Queue for 1 Michelin Star hawker as long as Great Wall of China

From ‘Here’s what they queue an hour for’, 23 July 2016, article by Benson Ang, ST

After his hawker stall was awarded a prestigious Michelin star, hawker Chan Hon Meng, 51, decided to open 45 minutes earlier than his usual 10am.

On Thursday night, right after the awards were announced, the owner of Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Food Complex said: “I know more people will come. I want to open earlier so the crowds will be more manageable.”

He was right. Some customers were there as early as 8.50am. By 9.15am, a queue had formed and it grew to more than 20 people at 10.30am.

…Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Crawford Lane, the other hawker stall with one Michelin star, also saw a longer queue. The stall sells about 400 bowls a day, with prices starting at $5 a bowl. Customers said they usually stand in line for about 45 minutes but yesterday, some queued for more than an hour.

Ms Lynn Chen, 42, who lives in the same block, started queuing at 11.10pm, but got her food only at 12.15pm. The part-time telemarketer, who has been patronising the stall two or three times a week for more than a decade, said: “The good thing is that we now have a Michelin- starred eatery below our block. The bad news is that the queue now will be as long as the Great Wall of China. The stall wins the award, but we customers lose.

“But I will still queue because my husband and I like the food.”

 

Now that we finally have a place in the ‘little red book’, Singaporeans can proudly say our cuisine is of ‘global standard’, and in typical kiasu fashion, despite our hyperbolic complaints about long queues, we still do it anyway. Come on, 1 hour is nothing! We have queued longer for things far less deserving. Like goddamn Krispy Kreme. Yes, there was a time when you could literally fly to visit the actual Great Wall of China during the period you spend queuing overnight for donuts.

While it’s easy for us to say we should take the Michelin Guide with a ‘pinch of salt’ and that this will spark meaningful conversations among Singaporeans about local cuisine regardless of our preferences, it may place unnecessarily high expectations on its recipients. The Michelin folks are known to take away stars should the quality of food fall below minimum standards. One chef took the grade so seriously he shot himself in the mouth when he heard that his 3 star restaurant might be downgraded to a measly 2 star one.

The pressure to maintain the rating could deter hawkers from experimenting with new flavours, or prevent them from retiring early lest their successors are unable to fill their Michelin shoes. IF they have any successors left. It would be interesting also to see how NEA would grade a one-star hawker stall, though I doubt a hygiene rating of D or a sporadic roach sighting would make the queues for Tai Hwa Bak Chor Mee any shorter.  On the other hand, a one-star could make an already ya-ya hawker even worse. He may ditch his straw hat and put on an actual chef’s hat instead. He may change the stall name to ‘Le Baque Chor Mee’, or ‘Poulet de Soy’.

Some critics call the whole thing a publicity stunt, similar to Gordon Ramsay pitting his Western culinary skills against locals in laksa cooking contests. Others cry foul because trailblazers and veterans who dabble in true-blue Singaporean food like Wilin Low and Violet Oon were snubbed. We should remember, however, that Michelin critics are anonymous foreigners with taste buds probably attuned to ‘Michelin-friendly’ cuisine who’re unlikely to award a restaurant that’s renown for serving the best durian pengat in the country, or something you could find in a SAF cookhouse like fried chicken wings.

Looking at the nagging disparity between the unpronounceable L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon with its sommeliers and fine customised cutlery vs the humble pork noodle hawker with his sweaty towel and smelly trays, the results somehow reek of gastronomic tokenism, given that Singapore has marketed itself so aggressively as a hawkers’ paradise. Michelin could be saying ‘OK people, let’s do the MBS thing and then choose a few small-timers just to show we appreciate hawker food too’.

Let’s hope our one star hawkers don’t let the Michelin star go over their heads and keep up the good work.  For the rest who didn’t make the cut, don’t fret, there’s always Singapore Day.

No actual hawkers in Hawker centre 3.0 committee

From ‘Hawkers’ views must be central to review’, 16 April 2016, ST Forum

(Kwan Jin Yao):Wednesday’s report noted that the new 14-member committee set up to keep Singapore’s hawker culture strong is made up of people from the private and public sectors, including food enthusiasts and representatives from the educational institutions (“Serving up help for hawkers and better hawker centres“).

