Singaporean man setting himself on fire in JB

From ‘Singaporean man sets himself on fire in JB’, 13 April 2014, article by Pearl Lee, ST

A Singaporean man was being treated for 95 per cent burns yesterday after setting himself on fire when he was refused petrol at a kiosk in Johor Baru. The 42-year-old had walked to the petrol station at Century Garden at around 9.30am but staff refused to sell him fuel as they are not allowed to serve people who are not driving a vehicle.

Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that the man then threatened the petrol station’s owner, saying that he would set himself on fire if he was not allowed to buy petrol. The owner relented and sold him 4 litres before the man stepped out of the kiosk, poured it over himself, then sparked himself with a lighter.

He lost his footing and fell into a drain before passers-by doused him with a fire extinguisher. He was taken to Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru, where he was unconscious as of last night.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the incident and added that Singapore’s Consulate-General in Johor Baru is rendering necessary assistance to the man.

In 1969, Ah Hock Keith Morrisson committed suicide ‘Vietnamese style’ by setting himself on fire with a tin of kerosene. His dramatic death happened within a few months of leaving the Singapore Infantry Regimen, during which he exhibited abnormal behaviour such as crying or staring in a daze. The ST described the fiery act as turning himself into a HUMAN TORCH, which is also a Marvel character and part of the Fantastic 4 assemble created in 1961.  A few years later, a Buddhist nun set herself alight ‘Saigon-style’ in a temple, using the same flammable liquid. It is not known if these were in fact inspired by a series of self-immolation protests by Vietnamese monks in the 60′s, or the result of a deadly obsession with a comic book hero whose entire body comes alight at will.

This man is on fire

This man is on fire

A quarrel over suspected infidelity combusted into suicide when 28 year old Madam Kalachelvi set herself on fire after hearing rumours of her husband’s cheating. The distraught husband followed suit. Suicide by self-torching continued into the 90′s, with a case of a 13 year old SCHOOLBOY performing the act after getting a scolding (Schoolboy, 13, set fire to himself after scolding in school, 28 Nov 1992, ST). In 2010, a man, reportedly suffering from mental illness, walked into a Shell petrol kiosk toilet and came out in flames. The most recent incident occurred at the Ceylon Sports Club, Balestier last August, with kerosene again found at the death scene. There’s no record of locals burning themselves to death for political causes as far as I know, though you could get in trouble for setting effigies of our Transport Minister aflame.

Singaporeans are renown petrol guzzlers in JB, some even stocking up petrol in cans in car boots to bring home. One Stomper caught Singaporean drivers attempting to bring these back across the Causeway disguised as engine oil containers (You can import up to 20 Litres without a licence). Other drivers are seen jacking up or shaking their cars  just to load more petrol, to get more bang for their Singaporean buck. With a reputation for such strange, kiasu behaviour, a lone man on foot asking to handcarry 4L of petrol wouldn’t seem too surprising, and the only reason I could think of as to why he had to do it in JB is that you can’t just walk into any shop to buy kerosene as if  it were cooking oil here.

A couple of years ago we were wracked by a spate of copycat suicides by drowning in reservoirs (which may actually be as painful and agonising as burning to death, both falling under the Top 10 Worst Ways to Die). One can only hope that this single act of self-immolation doesn’t, well, spread like wildfire.

Postscript: Stephen Lew Soon Khiang, 42, died of his self-inflicted injuries within a day, with doctors saying that he had just a 1% chance of survival.

A Singaporean man was being treated for 95 per cent burns yesterday after setting himself on fire when he was refused petrol at a kiosk in Johor Baru.

The 42-year-old had walked to the petrol station at Century Garden at around 9.30am but staff refused to sell him fuel as they are not allowed to serve people who are not driving a vehicle.

Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that the man then threatened the petrol station’s owner, saying that he would set himself on fire if he was not allowed to buy petrol.

The owner relented and sold him 4 litres before the man stepped out of the kiosk, poured it over himself, then sparked himself with a lighter.

He lost his footing and fell into a drain before passers-by doused him with a fire extinguisher.

He was taken to Sultanah Aminah Hospital in Johor Baru, where he was unconscious as of last night.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed the incident and added that Singapore’s Consulate-General in Johor Baru is rendering necessary assistance to the man.

- See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/singapore/more-singapore-stories/story/singaporean-man-sets-himself-fire-jb-20140413#sthash.a38528Iw.dpuf

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Singapore is misery city with a massive compassion deficit

From ‘Massive compassion deficit in Singapore?’, 16 March 2014, article by Maryam Mokhtar, Sunday Times

FREELANCE writer and self-described food lover Charlotte Ashton jumped at the chance to relocate from London to Singapore last year, she says in the biography section of her website. The Oxford University graduate and former BBC reporter and her husband were happy here until one day, in her 10th week of pregnancy, she felt nauseous while taking the train to work and ended up crouching for 15 minutes because no one offered her a seat.

“For the first time, Singapore had made me feel unhappy. I had been vulnerable – completely reliant on the kindness of strangers. Singaporeans, I felt, had let me down,” she wrote. Recounting the incident in a BBC Viewpoint piece, she concluded that Singapore suffers from a “massive compassion deficit”.

One Singaporean friend told her it was because “we measure everything in dollar bills – personal identity, self-respect, happiness, your sense of worth”.

In the original BBC article, Charlotte Ashton was singing praises about our country’s cheap, delicious noodles and pineapple juice. She also described Starhub’s ‘Happiness everywhere’ campaign as ‘full of smiling Singaporeans dancing to PLINKY PLONKY music’, an ad with no ‘deficit’ of goosebumps or cheesiness whatsoever.

