You have to admit it, Crazy Rich Asians rule the roost in this second half of the year even as 2018 draws to a close. No, it is not about how Dolce & Gabbana manage to infuriate the Crazy Rich Asians clientele they are targeting with a racist advertisement* or the matrimonial union of the Ambani-s and Piramal-s** in a $100 million wedding which included a private concert by Beyonce and a guest list featuring notable Bollywood celebrities (3 Khans: Shah Rukh, Salman and Aamir) and Hillary Clinton. It is Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel-turned movie which was loosely based on his childhood in Singapore, that elevated the standing of Crazy Rich Asians. Crazy Rich Asians are indeed taking the world by storm, more on that later….
*You may have seen D&G’s caricature of the Asian populace in an ad campaign featuring an Asian model trying to eat Italian food (pizza, spaghetti, bread, etc) with a pair of chopsticks.
**Isha Ambani, the daughter of India’s richest man (Mr Mukesh Ambani with a net worth of $43 billion, Reliance conglomerate) tied the knot with Anand Piramal, the son of another tycoon (Mr Ajay Piramal with a net worth of $4.6 billion, Piramal Group)
We kick off the second half of the year with a $16 million staged show of diplomacy (#Trump-KimSummit) helmed by two repulsive head of states (one a Crazy Rich Asian, the other a megalomaniac). Meanwhile, there is heightened US-China trade war tensions while Turkey’s lira is in freefall. Elsewhere, the EU successfully averted a Greek tragedy as the bailout for Greece ended (if you recall their debt crisis in 2009). While one bailout ended, another started for Argentina, its economy now a halfway house between ruin and redemption (#$57 billion). Their South American counterpart is doing no better as hyper-inflation (83,000% in July, this is not a typo error) besets Venezuela. The bailout bridge laid over troubled waters certainly alleviated matters but a tangible one in Italy (#Genoa #MotorwayViaduct) turned into tragedy.
In the US of A, one President is waging war on Central American (Honduras) migrants while his citizens commemorated a former President (#GeorgeH.W.Bush) who started the war on Iraq. The contrast is clear, one is still respected, the other business-like as ever in keeping his border prim and proper. The recent string of exits of his appointment holders only served to illustrate his reign of obloquy. Maybe he should have taken a cue from Senator John McCain, the passing of this war hero who was honoured by his fellow countrymen. Meanwhile, Trump’s northern neighbour (#Canada)* became the first Western nation to legalise the sale and recreational use of marijuana while his Middle Eastern ally (Saudi Arabia) purportedly executed a brutal murder (#Khasoggi) in Turkey and stoked the flames on diplomatic tensions.
*Under new regulations, Canadians of at least 18 years old and above will be allowed to buy up to 20 grams of cannabis and grow up to 4 plants. This has also prompted soft drink makers (Ex: Constellation brands and Coca Cola) to express interest in developing cannabis-infused drinks
Over in Asia, Mother Nature has not been kind as Typhoon Mangkhut unleashed it’s wrath (#China #Hong Kong #Philippines), deadly quakes shook and stirred Sulawesi and Lombok (#Indonesia) while a killer heatwave engulfed Japan. The onslaught continued in Asia as a dam broke in Laos, inundating it with water while Sri Lanka’s parliament was plunged into a constitutional crisis after the President sacked the Prime Minister and warring factions ensued soon after. Yet, humanity amidst adversity was the central theme for Asia as the world was held spellbound by the perilous fate of a football team (#WildBoars) trapped in a submerged cave. Selfless individuals came forward, the aid came pouring in, the world rallied, the boys persevered and eventually the team beat the odds and survive to tell their tale.
The “wild boars” from the Land of Smiles became mini celebrities overnight from that mishap but our antipodean neighbour was blighted by man-made mischief. Australian strawberries were found tampered with pins-and-needles and the culprit has since been arrested. That malaise though was overshadowed by the revolving-door leadership of the country with Malcolm Turnbull ousted in a leadership coup and Scott Morrison ushered in as the nation’s sixth Prime Minister in just over a decade. The winds of change have blown across Australia’s parliament, so too in the sports arena. Francesco Molinari became the first Italian to win a Major, Tiger Woods announced his triumphant return by winning the PGA tour* and a resurgent Djokovic is in a rich vein of form**.
