Thailand is a place of ‘little true joy’

From ‘Christian group says sorry for remarks’, 17 Feb 2012, article by Jessica Lim and Stanley Chia, ST

A CHRISTIAN student group at the National University of Singapore (NUS) apologised yesterday for making insensitive remarks about Buddhists and Muslims. The NUS Campus Crusade for Christ, made up of 80 to 100 students, posted an apology on its Facebook page for remarks made on its website and on posters it put up on campus benches on Wednesday.

…The Christian group’s posters promoting a mission trip to Thailand said that the country, known as The Land of Smiles, was actually ‘a place of little true joy’. This, it said, was because Buddhism was so much a part of the Thai national identity and few believed in Jesus Christ. It urged students to help take Christianity to the Thais.

Its website promoted a mission trip to Turkey and said the country needed ‘much prayer and work’ because ‘much of the population is M‘, referring to Muslims. The online posts and posters have since been removed, but not before copies spread quickly online, prompting a wave of angry comments from netizens.

With so much online fury over anti-Muslim sentiments of late, whether it’s commenting on harmless schoolkids on a bus or a photoshopped Pig on a Kaaba, it’s no wonder the NCCC, despite it’s zeal in spreading universal joy to faraway lands untouched by the blessed hand of the Almighty, treats Islam with the same nervous hushed-up tones as someone whispering a naughty word. Thailand is called the Land of Smiles for a reason with or without Christian influence, and as godless as the Sex Capital of Asia may be in the eyes of the CCC, implying that a wave of monotheism would bring a wider smile to Thai faces is like saying fog makes green grass greener.

Have these people even heard of Bhutan, or how just a few years ago a Christian couple were charged under the Sedition Act for distributing a comic book titled ‘The Little Bride’, a rather disturbing tract written by some guy who goes by the  deceptively benign name of ‘Jack Chick’ that explains Islam in terms of the young wives the Prophet was believed to have kept (as the uneasy title suggests)? ‘The Little Bride’ makes the CCC’s candy- coated proselytisations seem like a travelogue for teens in comparison. ‘Prophecy movements’, from which modern missions were descended from, have a dark history associated with white superiority and colonialism, when missionaries boasted magical powers to cure the ill , alluding their gifts to a higher power and convincing ‘natives’ to surrender to their God-endorsed rule. Whether it’s shamanism disguised as divine healing prowess or a shot of Jesus joy juice, what these missions have in common is a systematic delivery of a promise beyond the wildest dreams of your average non-believer. In today’s context, that would be happiness.

Here’s a short history of what Christ crusaders like the CCC have been doing to spread the happy gospel,  when Singaporeans had a lot less Jesus in our lives compared to now and evangelists were, and still are, as subtle in their approach to propagating their version of a miracle as a mother ramming cough syrup down a sick child’s throat.

The director of the Korean Campus Crusade for Christ Dr Joon Gon Kim came to town in the mid-seventies to promote a sweeping movement known as ‘Explo 74′, which was basically an international Evangelism training camp to equip you with a sweet holy tongue and get you into the good books of the Lord.   In 1978, the Billy Graham Evangelistic crusade invited the famous preacher to conduct a ‘major city-wide CRUSADE ‘. At that time, there was no timid skirting around its true objective; to ‘persuade individuals to accept Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord’. The word ‘Crusade’ itself has come with its own religious baggage in recent times, ever since ex US President George W Bush unleashed one against Iraq.  Today, you can only use the word if you’re going to a fancy dress party dressed as a Knights Templar. You just have to pray you don’t bump into someone dressed like Osama Bin Laden.

In 1981, the CCC promoted a film simply titled ‘Jesus’, dubbed in Mandarin, Chinese and INDIAN dialects, and screened this to quarter of a million viewers at local theatres. Advancing technology along with their faith, the CCC organised the ‘world’s biggest teleconference’ at the World Trade Centre in 1985, with 3000 tuning in to the likes of Graham and Luis Palau.There is a theory that the Internet and all the technology associated with it was driven by porn. It’s possible that religion with its track record of ‘going viral’ comes a close second in contributing to the luxury of bandwidth that we all experience today.

There’s no harm in promoting mission trips to unChristian lands, in fact most of these have philanthropic intentions and if religion could drive ordinary people to make extraordinary sacrifices, then all the better for mankind. But if you’re the overzealous preacher type with no other agenda than to rescue everyone from their own religions, then the only way to spread ‘true joy’ around the world is for people like you to leave everyone  else the Hell alone.

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UOB staff going blackface

From ‘Seeing red over blackface photos’, 12 Feb 2012, article by Jennani Durai, Sunday Times

Several Chinese employees of United Overseas Bank have raised eyebrows online after posting pictures of themselves in ‘blackface’ at a Bollywood-themed staff dinner. Pictures of last Friday’s event at the Fairmont Hotel were posted on social networking site Facebook yesterday. At least three men are pictured with their faces painted black, presumably because the event was Indian-themed and Indians have darker skin.

‘Blackface’ is widely seen as racially charged, especially in the United States. It originated as a form of theatrical make-up for performers to act out caricatures of dark-skinned people.

…A Chinese reader, who e-mailed the pictures to The Sunday Times, said she found them extremely offensive. ‘It’s one thing to wear a traditional costume to a Bollywood- themed dinner, but another thing altogether to paint your face black,’ said the reader, who wished to remain anonymous. She said the pictures were offensive because they were ‘appropriating someone else’s ethnicity and treating it like entertainment‘.

And she was shocked at the captions and comments on the pictures, in which friends of the men said their get-up was ‘hilarious’. ‘All these people wouldn’t like it if a bunch of American employees went to a Chinese-themed dinner and put double-sided tape on their eyelids to make them single-eyelids,’ the reader said.

…Counsellor P. Dinesh said painting their faces black was ‘no different from referring to someone of Indian descent as ‘black’ which is thoroughly unacceptable in any Singaporean context‘.

Still others acknowledged that there was nothing malicious in the intent of the men, but that it was a poor decision.

Ms R. Yasotha, who works in publishing, said her first reaction was that the men had ‘clearly never had any Indian friends’. ‘They just wanted to have fun, so I’m not going to be up in arms about it, but it’s idiotic and juvenile,’ said the 28-year-old.

