Tan Cheng Bock:Wah Teng Boh Wah Liao

From ‘Written Speech by Dr Tan Cheng Bock for Unifying Rally at Expo Hall 8’, 25 Aug 2011, TCB’s Facebook post.

…I would like to raise some question for you all here to consider.

Tony (Tan) is currently chairman of the National Research Foundation which is a department of Prime Minister’s Office. So he is still reporting to the PM.

Furthermore, he has just left GIC. Therefore, he is not in compliance with the MAS code of governance which says that he cannot be independent of GIC unless he has left for more than 3 years. He has only just left GIC for 3 months.

This is the practice for all public listed companies in Singapore, and there should be no double standard. In Hokkien there is a saying, wah teng boh wah liao.

In other words the soup is changed but the ingredients remain the same.

Wah Liao indeed.  This soup analogy is the Hokkien equivalent of the English trope ‘a leopard never changes its spots’, referring to Tony Tan’s inability to shake the ghost of his decades-long PAP affiliations. off his back. Despite our relentless Speak Mandarin campaigns, it’s not Confucian proverbs which capture the imagination of the electorate, but politicians’ Hokkien sayings which resonate among Singaporeans.  Though this should be deployed sparingly and with tasteful ingenuity lest ministers are accused of pandering to the older folk, or seen as being uncouth , highly paid Ah Bengs or Ah Huays, one does wonder if this double standard of our ministers speaking in a dialect which is otherwise discouraged from general usage has something to do with Jack Neo releasing the hugely popular  ‘I Not Stupid’ in 2002, the movie which somehow made Hokkien an unlikely political device to create an ‘everyman’ out of the PAP.

Goh Chok Tong started the ball rolling with the classic pah see buay zao’ saying in a 2002 National Day Rally to describe Singaporeans who are ‘stayers’ as opposed to ‘quitters’ seeking greener pastures elsewhere.  In 2004, Rear Admiral Teo Chee Hean used ‘mai zo lau kui’ (Let’s not embarrass ourselves) to describe NS men in training exercises, an ironic phrase to say the least, in light of how NSmen deal with their backpacks outside the realm of mock warfare.  Lee Hsien Loong himself took a wild crack at Hokkien with Mee Siam Mai Hum’ (2006 National Day Rally), a viral gaffe which became one of the first internet satirical sensations in the country, and still summoned today whenever the Black Eyed Peas’ awful  ‘My Humps’ is being played.

Some Hokkien sayings make TCB’s ‘Wa Teng Boh Wah Liao’ sound like grand oratory in comparison. ‘Ai pang sai ka che jamban’ (looking for a toilet only when one needs to pass motion) was used by then MP Bee Wah to mock the opposition’s call to delay the GST hike, not at a rally in the heart of Geylang, but in PARLIAMENT (2008). ‘Pang sai’, of course, is a low-brow colloquialism for ‘taking a shit’, a phrase which should never be uttered before the Speaker and Prime Minister, though ‘pang sai’ pretty much describes what comes out the mouths of some MPs taking the stand anyway. Something which a certain foul-mouthed NTU valedictorian would surely emphatise with.

Last but not least, anyone who recalls MG Chan Chun Sing’s call to arms in the 2011 General Elections, please KEE CHIU!


One Response

  1. […] Disclosure – Everything Also Complain: Tan Cheng Bock:Wah Teng Boh Wah Liao – guanyinmiao’s musings: George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four – funny little world: […]

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