Thursday, December 30, 2010

From an in-your-face T-shirt to in-your-face North Korean antics

I want to devote this posting to the possibility of North Korea "going nuclear", as a report in today's Straits Times suggested (30 Dec, page A12, "N. Korea able to make a nuclear bomb a year").

But, first, I want to put up three "What I spotted" snippets.

The first is this guy's in-your-face T-shirt, spotted in West Mall today. It said, "I am your father". He was not a big fella, and maybe some big guy will whack him up. This expression, translated into Hokkien, is THE ultimate insult.

Secondly, I will want to highlight in a future posting some advertisements which either cleverly (and successfully) pun on the English language or abuse it. I have an example today of the latter. This big half-page ad by the developer of the new Junction 10 mall-cum-residential complex has this tag line: "380,000 Captive Residents and 380 SOHO apartments". The copywriter, trying to be clever, thought if one can talk about, say, a charismatic speaker's "captive audience", "captive residents" can work too (suggesting that the mall has a target reach of 380,000 residents of the area). Nope, such a phrase can have only its literal meaning, which makes this a silly ad.     

Thirdly, in a sports item in today's ST (page B11), there is this sentence: "There were worries that the [Malaysia-Indonesia match, played in Jakarta] would be marred by fan violence, but it went off incident-free as the Malaysian fans held their nerves in front of some 85,000 fanatical home supporters, including Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono."         

I am quite sure Mr Yudhoyono, aware that press cameras were near him, watched the match with suitable decorum! Writers should always watch out for such slip-ups. ST's own goal.     

Okay, my take on the current North Korean crisis? My commentary below (using my own original headline) was published in The Straits Times earlier this year but I would say it is still valid:
If North Korea rocks, should we miss a nuclear beat?
Location, location, location is the mantra of real estate agents, and of astute analysts who understand the role of geopolitics in so-called regional crises like the one occurring now in the Korean peninsula.
Nixon-era American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, in a commentary which drew on geopolitics and domestic politics, has argued that the Unites States and the other major powers cannot have their cake and eat it.
There is a price to pay in terms of proliferation if North Korea is accepted as a “de facto” nuclear power. On the other hand, defanging Pyongyang by diplomatic means is still a mission impossible, if only because key players like the US and China continue to have their own agendas.
I would like to add another element: rocket science, and how it impinges on the paradox of nuclear power for warfighting purposes.
Let me put it this way. Imagine that the discovery of nuclear energy ushers in its peaceful use. Many energy-related problems will have been solved, or mitigated. But mankind has no peaceful track record, you will say. Post-Hiroshima and Nagasaki, an attempt was indeed made to claw back the militarization of nuclear power and to set up an agency to oversee its peaceful use.
But, alas, the nuclear genie will not go back into the bottle.
The Cold War superpowers, albeit after some false starts, understood how nuclear deterrence at their strategic level worked, and came to realize that nuclear war across the spectrum – from its limited battlefield use to its escalation to “nuking” each other’s major cities – was unwinnable.
The US tolerated allies’ Britain and France’s nuclear emergence because they were allies! Britain wedded its nuclear doctrine to America’s, and France… well, the French people felt immensely proud that they were an independent nuclear power, even if in their hearts they knew its first use by Paris would mean the end of history for France.
What I loosely call “rocket science” has driven nuclear proliferation since. Simply put, the technical knowhow to weaponise nuclear power and to fashion the means to deliver it is unstoppable, short of political intervention.
China, Israel, India and Pakistan all became nuclear powers by means fair and foul.
For them, geopolitics and domestic politics were driving factors. And, as Dr Kissinger recently noted, so is the case with North Korea (and Iran, for that matter). So will be the case with regard to future “proliferants”.
What makes the North Korean bid to become a nuclear power state a subject of such intense pressure are the several ramifications.
First, if it goes nuclear whether de facto (implicitly accepted by the US and other major powers) or de jure (openly accepted), the other non-nuclear regional states – South Korea and Japan – will likely go nuclear too. Rocket science will enable that.
Secondly, as Dr Kissinger correctly noted, China will be surrounded by nuclear weapon states (Russia too of course), in a region which I shall refer to as a neighbourhood  in which “my friend today may be my enemy, and my friend’s enemy can become my friend".
All this will make Northeast Asia an unstable real estate. 
Thirdly, it seems improbable right now but a time may come when the US will simply say “a plague on all your houses” and simply walk away from this sizzling nuke-infested region.
Dr Kissinger suggests a concert of powers come about to stop Pyongyang from going nuclear, yet does not suggest that military action may be necessary.
But a concert of powers does not have a good record in history, and it will not work now, when rocket science is no longer an exclusive club’s preserve.
Having said all that, there is a glimmer of hope, not one to feel smug about though. It rests on that ancient Chinese saying: Be careful what you wish for.
A Northeast Asia, in which each regional state is armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons from dumb bombs to smart warheads, and deliverable by aircraft, missiles and submarines, will find them unusable for war purposes.
Nuclear war is unwinnable. That’s the paradox, and hopefully the world’s only mantra as it awaits North Korea’s next missile test or nuclear explosion.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Why so like that?

As the year ends, people start to compile lists. One website, the Texas-based Global Language Monitor, tracks new words that have entered the English language. Among its offerings this year are:

wikileaks (derived from the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks)... "information that is leaked into the public sphere from anonymous sources".

refudiate... this malapropism, from the mouth of Sarah Palin, is presumably a conflation of "refute" and "repudiate".

vuvuzela... that South African plastic horn with its ear-piercing sound that made its world debut at soccer's 2010 World Cup.

snowmageddon, snowpocalypse... no need to explain these. Just see the pictures of airports in the newspapers.

twenty-eleven... apparently, this is the preferred way to say 2011, not "two thousand eleven". Abuthen.

But, okay, now that we know these words came into vogue, so what? I'd much rather compile a list of words that we actually use daily, like "abuthen" above (for the Singlish phrase "ah, but then" or "it's so obvious, man!".

Some other Singlish terms I find useful are "chope", "can/can?", "cannot/why cannot?", "got or not?/got/don't have" "how?", "why so like that?" and "die, die, must...".

There is one (non-Singlish) expression I used to dislike: "It's complicated." But now I think it has its uses. Why? It's complicated.

Another meaningful compilation is "the most irritating words or phrases", because people who become aware that these words do irritate others, should stop their sloppy habit! Among the many such meaningless manglings are:

at the end of the day
going/moving forward
at this moment in time
with all due respect
to tell you the truth
whatever (said dismissively, usually with accompanying body language like roll of the eyes, hand gesture, etc)
you know (the double whammy would be "like, you know...")

and the one that takes the cake:
needless to say!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How to conduct an open appraisal report

This very funny one below was emailed to me by a university classmate...

The HR manager received the following appraisal report one day:

Bob Smith, my assistant programmer, can always be found

hard at work at his desk. He works independently, without

wasting company time talking to colleagues. Bob never

thinks twice about assisting fellow employees, and always

finishes given assignments on time. Often he takes extended

measures to complete his work, sometimes skipping coffee

breaks. Bob stands out as an individual who has absolutely no

vanity in spite of his high accomplishments and profound

knowledge in his field. I firmly believe that Bob can be

classed as an asset employee, the type which cannot be

dispensed with. Consequently, I duly recommend that Bob be

promoted at once to executive management. His current position will be

made redundant as soon as possible.


Later that day, the same HR manager received the following addendum:

That idiot was standing over my shoulder while I wrote the report
sent to you earlier today. Kindly re-read only the odd numbered lines.

Monday, December 27, 2010

An ERP joke, and more...

There is a lot of amusing or interesting locally and regionally-centric stuff out there and I have tried to include thematic ones in my postings. And although I took a little dig at some political leaders yesterday, I believe (I hope) no "OB" markers were crossed.