Then things changed abruptly for the worse following the train incident. Disappointed by how she felt let down by her Singaporean hosts, she quoted some guy called ‘Marcus’ who blamed our apathy on money and that we’re ‘programmed to think only of ourselves’. This obsession with money is too simplistic a root cause of our ‘compassion deficit’, and the only way to prove Marcus’ theory right is for us to reward altruistic behaviour, like winning a week’s worth of free train rides if you’re the first one to surrender your seat, though no one would conduct such an experiment without being branded for cheapening basic human courtesy as we know it. Marcus is desperately trying to flee to Canada as we speak, and I can’t imagine how that would be accomplished smoothly if one didn’t at some point think deeply about the money involved, you know, like the rest of us miserly penny pinchers.

Someone should tell Ashton what happened to us that drove Singa the Lion to quit his courtesy job altogether. Was it because we don’t give a shit about anything anymore, whether it’s a pregnant woman puking her guts out, or a butt-naked man lying in the middle of the carriage? To be fair, I’ve seen more people giving up seats than what public complaints of isolated incidents suggest. Was her baby bump obvious at 10 weeks? That it’s possible that people did not REALISE that she was pregnant? In any case, Ashton needed HELP regardless, and nobody responded. If it were that bad, why didn’t she just ASK for a seat? Or were the people sitting nearby too caught up in an important Whatsapp business conference chat, or too busy faking sleep to be disturbed? You’re very unlikely to get rejected if you’re pregnant and ask someone, especially from the priority seat, to get off their Ugly Singaporean ass pronto. In a nice polite way, of course.

Some attribute this coldness to us being a ‘reserved’ lot, that we refuse to budge when a stranger is in clear distress because it’s in our nature to mind our own business, an argument shot down by victims of the ‘bystander effect’ who retort that this ‘shyness’ is an excuse for ‘selfish and cowardly’ behaviour. I’m also not sure if there’s a correlation between being miserable and being a callous, unfeeling twat. The greatest feats of altruism, after all, are often displayed during the darkest periods of humanity. We were all miserable during last year’s haze, for example, but there were still kind souls who went around distributing N95 masks to the needy. If we were all suffering from a ‘massive’ compassion deficit, we wouldn’t queue like civil beings for those things, and would be looting Chinese medical halls for ‘cooling teas’ if we had the chance. Incidentally, the most ‘positive’ country based on a survey cited by Ashton was Panama. I’d be impressed if the country also holds the record for fastest return of a lost wallet.

A consultant psychologist once claimed in 2000 that Singaporeans are mostly ‘intrinsically kind’, that most of us DO want to help, but are either afraid of ending up being redundant, seen as trying to ‘act like a hero’, or making things worse. The more skeptical don’t want to let the Good Samaritan get the better of us, in case the ‘victim’ is really a con artist preying on the naive altruism of others, who ends up swindling money from you for doing what you thought was the ‘right thing’. But that’s as rare as finding a gracious Singaporean at a buffet with a 60 minute time limit. A case of spirit willing but flesh weak, perhaps?

Some group psychology studies have shown that this isn’t a malady of Singaporeans alone; the more people around a victim, the less likely someone will step forward to assist. The fact that using ‘eye power’ and waiting for someone else to take action is a universal trait, however, shouldn’t excuse us from exercising compassion when it’s so close to us that we could touch it. Ashton mentioned that the train was ‘packed’, and it’s baffling that you could have a pregnant woman ‘crouching’ next to you and you ignore her totally. That wouldn’t be a mere ‘deficit’ in graces or anything to do with being caught up in the ‘ratrace’, it would be a mental disorder, where the part of the brain that’s responsible for empathy has completely degenerated, possibly from playing too much handphone games like Flappy Bird. In fact, some psychiatry circles have coined the term EDD, or ‘empathy deficit disorder’, though that could apply to anyone from the engrossed teen thumbing his phone to death to a psycho killer charging at random people with a chainsaw.

Let’s hope Ashton’s case is a one-off affair, and may she continue to enjoy the affordable tropical delights that our little city has to offer, a tasty consolation I might add, even if we do suffer from a pathological lack of social graces, a disease that no one, not the Government, not the Church, not Singa the Lion or Dim Sum Dollies can do anything about. Synchronised dancing on an escalator, especially, isn’t going to help one bit. In fact, from the kindness campaign video below, it’s obviously a bloody waste of time.

188 words of inspiration stolen from Night Festival

From ‘Stolen art pieces paint ugly picture of society’, 10 Sept 2013, ST Forum

(Aw Yang Kang Ming): I WAS disappointed to find out that people would actually steal pieces of an artwork at the Singapore Night Festival (“More words of art go missing”; Sept 2). The installation by artist Karen Mitchell featured 365 wooden panels that were supposed to represent the shared aspirations of everyone.

Why would anyone want to remove an artistic installation that was supposed to inspire people?

Removing the panels is akin to downloading licensed content from the Internet without permission from the author; it is theft and a clear sign of disrespect to the creator. It also showcases the dissolute side of people; what would foreigners think of our society?

Perhaps the 188 panels went missing because they were not affixed onto any permanent structure.

Did any one of these say ‘FREE’?