One has to be careful about using colour references, or even shades of ‘blackness’, here.  The offensive minstrel show of the past was aimed at actual Blacks or African-Americans.  It also explains why there’s a ‘White Chicks’ movie but not ‘Black Chicks’.  Similarly, UOB’s cosmetic caricature at a BOLLYWOOD theme party is taken as a racial insult to, as what the reporter euphemistically states,  ‘DARKER’ skinned Indians. In fact, it’s not just ‘black’ that is deemed offensive to Indians like P.Dinesh in the above article, even describing some as ‘DARK‘ would get you in trouble.  On the other hand, the term ‘FAIR-skinned’ on a White person is not just an acceptable statement of fact anymore, but has become a universal compliment, even for non-Whites. The most successful Bollywood icons also happen to be ‘fairer’-skinned than what these guys were trying to depict anyway. It’s probably unfair to judge these guys as ‘never having had any Indian friends’. In fact, if your best friend happens to be Indian and even he finds Chinese ‘blackface’ funny, all the more reason for you to pull it off.

If you were mugged and asked to describe your assailant to the police and know for a fact that he has genuinely ‘black’ skin, but are uncomfortable with using ‘black’, is it then socially acceptable to refer to him as ‘dark-skinned’, when this could very well imply a very tan Chinese, or Filipino/Myanmese/Malay? How far can a non-Indian go, then, to make a spectacle without overdoing ethnic stereotypes? You can dress like an Indian, but not make your face up to look physically like one or even sound like one.   Companies shouldn’t hold a ‘Bollywood’ theme party, but rather a ‘Sari, Bindi and Dhoti’ costume party, which sounds as much fun as a Parents and Teachers Get-Together on Racial Harmony Day.

Some famous White actors have dolled themselves up to look like Indians in the movies, such as Sir Alec Guiness of Obiwan Kenobi fame as mystic Godbole in A Passage to India. (He also played an ARAB in Lawrence of Arabia) The quintessential Indian, Gandhi, was played by Indian/English/Russian Jewish thespian Ben Kingsley. Legendary comedian Peter Sellers poked fun at the Indian stereotype in 1968’s The Party. Mike Myers, obviously inspired by Sellers, ravaged Hinduism in The Love Guru despite keeping the colour of his face intact, but the movie was still allowed for screening here. From these examples and Robert Downey Jr’s critically acclaimed portrayal as a ‘Black’ soldier in 2008’s Tropic Thunder, it seems that even the West has ‘lightened’ up (hurr hurr) to anything resembling  ‘blackface’. Or it just means that you can get away with darkening your face for dramatic or satirical purposes if you’re a Hollywood actor, but not if you’re an ordinary person fooling around at a Dinner and Dance, whereby you’ll be accused of being culturally ignorant, ‘idiotic’ and ‘juvenile’. Would critics be less harsh if these jokers merely made their faces ‘dark brown’ ? Ironically, these guys may be wishing that they had painted their faces ‘blacker’, so that they would be less recognisable from the photo. They also wouldn’t be BLACKlisted if not for FACEbook.

A commenter on this blog highlighted a genuine celebrity ‘blackface’ which was not picked up by the media, when Glenn Ong charcoaled his face to look like the late King of Pop at a Mediacorp ‘Retro Bash’ event last year (Would he draw less flak for ‘whitening’ his face instead, white being the colour of the older Michael Jackson’s face?). A  familiar brand of toothpaste was also slammed for its depiction of blackface minstrels in the late eighties. Although the original ‘Darkie’ changed its name TWICE to DAKKIE and then the My Little Pony-sounding DARLIE as we know it today, the Chinese name remains, literally, Black Man’s Toothpaste, which has more racial intonations than its current English version suggests. Note how the ‘blackface’ logo was made ‘whiter’, when it’s not so much the original face (which to me looks more like a Black man than a White face painted black), but the name of the product that’s the problem.

CHIJ girls please stand up

From ‘Poster with CHIJ logo ‘insulting': school chairperson’, 18 Jan 2012, article by Jeanette Tan, sg.yahoo news.

A poster featuring a naughty message has scandalised some people from the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ) schools in Singapore. The large circular poster, which depicted the school’s crest at its centre, included a caption in bold capitals that read: “In need of a one night stand: CHIJ girls please stand up!”

…Its (CHIJ board of management) chairperson, Vivienne Lim, told the paper that the unauthorised use of the school’s logo in the poster was “highly inappropriate and demeaning”, adding that it was “insulting” for “thousands of CHIJ alumni and current CHIJ students, some of whom are as young as six years old.”

The poster is believed to have been created as a decorative part of a school-themed party held at Filter Members Club, a nightspot located near Mohamed Sultan Road, last Saturday, alongside a similar one featuring the Anglo-Chinese School logo carrying the caption: “In need of a sugar daddy: Where my AC boys at?”

…“I think it’s highly offensive and ridiculous,” said Kimberly Gwee, 17, who graduated from CHIJ Toa Payoh (Secondary) a year ago. She felt that the poster slandered the names of both CHIJ and ACS. “Each school (CHIJ and ACS) already has bad publicity from rumours that circulate from generation to generation, but this is a whole new level of offence… to slander CHIJ’s name with sexual slurs is really too much.”

20-year-old Isabel Francis, another CHIJ alumnus, agreed, saying that the poster implies that girls who are or were from CHIJ are sleazy. “It’s so in your face; I’m not sure why no one is suing yet,” she added.

Can't Help It, Joking

Can’t Help It, Joking

Holy Infant Jesus! Using the CHIJ crest to promote a dress-up event is not so much insulting to alumni as it is corny and unimaginative. Filter club should know better than to question the chastity of CHIJ girls, hinting not just at naughty cosplay kinkiness, but paedophilia as well. There are, of course, many ways of promoting a ‘Back to school’ theme, and even if AC boys don’t mind being referred to as sugar daddies who drive desperate CHIJ girls about in Daddy’s car, brandishing a prestigious school brand renown for its absetemious preachings is just asking for it. It’s like draping Dora the explorer in lingerie.

This also isn’t the first time CHIJ fiercely defended its squeaky-clean, God fearing, girl-next-door image. You know they mean business when they take action even against the national paper, not to mention a club. In 2006, the board threatened to sue SPH, in particular the Sunday Times for a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ take on ‘IJ’ girls as part of an unofficial ‘Singapore Encyclopedia’, for the following defamatory sentence.

