Its 2018, there is snow in the Sahara desert, a blood moon that occurred once in a blue moon (#TotalLunarEclipse #30th/31st January) and Swaziland* has been renamed as Eswatini. Over at the White House, there is Fire and Fury as the bestselling book by Michael Wolff spilled the beans on the obnoxious behaviour of Donald Trump and his staff throughout his presidential stint. Meanwhile there was an auditory illusion (#laurel or yanny) that divided America and the world at large. But for Trump, only two names will be ringing in his ears constantly this year…Stormy Daniels (#pornstar) and Karen McDougal (#FormerPlayboyModel). He wouldn’t be too keen to hear their sordid affairs with him, complete with lurid details and salacious bits, unprotected sex included.
*Swaziland is a poor country and a former British colony with the highest rate of HIV infection in the world. It is also one of the world’s remaining monarchies, ruled by a man (King Mswati III) with 15 wives.
While Trump’s risque personal life unfolded in tabloids, it is his persona that will come under scrutiny as the mercurial President fired yet another underling (#RexTillerson #FormerSecretaryofState) and pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal that his predecessor initiated. He also fired the first salvo of a trade war against his country’s trade partners (#China #Japan #SouthKorea #Canada #Aluminium&Steel #SolarPanels&WashingMachines).
While the first shot of his protectionist stance (#AmericaFirst) may has been fired, domestically, 3 deadly shootouts* garnered repeated calls and gathered momentum for stricter gun control laws. Throw in a serial bomber into the mix and you could almost manufacture a Texas massacre (#TexasSerialBomber). I say banish the ammunition and explosives, forget the fire and fury, go for something tamer like poisoning an ex-spy instead. That sparked a diplomatic row and triggered a wave of tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats between Russia and the West.
*#Florida: MarjoryStonemanDouglasHighSchool #Texas: SanteFeHighSchool #California: YoutubeHQ
While there is fire, fury and poison in the West, graft and malaise plagued the East. President Xi wrote himself into the pantheons of “great” China leaders when he abolished the maximum 2-term presidency rule policy. (He has effectively made himself the modern day emperor of China until his death). While the megalomaniac perched himself on a pedestal, others have fallen from grace….Ex-President Park Geun Hye (#SouthKorea) was sentenced to 24 years in prison for corruption while reverence for Myanmar’s Aung Sun Suki as a female figure of democracy has eroded somewhat after Nobel laureates slammed her openly and publicly for not doing enough in the ongoing Rohingya crisis. Elsewhere, trouble is brewing in Abe’s second term as he refuted allegations of cronyism in a questionable land sale (#Japan #Corruption #FinanceMinistry #DocumentsTampering) and mayhem manifested across Indonesia in the form of suicide bombings and samurai sword-style attacks (#JamaahAnsharutDaulah #Terrorists #FamilySuicideBombers)
In other parts of Asia, Australia was rocked by tainted rock melons (#Listeria) while India is embroiled in the largest bank fraud in the country’s history (#US$1.8 billion #NiravModi). The melons may have caused a stir but rocky relations were on the mend as an isolated North made peaceful overtures to a capitalist South, including participation in the Winter Olympics and a peace talk at a truce village (#Panmunjon #27thApril). The path to reunification on the Korean peninsular may have been paved, but the passage to an exotic locale (#Boracay) is certainly closed until November. That apparently did not deter Malaysians from taking leave on 9th May….not for vacation, but to save their country. Thankfully, save their country they did as they sent a nonagenarian-led coalition (#Mahathir #Aged92 #PakatanHarapan) into Parliament, ending Barisan Nasional’s six-decade stranglehold.