Actual hawkers or even those who work in hawker centres seem to be glaringly missing. Given the fact that the median age of cooked-food hawkers is 59, it would also make sense to include people from different age groups in the committee.

…Soliciting and aggregating the perspectives of hawkers across locality and demographics should, therefore, be central to the review.

Above all, a discourse over costs is necessary. We need to find out how cooked-food hawkers manage overheads, manpower and ingredient expenses; how costs and remuneration may deter young Singaporeans from entering the industry; and how hawkers may have struggled in recent years.

A conversation must also be had about the unfair disparity between hawker centres and other dining establishments, especially when much fuss is kicked up when the former raises prices, but not when the latter does the same.

Enough has been said about how hawker culture is a cornerstone of the Singaporean identity. Attempts to glam it up on the international stage by sending hawkers for Singapore Days overseas and getting celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey to come here and cook laksa have made Singaporeans proud of their food heritage. A committee seems like a really boring way to keep the trade enticing to Singaporeans, especially those who have decided that they don’t want a typical bread-and-butter career and are brave enough to pursue a passion for hawking instead. Once used as a threat to kids who don’t study hard, we have moved away from the ‘roadsweeper/toilet cleaner/street hawker if you fail exams’ stigma and have come to accept young professionals taking up what kiasu parents once called ‘dirty jobs’.

If you were to pick a hawker of your choice to be a member of this cadre, who would you choose? Someone from the mixed economic rice scene? Or a niche Hokkien Mee specialist? How would you ensure that the candidate is not working purely out of self-interest when making recommendations? If the committee decides that all Hokkien Mee sellers should cut down on pork lard, how would that allow me to make an objective decision? Don’t get me wrong, I love hawker food. But I’d rather they be out there running their stalls and spending time with their loved ones after 12 hours of backbreaking work than sit behind a table arguing with people who don’t know the nuts and bolts of the business. Let’s see, there’s a famous food blogger, some director from the NHB and bizarrely, the Editor at Large of SPH. What is he going to do, I wonder. Change ‘Mixed Economic Rice’ to something that sounds more palatable?

Hawker or no hawker, the committee should aim towards long-term sustenance, and that goes beyond hawker centre infrastructure alone. Urging hawkers’ children to take over the stall runs counter to our relentless pursuit of excellence. Even the 2014 Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme designed to equip aspirants with the necessary skills didn’t work out well for NEA and WDA. The legacy problem aside, you can also trust ‘the powers that be’ to dash your hawker dreams, like what they did to aspiring fishball mee seller Douglas Ng. But an even more palpable conflict of a national level is that the Minister of Health has recently set up a task-force that has sworn balls-out WAR ON DIABETES.

According to one expert, the rise in obesity, a known risk factor for diabetes among other chronic diseases, is because of our ‘cheap food’ and sedentary lifestyle (Obesity also rising in Singapore, 2 Apr 2016, ST). So on one hand, we’re supposed to embrace our hawker culture, on the other we have the anti-diabetes army telling us to eat more brown rice, fish and broccoli, and less char kuay teow. Experience has taught us that you can’t marry the two. A healthy laksa doesn’t exist. If you see a ‘healthy pyramid’ logo on a stall it will be perceived that the food will probably taste like embalmed mummy meat. I believe even some members of the Hawker 3.0 committee secretly swear by the magic umami orgasm that is pork lard. Not sure how far Minister Gan is willing to go when it comes to managing our dietary habits. Maybe the banning commercials of unhealthy food may finally come to pass after years of MOH twiddling thumbs over it.

We can only pray hard that our ‘cheap food’ doesn’t become the first casualty of this diabetes war. If you want to drop the bomb on unhealthy fare, perhaps the overrated Korean fried chicken/bingsoo scene would be a good place to start.

Chicken rice founder’s house worth $16 million

From ‘Sons of Swee Kee founder in tussle over $16M home’, 2 Jan 2016, article by Selena Lum, ST

Three sons of the man who founded the famous Swee Kee chicken rice shop are embroiled in a court fight over the family home in Tanjong Katong, which was recently sold for $16.3 million.

One of them, Mr Moh Tai Siang, 58, denies selling his one-quarter share in the house for $200,000 while suffering financial difficulties in 1985, and claims his two brothers are holding it in trust for him.