But there are those which I will be uncomfortable putting into print. These could be political, say, jokes about leaders that are in poor taste, or those that are risque to the point of being obscene. There's this very old one about the Malay prostitute and her ang moh customer but all I will let on here is that the Malay words "duit" (money) and "sakit" (painful) are integral to it.

Okay, what's here should be acceptable:

What do you call a father cow and a mother cow?
Cow peh cow boo (yes, you have to undertstand Hokkien for this).

What do you call a housing agent?
A rumah-monger ("rumah" is "house" in Malay).

A few here on car trivia...
What is Malaysia's most luxurious super-car?
The Lembu-ghini ("lembu" means "bull or cow").

Then there is this marque (brand) that unfortunately rhymes with "potong" (Malay for "to cut" or "to break up"). Likewise, there is this model (since superseded) that some wags articulate as "three into three". And there's this old one too...

Which is the car that any self-respecting Hokkien will never buy?
The Bluebird (I think this model too has been superseded. You have to say it in Hokkien to get the dig at it).

And did you know there is an MM (Malayan Motors) and an SM Motors?

Okay, political...
RAHMAN... an uncanny list -- in order too! -- of all the Malaysian prime ministers to date: Tengku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Datuk Hussein Onn, Tun Mahathir Mohamad, Datuk Seri Abdullah Badawi, and incumbent Tun Najib Razak.

NAIR... er, I'll pass on this one, but many Singaporeans will know about it.

PAP... unabashed wags (PAP smearers?) call it "Pay and Pay"
WP... "Why pay?"
SDP... "So Don't Pay!"
RP (Reform Party, new kid on the block)... "Refund please?"


Semen factory
You will come across examples in Indonesia (with 237.5 million people, it is the world's fourth most populous country. But seriously, "semen" means "cement" in Bahasa Indonesia).

From the shadows of my memory, I recall that the former Youngberg Hospital (located near Bidadari cemetery, it no longer exists) once had on its staff a Dr Coffin and a nurse Grave.

Last of all, I am told a Singapore Labour Minister (pre-PAP) upon assuming his post, asked to see a well-known hospital's Labour ward! I was told it was true, but still I have to be somewhat sceptical on this one.

[Footnote: Kandang Kerbau Hospital (now KK Women's and Children's Hospital) in the 1950s had the "distinction" of being mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records... for producing the most number of babies. And what is Singapore's birth rate now?]

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Political humour

This year is almost ended, and pundits expect the general election to be held in 2011, even as early as within the first quarter.

There will be serious and lighter moments during the hustings. This posting is dedicated to anecdotes, all made up of course, about political personalities here as well as overseas.

Back when John Major was Prime Minister of Britain and George HW Bush was President of the United States, the latter visited Britain. He was impressed with the orderly succession process in British party politics.

So, he asked Mr Major what was the procedure that got him selected as PM.

"Easy, old chap," Mr Major replied. "I was asked this riddle: 'He is my father's son but he is not my brother. Who is he?'. The answer, of course, is "me".

Impressed, Mr Bush went back to Washington. He wondered if Vice-President Dan Quayle was smart enough to succeed him. So, he asked him to solve the riddle.

Mr Quayle huddled with his advisers. All were equally puzzled. But one perked up and said: "The smartest man in America is Henry Kissinger. Ask him!"

So, Mr Quayle spoke to Dr Kissinger. Amused, Dr Kissinger chortled and said: "The answer is 'me'."

Mr Quayle reached President Bush on the phone and smugly declared: "I have the answer. It's Henry Kissinger!"

Mr Bush was disappointed. As he put down the phone, he said to himself: "Why didn't he get it? It's John Major!"

This next one is still an American-centric anecdote. President Bill Clinton is preparing to vacate the White House so that his successor, George W. Bush, can move in.

Bill was called away to an urgent meeting on the day of the familiarisation tour so Hilary alone took George and Laura to the various rooms.

That night, George told Laura he could not wait to be the White House's occupant. "Remember, when I asked to use the bathroom and Hilary pointed in a certain direction? Well, I walked on and opened the door to what I thought was a rather small bathroom. But it had a classy golden urinal!"

That same night, as Bill was about to fall asleep in bed, Hilary told him, "Keep calm, but this morning George peed into your beloved saxophone."

Back when Anwar Ibrahim was Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad took a holiday and made Anwar the Acting PM.

The next day, Anwar turned up at the office wearing a T-shirt advertising the brand "Boss" (for Hugo Boss). He wore T-shirts like this throughout his acting premiership.

When  Dr Mahathir returned, his aide told him about it. Dr Mahathir mulled over the matter and the next day, he turned up in a T-shirt emblazoned with the word: "Bossini".

Back when Mr Lee Kuan Yew was mulling over who would succeed him as Prime Minister, a minister plucked up his courage and knocked on the PM's door.

After he had posed The Question,  PM Lee -- slightly irritated -- said softly in Hokkien: "Tan. Tan."

Whereupon the minister rushed off to proclaim to his colleagues: "It's Tony Tan".

Another minister decided to verify this. He knocked on PM Lee's door and also asked The Question. This time, though, the PM -- really irritated by now -- shouted in English: "Go! Go!"

Whereupon the other minister went back and proclaimed: "No, it's Goh Chok
Tong, lah!"

["Tan. Tan" in Hokkien means "Wait. Wait". For the Mahathir joke, "Bossini" is a play on words, since "sini" means "here" in Malay. So, "Bossini" can be loosely taken to mean "I'm THE boss here".]

Last set... a series of awards.

To the Prime Minister, for culinary creativity. Someday, someone will come up with "Mee siam ai hum" (mee siam with cockles).]

To Mr Wong Kan Seng, for his wordsmith skills. Thanks to him (after Mas Selamat Kastari escaped and was suspected to have crossed the Johor Strait), a new term -- "improvised flotation device" entered the English language.

Finally, to Mr Lim Swee Say, for linguistic creativity. Thanks to him, we learned that being "good" is not good enough. We have to be "better, betterer, best".

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Khoo generational name

Two years ago, three days after Christmas -- sometime after midnight on 28 Dec 2008 at home -- I was hit by three bouts of massive rectal bleeding while (fortunately in, er, hindsight) in the bathroom. I of course lost a lot of blood (I required four packets of blood over two days).

Rushed by my wife to NUH's emergency department, I was later found to have diverticulosis.

The depiction in the link above from Wikipedia (although not a medical website) of the condition is pretty accurate. One reason why it happened is that in the process of getting older, one may develop pocket-like growths on the weakened colon's wall. Such a diverticular growth may burst. I was lucky as the bleeding was assessed to have stopped on its own by New Year's eve and I could be discharged from hospital on 1 Jan, 2009.

But 2008 was what I called my Year of Anus Horibilis, and I later mentioned it in a Straits Times commentary article, which I posted here on 1 Nov under the title "Coming down with literalitis".

I do not seem to have any further diverticular issues, and I was certainly in great spirit during an extended family dinner gathering this Christmas eve.

One topic of discussion last night was the Khoo family's generational name, which I touched on in my posting here on 21 Dec. We have a 10-name generational list, as follows:

1. Lin
2. Seng
3. Ghee
4. How
5. Teh
6. Thong
7. Kaw
8. Tong
9. Boon
10. Cheong

It is a repeating list, so "Lin" is listed first only notionally here.

Imagine, 10 generations later, there will be another "Khoo How whatever"! I should be so lucky... global warming or a nuclear war would probably have ended human life on earth before then. Or, since this is Christmas Day, I should posit that we Christians would have welcomed Christ's Second Coming.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

How did mistletoes come to be associated with Christmas?

It's a super-short posting today, with just this interesting link above to the (albeit Western) Yuletide tradition of hanging up mistletoes. A merry and blessed Christmas to everyone!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

An MRT train station that provides comic relief?

