The Parched Ah Lians

A.k.a. The Thirsty Sisters, but they are no more

Bound by thirst and sisterhood: Sylvia Chan (left) and Nina Tan

Five days ago, at the height of the Sylvia Chan/Night Owl Cinematics (NOC) open-to-all drama and one movie-length interview facilitated by Xiaxue, the NOC-affiliated podcast The Thirsty Sisters (TTS) is no more. Or, all posts are now removed (as of 21 October) from their dedicated channel. Even their Instagram page is deleted. Helmed by Ms Chan and her cousin-in-law Nina Tan, the podcast touts itself as the explorer of “hot and pressing issues”. Is the withdrawal of the podcasts from public enjoyment indication that what the women had discussed are no longer hot, or pressing? Or, is the thirst of the sisters finally quenched? The title of their show, then, no longer relevant? Online speculations suggested that in order not to drag Ms Tan along on the mud that Ms Chan has found herself in as she pulled others along with her, the latter decided to remove their rowdy online presence. The channel is, however, still on YouTube, which, for hopeful fans, is indication that the dehydrated jiemei may soon return.

Despite their supposed popularity, there are many who are still unaware that there are two sisters thirsty enough to start a podcast. What are the sister thirsty for? It isn’t clear if they needed merely liquids or libation, or if they are, like most influencers, eagerly desirous of an audience—31.7K on YouTube alone—or just craving attention. Or something more profound, such as “wisdom, trends, success and men”, according to the podcast analytics service Chartable. As they described it on YouTube, the podcast is about their “raw and real journey of living (their) best lives, crying over love/dating struggles”. In their last post, Biting your Lips on the First Date, shared on 7 October, Ms Chan asked her co-host/relative, between promoting Koi Guava Green Tea, “do you think it’s too much if they keep looking at the area of your tits or your groin?” The women are extremely comfortable, possibly more than their listeners, to talk about sex and, more sex. And “dicks”. And they love to post posers, such as “When is it okay to bang?” and “What’s the best size?” On top of that, they give relationship advice. Sort of.

The Thirsty Sisters channel is still up, but there is no content

Who are the thirsty sisters? Sylvia Chan, the main news this past weeks, requires no introduction. Nina Tan (陈淑芬) was born in 1991. Unlike her fellow Thirsty Sister, she did not have to cross the causeway to go to school, as she is Singaporean and completed her education here. But we do not know which institution she went to or if she was, like Ms Chan, bullied as a student. Not much is known about her other than what she has revealed in NOC videos and the podcast, which is not a lot, or detailed. For example, we only know she has a diploma in sports education and had wanted to be a PE teacher (she did enjoy playing hockey very much). Her mother, in fact, wanted her to be an air stewardess. But she chose to not to be, taking on other jobs: “I was a barista; I was a Canon girl at an IT show, and then I was a beauty therapist for a period of time,” she said on TTS.

As with many of the NOC regulars, she had her start with the founders of the popular YouTube channel. She told the Chinese radio show, 后台无限 Play (Unlimited Behind-The-Scene Play), that her cousin Ryan Tan, Ms Chan’s former husband, said to her, “we’re filming something and we’re looking for people. Would you like to come down to help me?” She agreed to help just once, but ended up as an NOC talent for “eight to nine years (nine, in fact)”. But, prior to that she was already working with the husband and wife on their wedding videography business. She is, therefore, considered by her employers to be “one of the og NOC girls”, as described on the company’s website. A lauded comedian, she has also appeared on Mediacorp programmes such as 这个是不是Prank? (or Prank It!). She is now considered to be in the big league among YouTubers and Instagrammers, and has plugged anything from McCafé Kopi Frappé to Durex condoms.