When artist Karen Mitchell made her woodwork installation to be of the interactive sort, she didn’t expect viewers to ‘assimilate’ her work so well that they decided to take them home. Clearly, some people still don’t grasp the concept of street art. When they see others playing with these wooden slabs like how one browses wares at a flea market, but don’t see anyone around collecting money, they assume that it’s a free-for-all jamboree like those cheese samples promoters dish out at NTUC supermarkets.

Respect for the artist is one thing, but taking something that clearly doesn’t belong to you from public space is the fundamental no-no which we were taught as babies. I don’t see any practical use of Karen’s panels anyway, unless they were swiped by parents too cheapskate to buy spelling cue cards for their kids. I would, however, pay her if she could craft a sign for me that says ‘SILENCE’ or maybe ‘TOILET’. If anyone did surrender pieces of her work to her eventually, they deserve a gift panel with the word ‘CHAMPION’ on it.

The term that describes such ugly behaviour in the local context is ‘itchy fingers’, and Karen isn’t the first artist to suffer from a meddlesome public. A dragon sculpture displayed at a square near Chinatown Complex vanished completely in 2000 (So who stole the dragon? 15 May 2000, ST). In the 2001 Nokia Singapore Art exhibition, Tay Bee Aye’s 179 small fabric cushions shaped as lips gracing the pillars of Suntec City were nicked. Wikipedia explained away the theft by mentioning that her work was ‘too well received’. You could say the same thing if my sculpture of a famous politician built entirely out of gold tooth fillings got amputated overnight, that it was ‘overwhelmingly popular’ with the public. Sure, these petty looters ‘appreciate’ your handiwork. Like how a starving mongrel ‘receives’ a gourmet butcher meat display perhaps.

Even artistic attempts to spruce up our streets by government agencies are not immune from grubby hands. In 2009, STB introduced flower ‘totems’ to brighten up Orchard Road, but decided to move them to Sentosa instead because people were stealing flowers.  I wonder if in this instance such anti-social behaviour would have been considered vandalism instead, though you’re more likely to be charged for defacing public property than taking a piece of it with you. Spray-paint over the Cenotaph and you’ll go to jail, but I doubt you’ll be punished the same way if you chisel off a bit of staircase as a souvenir. For a country so paranoid about CCTV surveillance that we have them set up to catch people taking a piss in lifts, we still don’t seem deterred from messing around with someone’s livelihood in broad daylight.

Perhaps Karen, and anyone aspiring to be a street artist in Singapore, could learn from this experience and come up with immovable themes instead of designs that easily come apart encouraging people to ‘interact’ with them like a pack of wolves descending on fallen prey. Otherwise, rig each detachable piece from your work with an electric charge so that people will be conditioned to keep their hands to themselves once and for all.

As the Bee Gees famously sung,

‘It’s only words
And words are all I have
To take your heart away’

In Karen’s case, her WORDS, not the audience’s HEARTS, were the ones swept away.

Lim Swee Say can never resist Din Tai Fung toothpicks

From ‘Which eatery has the best toothpicks? Din Tai Fung, says Lim Swee Say’, article by Amelia Tan, 22 July 2013

When labour chief Lim Swee Say goes to Chinese restaurant Din Tai Fung, his eyes are peeled not so much on its dumplings and noodles, but on its toothpicks. He likes them because they are well-designed and of good quality.

“Many restaurants give you toothpicks, but the toothpick is so big it can never go through, but this one is so fine that whatever is inside sure can come out,” he said on Monday.

In fact, he revealed with a laugh, the Din Tai Fung toothpicks are so good, he “can never resist” – he always takes half a box of them during each visit.

…The point he wanted to make? “Success never happens by chance,” he said…A Din Tai Fung spokesman said toothpicks are placed on all tables and customers are free to use as many as they like.

According to Lim Swee Say, the measure of a company’s success is how it pays attention to fine details. He also believes they should emulate Lady Gaga. The DTF toothpick is unusual in that it resembles an interdental brush, with bristles to give our labour chief’s oral cavity a ‘shiok’, clean feeling after every meal. Perhaps the restaurant should sell their designer picks as a side merchandise considering they have one very rich customer who’s an obvious fan of their product, an addict even.

I never had much success with the traditional wooden picks myself, but now that the Minister has put his stamp of approval on this tiny marvel of dental engineering, I simply have to give it a shot. Now I can dislodge little pieces of xiao long bao with a touch of sophistication, when all I was doing in the past was poking twigs between my gums like a caveman. Thank you Sir for showing me the way to refinement and good taste.

After this endorsement, you’re likely to have some kiasu, ugly Singaporeans following the Minister’s example and taking home half box fulls of quality toothpicks to save money on Oral-B products, a behaviour more commonly known as bad etiquette or miserliness. Maybe Lim Swee Say is a stickler for oral hygiene, but this is just shameless. Those things look like they cost more than the groundnut appetiser and if you have any decency you would leave a tip in exchange for them. Otherwise it’s like grabbing half a box of straws from McDonald’s because you’re having a last minute party, or taking scented rolled towels from a 5-star hotel’s restroom instead of paying for those provided in the Chinese restaurant next door.

Then again, no one from DTF would stop Lim Swee Say from pocketing half a box of freebies if he chose to. He could walk out of the restaurant with the dumpling tray and an empty teapot and no one would stop him either. More so if he came dressed as Zorro. Or is it Hamburglar?

Masked crusaders need clean teeth

I’ve always wondered what people need so many toothpicks for if they’re not building a miniature city out of them. In the case of our labour chief, as personal rojak utensils, perhaps?

