a catfight also may spare you from affray charges, though people are more likely to stand and watch than try to break it apart for the entertainment. Or if you’re a Taiwanese politician.

No fighting in the war room

But if you’re really lucky, you could get involved in what’s technically an affray right outside the Subordinate Courts and nothing would happen to you, like this trio below. It’s 2 participants short of a riot, mind you.

Fight club

Then there’s the question of whether a dormitory may be considered a ‘public place’. If a husband and wife got into a massive quarrel in the wee hours that involves the tossing of hot kettles and frying pans in the kitchen and the whole neighbourhood knows about it, what charge does it come under? If 5 relatives started body slamming each other in their backyard over inheritance, are they RIOTING? Is there a penalty for, well, just ‘FIGHTING’ wherever you are? After all, you never know when a scuffle may lead to serious harm or death, in the privacy of a bedroom or on the rooftop of a building, with or without ‘dangerous weapons’.

Ironically, free-to-air live cricket matches was one of the suggestions following the Little India riot to keep our workers ‘happy and motivated’. Perhaps Bollywood movies would be a better idea.

Screen Shot 2014-03-29 at 11.42.57 PM

 

 

Singtel charging $105 to watch World Cup

From ‘Breaking the bank to watch the World Cup on TV’, 14 March 2014, article by Chua Siang Yee and Terence Ong, ST

SINGAPORE will be one of the most expensive places in the world to watch football’s World Cup in June.

Pay-TV operator SingTel announced on Wednesday that it will cost $105, excluding goods and services tax, to catch all 64 matches of the month-long tournament.

This is more than double what fans in Malaysia have to pay and more than five times the price in Hong Kong.

The number of matches being offered on free-to-air TV here also pales in comparison to those in other countries. Only four matches – the Brazil World Cup’s opening game, its two semi-finals and final – are set to be screened on terrestrial channels. In contrast, Britain, China, Australia and Cambodia are just some of the countries showing all 64 matches free.

In the last World Cup 2010, Singtel’s chief of content and media services Edward Ying remarked that at $66 (before GST then), subscribers would be paying about $1 a game to watch in the comfort of their homes, equivalent to less than a CUP OF COFFEE. That’s provided that you actually get to watch EVERY live match, which makes you a soccer bum, or the kind of fanatic who accumulates years of leave just to splurge them all on the biggest sporting event of the year. Just 12 years ago, you could get your World Cup Fix at a lowly $25 (SCV), which works out to be about the price of ONE 3-D IMAX movie ticket on a weekend these days.

This year, the price per match is about $1.60, or roughly the adult train fare from Ang Mo Kio to Bedok ($1.69), which means the money you save from boycotting the World Cup entirely can give you 32 return trips from the North to the East. What more can you expect from a country recently rated as the most expensive city in the world? But I suppose only cheese-eating expats are rich, or foolish, enough to sign up for the package without complaining, while Singaporeans will probably never see their home country take the stage in their lifetime, make the most noise about extortion, yet still end up grudgingly paying more than anyone else in the world to support other nationalities’ teams.

If you’re resourceful enough, you could still try to find some places to watch the World Cup for FREE, secret spots where one could tap World Cup transmissions like one establishing contact with extraterrestrials through an inter-dimensional portal. Bishan HDB residents, for example, were able to mooch off Indonesian channel RCTI during the last Cup using nothing more than a $6.50 coaxial cable. So good news if you have friends staying there, though the fact that Bishan used to be a burial ground may explain the presence of offshore signals, a spooky, though fortuitous, breach in the ether. The World Cup is also probably the only time when Singaporeans all begin fiddling with antennas and the tuner function on their TVs, or remember there’s such a channel known as RTM1.

If you’re willing to pay the higher alcohol tax, you could pop by a kopitiam and chug a Tiger while supporting your favourite team.  In 2006, some Geylang coffeshops were able to tap into SCTV signals, while others who subscribed to pay TV providers had to fork out at least $600-1000 for alfresco viewing.  McDonald’s also cashed in on World Cup Fever previously, with their free broadcasts in 2010 ringing in customers dining at their 24 hour outlets.  Probably cheaper than beer, but if you’re hanging out at Macs everyday to watch all 64 matches over supper, you probably wouldn’t live long enough to catch the Grand Final.

Forget about going Hong Lim Park to protest about the ridiculous prices. The best way to stick it to profiteering cable providers is to share your tips on how, or where, to watch the World Cup without having to pay a single goddamn cent. Open up your house to friends or strangers, gather a group of fans at the nearest CC, shout profanities together with the uncles at the kopitiam, just like what the World Cup spirit is supposed to be, bringing people of all walks together, not mass pillaging our wallets.

 

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