Boracay may be closed for business, but others are looking at new avenues of revenue, funding and expansion. Kodak launched its own cryptocurrency, smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi is set to list on the Hong Kong stock exchange, Sony bought a controlling stake in EMI* and Louis Vuitton launches its first collection of fragrances** for men. The flurry of deals are encouraging signs but the US of A went against the grain by interrupting and subsequently halting an acquisition deal (#Broadcom #Qualcomm). The deal was cancelled for security reasons but in the case of fraud, it required a bailout as the China government ensured Anbang Insurance’s viability. (#ChinaGovernmentBailout). Others simply have had enough of the intricacies in commercial wheelings and dealings as Stanley Ho (aka “Godfather” of Macau casinos) and Li Ka Shing (richest man in Asia for decades) announced their retirement.
*The $2.3bn (£1.7bn) deal will make Sony the world’s biggest music publisher and EMI’s music catalogue include the likes of Pharrell Williams, Sam Smith, Drake, Pink, Kanye West.
**The last time Louis Vuitton launched a perfume range was way back in 1946. They have re-entered the perfume business since 2016.
While the Hongkong casino magnate and billionaire businessman may have taken a backseat with their retirement, Asia still stood out even among the competition. Chung Hyeon became the first South Korean to reach the Australian Open semi-finals while Ariya Jutanugarn is the first Thai golfer to win the US Open. Elsewhere, Yuki Kawauchi* outran the competition (including the African elites) and torrid weather (rain, blustery wind-16kmh and cold temperature-3 degree celsius) to become the first Japanese to win the Boston Marathon since 1987.
At times, a little help goes a long way in eliminating the competition….Eventual finalists Naomi Osaka (Yes, another athlete with Asian descent) and Daria Kasatkina held their heads high as they sent Maria Sharapova, Angelique Kerber, Venus Williams, Karolina Pliskova, Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki packing enroute to the Indian Wells finals. That’s a whopping six former No. 1s with 16 Grand Slam titles that the duo eliminated. (FYI, Naomi Osaka was the eventual winner).
*Yuki is not a professional athlete, has no corporate sponsorships, no coach or training group and he didn’t train full-time prior to winning the Boston Marathon.
While Asia brimmed with inspiration, the fountain of youth overflowed with promises. 16-year-old James Bowen became the youngest jockey to be paired with the oldest horse and won the Welsh Grand National*. Elsewhere, Chloe Kim became the youngest female snowboarder to win gold at the Winter Olympics (#Aged17).
However, do not write off the oldies yet as a creaking but age-defying Federer strained every sinew to win his 20th Grand Slam (Australian Open) and Tiger Woods is making a gradual comeback in the sport that used to be synonymous with him (#2018Masters #ValsparChampionship). Even ex-athletes should not be discounted because you can teach an old dog new tricks…Retired runner and still the fastest man Usain Bolt is hopefully on his way to becoming a footballer while a former footballer (#GeorgeWeah #AC Milan) became the President of Liberia. Even ex-basketball star Kobe Bryant got into the act by winning an Oscar for an animated short film
*Raz De Maree(horse) became the oldest winner of the race for the first time in 90 years while Bowen is the race’s youngest winning rider.
The ex-athletes reminded us that their relationship with sports and the world at large still remain. Others (#ArseneWenger #Arsenal) ended their dalliance with the club they revolutionized and an increasingly brittle relationship after 21 years at the helm (considered an eternity in modern-day football). Wenger is undeniably the epitome of longevity in sports but others were taken from the prime of their life. *Italian football wept for Davide Astori (#Aged34 #SerieA #Fiorentina) while Belgian rider Michael Goolaerts (#Aged23) died in competing at the Paris-Roubaix race. The two athletes will be remembered by their respective sporting fraternities but some will try hard to forget their nightmares….Australian cricket was hit by a ball-tampering scandal (#SteveSmith<captain> #DavidWarner<vice-captain> #Banned12months) while Conor Mcgregor and his teammates were charged with assault and criminal mischief for attacking their rival’s team bus (#MMA #UFC).
*Both athletes died of cardiac complications (#HeartAttack).