IJ girls is a generalisation for girls who study in CHIJ schools and who like to hem their school uniforms real short, wear their belts real low on their hips, and are allegedly EASY when it comes to the opposite sex.

Chairperson at the time Donna Marie Aeria again made reference to the many ‘6 year olds’ damaged by this shameful stereotype. She also happens to be trained as a lawyer, not a nun. (Incidentally, the current IJ board does have a couple of nuns, but twice as many MEN). In the same offending article, there was a cartoon of a ‘chain-smoking sarong party girl’, according to a proud parent of a CHIJ student in the Royal Ballet Academy. Nowhere in the ST paragraph above was SPG hinted at, and sometimes it only takes a backfiring complaint from an uptight parent to perpetuate a myth that wasn’t even there in the first place.

But any school, convent or otherwise, would have its share of ‘good girls gone bad’. In 2000, it was reported that 6 CHIJ Toa Payoh girls were arrested for suspected drug-taking within school premises (6 arrested CHIJ girls sent for drug tests, 5 July 2000). 2 years later, another group of CHIJ girls were caught consuming ketamine in the school toilet (Schoolgirls admit to using drugs, 16 Dec 2002).  Serial shoplifter and former CHIJ girl Goh Lee Yin was caught for stealing items ranging from canned fruit to jelly powder WHILE ON BAIL. Not quite close to the slut stereotype, but one particular former CHIJ girl  and now based in LA actress named Gwyendoline Yeo (she’s the NIECE of George Yeo) did state for the record that she ‘wouldn’t mind playing Singaporean porn starlet Annabel Chong in a movie’. The latter was from RGS, not CHIJ. Praise the lord.

But the only reason why people take notice when CHIJ girls make the news whenever they get into trouble is because they ARE from CHIJ, a proud unit founded on all things holy and virtuous that anything so much as a student winking at a boy is frowned upon, a position which is ripe for double standards. Last year, a CHIJ teacher dressed up as Lady GIGI to perk up her lessons, an obvious reference to Lady GAGA, a celebrity known for her dazzling style but also obnoxious blasphemy. The Lady herself also openly embraces homosexual and transgender lovin’ in ‘Born this Way’, not something that IJ teachers would like their flock to ‘stand up’ for.

This is a Convent, for God’s sake, with very powerful leaders who put their wagging fingers to litigious use whenever one dares besmirch the school crest or does fetishistic things to used uniforms (like posing as a schoolgirl and selling them online) Hell hath no fury like women from Infant Jesus scorned, and anyone who insists on gracing Filter’s Vice Convent event in an IJ uniform risks getting their ears pulled.

Dragon babies are ‘incapable of hypocricy’

From ‘Enter the dragon babies’, article by Judith Tan, 8 Jan 2012, Sunday Times

Claris Ong and Alexandra Chin, both 11 years old, are ‘Dragon babies’….The girls are outstanding by virtue of being very driven and independent – both qualities true to the nature of those born under that Chinese zodiac sign.

…Since ancient times, the Chinese have always thought a ‘Dragon child’ would bring luck to the family. This is because dragons symbolise traits such as dominance and ambition. According to geomancers, ‘Dragon children’ prefer to live by their own rules and, if left to their own devices, are usually successful.

They are also said to be passionate, driven, unafraid of challenges, and willing to take risks. But this same passion and enthusiasm can also leave ‘Dragons’ feeling exhausted and even unfulfilled. On the plus side, they are said to be sincere and incapable of hypocrisy. They can also be very persuasive, with an ability to wear down resistance through their intuitive and diplomatic nature. But they are also known to be very sensitive, sometimes cutting and stubborn, or even wilful and vindictive.

…The last Dragon Year in 2000 saw more than 46,000 births – up from an average 42,000 live births in 1999 and 2001. And in 1988, there were 52,957 babies born here, compared with 43,616 in 1987 and 47,669 in 1989.

There’s little tolerance  for science and logic when it comes to grounded tradition and mythology. It’s unlikely that people born in the Year of the Dragon are necessarily more successful or driven than people born in any other year, and anyone embarking on such a study would face a daunting task, not to mention suffer brickbats from geomancers whose very livelihood depends on telling Dragon baby parents what they’d love to hear. Of course any birth spike is music to our government’s ears, even if this was borne out of unrealistic expectations resulting in increased competition from maternity beds to nursery, school and job placings. It would help if Dragon baby parents were Dragons themselves to give their kids a headstart, assuming that all the character traits are true. So even if by celestial order Dragon babies are genetically programmed to lead by example and boss other zodiac animals around, the environmental pressure would put the NURTURE element of the ‘nature vs nurture’ argument to the ultimate test.

The opposite to the Dragon Baby boom effect is the Year of the Tiger, which saw dips in births over the past 3 Tiger years.  Which is strange since the attributes that lead to a Tiger baby’s success are similar to those of a Dragon. It’s also sexist to think less favourably of a Tiger woman, stereotyped as being fierce and wilful, than a Tiger Man, who’s courageous and dominating and would have been indistinguishable from the stereotype of his Dragon counterpart. Marriages are also down during Tiger years, and with our already dismal fertility rate, the last thing we’ll need is horoscope predictions turning into self-fulfilling prophecies. Our PM (A dragon himself) made a plea to parents to act normal during the inauspicious Tiger year in 2010, and not ‘cling on to superstitions’, but will probably remain silent about the exaggerated faith placed on Dragon children this CNY, no thanks to ST celebrating living proof of clever Dragon children and enticing gullible couples to rush headlong into marriage or birth without considering more practical issues like whether they have a roof over their head or not.

If you read horoscopes closely, you’ll realise how inconsistent and vague their personality attributes are, and often you’d find a bit of yourself in every zodiac animal, though we’re usually not interested in what other horoscopes have to say. It’s a classic mind-reading trick, relying on our tendency to agree furiously with one thing that speaks true of ourselves and forgetting about the others that don’t. In the 1950’s, a Dragon was considered ‘benevolent and lovable‘ and it would be a blessing to marry one. Today’s dragons can be too sensitive, wilful or even vindictive, though it doesn’t really matter if the shortcomings of a dragon change from one era to another. It’s still a DRAGON after all, worshipped to demigod status by Emperors of centuries past.