*Prior to winning the PGA tour, Tiger Woods was a 42-year-old man with 4 operations on his back and struggled to get out of bed unaided, he was ranked as low as world no. 1,199 in December 2017 and was without a win for 1,876 days.
**Djokovic has won Wimbledon, the US Open and the Shanghai Masters since he was dumped out of June’s French Open quarter-finals. Throughout this run, he had amassed 30 consecutive winning sets without dropping a single set.
Yet for all the glory and talents that sports bestow upon us, others brought it into disrepute….and no, I am not talking about Brooks Koepka’s tee shot at the Ryder Cup that blinded a spectator’s eye. But it was most probably a case of an eye for an eye for Khabib Nurmagomedov when he went off-piste and leaped out of the caged arena to trade blows with his opponent’s coach (#DaniDillon #ConorMcGregor) after winning the UFC lightweight title bout. Meanwhile, Roman Fenati’s* malice and possibly his motor-racing career was brought to an abrupt halt after he grabbed his rival’s brake lever at the San Marino Grand Prix while Belgian football is rife with match-fixing, fraud and money laundering.
*Roman Fenati’ was suspended by his country’s motorcycling federation, had his driving licence revoked and contract terminated.
While the aforementioned athletes and sports body engineered their own downfall, others tasted victory or created history. Former cricket player Imran Khan was elected as the Prime Minister of Pakistan while Didier Deschamps guided his fellow country men to football’s grand prize which had eluded them for two decades (winning it as a player in 1998 and as coach in 2018). It was a tournament where the Germans faltered, England almost thought “it’s coming home”, host Russia surprised the naysayers and Croatia survived the trials of extra time and penalty shootouts in the knockout rounds only to become second best to eventual champions France in an enthralling finals.
Deschamps may have brought France to the pinnacle of football, but it is the contributions by industry stalwarts that provided a lasting legacy. Stan Lee built Marvel’s universe of heroes and left us with many unforgettable characters (#Spiderman) while the Queen of Soul who brought the secular sweet spot between sultry R&B and explosive gospel music, died of pancreatic cancer. (#ArethaFranklin #Aged76). Sorrow was also heaped on the culinary world as it wept for Anthony Bourdain (#Suicide) and Joel Robuchon while condolences were offered for the founder of Kate Spade (#Suicide) and rapper XXXTentacion who was shot dead in a robbery. Those famous figures have since been laid to rest but we also had time to celebrate the blessed union of souls. The millenial stars have come of age as Nick Jonas wedded Chopra Priyanka while Hailey Baldwin said “Yes, I do” to Justin Bieber.
For others, a rethink of their careers is in progress as Chris Evans calls time on Captain America (he has turned to theatre and indie films), protagonist Rick Grimes (#AndrewLincoln) quits “The Walking Dead” after 9 long seasons while Jim Carrey is ditching the big screens and going back to the goggle box (#Kidding)*. Jim’s return to television may prove interesting but for Roseanne Barr**, she left under a cloud of controversy. The reboot of the show “Roseanne” which made her a household name and “working class domestic goddess” (a persona she built on the show) was cancelled after her bigotry rant on Twitter. Yet for two, their stars will burn bright as singer Lady Gaga made her acting debut in actor Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut for a film that screams Oscars material (#AStarIsBorn).
*Jim Carrey previously starred in the television series “Living in Colour” prior to his foray into movies. The show is credited for launching the careers of not just Jim Carrey, but also Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Lopez (she was one of the members of the show’s dance troupe).
**The show “Roseanne”(also named after her) ran from 1988 to 1997 and gained critical and popular acclaim. ABC did a reboot of the show this year (ran for one season, was about to embark on the second) and subsequently cancelled the show after the incident.