I had mentioned on Sunday that a possible train station name might be Pending Station (after the road of that name), which will be possibly confusing unless one is aware that in this case, "pending" is a Malay word, not the English word meaning "provisional" or "tentative".

On Monday (20 Dec), the editorial piece in The Straits Times ("Naming the past for the future") defended two other possible choices -- Kangkar and Kadaloor. Critics had noted these sites had no nearby street name or familiar feature in mind.

But ST said: "Let's not snub the Kangkars and the Kadaloors of the country's past. Kangkar, which means 'river mouth' in Teochew, used to be an area of fishing villages and plantations scattered along river banks before it became Sengkang.

"Similarly, Kadaloor means 'seaside town' in Tamil, a reference to the erstwhile characteristics of that particular part of Punggol. Such names, like Kreta Ayer from before, enrich the present by recalling the past."

I can see ST's point. But new residents of these places are unlikely to feel any emotional affect towards them.

Meanwhile, letter writer Thomas Lee Zhi Zhi (Today, 23 Dec, "An MRT station by any other name...") urged the Land Transport Authority to review the Chinese names of some existing stations, some of which, he said, "make no sense nor have any relation to their vicinity".

He continued: "One example would be Somerset station. The Chinese name 'shuo mei se" is a direct translation of the pronunciation but it has no meaning, literally translating into something like 'rope beauty stuffing". Another example, he said, is Dhoby Ghaut station -- "duo mei ge" or "many beautiful song".

Hmmm. Rope beauty stuffing? That's a good one... now, if it had been "rope beauty strutting" I can imagine a world first by Singapore: the first pole dancer to strut her stuff not on a pole but on a vertical rope. I think only one candidate can do that: Singapore's female magician "Magic Babe" Ning!

As for "many beautiful song" I dread to imagine "song" as a euphemism for what tour guides, once upon a time, when shepherding Singaporeans into coaches bound for the more remote holiday spots in, say, rural Malaysia or China, would lay down this rule: "If you need to si si (pee), please don't use the toilet on the coach [it will stink, and he or she ain't about to double as toilet cleaner]. Just say you want to 'sing song' and I will stop the bus somewhere, even if you have to use the bushes."

I don't think tour guides do that these days but I can't imagine Dhoby Ghaut station being the venue for melodious pee-oetry in motion. Just make sure there are no bushes around that station.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sibling ribaldry

Wow, it's almost Christmas. So, before I start the countdown to be good, I better "offload" some more naughty stuff from my closet. The items below were exchanged during sibling gatherings (hence the heading). They were, hopefully, not uttered within earshot of the young 'uns.

The first three are really vintage 60s/70s. Answers below at the end of this posting.

1. What's hot and throbbing and between the legs?
2. What's between the milk bar and the drive-in?
3. What has four balls and two nuts?

4. How can you tell which pencil practises safe sex?
5. How do you make sure both partners know it at once if there's a leak?
6. What did the slick lawyer tell the judge to get his client off a rape charge?

7. For this next one, your "victims" (make sure they are adults)  must not be given the chance to think too hard. First, get them to practise with innocent opposites, like "what's the opposite of black" (white) and "good" (bad). Then, hit them with: "What's the opposite of near-queen"?

8. They met at a bar and later went to his flat. But when she saw his manhood, the tattoo there had the word "AIDS". She wanted to leave at once. Wait a bit, he said. True enough, in full tilt, the tattoo now read "ADIDAS".

9. The old sailor, for old times' sake, visited the port area he frequented as a strapping young man. He ended up in the local cathouse and decided to have a go. "How am I doing?" he asked after some time. "Oh, about three knots," she answered. "Three knots?" he repeated, puzzled. "You are knot up to speed, you have knot dropped anchor, and you are knot getting your money back," she finally said.

10. The queen's husband, the president, and the prime minister were comparing their manhood (this one is Cold War vintage, so rivals and even allies were "hung up" about competing in every which way possible). Verdict: "God save the queen," admitted, in unison, the president and prime minister of the world's most powerful countries at the time.

11. If Haw Par and Lum Chang were to merge, what would be the resultant corporate name? 

12. What does "goldleaf" stand for?

1. A motorcycle
2. The navel
3. Peter, Paul and Mary (Generation X may be clueless here. PPM was a popular folk group of the late 60s/early 70s. I suppose an update here would be to use a current solo female/two males pop group.)
4. Use two condoms. Liberally rub in Tiger Balm between them before use.
5. The one with the rubber.
6. "Your honour, the evidence will not stand."

11. LamPar (if you don't understand Hokkien, get someone who does to help you on this one). 
12. Sorry, this one is so bad I can't bring myself to give the answer. I want my present from Santa! I'll start being good from this point, and for the next few postings, at least.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What's in a name (cont'd)

I'm not done with names yet. Also, I'll refer here only to names as spelled using the English alphabet.

Many Chinese names have three parts: the family name (Khoo in my case); the generational name (How); and the unique name (San). So, I'm Khoo How San, spelled the Wade-Giles way. The generational name allows "Khoo" cousins to identify each other. So, just as my own siblings are "Khoo How xxx", so are most of my father's brother's sons and daughters.

But this practice is not strictly followed. For reasons too complicated to discuss here, my eldest brother does not have "How" in the middle (but please note that this is not a Western-style middle name!).

Moreover, the Wade-Giles spelling simplicity is muddied by the Pinyin rendition. My name then becomes Qiu Xiaosan. My late paternal grandfather (or Ah Kong) chose my name. I'd like to think he has a sense of humour. My generational and unique names combined become "filial mountain". In Hokkien, there is seldom any confusion about that. But then, what on earth is a filial mountain!

It gets worse in Pinyin, because of the tonal issue (there are four tones in Mandarin). I have to explain that I am not a "small mountain". And if you mix Hokkien with Mandarin, I can even be a "crazy mountain". My Ah Kong must be laughing up there.

Meanwhile, Chinese names -- the product of 5,000 years of history -- get mangled in Anglo-dominated  countries. I lived in Australia for some years, and I was often called "Mr San" formally, and "Khoo" informally there. If the space on some form to be filled in was too tight, it had been suggested that I write down my name as "Khoo H. San" or even "Khoo San". Sigh.

Switching to "How San Khoo" fixed the surname problem but not that ang moh fixation with their darn middle name! The only, but unsatisfactory solution, was to name myself "How-San Khoo" or "Howsan Khoo". My Ah Kong must have been livid up there.

Some have caved in. The actor Chow Yuen Fatt found it easier to be called Chow Yun Fat in Hollywood. Names like Wang have not changed, but Wang is often pronounced as in "bang" instead of as in "rung".

Incidentally, many ang mohs cannot pronounce "Ng". Test it out. In fact. I believe there was once a building here called Ng Building and the owners changed it to something else so as not to trip up Anglo tongues.

Back to Australia. In the bad old days of the White Australia policy, one politician once declared "Two Wongs don't make a White". As they say, sticks and stones may break my bones, but names never hurt me.

Now, why did they call that famous man Confucius? It's confusing, sounds like a con job and does not sound Chinese!

Monday, December 20, 2010


Some years back, I wrote an article for the Today newspaper (4 Dec, 2003) on what may be called "confusibles". I'll update that piece here.

Many of these so-called confusible words are pairs that have almost similar spellings or sounds. Some are easy to sort out, because one can think of a mnemonic (memory or learning aid) to differentiate them.

In the pair "stalactite" and "stalagmite", think of the "c" as ceiling and the "g" as ground, and -- hey presto! -- a stalactite is the needle-like projection from the roof (ceiling) of a limestone cave while a stalagmite is the one that pokes upwards from the ground in such a cave.