According to their own telling on TTS, the two women met in 2010 when Ms Chan was at her husband’s family home to announce the couple’s decision to get married. The women did not talk, and all that was on Nina Tan’s mind then: “When can I leave?” As Ms Chan said, they had no impression of each other. But close they did become as a result of time spent in the office and with Ah Ma (grandmother) during one particular Chinese New Year. They became gym buddies at Amore Fitness, doing zumba and kick-boxing. “After that, since we go the gym together, we decided to eat together also. And after that, drink together also.” But more than activity companions, they hit it off because, as Ms Chan said, “We clicked and ‘vibed’ so much”. More significantly, she found in Ms Tan the younger sister she never had. And in each other, honesty that is rare. Ms Chan even said to her cousin-in-law: “one of the best things that came out of me and Ryan’s marriage is actually having you as a sister”.

It is hard to tell the difference between these siblings defined by thirst and those characters they play on NOC videos. They are, as fans concur, “raw and real”, in equal measure. They are brash and loud too, in proud Singlish. and basically do not give a hoot to what anyone perceives of them, to or say. They are all the caricatures ever played on local media rolled into two equal parts, packaged as sort-of-feminist ideal, but, perhaps, more in a sociosexual context. Many of their listeners are charmed and inspired, if not empowered, by their daring, nothing-is-taboo stance, as comfortable talking about men’s failings as the pleasures of sex toys. Nina Tan told Elle SG in February this year, “When Sylvia and I talk about such topics on our podcast, it works to break down that idea that self-pleasuring is too taboo to speak about. Our listeners have been pretty receptive, although we still get some comments saying that we are too out there and ‘trashy’ that, honestly, I’m tickled by. At least there is a voice and platform out there for people who are interested in different perspectives”.

And while talking trashily on the platform, they seemed genuinely interested in men—Ms Chan prefers the “alpha male” and Ms Tan those with “dad bod”—they are just as eager to show that “there is no dick worth your self-esteem; there is no guy that’s worth your self-worth”. The popularity of The Thirsty Sisters seems to commensurate with the rise of vocal women who truly believe they can do and say anything, even to expose the guys they have had bad dating experiences with publicly as a “warning” to other women, with no careful consideration for consequences. Ms Chan herself is now seen as vintage example, after she dramatically disclosed her husband’s mental health struggles, among other intimate details, with Xiaxue just days ago. The Thirsty Sisters sent out its first podcast in April 2020. There are 55 episodes so far, each averaging 40-minutes long. It is not conclusively clear why they yanked every single episode out of YouTube other than for the protection of the younger co-host. But if, as Sylvia Chan said in one of the podcasts, “we can probably get into deeper shit and we are going to laugh about it”, what’s the real fear?

Illustration: Just So

Sylvia Chan Opened Up To Xiaxue

One ex-pink-haired spilled to another, and it became only louder

Warning: this post contains language and description that some readers may find offensive

At around fifteen past eight yesterday evening, influencer extraordinaire Xiaxue announced/teased on Instagram that Sylvia Chan “is going to appear on video to give an exclusive interview to me to clip her side of the story as well as to answer some hard questions.” Clumsy intro aside, the host preview snips of Ms Chan angry, effing, and crying, as well as the explosive admission: “we never have a happy marriage”. Social-media broadcasts like these possibly explain why free-to-air television struggles to find enough viewers. They also show that influencers-as-talk-show-hosts are more compelling to watch than TV old hats, such as Quan Yifeng. The saga involving Ms Chan is not only trending, it has engrossed much of our social media-consuming world. Our look into who she is and what happened was this year’s most viewed within thirty-six hours of of its appearance on SOTD. Xiaxue’s promised interview was finally shared two hours later, at ten thirty, possibly because of the R-rated content. The hard questions were fairly hard, but the show was pacy melodrama that even Channel U’s Sunday night Thai soap operas can’t match.

Recorded on 22 October, the interview was shared on Xiaxue’s own eponymous YouTube channel. It opened with her ensuring viewers of the integrity of the show: “this interview is entirely produced by my own team. Okay, I’m not being paid by NOC or Sylvia in any way. She does not know the questions I’m going to be asking her before hand. And she does not get any vetting or editing rights in what is the final piece that is going to be published.” The chat between the women was an hour and forty-seven minutes long, or nearly the average length of a movie (the running time of the recent Shang Chi is 132 minutes). By midnight, there were more than 110,000 views. CNA’s broadcast of the Multi-Ministry Task Force’s full news conference earlier yesterday, also on YouTube, had only 70K views. Three hours after the “bombshell after bombshell” interview, as Xiaxue delightfully called it, 7.4K viewers liked it.

