May 26, 2017

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Authors Posts by Felix Cheong

Felix Cheong

Felix Cheong
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Felix Cheong is an award-winning author of 10 books, including the satirical Singapore Siu Dai series. He teaches journalism at the University of Newcastle and Murdoch University.

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by Felix Cheong

This week, we publish a letter from a fictitious young person, See Gin Na, who writes eloquently about why Singapore companies have allowed a Malaysian airline to reward Singapore athletes with free flights.   

LIFE holds no greater pleasure than giving other people the chance to grow. Let them have their due, their heatstroke moment in the sun.

This is why we, a group of youths whose ideas are always ideal and our activities always activist, have started #Let’emHaveIt as a ground-up movement. We want to spread the message that the world will be a better place if we simply pass up opportunities to other people.

This light-bulb moment came when we read the news on Monday (Sept 12) that AirAsia will reward Paralympic athletes Yip Pin Xiu and Theresa Goh with free flights. Ms Yip receives free travel for life, while bronze medallist Ms Goh gets three years.

This is on top of the FOC-for-life air tickets already granted to Joseph #hunksome Schooling and his parents. In fact, this offer is extended to all Asean medallists. No albatross bond like a Government scholarship, no need to make a shrine of AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes and kowtow to him every night.

That a Malaysian company would do this is admirable. What’s revealing is Singapore companies taking the initiative to do absolutely nothing. Sure, they bought lots of ad space in that picnic-mat newspaper, The Straits Times, to congratulate #hunksome Schooling on his gold medal. All that money, of course, could’ve gone towards sponsoring his training for Tokyo 2020.

But that’s exactly our point – it’s all in keeping with the spirit of #Let’emHaveIt. Give Malaysians the chance to be generous. All that money floating around the country has to land somewhere.

Plus, after all the hammering they’ve received the past year from the world’s press, God (or Allah) knows they needed the break. The proverbial silver (courtesy of their badminton player Lee Chong Wei) in the lining.

We’re sure Singapore companies, like SIA and even Jover Chew’s outfit, Mobile Air (or whatever he calls his company when he’s out of jail), have to bite their tongue, trying very hard to keep very still as they sit very tight on their bottom line. And without the bottom line keeping us grounded, our future would not have a leg up, as our history books in school always drum into us.

We can see this pay-it-forward strategy at work whenever the Government donates to humanitarian causes worldwide – a few hundred thousands here and there, for earthquake/typhoon/tsunami victims, and our conscience is immediately as clear as the sound system at the National Stadium.

Why so paltry, you may ask, when our reserves are more than $500 billion and require an elected gatekeeper, two keys and so many rules that not even the Ocean’s Eleven thieves can unlock?

Because a small country’s grace is finite. It must give an amount proportionate to its size. Otherwise, people may think we’re nouveau riche and showing off. We let the big powers that talk big take the lead.

As youths, we cannot help but be inspired by such generosity of spirit. And we plan to #payitforward. Come next week, we will be letting our friends take our exams for us.

See Gin Na

#Let’emHaveIt

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang. 

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This week, the Emeritus President of the fictitious Paranormal Singapore Investigators writes a letter warning of ghoulish connections between recent events. Read it with the lights on!

by Felix Cheong

DO NOT think that just because the Seventh Month is over, things are back to normal. Far from it.

In fact, word on the ground (to be exact, six feet underground) is that the Gates of Hell, like 24-hour phone banking hotlines, are still open.

This is why we, at the Paranormal Singapore Investigators (PSI), are offering your readers an accurate reading of recent events which the authorities may not admit to or are, at best, hazy about.

For a start, do you find it strange that Government mandarins would suddenly allow a Hokkien drama serial on Mediacorp’s Channel 8? After 37 years hell-bent on killing off dialects?

The title of the 10-episode serial, which kicked off yesterday (Sept 9), is a dead giveaway. Eat Already, or Jiat Ba Buay, is a nod to the Hungry Ghost Month (which supposedly ended on Aug 31) when all hell broke loose at night for inconspicuous consumption, much like Zika-carrying mosquitoes.