If Roseanne ever needed to boost her popularity, she can perhaps look to
Lil Miquela. “She” or rather it, is one of the 25 Most Influential People on the internet listed on Time magazine. This digital avatar’s synthetic version of beauty has truly blurred the lines between reality and fantasy, hawking wares from cosmetics to clothings. Sadly, despite the advances in tech, we are still susceptible to the First World problem of data breaches (#BritishAirways #CathayPacific #Marriot-Starwood). Facebook clearly illustrated its vulnerability with another bombshell disclosure, almost 50 million accounts might have been compromised, and this coming on the back of Cambridge Analytica.
Despite the setbacks, Facebook remains undeterred in its dedication to growth and expansion as it secured the rights to stream EPL matches for 3 seasons (2019 to 2022) in Asian countries while Disney is not sitting by as it prepares its streaming service (#DisneyPlus)*. Others like Amazon are going on an acquisition spree by buying online pharmacy PillPack as it muscles its way into the retail pharmaceutical sector while Michael Kors brought Versace into their fold. Spend to expand is by now the mantra as IBM bought software company Red Hat for US$34 billion in one of the biggest tech deals this year. Yet, the cash splashed by these business behemoths dwarf in comparison to Apple, which became the world’s first trillion-dollar company.
*A long overdue move given the huge library of content that Disney possesses. Do remember they also own the Star Wars franchise (bought from George Lucas for US$4 billion in 2012) and Marvel Entertainment (bought for US$4 billion in 2009).
Elsewhere, Bayer (German drugmaker and chemical company) and Monsanto (US agricultural giant) joined hands in a mega-merger worth US$66 billion. Others are going at each other’s throats as Fujifilm sues Xerox for US$1 billion in an aborted merger. It is not just M&As that are taking centre stage, IPOs are also sharing the limelight. Aston Martin, the British company whose cars are favoured by fictional spy James Bond, became the first British carmaker to do an IPO in decades with a reported £4.3 billion valuation. The stocks are equally hot in the East as China’s Meituan Dianping and hotpot chain Haidilao manage to raise US$4.2 billion and US$1 billion respectively on their debut in the Hong Kong stock exchange. A word of advice though: good things don’t always last. Just ask Sears*, once the biggest retailer in the US, now deserted by its shoppers as it filed for bankruptcy or Volkswagen, which will end the production of its iconic “beetle” cars in 2019.
*The 125-year-old retailer amassed more than US$10 billion in debt.
Despite all that has happened, I think this second half of the year belongs to Crazy Rich Asians. And no, I am not referring to the buyer of the parking space that was sold for $1 million in Hong Kong (#Kowloon-HoManTin district). Rather, I am pointing to the impending retirement announced by 2 Crazy Rich Asians; the Alibaba CEO (#JackMa) and the crooner with a storied 46-year showbiz career (#FeiYu-ching). There were other Crazy Rich Asians that hogged the headlines as well… There is the passing of a legendary novelist who towered over the genre of “wuxia” fiction (#LouisCha #JinYong #LegendofTheCondorHeroes), the J-pop icon (#NamieAmuro) that has quit showbiz and China’s movie darling (#FanBingBing) who was fined USD$129 million for tax evasion (she is lucky to escape a prison sentence or worse, the firing squad). She will be glad to know that Crazy Rich Asians like her already existed during the Qing Dynasty full of drama in the Story of Yanxi Palace.
Other Crazy Rich Asians did us proud as well…South Korean boyband “BTS”* made music history as they became the first K-pop group to top the US Billboard 100 chart. Japan’s newly crowned swimming sensation (#RikakoIkee) was in fine fettle as she became the first swimmer to win 6 gold medals at a single Asian Games and her compatriot (#NaomiOsaka**) in tennis defeated Serena Williams to become the first Japanese woman to win a Grand Slam event (#US Open). Yet Crazy Rich Asians sometimes cannot escape the curse of misfortune as Malaysian shuttler Lee Chiong Wei was diagnosed with nose cancer or the jaws of death when Leicester City’s Thai billionaire owner (#Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha) perished in a ball of flames (#HelicopterCrash).
