Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Mr Wang is Right

Mr Wang is right. They will lose.

When PM Lee in his Rally Speech delivers the ultimate punchline to lay the bak chor mee to rest, to signal Government's engagement with the Digital Age Singaporean, those dreaming of somewhere else, he utters the phrase "Mee Siam Mai Hum".

This becomes an instant classic of dis-connect.

For my foreign readers, Mee Siam is a humble malay dish usually taken for breakfast in Singapore. "Mai Hum" is a a Hokkien dialect way of saying "no cockles please". The literal translation is, in the context of ordering the dish, to request the cook not to put cockles in the dish. This was mentioned in the Rally speech in the context of how the Government will employ its own brand of humour, to connect with Singaporeans. Digital Age.

In another subtext of the Rally Speech, this un-connected phrase was coined as a direct riposte to Mr Brown's hugely successful and popular bak chor mee podcast in GE 2006 which essentially laid bare PAP's ridiculous attempts to assassinate the character of a politician with the Workers' Party.

In a further subtext, its part of the continued Governmental displeasure against local blogger, Mr Brown who was removed as a columnist in a local broadsheet, TODAY, for writing about rising costs of living.

So many subtexts resting on this crucial phrase "Mee Siam Mai Hum".

Except that in this case, Mee Siam has never had cockles as an ingredient. Two other distinctly Singapore dishes use cockles. Laksa and Fried Kway Teow Noodles. Most Singaporeans know this. Its a fact of life.

To put it simply, most Singaporeans will NOT make this mistake. Its like ordering bak kut teh, another classic Singapore dish, without the soup. Ordering pizza and telling the chef to hold the dough. No, actually its worse. Its like ordering pizza and telling the chef to hold the spaghetti. In short, the phrase "Mee Siam Mai Hum" is an oxymoron. Its like one of those chain e-mail wordplay jokes "military intelligence".

From what I understand, our esteemed national newspaper, the Straits Times, "heard" and interpreted the crucial phrase as "Mee Siam Mai Hiam"; which means hold the chilli. If this "hearing" is correct, than the phrase is meaningless as a direct riposte against the bak chor mee podcast. I guess the ST is not being honest again. Its "hearing" certainly connects with PM Lee but it means all the rest of Singaporeans "heard" wrongly, very dis-connected. Lets STOMP this topic shall we?

CNA is more honest. They attribute this as a mistake. PM Lee meant Laksa not Mee Siam.

Except that most Singaporeans will not make this mistake.

So much resting on this punchline "Mee Siam Mai Hum". I wonder whether the audience at the Rally laughed. When they laughed was it because it was funny? Perhaps the Ministers in the front row laughed heartily, thinking that it was an ingenious punchline. PErhaps they were "blind" to the illogic of the phrase. I wonder how the rest of the audience laughed? Those handpicked heartlanders, trade unionists, grassroots leaders. How did they laugh? Its an honest mistake, but also an indicative mistake.

Its a mistake which highlights dis-connect. Which probably made Call Connect Singapore National Day Rally 2006 so important. So very important the need to connect.

Except that perhaps the audience is wrong. Who needs to connect more, I wonder? Mr Wang is right, they'll lose.

Its time to laugh. What goes around comes around.


Quote of the Day :

"I feel the weight of the world on my shoulder
As I'm getting older y'all people get colder
Most of us only care about money makin
Selfishness got us followin the wrong direction
Wrong information always shown by the media
Negative images is the main criteria ...
Whatever happened to the values of humanity
Whatever happened to the fairness and equality
Instead of spreading love, we're spreading animosity
Lack of understanding, leading us away from unity ...
Father Father Father help us
Send some guidance from above
Cause people got me got me questioning
Where is the love? -- Black Eyed Peas


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Xenoboy,

LHL and the Ruling Party's Dis-Connect with Singapore Citizens grows with each gaffe and slip.

The rot is spreading inwards, out.

Majulah Singapura.


6:16 PM  
Anonymous anonyboy said...

Actually ST puts it as mee siam mai harm (= hum). Draw your own conclusions...

6:38 PM  
Blogger Cobalt Paladin said...

Maybe it was mispronounced? It was actually meant to be "Mee Siam Mai Hiam"?

mai hiam: No chilli.

7:07 PM  
Blogger Whispers from the heart said...

His Press Secretary said it was 'laksa mai hum'?

Only God knows what he wanted to say?!

Maybe he was thinking of more harm for Mr Brown.

Whatever it was, he had proven to be the biggest humbug on earth.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It grows from strange to absurd. So, first it was a problem with cockles that a minor apology or self-deprecating humour would have eased off. Then, without any apology whatsoever, the spin doctors crank into action. So now it can be laksa, presumably many Singaporeans are terrible of hearing, or mai hiam. Who ever eats mee siam without chilli? It's like ordering chicken rice without the chicken and/or rice. What's left? The sesame seed oil and chopped garlic?

Does anyone know when was the last time a minister offered any form of apology, big or small?

9:22 PM  
Anonymous lau Min-tsek said...

The speech is most likely not written by LHL himself. So it is unlikely that LHL made the mistake of the "mai hum".

It is more likely an error of the speech writer OR a typo which LHL dilligently read OR a mispronunciation or misreading of the words by LHL.

