Tourists charged $707 for Alaskan king chilli crab

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Barney the crocodile found dead at Kranji Reservoir

From ‘Death of wild crocodile a mystery’, 4 May 2014, article by Feng Zengkun, Sunday Times

A 400kg crocodile, probably one of the largest to have roamed wild here in decades, has been found dead on the Kranji Reservoir grounds. Fondly nicknamed Barney by anglers, its death has puzzled experts as the creature had seemed relatively young and healthy, and had no visible injuries.

National water agency PUB, which oversees the area, said it was informed about the dead reptile about three weeks ago. The 3.6m-long saltwater crocodile was disposed of at a nearby farm.

More saltwater crocodiles – the world’s largest reptile and known to be formidable predators – have been spotted in Singapore in recent years. Last year, about 10 of them were found living in waters around the north-western coastline, up from two in 2008.

There have also been regular sightings at Sungei Buloh and around Kranji Reservoir, although PUB said none had been reported in Kranji in 2012 and last year.

…Anyone who spots a crocodile should keep away from it and not provoke it. Once at a safe distance, they should contact PUB’s 24-hour call centre on 1800-284-6600 or the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority’s Animal Response Centre on 1800-476-1600.

This croc tips the scales

Reticulated pythons seem to be under the charge of a different agency (ACRES), though both reptiles can be nasty predators. So what happens if one finds a python swimming in a reservoir? Call PUB, ACRES or AVA? Saltwater crocodiles are the world’s LARGEST living reptiles, and I thought naming the deceased beast after a singing, purple dinosaur that haunts every parent’s dreams was pretty clever. So a tiny country like ours with limited wild spaces has both the largest crocodiles and largest pythons on EARTH. How are we still ALIVE?

Here is a quick social history of crocs in Singapore:

Croc trapping: In 1894, a croc was sighted in what was known as the ‘Impounding Reservoir’ on Thomson Road and men attempted to snare it using an elaborate trap called a ‘nibong’, which involves a dead duck as bait and a coconut. This cruel device  lacerated the croc from within after it swallowed the bait, and was found dead soon after. We didn’t give them affectionate names then; it was just called a BRUTE. Well thankfully, trapping has become more humane since, though these bait-and-cage devices  kinda makes the living fossil look pretty dumb too. Even if they’ve been around far longer than our own species.

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Badass Croc killers: In 1911, a croc was gunned to death at Serangoon River by a certain D.C Cook with a Browning automatic pistol. Aw Boon Haw, of Tiger Balm fame, himself tried to shoot one with his revolver but missed (1925, Katong). We had our very own ‘Crocodile Hunter’ in the form of Boey Peng Kow, who was charged for reckless shooting in 1935. 2 years later, an Australian showed his prowess in HARPOONING crocs as if they were sturgeon. An instructor for the Singapore Trade School showed off his trophy catch after killing one with a single shot (1939), posing in the kind of photo that today would earn a million ‘Likes’ on Facebook or Instagram. Such Crocodile Dundees don’t exist anymore. We don’t conquer wild animals and pose with our feet on them like hunters do. We do SELFIES, or worse, COLLAGES of selfies of some utterly meagre accomplishment. Or tell everyone that we completed a 3.5 km jog on Runkeeper.

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Croc attacks: A child went missing after being dragged into the Ulu Pandan river by a croc (1946). An Indian labourer was MAULED by one which he kept as a PET.  In 1989, the Police opened fire on a charging croc in Seletar. Other than these rare cases, you’re probably as likely to be eaten by a croc as being gored by a wild boar. Heck, there’s a higher chance of you being stung to death by angry bees.

Croc harvesting: Croc skinning and tanning was a thriving business in the 1930’s. In the late 40’s you could even BUY your own baby crocodile for about $25. So much in demand was croc leather that people would resort to stealing baby crocodiles. In 1970, FIFTY FOUR of these babies were nicked from croc ‘nurseries’. Singapore’s Heng Long Tannery was one of the top five croc tanneries in the WORLD in 2011, recently acquired by French luxury group LVMH, which also snapped up Crystal Jade. Of course Singaporeans get more worked up about local companies getting bought over by Europeans when food is involved, caring little about crocodile hide processing.

Croc haunts (other than rivers and reservoirs): In 1949, a 41/2 foot long croc was found in a Geylang DRAIN.  In 1991, another sighting took place in a monsoon drain at Fort Road (Crocodile spotted in monsoon drain at Fort Road, 22 Sept 1991). One wandered onto Tuas SHIPYARD in 1998.

Croc attractions: The Jurong Crocodile Paradise was conceived in 1987, and cost $8 million to build. It closed down in 2006, only to be replaced by The Village@Jurong Hill, a suburban mall. The theme park featured a female croc named HULK HOGAN, who bit off part of a performer’s FACE during a show in 1989. Less well known was a place in East Coast Park since 1981 called the Singapore CROCODILARIUM, which featured crocodile WRESTLING. Even earlier than these, we had the crocodile farms of the 70s. The longest surviving one, the Tan Moh Hong Reptile Skin and Crocodile Farm, closed shop in 2012. Today, you can find the most crocodiles, or rather what’s left of the reptile, in the bag wardrobe of socialite Jamie Chua. Or you could just head down to Kranji Countryside’s Long Kuan Hung Crocodile Farm. Gone are those head-in-jaws of death stunts, the only thing I remember about my trip to the gone-but-not-forgotten Jurong attraction. If you want death-defying thrills in Jurong these days, there’s Jem mall.