Singing Bone Hello Kitty selling for $126K

From ‘McDonald’s urges public to stop profiteering from Hello Kitty Plush Toys’, 27 June 2013, article by Rachel Tan, ST

The McDonald’s Hello Kitty plush toy craze has translated into a opportunities for online sellers to capitalise on the fad. Several advertisements selling the toy were seen just hours after they went on sale early Thursday morning. In one posting on eBay there were 125 bids for the “Singing Bone” model.

News of the online transactions have reached McDonald’s headquarters in Singapore – and the management is not happy about it. “We do not support people buying the Kitties for resale, and we have been regularly removing posts offering such services from our page. We take the conduct of our staff very seriously and if any of them are found to have misappropriated the Kitties for personal gain, we will not hesitate to take appropriate action,” the fast-food chain posted on their official Facebook page.

The toy has also resulted in a number of confrontations among consumers. According to Stomp, at McDonald’s Bukit Batok Central outlet, a policeman was asked to clear a dispute over people jumping queues.

Bad to the bones

The winning bid for a Blackface Kitty is a whopping $126,000 (turned out to be fake), and this being a country where people own million dollar HDB flats and $5 million dollar racecars, I’m not surprised that some fans are willing to fork out a ridiculous sum of money for a plush doll, one that’s not even studded with diamonds to begin with (Just for comparison, the famed Jewel Doll costs US$167,000). I suspect the reason why the Singing Bone is getting everyone in a tizzy is not that it’s limited edition (they all are), but because you can’t COMPLETE the collection without it. For a Singaporean, braving the haze overnight to finish your holy quest for the Last Kitty is a crowning achievement, like putting your hand on a car for days just to drive it home a winner. Kiasuparents folk are selling the same toy for $50. Pfft…amateurs.

McDonald’s ditched the ‘purchase with every meal’ promotion out of good intentions; to stop people from throwing away burgers and wasting food, as evident during the initial 2000 Kittydemic.  But as lucrative as this craze is for the company, you can’t help but wonder what founder Ray Kroc feels about this marketing sacrilege, that instead of rushing for old-fashioned American hamburgers, Singaporeans are saying ‘To Hell with Big Macs’ and thronging stores for Japanese dolls. A psychiatrist in 2000 called it ‘compulsive-acquisition syndrome’, I call it madness. Meanwhile, I can’t even order an Apple Pie from the counter because of these lunatics. How are those senior counter staff going to cope with demanding, violent Kitty addicts? McDonald’s might as well get rid of the tables and chairs and just fill their stores with snaking queue lines and armed guards, like a methadone clinic. They would also do well to equip all staff with parangs and tranquiliser darts to defend themselves in the event of a queue-jumper wrecking havoc like a bull in a china shop.

We should always prepare for Hello Kitty mob violence. In 2000, a glass door in a Boon Keng Macs was SHATTERED by the crowd, causing injuries to 7 customers, with 3 HOSPITALISED. 6 people were also arrested for making a nuisance of themselves. A DOCTOR and a lorry driver got into an ugly scuffle. There were even reports of fainting, traffic congestion and MOLEST. It’s the kind of rowdy looting you would expect in a famine or zombie infestation, yet no such ruckus has been reported for N95 face masks to date. Even if we were threatened with poison gas, I think Singaporeans would queue up calmly for gas mask or antidote supplies. Getting your lungs incinerated is a small matter compared to the shame of your neighbour snagging a Singing Bone while you HAVEN’T.

The Singing Bone, however, is not so much ‘fairy tale’ as it is a macabre horror story of revenge and FRATRICIDE. Few would bother to find out more about its origins and assume that the Kitty was inspired by the Nightmare before Christmas and is just a jolly feline skeleton that goes around distributing candy during Halloween. Like the Sirens that sent Greek sailors to their watery graves, the Singing Bone has lulled the nation into a stupor of compulsive queuing and quick regression into base savagery, flushing decades of courtesy campaigns down the toilet. It’s no coincidence that this Hello Kitty resembles a voodoo doll; it has infected us all with its dark, wicked spell. If you’re a parent, do your child a favour and tell the Singing Bone story at bedtime while he’s hugging the toy. Next thing you know he’ll be setting it on fire or brandishing a crucifix at the cursed thing.

As a money-spinner, Hello Kitty is a phenomenal success. As a branding exercise built around service, Happy Meals and the Golden Arches, it’s a CATastrophe.

Postscript: A fake alert was posted on the McDonald’s Facebook page according to Lianhe Zaobao once Singing Bone sold out, warning black market profiteers that the ‘Management Team’ would be working with the police to bring perpetrators of this outrageous scalping to justice. ‘Dissapointed’ is either a grotesque lapse in spelling or a deliberate combination of ‘dissed’ and ‘disappointment’. As if muckracking at outlets isn’t enough, some resort to impersonation to make sure that if they can’t have their Kitty, NO ONE ELSE WILL.

Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 7.23.40 AMi

Rich people having no sense of noblesse oblige

From ‘Guard against rising materialism’, 17 April 2013, ST Forum

(Anuradha Singh): I WAS disgusted to read the description of real estate developer K.P. Singh’s birthday celebrations in India (“India: Get Shakira to perform or fly in snow for birthday party”; Monday), as well as the descriptions of the excesses in China and Indonesia (“China: Showing off a sport for the wealthy” and “Indonesia: Enjoy party and go home with iPad gift”; both published on Monday).

