The PAP and the People – an old married couple?

In News Reports on July 6, 2015 at 6:30 am

Dr Ng Eng Hen, the People’s Action Party’s organising secretary has described the relationship between Singaporeans and the PAP as that of an “old married couple”.

Here’s the story:

Tan Ah Seng, 59, looked at the toilet roll. The wife has bought that deluxe, superior multi-ply roll again. He’s been telling her that a normal toilet roll will do but she insists on the top-grade, which costs three times more. And yet, she still complains about the allowance he gives her every month. He could hear the wife’s movements in the kitchen. He knows the drill, half boiled eggs and white bread again. It’s been the same breakfast for the 35 years. Same ole, same ole…

He flushed.

He opens the cupboard and puts on the usual corporate attire of white shirt and tailored pants. Time for work. He hopes the trains work today. Yesterday evening, he got an earful when he came home late because the wife couldn’t believe that Singapore’s trains break down. She wants him to get a car. When, or how, did she get that way, he wondered. Thirty five years ago, she was the ideal soul-mate, who agreed with him on everything, even to the point of sterilising herself because he thought they should stop at two.

He smiled.

Their two sons have done them proud, he thought, although he was regretful that they stopped at one kid each. As for the wife…

He hears her calling for him, and braces himself for another nagging session about her allowance. She thinks he’s keeping money away from her, forgetting that he was merely saving for their old age. In fact, he wants to downgrade to a studio apartment arguing that it was too big a place for them now that the boys have moved out, but she wants to continue living in the maisonette. That was the cause of another blazing row. He ended up sleeping in a hotel that night. When he came home in the morning, she seemed chastened. She even let him have two cups of kopi-o, instead of restricting him to one.

He sighed.

There she goes again, asking if they could get a live-in maid because she can’t cope with the housework. Doesn’t she realise that he is 59 and there’s that young punk looking to take over his job? He dips his bread into the egg, refusing to answer her.

“Old man, are you deaf? Why don’t you ever listen to me? Live with me for so long you take me for granted is it?’’

“Aiyoh, what you want me to do? I keep telling you we can move out if the house is too big for you! Why don’t YOU listen to me instead!’’

He took up the newspapers to read. He is internet-savvy but he thinks there are too many crazy people online. In fact, he thinks most of them should be sued. He wonders if the wife goes on the Internet while he’s at work. Is that why she is getting so cranky? These days, she doesn’t even call herself Mrs Tan. She goes by her maiden name. Why? Was she ashamed to be his wife?

He pursed his lips, smeared with egg yolk.

Okay, fair enough. He hasn’t been spending much time with her. He needs to re-capture that old intimacy. He remembered how her eyes lit up when he bought her a bouquet of roses the other day. The trouble is…roses die and that glow on her face only lasted while they lived. How to please her? My goodness, he thought, is their marriage in trouble? Not after all this time surely?

He shakes his head, continuing to read about the latest court case. This Roy Ngerng…very bad. The wife thinks he’s cute though. She likes how he is asking for CPF to be returned to the people, (“You should get your own money back,” she had told him!). And she doesn’t like the idea that he has to work till he’s 62. It doesn’t matter how many times he told her that he’d rather work as long as he can, even past 62, than stay stuck at home with her. (Of course, he never tells her that.)

The phone rings.

He hears her answer it and then…silence. This is happening too often, he thought. Is she seeing someone? Can’t be. She’s 55. Then again, younger men, including foreign men, have been known to prey on older women. Good thing the bank account is in his name then. He isn’t about to give her the second key. But who is that on the line??

He grits his teeth.

He would punch anyone who touches his wife. Let him try seducing her, he thought to himself. He’s looked after her for so long, attended to her every need, he was the breadwinner, the hardworking husband, the good father…how can she even think of someone else?

He calms down. It was unworthy of him to think this way. Their fates are tied. They’ve been through so much together; they have a shared history. No one can change that. Yup, they can’t revise history.

The wife returns, face aglow.

“Who was that?’’ he asks nonchalantly.

“Oh just someone from church…,’’ she replies.

“Who?’’ he asks.

“Janet lah,’’ she replies, looking away from him.

He took up his briefcase. All’s fine. The wife is going to play mah-jong and doesn’t want him to know. He decides not to kick up a fuss.

As he went out the door, she reminds him to get another roll of toilet paper, deluxe, superior, multi-ply.

He nods.

This article was first posted on The Middle Ground at

Yup. I’m writing there now in case you didn’t know


Feet planted firmly on the ground

In News Reports on June 11, 2015 at 11:44 pm

The Middle Ground – quite self-explanatory methinks. It’s the space between two extremes. It’s broad. It’s moderate. A space that isn’t about ranting or raving or shoving people to a point of view. So….it’s neither here nor there? I suppose the idea is to cover many viewpoints, but it doesn’t mean that TMG per se won’t take a position. That position will be based on this principle: We believe in the development of an active and accountable citizenry which needs to be equipped with more, not less, information to make decisions for themselves.

We live in an era of too much information. We are so overwhelmed with information and detail that we can’t tell what’s relevant or significant or what gems are hidden in the sand. I’m always frustrated by incomprehensible news reports. I grit my teeth at unanswered questions or worse, questions that were not even asked. I have always thought that if an information junkie like me, who reads news reports voraciously, can’t fathom the what and especially the why of developments deemed worthy of publicity, then how can most other people?

What is the significance and implications of, say, Medishield Life or China’s threatening noises in the South China Sea or Dr Mahathir’s diatribes on Malaysian PM Najib? Important news, boringly-written, makes the reader go “…again..same/old…same/ old….So why should I care?’’