Croc love: In 1979, a woman in Tampines kept a pet croc named – wait for it – CROCKY.  In 1988, the press portrayed elusive crocs in Seletar reservoir as our very own ‘Loch Ness monsters’. Maybe we should name the next croc we spot ‘Nessie’.

Croc logos: Clothing giant Singapore Crocodile had a legal tussle with Lacoste in 2006 over similar logos. Our brand eventually won, partly because the court found that the ‘head of the Singaporean Crocodile poses towards left while the French Lactose’s head towards right’. Lacoste was formed first, by the way, 10 years before Crocodile in 1943.

Croc pervs: Crocodile in Malay is ‘Buaya’, a term used to describe a different kind of ladykiller altogether, though rather outdated in my opinion. In 1936, a ‘buaya’ was a ‘favourite epithet for an untrustworthy scoundrel, guilty of evil deeds’. It wasn’t until the 90’s that it was used to describe flirts and womanisers.

Croc eats: Crocodile meat seems more palatable than python. Braised crocodile tail is a popular dish which you can snap up at the ‘Old Geylang’ eatery. We also used to have a stall at Old Airport Road named ‘Singapore King Crocodile’, which sells ‘croc meat bak kut teh’. Presumably it tastes like a hybrid of chicken/pork. No surprise that Barney was sent to the nearest farm then. Maybe you can have a taste of him when you can buy CROCODILE BAK KWA.

UPDATE: ST Forum published a statement by PUB (PUB probing crocodile’s death, 16 May 2014, ST) revealing that Barney might have been hunted down by poachers, as he was found with a large fish hook in his mouth and a metal rod impaled in his eye. The only croc farm remaining in Singapore, Long Kuan Hung Crocodile farm, has denied that it received Barney’s carcass as what the ST previously reported. The killers remain at large, while everyone else is caught up in the media frenzy over 5 boys who spray painted a wall.

Air steward sueing SIA after luggage fell on his neck

From ‘Air steward sues SIA’, claiming cabin bag fell and injured him’, 9 April 2014, article by Selina Lum, ST

A Singapore Airlines (SIA) air steward, who says he was injured when a bag fell from the overhead compartment, is suing the airline for around $500,000. But SIA has countered that 42-year-old K. Jotheeswaran Kaniyasan is lying and that the incident never happened. Instead, air stewardess Hezrin Hilmi, who Mr Jotheeswaran said saw the 2009 incident, has filed an affidavit stating that she did not.

SIA has also alleged that her signature on the cabin crew accident report which the steward submitted to the airline was forged.

In his lawsuit, which opened yesterday and is scheduled to run for 12 days, Mr Jotheeswaran said that on July 8, 2009 he was helping passengers as they boarded a plane at an airport in Chennai, India. That was when a bag fell from an overhead compartment and landed on the back of his neck.

Despite treatment for back pain, his condition did not improve. Five months later, he had spinal surgery. But even after this and physiotherapy, he said he still suffers from neck pain and numbness in his left arm. He said in his claim that he has developed a degenerative disease in his spine.

To my surprise, someone has been successful in a suit against SIA for deadly falling luggage before. In March 2004, the High Court awarded $600,000 in compensation to Dr Euan Murugasu after he was attacked by a falling suitcase, leaving him with headaches, double vision and costing him his job as an ENT surgeon. In 2007, traveller Mark David Ryan, vice president of DBS bank, claimed SPINAL CORD INJURY after getting hit on the head by a bag containing a DSLR camera, an accident which he believed was the cabin crew’s fault. It appears that issuing helmets could save the airlines more money than safety belts. Nobody’s going to sue NParks for negligence if a tree branch falls on their face.

Killer baggage aside, even the food that SIA serves could hurt you. A British passenger in 2000 once tried to sue the airlines for serving PINEAPPLE juice with shards of glass inside, each as big as ‘five carat diamonds‘. Turns out that Stephen Golding falsified a radiographer’s report, and SIA proceed to counter-sue him for fraud. In 1993, a NZ woman took legal action against SIA after she had hot COFFEE spilled on her (New Zealand woman takes SIA to court over coffee spill, 1 Nov 1993, ST). A year before that, a similar incident happened at a US McDonalds’ outlet, where an elderly lady was awarded 2.9 million after sustaining third degree burns from the piping hot beverage.

But what about cabin crew themselves seeking claims from their own employer over inflight injuries? In another heavy-luggage related 2011 incident, stewardess Li Na wasn’t satisfied with a $250,000 payout after she suffered a back injury, seeking further compensation from SIA when it was in fact a passenger who knocked into her while she was lifting luggage in the first place.  In 2007, steward S Manikam blamed SIA for failing to order the crew to cease breakfast service during turbulence, resulting in him falling against an armrest, eventually developing REFLEX SYMPATHETHIC DYSTROPHY. SIA countered that he should have known better. Sometimes even part of your uniform can physically maim you, as what happened to an ex-stewardess who in 2002 sued SIA for sandals that gave her ‘foot problems’ (Ex stewardess sues SIA over ‘problem sandals’, 23 Jan 2002, ST). Not only are those an eyesore to some travellers, but serve as ancient Chinese foot binders cum torture devices as well.

