Society: Pandemic fakery and forgery

Jipson Quah, a Singaporean doctor, was handed seven new charges of falsely representing to the Ministry of Health (MOH) that Singaporeans had been vaccinated. It’s a reminder that as the virus ripped across the world, crooks sniffed an opportunity. Some were motivated purely by greed: counterfeit vaccines (S$1,000 for a fake Pfizer) in places such as Mexico and Poland; or illicit vaccines, face masks, and fake Covid-19 test certificates that were part of over S$3.5m worth of goods seized by Interpol in southern Africa in 2021. Others were out to help anti-vaxxers: a German who received (ouch) 90 vaccination shots in order to sell forged vaccination cards; and two nurses in New York who earned over US$1.5m (S$2m) by forging vaccination records in the state’s database. In Singapore, the most prominent anti-vaxxers appear to be Christian conservatives who parrot ring-wing conspiracy theories from the West. Quah is associated with Healing the Divide, an anti-vax group founded by Iris Koh, a Christian who, among other things, has been accused of getting her followers to flood public hotlines. Koh allegedly referred patients to Quah; the two, along with Quah’s assistant Thomas Chua, were first charged last year. Quah’s other fakery included injecting willing patients with saline solution, instead of the vaccine, for S$1,000-S$1,500 a pop. The Singapore Medical Council has suspended Quah from practising for 18 months. He faces up to 20 years in jail and a fine if convicted. We still don’t know if his patients see him as a heroic crusader, or if they feel like they were swindled by a quack.

Society: Is the North-South Corridor worth all that noise and disruption?

Living in a city-state where the only constant is change, Singaporeans are accustomed to having their physical spaces regularly transformed. Whether buildings razed, roads widened, seas reclaimed, or trees uprooted—the drone of “progress” never stops. Increasingly, though, many are wondering if the ends justify the means. Residents, road-users and business-owners along the 21.5-km route where the North-South Corridor (NSC) is being constructed know all-too-well the impact this project has had on their quality of life (and mental well-being), including through noise and environmental pollution and traffic disruptions. One resident told The Straits Times (ST) that his wife and he spent S$2,000 soundproofing their baby’s room and lamented that sometimes construction continues past midnight: “There’s no peace and quiet, and you can’t relax.” When completed, the NSC will be Singapore’s longest Transit Priority Corridor—with space dedicated to public transport and active modes, like bus lanes, cycling trunk routes and pedestrian paths. It’ll connect commuters to the city centre from the north and has been touted to alleviate traffic on highways like the Central Expressway and major arterial roads. While it’s a relief that the project’s nearly at its halfway mark, of a nine-year timeline—it’s due to be completed in 2027—it’s no wonder that many who’ve been affected by its construction aren’t yet convinced about the NSC’s economic, social and environmental benefits. As part of the broader conversation about the kind of Singapore we want—toward a 10m population or otherwise—it’s important that society appreciates not just the direct financial costs of individual projects (almost S$7.5bn for the NSC), but associated ones too.

Society: Rent a date, hush an aunty

Dodging kaypoh aunties and their relentless questions is a painful, inevitable part of Lunar New Year (LNY) celebrations for many, so much so that some have resorted to renting a boyfriend or girlfriend for the holiday season. Rent-a-date services began roughly a decade ago in Japan, but have become more popular in Singapore in recent years. It’s now relatively simple to rent on different platforms a date, friend or even a gamer for a few hours. “I just greeted his relatives, smiled a bit, and ate Chinese New Year goodies,” one “personality” told CNA. “Nobody really asked me anything.” Rates vary depending on the personality you want (males are generally cheaper). A two-hour date can cost anywhere from S$60 to S$400 (excluding holiday surcharges of up to S$100). Demand appears to spike during holidays like LNY, Christmas and of course, Valentine’s Day. There appears to be some measures in place to protect the safety of “personalities” selling their time and companionship. Most Singaporean rent-a-date services have a strict ‘no touching’ policy (apart from a handshake), and “personalities” are allowed to leave at any point if they feel uncomfortable. Dates also have to be in public places, with some services forbidding the use of a private car. So if you’re considering renting a date to keep the aunties at bay next new year, be sure to keep these measures in mind; the fake-relationship-to-lovers trope isn’t applicable here.  