If you’re aiming to debunk such superstitious hokum, the first parameter that you may want to examine is how many gifted leaders out there actually belong to the Dragon cohort, in proportion to all other animals in the zodiac. Using this helpful Wiki on Dragon birthdates, I carried out a premonitory survey of my own, using prominent Chinese Singaporean figures (politicians mainly) as a very narrow gauge of what we define as success:

Past and president PMs, presidents

  • LEE HSIEN LOONG, PM of SINGAPORE (10 Feb 1952, WATER dragon). Even his name has a dragon character in it, adding to the divine mystique of his auspicious birth. Incidentally his father Lee Kuan Yew, born in Sept 1923 (PIG), wasn’t. Tony Tan Keng Yam, the current president of Singapore, missed the Dragon year by a SINGLE DAY (7 Feb 1940). Neither are Goh Chok Tong (1941, SNAKE), Ong Teng Cheong (1936) or Wee Kim Wee (1915).

Past and present ministers/MPs/politicians

  • KHAW BOON WAN, National Development Minister (8 Dec 1952), TAN CHENG BOCK, ex MP and presidential candidate (26 April 1940). But not George Yeo (1954), DPM Teo Chee Hean (1954),  Chee Soon Juan (1962), Tan Jee Say (1954), WP MP Chen Show Mao (1961) or Wong Kan Seng (1946).

Past and present women ministers/MPs/politicians

  • GRACE FU, Senior Minister of State (29 March 1964, WOOD dragon) This dragon lady  has been heckled recently for her comments on ministerial pay cuts. Firebrand Nicole Seah of NSP (1986) isn’t one, nor is Tin Pei Ling (1983), Lee Bee Wah (1960), late wife of LKY Kwa Gek Choo (1920), WP MP Sylvia Lim, or prolific author and critic Catherine Lim (1942).

Tycoons

  • KHOO TECK PUAT (13 Jan 1917)
  • NG TENG FONG (Unconfirmed, but he was born in  1928, a dragon year)

Miscellaneous celebrities who make unlikely dragons

  • STEVEN LIM, eyebrow stylist, dancer, all round entertainer (30 Aug 1976, FIRE DRAGON) and HENRY ‘ALAMAK’ THIA (25 Feb 1952, same birthday month as PM Lee).

Without going into formal statistics I think it’s quite fair to say that there’s nothing special about Dragon babies and any Dragon baby that emerges as the leader of a generation or a multi-billionaire is pure coincidence and any success alluded to one’s date of birth suffers from post-hoc fallacious reasoning, conveniently ignoring all the other little dragons who fail to live up to their parent’s expectations, as well as other factors accounting for one’s fortune. Of course if a dragon happens to fail miserably in life or becomes a YouTube laughing stock, then feng shui masters would put the blame on the actual DATE of birth, if not the time you emerged from your mother’s womb down to the millisecond.

It’s worth exploring, however, if the very selective pressure of dealing with the dragon baby boomers in school or work is itself a factor in driving dragons to excel, not so much because they’re born in a certain way, but because of a consequence of a belief in them performing in a certain way. Note that among all the zodiac animals, the Dragon is the only one that exists only as a figment of our imagination. The media getting all pumped up celebrating brilliant children who SO HAPPEN to be Dragon babies is perpetuating a deep-seated symptom of magical thinking, just like the magical creature behind it. You won’t see the same coverage for RAT babies, that’s for sure.

Postscript: It turns out that there has been a misconception of what makes a Dragon baby. According to a 29 Jan 2012 Sunday Times article, you’re not a Dragon baby this year until the ‘Li Chun’, or start of Spring festival, on Feb 4. AT 1824 HOURS. Which means there are people who’ve been associated with dragons, embellished with all the positive traits of dragons, but are actually RABBITS. This, of course, simply disproves the myth of zodiac signs influencing character.  Also thanks to ‘CY’ for pointing out that Tony Tan is in fact a dragon.

Seng Han Thong’s nightmare before Christmas

From ‘MP Seng not racist, says Shanmugam’, 25 Dec 2011, article by Teo Wan Gek, Sunday Times

…During a Channel NewsAsia programme Blog TV, which aired on Monday, Mr Seng made a comment which some found to be racist. He was asked about the lack of communication with passengers during the evening peak-hour breakdown of MRT trains last Thursday.

In his response, he misquoted an SMRT officer, who had earlier said: ‘Our staff at the stations and in the trains may not be making sufficient announcements and also good enough announcements. And that’s because our staff of different races, it could be Malay, Chinese, or Indians or any other race, they sometimes find it difficult to speak in English.’

But Mr Seng, when rebutting the officer’s comments, mentioned only Malay and Indian train drivers. He later clarified that he misheard the SMRT officer’s remarks, which he had heard over radio while driving.

…Mr Seng has since apologised for his remarks.

It’s Christmas Day, and instead of government officials sending well wishes or attending to holiday ‘ponding’, they’re spending time on damage control over an MP’s blooper, or Freudian slip, whatever critics want to call it. A driver who’s unable to calm passengers in the midst of an emergency breakdown is a victim of inadequate training, drills and SOPs. As an organisation with a rigid mastery over templates, surely there should be some standard announcements in place to aid anxious train drivers during disruptions.  This is all just one finger-pointing and tactless blame-shifting after another between various MPs, an SMRT vice president named Goh Chee Kong, and train drivers . If this incident and Desmond Choo’s backfired sexist anecdote tells us anything, it’s that politicians need to stop paraphrasing totally, or learn how to use the disclaimer ‘I quote’ or read excerpts out loud from pieces of paper instead.

In Seng’s defence, he seems to suggest that ‘broken English’ is OK when desperate times call for it, which runs counter to the efforts of our Speak Good English campaign, that lapsing into sub-par English is our ‘default’ setting in stressful situations, while putting on Good English politeness for mundane things such as telling someone that you need to ‘excuse yourself’ for the washroom is expected of us.  In fact, broken English/Singlish, by doing away with time-wasting grammatical formalities, would be ideal in a situation where every second counts and sounding professional should be the least of your worries. The problem is speaking English of any sort, whether broken or of the pristine BBC standard, isn’t very useful when one considers elderly passengers who would be more prone to fainting spells or injuries in the event of a disruption, in which you would have to depend on good Samaritans to do the necessary translation, provided of course that the driver is relaying the right instructions, and that passengers are not busy smashing windows for air in panic. You can bet SMRT will not be happily celebrating their annual Xmas dinner, despite earning the title of the year’s biggest turkey. Even if there was some form of celebration, you can bet no one wants to be caught pants down being treated like a pharaoh like CEO Saw Phaik Hwa in a previous DnD. You probably wouldn’t see the Dim Sum Dollies providing the night’s entertainment as well.