In a High Court suit filed in November last year against his brothers Tai Tong, 59, and Tai Suan, 56, he contends that he is entitled to his portion of the single-storey Branksome Road bungalow. It sits on 13,844 sq ft of freehold land, which went under the hammer on Sept 30 for $16.3 million – the highest auction price of last year.

…The property was bought by the brothers’ father, the late Mr Moh Lee Twee, in 1957. Mr Moh was the founder of the now-defunct Swee Kee, which operated from a Middle Road shophouse from 1949 to 1997. The shop was often considered to be the pioneer of Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore.

It comes as no surprise that one can make a fortune selling hawker food. Tan Kue Kim, the ‘Hokkien Mee Master’ is known for frying his signature noodles in a long sleeved shirt wearing a gold ROLEX WATCH.  Looi Saan Cheng, Tip Top Curry Puff owner, earned a net profit of $200K in 2006, before being jailed 2 weeks for tax evasion. Beach Road Prawn Mee founder Lee Chee Wee reportedly earned up to almost $140K a month. Former entrepeuneur of the year and zhi char hawker Eldwin Chua now owns the ‘Paradise’ empire. So don’t underestimate the uncle in the straw hat and towel around his neck sweating over a hot wok of char quay teow. He could be driving a Peugeot for all you know.

The list of ‘rags to riches’ success stories involving humble hawker fare goes on, but despite us hearing about hawkers who ‘live on landed property’ and ‘drive Mercedes‘, millionaire hawkers are the exception rather than the norm. In the late eighties, when hawkers were reportedly robbed of $18,000 worth of gold jewellery and watch, the first thing that people were concerned about was not so much the crime itself, but how a hawker could afford such luxuries without dodging the taxman. In the seventies it was ‘common knowledge’ that hawkers don’t pay taxes even if they earn up to $3000 a month.

These days, the dream of making a decent living from selling fishballs may be shattered by cold hard bureaucracy, no matter how young and hungry you are to make a splash in the hawker scene. You could slog more than 12 hours a day to make ends meet, but have the misfortune of encountering shitty customers who threaten to complain to NEA about your imaginary cockroaches. For all your hard work, your kids may not even continue the family line, not to mention fight over your expensive house when you’re dead.

Raw fish dishes containing freshwater fish banned

From ‘Freshwater fish banned in ready-to-eat raw fish dishes’, 5 Dec 15, article in CNA

The Ministry of Health (MOH), National Environment Agency (NEA) and the Agri-Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) on Saturday (Dec 5) announced that the use of freshwater fish in all ready-to-eat raw fish dishes will be banned with immediate effect. 

NEA said tests by AVA and NEA showed that freshwater fish have “significantly higher” bacterial contamination than saltwater fish, and are likely to present higher risks of infection when consumed raw.

It added that effective immediately, all retail food establishments that wish to sell ready-to-eat raw fish dishes are to use only saltwater fish intended for raw consumption.

According to the authorities, such fish are usually bred or harvested from cleaner waters and stored and distributed according to “appropriate cold chain management practices”.  MOH, AVA and NEA said the ban is in place to help protect consumers and “give greater peace of mind” to the public, ahead of Chinese New Year.

Back in July 2015, MOH tried to give the public a ‘peace of mind’ by assuring us that there’s ‘no proven link between eating raw fish and GBS‘. An infectious disease expert argued that although GBS is not traditionally food-borne and does not affect healthy immune systems, food handlers may transmit the killer bacteria to food products.

The authorities have also not provided details on the tests which they conducted, i.e which stalls or country they were sourced from, storage, farming conditions etc. But until there’s a thorough investigation into the cause of the GBS outbreak, considered to be the first of its kind and the biggest IN THE WORLD (Recent GBS outbreak ‘biggest in the world’, 6 Dec 15, ST), this CNY we’ll have to settle for lo hei-ing with canned abalone or salmon (from reliable sources, of course).

Between July and the recent blanket ban, we’ve read horror stories of victims requiring BRAIN surgery, had limbs amputated, lapsing into 10 day comas, and one dying from the outbreak. But it wasn’t until Nov 28 this year when MOH confirmed the link between raw fish and the aggressive Type III ST283 GBS strain and hawkers were told to stop selling such dishes. One forum writer questioned the lag time between the health advisory and sales ban. We should also ask if ST283 is a recently evolved strain, since we’ve been generally having raw snakehead, toman and tilapia without any problems since the 30’s.