It is a sad fact that there is no sense of decorum or noblesse oblige among today’s rich, since most of them do not have the inherent – and inherited – sense of responsibility that comes from being well-bred. People who display their wealth so lavishly used to be sneered at as being arrivistes and social climbers, but they are sadly becoming the norm today.

Their excesses are disgusting, given the dire poverty of their countries. How can anyone living in a country like India, where children are pressed into construction work, live with themselves if they flaunt their wealth like this?

Unfortunately, the same is happening in Singapore as it, too, is an aspirational society – a father dropping off his son in a Ferrari convertible at my daughter’s school; secretaries who spend more than they earn on designer bags; and tai-tais who seem to think their only social responsibility is to single-handedly support the Louis Vuitton empire.

I wonder if Ms Singh has heard of the Jewel of Pangaea cocktail worth a whopping $32,000, or Perm Sec Tan Yong Soon’s $42,000 cooking course at Le Cordon Bleu, Paris. Or that Facebook billionaire Eduardo Saverin has made Singapore his home, an ‘aspirational’ country where there are 17 millionaire households out of 100 who live in $1 million HDB flats and $300 million bungalows, drive $3 million Pagani Huayra Italian supercars, or eat lobster mee pok for over $200 a bowl. If Phua Chu Kang can own a Lamborghini Gallardo worth $800,000, so can you!

What else but extravagant displays of ‘disgusting excesses’ can you expect from a country that prides itself as a shopping paradise, promotes a casino as a national icon and ranks among the most affluent nations in the world? Obscenely rich people exist whether we like it or not. Some choose to flaunt and brag about it, while others wear rags and hug big bags of gold bars to sleep with one eye open. If a rich man wants to fly in an international superstar to entertain his guests and hire naked supermodels so people can eat expensive sushi off their torsos, if a father wants to fetch his daughter in a Ferrari to a $500 K-pop concert, even if there are children dying of starvation in the streets, what can we do about it short of hiring Robin Hood, or summoning the Ghosts of Christmas Past,Present and Future to scare some ‘noblesse oblige’ into rich folks?

We tend to blame the media for promulgating dreams of easy riches. Movies like The Social Network exalt the self-made below 30′s billionaire. We are entertained by opulent grandeur, decadent travelogues, 3 star Michelin dining and vicarious lavish living through local shows like The Finer Side (starring Dick Lee and Denise Keller), which drew similar complaints for being ‘self-indulging’ and ‘obscene’. We also hear of MPs who flash their Coach bags, CEOs of charities installing gold taps in their bathrooms, and millionaire singing pastors who live in Hollywood. We’re constantly bombarded by updates of our friends ‘living it up’ through Facebook postings of fine dining and luxury possessions that we’ve all become rather numb to their ‘excesses’ by now. Having caviar and champagne by MBS Infinity Pool? Meh. Bought a new Chanel bag for your anniversary? Hallelujah. Bean sprouts, sardines and rice for lunch? OMG YOU POOR THING YOU!

‘Materialism’, like ‘noblesse oblige’, seems like such an outdated concept for a nation where almost everyone owns a smartphone, has broadband internet at home, and some take leave just to queue overnight for the latest iPad. Wanting, lusting after the best stuff that money can buy isn’t a lack of social responsibility (unless you’re a collector of rare leather made from baby seals) but a sense of transient wish fulfilment and personal entitlement, a natural reward response to long hours of slogging at the office. We use words depicting gluttony like ‘binge’, ‘splurge’ and ‘retail therapy’ as easily as we use ‘broke’. In fact, what’s deemed as ‘materialistic’ in the past has become today’s necessity. In 2001, a Today contributor branded the handphone as nothing but an empty ‘status symbol’. There were even times in the past when you may be condemned as an ‘arriviste’ and show-off if you owned a Discman, karaoke laser disc player or even a colour TV. The audacity to sing karaoke when you should be helping the poor! Shame on you!

So perhaps one day anyone can invite Shakira to their party to perform Waka Waka, or drink the Jewel of Pangaea when toasting your bride instead of cheap champagne. But until then, no one can agree on what living ‘modestly’ means. Buy a Merc and you’re materialistic, go to a barber instead of a salon and you’re called a cheapskate. So go ahead, join that queue for the next Samsung phone. Go for a spa holiday in the Maldives. Because you’re worth it.

Grow up, Ugly Affluent Westernised Singaporeans

From ‘Time for the Ugly Singaporean to grow up’, 9 April 2013, ST Forum

(Dr George Wong Seow Hoon): IN VIEW of the increasing incidents of abusive behaviour towards health-care workers…it is time to examine why economic progress has brought with it the emergence of the “Ugly Singaporean”. Part of the reason is that many of our children are now brought up by maids, and they lack the strong cultural milieu to cultivate codes of good conduct.

Once they grow up, they treat nurses the way they treat their maids – because they know of no other way. When I was growing up, I was immersed in the culture and traditions of my grandparents, who made me read San Zhi Jing (Three-Character Classic), which taught Confucian morality.

My uncles and aunts told me stories from the Chinese classics of great men and heroes with outstanding conduct. These have influenced my thinking and conduct in later life. Now, some affluent, Westernised Singaporeans throw litter, abuse nurses and are road bullies.

…It is time for Singaporeans to grow up.

It’s been a while since I’ve heard anyone espouse ‘Asian values’, which typically encompasses concepts of hard work, compassion, humility and filial piety, though such forms of social behaviour are certainly not unique to the Asian society. China, in particular, the birthplace of San Zhi Jing, is among the worst culprits of pollution and global warming in the world, and the inconsiderate act of littering and destroying the planet has nothing to do with the fact that you’re a Confucian scholar, a ‘Westernised’ tycoon, or a homeless bum who poops on the streets.