Seng Han Thong’s faux pas is mild compared to the remark on Indians by ex-MP and soon to be convict (twice) Choo Wee Khiang, whose atrocious joke on skin colour qualifies as true racism.  But being labelled a racist and trolled online isn’t the worst that this man has suffered. In Jan 2009, MP Seng was literally FLAMED by an assailant whilst attending a community event as Yio Chu Kang GRC MP. He was inflicted with burns on 15% of his body and his attacker was determined to be a 70 year old retired taxi driver who was subsequently admitted to IMH. Even then, not everyone was sympathetic, with some forum users adopting a ‘let this be a lesson to MPs for bullying the elderly‘ tone, adding ‘fuel to the fire’. The MP torcher was even lauded as a ‘courageous hero’ by others.

It appears that MP Seng has a history of drawing the ire of crazy old taxi drivers. Earlier in July 2006, he was punched in the face, again by a 70-plus former cab driver during a Meet the People session. The attacker was reportedly unhappy that his contract was terminated by ComfortDelgro and demanded an answer from his MP. Despite being boxed in the face and suffering the trauma of being burnt alive, this man continues to serve, though he  might be wearing asbestos underwear wherever he goes and have a phobia of blowing birthday candles for the rest of his life.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Ex-MP Choo Wee Khiang charged with corruption

From ‘Former table tennis president and manager charged with corruption’, 8 Dec 2011, article by Hannah Teoh, Asiaone.com

Two former employees of the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA), including the former president, have been charged for corruption and criminal breach of trust. The first man, Mr Choo Wee Khiang, 57, was the president of STTA at the time of the alleged offences.

…Choo had also received gifts from Chinese coaches and players. In 2005, Choo received $1,500 from a former assistant coach of STTA, Mr Luo Jie, on behalf of Mr Liu Zhongze, who was a national team player at that time. The money was given to Choo in exchange for giving Liu more opportunities to represent STTA in table tennis tournaments.

Between 2003 and 2004, Choo also received US$600 (S$768.95) on two occasions from Mr Shi Mei Sheng, a former STTA coach, as a reward for approving the use of training facilities in China.

…Choo resigned from the STTA in July 2008. He had been with the Association for 20 years. Choo will be charged for three counts of corruptly accepting gratification and one count of criminal breach of trust.

The maximum punishment for corruption is a $100,000 fine and five years’ jail on each charge. In 1999, Choo, a former MP for Jalan Besar GRC served a two-week sentence for issuing false invoices to help a family friend cheat a finance company.

Choo was not only an ex-MP, but an ex-convict as well. What’s absurd is he had a stint as STTA President from 1992 to 1998, was jailed in 1999 for 2 weeks, fined $10,000 and barred from elections for FIVE years, and then RE-ELECTED back as President in 2002. What gives?  In 2009, he was even awarded the ‘International Olympic Committee President’s Trophy’ at the Singapore Sports Awards. Here’s a sample of his testimonial:

During his tenure as President of STTA, he introduced and implemented the strategic plan to promote table tennis to all and to bring glory to Singapore. He was instrumental in the setting up of the centre of excellence for table tennis in conjunction with the construction of the STTA Training Hall in Toa Payoh. He pioneered the Foreign Sports Talent scheme, oversaw the induction and development of a team of talented players with world class coaches. Under his charge the women’s table tennis team rose to number 2 and the men’s team to number 10 in world rankings. A most memorable and historic achievement was when the women’s table tennis team won an Olympic silver medal in at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, the first medal for Singapore in 48 years.

Choo Wei Khiang didn’t need a yellow ribbon project to integrate back into society, he was literally handed gold for an illusory sporting success and had his past brush with the law conveniently forgotten. If found guilty, we’d have even less reason to be proud of the much decorated silver medal, earned not just through the mercenary labours of a foreign talent scheme, but dirty cash as well.

But wait, there’s more. In 1992, while he was still MP for Jalan Besar GRC, he made a racist slur about Indians as follows:

‘One evening, I drove to Little India and it was in complete darkness not because there was no light, but because there were too many Indians around’

Yes it’s an old nugget that might have been funny at some point in history but rather tasteless today. In the same year, while still as MP, he was slapped a 2 month ban from golfing at Singapore Island Country Club for ‘dangerous play’ (MP Choo’s 2 month ban confirmed, 23 July 1992, ST), probably a first for any politician making a nuisance of himself on the green by assaulting people with golf balls. It’s disappointing how people forget easily, celebrating dirty, racist, reckless teeing ex-politicians and getting them back up to speed in society so quickly while others with a less illustrious career path struggle to even get a job. Most people don’t get out of jail of a financial felony and become elected PRESIDENT of anything within a matter of years. Unless of course, you promise to bring the nation an Olympic silver medal, upon which all is forgiven. Over TABLE freakin’ TENNIS.

Here’s an awkward moment for Vivian Balakrishnan, who had this to say about a man being charged with graft as we speak, in response to Lee Bee Wah’s taking over to ‘clean up the house’ in 2008.

I must say I am very uncomfortable with that line of questioning because I want to say there’s one more person we need to acknowledge, and that’s Mr Choo. He has dedicated many, many years of his life to table tennis.

Wee Khiang’s nephew happens to be none other than Desmond Choo, who has received nomination for a dubious honour himself by AWARE, the ALAMAK award for making a sexist remark on wives during his election hustings. Let’s just hope racism and greed doesn’t run in the family as well.

Postscript: On 30 April 2014, Choo was acquitted of 3 corruption charges, in addition to the criminal breach of trust charge of which he was cleared in 2013, let off with nothing more than a ‘stern warning’ from the prosecution.

Orchid named after Elton John

From ‘Why orchid for Elton’? 26 Nov 2011, ST Mailbag

(Josephine Tay): I read with great disappointment that Elton John has been given the honour of having an orchid named after him (Orchid Named After Elton John, Prime, Nov 19). I am dismayed that his partner David Furnish and their adopted son Zachary (both right with John) were also publicised to ‘share his honour’.

There are other celebrities and dignitaries more deserving than this pair. Singapore would be seen in a much better light on the world stage if, for example, recent F1 champion Sebastian Vettel had been accorded this privilege instead.