Arts: Life Theatre Awards

The nominees for ST’s Life Theatre Awards were announced this week. Modern adaptations of European classics fared well. Both Teater Ekamatra’s “Bangsawan Gemala Malam”, a riff on Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and Wild Rice’s reimagining of “Tartuffe: The Imposter”, originally by Molière, were nominated for multiple awards including Production of the Year. They join a diverse group of productions that include original plays, stagings of internationally acclaimed plays, and hybrid works. The Life Theatre Awards, Singapore’s most prominent for stage work, began in 2001. The full list of nominees can be found on ST’s website.

Arts: Chaotic Cabaret

After a sold-out debut last year, “The Chaotic Cabaret” is back with a new programme. Between drag, burlesque and stand-up comedy, this experimental cabaret promises to be a “delicious rojak”. Drag queen Polly A Maury hosts the event, which will feature a fresh line-up of performers, many of them new to the stage. The drag and burlesque scene has experienced a second wind since pandemic-era limits on live performances were removed. Audiences should also catch “RIOT!”, a weekly drag revue at Hard Rock Cafe, “The Fruit Basket”, a seasonal cabaret of new talents, and the OG Singaporean drag queen Kumar who has a regular show at ikigai at the riverwalk, a Japanese restaurant. Tickets to “The Chaotic Cabaret” are available from The Projector, performances are from February 22nd-23rd. “RIOT!” tickets can be purchased through their website and tickets for the January and February editions of Kumar’s show are available via Eventbrite.


Following the success of the Singapore Art Book Fair’s Zine Room, the programme has expanded to become a Zine Fair, taking place on a separate weekend from the main fair. CUT COPY PASTE is a zine fair for local and international zine-makers, small presses and print enthusiasts. Apart from hosting close to 50 exhibitors, CUT COPY PASTE also has a full weekend of programmes including risograph workshops, talks and film screenings. The event is organised by Thing Books, an online bookstore that also organises the Singapore Art Book Fair and the SG Art Book Library, and Shrub, a new independent store in Golden Mile Tower specialising in artist-made products. The fair is held on programme partner Temasek Polytechnic’s campus and is on from January 27th-29th.

Internet culture: Bondeeng in the metaverse

Have you seen your friends posting cartoon versions of themselves on Instagram stories recently? This time it’s not an AI portrait generator, it’s a full-fledged social networking app from the metaverse. Bondee, an app by Singapore-based Metadream, allows users to create avatars, deck them out in virtual clothes, and situate them in virtual homes. From there, users can connect with their friends and communicate within the app. A company press release described the app as “redefin[ing] social interactions as we know them.” It’s definitely too soon to say that; so far the app’s functionality doesn’t seem too different from other virtual environments like massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) with player housing or Habbo, the virtual world that was at peak popularity in the early 2000s. Non-fungible token (NFT) functionality and paid features have not been added to the app yet but Bondee’s terms and conditions indicate that a “blockchain–based wallet” for NFT products is in the works. Leading with the social features first, instead of the majority of NFT projects that tack on sociality after tokens have been purchased, might be the trick to reaching brand new audiences in an already saturated market that reached its 16-month low last December. Bondee is currently top of the App Store’s Social Networking chart.

History weekly by Faris Joraimi

If you’re among the few rare souls yet to take down Christmas decorations, you’re in good company—in ye olde merry England, that is. During the Middle Ages, the English adorned their homes with greenery on Christmas Eve, and continued celebrating until the Epiphany on January 6. This is the day after the Twelfth Night (hence the “twelve days of Christmas”). While the Epiphany is considered the formal end of Christmas in the Christian liturgical calendar, some European countries considered the holiday season to continue all the way to the feast of Candlemas, on February 2nd. According to Michael Carter, a historian from the English Heritage Trust, it was only in modern times that people considered it bad luck to leave your decorations on after Twelfth Night. So leave them on till next week if you like, having some Yuletide cheer around. It might help with the back-to-work blues. Unlike us, mediaeval Europeans had many long holidays. But weekends weren’t a thing until modern industrial workers (who probably experienced worse conditions than their mediaeval ancestors) fought for them by banding together against their bosses. Today, we still debate the number of rest days and which holidays to recognise. Every year in Singapore people notice how Halloween decor haunts our public spaces in lieu of Deepavali ones, which sometimes don’t show up at all. But for some reason Christmas baubles appear without fail, and magically, like clockwork, make way for LNY ornaments. Festival decorations affect our perceptions of work and leisure, of relative up- and down-time. Is it more acceptable to send an e-mail over Deepavali than Lunar New Year? As we ponder public and private decorations, those circumscribed and those that just seem to linger, we should also think about the communities they represent, the freedoms they have, and the lives they lead.