You’re liable to head-to-toe injury risk if you work on a SIA plane, and given the hazards on board, turbulence and passengers included, this hardly comes as a surprise. Falling luggage, however, presents a complex whoddunit. Is it SIA’s fault if passengers carry dumbells in their bags, overload the overhead compartments, or do not position their stuff properly? Should cabin crew be trained to detect when a bag compartment is beyond its tipping point and be drilled in Baggage Dodging? If you could pay half a million to a passenger when a bag falls on him out of no reason at all, shouldn’t your own staff be entitled the same?

Here’s a tip for any claim nonetheless, whether you’re hit by a trolley bag, scalded by coffee or tea or have your feet run over by a meal servicecart: Don’t just settle for ‘neck injury’ or ‘nerve damage’. Do your research. The longer and more convoluted-sounding your illness is, the scarier the prognosis, the better your chances of winning a suit.

A Singapore Airlines (SIA) air steward, who says he was injured when a bag fell from the overhead compartment, is suing the airline for around $500,000.

But SIA has countered that 42-year-old K. Jotheeswaran Kaniyasan is lying and that the incident never happened. Instead, air stewardess Hezrin Hilmi, who Mr Jotheeswaran said saw the 2009 incident, has filed an affidavit stating that she did not.

SIA has also alleged that her signature on the cabin crew accident report which the steward submitted to the airline was forged.

In his lawsuit, which opened yesterday and is scheduled to run for 12 days, Mr Jotheeswaran said that on July 8, 2009 he was helping passengers as they boarded a plane at an airport in Chennai, India.

That was when a bag fell from an overhead compartment and landed on the back of his neck.

Despite treatment for back pain, his condition did not improve.

Five months later, he had spinal surgery. But even after this and physiotherapy, he said he still suffers from neck pain and numbness in his left arm. He said in his claim that he has developed a degenerative disease in his spine.

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/courts-crime/story/air-steward-sues-sia-claiming-cabin-bag-fell-and-injured-him-20140#sthash.U9wl1n29.dpuf

Singapore always has a surprise waiting for you

From ‘Tourism video to promote S’pore in Philippines slammed’, 9 April 2014, article by Carolyn Khew, Raul Dancel, ST

A VIDEO to promote Singapore in the Philippines “could have been done better”, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) admitted yesterday, after it was slammed for its “bad script” and “sloppy production”.

The three-minute video features a couple from the Philippines visiting attractions such as Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands. At one stage, the woman gives the man a gift – a pregnancy test kit indicating she is pregnant. The shocked man remarks: “Singapore always had a surprise waiting for me.

…Netizen Evonne Sim criticised the video for its “low-cost production” adding that it felt “so 80s”.

Filipino travel writer Stella Arnaldo said: “I couldn’t get past the ‘Honey! Look!‘. Bad acting turned me off already. The major advertising firms have regional headquarters in Singapore, and STB comes up with this?”

Cheesy, awkward acting has always been the bane of tourism videos, and so are takeaway catchphrases whether it’s ‘Get LOST!‘, or ‘SHIOK’. The problem with STB’s latest Pinoy pitch is that its catchphrase (Honey, Look!) has nothing to do with Singapore, and what we’ll remember it by is not the Supertree Grove or expensive dining in a cable car, but the image of a pregnancy test kit in a box at the twisty shock ending.

Having a baby is a reason to celebrate no doubt, except that this could your last anniversary trip not just to Singapore, but ANYWHERE in the world once Baby is out. I can only imagine mixed emotions in the hubby, though what I saw from his expression was surely nothing but pure ecstasy.

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So what we have here is not so much sloppy production or bad dialogue, but a case of excessive ‘storytelling’ and not enough scenes to showcase Singapore, or rather, the REAL Singapore. The Merlion was brutally snubbed in this video and not a single face of a smiling Singaporean was featured. The only food you see here is some atas salmon dish, not satay, durian or chicken rice. And the couple didn’t even look like they were enjoying it, more engrossed with surprising each other than relishing the sights of Singapore from above.

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Singapore: Baked Salmon Paradise

Here’s a uniquely Singaporean tagline for the ad since it sorely needs one. CANNOT MAKE IT LA.

 

 

Netizen Evonne Sim criticised the video for its “low-cost production” adding that it felt “so 80s”.

Filipino travel writer Stella Arnaldo said: “I couldn’t get past the ‘Honey! Look!’. Bad acting turned me off already. The major advertising firms have regional headquarters in Singapore, and STB comes up with this?”