I feel too much weight is given over this "mai hum" thing, especially since a simple explanation of human error, rather than a grander theory of disconnect with the larger population, offers the simplest explanation. The simplest explanation tends to be correct.

9:31 PM  
Blogger Cobalt Paladin said...

Hi Anonymous,

Er... actually I eat mee siam without chilli.

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually it is a mix of Hokkien and English, what we call Singlish.What he really said or meant is this: Me siam(to avoid),no harm. The ST has a different version though.

11:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Assuming that the person serving the dish is Malay, would one use the expression "mee siam mai harm"?

I agree with lau Min-tsek that it is probably a simple error. But this simple error, as XenoBoy has pointed out, is a subtle reflection of PM's disconnect with the majority of Singapore society.

This is because it is very likely that the mistake was made by PM, rather than some speechwriter. Given the public attention on the Bak Chor Mee/Mr Brown affair, this section of the speech dealing with the whole affair would have been scrutinised very closely by PM himself. As such, PM is likely to have signed off the entire section personally, including the mee siam joke.

Further, since the mainstream media has apparently tried to cover up for the slip, the fact that the Press Sec has put out a clarification indicates that the Govt takes so-called Internet 'chatter' quite seriously.

6:42 PM  
Blogger KiWeTO said...


to blame the poor speechwriter for not checking his 'facts', is to ignore the larger question of whom said the speech.

The speechwriter prepares the speech. The speaker will most probably have read it before starting on his speech.
(once a year, c'mon, he definitely would at least rehearse it like a dutiful son preparing for another EXAMINATION")

The speechwriter only creates a piece of paper - intellectual propoerty of the speaker, to be exact. It is the speaker that says it, and its supposed to be the speaker's words, not the speechwriter. The speechwriter can only 'polish' the ideas that wish to be expressed.

At the end of the day, it is the speaker that has spoken the words. It is very likely that that was what he thought could be a stunning riposte to "mai ter kwa", but as the blogosphere laughs now, the riposte has become its own cult oxymoron.

As Mr Brown has podcasted - "mai harm mai harm.... mai harm mai harm mai harm...." The focus may now be on the speaker, but the actual target is the entire 'spin' machine of the ruling party (and yes, that includes companies with 'management shares'.)

Long may we continue the fight for:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
(Who guards the guardians?)

for that fight will never, ever, EVER, end.


6:07 PM  
Blogger The Oriental Express said...

Dear Xenoboy,

Please read, "The Ugly Chinaman" by Bo Yang and you will get all, if not most, of your answers.

Could you please use a lighter template. Very hard on old aunty's eyes to read the words against a black template lah. And your articles are sooo ooooooooooo interesting.

8:23 AM  
Blogger prettyplace said...

Bak Chor mee created a senasational ....now...he wanted too as well with irrelevance.....all i see is prices going up.....

3:48 AM  
Anonymous Suresh said...

Considering how history is being re-written, let's be accurate about this. CNA first reported it as "mee siam mai hiam". Then, in the Straits Times report of the speech, they decided to add their own bracketed comment that PM Lee's press secretary clarified that he meant to say "laksa mai harm".
The other time something similar happened was when CNA reported PM Lee's infamous remark at Empress Place as "counter the opposition", when he had actually said "fix the opposition". But in this instance, there was actually a press secretary clarification to the effect that PM Lee had decided to use a "stronger word" to explain his view. I didn't see the press secretary clarification for the "laksa mai hiam", did you? Note also the edited version of the MediaCorp repeat broadcast doesn't even have any reference to "mee siam" at all. Thanks to YouTube, however, we still have the truth out on the internet.
It is also interesting to note that hsi original notes for his speech ran like this:
c. But have to decide - What tone do we set? How far do we go?
i. You put out a funny podcast
ii. I reply with a funnier podcast
iii. If we compete on that basis, will ask Jack Neo to be my adviser
(1) NDR will be highly entertaining
(2) But is this the way to deal with serious issues?

See, no mee siam? If he had stuck to his notes, he would not have shot himself in the foot.

12:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are websites that collect "Bushisms" - verbal gems from the lips of the US president. Someone should make a collection of LHLisms. Or better (since they are all clones of MM Lee), the collected PAPisms. We have 'mee siam mai hum' and 'fixing' the opposition. Then there was GCT's attempt to rebut rumours of the LHL v Dhanabalan fight, which seemed to confirm the rumour instead, and Mrs G's 'peanut' remark. Such a collection should serve to remind us that no one has a mortgage on infallibility.

4:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe he doesn't take mee siam for breakfast. Perhaps he only on eggs and bacon.

9:41 AM  
Blogger xenoboysg said...

Thanks suresh, ur clarification is much appreciated as I have no access to Sg media, except CNA whenever I am out.

My sensing of how ST and CNA reported was based on reading of some forum postings. In this case, CNA is as guilty of mis-hearing as well.

Clarifications like this is important since all "official" traces of this have been erased.

Cobalt -- it cannot be mee siam because then the analogy to bak chor mee fails and as direct riposte to bak chor mee fails. Read hum = ter kwa

12:27 PM  
Blogger Xtralicious said...

Definite oxymoron. Sidenote: is it ok if I link you on my blog?

8:09 PM  
Blogger CollinIsFuCKER said...

Lols Collin don gay la
Collin Quek Swee Kiat oso known as
Collin Quek Swee Heng the cake shop

6:59 AM  

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