Two other possibly tricky pairings are compliment/complement and stationery/stationary. To pay a compliment to someone is to say nice things to him or her, while complement is used to give the idea of something that completes or brings to perfection. Hence, a ship's complement is its entire crew while, say, someone with a good dress sense almost always gets his shirt and tie to complement each other (that rules me out).

Incidentally, compliments and complimentary have the additional meaning of "being free" or "without charge". Airlines usually have complimentary newspapers on longer-haul flights and the spa's coffee comes with the compliments of the management.   
As for stationery/stationary, think of the person selling the pens, books, etc. He or she is the stationer. Stationar will look awkward when spelled out.

Some confusibles are actually redundancies and may of course also confuse. So, we should say "noon” and “midnight” rather than “12 noon” and “12 midnight”. Aware of such a possible confusion, the civil defence folks always tell the public that its practice emergency siren will sound at 11.59am. Did you ever notice that?

Then there is a peculiarly Singaporean usage in which people claim they are not at work because it is their “off day”. I hope my dentist does not have an off day on the day I have an appointment to see him. A check with a good dictionary will show that when one has an off day, one does not seem to do things as well as one usually does.

So, I hope that my dentist will take a day off when he has an off day! That’s right. Many Singaporeans mean “day off” when they say “off day”. In many organisations, you get a day off in lieu of whatever. I suppose someone who is self-employed, such as my dentist, can have the luxury of simply deciding to take a day off and go fishing.

Some people say Singaporeans have no life because they work such long hours. There are "datelines" to meet. Moreover, the bosses are always "pressurizing" them to hand in the work assignment ahead of schedule.

Did you spot the two confusibles in the paragraph above?

The first is dateline. This is strictly the “international date line”, the imaginary line that goes from the North Pole to the South Pole, to the east of which the date is one day later than it is to the west. What most people mean in the paragraph cited above is deadline, which means a time or date by which something has to be completed.

My helping device for deadline is to imagine a spy being pursued by his enemies. If he makes it and crosses the border to his own country, he lives. If he is caught just as he reaches the boundary demarcation but is still technically on the enemy side, his pursuers can still shoot him dead – on the line, so to speak.

As for pressurize, I don’t see how your boss can do that to you. He can pressure you, that is, put pressure on you. In the process, you feel under pressure, or you come under pressure.

You don’t pressurize someone but you can pressurize something. Hence, you travel comfortably in the pressurized cabin of a jet aircraft, or you happily eat that tender chicken meat cooked in a pressurized cooker. In both cases, the air within is maintained, or has come under, controlled pressure.

I should add that some dictionaries do accept pressurize as synonymous with pressure when referring to people. But I feel that the distinction between them is worth keeping.

My final set of confusibles is disinterested/uninterested.

I seldom see the word “uninterested” in print. It’s as if people are not aware it exists. Instead, most people use “disinterested” when they mean the other word.

So, for example, one is likely to read about the children appearing disinterested as the teacher droned on and on. That’s not correct. The children appeared uninterested.

But when you are told a judge, say in a beauty contest, is a disinterested one, don’t despair. You will get a fair chance. Disinterested means the ability to judge a situation fairly because there is no concern with gaining any personal advantage from it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hey you, this one your grandfather's road or what?

I'll like to know who "How Sun" was, Singapore history-wise, that is.

After all, his name (I assume How Sun was a man) lives on in the Bartley/Upper Paya Lebar roads area. There's a How Sun Road, How Sun Avenue, Lorong How Sun, How Sun Drive, and How Sun Park (did I miss out any?).

So, if I want my grandchildren (none yet) to proclaim, "Ya, this one my grandfather's road," I will have to make a deed poll to change my given name from How San to How Sun.

On the other hand, I could emigrate to a Brisbane suburb in Queensland, Australia. There is already a toponym there named after me: Howsan Street. (When I was a postgraduate student living in Oz, I used the "Howsan Khoo" form of address to avoid being called "Mr San". I also still use "howsan" in, say, my emails.)

What other interesting place names are there here? Plenty, if we take some liberty with the interpretations. So, here's some of my samplers:

There's a ready-made place name for a certain elderly gentleman: Nathan Road. Instead of saying "Nay-den", just say "Nar-dern". QED.

Then there's one that, for the longest time, has been a "provisional" name: Pending Road. I don't know how long this pending status will remain, but a recent news report suggested that a future train station in the area may be called Pending MRT station. Imagine the possibilities: Pending Mall, Pending Apartments, etc.

Dessert lovers will be interested to learn that there's a Kallang Pudding Road. But, as far as I am aware of, no dessert stall here in the Little Red Dot sells this elusive concoction. But then, many years ago, when I was in Bandung, Indonesia, I walked towards a drinks stall and asked for a refreshing bandung drink (Carnation milk and rose syrup). The vendor gave me a piercing look that said "Sudah Gila" (gone mad). It's like the proverbial Hainanese chicken rice -- if you happen to be looking for it in Hainan, China.

How about Bras Basah Road? Have you seen piles of soaking wet brassieres strewn all around the road? And, er, women in a partial state of undress dodging the busy traffic in search of the ones that belonged to them? Ok, I jest. The Malay rendition is "beras basah," literally "wet padi" or ricefield, which the area was a long, long, time ago.

Similarly, Pending is a Malay word. But Kallang Pudding still beats me.

Now I'm getting started! Beach Road. Haha, show me the beach. Shouldn't it now be Old Beach Road? And give the place name to one that's really next to the beach in the new downtown area by the bay.

One Tree Hill? Hah! Mount Faber? Did those guys make a mountain out of a molehill? Meanwhile, our highest geographical feature is a modest Bukit Timah (Bukit means "hill" in Malay). At least Pearl's Hill is now apt; it was once Mount Stamford. Faber Hill, anyone? (Actually, part of the area there is referred to as Mount Faber Hill, but I'm not sure if that's helpful).

Going back in time. do my fellow baby boomers recall that there once was a Pulo Saigon Road (also known as Pulau Saigon Road)? It seems that one spot along the Singapore River near the Havelock/Mohamad Sultan roads vicinity did indeed have a teeny weeny island called Pulo Saigon!).

And, of course, we have our own Coney Island. No need to go to the famous one (no longer an island but a peninsula now) in Brooklyn, New York City. Ours is now better known as Pulau Serangoon.

A bit of tittle-tattle on "island". One of the (ultimately unsuccessful) bidders for the so-called integrated resort on Sentosa island wanted to name a proposed attraction there "Harry's Island". The older journalists in the newsroom guffawed while the newer ones were baffled at our amusement (Hint: Harry is the affectionate name only family members and very close friends call a very powerful man here.)

Some street names have disappeared, like Lorong Puspa in Pasir Panjang (where my late paternal grandparents lived) and Canal Road in Chinatown (where my older siblings grew up in). North Canal Road and South Canal Road still exist.

Did you know that when the authorities started changing the road name signage colour to the green one, Barker Road became Baker Road for a period of time? Pity, those were the days before cellphone cameras, so I never took any pictures. What you now see there is, of course, the correct name, Barker Road. Woof!
Back to Havelock Road. Singapore's most famous magnet for cat burglars, hence the exhortation not to skimp on door locks?

Busybodies' Central? Kay Poh Road.

Okay, these two are corny, but my point is that one can have fun with our place names, while learning more about our rich history. For instance, the area around Telok Ayer Street and South Bridge Road is probably the one unique place where a few mosques, a Chinese clan association, a Hindu temple and a Christian church -- all of them among the oldest in Singapore -- co-mingle.

So, now that the kids are having their long December break, get them to check out street names, let them absorb some of our history in a fun way, and let them dream up wacky interpretations.

Or pose questions like: What is the shortest street name here? The longest? For sure, none here can beat this Welsh one: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllllantysiliogogogoch.

What a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious name, that one!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Strangled? Or strangled to death?