Our anonymous sources (who are dead sure and sure as hell dead) tell us this serial is actually part of a truce settlement between the G and afterlifers. The agreement involves airing value-added entertainment that goes beyond getai, which has become so commonplace you can even catch it next weekend at the F1.

In exchange, afterlifers say they will leave the living alone – until the next Seventh Month, of course.

You know the signal interference which bedevilled the Circle Line last week and, just as mysteriously, vanished? Do you know why experts couldn’t trace the source of the disruption?

That’s because the signals had come from our friends on the other side busily adjusting their TV frequency to catch Jiak Ba Buay. This had led to the interference, since Bishan sits right at the heart of the Circle Line.

And we all know what Bishan was famous for before it came to life as a HDB town.

You can also see this truce settlement happening, of all places, in Russia. There, strange sightings of topless women holding up speed limit signs have been reported the past week.

Ostensibly, they’re part of a road safety campaign to encourage male drivers to take a long, hard, penetrating look at their speedometer and slow down near accident-prone spots.

The truth: These are actually portal holes where afterlifers gather for a smoke when the heat gets too much in Hell. So the topless women are, in fact, the Russian Government’s way of providing titillating entertainment.

Different strokes for different folks, as they say.

In case your readers haven’t noticed, such paranormal activity has been happening with alarming frequency all over the world. (You haven’t watched Ghostbusters?) And governments that don’t play ball get the brunt of it.

For instance, Greenville, a town in South Carolina, has been spooked the past two weeks by sightings of menacing clowns who popped up in unexpected places. Think Reform Party (RP) candidates just before an election and you can understand the residents’ trepidation.

So far, no one knows who they are or what they want (the clowns, not RP candidates). All the sheriff’s office had to say was South Carolina law prohibits anyone over 18 from dressing up as a clown. (Which probably means this is one town which will not be voting for Donald Trump.)

You don’t have to believe us. But when things go bump in the night, who you gonna call?

Gui Han Tu

Emeritus President

Paranormal Singapore Investigators

 

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang

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by Felix Cheong

HEADMASTER Lee looks at his school.

“Too many pupils who are fools!

Too many pupils who are stools!

I do not think this at all cool.”

 

My school is new but rich.

My school is small but pitched.

Pupils must reserve their niche.

Pupils must deserve their smitch.

 

My school is not for everyone

My school is not the sun.

It does not shine on every son.

It does not shine for underdone.

 

I will make entry hard and nigh.

I will make it whiter than sky.

I will make sure you fly so high.

I do not have to ask you why.

 

So Headmaster Lee makes a door.

On second thought, he makes four.

Each is part of a greater more,

Each smaller than the one before.

 

To the pupils still in line,

He says in a voice refined:

“To enter, you dress to the nines

And open these doors of mine.”

 

The pupils do not like what they see.

They think this game rather silly.

“Since we pay and pay school fees,

Why can I not enter freely?”

 

Headmaster Lee shakes his head

Till it turns remarkably red.

“I will not repeat what I have said.

Follow or get out instead.”

 

So half the pupils leave the queue,

Knowing they do not meet the due.

Half of half take this as a cue.

To cheer the remaining few.

 

Six pupils make it past Door One,

Laughing like they had already won.

But Door Two puts one on the run.

People say he is the son of a gun.

 

Five pupils try for Door Three,

Holding their breath and some pee.

One leaks shamefully and flees:

“I cannot take this, no siree!”

 

Everyone waits for the last round,

The smallest door to be found.

Only four are left on the ground.

Only four are right and sound.

 

After too much push and cleave,

One squeezes through with a great heave.

The rest pack up their pet peeves

Reluctantly as they leave.

 

Before The Pupil gets the “Aye”,

A few people in the crowd cry:

“But he is not whiter than sky!