I wonder if things would have turned out differently if people hadn’t sent out warning messages initially, which, ironically, many dismissed as a prank, a hoax. Because, well, you’re supposed to take such viral messages with a pinch of salt. It’s SOCIAL MEDIA after all; a platform for inane jokes, political rumours and, soon to come, Christmas greeting spam.

This is one Whatsapp message in full, according to Reddit.

Hi all, I am sharing this because my boss is now warded in NUH because of painful right arm. He ate raw fish last Wed at Ayer Rajah mkt.

He wants me to share the following with as many people.

For the past few weeks the hospitals islandwide have been noticing a surge of young and old men who have been coming in sick with fevers and painful swollen joints.

There has been a particular strain of bacteria that has been isolated from the blood (Group B streptococcus) and this bacterium is usually very weak and mild, but we found this latest strain to be particularly virulent.

The common unifying factor behind this outbreak is that all the patients had consumed 鱼生 (the kind we like from hawker stalls, with a lot of sesame oil and pepper) within the past week.

Nationwide we are still collecting enough info to prove that it’s a particular farm that has been supplying these fish to the hawkers that have contaminated waters.

That’s why not on media yet.

So far places implicated are maxwell food centre, Alexandra village, to name a few.

For the sake of health just avoid 鱼生 for the next few weeks.

Wait until the official news is out where NEA manages to find the source of the contaminated fish.

Now that we know this ‘particularly virulent’ strain has been confirmed and people have suffered tremendously from it, does it mean that we shouldn’t call bullshit on such social media health scares outright? After all, even Dr Google at the time told you that GBS could not be transmitted through food, and only those with a hardcore passion for deadly vermin would know that ST283 was identified as a ‘novel sequence‘ in Hong Kong, according to a Journal of Clinical Microbiology paper (2006). For the rest of us, we either choose to ignore and go on with our lives, play it safe and abstain until official word is out, or fan the flames by bringing sashimi and cerviche into it, instilling panic to food lovers and retailers everywhere.

What if someone sent a mass Whatsapp about a lethal pathogen that had evolved to withstand boiling temperatures and may be associated with see-hum? How does the layman tell the difference between what is merely ‘improbable’ (this GBS outbreak) or what is ‘impossible’?

If anything, this GBS saga serves to remind us all not to take food hygiene and cooking methods for granted. In the meantime, you can continue to enjoy see-hum (cockles), despite its checkered history with Hepatitis A infection, and thank Neptune that we didn’t ban the shellfish back then, despite the fact that the creature, being a filter-feeder, has the ability to concentrate viruses from sewage-polluted waters. If you’re a diehard fan of yusheng and willing to bear the risk of amputation, however, you can still go up to Malaysia for your fix before vendors in JB raise their prices just to cater to deprived Singaporeans.

Kopitiam staff sacked for washing shoes in sink

From ‘NEA to take action against Kopitiam after employee was caught washing shoes in sink’, 23 June 2015, article by Lee Min Kok, ST

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said it will take action against food court operator Kopitiam after one of its employees was caught on camera washing her shoes in a sink at an outlet in the National University Hospital (NUH). The employee has been sacked after the incident was highlighted on social media.

The clip, which lasts almost two minutes, shows the woman scrubbing both her shoes with a brush under a running tap within the cold desserts section of the food court. She then appeared to return the brush to a container which held other kitchen utensils.

…Kopitiam, known for its chain of food courts in Singapore, has since apologised for the incident. In a post on Facebook on Tuesday morning, it assured customers that the washing equipment used by the employee had been replaced and the sink disinfected.

You may not be a frequent visitor to NUH Kopitiam, but patients from the wards are. Imagine if you were hospitalised for a severe bout of food poisoning and you decide to give yourself an icy treat near recovery, only to spend another few nights retching away because your Ice Kachang comes with ‘extra toppings’: Someone’s inner sole leather shavings.