I'll start today with that teaser yesterday about Mr Victor Pang, the 64-year-old trade unionist. He is reported by The Straits Times to have been born during the Japanese occupation of Singapore.

As we say in Singlish, how can?

The Japanese emperor went on radio on 15 Aug 1945 to declare Japan's surrender to the Allies, the formal surrender took place in Tokyo Bay on board the USS Missouri on 2 Sept 1945, and British troops re-entered Singapore and Malaya on 5 Sept 1945.

So, do your maths. Either Mr Pang's age is incorrectly reported or he was born after the Japanese occupation. A good journalist looks out for such discrepancies.

Moving on, good journalists avoid redundancies too. So when I saw a report in today's Straits Times ("US death row inmate executed with animal drug", 18 Dec, page A23) that used the phrase "strangled him to death", I deemed it a redundancy.

I had always thought that strangled is the act of choking to death. But an online check showed up differing views, and some of these are captured in this link:

I now accept that "strangled to death" is okay, if only for the sake of clarity.

My online check also threw up a link that described how one could fight off a strangler. Here it is:

The Internet is indeed a fascinating place. But once again, caveat emptor. I am sure no one will want to find himself or herself in that situation, and having to "test out" if the recommended survival tactic actually works!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Short but sharp(eyed)?

I'm back, from a short cruise with family members to Phuket, Thailand.

I'm one of those folks who must go through the newspapers that piled up, in my case since Monday (13 Dec). And that's what I have mostly been doing since I got back today, so this posting will be short, and touch on three interesting items in the papers.

First off is the word "boilerplate". It was spotted in today's Straits Times (17 Dec) page one lead, "India, China hail ties, sidestep thorny issues". One paragraph said, "Also missing in the communique, analysts noted, were the usual boilerplate references to India's continued commitment to a 'one-China' policy..."

A quick Wikipedia check had this explanation: Boilerplate is any text that is or can be reused in any new contexts or applications without being changed much from the original. So, in this case, it refers to "standard, pre-vetted or perfunctory" references. One should explore this word further, for its origin, other usages, etc.

Next, spotted in Wednesday's ST (15 Dec) is this time warp. The story "Veteran unionist grew up seeing riots in the 60s", on page A12, has these two introductory sentences: "Mr Victor Pang, 64, was the full-time general secretary of the Singapore Airport Terminal Services Workers' Union before he retired last month.

"He was born into poverty during the Japanese occupation."

I wonder how many people easily spotted the mistake? I'll come back to it tomorrow.

Last item: There is this story headlined "Drug for premature ejaculation approved" (ST, 17 Dec, page A7). No, there is nothing wrong with it. But I sometimes wish ST would be more tongue in cheek with such stories. I would pun on this one thus: "Drug for men's shortcomings approved".

Ok, groan if you must. Ciao, till my next posting.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Divine humour

Today being Sunday, the collection here may be titled "divine humour". My thanks to my brother Tee Chuan for sending the items to me.

Also, I will be taking a holiday break with my wife and some family members, and hope to resume blogging again on Friday night (Dec 17).

1. A church had problems with outsiders
parking in its carpark. So it put this sign up:

2. "No God - No Peace? Know God - Know Peace."

3. "Free Trip to heaven. Details Inside!"

4. "Try our Sundays. They are better than Baskin-Robbins."

5. "Searching for a new look? Have your faith lifted here!"

6. An ad for one Church has a picture of two hands holding stone tablets on
which the Ten Commandments are inscribed and a headline that reads:
"For fast, fast, fast relief, take two tablets."

7. When the restaurant next to a church put out a sign with big red
letters that said, "Open Sundays," the church reciprocated with its own
message: "We are open on Sundays, too."

8. "People are like tea bags - you have to put them in hot water before you
know how strong they are."

9. "Fight truth decay - study the Bible daily."

10. "How will you spend eternity - Smoking or Non-smoking?"

11. "Dusty Bibles lead to Dirty Lives"

12. "Come work for the Lord. The work is hard, the hours are long and the
pay is low. But the retirement benefits are out of this world."

13. "It is unlikely there'll be a reduction in the wages of sin."

14. "Do not wait for the hearse to take you to church."

15. "If you're headed in the wrong direction, God allows U-turns."

16. "If you don't like the way you were born, try being born again."

17. "Looking at the way some people live, they ought to obtain eternal
fire insurance soon."

18. "This is a ch_ _ ch. What is missing?" ----- (U R)

19. "In the dark? Follow the Son."

20. "Running low on faith? Step in for a fill-up."

21. "If you can't sleep, don't count sheep. Talk to the Shepherd."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Some red faces?

Wah lau, WikiLeaks has really made red faces in the little red dot.

The leaked diplomatic cables first had Mr Lee Kuan Yew sharing his views with a US official. On North Korea he said: "They are psychopathic types, with 'a flabby old chap' for a leader who prances around stadiums seeking adulation."

On China, he said it "would prefer a nuclear-armed North Korea than a North Korea that has collapsed because it sees the country as a buffer state".

And now, WikiLeaks has further revelations -- undiplomatic assessments by three senior Singaporean officials: Mr Tommy Koh, Mr Peter Ho, and Mr Bilahari Kausikan.

Mr Kausikan, in one leaked cable, reportedly said that ''the situation in neighbouring Malaysia is confused and dangerous'', with a ''distinct possibility of racial conflict'' that could see ethnic Chinese ''flee'' Malaysia and ''overwhelm'' Singapore.

''A lack of competent leadership is a real problem for Malaysia,'' he reportedly added, citing the need for Najib Razak - now Malaysia's Prime Minister - to ''prevail politically in order to avoid prosecution'' in connection with a 2006 murder investigation linked to one of Mr Najib Razak's aides.

''Najib Razak has his neck on the line in connection with a high-profile murder case.''

As for Mr Ho, he reportedly calls Mr Najib Razak an opportunist. "Although he has not been critical of Singapore, he will not hesitate to go in that direction if it is expedient for him to do so. Najib's political fortunes continue to be haunted by the … murder scandal,'' he allegedly said.

Mr Koh, meanwhile, reportedly describes Japan as "the big fat loser" as Sino-Asean ties improve. He refers to Japan's leaders thus: "stupidity, bad leadership, and lack of vision".

India, he allegedly said unflatteringly, was "half in, half out' of Asean".

And he reportedly said this too: ''I don't fear China. I don't fear being assimilated by China.''


A caveat: While the WikiLeaks revelations are now in the public domain, I agree with Singapore's MFA that the remarks must be seen in context, and that diplomats must ultimately be unhindered in carrying out their duties in confidence.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What are you... a man or a mouse? Squeak up! (The battle of the sexes, part 2)

Fridays are looooooong days at the office for me, so I come home bushed. It's easier to post stuff from my collection than to create original stuff.

The header above was something I had read long ago, likely from Reader's Digest or Movie News. But it's cute, and introduces the items below, sent at least a couple of years back by University of Singapore contemporary Lim Ah Swan.

Wife: What are you doing?
Husband: Nothing.
Wife: Nothing ....? You've been reading our marriage certificate for an hour!
Husband: I was looking for the expiry date.

Wife: Do you want dinner?
Husband: Sure! What are my choices?
Wife: Yes and no.

Wife: You always carry my photo in your wallet. Why?
Hubby: When there is a problem, no matter how impossible,I look at your picture, and the problem disappears.
Wife: You see how miraculous and powerful I am for you?
Hubby: Yes! I see your picture and ask myself what other problem can be greater than this one?

Girl: When we get married, I want to share all your worries, troubles and lighten your burden.
Boy: It's very kind of you, darling, but I don't have any worries or troubles.
Girl: Well that's because we aren't married yet!