Blaming the West as the Devil was regular rhetoric for MPs. In 1971, Inche Ghazali urged men to ‘point out gently and tactfully how ridiculous’ their womenfolk look wearing ‘indecent’ fashions of the West. The appearance of ‘Centrepoint kids’ in the 80s prompted Tang Guan Seng to blame ‘decadent Western fads’ for the erosion of our G-rated, homely values. He was also strongly against the ‘Western’ practice of addressing parents by their names, dumping the aged in retirement homes, and probably thinks the ‘Western’ tie as office attire is like wearing Satan’s noose around your neck.

Some male chauvinist pigs also like their partners to be like Samsui women, subservient, meek and not complaining and nagging too much which is a result of being ‘contaminated’ by the decadent West. Thanks to ‘Western influences’, our women have become opinionated, assertive and don’t ever want to treat us guys to a hot home-cooked meal and foot scrub after work anymore. Besides, I’m not sure if ancient China was the ideal pinnacle of Confucian ethics and selfless, epic heroics as it’s lauded to be. At least that’s not what Sex and Zen tells me.

There’s nothing morally superior about ‘Asian values’ as it’s a fallacy to blame Western affluence for all our ‘social ills’, be it teen pregnancy, homosexuality, premarital sex, Playboy magazine or Glee. There are, in fact, downsides to exaggerating your Confucian values, like ‘presentee-ism’, the loss of productivity that results when you’re obliged to report for work even when you’re sick.  The complainant telling Singaporeans to ‘GROW UP’ reeks of the stifling authoritarian hectoring of the stern, party-pooping patriarch who shuns Gangnam Style, skimpy bikinis and shrinking hemlines because he thinks these have all the ‘decadent’ hallmarks of cult-like Western glamour and spiralling moral decay.

You don’t have to be rich and English-speaking to be a total bastard of a customer, nor do you need to mediate under a bamboo tree and be handy with a calligraphy brush to be a responsible, civilised human being, regardless of which side of the globe you’re from. So here’s an adorable clip of an ang mo kid reciting San Zhi Jing. To a ‘Western-influenced’ bloke like me, it’s as impressive, yet meaningless, as memorising pi to 100 decimal places.

LTA should not try to be cool

From ‘LTA stickers a safety hazard’, 24 Dec 2012, ST Forum

(Albert Tye): THE Land Transport Authority (LTA) should not put up stickers in buses to remind commuters to move in (“LTA wants ‘move to back of bus’ message to stick”; last Tuesday).

First, the stickers pasted on the glass windows pose a safety hazard as they block the view, preventing passengers from being able to see danger approaching and reacting in time.

Second, cheeky commuters may twist the words, making light of the serious message it is supposed to transmit. The LTA should not try to be cool. Serious messages must be conveyed seriously and as directly as possible.

LTA wants you to wiggle in

LTA wants you to wiggle in

One of the stickers reads: ‘You’re such a DARLING. WIGGLE IN A TEENSIE WEENSIE BIT MORE OK?’ It’s one thing to praise a passenger before the desired action is even attained, it’s another to tease with gratuitous innuendo that sounds like it was written by the songwriter of the smash hit ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ (who’s probably already dead). It may be even harder to squeeze your way to the back because of the goosebumps afflicting everyone on the bus after reading this. Another sticker tells the moving passenger that ‘this trip ROCKS because of you!’ I’m on public transport, not a psychedelic MAGIC BUS. This is also 2012, not Wayne’s World.

Public service campaigns that rely on nerve-cringing politeness may be standard tactic of the Singapore Kindness Movement, but having the LTA dousing passengers with syrupy praise normally reserved for children or puppies is like a prison warden high-fiving his inmates for not trying to break out of their cells. We are spammed day and night by advertisers telling us we’ve WON! or it’s our LUCKY DAY!, which explains why most of us will turn a blind eye to such hollow ‘feel-good’ messaging. All the nice and cuddly words and fonts crafted by self-proclaimed marketing experts are nothing compared to the warmth of a smile or a thank you coming from a living, breathing person who has benefited from your random act of kindness, with or without stickers glaring in your face already telling you how ‘cool’ you are before you’ve done anything remotely useful for the human race.

It’s not the first time that we’ve been all sweet and funky about imbuing people with some basic manners. Phua Chu Kang once took a shot at it using rap as a medium, busting rhymes about a ‘happy journey’ in one moment then threatening with lines like ‘don’t you dare’ and  ‘excuse me while I give you a kick!’. Using a character like PCK to knock some sense into people who refuse to move is like throwing plush toys at a gatekeeper troll. Also, I don’t know how much damage you can incur kicking people while wearing yellow construction boots.

If PCK going ‘Hey you over there’ doesn’t work, you may try a softer cabaret approach, as the Dim Sum Dollies did in 2010 to get people to ‘move it, move it, move it inside’, with the hope that the use of multiple languages like Mandarin, Hokkien and Malay would get the message to sink into seniors’ heads. A Today writer in 2006 proposed a more practical design solution of having the exits at the back of the bus instead of the middle, but that would mean more people pushing against ‘traffic’ to alight from the front instead. In the 1980s, people were already suggesting taped messages to irritate people into moving in, the audio equivalent of a sheepdog. Some weary bus drivers have come up with more creative excuses for passengers, that ‘lai bin woo gui’ (Behind got ghost!). You could also apply the same saying to empty seats, beds, sofas or any unused space as consolation when no one really wants to be close to you.