While Mcgregor may have abominated his fellow competitors, arch-rivals (#Intel #AMD) in the tech world bedded together by marrying their chips and GPU in an unprecedented union*. Others like Apple are going solo in their quest for world domination as they confirmed plans of creating their own processor chips (#ByeByeIntel #Year2020). Apple may be planning for the future, but the return of an artefact (#Nokia8110 #BananaPhone #MobileWorldCongress2018) from the past made us ruminate our cellular origins.
That phone certainly hark back to the days of yore before there was even Facebook. Yet it was the past that came back to haunt the world’s biggest social media giant as a whistle-blower blew the lid off the Cambridge Analytica scandal (#Users’DataHijacked #87-million-accounts). The inquisition on the data hijack might be still ongoing, but that has not deterred them from going into the online dating business on their platform (Watch out, Tinder !).
*In industry parlance, you can imagine it is akin to Apple and Google coming together to launch a mobilephone or Singtel and M1 offering joint mobile plans.
The scandal might have caused a huge dent to Mark Zuckerberg’s reputation but it is the momentum of the #MeToo movement that has sullied the good name of many. It has outed more transgressions from actors (#KevinSpacey), comedians (#Louis C.K #BillCosby*) to hip-hop mogul (#RussellSimmons) to celebrity chefs (#MarioBatali) and even high-flying legal aces (#EricSchneiderman #NewYorkAttorneyGeneral #Resignation). You might now question: “Where is the conscience of these perpetrators?” Francis McDormand had not only conscience but also tenacity (#ThreeBillboardsOutsideEbbing #AcademyAwardForBestActress #Oscars2018) even though she momentarily lost her Oscar statuette in the process*.
*Bill Cosby was convicted on three counts of sexual assault in April and is awaiting sentencing.
*She eventually recovered her Oscar statuette after it was stolen briefly at the awards ceremony after-party. The thief was apprehended at the same venue after he streamed himself holding the statuette on Facebook.
While the actress did find her statuette eventually, Thanos united Marvel heroes (#Avengers #GuardiansOfTheGalaxy #BlackPanther #DrStrange) in the search for the infinity stones in a colossal blockbuster film. Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg rediscovered his movie magic as his nostalgia-soaked science fiction adventure film (#ReadyPlayerOne); littered with pop cultural references from the 70’s to 90’s, was well received by critics and global audience alike. While Spielberg got back his mojo, Kendrick Lamar found his groove as he became the first rapper ever to win a Pulitzer Prize*.
*Interestingly, the album that won him the Pulitzer is named “Damn”
Lamar may have been an inspiration to his peers in the music industry, but Stephen Hawkings not only had a career that inspired many but was also fondly remembered for broadening our horizons to space and beyond (#Physicist #Visionary #Aged76 #RIP). The world also paid glowing tributes to others who have paid their dues in their careers including Dolores O’Riordan (#Cranberries), DJ Avicii (#TomBerling #Suicide), Seridevi (#Bollywood) and fashion doyen Hubert Givenchy after they knocked on Heaven’s door.
As mentioned at the beginning, freaky weather and strange phenomenon are prevalent in the world at large in 2018. Our island similarly weathered bizarre weather patterns in more ways than one. There were storms that battered and flattened some farms (#LimChuKang), flash floods in the eastern part of Singapore (#8thJanuary #BedokNorthAvenue4 #carpooling), hail in some neighbourhoods, and that unexpected cold spell in January. Its not Game of Thrones, but winter has come and it did came, albeit for a brief moment.
I know, it could be the effects of global warming but trust me, we doing our darndest to save the environment. The idea of supermarkets charging for plastic bags had already been mooted, Koufu at SMU is the first foodcourt to do away with plastic straws and the 8-days and i-weekly magazines (#Mediacorp) will go paperless from October onwards. These green initiatives may be music to one’s ears, but for others, it can be a bruising and traumatic encounter (#Pre-school #PoliceInvestigation).