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/top-the-news/story/tourism-video-promote-spore-philippines-slammed-20140409#sthash.TLqi7rPj.dpuf

The advertisement was uploaded to STB’s Facebook page for the Philippines last month. It was also shared on its YouTube channel and featured on TV there. Mr Chong said it was withdrawn because “it was not resonating well with audiences”. – See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/top-the-news/story/tourism-video-promote-spore-philippines-slammed-20140409#sthash.TLqi7rPj.dpuf

A VIDEO to promote Singapore in the Philippines “could have been done better”, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) admitted yesterday, after it was slammed for its “bad script” and “sloppy production”.

The three-minute video features a couple from the Philippines visiting attractions such as Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands.

At one stage, the woman gives the man a gift – a pregnancy test kit indicating she is pregnant. The shocked man remarks: “Singapore always had a surprise waiting for me.”

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/top-the-news/story/tourism-video-promote-spore-philippines-slammed-20140409#sthash.TLqi7rPj.dpuf

A VIDEO to promote Singapore in the Philippines “could have been done better”, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) admitted yesterday, after it was slammed for its “bad script” and “sloppy production”.

The three-minute video features a couple from the Philippines visiting attractions such as Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands.

At one stage, the woman gives the man a gift – a pregnancy test kit indicating she is pregnant. The shocked man remarks: “Singapore always had a surprise waiting for me.”

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/top-the-news/story/tourism-video-promote-spore-philippines-slammed-20140409#sthash.TLqi7rPj.dpuf

Tourism video to promote S’pore in Philippines slammed

STB admits ad could be better after netizens call it ‘bad’ and ‘sloppy’

Published on Apr 9, 2014
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Tourism video to promote S’pore in Philippines slammed

STB admits ad could be better after netizens call it ‘bad’ and ‘sloppy’

Published on Apr 9, 2014
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- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/top-the-news/story/tourism-video-promote-spore-philippines-slammed-20140409#sthash.TLqi7rPj.dpuf

Tourism video to promote S’pore in Philippines slammed

STB admits ad could be better after netizens call it ‘bad’ and ‘sloppy’

Published on Apr 9, 2014
 0  0

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/top-the-news/story/tourism-video-promote-spore-philippines-slammed-20140409#sthash.TLqi7rPj.dpuf

Tourism video to promote S’pore in Philippines slammed

STB admits ad could be better after netizens call it ‘bad’ and ‘sloppy’

Published on Apr 9, 2014
 0  0

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/premium/top-the-news/story/tourism-video-promote-spore-philippines-slammed-20140409#sthash.TLqi7rPj.dpuf

‘Little Chinatown’ Geylang is a potential powder keg

From ‘Step up safety in Geylang, say MPs, grassroots leaders’, 30 March 2014, article by Amelia Tan, Sunday Times

Geylang Members of Parliament and grassroots leaders want more done to keep the area safe, and say the measures should go beyond ramping up police patrols. Moulmein-Kallang GRC MP Edwin Tong wants fewer alcohol licences issued, stricter operating hours for businesses near residential estates, and a stop to foreign worker dormitories sprouting near Housing Board flats.

…Geylang has come under fresh focus after Police Commissioner Ng Joo Hee said last Tuesday that he was more worried about the area than Little India, where a riot involving foreign workers took place last December. Testifying at the Committee of Inquiry into the Little India riot, he said crime rates in Geylang were disproportionately high and hostility towards the police rife.

Mr Tong told The Sunday Times that the red-light district, with its many bars and lounges, peddlers selling contraband cigarettes and drugs, as well as shops and vendors which stay open late into the night make Geylang more of a potential trouble spot than Little India and increase the risk of violent crime.

…He also highlighted the predicament of those living in Blocks 38 and 39 Upper Boon Keng Road, off Lorong 3 Geylang. The HDB flats are beside a row of terraced houses which have been converted into dormitories for workers from South Asian countries.

Many of the workers drink alcohol at the void decks of the blocks late into the night and some urinate at the playgrounds. Mr Tong said the problems have not been solved despite his asking police to increase their patrols. He said: “I think the solution is to stop the houses from being used as dorms. They are just too near the HDB flats.”

Grassroots leader Lee Hong Ping, 45, who labelled Geylang “Little Chinatown”, said crowds of foreign workers from China can cause traffic jams when too many of them gather on the pavements and spill onto the roads. Residents have also complained about not feeling safe at night.

The Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee described Geylang as a hotspot for ‘lawlessness’ and a congregation area for ‘unsavoury characters’. The Police also cited statistics that the level of public order offences and crime were almost twice as high as that in Little India in 2012, thus the ‘powder keg’ analogy. Another ST report carried the headline ‘People in Geylang speak of an ‘undercurrent of fear’ (March 30, 2014) based on the refusal of some residents to talk to the press. The authorities should be wary, however, not to focus too much on buffing up security at these ‘enclaves’ while neglecting other public areas when random people get slain. Since the Little India incident, we’ve all but forgotten about what went on in the very beating heart of the city, gang fights at Orchard Cineleisure for instance.

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There’s no question that the Lorongs are where resentment of authority is rampant. In 2007, a crowd of 200 gathered around 4 undercover police officers on an illegal gambling raid operation and threw rubbish and beer bottles at them, forcing one officer to draw his weapon on one of the men in the crowd. It had all the makings of a full blown riot, though today we’re unlikely to see the level of violence of the secret society clashes in the 1920s, where the police don’t just get glasses and rocks tossed at them, but BOMBS as well. There’s no evidence that alcohol had anything to do with these events, though some shopkeepers admit that vice is a crowd-puller and good for business.