The ghost won't let me move to the back

The ghost won’t let me move to the back

I think getting an assertive driver with the authority to drill his passengers into moving their butts and earn the awe, fear and respect of everyone else would be a more effective way of controlling behavior through embarrassment than some mildly chastising song-and-dance routine. Caretakers in museums, toilet cleaners, even some char kuay teow hawkers these days have become fiercer than most bus drivers I’ve met when it comes to controlling their customers. Bus CAPTAINS should start acting like one rather than letting office-dwelling campaigners waste everyone’s time and money on useless, unsustainable ‘gentle reminder’ campaigns. Otherwise they’re just workers driving a bus dropping people on and off quietly. That is until they gather illegally and stop work for days as part of some ‘industrial action’.

You don’t need big fancy stickers, come-hither slogans or an out-of-job Phua Chu Kang to make people behave on public transport. Simple, stern notices and a badass driver with a microphone would do just fine.

K pop fans queuing for a week before SM Town

From ‘Fans who queued overnight for SMTown concert usurped by latecomers’, 23 Oct 2012,  article by Rachel Boon, ST.

Unhappiness ensued among tired fans going for K-pop extravaganza SMTown Live World Tour III in Singapore, which is happening tonight (Nov 23) at The Float @ Marina Bay. Fans out to get the best positions in the moshpit had started queueing in the area as early as last Friday (Nov 16), despite the concert organisers’ advice not to do so.

But some of these fans lost the lead of their days-old queue to other fans who started arriving at around 5am this morning to join the official moshpit queue, which the organisers had scheduled to start at 9am. Although the early birds were upset to have been usurped by the latecomers, their unhappiness was subdued. Some of them looked too tired to protest at the apparent unfairness of the situation.

The fans who had started queuing in the vicinity long before today did not know where the entrance for the moshpit queue was. The organisers did not tell them in order to discourage them from queuing overnight. When the location of the official moshpit queue was finally announced after 8.30am, there was a rush towards it among all fans, whether or not they had queued overnight.

Super Junior fan Vanessa Lee, 18, managed to get good spots in the official queue this morning after queuing since yesterday. She said: “There wasn’t a big fight, and they tried to reason with one another. Those who have been queuing for long or overnight told the newcomers that it was unfair, while the newcomers returned the look with glares.”

Eunhyuk and whose army?

SM Town is like the ‘We Are the World’ of K-pop. A 14 year old queued for 100 hours only to lose out to those who came in the morning. A 17 year old stopped school to pursue her obsessive K-fascination. Fan club members threaten bloodshed by tweeting about how they’re bringing their ARMY to cut overnight queues. Some risk FAINTING in line before even seeing their Gods in the flesh. For $5 an hour you could hire a ‘queuer’ to chope your place on your behalf. Some would be desperate enough to buy $398 moshpit tickets from online touts. That’s more than TWICE the amount you pay for a top dollar Kenny Rogers concert ticket! Kenny Rogers!

All this in addition to the thousands some would spend on tickets, merchandise, rad clothes, light sticks and maybe even Korean language courses, even if they can’t order kimchi to save their lives in South Korea. I think a legion of K-pop crazy fans can beat down a platoon of BMT recruits anytime. If we were ever threatened by urban terrorists, don’t send in the boys in green. Deploy a troop of K-pop groupies and tell them Super Junior Eunhyuk gave the order to KILL. You can put the non-kamikaze ones on nightwatch sentry duty with a Big Bang CD on repeat mode.

Some local businesses would be thankful for the K-pop frenzy nonetheless; 7-11, fast food joints, sellers of portable fans and portable phone chargers and outdoor adventure stores. Yes, you see more TENTS, mats and lamps being set up in overnight queues than in East Coast Park. According to this infographic, 240 cans of RED BULL and 192 CUP NOODLES were expended.  If you place the start of an SMTown queue at the end of a 100m dash you’re likely to see some diehards giving Usain Bolt a run for the money. You could also start an agency (THNXQ?) of professional queuing services, except that instead of calling your employees ‘queuers’, the position could be ‘Line Acquisition and Maintenance Executive’. Or LAMEs. Parents would be so grateful, that is, parents who aren’t the ones securing queues on the behalf of their kids to show how much they love them. Or those without maids.

Some people just never learn; last year the same ‘unfair’ system of ignoring kiasu early birds was already in force when GG/SNSD performed here. It’s ironic that the organisers for K-pop extravganzas call themselves Running Into the Sun, because that’s what happens when fans who wait for 100 hours rush into ‘official’ queues; they get burnt. K-pop fandom being compared to CULT worship is nothing new; in return for their rain-soaked loyalty, pocket money and undying patience, supporters get accepted into social circles, treatment for broken hearts and the life-changing gratification of a Super Junior responding to their Tweet. You could turn blind idolatry into a force to be reckoned with. Some MPs, for example, are already taking pains to learn Gangnam style dancing. I’m sure many others are considering secretly tweaking their Favourite Bands on their Facebook pages to f(x) or EXO. Well, anything to help our kids appreciate differential equations then.

To see how HUGE K-pop has become, you’d just need to Google search the following (.sg domain):

- Boa (first search tag). No it’s not Boa the Snake

- Lucifer, SHINee single (second). Not the devil.

- EXO (first). Not a prefix used in physics

- Big Bang (first). Yes, a Korean boy band has overtaken the origin of the UNIVERSE on Google.