Is homosexuality to be openly encouraged and endorsed by the Government?

Can you feel the love tonight?

That is SIR ELTON JOHN to you, Ms Tay. Not exactly a fan of his music myself, but what could be more appropriately named after a gay, knighted, man than a flower? I think the writer’s main beef is not so much that Sir Elton is homosexual, but that homosexuals are settling down and bringing up children and the media is treating such families as if they were normal.  The ST report also used euphemisms like ‘partner’, as if it were applied in the context of how the Rocket Man himself had a songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin ( a collaboration that produced some of the most endearing Elton John hits), to subtly conceal the fact that these are two MEN IN LOVE, MARRIED and are bringing up a CHILD together. Incidentally, Zachary was born to a surrogate mom with Elton as biological father, and not ‘adopted’ like what the writer presumptuously states (The original ST text says ‘baby’ son).

There’s also a sense of sweet nobility in this, that Elton’s husband David was willing to forsake any contribution to Zachary’s genetic make-up, and that the spotlight will always be on the celebrity and his son but never himself. In some circles, that would be called love. To people like the writer, this will always be about two gay men picking up a kid from an orphanage, or buying it off parents who can’t afford to raise one.  And naming a racecar driver like Vettel after an orchid is like giving a boy a doll instead of a firetruck for his birthday.

But talk about double standards; Earlier this year, there was much furore over how critically acclaimed film ‘The Kids are Alright’, which celebrates the fostering of children by a lesbian couple, was granted only a limited one-print release. Which makes this orchid honorific something of a hypocritical publicity stunt, not only to showcase our national flower and attract big names here, but to subtly tell the world how ‘progressive’ and open we are to gay relationships (when in fact we severely restrict any media promotion of gay marriages internally).  Orchids were traditionally named after visiting royalty, heads of state including  Prime ministers like Indira Gandhi,  and First Ladies ( Aranda Barbara Bush AND Mokara Laura Bush). Most recipients are also female, with  exceptions such as Nobel Laureate Sydney Brenner, Jackie Chan, Nelson Mandela and Bollywood stars Shah Ruhk Khan and Amitabh Bachchan. In 2009, Dendrobium Thien Sein was named after a visiting ‘leader of the despotic military junta of Burma’, which means if Kim Jong Il ever came for a visit, he would be probably be given a similar honour as well, an orchid-Venus fly-trap hybrid perhaps. So it’s OK to dignify politicians with blood on their hands (Mandela and Thatcher included) but not gay singers who wouldn’t harm a fly?

It was only in 2006 that a local celebrity had an orchid named after her (Stefanie Sun). Which leads me to wonder why local music legend Dick Lee hasn’t gotten his. If anything, the man deserves a hybrid as flamboyant as Sir Elton’s. Doritaenopsis Sir Elton John isn’t the first flower to be named after an entertainer with a ‘complicated’ sexual history either. Renaglottis Ricky Martin (2003) was named after the Latino superstar of  ‘She Bangs’ and ‘Shake Your Bon-Bon’ fame. Ricky’s also gay, based on a 2010 confession (Does that mean we should call the Renaglottis something else? Didn’t everybody already KNOW beforehand?) Dendrobium Bae Yong Jun (2004) was named after the  star of ‘Untold Scandal’ and ‘April Snow’, Korean movies straddling the line between arthouse and flesh-flick, while no such recognition was given to our most successful local actor to make it to Hollywood mainstream to date, Ng Chin Han. What about drag queen  diva Kumar? Hell, even  dedicating an orchid to Singaporean porn star Annabelle Chong would be something, though a pink creation with spotty, flappy petals comes to mind.

In a recent Forum letter (‘In Search of Vanda Miss Joaquim’, Sep 2011), someone was wondering if our national flower Vanda Miss Joaquim was ‘going extinct’, and that she should be cultivated in all schools before it’s too late. Looking at the booming business of creating celebrity goodwill hybrids for foreigners , whether they are singers, actors, princesses or dictators, and displaying them in VIP sections of the National Orchid garden instead of lining our streets, it’s really not hard to see why people  would think our Vanda has disappeared altogether.

Huda kindergarten’s ‘young terrorist trainees’

From ‘PAP Youth member quits over ‘racist’ online posting’, article by Rachel Chang, 18 Nov 2011, ST

A PEOPLE’S Action Party (PAP) youth wing member has resigned from the party after one of his Facebook posts sparked accusations of racism as it circulated online. Mr Jason Neo, 30, drew criticism from Malay opposition politicians and playwright Alfian Sa’at, among others. His actions were also condemned by Young PAP (YP) leaders yesterday.

At least three police reports have been made against him, and the police told The Straits Times yesterday that the matter was being investigated. Mr Neo’s posting was made in February, before he joined the PAP.

It showed a picture he had taken of a school bus with Malay children from Huda Kindergarten, in Woodlands, dressed in their uniform which includes traditional Malay headwear. Mr Neo’s caption, which offended those who saw it in recent days, said: ‘Bus filled with young terrorist trainees?’

Huda hell would do such a thing?

A grown man with aspirations for leadership in the political sphere should have known better, but aside from the rather callous and unnecessary remarks (was he even trying to be funny?), what’s interesting about this case is how Jason Neo’s past folly was dredged out of a Facebook posting earlier in the year. Which means if nobody was ‘kaypoh’ enough to check him out, such discriminatory sentiments would have gone undetected. A cause for pro-Facebookers to celebrate then, lauding social media as an active, self-policing citizenry against anyone who dares to spread ill-will and intolerance among our various communities and has the cheek to join a youth wing organisation, despite being afflicted with the tendency of replaying in his mind the Twin Towers collapsing everytime he sees a Muslim in a vehicle.

What’s more ominous, really, is you don’t have to post a racist remark to have your career sputtering to a halt. A shot of you in the mildest state of intoxication, in a distasteful Halloween costume , or even sleeping in the priority seat of the MRT, could very well put you in a tight spot with a potential employer, short of sedition charges. The ‘tag’ system even relieves you of the effort of self-sabotage when others are doing it on your behalf. Politicians, as public figures, are particularly vulnerable to the Facebook effect, and without the equivalent of an image consultant or speechwriter to manage your online profile, you could end up being blasted for excusing your son from NS or not paying any respect to the National Anthem. In Jason’s case, he was unlucky enough to be hauled into an unfavourable light barely after stepping into the wading pool of the political arena. But will he be charged?