And it certainly did have a sudden and sensational effect. Set in what could be a living room, the two—one looked as if dressed for a regular IG shoot and the other, for a meeting with a defamation lawyer, but both without their recognisable pink dos—spoke as girlfriend to girlfriend would: with candour and mutual outrage. Sylvia Chan used YouTube to announce her divorce; she used the same platform to proclaim that not only did she and her former husband Ryan Tan “never”—not once, rather than the inaccurate synonym Singaporeans prefer: did not—enjoyed conjugal bliss, she was the target of a “smear campaign” by him to get her out of Night Owl Cinematics, the media company they started together, and that Mr Tan was suicidal, unfaithful, and unwilling to have sex with her! And, on top of that, she believes he is the one to initiate the smear of the past three weeks against her because “Ryan has something to gain from this”.

As it turned out, it was cushion-holding airing of dirty laundry. No holds barred. Three days ago, a “spokeperson” told CNA that “with regards to the latest slew of allegations, (Sylvia) intends to address and thoroughly rebut every one of these in due course.” No one could have guessed the rebutal (and rebuke) would be conducted in this manner. It is not certain if Ms Chan’s intention was to rehabiltate her battered image (she said of the interview, “it’s more cathartic than anything I want to achieve today”). If so, why did she not speak to accredited media? Or was she confident that Xiaxue would accord her “the right to say her peace“. After all, “even murderers have their day in court“, never mind if Ms Chan would be tried in the court of public opinion. One sensed that this fiery tell-all emerged from rancour, and was based on the motivation, if you pull me down, I’ll drag you down too.

This post will not be a summary of the many points and allegations raised in the video. Mothership would already have it published before the sun rises. Rather, this is a reaction post, faintly in the vein of reaction videos. And it is hard to be dispassionate about it, just as it seemed difficult for Ms Chan to comport herself. Xiaxue conducted the interview with the flair of Jerry Springer, the refinement of his delirious guests, and the empathy of Oprah Winfrey. She said, “I am trying to be neutral”, but played the responsive sympathiser. And Sylvia Chan easily opened up to her. The rapport was obvious and the responses spontaneous. This could hardly be scripted, although, in planning the questions, Xiaxue and her team clearly aimed to spill corporate scandal, spousal indiscretion, bosom-buddy betrayal, influencer gossip, insider misdeeds, familial shock, and, the icing on the cake, self-loathing. Without doubt, they knew how to augment the trash factor.

Ms Chan was no less skilled than her interviewer, cleverly deflecting questions, agilely not admitting to wrong doing and nearly denying a particular sex-act exposé (a friend said, “your boobs, wrong size”). She was sure to set out that if she was bad or reprehensible, they made her so. It was easy to feel sorry for her. She only wanted “to be that person to protect her business, to protect Ryan”—“this person really bully you, ah. I’m going to fuck him; I’m going to fuck him up for you… Because I love him, I fuck that person up, lah”. Now, she called herself “the shit of Singapore”, yet she never wanted to be “Sylvia, Version Shit”. Still, she pushed on with a tough and unyielding demeanour of herself: “I always say I am very strong, one. You know, I always say like, never mind, lah. Shit happens is okay, one. And I tell myself, today I won’t cry, one. Can’t stand the show cry for what? Go and show people that I don’t give a fuck. You want to call me a bitch, now I am, lor.”