- f(x) (first). How am I going to finish my Maths homework like this?

- Beast (first). X-men Beast comes in second. Beauty and the Beast somewhere midway on the second page.

At this rate, you’re never going to know whether RAEKWON is a Wu-Tang clan member or a K-pop megastar.There’s even a K-pop band dedicated to their fans in Singapore. They’re called SG Wannabe.

The closing song of the SM Town concert was ‘HOPE’. I think that describes the K-pop product to a T. Or should I say to a K. I foresee a SMTown Xmas 2012 CD ready to be launched as we speak. Somewhere in the world during Xmas, I can guarantee you  there will be a man dressed as Santa Claus going ‘Opp, opp, opp, Oppa Santa Style’, and you will hear the collective Groan of Disdain echoed throughout the planet.

Daniel Ong calling neighbour Sivalin-ganam style

From ‘He made fun of my name’, 26 Oct 2012, article by Foo Jie Ying, TNP

A dispute between neighbours over renovation noise led to one of them making a police report against the other, claiming that the latter had made fun of his name. In the report made on Oct 16, he said: “By making fun and changing my family surname, he is insulting and degrading the Indian culture.”

In an interview with The New Paper On Tuesday evening, Mr Sivalingam Narayanasamy, 55, said: “What he has done is to change my surname.” The other party in the dispute is former radio deejay Daniel Ong, 36, who is now known as a celebrity cupcake-shop owner with his wife, Miss Singapore-Universe 2001 Jaime Teo.

Mr Sivalingam showed TNP a letter purportedly written by Mr Ong to him, in which Mr Ong allegedly made fun of his name. In the letter, Mr Ong referred to Mr Sivalingam as “Sivalin-ganamstyle” and added, “That’s my new nickname for you… cool, huh?”

Mr Ong addressed this on his Facebook page, saying: “He claims I insulted him coz I addressed him as Sivalingam num-style in my last letter… but I told him that I didn’t mean that and it’s the coolest thing around now.”

If you read the contents of Daniel Ong’s letter for yourself, you’ll find it full of sarcastic insults, spite, fake LOLS and general meanness. From the way how this neighbourly spat has been overblown, it’s obvious that Sivalingam’s racist accusation is a pretext for filing against Ong’s nastiness and intolerance over a baby-tormenting and ‘old-lady murdering’ renovation project. As with his grudge against SPH, the ex-DJ has made his Facebook page his personal diary and broadcaster now that he’s gone from radio. Regardless of who’s at fault here,  this is really an exaggerated episode of neighbours thrashing it out over one ugly incident after another, culminating in a sensational turf war with a typical but ultimately futile standoff involving the police. I wonder what will become of these two once it’s Christmas.

It’s like two boys fighting in the playground and one threatening with his daddy because the other called him names and he had no comeback. The natural tendency in such testosterone-charged scuffles is for the one picked on to retort with a creative insult of his own, until both get tired of this one-upping nonsense and walk away. At least these two grown ups are civil enough not to bring their Mamas into it or roll around in the mud throwing punches. Conflicts of this sort are inevitable, no matter how we try to inculcate a ‘give and take’ culture, when in fact we’re mostly looking after our own interests and ‘community’ means running into that comfort zone and pacifier called Facebook where your ‘friends’ are obliged to support you all the way even if you’re acting like a child who just got his rattle nicked by a bully.

When it comes to a war of words, it’s unlikely that Sivalingam would get the upper hand over a cupcake king with the gift of the gab (Daniel even refers to himself as ‘FUNNY GUY” on his Twitter page), hence to counter his weakness in petty insult-trading, the big guns have to be summoned on a hot-potato issue (racism) just to show that he means business. I’m not even sure if this guy knows what Gangnam Style is, which may explain why he would consider the name-mashing a childish insult, maybe the equivalent of the Chinese ‘Tan Ah Kow’.  He does cut an imposing figure however, like a superintendent in the force, or someone who runs a butchery franchise and boxes hunks of meat in his spare time.  Daniel Ong (who once played ‘Mr Kiasee’ in the Mr Kiasu sitcom) will get his cupcakes SQUASHED if put in a ring with this bull of a man.

Don’t call him Gangnam

What’s worrying, and yet strangely assuring at the same time, is why our police EVEN BOTHER with such things (Assuring because it means our cops have nothing much to do). Well I suppose if they’re forced to investigate teachers who cut the hair of students without permission, this fight between an angry celebrity and his angry neighbour must seem as exciting as taking down rival triads in comparison. Gangs of Mei Hwan Drive perhaps. Still, this is what happens if you have public endorsement of the over-the-top censuring of anything mocking a minority race. You give people excuses to point fingers at the one thing that will get your enemies in trouble, when you’re really pissed off with them because they embarrassed you, not because they humiliated your race, your family, your ancestry and your gods.

Siva claims discrimination when Daniel Ong mashes up his surname with Gangnam style, while the latter explains the pun away as a reference to his ‘threatening’ stance with arms akimbo. Neither argument makes sense. I can’t imagine an aggressor doing this in a mano-a-mano confrontation, unless he’s trying to subdue you with laughter.

Please don’t hurt me. I’ll do anything

I suspect it’s harmless wordplay more than anything else, though these days dropping sly racial references is like tossing firecrackers on a minefield. Siva doesn’t have a case because Gangnam itself has already taken Indians by storm, and just about anyone with an Internet connection and doesn’t understand a single word of Korean.

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