Tech: Zilingo’s fall from grace

The downfall of Zilingo, once the darling of the South-east Asian fashion e-commerce scene, is almost complete. According to Bloomberg, the Singapore-based start-up, with fewer than 100 employees left in its offices in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, is set to enter liquidation. Zilingo’s creditors, Varde Partners and Indies Capital Partners, have found a buyer for some of the company’s assets for an undisclosed purchase price. The assets being sold include technology assets and acquired entity Ncinga Innovations, which will be transferred to Buyogo AG, a Zurich-based provider of e-commerce management software. At its peak, Zilingo nearly attained Unicorn status, having raised a total of US$347.9m (S$458.5m), from notable investors in the region such as Temasek Holdings and Sequoia Capital India. In May 2022, Ankiti Bose, CEO and co-founder, was sacked after the company’s fundraising plans drew questions about accounting irregularities. Singapore regulators alleged that Zilingo has not filed annual financial statements since 2019. Other C-suite executives, including COO Aadi Vaidya and CFO Ramesh Bafna, left the company soon afterwards. This development caps the months-long crisis that caused a stir in the Asian tech and start-up community, bringing an end to one of the most prominent tech start-ups in South-east Asia. The failure of Zilingo serves as a reminder of the importance of strong leadership and proper management in the start-up world, as even the most promising ventures can falter without it.

Tech: Gone Gorilla

In a surprise move, Singapore-based blockchain-powered telecommunications firm Gorilla Mobile has suspended services, leading to an investigation by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). Launched in June 2021, Gorilla Mobile provided services that were unique as it offered a blockchain-based feature that converted unused data into Gorilla Go Tokens. In June 2022, Society Pass, a US-based company, purchased Gorilla in an effort to meet the increasing demand for a new type of economic experience in South-east Asia. The sudden suspension of services has raised red flags, as the company is required to seek approval from the IMDA before ceasing operations. According to reports, Gorilla sent out an e-mail to users informing them of the discontinuation of its local mobile plan, effective January 31st, and urged customers to migrate to another provider. The company’s website notes that it is “undergoing technical improvements” and is planning to roll out an e-SIM service by the end of Q1 2023. However, Tech in Asia revealed that Xanne Leo, Gorilla’s founder and CEO, had previously led a start-up, Infinitus that vanished after raising US$2.5m (S$3.28m) in 2018. As the frequency of alleged fraud and questionable track records among founders continues to increase, the need for investors to perform deeper due diligence and thoroughly research background checks has become more critical than ever.

Tech: No more Gobbling

For those studying or working downtown, you might have used Gobble to get discounts on your hurried takeaway back to the office. Modelled after Snackpass in the US, the Singapore-based group-buying, food-ordering platform has announced that it’ll wind down after one-and-a-half years of operation. Founded by former Deliveroo executives, Gobble gave a new twist to food delivery by allowing users to view and select meals based on what their friends had ordered, as well as creating “Gobble parties” for discounted group meals. In February 2022, Gobble secured US$1.3m (S$1.7m) in a seed round led by Beenext and Flash Ventures. Gobble also joined Iterative, a YC-style accelerator programme, as part of its Summer 2022 Batch. In a LinkedIn post, its founder Ashwin Purushottam said that despite logging US$340,000 (S$445,944) in annual net sales with a 47 percent growth rate and 48 percent second month retention, the company ultimately failed to show a “quick enough path” to positive cash flow and couldn’t secure Series A funding. The food-ordering space is highly competitive, with several recent IPOs not performing as well as expected, making it difficult for Gobble to raise capital. For some of you, it’ll now be back to old lunchtime traditions: asking your friends for recommendations, maybe even meeting them in person.

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