As so many have read and seen these past weeks, shit did happen. And Xiaxue, who equates being “vulgar” with being “straightforward”, was able to make it happen again. This is one video that easily beats, in content strength, the entire series of NOC’s ‘Shit’ videos, beginning with 2013’s Shit Singaporean Girlfriends Say. In those narratives, bad behaviours are hard to justify. But in this, every alleged wrong-doing is offset with a legit excuse. On the purported “barter trade”, for example, of the sexual services of her talents for logistics arrangements for NOC, which Ms Chan laughed as they are “not a retail company”, she asked, “What is wrong if you introduce girlfriends to really rich guys?” Even acrimonious reactions: “He knows me well enough to say things that will make me very pissed off.” Her tendency to eff has nothing to do with her. Whether or not the video was shared to augment Xiaxue’s status as the queen of controversy or so that followers and more could revel in her subject’s misfortunes, or cackle at her foibles, it was the entertainment Night Owl Cinematics could not have produced. Or, dreamed to.

Xiaxue’s video post (the content of which “stupified” her, as she said in the end) had the input of her lawyers; it came with a disclaimer: “The guest states that all statements of facts she makes within the programme are based on materials in her personal possession evidencing these facts. Where she makes any opinions, these constitute her personal fair comments derived from information and materials she has access to and are not meant to offend, insinuate anything, or disparage any person. Neither are these comments or opinions meant to cause alarm, harassment, or distress to any person.” A good part of the interview talked about Ryan Tan’s supposed suicidal tendencies. Apparently, when he tried to end his life in Osaka in 2017, it was not his first attempt—it has happened “so, so, so many times”. Sylvia Chan repeatedly said she was and has been afraid that he would kill himself. She even wondered if he would do so after watching this video. Would there then be no incredulous gasp when reading the last sentence of the disclaimer? That a dysfunctional marriage should end is understandable. No life, however, should follow suit.

Update (25 October 2021, 5.30pm): Barely a day after her interview with her friend Xiaxue, Sylvia Chan issued a second apology. This time, unlike the first, she actually said she is sorry. “I am truly sorry for all the wrongs I have done,” she wrote on her Instagram page, “and the mistakes I have made.” In five short paragraphs, she said that she is cooperating with the authorities investigating her work place and hopes that she “be given a chance to work on (herself) to become a better person, and a better leader”. The curious thing is, why did she not apologise on Xiaxue’s show? Why did she, instead, continue to besmear others she thought had wronged her? Puzzling, no?

Screen grabs: xiaxue/Facebook

What Happened, Sylvia Chan?

More allegations have surfaced about the Night Owl Cinematics boss. Will there be a second ‘apology’? Or would this be the fall of one angry Ah Lian?

This past week has perhaps been a bonus for those who are voracious readers of news about influencers who have not fared as brilliantly as they have made themselves so on social media. Earlier in the week, TikTok sensation Koh Boon Ki (许文琪) was called out for facilitating the dissemination of damming information of men that a group of women wanted excluded from the dating market. Doxxing and cyberbullying were bandied about in relation to what Ms Koh initially allowed before it grew too big to be contained within a group chat. Before her, Sylvia Chan (陈思华) was exposed to have allegedly used offensive language against the staff of Night Owl Cinematics (NOC), the company she runs. This, to many, was seen as bullying too. Although she took a while, Ms Chan issued what was assumed to be an apology on Instagram and removed herself from NOC’s list of artistes, but she remained, as far as it is publicly known, the boss. Less than a week after her peace offering, former and present employees of NOC “gathered… to break their silence on the allegations” with Must Share News. In addition, present and ex-staffers (it is not known if they are the same people who shared their experiences with MSN) started a blog, End the Silence, on Google’s blogging platform Blogspot to “to shed light on (their) workplace encounters over the years with Sylvia Chan”. At the same time, the blog creators also started a YouTube channel of the same name, on which they shared a video of clips of Ms Chan’s reactions during what appears to be meetings conducted via video calls or Zoom. The post has attracted 255, 543 views and 414 comments in less than a day, or while we write this.