I’m hoping TMG will be able to cut to the chase and yes, make important stories interesting. I have always maintained that news is exciting; it’s the journalist who made it boring. Hands up those who have been following the City Harvest trial. I confess that I’ve left off reading the reports although it is significant that a megachurch is in court and you wonder if followers in other churches and religious organisations have been similarly, allegedly, duped.

Capturing reader interest accounts for the many different story-telling styles that have emerged especially with the facility of online tools. Therefore, let me give you 10 things you need to know about the City Harvest trial… I’m sure people will appreciate this. But guess what? It means some other people would have to read through all the reports and come up with the 10 points. And you would have to trust those people to get the most important 10 points and not just give you a dumb list. You would also like it better if the 10 points were beautifully written, even funny. That sort of work, however, takes even more talent than long-form, boring but accurate writing.

So that’s one of the things The Middle Ground will do: make the news manageable enough for you to declare yourself at least halfway informed on most things, and fully informed on the critical stuff that we think you should know about. (Yes, it has to be “we think’’ because there must be selective curation and editing of stories or we’ll die typing).

Of course, there will be plenty of space for opinion. By that, I mean, informed views. TMG will have plenty, put forth in a way that hopefully doesn’t grate on too many nerves or sound too self-righteous. Tone is everything. A little wit and humour is good. You can pack a lot in a humorous or satirical line but you’ve got to hope that your readers are on the same wavelength…

If there’s one big section that will mark TMG as different from Breakfast Network, it will be the News-U-can-use section. Here’s where I should elaborate on the other meaning of The Middle Ground. It’s also about the needs of the middle income group of Singaporeans – working adults with school-going children and elderly parents to support. They need help to lead their lives, work at their careers, bring up children and take care of the elderly. These are busy people torn in several directions with varied responsibilities. TMG will try to keep them happy, healthy and wise…

I end here by telling you that I am NOT the prime mover of TMG. I had to be persuaded. Reason: I was torn between maintaining my current relaxed lifestyle and the lure of being in the hectic business of news, views and news-you-can-use. So nice to just be a blogger or even a “social influencer’’ and write what I want whenever I want. But it is not to be…

Tomorrow, you will be introduced to the prime mover of TMG.

I’m in the middle of something…

In News Reports on June 11, 2015 at 12:19 pm

I have been off blogging for a while because I have been thinking about how to do a new news/views website. I miss Breakfast Network – that pro bono passion project which almost became a business until bureaucracy got in the way.

I like blogging, I do. I like the ability to say anything about anything with no one standing over my shoulder. I like breaking out of the usual news report/column/long form styles that restrict journalists’ ability to play with the language. Content is king, but story-telling can take different forms.

Plus, as a blogger, I don’t always have to draw a line between news and views. I can get self-righteous and indignant and emo. It’s just my take. It’s personal! You can tell that I’ve never really cared about getting eyeballs. I use a free WordPress platform. I don’t ask for ads. I don’t even care about putting up a visual which I have been told time and again would increase the number of eyeballs to my blog.

I just want to write.

If blogging was more “professional’’, I would add links to sites so that you will have more information. I would even spell-check (!) and re-write my pieces.  Instead, I am sorry to say that most of what you read are first drafts – and I do wish sometimes that I had someone who can cast a second eye over my work. Every writer needs an editor.

But it isn’t journalism. It isn’t original content. It isn’t pure reportage. It isn’t neutral. Of course, you can argue that professional journalism isn’t “neutral’’ or “pure’’ either, as it is grounded in editorial directions, government policy, corporate interests and the narrative of the day as dictated by ….someone else?

So can blogging and journalism be combined? Can aspects of social media be “professionalised’’?

I think so. Some of the rules of journalism can and should be imported, especially attribution and verification. There is one other principle that online journalism should apply: putting things in context and giving perspective. Very few things are really “new’’ or “astounding’’, yet a rape case or an administrative blunder takes on the proportions of a Titanic disaster (even in MSM) when the truth is, not all women are rape victims and the administrative wheels do run very well most times.

But I think that sticking to pure reporting and pure commentary might be going the way of the dodo. Why? Because most people don’t want to read TWICE – and you’d be lucky that if people read one piece from start to end. So news and views (of others and even the writer) have to be married and the baby would have to be presented in the way that best catches the eye of the beholder.

Social media leads the reading pattern with its click-baits as “headlines’’….such as….I didn’t think I would go crazy until I read this…This is the most amazing thing you’ll ever see in your life…ecetera. Buzzfeed et al think that listicles are the way to go. Then there are sites which believe extremism works best – always get angry and make people angrier. There are also sites which think making a mountain out of a molehill is the way to go – as well as  repeating old news because they worked the last time …so why not again?

How does one even begin to conceptualise a news site then? The easiest way is to set it up as a foil. Just put it against MSM and make sure most of the angles and types of stories are different. Then tout the site as “alternative’’. Better still, as anti-establishment. Or as a useful addition to the parched MSM landscape.

Nothing wrong with it.

But then a person who wants to be fully-informed would have to read both mediums – and make up his or her own mind about what he or she feels about what they have read. Yes, feel. Most times, reading/watching is more about “feeling’’ than about being “enlightened’’. (Tip: Always make sure you end the piece well, rather than let it taper off….)

The other way is to curate or edit effectively, selecting topics of interest to the readership or alerting them to news that they will make them lead better lives. The trouble today is that we have too much news and too many facts – and we don’t know what to do with them. In fact, sometimes we’re so numbed by the news that we become indifferent to happenings elsewhere. A news organization should make sense of the news – especially what they mean.

So what is this new website going to offer? More Breakfast Network stuff? Actually, I have been describing it as Breakfast Network plus plus. The people behind it, which includes me, have decided to name it The Middle Ground. We start on Monday.

To be continued tomorrow…