Son: Mom, when I was on the bus with Dad this morning, he told me to give up my seat to a lady.
Mom: Well, you have done the right thing.
Son: But mom, I was sitting on daddy's lap.

A newly married man asked his wife:
"Would you have married me if my father hadn't left me a fortune?"
"Honey," the woman replied sweetly,
" I'd have married you, NO MATTER WHO LEFT YOU A FORTUNE!"

Girl to her boyfriend: One kiss and I'll be yours forever.
The guy replies: Thanks for the early warning.

A wife asked her husband: "What do you like most in me, my pretty face or my sexy body?"
He looked at her from head to toe and replied: "I like your sense of humour."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Move aside Mr Nobel, here comes Mr Confucius

Never rile China. It can one-up-manship you, or at least try to -- with hilarious effect, I would say.

The Nobel Committee, one will recall, infuriated the Beijing mandarins when it awarded its Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo whose crime, it seemed, was to call for political reforms in China.

The award ceremony is in Oslo, Norway, tomorrow (10 Dec). Not only has Mr Liu's wife been prevented from going there to receive the award on behalf of her husband, China has demanded that no other country should turn up for the ceremony. Or else! It has already frozen trade talks with Norway.

The Straits Times report (9 Dec, page A6) said 44 countries braved China's ire and will be in Oslo. They include India, Japan, South Korea, and Asean member Indonesia.

The stay-aways include Pakistan, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia, Iran, and Serbia. So far no surprises. But two Asean members -- Vietnam, famed for being fiercely independent towards China; and the Philippines, an ally of the United States (the presumed champion of democracy) -- decided to roll over and have their tummies tickled by Ah Loong (not Ah Long, ah).

What's interesting up to this point is: was Singapore invited by Norway (the criterion used was that invited countries were the ones with their embassy in Oslo)? I did a check and found that we have a consulate there, not an embassy. Whew! But what if we did have an embassy there? Hmmmm.

Also, neither The Straits Times nor Today (which also ran a similar story, 9 Dec, page 36) value-added their stories with mention of Singapore's attendance or non-attendance. Hmmmm again.

Okay, the hilarious part is coming...

China decided to stage its own peace prize -- the first Confucius Peace Prize. No kidding.

The organizing body, which said it was non-governmental but worked closely with China's Culture Ministry, drew up a list of prestigious candidates. They included: the US' Jimmy Carter and  Bill Gates, South Africa's Nelson Mandela, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, and the Panchen Lama, that is, the Lama appointed by Beijing.

The winner? Taiwan's former vice-president Lien Chan, from the ruling KMT party favoured by China.

Now, this is what The Straits Times report said next:

"An aide to Mr Lien, who declined to be named, told The Straits Times yesterday that Mr Lien's office had not been formally informed of the award.

"Taiwan media quoted Mr Ting Yuan-chao, spokesman for Mr Lien's office, as saying: 'We have never heard of it'."

ST's headline for this story was "China sets up its own peace prize". But mine would be: "Lien Chan: Me? Peace award? Show me the money first".

[Er, yes, got money, Mr Lien: 100,000 yuan (S$19,800). Mr Liu's Nobel prize is US$1.4 million (S$1.8 million)].

Postscript: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Watch out next for the Putin Peace Prize, the Kim Jong Il Peace Prize, the Road to Mandalay Peace Prize, etc. As we say in hokkien, wah piang!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lost in translation

Since I have already posted politically incorrect jokes (religious humour), the ones here leverage on racial or national stereotypes. Again, my apologies if any feathers are ruffled.

She's Unbearable
This first one can be "configured" for any nationality not known for fluency in English. The one I heard long ago involved a European man explaining to an American tourist why he and and his wife were childless.

My wife is impregnable.
(American is nonplussed)
I mean she is  inconceivable.
(American is still nonplussed)
What I want to say is that she is unbearable.
(American gets it and exclaims...)
"Ah, just like my wife!"

I was at my bank today; there was a short line. Just one lady in front of me, an Asian lady who was trying to exchange yen for dollars. It was obvious She was a little irritated.
She asked the teller, ‘Why it change? Yesterday, I get two hunat dolla fo yen. Today I only get hunat eighty? Why it change?’
The teller shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘Fluctuations.’
The Asian lady says, ‘Fluc you white people too!”

The Irish Millionaire.
 Mick, from Dublin , appeared on   'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,'  and towards the end of the programme,
 had already won 500,000 pounds.
"You've done very well so far," said Chris Tarrant, the show's presenter, "now, for a million pounds,  you've only got one life-line left to phone a friend.
Everything is riding on this question....  will you go for it?"
"Sure," said Mick. "I'll have a go!"
"Which of the following birds does NOT build its own nest?
 a) Sparrow
b) Thrush,
c) Magpie,
d) Cuckoo?"
"I haven't got a clue." said Mick,  ''so I'll use me last lifeline, and phone me friend Paddy back home in Dublin ."
 Mick called up his mate, and told him the circumstances and repeated the question to him.
 "Heck, Mick!" cried Paddy. "Dat's simple.... It's a cuckoo."
  "Are you sure?"
 "I'm totally sure."
  Mick hung up the phone and told Chris, "I'll go wit Cuckoo as me answer."
 "Is that your final answer?" asked Chris.
  "Dat it is, Sir."
 There was a long - long pause, and then the presenter screamed, "Cuckoo is the correct answer.
 "Mick. you've won 1 million pounds!!
 The next night, Mick invited Paddy to their local pub to buy him a drink.  "Tell me, Paddy.  How in Heaven's name did you know it was da Cuckoo that doesn't build its own nest?"
 "Sure. any e-jitt knows he lives in a clock!"

This one is local (I heard it a long, long time ago...)
Two Englishmen holidaying here walked into a kopitiam
"Two black coffees, please," said one.
Coffeeshop attendant repeats the order, "Kopi-O, noh."
"In that case, we'll have two teas, with condensed milk, please."
"Teh-see, noh."
Tourist to friend:"Let's get out, mate. They don't seem to serve hot beverages here!"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The "certified" paper chase in Singapore

In yesterday's posting, I used the word "suitability". It triggered a memory recall -- to the time when I had to submit a "suitability certificate", along with every other applicant, to enrol in the then University of Singapore.

The year was 1972. The tumultuous days of pro-communist student activism were long gone. But a suitability certificate was still deemed a requirement. I can't even remember what was required to be declared, or for that matter, who would declare anything to incriminate himself or herself. It's like the form a tourist  fills in when entering  the United States. One question goes something like this: "Have you ever engaged in terrorist activities?" Duh.

But, to be fair, all ***holes who create the pesky forms you and I have to fill are the same everywhere. They want to know EVERYTHING. They even require you to fill in the box "Sex" (why do they need to know how many times? Isn't that what they want to know for that box?)

In 1990, I had successfully secured a scholarship from a renowned American foundation to pursue a Master's degree at the Australian National University. My application to the ANU was successful too.

Then came a form with a demand -- that I needed to produce proof I could speak and write English! I had already become a mid-management journalist by then, with not a few published commentaries on the uses and abuses of the English language. I submitted one of them -- together with a commentary of mine on regional politics. After that, no further queries about my language proficiency followed.

But coming back to certificates, these define certain moments in our lives -- from birth to death (I will include documents like the driving licence).

Birth Certificate
Immunisation Certificate (proof that you had those jabs as a baby)
Kindergarten Graduation Certificate (baby boomers like me never went to such centres... did I miss anything?)
Primary School Leaving Cerificate
Secondary school leaving certificate... in my time, it was the Senior Cambridge School Certificate (now the O Levels)
Higher School Certificate (now the A Levels)

All these, just to reach the age when the guys have to serve their country while also chasing the girls . Of course, not all of the youth will do the HSC/A Levels. There are the vocational institute certificates, polytechnic certificates, etc. The middle class kids will have acquired pieces of paper for music, horse-riding, you name it, etc.