Geylang may be called ‘Little Chinatown’ today, but according to some sociologists in 2009, Geylang was already the NEW Chinatown when PRCs started flocking to the area to set up shop, while its older sibling with its annual gaudy CNY decorations has morphed into a tourist town, today complete with giant LCD advertising screens and a ‘food street’ that’s clearly designed to draw tourists on a hawker mecca. We’ve already lost our vintage Bugis Street, we don’t want the same fate to fall on ‘Little Chinatown’ now, do we?

The police may think that Geylang, with all its vice and sleaze, is a time bomb waiting to explode. Residents worry about their wives or daughters when they go out at night. But to anyone with a sense of history or adventure, the ‘unsavoury’ nature of Geylang is part of its gritty, trashy charm, a seedy side of Singapore that remains largely unsanitised and brimming with a thrilling sense of ghetto sprawl and chaos, like the Chinese Harlem except that the only protection you need is not a personal weapon, but personal contraception. It has even been called a mini ‘United Nations’ of street-walkers. This is a place you won’t see on our tourist brochures, but any Singaporean will try to tempt a foreigner to have a taste of it. With a nudge and a wink of course.

 

 

Clubhouse for maids a space to call their own

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Lucky Plaza

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

2) Golden Mile Complex

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

3) Peninsula Plaza

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

4) City Plaza and Joo Chiat

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

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

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

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

Long Live the Queen banner smacks of colonial hangover

From ‘Long live the Queen archway raises some eyebrows’, 29 Sept 2013, article by Melody Zaccheus, Sunday Times

An archway in Queenstown proclaiming “Long live the Queen” has left some scratching their heads, even as residents gathered last night for a concert to mark the estate’s 60th anniversary.

The arch was put up as part of the celebrations at the estate, which was named after Queen Elizabeth II. Nine of 15 Singaporeans The Sunday Times spoke to described the arch as odd, calling it a “colonial hangover”.

“It’s not appropriate as we are an independent country and no longer under British rule,” said polytechnic course manager Tia Boon Sim, 57, who lived in Queenstown for the first 16 years of her life.

…My Community founder Kwek Li Yong, 24, said the arch – featuring a photo of the Queen and decorated with the Union Jack – is a re-creation of a larger one that was erected in 1953 in North Bridge Road to celebrate the Queen’s coronation. “History teaches us to look back at events. So, we are tracing the estate’s roots back to when the British started it, as Singapore’s first satellite town,” he said.

Named by the British on Sept 27, 1953, Queenstown began as a project by the Singapore Improvement Trust to tackle overcrowding in Chinatown. The trust was later replaced by the Housing Board in 1959. It was in Queenstown that HDB built its first blocks.

God Save this Archway

God Save this Archway

According to the book ‘The Politics of Landscapes in Singapore: Constructions of ‘nation’‘, the ‘Street Naming Advisory Commitee’ was advised in the late sixties to avoid ‘British snob names’ in a bid to sever post-Independence Singapore’s colonial ‘apron strings’.  Areas in Queenstown such as Commonwealth, Queensway and Margaret Drive were advised to change to Malay names. However the Board resisted because Queenstown was ‘well-known throughout the world’ and should be preserved. In the same chapter, it was revealed that Bugis and Tanjong Pagar MRT stations were originally to be named ‘Victoria’ and ‘Maxwell’, after the monarch and a colonial family respectively. Till today, we still have a ‘King Albert Park’, where unlike Queenstown heartland folks, people actually do live like royalty.

Having a ‘colonial hangover’ implies that our past under British royalty was as merry and free-spirited as a drunken orgy, but in today’s context has been extended not just to kowtowing to the Queen and her ilk, but our white overlords in general. I think a more accurate description would be a ‘colonial hang-up’, like the feeling of not wanting to let go of an ex-boyfriend who treated you terribly but you still love to bits. The archway regalia and cheesy title is a bit over-the-top, but this is similar to the way we feted the royal couple when they visited Singapore’s first satellite town last year, short of taking them around in a horse-driven golden carriage and having people dressed as grovelling butlers in tailcoats serving them TWG tea.

The kings and queens today are not those who live in grand palaces and sit on thrones, but those in the realm of K-pop or mavens of technology, and this homage to Queen Elizabeth II by Queenstown residents would strike us as Old World sentimentality that is incompatible with our current aspirations as citizens of a digital age. Celebrating a town’s anniversary like a Royal Jubilee is harmless in my opinion, but it raises the question of whether we, despite being an independent country, have fully shrugged off our colonial past, or have we descendents been somehow possessed by the lingering spirit of the time, that when we see a Caucasian speaking in a posh accent, we are subconsciously compelled by this ghost to either curtsey and shudder with fear, or have the sudden urge to instigate a mutiny on the bounty.