He is of the wrong colour dye!”

 

He does wear a tan to some degree,

Headmaster Lee has to agree.

The rules must not be bent to a tee

Just because he is Headmaster Lee.

 

So Headmaster Lee adds another door,

To those already done before.

He keeps adding doors galore

Till no pupil comes to the fore.

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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Starting this week, And on Saturday takes on a new format. Columnist Felix Cheong re-imagines news of the week as made-up Letters to the Editor. This week, we hear from See How Can, president of the fictitious Good Eyesight Association.

by Felix Cheong

GOOD eyesight, like political leaders with foresight, is no longer an option or an optical opinion. Increasingly, it’s the most important of our senses, bar none, except perhaps common sense.

This is why the Good Eyesight Association reads with concern that a 10-year-old boy in Malaysia was accidentally shot by his grandfather who mistook him for a monkey on Tuesday(Aug 30).

The boy suffered three shotgun wounds to his head and body. Thankfully, after an operation, he lives to take another shot at life.

Leaving aside the mystery of why a 79-year-old had a shotgun in his possession, or why he thought it was all right to take pot-shots at primates, we’d like to persuade your readers to the view that just because you can hit a target doesn’t mean it’s the right target.

As they say in America, guns don’t kill people. Poor eyesight does. If left untreated (cataract, retina tear etc), it could lead to unforeseen circumstances.

Such as marrying a woman old enough to be your mother.

This happened in Malaysia (again). An 18-year-old boy took a woman 24 years his senior as his beloved wife last Sunday(Aug 28).

The groom’s father was quoted by the press as saying: “They are mature enough to make their own decisions, including getting married.”

No one is disputing the couple is mature enough. The more important question: Were they clear-sighted enough? Yes, love may be blind, but have they been checked for myopia if they could actually see who they were tying the knot with? Or are they both long-sighted?

Here is another instance where good eyesight, coupled with common sense, affects every life-changing decision, such as picking sweet-and-sour pork at the economic rice stall when you actually wanted kung pao chicken.

Maybe it’s a localised problem across the Causeway, where optometry is a sunset trade. This is especially in the light of the 1MDB money trail which the public could well see but the government claims doesn’t exist.

It is not for us to ask who is right and who is left in the dark. Suffice to say we don’t want to interfere in the internal politics – and infernal politicking – of our neighbours, who joyously celebrated their 51st year of independence from Singapore on Wednesday (Aug 31).

And, in case your readers are not aware, good eyesight is also a prerequisite for avoiding viral infections, such as Zika. According to A New Straits Times report published on Tuesday (Aug 30), Johor health authorities have begun checking Singapore-registered vehicles for contraband mosquitoes.

“During my work visit just now,” said Johor Health and Environment Committee chairman Datuk Ayub Rahmat, “I asked a driver whether he has seen any worms or mosquitoes in his vehicle and he replied in the affirmative…even a vehicle which is left at home can have a mosquito trapped inside.”

This driver certainly exhibited all the admirable qualities of 6/6 vision – being able to spot insects and larvae while keeping his eyes on the road.

This is a phenomenon you have to see to believe. If you don’t believe us, come down to our office for a free check-up. It’s located at Aljunied Crescent.

See How Can

President, Good Eyesight Association

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang

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by Felix Cheong

THE moment the studio lights came on and the current affairs programme was back on air after a two-minute ad break, the three panellists scrambled to adjust their clothes and props. No one wanted to be caught on national television without their government-enforced muzzles. It was just not the “Singapore way”.

“Welcome back!” host Steven Lee announced brightly to the camera, though his voice wasn’t so clear through his muzzle. If you closed your eyes, you could just about imagine the super-villain Bane with a bad case of the sniffles.

To follow the flow of the discussion, you would have to rely on government-issued subtitles on the screen. There was no way you could lip-read, what with the speakers’ muzzles worn tight over their mouths.

