A friend of mine used to carry an amulet in the form of an empty cartridge with her. It was like a lucky charm and had a couple of holes drilled through it to attach a chain. After she stopped wearing it, she kept it in her bag and like many of us, she forgot all about some of the tiny little things at the bottom of her bag.
She managed to clear security at airports all over the world with that amulet in her bag. Then one fine day, while clearing customs in Singapore, she was asked to scan her bag. A sharp-eyed security officer detected the amulet and stopped her. The police was called. They interrogated her for hours before confiscating the amulet. You can imagine the feeling. Even after they had released her, she couldn’t help shaking off the feeling that she was being watched. Thankfully, the officers handling her case were reasonable people. They knew she meant no harm but their hands were tied by protocol. The security officers were required to call the police. The police was required to question her and take her statement. Imagine what would happen if they couldn’t decide what to do next and “followed protocol” all the way.
I’ve personally encountered situations in which officers were afraid to deviate from protocol (even though they knew it was the right thing to do) because their colleagues could report them. But on a brighter note, I’m sure some of you out there must have been eternally grateful to some kind public servant who had saved you from a lot of unnecessary inconvenience by deviating from standard procedure (without getting any reward) but you are afraid to thank them publicly for fear of getting them into trouble.
Singapore is a place where people have little patience dealing with complex situations. They want things to be settled quickly and swiftly with no need for negotiation or consideration. That’s why we insist on equal treatment of all offenders. No Ifs, no buts. That’s why we have things like mandatory death sentences. We are afraid that our judges may show too much compassion for people we are anxious to get rid of.
Before I digress from the topic of the day, our brightest star in the sport of swimming, Joseph Schooling has confessed to consuming cannabis overseas in May 2022 when he was on short-term disruption from full-time National Service (NS) to train and participate in the SEA Games, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said on 30 August 2022.
CNA reports that following existing protocol, Schooling will be placed on a supervised urine test regime for 6 months. All SAF personnel who test positive during this regime will be charged and sentenced accordingly, said MINDEF.
The ministry added that the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) has concluded its investigations on Schooling and handed over the management of the case to the SAF as he is a full-time national serviceman. Those who have been found out through spot checks in the SAF are routinely charged and sentenced to up to 9 months in detention.
Fortunately, urine tests for controlled drugs conducted on Schooling returned negative results but he confessed to consuming cannabis while overseas in May. That’s good news for Schooling. He will most likely not be charged. The obligatory statement from the SAF:
“The SAF maintains a strict zero-tolerance policy towards drug abuse. Service personnel who test positive for drug abuse will be charged and sentenced to the SAF Detention Barracks,” MINDEF said.
Zero tolerance. So cute yet so terrifying. There are other things considered “sensitive” if not “intolerable”. Remember when Joseph Schooling was first featured on local TV channels? He had sports tape all over his tattoos. Why? Global event, local standards. Just like the time when Japanese new age musician Kitaro was denied entry into Singapore because of his long hair.
Is this his first offence? Has he ever used drugs while he was in the US? I’m not accusing, but I won’t be surprised if he had already experimented with drugs while staying in the US. Outrageous? Unbecoming? No special treatment for Schooling? What more can we say? Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong has signalled that as a role model, Joseph Schooling’s offence must not be taken lightly. Indeed we must never let him end up like another Kong Hee.
Let’s take a break from swimming and turn the spotlight on a wildly popular controversial character (also Singaporean) who has absolutely nothing to do with Schooling. I’m talking about actor and Hokkien singer Wang Lei. I confess that I didn’t know much about him until he became controversial. From bits and pieces here and there, I gathered that he wasn’t doing too well and at one time, was even owing loan sharks money due to his gambling habit.
He was the typical loser until his live streams with 22-year-old student Qiaoer and his wife Hua La went viral in recent years. His recent success rode on the same horse that Singapore’s blogger queen Xiaxue harnessed to seize eyeballs – exhibitionism and vulgar outbursts on social media. And the biggest irony about Qiaoer? She condescended (remember “pivoting”) from her former position as an SIA stewardess to become the lao Hokkien peng’s fantasy.
She can sing passably, but chose the wrong song for the opening number. The Hokkien song was not too badly sung for getai standard.
Before I go further, I must declare that I’m not a fan of Wang Lei’s or Qiaoer’s. Between Jack Neo and Wang Lei, I might pick Jack Neo, even though I’m not a fan of Jack Neo’s either. A very, very coarse and much lamer version of Stephen Chow’s humour, Wang Lei’s live stream videos would have been loved by the Hokkien peng I did my NS with during the 1980s. Apparently, there are many closet Ah Bengs and Hokkien pengs among us. Just look at the number of views and likes his videos have on Facebook. Even our Prime Minister’s numbers can’t match his.
But why? Why is there so much condemnation of Wang Lei on social media (especially in Malaysia where he made so many cringe-worthy remarks) and yet he gets so much attention and business? Well, the numbers don’t lie. The likes and the sales from his live streaming speak for themselves. As Minister Edwin Tong’s stern statement professes, Singaporeans are overachievers held to very high moral standards. The “right” thing to do is to shun people like Wang Lei, but they secretly enjoy his vulgar streaming and drool all over Qiaoer. Likewise, his shows at Genting were sold out when the Malaysian authorities nearly cancelled his show but allowed one last performance as a compromise after extensive negotiation with Genting Berhad.