Food courts in hospitals should be held to a more stringent hygiene standard than the ones in your average shopping mall. For an environment already teeming with bugs, the last thing you need is someone introducing ‘foot-borne’ ones into your meal. Rival food chain Koufu was once flanked by an army of cockroaches, and a kid lost his life after eating tainted Nasi Padang in Northpoint’s Kopitiam branch.  Yet, despite all these horrific lapses in hygiene, Singaporeans still flock to these places because they’re willing to eat mediocre, sometimes atrocious, food as long as there’s air-con and staff discounts.

The rest of us with more discerning stomachs but on an equally tight lunch budget often turn a blind eye to the filthy practices at hawker centres, nor do we stand by and film elderly cleaners using the same piece of cloth to wipe tables, plates and trays and cost them their jobs after posting videos on Stomp.

There are worse things than giving your shoes a rinse-over in the sink, though. Here are some real-life tummy-churners:

1) Cleaners washing glasses in a pail of dirty water.

2) Washing raw food with rainwater from the roof.
4) Putting raw chicken on the floor.
5) Smoking while flipping prata.

Seriously, most of us are too hungry to scrutinise a hawker’s fingernails, how he handles our money, where he wipes his sweat, or how the dishwashing is done behind the scenes. Let this be a wake-up call not just for kopitiam vendors, but anyone with a licence to sell food, that whenever public health is compromised by a gross act of negligence, someone will be watching, complaining and NEA will step in and not hesitate to give the offender, well, the BOOT.

Illegal Geylang peddlers pranked by Merlion TV

From ‘Police investigating video pranksters’, 25 Jan 2015, article by Danson Cheong, Sunday Times

A group of pranksters who pretended to be plainclothes officers in order to terrorise illegal cigarette peddlers may have got themselves in trouble with the real police. The pranksters, who call themselves MerlionTV, uploaded a two-minute video on Jan 14 called “Scaring the s*** out of illegal dealers in Red Light District”.

It shows a crew member approaching cigarette peddlers in Geylang and pretending to be an interested customer. But right after, he walks away and pretends to speak into a mouthpiece. In one segment, he is heard saying: “10/20 Romeo, we found a subject, we found a subject.”

Another crew member then lunges from the shadows, and the peddler is then seen running away desperately. The crew members give a short chase before returning to the abandoned cigarettes and showing off the goods.

Three peddlers, all seemingly foreigners, were targeted in the video, which carries a disclaimer saying the crew “did not impersonate any police officers or law enforcement entities”.

Geylang is scheduled for ‘re-zoning’ and a public alcohol consumption ban to free itself from its reputation as a sleazy foreign worker enclave with an undercurrent of ‘lawlessness’. Until then, it’s still open season for syndicates to ply their contraband trade, in this case what the ICA calls ‘duty-unpaid’ cigarettes. Not sure if the Merlion TV team knew that they could be fined $500 for buying the stuff, even if what they pulled off here was part prank, part vigilante sting operation, a fake vice raid that the SMRT Feedback group would surely approve. Though laughs were intended, the video does raise some serious questions about the state of enforcement in the district, like ‘Where the hell were the actual authorities’? and ‘Are these immigrants even legal?’

Impersonating an officer is a serious crime, of course. You could wave your fake badge and swing your fake baton and pressure prostitutes into having discount sex with you. Or you could ‘confiscate’ sex drugs or cough syrup dressed up in fake police paraphernalia bought from Peninsula Shopping Centre. Maybe the real police can check that place out for a change. Imagine all those fraudsters out there wearing tight black shirts with the words ‘POLICE’ emblazoned on them scaring gullible folk into surrendering their ICs, money, phones or even their damned virginity. I may even be forced to give up my queue for Hello Kitty at Mcdonalds if I get approached by one with a fake stern mug.

In a previous ‘Purge’ prank, the guys were stalking innocent bystanders with a weapon and managed to get away scot-free to indulge in more ‘extreme Candid Camera’ silliness. Now, the police are again hot on their tails for creating what could be deemed a ‘public nuisance’, though technically they did not identify themselves as police officers. But this is Geylang, not Bishan Park, and people getting chased all over the place screaming ‘Mata lai liao!’ is the norm. There shouldn’t be any unnecessary ‘fear, alarm of distress’ out of the ordinary here, and if the Police decide to arrest the team for making a mockery out of the profession, you’d expect fans to complain that the cops should be out there rounding up the masterminds behind the illicit street trade instead of locking up some video pranksters with a warped idea of fun.