Most of the guys have one more certificate "hurdle" to clear --  the ROD certificate, issued to show proof one has done his NS stint -- before entering the workforce or university. ROD is "run out date" (there is probably a bureaucratic reason  for this odd term but it is apt: when we get our ROD certs, we can't wait to run out of the army camp gates). I think there is now a new term, ORD (Operationally Ready Date). Not so funny now, huh?

There was, in my time, the Suitabiilty Certificate (as mentioned above).

It gets  more complicated after this, and I'll just stick with the initials if they are the familiar ones.

BA, BA (Hons), BSc, BSc (Hons), MBBS. etc
MA, MA (Hons), MSc, MSc (Hons), etc
DipEd, etc
PhD, etc

Medical Certificate -- this one you will collect more than a handful in your lifetime. "Don't leave the office without it," if you need to go home on a workday (for whatever reason).
Driving licence.
COE certificate -- this one is uniquely Singaporean... to buy a car. Along with it come the ARF and PARF.

Marriage Certificate. After this, with the babies coming along, it starts all over again... birth certificate, etc.

The final piece of paper? The Death Certificate, and the end of the "paper chase". Amen.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Religious humour

I'm into "religious" humour today. The anecdotes here were collected over the years. My apologies if anyone is offended :-)

1. A Protestant, a Catholic, and a Jew were debating over the giving of tithes.

They decided they would use a fistful of coins to represent their tithing approach. The Protestant began. "I would draw a line a few feet away, and throw the coins towards it. Whatever coins land outside the line, they belong to God."

The Catholic said, "I would draw a circle around me, and throw the coins into the air. Any that land outside the circle belong to God."

The Jew said, "Why draw lines or circles? But I too would throw the coins into the air. Any that stay up belong to God."

2. A rabbi and a minister were seated next to each other on a plane. The comely stewardess approached and asked, "Would you gentlemen care for a drink?"

Without hesitation, the rabbi said, "Sure, I'll have a whisky on the rocks."

The minister was taken aback and proclaimed: "I would as soon commit adultery than to have a strong drink!"

To which the rabbi responded, again without hesitation: "Oh, there's a choice? In that case, I'm having what he's having."

3. A priest and a taxi driver ended up at the Pearly Gates. St Peter looked at his list and readily motioned the taxi driver through but furrowed his brow when it came to the priest. Worried, the latter said, "Why did that taxi driver get in so easily and you are still checking your list for me?"

St Peter said: "Ah, compared to you when you were in the pulpit, he has scared the hell out of so many more people when he was at the wheel!"

4. After getting all of Pope Benedict's luggage loaded into the Superlimo, (and he doesn't travel light), the driver notices the Pope is still standing on the curbside.

"Excuse me, Your Holiness," says the driver, "Would you please take your seat so we can leave?"

"Well, to tell you the truth," says the Pope, "they never let me drive at the Vatican when I was a cardinal, and I'd really like to drive today."

"I'm sorry, Your Holiness, but I cannot let you do that. I'd lose my job! What if something should happen?" protests the driver, wishing he'd never gone to work that morning.

"Who's going to tell?" says the Pope with a smile.

Reluctantly, the driver gets in the back as the Pope climbs in behind the wheel. The driver quickly regrets his decision when, after exiting the airport, the Pontiff floors it, accelerating the limo to 97 mph (Remember, the Pope is German.)

"Please slow down, Your Holiness!" pleads the worried driver, but the Pope keeps the pedal on the floor until they hear a police siren.

"Oh, dear God, I'm going to lose my licence and my job!" moans the driver.

The Pope pulls over and rolls down the window as the cop approaches, but the cop takes one look at him, goes back to his motorcycle, and gets on the radio.

"'I need to talk to the Chief," he says to the dispatcher. The Chief gets on the radio and the cop tells him that he's stopped a limo going at 97 mph.

"'So charge him," says the Chief.

"'I don't think we want to do that, he's really important," said the cop.

The Chief exclaimed, "All the more reason!"

"No, I mean really important," said the cop with a bit of persistence.

The Chief then asked, "Who do you have there, the mayor?"

Cop: "Bigger."

Chief: "The Governor?"

Cop: "Bigger."

Chief: "The President?"

Cop: "Bigger."

"'Well," said the Chief, "who is it?"

Cop: "I think it's God!"

The Chief is now angry. "What makes you think it's God?"

Cop: "His chauffeur is the Pope!"

5. Ali was excited as he rode his motorcyle to the airport. He was going to the haj! He found a secluded spot he thought would safe to leave his bike till he got back. Then he got on his flight.

But, on his return, the motorcycle had been stolen. Now he is known as "Haji no moto." [A note of explanation about this old and politically incorrect joke. A Muslim who returns from the pilgrimage to Mecca, or the haj, gets the honorific "haji". There is a brand of food seasoning called Ajinomoto.]

6. A religious order known for its strict adherence to the celibacy vow [remember my earlier anecdote on celibate vs celebrate?], decided to recruit new novices. Three young men turned up.

The chief monk got a belly dancer to test their suitability [that's a trigger word!... for me to blog another time on the infamous "suitability certificate" Singapore university applicants had to submit once upon a time, but I digress here...].

He also tied a little bell to the willy of each of the boys, who were called up one at a time.

When the first applicant came into the room, the dancer, cleavage and all, hip shaking sensuously too, approached him. In seconds, "tink, tink, tink" was heard.

"My son", admonished the monk, "go take a cold shower."

The second applicant stood out longer (pun intended). The dancer had to swirl around him before the sound of the bell was heard.

"Take a cold shower," the monk told him.

The third applicant was impassive no matter how hard the dancer swayed provocatively and as good as embraced him seductively.

After the monk sent her away, he praised the young man. "Well done, you are ready to join our order. It has been a long day and if you wish, you can join your brethren in the shower room."

At which point, "tink, tink, tink" could be heard.

7. The preacher, in his Sunday sermon, used "Forgive Your Enemies" as his subject.

After a long sermon, he asked how many were willing to forgive their

About half held up their hands.

Not satisfied, he harangued for another twenty minutes and repeated his

This time he received a response of eighty percent.

Still unsatisfied, he lectured for fifteen minutes and repeated his

With thoughts of Sunday dinner, all responded except one old gentleman in
the rear.

"Mr. Jones, are you not willing to forgive your enemies?"

"I don't have any."

"Mr. Jones, that is very unusual. How old are you?"


"Mr. Jones, please come down in front and tell the congregation how a man can live to be 86 and not have an enemy in the world."

The old man teetered down the aisle and slowly turned around. "It's easy. I outlived all of them."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Eat, drink & be merry, for tomorrow we will diet... 9 questions to ask a 'health nut'.

Q1: I've heard that cardiovascular exercise can prolong life. Is this true?
A: Your heart is only good for so many beats, and that's it... don't
waste them on exercise. Everything wears out eventually. Speeding up
your heart will not make you live longer; that's like saying you can
extend the life of your car by driving it faster. Want to live longer?
Take a nap.

Q2: Should I cut down on meat and eat more fruits and vegetables?
A: You must grasp logistical efficiencies. What does a cow eat? Hay and
corn. And what are these? Vegetables. So a steak is nothing more than an
efficient mechanism of delivering vegetables to your system. Need grain? Eat chicken. Beef is also a good source of field grass (green leafy vegetable).
And a pork chop can give you 100% of your recommended daily allowance of
vegetable products.

Q3: Should I reduce my alcohol intake?
A: No, not at all. Wine is made from fruit. Brandy is distilled wine,
tequila is made out of cactus, that means they take the water out of
the fruity bit so you get even more of the goodness that way. Beer is
also made out of grain. Bottoms up!