As late as 2007, locals have complained about snooty discriminatory treatment under the euphemism of ‘nursing a colonial hangover’. Bellhops at the Raffles Hotel reportedly allowed a Caucasian family to jump a taxi queue after shouting ‘this one for the ang mohs!’. Sumiko Tan asked if she was guilty of suffering from the same syndrome, complaining of ang mohs ‘lording over Singaporeans’ after a traffic scuffle. To some, a colonial hangover simply means ‘Westernisation’, like having weird English names even if you’re ethnic Chinese. A more specific syndrome related to this submissiveness is the ‘Pinkerton Syndrome’, which refers to Singaporean women preferring white men over locals. A case of ‘bigger’ meaning ‘better’, perhaps. These days, ‘Pinkerton’ and ‘colonial hangover’ seem to be used interchangeably and loosely, only because no one wants to utter words like ‘racism’ or ‘slavery’. (Interestingly, the name of Prince William’s private secretary is Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton)

However, we have our white colonial masters to thank for our architecture and tourist icons , from the grand Fullerton Hotel to Empress Place and Fort Canning, though these were built with the hands, blood, sweat and tears of our very own forefathers. We indulge in a spot of afternoon tea in tiffin rooms, the ‘quintessential colonial pastime’, though the key ingredient behind ‘high tea’ has its origins in another ex-colony, India. One man’s ‘nostalgia’ is another’s ‘colonial hangover’, depending on your gut reaction to the image below, courtesy of Raffles Hotel, the pinnacle of colonial luxury that would make any Old-World plantation owner feel right at home. Without the whips of course.

A fling with Singapore sling

An article in the Hindu Times even referred to our country as a city-state ‘basking in its colonial hangover’. If that’s the case, then we don’t need a cure for it, do we? We have the Singapore Flyer mimic of the one in London, why not build the next casino like Big Ben then? Who knows, Singapore may even be more ‘British’ than London itself in 20 years. We even retained some of the crappy laws which our ex rulers have ditched a long time ago. Some people have tasted scones before even knowing the existence of ang ku kuehs.

You could even accuse me of nursing a ‘colonial hangover’ just because I love Fish and Chips, listen to music from British bands, support Manchester United instead of Home United, or watch Monty Python skits. In its milder form, I would be referred to as a ‘banana’ or ‘jiak kantang’. Yet, I haven’t heard of anyone being accused of ‘Occupation hangover’ if they study Japanese as a third language or are members of Sushi Tei. In 2001, a Today reader complained about our ‘fixation with our British-colonial past’ and imperialism’s ‘dark power’ over the minds of the people, just because Bridget Jones Diary seemed to be more popular than Jurassic Park. Bollocks, really.

NHB using Google Translator for Bras Basah

From article in omy.sg, 15 Sept 2013 and Singapore heritage Society Facebook post

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The direct translation of ‘Bras Basah’ (as in the road) into the Chinese ‘bras’ 胸罩 (as in the undergarment) has made international headlines, no thanks to the gaffe by the folks responsible for the Chinese version of  the NHB website (I have no idea how to access the Chinese version to see if it has been amended). Wrong translation with unintended comical and embarrassing results has happened before, on the STB website and even when applied to the names of prominent ministers.

So I decided to give Google Translate a shot at ‘Bras Basah’, and found that someone must have corrected the algorithm because the end result turned out to be accurate, though the official name in Chinese (pronounced ‘Wulashibasha’) makes absolutely no sense at all.

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But isn’t Bras Basah a MALAY word, you say? So I tried converting it to Chinese from Malay instead. The result I got was 湿黄铜, which means WET BRASS. It should be, literally, 湿米 (shi mi, or wet rice, as I’ll explain later), but that sounds too close to SIMEI. The name warrants further research because it seems ‘bras’ isn’t a Malay word either.

According to Infopedia, the road was listed as ‘Brass Bassa’ in 1835, and hypothesised to be an anglicised form of the Malay ‘Beras Basah’, or ‘wet rice’. Our British rulers probably didn’t like naming roads after soggy food, so decided to ‘jazz’ it up to sound more like a trumpet festival. There were also speculations that ‘basah’ is a bastardisation of ‘bazaar’ and that Bras Basah meant ‘rice market’ (‘Basah’ also sounds like the local Chinese term for ‘wet market’ 巴剎, which itself is derived from the Malay ‘Pasar’). Then there are jokes that the underwear reference came from it being used as an area to hang wet bras to dry. Some visitors, like blogger ‘Jacqkie’ from Malaysia, thinks Bras Basar ‘sounds funny’. Singaporeans, too, found the pun ROTFL-worthy, and came up with lame classics like ‘Where does Dolly Parton buy her bra in Singapore?’ (Answer: Bras Basah)

In fact, it was historically a site of rice trading, where cargo-loads were dried at the banks of Stamford Canal, occasionally made wet by the north-east monsoon, as related by an unknown writer in 1948. In the same article, ‘Tampenis Road’ was cited. I wonder how this would have turned out on Google Translate (it doesn’t translate. Unfortunately). Couldn’t stop sniggering at the puns (not sure if intended or not) in this 1939 piece on how ‘Tampines’ came about. But I digress.