In 2005, the Sedition Act was first enacted, with two men charged for posting racist slurs in response to a Muslim woman expressing her concern about dog saliva in a taxi in the ST Forum:

On June 3, while I was on a bus, I noticed a taxi with a small dog in it. The dog was not in a cage and was standing on the backseat beside its owner. I am curious to know if cab companies allow uncaged pets to be transported in taxis. Dogs may drool on the seats or dirty them with their paws.

Benjamin Koh, an animal lover who ranted on his blog about the Muslim aversion towards dog saliva, was jailed for 1 month, according to this article in danielpipes.org, while a ‘netizen’ inciting hatred on an internet forum called ‘doggiesite’ was jailed for a day and fined $5000. Assuming that these dog lovers were spurred into unleashing sweeping, offensive, vulgar remarks about the religion out of a passion for animals and, in their opinion find the practice beyond unreasonable,  hence jailed for it, how would this be less excusable than someone associating innocent children and their religion with terrorist violence out of nothing more than a whim, or God forbid, a ‘below-the-belt’ attention-seeking attempt at social commentary?

But it’s not the first time YPAP has got itself in trouble over online postings. Later in the same year, a related slur was posted on the YPAP internet forum site, regarding a ritual Muslims undertake when they make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Despite the complaints of a certain Muslim netizen in the ST, the posting was merely removed, the culprit never identified, and no one was charged. Which is strange because the ISD somehow has the ability to track you down when you post on a Doggiesite forum, but not the YPAP one. Perhaps this talisman protecting one against an Act endorsed by the youth wing’s parent organisation applies to Jason as well.

Too many Pan-Asian stars on local TV

From ‘Boost local, not Pan-Asian talents’, 22 Oct 2011, Life! Mailbag

(Helmy Sa’at): It is preposterous that the local television industry keeps shoving Pan-Asian stars down Singaporeans’ throats (New Face To Watch, Life!, Oct 18). Is this what Singaporean viewers really want?

The rationale to justify such decisions is that Singaporeans can better relate to Pan-Asian stars on television. Really? What does it say about the appreciation of local talent? Local talent should be developed even if it means scouting for them from local grassroots productions.

Even if, as claimed, the aim is to represent another minority in the mass media, Pan-Asian stars are still restricted to stereotypical characters, such as ‘a visitor from overseas who is obsessed with Chinese culture’. Where is the realism? It is important for the local TV industry to approach this matter seriously, considering the long-term ramifications, instead of cashing in on the good looks of Pan-Asian stars.

The ‘Pan-Asian’ hunk in question is Tom Price (English-Hong Kong Chinese), due to star in a Chinese New Year special with Zoe Tay. Other imported personalities include George Young (Greek-Chinese) and Utt (Thai-American). It’s not just attractive multi-hyphenated males in the limelight, though. A string of female artistes with Fly Entertainment include the likes of Angela May (Thai-American), Nikki Muller (Swiss-Filipina), Rebecca Tan (Australian-Singaporean) and Stephanie Carrington (American-Korean). But are these Pan Asians really a threat to local talent as what the writer wants us to believe? No English-speaking ‘Pan-Asian’ as far as I know have left their mark on the entertainment business as our locals have (think Adrian Pang, Gurmit Singh, the Noose team) . Or maybe our locals no longer find it appealing or sustainable to act/host for Channel 5 anymore, and that would partly be the marketing/programming people’s fault for not making the station exciting or attractive enough. And then there’s CABLE. At best, acting in silly local dramas would be a mere stepping stone for greater prospects. Look at Ng Chin Han (dropped the unpronounceable Ng recently), graduating from Masters of the Sea to supporting actor in blockbusters like the Dark Knight and Contagion, but that’s a sacrifice (Masters of the Sea) and risk (moving abroad) that few are willing to take.

The question should really be whether foreign actors of ANY descent are stifling the potential of local stars here, not just people with part Caucasian DNA in them. Plain-ASIANS like Robin Leong (of Triple Nine fame) and Allan Wu are non-local (and not too shabby in the looks department either), so why isn’t the writer complaining about these guys too? (One has turned acting into (kungfu) chops and the other put a chop to acting altogether). How about Hong Kong/Malaysian/Taiwanese actor-hosts having a chunk of the media pie then (who may not have the looks but simply charisma and gift of the gab), leaving struggling Channel 8 artistes in second-fiddle roles? Shouldn’t Channel 8 staff be more worried about OTHER Asians?

The Singaporean celebrity ‘hunk’ is also a dying breed (Does anyone remember ‘Polo Boys’, do we even care?), and unless someone the likes of James Lye comes around to titillate audiences, that eye candy niche will continue to be filled by ‘Pan-Asians’, whether the writer likes it or not. Channel 5 is a variety no-man’s land if not for American soapbox, and this obsession with Pan-Asianism is probably a last business resort to keep Channel 5 afloat, if not for the NEWS  then at least for fans of POLO BOYS waiting in bated breath for the elusive second season.

But it’s not just Singapore that’s caught up in the Pan-Asian wave. The quintessential ‘Pan-Asian’ is none other than international siren Maggie Q (American-Vietnamese). The male lead in spook-fest ‘Shutter’ and the local film ‘Leap of Love’, Ananda Everingham, is Laotian-Thai-Australian. The Asian-looking guy in ‘Wolverine’ Daniel Henney is Korean-American.  ‘Pan-Asian’ is just a fashionable buzzword in the glamour circuit, be it film or modelling, to describe anyone of mixed Asian and Caucasian heritage with physical attributes that appeal across the hemispheres,  hence the prefix ‘PAN’, which suggests ‘cross-continental’. It also helps if they know martial arts, but that’s just stereotyping. Everyone else who isn’t a celebrity is just ‘Eurasian’, though that too has problems when you’re talking about individuals with one white non-European parent. Would you call Tiger Woods Pan-Asian (Black-American Indian-Chinese-Thai-White)? Or how about Keanu Reeves for that matter (English-Irish- Portuguese-Hawaiian-Chinese)? If someone like Keanu applied for a hosting job in this region we would probably call him ‘Pan-Asian’. Elsewhere, they’d just call him Keanu Reeves.