That more verifications have appeared to bolster the initial accusations suggest the extent of her offensive behaviour and how deep the displeasure among those affected ran. There was no corporate disciplinary committee to act. The transgressions are now determined publicly, with many Netizens asking for her to be met with what her pal Xiaxue passionately disapprove: cancellation. Charges against Ms Chan on End the Silence were preceded by a disclaimer: “we have exhausted all means of trying to get our voices heard in NOC by talking to key members of the management team as appointed by Sylvia – such as Sylvia herself, the accountant, her lawyers… and more but to no avail”. The optics have not been good for Ms Chan. On the video shared on YouTube, there was no mistaking her disdain, disapproval, and displeasure with the participants of the Zoom call. There was even talking down to reportedly her husband Ryan Tan (it is not certain if they were divorced at the time of the heated interlocution) when the exchange did not go her way. Details of her management habit too were revealed, such as messaging her staff “at (sic) Sunday 3am”. While Mr Tan spoke, she was seen smoking and smirking. Her behaviour seemed to commensurate with the bubbling public perception of her now: “boss from hell”.

Sylvia Chan striking a pose in the style of the covers of I-D magazine

Sylvia Chan was born in Johor Bahru in 1988, the year Singapore and Malaysia signed a memorandum of understanding on water and gas supplies, which set out the terms of their future sales by our northern neighbour to us. According to her YouTube post Draw my Life (then under her debut channel Ryan Sylvia), she grew up in Kampung Saleng (now Kampung Baru Saleng). This small town in the Kulai district, with a population of about 92,223, sits just 50 kilometres to the north of our city. Its residents are mostly Chinese and many speak the Hakka dialect. She lived in a house not situated in the heart of town, and the family “had a durian tree, a rambutan tree, and a vegetable gardens (sic), and lots of chickens walking around all the time”. She considered those days the best part of her life. Village days were blissful: “I would feed turtles in the temple, steal fruits from my neighbours’ tree, collect chicken eggs, and get scolded by my grandmother all day, but it was awesome, and I love my grandmother a lot.”

She started schooling late (K2, when she was six) because “when you live in a kampung, you don’t need to study, lah”. Little is known about her parents (except that her mother, who calls her “geer” (girl), is Peranakan and “worked in an office job (sic)”), but when she was in Primary 3 back in JB, they sent her to Singapore to continue her studies after she told her parents she “didn’t want to study anymore” because “the teachers were really scary and they had canes and they scold (sic) me all the time”. She admitted that it “sounds really bad but I was actually at the top of my class, but I was really stressed”. She did not say which school in Kampung Saleng that she went to, but, according to public records, such as Kemudahan Carian Sekolah-Sekolah di Malaysia, there is only one primary school in the town: Sekolah Jenis Kebangsaan (C) Saleng (沙令国民型华文小学) or SJK (C) Saleng, a national (government) school, with medium of instruction in Mandarin. In Singapore, her parents managed to secure a place for her in Fuchun Primary, a school in Woodlands (three hours by bus from Kampung Saleng) that was founded in 1985, three years before she was born.

In Singapore, she discovered that Singaporeans were all very wealthy because the people could shop for clothes frequently while, for her, purchasing new garments was only for the first day of the Lunar New Year

Ms Chan told Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) in the 2020 talk show Hear U Out (权听你说) that the entire Chan family budget was spent on sending her to school here. Back then, she woke up at four in the morning so that she could make the three-hour commute by bus—sometimes alongside pig delivery trucks (a fact she seems to be proud of as she is wont to repeat it)—to cross the causeway to get to school. She claimed that she was afraid in those early years as she felt the weight of her entire household’s financial sacrifice on her. When asked if her family “算是小康 (is considered moderately affluent), she replied, “其实算是辛苦 (actually, considered hard)”. The early years here were tough also because she had to use “full English from full Chinese back in Malaysia”. She added that in Singapore, she discovered that Singaporeans were all very wealthy because the people could shop for clothes frequently while, for her, purchasing new garments was only for the first day of the Lunar New Year. Despite their thrifty way of life, it appears that she was very much doted on at home in JB. As she once said on the social network Ask.fm, “I grew up with two brothers and five male cousins in my childhood (sic), plus I was the only girl in the neighbourhood”. She wanted so badly to have sisters, she recounted in an episode of the podcast The Thirsty Sisters, that when her mother was at work, she dressed her two brothers in half-drag (high heels and handbags were involved too) and created “different scenes” so that she could say, “today, ladies, we’re going to the market and another day, ladies, we’re going to work”.