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Our reluctance to restore Bras Basah to its original Malay is partly the reason for the website cock-up, though most of us have refrained from mocking its name by now because that’s just childish. Bras Basah remains generally accepted for historical and sentimental reasons, just like the distorted ‘Tampines’, though the latter is a change that residents of the town are most grateful for.

WHY someone in history decided to drop the last ‘S’ of ‘brass’ and restore the Malay ‘basah’ to its current incarnation remains a juicy mystery. As for WHEN, it could have happened sometime just before 1900, when someone commented on revised spelling on the ‘newly enamelled’ street signs, and that Bras Basah ‘sends the thoughts back to the padi fields in the valley of Fort Canning’. It could have been a lexical compromise of ‘brass’ and the colloquial ‘beras’ (Bras Basah is catchier than Beras Basah), or a colonial prankster working in road administration who wanted to leave a lasting legacy for all the wrong reasons, who had the foresight to recognise that one day mankind will be lazy enough to use technology instead of humans to translate ‘Bras Basah’ into other languages, with hilarious, and tragic, results.

Singapore Flyer no longer attractive to locals

From ‘Experts,  tour guides not surprised by Singapore Flyer receivership news’, 28 May 2013, article by Debbie Lee and Jessica Lim, ST

Analysts and tour agents were not altogether surprised when news broke on Tuesday evening that company that owns the Singapore Flyer had enter receivership just five years after it was launched.

…Analysts noted that the Singapore Flyer was not attractive to locals and did not encourage repeat visitors while tour agents also told The Straits Times that the ticket prices were too expensive and some had stopped taking tourists there.

Mr M. Loganathan, a tour guide, said that he prefers to take tourists to view Singapore’s scenery from buildings like the OUB building instead. “It’s cheaper so we earn more. At these places, tourists can stay as long as they want and take as many pictures as they want,” he said, adding that he suggests alternate locations to the Flyer to tourists the guides.

The Singapore Flyer project was formally announced and endorsed on June 27, 2003 by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the developer, Singapore Flyer Pte Ltd, and STB.

While the attraction crossed the one-million mark in ticket sales in August 2008, it suffered several breakdowns including two major ones. On Dec 4 in 2008, the wheel was stuck for nearly five hours due to bad weather and some 70 people were stranded. A few weeks later on Dec 23, wheel stopped moving for more than six hours. Some 173 passengers on board were trapped and 11 passengers eventually had to be evacuated via a sling-like device from a few of the capsules, and those stranded were given food and drink. Following this breakdown, additional back-up systems costing about $3 million were installed.

The ‘analysts’ are right. I only ever took the Singapore Flyer once and that was the end of it. It explains the fancy add-ons to get people interested after their maiden voyage. A basic ride currently costs a whopping $33 for a half-hour rotation and entry into a ‘Journey of Dreams’ showcase. For twice that price ($69), you may experience a Moet and Chandon champagne flight, which includes bubbly in an ‘elegant tulip flute’ and strawberries and chocolate. For $99 you and your partner may enjoy – literally – HIGH tea. The problem with Flyer feasting is that you can’t enjoy afternoon delight or a romantic date at your own pace once the wheel hits the downturn. For the same amount I could have a more relaxing time at a buffet spread, with the luxury of a restroom so that I can drink and piss out as much tea as I want. And who needs a butler in that enclosed space anyway, unless he also doubles up as a serenading violinist or carries an emergency jetpack to shuttle passengers to safety in the event of disaster.

What the above article avoided reporting on past Flyer breakdowns was that the cause of wheel failure in Dec 2008 was a small ELECTRICAL FIRE, and that two passengers were subsequently HOSPITALISED. One Indonesian tourist who swore that he would never take the ride spoke of trapped riders URINATING into plastic bags while hanging in the air. Imagine if you’re stuck in a Moet Chandon package capsule and you had no other receptacle to relieve yourself than a tulip flute, and mere strawberries to stave your hunger. Just the thought of that remotely happening is enough for me to save that $33 for Kai Kai and Jia Jia instead. I’d rather see pandas do nothing for 15 minutes than twice that duration in a rotating deathtrap worrying about which side to jump from once the capsule catches fire. I sure as hell don’t want to land smack on the Esplanade.

But that’s not all. 2010 saw the Flyer being hit by LIGHTNING. A year later, a baby in a stroller rolled off the disembarkation platform 3 stories off the ground (but thankfully onto a safety net). But if you’re really unlucky, you may get half an hour of witnessing ridiculous couples fondle each other. At least you can disembark the MRT if such behaviour gives you nausea. On the Singapore Flyer there is NO escape. It gives ‘altitude sickness’ a whole new meaning. All the above, for $33 a pop and waiting in a queue for longer than the entire ride itself. In fact, even an illegal ticket at half price would be a hard sell in my opinion.