One of the first ‘Pan-Asian’ stars in this region is Nadya Hutagalung (Indonesian/Australian), who had her break as a ‘VJ’ for MTV Asia in the 90’s.  MTV Asia, in fact,  is known for hiring hosts with the ‘Pan-Asian’ look, though even that wouldn’t save music video channels from losing popularity in the wake of YouTube.  Looking at the list, you’ll find a familiar who’s- who of multi-hyphenate VJs who have stinted with MTV before pursuing their careers elsewhere: Denise Keller (German-Chinese), Sonia Couling (English-Thai), Max Loong (Swiss-Chinese), Donita Rose (American-Filipina) etc. Incidentally, a similar complaint was raised the Malaysian authorities over ‘too many Eurasian faces’ in the media in 2007, which drew accusations of xenophobia and racism.  I don’t care much for TV, but I don’t see a problem with ‘Pan Asian’ actors coming here to spice up the entertainment industry, or what’s left of it (Channel 5 in particular). Let’s face it, this ain’t  and never will be Bollywood, and it won’t be long before they pack their bags for a taste of greater stardom elsewhere anyway.

London weight management ad insults all women, everywhere

From ‘Weight management ad draws ire’, article by Pearly Tan, 24 Sept 2011, TNP and ‘Controversial slimming ad sparks debate’, article by Liyana Low, sg yahoo news.

FURIOUS netizens have been slamming local slimming company London Weight Management for its insensitivity depicting women and suicide.

At scrutiny is the company’s latest television ad – which begins with what appears to be a woman crying atop a building with her baby in a pram next to her.

With the murder-suicide of Madam Tan Sze Sze and her 3-year-old son in Bedok Reservoir fresh in the minds of people here, anger erupted with many calling for the banning of the ad.

….TV host Anita Kapoor wrote and published an open letter to London Weight Management on her blog on Friday, saying, “You have insulted all women, everywhere.”

Noting that she had never experienced such a “deep, almost physical response” to anything as she had when she saw the ad on TV, Kapoor said, “You, and all who supported you to produce it, have colluded to portray women as pathetic, unworthy individuals. Losers on every level if they are overweight; winners at every level if they are slim.

“This is irresponsible, vile, atrocious advertising, and in every scene you have gone ahead to make many claims,”  she stated before outlining seven scenes she did not agree with.

The company’s view of women, as shown in the ad, is “extremely troubling” and should warn women to “avoid your services entirely”, she added.

Different woman, same baby

Coming from a hugely profitable institution that relies on dubious methods of slimming, one shouldn’t put much WEIGHT (hur hur) on such ads, even if it were based on a ‘true story’. We’re used to the gross exaggeration of results from  such ads in the past which strain credulity, but London Weight Management has probably crossed the line here by associating weight issues with unemployment and marriage problems. They don’t just want to make you slimmer, but happier, which has always been the mantra of slimming centres.

In 1969, a company named Joanne Drew used Christmas as a ploy to entice customers to ‘get in shape’ and ‘look their best’ during the year end festivities within a guaranteed 7 weeks. Nothing was mentioned about staying trim thereafter, which gives the impression that it’s OK to be a bit fleshy on every other day of the year, but just make sure you can fit into your Xmas dress when the time comes. It became a ‘weighty problem’ in the late seventies, with the Hilton Health Club promoting the use of sauna, ‘special treatments’ and a ‘keep fit course’ for busy working professionals. Which means women actually got to sweat and burn some extra calories during these sessions.

In the 80’s, it was name-calling that was usually the trigger for women to turn to these companies, and ads were more realistic (see sample below), though the grim  slim = happiness equation has since imprinted itself on the psyche of women everywhere. Any form of exercise class became non-existent, and the emphasis has tilted towards  ‘trim’ rather than ‘fit’. Supposedly the Woman of the eighties onwards has no time to juggle between work and any form of exercise. She was also perfectly happy looking like a nerd.

Celebrities were subsequently roped in to endorse such centres. In 2002, Michelle Saram was the pin-up girl for Slimming Sanctuary, who was probably never fat, or depressed, to begin with. Hence the trend of the industry paying out-of-work entertainers to basically tell women that they still need ‘slimming solutions’ even if their BMIs were perfectly normal. Gone were the plain Jane  ‘aunties’ of the eighties. It wasn’t long before post-partum celebrities jumped on the bandwagon in a bid by slimming centres to expand their clientele. They were also starting to sell ‘confidence’ in addition to ‘youth’ and  ‘shapeliness’, and it wouldn’t be long before the master stroke that is making the conceptual leap from confidence to better career prospects was made.

In the opening sequence of the video we see a client tossed out of a boardroom for her undesirable ‘image’, and then lapsing into depression before succumbing to the magic fix that is LWM. No one doubts that such therapy may help some individuals otherwise they wouldn’t be so successful, but aside from the predictable furore over discrimination and misleading claims,  the makers of the video also need a lesson on storyboard consistency. The first error is casting a totally different, and visibly younger, woman for the ‘happy ending’ scene, taking the viewers for complete idiots. Even monkeys would notice the discrepancy. The second is that the baby hasn’t grown one bit in 3 months since the 20kg -shaving transformation, though according to LWM’s website, clients get to lose 4-6 cm during EACH SESSION of treatment. But on a serious note, it also undermines the role of doctors’ advice. The first thing that any health professional would counsel knowing that his patient was at risk of heart disease was to diet and exercise. Instead, our protagonist signs up for LWM the moment she gets up from her wheelchair, with determination to ‘do something about it’ written all over her face. Even if everything about the alleged ‘Kelly Phoon’ were true in the ad, from the deranged boss to the mirror smashing, the least LWM could do was at least portray some attempt at diet and exercise instead of selling themselves as first-line therapy for all the problems plaguing your miserable existence.

LMW, of course, isn’t the only company to perpetuate the epidemic of body dysmorphic disorder affecting female professionals today, girls who look fine but think they’re overweight and pressured into skinniness by their peers and the media. You don’t need a raging feminist like Anita Kapoor to tell you about the deceit inherent in the business. With or without this ad, we should have seen through the false glamour and mumbo-jumbo a long time ago. The only reason why this ad exists, if not giving a screaming part-time actress a shot at fame, is because in the world of Photoshop, you can’t just rely on ‘Before and After’ pictures any more. LWM, by breaking the ‘fourth wall’ and venturing into dramatised narrative to sell the myth of slim=happy, has become an unfortunate case study of how NOT to market ‘slimming’ solutions’ in the digital age.

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