After her PSLE, she went to Nanyang Girl’s High School. Although she had spent more than three years in the school system here, she did not enjoy her time at NYGH. She considers it “a very sad period”. Again, on Ask.fm, she said that it was “one of the most difficult part (sic) of my life. Everyone was super competitive and I was bullied a lot by my school mates and teachers alike”. Secondary school was similar to her first three years in primary—it was “super stressful and competitive and some of my teachers are (sic) more demon than human so I thought I was gonna die from the pressure. I even pon (first syllable of ponteng, Malay for playing truant) school sometimes (on rainy days) cos I couldn’t muster any more strength to continue”. But she did, as she performed well at the ‘O’ levels, scoring seven points. While her peers would have not hesitated to go to junior college with that, she was contemplating something else. “A diploma in visual effects from Temasek Poly. Did I go ahead with that choice? No. Because I was young and impressionable and I followed what people told me to do.” So she enrolled in Anglo Chinese Junior College. While she said she enjoyed her JC days, she did not complete her education there. She told Quan Yifeng that her grandmother’s death (when she was in JC2) impacted her severely, so much so that she suffered “depression, OCD, and rage disorder”. She then decided to stop her studies at ACJC. Despite her mental health, she considers herself to be “a super sensible teen, and I gave my mom an update every 3 hours if I’m out”. After a hiatus from school, she decided to enroll in University of London (Singapore campus) to read economics. According to some media reports, she did not complete her studies.

Ryan Tan and Sylvia Chan as Xi Guay Ong and Xiao Bitch respectively

Modelling, too, was in the picture, and it was during this time that she met her future husband Ryan Tan (陈伟文), a Kent Ridge Secondary School alum. Both were 16 then, but neither revealed what modelling jobs they did. However, Mr Tan was “also doing model management jobs and other odd jobs”, as Sylvia Chan recounted on Draw my Life. “It just so happens that I was also working as a part-time model to earn some money, and that’s when I met Ryan”. But it was not until five years later, when Mr Tan became a franchisee of an American-themed restaurant (in the drawing, “New York New York” was scribbled on the whiteboard. There was such a place in Citilink back in 2008, but it later folded) that he started dating her, as she put it. She told Quan Yifeng that during this time, she assisted him—“有菜捧菜,有碗洗碗”, serve and wash dishes, whatever needed to be done. But in one episode of On the Red Dot in 2015, both regaled host Cheryl Fox with a far more dramatic story that was worthy of a Niu Chengze (鈕承澤) movie. Ms Chan said that an ex-boyfriend had stolen her money, so she asked “Ryan, who was just a normal friend, for help, because he looked more ‘gangster’ (suggesting that she was drawn to the more paikia type)”. Despite the confrontation that involved the other party’s family, the money was not returned. Mr Tan’s version, as he told Today in the same year: “I saw her on the streets and she was scolding some vulgarities to her ex-boyfriend, who seemed to have cheated her of some money. After that I tried to help her get her money, but it didn’t succeed”. They made a police report and went for lunch. Mr Tan described that meal together as their “first date”, to which she’d say, “That’s what he likes to tell people”.

But it did not end there. As he recalled on On the Red Dot, “I had to drop her off at the checkpoint for her to go home. Before the long tedious journey to the customs, we stopped by at my home, where she came by (but nothing happened)”. After sending her to the checkpoint, he return home and found a bottle of perfume in his room. Thinking that Ms Chan had left it behind by mistake, he contacted a common friend to have it returned to the owner, but was told that he had to do it himself. When he met her to pass the perfume bottle back to her, “that’s when we got together and started dating,” he said. The story, again, does not end there: more was revealed on their wedding day. “The common friend got so drunk… she told me that Sylvia left the perfume bottle there intentionally, and she asked me not to take it back from you so that you will see her again”. Those with a flair for strategising may find possible kinship with her in her methods.