*such is their clout that BTS were invited to address the UN General Assembly for the launch of a UNICEF youth campaign
**The winner(singles event) of the US Open 2018 takes home USD$3.8 million.
In the second half of 2018, Crazy Rich Asians also descended upon our shores. There is the veteran Hong Kong actor (#Benz Hui) who settled into Yishun while Jay Chou (another very Crazy Rich Asian) and his family were spotted at Sentosa and a bak ku teh eatery. No surprise given that Singapore can turn pee into drinking water (#Newater), landfills into a nature haven (#PulauSemakau) and even bus-stops fitted with $1,500 benches. Yes,… this country is “almost perfect” (as extolled by a v-logger in his 1-minute online videos). Oops I just did a “Nas Daily” there. It was almost perfect that the group of otters that call this place home were featured on National Geographic.
Just like the otters, I love this country because home is where the heart is…and probably where the koi fish tank is located; right on the stairs leading to your humble abode (#Tampines). Speaking of home, We fully embrace the acronyms (SERS, VERS, HIP, HIP2) being bandied about at the NDP rally. Despite the falling facades (#PasirRis #Bendemeer) in our residences, the government-sanctioned property cooling measures (Higher ABSD rates, Tighter LTV limits) or the stand-out BTO unit that might be an eyesore, this country proved to be so homely that Trump and Kim need not pay a single cent for the peace summit held here. Perhaps that could explain Kim’s toothy smile in that selfie taken with the Cabinet ministers.
The Trump-Kim Summit was one hell of a PR exercise but not all is hunky-dory on this almost perfect country (my apologies again). Obike exited the bike-sharing industry, but not before absconding with $10 million worth of users’ deposits (#PoliceReport). Public healthcare institutions came under scrutiny for a system that dispensed incorrect medication labels, contaminated milk formula (#KKH #NUH #Dumex) used at hospitals and the most massive data breach* ever in Singapore’s cyber security history. There was also consternation after a remark by a senior minister equated a “low” quantum ($500,000 and below) with mediocrity. Thankfully, Singaporeans must have heaved a collective sigh of relief as Heng Swee Keat is poised to be the next Prime Minister instead of Chan Chun Sing.
*personal data of 1.5 million patients
It’s not just institutions that have disappointed us, the nouveau riche on this island also have their fair share of transgressions. There was the fallen Singapore Idol (#HadyMirza) arrested for drug-related offences, the NUS professor (aka that well-known Maserati driver) fined for reckless driving, the Indian PR that desecrated the state flag (#DBS #AvijiDasPanaik) and the ex-town council manager who lavished ill-gotten gains on his mistress in China (as court proceedings showed). Even decades of friendship (20 years) is not spared, one ended as the acrimony* between Mediacorp artistes Hong Hui Fang and Pan Lingling made the headlines. Mothers and daughters were getting into mischief as well…Hour Glass co-founder (Jannie Chan) is in contempt of court** while daughter (Audrey Tay) was jailed for taking drugs (ketamine and methamphetamine abuse).
*For the gossip-mongers interested in the celebrity feud between these 2 aunties: Hong Hui Fang was peeved that Pan Lingling made denigrating remarks and cast aspersion on her son’s rumoured relationship with fellow actress Julie Tan (alleged promiscuity by Pan Lingling) at social events within the entertainment circle. At one stage, Julie’s mum threaten to sue Pan Lingling. But all is forgiven after Pan Lingling issued an apology.
**Jannie Chan (Hour Glass co-founder) is set for jail time after disobeying court orders to refrain from defaming her ex-husband
I tell you, crime doesn’t pay on this almost perfect island. Just ask the senior police officer who doubled as a secret society member or the hip robber decked out in a pink turban while robbing a pawnshop. We may have screamed bloody murder at Choa Chu Kang ITE but I feel safe knowing Batman prowls along our corridors in the shadows of the night to ensure our safety.
Not all heroes wear a cape though, we should embrace the unsung ones doing the extraordinary, saving our lives from daily mediocrity. There is the 43-year old Singapore mum (#BarbaraChng) who won the World Log and Deadlift Championship (Under-62.5kg category) in Gold Coast and the para-athlete (#TohWeiSoong) that grabbed a hat-trick of medals (2 gold and 1 bronze) at the Asian Para Games in Indonesia. From sports to politics, we also congratulated Yip Pin Xiu on becoming an NMP and hope she will speak out for Singaporeans.