Nonchalantly, Lee picked up one of the six Hello Kitty collectibles lined up like terracotta warriors on the table in front of him. The camera zoomed in for a close-up. They looked made-in-China, disposable-cheap but had, in fact, taken the production team a few months – and something like a small fortune – to acquire on eBay.

“If you’ve just joined us, our topic today: Why are Singaporeans perennially obsessed with this cat with no mouth?” Lee – or rather, his subtitles – continued as he turned to the guest on his right.

“You see,” said the academic with the big eyes, made bigger by her concave glasses, her voice also barely audible through her muzzle, “for the voiceless, this Hello Kitty cat defines us as a society. One people, one nation and no mouth. We’re reflected in it, by it, through it and with it…”

“That’s rubbish!” the MP sitting next to her cut in. Trained as he was in public speaking through the muzzle, his voice naturally boomed across the studio. Every word was governmentally enunciated and nagging-clear.

“Are you suggesting we suppress dissent? No one on this island has ever been put down or put out because of what he believes in.”

A wave of applause, nods of approval, erupted from the studio audience, every one of them a devotee of Hello Kitty.

The MP, now in the full stride of his rhetoric, clapped in unison. “Right or not?” he asked the audience rhetorically.

Another wave of applause followed. The silent majority had spoken. It was loud and muffled-clear.

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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By Felix Cheong

I.

WE CAN’T have Lord of the Rings in Singapore but we can have Lord of something else.
– President Tony Tan Keng Yam

Let us be a country of something else,
Roll a dice, that’s the number.
No big deal in anything particular,
And please, nothing peculiar.

We must be firm about this flimsy aim,
Not afraid of what we can’t name,
To overachieve that which whenever,
Goes the distance to wherever.

After fifty-one years, this is as clear as it gets,
The power of always not yet,
The same reasons of being too young,
Too slow or too quick up the rung.

So set the bureaucrats down to paper,
Let their starched minds scratch and wonder
How a small nation can lord it over,
If nothing else, excel in whatever.

II.

No, the story of a society is not in the luxury
It can afford or the things of finery.
Clothes maketh a man but do not drape a city.
Skyscrapers are no substitute for a country.

Look instead to our artists, writers, filmmakers,
Architects, designers, animators,
Musicians, singers, songwriters,
Gamers, athletes and mountaineers.

By their talent, on their own steam,
They find a way to weave the Singapore Dream
Into a narrative primed for the mainstream,
About our aspirations and what it all means.

It is about the wick of soul, lit into poetry,
The glow of our being and our possibilities,
Who we will grow into when our collective memory
Leads us into the next turn of our history.

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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by Felix Cheong

FIFTEEN years after the new PSLE scoring system had been tested, tried and tired out, it had not passed with flying colours. There was still no equitable way to measure merit without mangling meritocracy. Parents still haggled over points like bargains at a pasar malam. Letters were fired off to the press, the Prime Minister’s press secretary and the secretary of the press secretary.

Someone suggested height to separate students of equal ability. But it turned out to favour those from the upper middle-class who, of course, had better nutrition and were naturally taller. Others thought of allocating places in secondary schools alphabetically according to surname. But that meant schools like Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls School had low enrolment, for few citizens had surnames beginning with an R.

It was then the G decided a high EQ score was testable in the PSLE, a prerequisite for scholarships and a free pass into the civil service. Overnight, if not sooner, a cottage industry boomed and bloomed.

First came classes in makeshift shops.

“Equal to any IQ Test!” touted flyers from one enrichment centre, located in a mall barely detected by Google Maps. It boasted it would teach students memorisation skills in four areas in EQ, quaintly reduced to an acronym, ECKO: Empathy, Courtesy, Kindness and Obedience.

Before long, cheat sheets were available in the market, before the police uncovered it as a scam originating from China. Ex- and axed teachers huddled together to work out workbooks. There were simple exercises involving helping a person take his own selfie and letting a family member Instagram the dinner dishes before you tuck in.

