Singapore Talking a bit

I watched the ‘live’ panel show ‘Singapore Talking’ for the first time last night, and only because I was invited to be on the panel of guests.

It was also the last episode, and I got to see some things which, now when I think about it, isn’t surprising – the first half of the show is pre-recorded even though it’s a ‘live’ show, and several takes are done because some things which the host and the guests say may, in the producer’s opinion, have stepped on the virtual cowpat known as the OB marker.

All I know is, the retakes weren’t my fault. I didn’t mention anything about my mother’s tongue, any minister’s name and pay, or anyone’s race or religion.

Watered down or not, here’s Singapore’s some holds barred a little bit ‘live’ chat show:

Singapore Talking Season Finale

How do you say U-turn in your mother tongue?

The mother tongue was already a serious problem back in my day.

My father thought that since all I did was sit around at home watching Sesame Street in English and Ultraman in Malay (yes, Ultraman was dubbed in Malay), he’d send me and my brother to the best school in the land that taught in Chinese.

That the school also happened to have taught our country’s prime minister and his brother was also a consideration, and it was hoped that both of us would be imbued with the same Confucianist approach to study.

But it wasn’t to be. If I remember correctly, the school, wary of having it’s first student (me) ever to fail the PSLE CL1 (Chinese as a First Language) exam, changed its rules and created a special class of students (me) with special circumstances (nobody at home spoke Mandarin) and allowed me to take Chinese as a 2nd Language instead.

For the five years I was in that school, I was as deeply embarrassed as a seven to twelve year old could be about not being able to converse in his “mother tongue”, as I was often told.

I was left out of recess-time ping pong tournaments and after-school trips to Popular Bookstore and scored spectacularly badly in every CL1 assessment the Mandarin speaking teachers could throw at us.

It didn’t matter if I was extremely conversant in Hokkien (the language my mother and my nanny spoke), Hainanese (the language my father spoke), and Cantonese (the language my brother’s nanny, and therefore my brother, spoke). I was always going to fail.

So it was with great relief that I got into ACS for my secondary school years, and I promptly dropped Mandarin like a hot potato because it was deemed uncool to be good at it (the boy who scored A1 at ‘O’ Levels Prelim was stripped naked and had his undies flown up the flagpole).

There, I met life-long friends of a similar ilk, including my best friend, whom teachers (who are still alive) remember as the boy who, out of nervousness, spoke Cantonese during the CL2 oral exam and could not switch to Mandarin no matter how he tried.

It was only when I got to uni in Australia that I picked up a lot more Mandarin. At the legal centre where I worked, I was assigned a caseload of six clients from Mainland China because I was the only ethnic Chinese on board. It was daunting at first, and I was only able to pull off the work with the help of an interpreter.

It was also at this workplace that I discovered the biggest asset I have – the ability to understand enough Mandarin, and the ability to pretend that I don’t understand any Mandarin at all, in order to avoid further communication.

It’s worked wonders on trips to China and when Mandarin speaking taxi drivers start talking politics.

It’s even been a charm at home, and I’ve shirked many a filial duty, although I think Naomi’s mum, who’s Taiwanese, is starting to suspect something.

Pinkdot 2010

Yesterday evening we brought Kai with us to Hong Lim Park to help make a big pink dot in support of the country’s gay and lesbian community.

We didn’t actually get to be part of the human formation that was photographed, because Kai was busy practicing walking, his hands held by two of his favourite aunties.

But we were glad we attended. Because while this year’s Pink Dot “honours kinship and family – in support and recognition of… relatives and friends of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Singaporeans”, Naomi and I really want to thank our friends who’ve shown us so much love and affection all through our marriage and having Kai.

To anyone who has the misfortune of having been led to think that to support the rights of the LGBT community is tantamount to shunning family values should take a look at my brand new family – we are so loved by our friends – gay, straight or whatever.

Apart from a Godma, Kai has a “Butch Mama” and a “Fairy Godfather” among his many, many aunties and uncles who dote on him and his parents.

All I have to do is look at the basket of toys and dresser full of clothes that belong to Kai – the majority of them have been given by our LGBT superhero friends, who also come by and play with our son as often as work allows them. I can’t imagine our life without these friends of ours.

We are really grateful for the support, love and understanding that our gay and lesbian friends have given us in building our family. So, for us, Pink Dot is about recognizing you, for the roles you play in Kai’s, Naomi’s and my life.

Dear Law Minister

The only “signal” the State sends to anyone by maintaining and enforcing a mandatory death penalty is that killing people is justified as long as the purpose makes sense. In this case, the purpose is “sending the right signals to ‘drug barons’.”

Dude, “drug barons” do not care if their drug mules are hanged or let go after they’re caught.

My best friend and Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow on the big screen

When we were growing up, my best friend and I were always on the periphery.

We were middle of the road students in school, and amongst our peers, were the only ones who really, really didn’t know what to do with our future because it seemed the only versions of the future that were available were either the “approved professions” in law, medicine and engineering, or if you did badly enough at the exams, the “approved fall back careers” in the lower rungs of the civil service or some multinational corporation.

We never really got on with our peers when they spoke about “honours”, “first uppers” and other such like. (Although I was shortlisted for a PSC Scholarship, and became the first potential scholar to actually fail the ‘A’ Levels).

But this is not a story about me, because while I eventually did attend law school (and didn’t finish), my best friend was bold enough to say from the start, “I want to be an actor/singer/performer”, simply because he loved being all three, and he felt he was really good at all three.

He did get a full time gig as an “administrator” at a local, fledgling theatre company for $400 a month, sweeping the floors and cleaning the toilets when he didn’t have to rehearse for a play, I remember him telling me.

While I was at law school, he told me about his singing for free at Chaplin’s in Holland Village and other pubs, singing his heart out until his mother found out from a friend, and threatened to disown him if he continued his rock and roll lifestyle.

It wasn’t really that rock and roll, actually. One of the things this best friend of mine loved was and is still considered by many to be decidedly unfashionable – he loved Barry Manilow.

He can sing almost every Manilow song and accompany himself on the piano.

So when Manilow came and performed in Singapore in 1996, he was probably one of the first in line to get the tickets to his idol’s show.

A week out from the concert, one of the production people for Manilow’s concert who knew my friend and his love for the man who writes the songs that make the whole world sing calls and says he’s one of the production people for Barry Manilow’s concert.

My best friend says excitedly, “Wow! Don’t worry, I bought my ticket already, I don’t need a comp(limentary ticket).”

The production guy responds, “No, we’re wondering if you’d be keen to be one of his backup singers, because we’re short of one due to illness, and we know that you’d have no problem at such short notice”.

I was in Australia then, and that evening, I received a phone call from this best friend of mine which consisted of a lot of screaming about “I’m singing back up for Barry! I’m singing back up for Barry! Oh wait, I should stop yelling cos I should save my voice for singing back up for Barry!”

Of course, singing back up for Barry wasn’t the pinnacle of his career – this best friend of mine has of course gone on and become the veteran performer/director that everyone loves and respects.

More importantly for me, what he’s gone and done in the last two decades has been to pursue joy, and to demonstrate that when you pursue joy, success follows.

Thanks mate.


What does JOY means to you? Submit your photos together with a short blurb to the BMW Facebook page and exclusive BMW lifestyle merchandise will be given out to the Top 3 stories.

Date 5 & 6 May 2010 (Wed/Thur)
8 pm sharp: 3D projection begins
Venue Fountain Of Wealth at Suntec City, Towers 2 and 3

P.S. I’ve been privy to what the JOY 3D event is going to be, and it is… what’s the scientific term for it? FRIKKIN’ AWESOME!