Even when Ryan Tan’s restaurant business was in full swing, his girlfriend-by-then, Sylvia Chan, was unable to say what her interests truly were. “In fact, I did know what I would like to do,” she said on Hear U Out. “The restaurant was not doing well and incurred losses. It became Ryan’s turn to be depressed.” She asked him, “Eh, how about you (sic) learn from my experience: firstly, ask yourself what would make you happy.” He told her that, as a matter of fact, he likes filming and editing videos. Mr Tan then took on a few freelance jobs, and the more filming and editing he did, the happier he became. “It came to a point when he said, ‘eh, I want to do this (making videos) as a career’.” She supported his decision. “Anyway, it was not that I had a big career waiting for me.” They started making wedding videos. At the start, they charged S$300 per production, a low price justified by the lack of wedding videography services back then, according to Ms Chan. But apart from weddings, the couple accepted jobs to record funerals too. As Ms Chan told Quan Yifeng, “You cannot laugh. We had to make money, okay. We had only two small cameras; we had to earn more to buy a bigger, better camera, which cost S$3,000.”

Sylvia Chan modelling when she was 17

At this juncture, it should be stated that there seems to be some contradiction in terms of chronological order of events, or who said what and did what. It is possible that the couple led such a hectic life that they told different people or different members of the press different dates relating to the important milestones of their lives together. Even Sylvia Chan herself has not been consistent with the sequence of the happenings in her life. In any case, after they “stead” for eight months, the Chens (陈) got married and became the Tans (陈) in 2010 (many conservative Singaporeans believe two people of the same surname should not come together in matrimony). On why she was attracted to Ryan Tan, she said on Ask.fm, “he complements me in every way and he has a fat baby smell that I love.” She said on Draw my Life, “one day, while we were driving, he asked me if I want to marry him (sic). So I said, are you sure, and he said yah.” She then called her “cool mom” to break the good news. The first question she asked her excited daughter: “you diao kia (unplanned, pre-marital pregnancy, in Hokkien) or not?” Ms Chan responded swiftly. “I said no and she replied (in the illustration, she wrote ‘I am a legit woman’), ‘Okay, lor. You want marry then marry, lor. K, bye’!” When this was revealed, the question on many lips was, who’s mother would ask such a question unless her daughter is known to her to be promiscuous?

But marry, the love birds did. By most early accounts, they were happy. Not only were they partners in life, they were partners in business. Before Night Owl Cinematic took definite shape, the couple dabbled in the F&B business again with Shi Wei Tian (食为天), a retro-themed Chinese restaurant in Joo Chiat Place—based on Mr Tan’s Malaysian grandmother’s recipes—that also served Malay street food, such as the fried rice, nasi Pattaya. As Ms Chan recounted in Draw my Life, her husband’s “food business was doing pretty well”, which seemed to contradict her claim to Quan Yifeng that “the restaurant was not doing well and incurred losses”. In any case, things appeared encouraging enough for Ryan Tan to open Shi Wei Tian. “It did well at first,” according to Ms Chan in Draw my Life, “but then the rising rental and the manpower loss (she did not elaborate) caused him a little bit of trouble and he was soon bleeding money from the business.” Things became so bad financially that, as the video telling continued, Mr Tan took money from the till, went to a casino “just to win a little bit more money to pay our staff. It worked but it was really a risky and scary part of our lives.” Despite the enterprising method, in the end, they “had to sell off all (their) businesses (listed as three)”, which led both to be in such bad financial shape that they had to “share their hawker centre meals together (sic)”.