We certainly deserve some praise for going green but others are undoing the good for all the wrong reasons. There was the divisive textbook (#Non-MOEapproved #HighSES-LowSES) that segregated us into social classes, a greedy town council manager (#AngMoKioTownCouncil #Arrested&Charged), a government-linked organization tainted with corruption (#KeppelOffshore&Marine #Petrobas #SeteBrasil), and those who evaded GST altogether.
The bad behaviour spilled into the political sphere when the bullies came out in full force, hounding an opposition MP for an apology over a purported “trial balloon” (#SylviaLim #GraceFu #HengSweeKiat #KShanmugan). The MPs are certainly getting out of hand because one (#TanWuMeng #JurongGRC) was assaulted at a MPS (Meet-The-People) session while another (#LouisLim) cosplayed as a cardboard collector…that I can assure you is not a senior citizen exercising (#Pun-TanChuanJin). Others have simply shifted their priorities in queuing altogether (#BukitBatokSMC #PriorityQueueForPRs? #Murali).
Not only is there bad behaviour, misbehaviour also pervaded in the Garden of Eden. Don’t worry, Adam and Eve are perfectly fine, I am referring to Singapore’s very own #MeToo movement complete with racy details and raunchy narration (#EdenAng<Youtubber>* #AllegedSexualHarassment #Lilith #NicoletteLim #MelissaFaithYeo #NaomiTindall #PoliceInvestigation).
Not only is the holy nature of the biblical place debased, our local sporting arena also experienced its #MeToo moment as sporting coaches were jailed for sexual offences committed against their trainees. On the topic of local sports, it has been a humdrum year so far because Martina Veloso was the golden girl in an otherwise largely disappointing Commonwealth Games while Sundram called it quits as Lion’s coach. Much remains to be seen as a rebranding of the S-league (#SingaporePremierLeague) aim to lift our domestic league out of the doldrums.
*He is a “youtub-ber”, or you may be more familiar with him playing Michael on channel 5’s long-form drama “Tanglin”. His role on the show has since been replaced by another actor.
While the rescue operation is underway for the local soccer scene, resuscitation is futile for others. There were the conscripts who paid for National Service with their dear lives, prompting more questions than answers in the aftermath (#PrivateDaveLee #SAF #1stGuardsBattalion #HeatStroke #AllegationsOfMaltreatment #CPL KokYuenChing #SCDF #Hazing #Drowned #ArrestMade). There was also the ailing tropics-borned polar bear that had to be put out of her misery due to old age and sickness, but many felt the company attempting to profit from its demise should have been the one euthanized instead (#Inuka #SingaporeZoologicalGardens #Iuiga). Not only was Inuka’s misery put out, the local broadcaster also ended a veteran’s (#Jin Yingji) grievances by bestowing her a Top 10 Most Popular Female artiste award after a career spanning 30 long years.
While the controvertible deaths cast a pall over National Service, it is heartwarming to witness the actress finally receiving due recognition for her contributions. We also envisage more good things to come particularly with the leadership renewal of Workers’ Party (#PritamSingh), the cabinet reshuffle that purged the old to make way for the new (#LimHngKiang #LimSweeSay #YaacobIbrahim #OUT) and the recently announced Jurong Regional Line. We also fondly welcomed the world’s first suspended playground (#CitySquareMall) and blocks of flats (#TeckWhye) cloaked in Piet Mondrian* colours. It is also fitting that we salute not the Olympic gold medalist (#JosephSchooling) that became a Hugo Boss ambassador, but the feat of 11-year-old Chloe Chua in winning the Menuhin Competition**.
*Piet Mondrian was a Dutch painter and is regarded as one of the pioneers of 20th century abstract art. His works are renowned for incorporating geometric elements with primary colours and have been featured in luxury labels such as Hermes and Yves Saint Laurent.
**She and 10-year-old Christian Li (from Australia) were awarded joint 1st prize in the junior category in the violin competition.