The para-athletes are certainly role models that inspire but the rejection for Ben Davies’s* National Service deferment has put a damper on the football dreams of some. While Ben may not be a full-fledge Singaporean (borned to a Thai mum and an English dad), a purely Singaporean creation (#MrKiasu) will help us jog our memories. The comic book series and apt personification of our local trait is being re-released with a live-action movie installed for 2019. Mr Kiasu might be a household name for Singapore but Daryl Aiden Yow is making a bad name for himself by plagiarising works of other photographers and passing off stock/doctored images from the internet as his own. We do not condone Daryl’s stupidity but Lerine Yeo’s antics and S-hooks in her by-now famous live-stream video certainly tickled our funny bone. The black S-hook shirt was classic, the claims of being able to carry your cane, packet of wanton mee and EZ-link card on the shirt itself was creative albeit hilarious and the metaphor used for a woman’s genitals (aka “luncheon meat”)…simply out of this world…
*According to FIFA rules, he is eligible to play for Singapore by virtue of his citizenship, or Thailand national team by birthplace and heritage through his mum or the England national team by heritage through his father.
We may never look at luncheon meat the same way again because of that Ah Lian, but Zander Ng showed us how fusion food can be made using simple ingredients by becoming Singapore’s first Masterchef. The winner of the competition may have dreams of opening his own restaurant but the food & beverage industry is a cut-throat one, evident from the flurry of F&B outlets sprouting or already in the pipeline.
It is not the themed eateries (#MyMelodyCafe #MyLittlePonyRestaurant) that get me excited, some have already come and gone. Instead, we are salivating at an old haunt (#A&W) that is returning and the entry of popular foreign food joints like “Shake Shack” (USA) and “Tsui Wah” cha-chaan-teen (Hong Kong). Even the bubble tea craze is being resurrected here after having been given a saccharine spin (#TigerSugar #Taiwan). The incumbents in fast food are not idling by, they have duly re-invented their offerings…McDonald’s McFlurry is given a fruity twist (#DurianMcFlurry), Burger King’s “Teh Tarik pie” puts us in a bind (Do we drink it or eat it ?) and KFC is selling grilled chicken for the very first time. The temptation to overeat is omnipresent in all these gastronomical delights, but I would advise you to stay away from catered food (#Spize #TungLok #FoodTalks #MandarinOrchardHotel) altogether should you want to avoid gastroenteritis or worse, death.
Let’s ditch the bubble tea, fastfood and catered bento boxes, personally for me, the best comfort food has got to be from the hawkers. It is heartening to know that the country’s hawker culture will be nominated for inscription into UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. Yet, the people/party that wants the hawker culture to go the UNESCO route could be the very ones killing it. K. F. Seetoh’s exposé highlighted the exploitative practices of hawker centres run by social enterprises (#SEHCs #Koufu). The onerous contracts (yes, in black and white no less) dealt out to the hawkers included high rentals, coupled with a plethora of jaw-dropping ancillary costs (cleaning/coin changing/dishwashing/crockery/tray-returning) and heavy financial penalties imposed for early termination of stall tenure. It can’t get any much worse with NTUC Foodfare’s* acquisition of Kopitiam (80 outlets comprising 56 food courts, 21 coffeeshops, 3 hawker centres and 2 central kitchens).
*NTUC Foodfare is also another social enterprise that runs hawker centres
I don’t know about you, if most or all hawker centres are to turn into SEHCs in the future, we could be forced to eat luncheon meat (not Lerine’s touted ones) at home or worse, cook up a storm at the staircase landing (#Yishun #Murtabak). The controversial episode of the SEHCs certainly left a bitter aftertaste, but nothing could be as distasteful as the gaudy dress (#MissUniverseSingapore2018) on a svelte figure that screamed exploitation, reeked of imitation and triggered a myriad of memes. Be it bad taste or no taste, my desire on becoming a Crazy Rich Asian remains unabated and the ticket to my dream may lie in a 4D ticket vending machine at Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong temple (#Balestier). Meanwhile, I wish you a Happy New Year and a smooth 2019 ahead.