But other questions were mind-benders. One such question ran the rounds of Facebook, leading to complaints that the EQ test was too hard: “Who would you offer your seat to if these four people board the train at the same time? 1. An old woman 2. An old man 3. A pregnant old woman 4. The Prime Minister.”

The worst part was, like Literature, which many students had dropped for the clarity of Math and Science subjects, there were no right or wrong answers. This was frustrating because surely, there was a right way to be kind and a wrong way to be courteous? And why, argued the opposition, was obedience even part of EQ?

It was obvious to anyone with eyes that everyone who had jumped into it blind was making a killing. It didn’t help that the Minister of Educated Guesses had remained coy about specifics. “You don’t have to study for it,” he said. “But don’t quote me on that.”

The rest of the population, though, didn’t take kindly to his evasiveness. Almost to a parent, they ranted on social media, at social gatherings and on social media during social gatherings.

“How can my son improve his EQ if he doesn’t know what’s being tested?” one mother posted on kiasuparents.com. Her comment drew two million ‘likes’, even all the way from Siberia. In the same forum, another mother exclaimed: “We’re migrating to Australia!” By the end of the month, close to 1,000 people renounced their citizenship.

The brain drain was so dire the Minister of Educated Guesses had to finally call for a press conference.

“It was a typo error,” he said. “It was always intended to be an IQ test, not EQ. The officer concerned has since been taken off duty.”

With that, the Minister announced his resignation. There was a collective sigh of relief. The familiar sound of frantic mugging returned to the country, as parents across the island quickly signed their children up for IQ tests.

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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by Felix Cheong

IT’S no offence under the Official Secrets Act to reveal that generals in Singapore have it good. Talent-spotted early, time-tested in the field, fast-marched to important positions. And then, of course, rappelled into politics or business.

Take your pick: From Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to Acting Education Minister Ng Chee Meng; from SMRT CEO Desmond Kuek to former NOL CEO Ng Yat Chung.

It’s a uniquely Singapore manoeuvre to maximise the small talent pool before the sun dries it out. Here are a few terms I’ve coined to describe this phenomenon.

General interest:

When the civil service mistakes your mugger demeanour for the aloof look of a general and expresses interest in awarding you a one-way ticket to the good life.

Sweeping generalisation:

When three or more colonels, including yourself, are promoted at the same time.

General public:

When you show your face (and your stars) in public once a year on SAF Day or during the National Day Parade.

General mood:

When people wonder aloud why a small country with a largely civilian army has more soldiers pinned with stars than chefs in a Michelin Guide.

General paper:

When the edict comes from upstairs of upstairs, telling you it’s time to put on your jogging shoes and run for elections.

General elections:

When you finally realise why you can’t simply win civilians over just by barking a few orders.

General assembly:

When you and your GRC teammates pose for a group photo for the press and you make sure to step, ever so gently, on the anchor minister’s coattail so he doesn’t need to launder it.

In general:

When you are the flavour of the month with the people and get wefie-ed left, right and under someone’s armpit.

Generally speaking:

When your mouth still hasn’t been extricated from army lingo and still blurts out words like ‘outflank’ and ‘kee chiu.

General knowledge:

When you know, and we know that you know, and you know that we know, what your salary is before and after leaving the army.

General terms:

The three to five terms of political office you need to serve before slow-marching into a corporate sunset.

General practitioner:

When you finally land a high-ranking position in a government-linked company and hentak kaki (marking time) there till retirement.

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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by Felix Cheong

HOW far would you go to catch ’em all?

How about $1.18 billion? That’s the sum Temasek Holdings is offering to catch all shares of SMRT which it doesn’t already own.

You can read our analysis here.

If the deal goes through – like so much water raining down on commuters on the East-West Line on Monday (July 18) – then SMRT will be delisted. Or, if you prefer Gwyneth Paltrow’s lingo, “conscious uncoupling”.

Which is just as well, since SGX computers of late have been stalling in their tracks. Not much action there anyway.