Despite the initial fanfare and optimism over the then TALLEST Observation Wheel in the World (30 m taller than the London Eye, but now overtaken by New York’s 190m High Roller ferris wheel), there were some voices in 2003 who called out the Flyer as a blatant copycat of the London icon, with the ST Forum using a telling subject header for one such letter: Singapore Flyer won’t Fly. 10 years on and the Flyer looks set to have its wings clipped as the naysayers predicted, its unpopularity coupled with problems within management.  I can imagine in 50 years if nobody could bear to tear down a $200 million dollar project, we could send some gardeners up there to seed the abandoned capsules and turn the entire structure in the world’s biggest vertical hanging tropical garden. Only THEN should the Management consider skyborne eateries, maybe a Kopitiam in the form of a spiralling tower selling hawker delights, a refreshing gastronomic SPIN on what’s previously a Ferris Wheel ride so boring you need to pay extra for booze to help get it over and done with.

We could rename the attraction – wait for it – the Singapore Fryer.

Singapore Girl announcing that she’s from China

From ‘Stewardess making announcements:Why the need to specify her origins?’, 25 May 2013, ST Forum

(Kua Bak Lim): WHEN on board a recent Singapore Airlines Beijing/Singapore flight, I was puzzled when the flight stewardess who made announcements in Mandarin identified herself as someone from China. It struck me as odd that the airline found it necessary to make such a distinction when it came to announcements in Mandarin.

I then asked the in-flight supervisor whether the stewardess or steward on board an SIA flight to London needed to declare that he or she was from the United Kingdom when making announcements. The answer was no. This piece of personal information about the staff is completely irrelevant to the announcements, regardless of the language spoken.

This, in my view, tends to be divisive for the staff on board. I also find it disconcerting for SIA’s image as a world-class international airline. One also cannot help but notice that there seems to be the subtle insinuation that Singaporeans cannot speak good Mandarin, which is certainly not true.

Would the SIA management please comment?

There’s no need for an SIA stewardess from China to announce her origins simply because her accent and grammatical precision would be a dead giveaway, if the intention is to cater to PRCs on board. SIA has been hiring foreign staff for a while now so it’s no secret,  though they still insist on keeping the ‘Singapore Girl’ moniker.  As of April 2013, 7 out of 10 cabin crew are locals, with Malaysians, Thais, Chinese, Indians, Japanese and Koreans making up the numbers. It is perhaps the only airline in the world to brand their attendants after a nationality. Even Air India doesn’t call their ladies ‘India Girl’, nor China Airlines ‘China Girl’. The latter is also derogatory in the local context, often associated with mistresses and illegal immigrants than a glamorous profession that involves pushing foodcarts up and down a aisle asking if people want the chicken or the beef.

Interestingly, according to the SIA recruitment site, it’s a prerequisite to be ‘proficient in English and Mandarin’ if you’re a Taiwanese, whereas the requirement specified for candidates from China is just ‘a HIGH level of English proficiency’, though I believe the average Chinese or Taiwanese native could deliver any announcement in Mandarin without much difficulty at all. No such language criteria has been set for the Singaporean candidate, though you’d need to have A and O Level credits in General Paper and English respectively. Which means you can fail your Chinese exams and still become a successful Singapore Girl. But having splendid passes in GP or even Chinese doesn’t necessarily make you proficient in ANY language. The writer above seems highly optimistic about our locals’ standards of spoken Mandarin, but if we were that good we wouldn’t need ‘Speak Mandarin campaigns’. Even ang mo children put Chinese Singaporean adults like myself to shame. I can only remember one Chinese nursery rhyme during my childhood, the one that goes ‘san zi lao hu’ (Three Tigers, Three Tigers, run very fast, run very fast, one has no eyes, one has no ears, very strange, very strange), compared to today’s non-Chinese kids reciting Confucian EPICS like San Zi Jing.

So how many Singaporeans you know are actually up to the task of delivering a message to international travellers over a PA system? How many can deliver a simple interview to a Mandarin news crew in full sentences? How about telling a Chinese tourist the TIME? Not a lot, apparently.  Ex Mediacorp actor Ix Shen says we have a TOTAL DISREGARD for grammar and sentence construction. Sumiko Tan posits that English educated folks like herself lacked interest in the language because it was forced down our throats and not promoted in a fun, lively way. Journalist and film-maker Pek Siok Lan mocks our ‘half-baked English and half-baked Chinese’. Back in 1981, a Taiwanese professor urged us to ‘DROP Singapore Mandarin’ because we were over -‘translitering’ it. We could consider a Speak Mandarin mascot like Water Wally or Singa, but it would be hard to conceive of a character related to Chinese culture without making it a dragon or coming across as racist and xenophobic.

From a business and customer service standpoint, it’s better for SIA to let a ‘professional’ handle a Mandarin announcement than risk an unseasoned Singaporean butchering it in front of PRCs, generally thought to be so proud of their language they wouldn’t stand for anything slipshod and ‘half-baked’. It would also be a hassle for the cabin crew if PRCs started throwing up their meals because they heard us speak. But you don’t have to tell people you’re from China because it’s obvious and it would confuse everyone about what ‘Singapore Girl’ means. I suppose with enough practice, a true ‘Singapore Girl’ would be able to deliver Mandarin with striking confidence. Maybe that would be the ‘makeover’ that we locals can truly be proud of, a bilingual SIA stewardess who knows what is Chinese for ‘mild turbulence’ and ‘fried mee goreng’, rather than say, toning down on blue eyeshadow.

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