Q4: How can I calculate my body/fat ratio?
A: Well, if you have a body and you have body fat, your ratio is one to
one. If you have two bodies, your ratio is two to one, etc.

Q5: Aren't fried foods bad for you?
A: YOU'RE NOT LISTENING!!! Foods are fried these days in vegetable oil.
In fact, they're permeated in it. How could getting more vegetables be
bad for you?

Q6: Will sit-ups help prevent me from getting a little soft around the
A: Definitely not! When you exercise a muscle, it get! s bigger. You
should only be doing sit-ups if you want a bigger stomach.

Q7: Is chocolate bad for me?
A: Are you crazy? HELLO Cocoa beans--another vegetable!!! It's the best
feel-good food around!

Q8: Is swimming good for your figure?
A: If swimming is good for your figure, explain whales to me.

Q9: Is getting in-shape important for my lifestyle?
A: Hey! 'Round' is a shape!

Well, I hope this has cleared up any misconceptions you may have had
about food and diets!

[Disclaimer: If by Q9, you still don't think this is a spoof, you need to talk to a shrink, not a health 'nut'.]

Saturday, December 4, 2010

All at sea

I have an article in The Sunday Times (5 Dec) arguing that since the end of the Vietnam War, American aircraft carriers -- behemoths that are referred to as super-carriers -- have been an important deterrent to conflict erupting in East Asian flashpoints like the Taiwan Strait and the Korean peninsula.

The article is too long to post here.

But I want to use this space to retell an aircraft carrier joke that, in some versions, imply that the purported incident actually happened. My abridged version here goes like this:

An American aircraf't carrier captain is told by a crewman that a small vessel spotted on the radar screen is close by, and on a collision course with the 100,000-ton warship he is in command of.

He gets on the radio: "Captain of unidentified ship, please change course 7 degrees south to avert a collision."

Back comes the reply: "Sorry, no can do. Suggest you change course."

All puffed up, the captain shoots back: "This is Capt Hugh Ego of the US Navy. I am in command of the USS George Washington, a Nimitz-class super carrier. I say again, please change course 7 degrees south to avert a collision."

Back comes the same reply: "Sorry, no can do. Suggest you change course."

Captain: I am the captain of one of the most powerful warships in the US Navy. Who are you?"

Reply: "I am just a humble lighthouse keeper. And if you keep wasting our time, your big toy and my little lighthouse are going to disappear into the sea soon!"

What's intriguing about this tale is the air of authenticity conferred in some versions, as if the account is from a leaked official navy source, a la the current WikiLeaks saga. But the hyperlink above shows that this story is just an urban legend -- going back to a long time ago.

So, when you hear a joke that involves real people or situations, caveat emptor.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Most -un words are fun, except for the gun. The best is the pun...

These delightful gems were sent to me a while back by my good friend Kim Ann:

1. The roundest knight at King Arthur's round table was Sir Cumference. He acquired his size from too much pi.
2. I thought I saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian .
3. She was only a whisky maker, but he loved her still.
4. A rubber band pistol was confiscated from algebra class, because it was a weapon of math disruption.
5. The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.
6. No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.
7. A dog gave birth to puppies near the road and was cited for littering.
8. A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.
9. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.
10. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
11. A hole has been found in the nudist camp wall. The police are looking into it.
12. Atheism is a non-prophet organisation.
13. Two hats were hanging on a hat rack in the hallway. One hat said to the other: 'You stay here; I'll go on a head.'
14. I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.
15. A sign on the lawn at a drug rehab centre said: 'Keep off the Grass.'
16. A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital.  When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was, a nurse said 'No change yet.'
17. A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.
18. The man who survived mustard gas and pepper spray is now a seasoned veteran
19. A backward poet writes inverse.
20. In a democracy it's your vote that counts. In feudalism it's your count that votes.
21. When cannibals ate a missionary, they got a taste of religion.
22. Don't join dangerous cults: Practice safe sects!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi

Word of the day: Bridezilla.

It's such a cleverly contrived portmanteau word, from "bride" and "godzilla", and it means a difficult, unpleasant, perfectionist bride. Seems there's a serial on this idea on mio TV. Haha. I can think of a potential headline, "Bride's hate revisited".

But I want to use today's posting to highlight two things from today's papers (ST and Today).

First, I think my colleague Shefali Rekhi wrote a wonderful story of her interview with Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyu, "Democracy comes first, says Suu Kyi" (ST, 2 Dec 2010, page 1).

I am in awe of everything Ms Suu Kyi stands for, and I urge everyone to read the story. Here are excerpts:

Power to the people
"I am trying to instil the idea of the power of the powerless into them... and that they can use this power in the right way to make the changes that we want. I think, first of all, we have to make them understand that their power lies in unity. That it lies in their ability to communicate with each other and to be able to make their hopes and aspirations felt by (the authorities)."

The key goals
"The first goal, the primary goal, is to create this network of people working for the process of democratisation. Within that, of course, there are social goals, humanitarian goals, political goals, and we want to coordinate all these into one big positive force. The second goal, I think I will tell you when we are halfway through the first goal."

On being President or PM
"I do not think in those terms. What I aspire to is to establish a strong and lasting democratic system in Burma. I don't think it is important who is President if the democratic institutions are genuine and strong and in place. There will be presidents and presidents after that."

Duty before family
"I am not the only one who has put duty above family, and when you consider what has happened to other families who belong to the National League for Democracy [the party she led, since forced to disband] and other democratic forces, then I don't think I want to make a big issue out of whether ot not I suffered."

The other thing I want to post here is an excerpt from Thomas Friedman's recent New York Times article (reprinted in Today, 2 Dec, page 20) on a fake -- and I must emphasise here it is all made up -- Chinese Washington-based embassy cable "obtained" by WikiLeaks. I had, in an earlier posting, discussed many Americans' belief in their country's "exceptionalism" and Friedman, using the fake Chinese voice, critiques this notion beautifully, as follows:

"[Americans] travel abroad so rarely that they don't see how far they are falling behind. Which is why we at the embassy find it funny that Americans are now fighting over how 'exceptional' they are.

"On the front page of The Washington Post on Monday there was an article noting that Repulicans Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee are denouncing Obama for denying 'American exceptionalism'. The Americans have replaced working to be exceptional with talking about how exceptional they still are.

"They don't seem to understand that you can't declare yourself  'exceptional'; only others can bestow that adjective upon you."

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


With the WikiLeaks news all over the front pages, and with secret American diplomatic cables spewing out of the woodwork, I think a little spotlight on "diplomatese" is in order.

First off, I heard this a while back but can't recall who told it to me:

When a diplomat says "Yes", he means "Maybe".
When he says "Maybe," he means "No".
When he says "No," he's no diplomat.

When a lady says "No," she means "Maybe."
When she says "Maybe," she means "Yes."
When she says "Yes," she's no lady.

Next, I've always wondered what diplomats mean when they come out of a room after longdrawn negotiations over a tough issue and announce tersely to the press, "We had a fruitful discussion." I suspect their aides always make sure there are bowls of fruits strategically placed on the table. They say diplomats are paid to lie in the national interest, but the really good ones use the verbal sleigh of hand instead.

A nation's leaders are its top diplomats, especially its head of government and its foreign minister. Whatever one may feel about former Malaysian Premier Mahathir Mohamad, he is a class act. Long ago, in the early 1970s, when Vietnamese refugees fleeing the war there were arriving in boats in Malaysian waters, he reported said -- perhaps in jest -- but within earshot of the media, "Shoot them."

When queried by some in the press corps, he realised he was at risk of committing a blunder. But, with that trademark smile of his, he replied: "I  said 'shoo them'. "

Lastly, I hope the YouTube link above works. It's hilarious stuff. But, just in case, transcripts can be found if one Googles these key words -- "bush" "rice" "hu" "joke".