The glitches, though, are worrisome. Is it just me being paranoid, or are we heading for some kind of mechanical Armageddon? I don’t recall a time, not even pre-Y2K days, when a week doesn’t slip by without a breakdown or mishap making the news.

Go on, take your pick. Lifts groaning to sudden stops. Tipsy, toppling cranes. Sewage sprawling into new HDB flats. Walkway shelter put out of commission. And so on.

All these certainly don’t make me bullish at the prospect of the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur High Speed Rail.

The 350km line, due to open in 2026, will cut travel time between the two cities to 90 minutes.

This should be an interesting development. A joint venture between a country ranked eighth in last year’s Corruption Perception Index, and a country ranked 46 places lower?

Wow, all that money on the line? And meanwhile, investigators here are still following the 1MDB paper trail and trying to catch ’em all?

Well, as Thomas the Tank Engine might say: Good luck with all that.

Luck was also what an Indonesian man was riding on when he was arrested at the Jakarta airport last Saturday (July 16).

Hidden on him were, not drugs or contraband Pokemon balls, but, would you believe it, baby snakes. Yesssssir, 10 of them, count ’em all, stuffed into black cloth bags inside his trousers.

The incomparable Mae West would have said: Is that your pet or are you just glad to see me?

It was not revealed what this fellow was planning to do with the reptiles. Maybe reenact a scene from that Samuel L Jackson film, Snakes on a Plane (2006)? Or maybe they were delicacies meant for the Jamban Café in Semarang.

Yes, you heard it right. Jamban, or ‘toilet’ in Bahasa Indonesia. (If you can’t stomach the idea – spoiler ahead! – I’d suggest you stop reading here.)

Inside the café, you get to sit on upright toilets, slurping bakso soup served steaming hot in squat toilet bowls.

The very sight of meatballs, which you got to catch ’em all in a container meant for shit, should be enough to send you reaching for the puke bag. (Which is why I can’t throw up any more puns now.)

Owner Mr Budi Laksono, who used to work as a public health official, said he had set up the café to educate customers about sanitation.

Perhaps his quote was lost in translation. But what I think he actually meant was: “Test customers’ sanity”.

Sometimes, it doesn’t pay to catch ’em all.

 

Featured image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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by Felix Cheong

EACH time Mr Pioneer Goh tried to treat his wife to a good (read: expensive) dinner, she would wave it off as “no need” or “food go into stomach, all the same”. Or she might say, “So old, eat so well for what? I can’t bring it to heaven.” She refused to be pampered, come hell or birthday, anniversary be damned.

But for her 66th birthday, Mr Goh insisted on bringing her to an angmoh restaurant in town. One with a name that had more vowels than consonants and “recommended by an angmoh woman called Michelle some more”, he had proudly told her.

After all, “Michelle” was one of his favourite Beatles song. But it turned out to be an “alas” rather than atas affair.

First, there was nothing in the menu she could understand. All the food items had long names running into three lines, with every ingredient listed like her ‘O’ Level result slip. It wasn’t at all like what she knew at the zi char stall downstairs, where “fried rice” was just “fried rice” and not “Asian rice fried golden brown, with homemade diced roast pork and fresh Indonesian shrimps, topped with Malaysian shallots and spring onion”. Even saying that made her reach for another sip of water.

With the waitress hovering around like a fly – she must be Michelle – Mrs Goh looked to her husband for help. He was also busy not understanding the menu.

Five minutes was all it took for them to walk out. They trudged the length, breadth and height of the shopping centre, checking out every foreign restaurant till they came across one with a menu they could at least make sense of and, more importantly, pronounce without losing face.

They found it at last.

“From America leh!” Mrs Goh proudly exclaimed, even allowing her husband to snap a photo of her licking her fingers.

Mr Goh beamed, pleased with the birthday treat as they tucked into two KFC drumsticks each.

 

Featured Image by Guet Ghee Pang.

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