It’s things like this that make me love this country and I adore the quirks and kinks of it even more. There is the non-elected President who did not write her own speech (#Halimah #2018PresidentialAddress), the Parliament that needed a mascot (#Parley), the delusional blogger that aspires to be an NMP (#Xiaxue), the global search that ended up with yet another military honcho (#SMRT #NeoKianHong) and the jarring property listing that exhibited phallic properties (pardon the pun) (#propertyguru.com).
Ultimately, what beggars belief is not the postman that delivered your mail right into the trash or the Ministry that engaged social media influencers to raise awareness for a Budget, it was unbelievably the maid that single-handedly killed a cobra with a broomstick.
The events that have unfolded so far serves to remind us that bad and reckless behaviour should not be condoned. Maybe our educational institutes have failed us because a polytechnic had to do a U-turn after mistakenly accepting 16 students (#RepublicPolytechnic) or exam scripts are getting stolen (#A-level Chemistry #238students). Elsewhere, a blondie sparked a altercation midway through a lecture (#TemasekPolytechnic) and instagram wannabes armed with toilet brushes, toilet-seat covers and black trash bags are running riot…in the school’s lavatory (#Bullying #AssumptionPathwaySchool #SpecialNeedsStudent). It is safe to say problematic students are a bane for educators but that is nothing compared to the parking woes they are about to face.
While teachers will start to pay for parking fees in school compounds this year, the most reliable form of transportation still remain on the roads as other forms of transport proved mediocre at best… Travelling by air required the escort of RSAF fighter planes (#Scoot #FlightTR634 #FakeBombThreat), a sampan highlighted you cannot even reach the neighbouring shores (#FoiledEscapeBid #JohnChew #CityHarvestChurch #Extended-jail-sentence) and not to mention, even a train system infused with F1 McLaren technology was unable to save its beleaguered CEO from resigning (#SMRT #DesmondKuek). I tell you, our love affair with cars is particularly evident and we have taken it to the next level. Our car enthusiasts walk the talk, and in some instances all over your vehicle (#GrabDriver #SentosaGateway), others prayed on the steps of a temple or literally hop onto the bonnet for a joyride (#Jaywalking).
While our affectionate display for cars is particularly endearing, the antipathy towards PMDs (personal mobility devices) is growing judging from the spate of serious accidents. Those reckless riders definitely raised one’s hackles, but what raise our eyebrows were the recent high-profile fatal accidents at traffic junctions (#BukitTimah #Clementi). Speaking of junctions, it reminded me that we are currently at the crossroads* in our country’s leadership succession. There was intense speculation (from the press and social media) fuelling rumours on who will be the the country’s next Prime Minister (#4G-Leaders #ChanChunSing?).
*A crossroad is another name for a junction
Others are fuelling, not rumours, but the real deal, to a tune of $3 million through misappropriation (#Shell #PulauBukom). At the opposite end of the spectrum, $10 worth of a refuel triggered a witch hunt and a tank full of criticism and opprobrium for a car owner (#”Fuel Ten”-or-”Full Tank” controversy). I urge you to give car owners a break because a few of them, presumably good samaritans, have been offering free rides to students enroute to their prime district schools…according to the police force (#TanglinTrustSchool #UWCSoutheastAsia #NotAttemptedKidnapping).
While the aforementioned car owners are not private hire drivers, the app ride-hailing industry is definitely undergoing another massive shakeup of sorts. The turf war continues as Grab swallowed up its biggest competitor (#Uber)* while new entrants* are aiming for a slice of the pie. Others are consolidating (#SIA+SilkAir) purely for operational synergies and to provide uniform service offerings*.
Other companies also exhibited their voracious appetite as ComfortDelgro expanded its British operations* with a £1.2 million acquisition of London taxi-circuit operator “Dial-a-Cab”, KPMG(Singapore) acquired an app developer (#RainmakerLabs) and Starhub joined forces with a solar power firm (#Sunseap) to sell electricity. By the way, FYI, the electricity market is already liberalized** starting with Jurong.