The fact that foreign workers appear to be exploited here suggests that there’s more to this than just an underground black market trade, probably someone ‘higher up’ is plotting a revenge gang war as we speak. Ironically, the people behind the Purge prank are giving the authorities greater reason to ‘purge’ dirty, chaotic, smutty Geylang once and for all. And since we are imposing a liquor control zone in this hotbed of vice, how about passing a Bill to ban all selling, possession and smoking of cigarettes too? Duty paid or unpaid.

‘Lau Pa Sat’ in Tamil can be used to curse people

From ‘STB to correct Lau Pa Sat and tighten translation process’, 7 Nov 2014, article by Chew Hui Min, ST

The Lau Pa Sat sign which was incorrectly translated has been removed and will be corrected, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said in a statement on Friday. STB also said that it will tighten the process of translating its brown signs, which indicate tourist attractions or landmarks.

“We had notified the operator and they had taken immediate steps to remove the sign and work on correcting the translation,” Ms Ranita Sundramoorthy, director of attractions, dining and retail said in the statement, referring to the erroneous Lau Pa Sat sign.

She added that the board will ensure the new sign is checked by language experts. A photo of the sign, which translated “Sat” as “Sani” or Saturday in Tamil, was being circulated on social networks. The word can have a negative connotation, and can be used to curse people.

Mr Samikannu Sithambaram, president of the Singapore Tamil Teachers’ Union, told The Straits Times on Thursday that the mistake could have come about because the translators thought that “Sat” in Lau Pa Sat was a truncation of “Saturday”.

SAT you, STB

SAT you, STB

Notice that this brown sign has Chinese, Tamil and Japanese on it, but no Malay. Contrast the selection of languages with other tourist attraction ‘brown signs’, such as East Coast Park, which has Malay, Japanese but no Tamil. There are inconsistencies elsewhere. Sri Krishnan Temple has no Malay or Japanese, while Little India has Malay, Chinese, Japanese but not Tamil. The image next to the Lau Pa Sat text doesn’t look like Lau Pa Sat at all, more like the Supreme Court dome. Why didn’t anyone spot this glaring error instead?

According to ST, the Tamil translation for ‘Sat’, or ‘Sani’, is also a reference to ‘Satan’, the only diabolical connection to the Lord of Darkness being that Lau Pa Sat is owned by food court conglomerate Kopitiam. Other Tamil speakers from the ST FB page were quick to clarify that ‘Sani’ refers to the planet ‘Saturn’. This isn’t the first time STB made a mess of their promotional material, summoning the Devil or otherwise. In 2002, the Hungry Ghost Festival was translated in Chinese to ‘HUNGARY Ghost festival’.

I’m not sure if Tamil is notoriously difficult to translate, but getting lost in translation has haunted Tamil linguists for more than a century. In 1940, a slogan on signboards campaigning for people to grow their own vegetables for ‘health and victory’ was read as ‘Unless you grow vegetables we shall lose the war’. Or maybe that was secretly intended to serve as war propaganda to rally Indians into amassing combat rations for our comrades. A Malay song in 1952 titled ‘A yoyo Ramasamy’ riled some Indians because it translated into derogatory lyrics describing labourers who ‘drink toddy and get intoxicated’.  In 1989, a multi-lingual No-smoking sign on a TIBS bus was slammed because it contained a nonsensical Tamil word. You also don’t see Tamil subtitles for English movies on national TV, or hear any of the PMs in the 60-year history of the PAP speak a single full sentence of it during their National Day Rallies. It can be a problem too if you even attempt to anglicise Tamil. Some years back Bread Talk were accused of mocking the race and language by naming one of their creations ‘Naan the Nay’, which probably has the same racial connotations as someone mocking Mandarin with ‘Ching Chong Ching Chong’.

But it’s not just STB who deserves Hell for their laziness in translation. NHB made a more humiliating mistake previously by translating Bras Basah in Chinese to the literal ‘bras’ (undergarments) on their Night Festival website. They soon made a ‘clean breast’ of it and fixed the atrocity. I wonder if STB has a brown sign for Sim Lim Square. Now if that were translated into Satan’s Square because of its reputation of scamming tourists out of their hard earned money and forcing people to get down on their knees and wail to the gods, they wouldn’t be that far off.