Here is a video from Qiaoer (in full Ah Lian mode), ostensibly to “defend herself” even though she seemed very comfortable with his crass performances and even participated in no small way. Without expected sternness, she addressed the issue of her master Wang Lei being viciously attacked by people who have been offended by the foul-mouthed and lurid content of their live broadcasts. She believes that these folks have unfairly put Wang under a magnifying glass, exaggerating his shortcomings and they even instigated his supporters to go against him. Why do these folks want to bully a 60+ (dirty) old man?
Having said that, I don’t doubt her claim that she had never gone to bed with Wang Lei as insinuated by their detractors. I personally know more than a few people who are vulgar beyond measure, but are morally upright in their daily undertakings. I believe that Wang Lei can draw the line between teacher and student. It’s usually the quiet and unassuming types who can’t, the main reason being the often ignored, counterintuitive fact that the good guys often don’t get that much attention from the opposite sex compared to the bad boys. I have no doubt that Wang Lei doesn’t need to do anything sneaky to satisfy his carnal needs. Even if he had in fact slept with his 22-year-old student, so what? Is it illegal? The moralists need to get a grip on the reality that 男人不坏，女人不爱。The virtue-signalling nerds look down on lao Ah Bengs, but they also secretly envy the lao Ah Bengs’ sex life.
NUS Prof Tey Tsun Hang had an affair with his student Darinne Ko 2013
So we can’t really tell if those condemning Wang Lei’s “immorality” (real or imagined) are hypocrites. Particularly pathetic are the Malaysian “men of stature” who have been taking Wang Lei so seriously, lashing out at him with letters to the authorities and one even showing off his bungalow to the world, offended that Wang Lei said that they were not on the same”level”.
We can’t deny the fact that Wang Lei’s “performances” on social media will attract a certain type of faithful followers. They may be supporters, they may be haters, but they are very unlikely to be folks with any depth or substance. Those who call Qiaoer a prostitute are precisely the sort of people that Wang Lei’s “performances” will attract. It’s an inevitable outcome. Qiaoer needs to pay the price for smearing shit and attracting flies. Just look at all the lewd and suggestive comments on her live streams. She may denounce them (without the expected anger) but she also needs them. She’s doing sales and sexual fantasy is her “background music”.
But make no mistake, while Wang Lei may make more money than I do, I have basic respect but no admiration for him. Anyone thick-skinned and exhibitionist enough can act like and become another Wang Lei. As Jack Neo mentioned, he had gone too far, banking hard on this risky formula for fame and success. At the moment, he has not offended enough people and nobody can yet nail him for breaking the law. If there’s anybody who is bent on destroying him, it’s more likely to be a Wang Lei wannabe than a disgusted member of the public.
However, going back to the swimming pool, we probably won’t see another Joseph Schooling for a very long time. He’s a national treasure – no exaggeration. This is where the zero tolerance of sanitary Singapore faces a major challenge and may need some tweaking in future. It has been reported, much to my regret, that Joseph Schooling has been suspended from training and competitions. He is in NS at an age when many elite swimmers are near peak performance. The suspension will probably take him out of the running for major competitions, including the 2023 Southeast Asian Games in Cambodia. This could mean the end of his sports career (in Singapore). The guy still has options – migrate. We don’t (unless we’re considering “adoption”). So what is the purpose of punishing him for something he did overseas when he has been found to be clean when tested in Singapore? Will making an example out of him “clean up” the sport even if there could be nothing left to clean after cleaning up?
I was once on the management committee of a club that was rapidly becoming irrelevant. At our meetings, I continued to hear about steps to tidy things up and keep the mavericks in check when what was really needed to resuscitate the club was a major breakthrough. As someone mentioned on his FB post, $30k a month does not mean anything. Truly talented people are almost always non-conformists. By non-conformists, I’m not referring to people who spit, litter and ride PMDs on footpaths. I’m talking about deviant, eccentric and safely confrontational people. Is it our priority to maintain “zero tolerance” and keep everyone obedient and well-behaved? Or are we looking for breakthroughs while tolerating some deviation from the norm at our own calculated and calibrated risk?
I don’t think we can ever deny that recreational drugs are bad. But how bad are they really? Having zero tolerance means you have no scale and pattern of differentiation. To me, there is a huge difference between drinking a couple of glasses of vodka to get safely intoxicated and downing a whole bottle with the intention of getting drunk and causing trouble. But then, we in Singapore are so fond of mentioning slippery slopes. What if? What if? What if? We laugh at the kiasu and kiasi yet we don’t see a need to change. What have I gained by taking risks? Have I gotten any richer and closer to buying a $1M HDB flat? Wrong frequency. Next!
While trekking the the mountains of Thailand and Nepal, I have come across more than a few young foreigners who had smoked weed. I definitely don’t encourage it and I would do everything I can to keep that stuff away from my children (who are not children anymore btw). However, when I see people smoking weed, I’m not disgusted (as long as they keep it away from my face) and I don’t jump to the conclusion that’s they are hopeless. In fact, it’s quite funny to watch how some people behave after they’ve smoked weed. Fast forward. I didn’t keep in touch with every single one of those junkies, but from those I managed to reconnect on Facebook, it would appear that none of them had been stuck in the abyss of drug addiction. They did it for fun and left it alone when the rest of their lives beckoned. The hopeless ones are often the ones already hopeless from the beginning.
Not being a prude, I have nothing against Wang Lei as well. But between him showing lewd gestures on social media and Joseph Schooling experimenting with weed in Vietnam but remaining clean in Singapore, I would rather Wang Lei got banned instead of Schooling. Get tough on drugs, yes, but grade offences over a spectrum for severity. It’s my minority view that we should take another look at zero tolerance. Every case of an empty cartridge detected in the luggage must be treated with common sense and the death sentence should always be discretionary, never mandatory.