*For the casual observers, it may come as a surprise, but it was already in the making when Softbank became a major shareholder in both Grab (2017) and Uber (2018). It is pointless and makes no sense for the 2 firms to fight and bleed heavily against each other, thereby draining and exhausting precious company resources. The consolidation eventually had to happen.
*New entrants to the ride-hailing industry include Ryde<local>, Jugnoo<India>, MVL<local>, FILO<local>, DacSee<Malaysia> and Go-Jek<Indonesia>.
*The strategy rethink is apparent, for the premium segment, SIA merges with SilkAir (2018); for budget segment, Scoot merges with TigerAir (2017). If you realise by now, they have gone full-circle (from 2 to 4 and back to 2 again). For those not in the know, SIA is the parent company for all of them.
*With the acquisition, ComfortDelgro’s total taxi fleet in Britain numbers 3,000
**Yes, you can now buy electricity from retailers other than Singapore Power, pretty much like how you choose your mobile plans between Singtel, M1, Starhub, etc. In short, more choices, more plans for you as a consumer.
A word of caution as some business deals do gradually sour over time as a Yong Tau Foo stall seek to protect its trade secret from Mr Bean in a joint venture gone wrong. Meanwhile, business interests are tearing the brothers of Tong Garden apart and the co-owners of the famous Eng’s Wantan Noodles are reportedly not seeing eye to eye. Elsewhere, the SGX saga continues as debt-ridden Noble* is mired in a lawsuit filed by one of its major shareholder (#GoldilocksInvestment) while Hyflux**, the water treatment and management company (#OliviaLum) is ironically drowning in a sea of debt.
*Goldilocks Investment is suing Noble for alleged mismanagement that includes inflating the profits of the company and paying inflated salaries to its management staff.
**Back in 2010, Hyflux had a market capitalization of $2.1 billion. At the end of March 2018, the company is only worth $165 million and has about $2.4 billion of outstanding debt. It has seek court protection to prevent its creditors from winding up the company.
Admittedly, I can fathom the urge to devour your rivals in business. For us normal folks, to curb those hunger pangs, there is the Nasi Lemak concoction from Old Chang Kee, the short-lived chocolate pie from McDonald’s and the “Crispy” Rendang brouhaha (#MasterChef) that got everyone talking and all riled up (including KFC and IKEA).
But seriously, I think this year’s feted culinary feat has got to be the slow grill….particularly on a Oxford historian (#ProfThumPingTjin) and social media giant (#Facebook #SimonMilner). I have to warn you that it is a process that consume hours (a record of 6 hours at its longest) and taxpayers’ monies, and….it could probably ruin your appetite for a hearing on fake news and falsehoods. Then again, if you do not have the patience for such cuisine and need an instant kick while you dine, you will do no wrong with Geylang’s famous frog porridge (#GeylangLorong19) as it delivers the kick….literally right through the back of your head*. If its dessert that you craved after dinner, I would suggest picking up alcoholic ice-creams before the restriction hours kick in (#NTUCfairprice #Udders #NannyState).
*The fight occurred at a frog porridge eatery.
I guess that sums it up for the first half of 2018. In the coming days, we will look forward to the most anticipated date with bated breath ever since Trump swiped right (#Tinder) for Kim Jong Un in the pursuit for world peace and CVID*. It is set to take place at Sentosa (#Capella) and common folks like you and I are picking the tab for the summit. Meanwhile, let us sit back, relax and watch events unfold in the second half of 2018.
*The bone of contention in the denuclearization talks is that the US wants CVID (Complete, Verifiable, Irreversible Dismantlement) of North Korea’s nuclear programme. North Korea has spent billions on its nuclear ambition and test-launches and the nuclear programme is also what keeps Kim in power. Without it, will he easily be overthrown by his very own government or people ? Will Kim give up the country’s nuclear capability so easily ? Food for thought.