Although editing on the side was enjoyable, Ryan Tan was “soon frustrated with the shots and he felt it wasn’t (sic) good enough to be edited, and that’s where he started doing videography on his own. NOC was thus born. According to her narration in Hear U Out, NOC came about in 2013 when a wedding planner approached them “to film his own set-up”. But he had some requirements; he did not want anything “basic”; he wanted to have “cinematography”. This stumped Ms Chan. “What? Cinematography?” They were asked if they knew what that was, and both said “YES!”. They had to, as they had already accepted the job, valued at an irresistible S$800. The client asked if they had a slider, and both said “YES!” too. They rented a slider and, as the filming was not due till a month later, they had a chance to practise. So, they gathered a few friends, which included Ms Chan’s brother Sikeen, and filmed the seminal comedy video, Shit Mahjong Players Say, which received 2,000 views on the first day of its release. Ms Chan told Quan Yifeng that she had never seen such a figure. A week later, the viewership grew to 20,000. By their third video, Shit Singaporean Girlfriends Say, “we were viral material” (to date, more than one million views and the ‘Shit’ series was born). The response encouraged the duo to build on their brand of humour: heartland-strong, grassroots-relevant, and not necessarily funny. Although the pair did discover cinematography, their output has never been a Christopher Doyle. But, to their target audience, slick production values mattered not. Ryan Tan and Sylvia Chan were the King of Bengdom and the Queen of Lian Land, and YouTube stars and the platform’s “power couple”.

Sylvia Chan as Xiao Bitch

Power coupledom took its toll (by 2018, the two were constantly on the top 10 lists of “Internet Celebrities You Must Know”). So did playing Xi Guay Ong (Ryan Tan as Watermelon King) and Xiao Bitch (Sylvia Chan as Crazy Bitch), the two NOC characters that Netizens are now saying could be at least partly autobiographical. In a 2015 episode of Sylvia Ryan, titled The Weird Couple, the now disgraced YouTuber Dee Kosh said, “Ryan and Sylvia are so different.” Added fellow YouTuber Fish, “they are so different I don’t even know how they work together or how even they got married (sic).” Mr Kosh described the male half of NOC as “a plain prata”, while Fish said “Sylvia, the prata, got egg, got chicken, got rice, got everything also add inside (sic).” Amid the past weeks’ allegations of bad behaviour, some of their followers are now wondering if Sylvia Chan has all along been playing and being her true self: ill-tempered and foul-mouthed. Two years after NOC was established, Ms Chan’s disposition was known to be like the colour of her hair: fiery. In the clearly not comedic The Weird Couple, Fish also declared that “Ryan is always a civil guy, but sometimes when Sylvia is angry, her tiger just comes out… WAAAA…” To substantiate his point, he described “one of (his) personal experiences shooting with Night Owl Cinematics…. when Sylvia gets really mad on set; she starts getting angry at somebody, (and) I want to ask her a question, but I am scared if I go, ‘eh, ah, Sylvia,’ she ‘WHAT, WHAT YOU WANT?’” When asked on Hear U Out how her staff would appraise her, she said confidently, “they would say I am fair, love that they write reports, and, if anything that is not done well, no matter who is guilty, I would scold.” Also on The Weird Couple, NOC’s star performer Tan Jianhao (now the CEO of his own company Titan Digital Media) said, “If they have any questions, go to Ryan, but when they see Sylvia, they will (shielding the right side of his face with his right hand), ‘oh my god, is she going to scold me?’”

Last year, the couple, minus their fervid avatars, shocked their fans and the world of local YouTubers with the news that they were divorced. The information was, like so much of their lives up till then, released via video on YouTube. This enjoyed a staggering 2.1 million views. Ms Chan, told Quan Yifeng that day, the viewers and fans knew of the divorce before her parents! Unsurprisingly, some Netizens wondered if they profited from this. Not long after the We Got A Divorce video, Ryan Tan shared his struggles with depression in an Instagram post. There was even a suicide attempt while filming a travelogue in Osaka in 2017. On the pressures of being a power couple and the demands of work, Mr Tan wrote, “I completely gave up on myself and started to loathe my existence, believing that my sole purpose was to just produce videos after videos (later, he described NOC as a “video factory”). I no longer had the desire to travel, to buy anything, or to even look forward to anything.” On the Divorce video, he said, “I don’t enjoy fame; I don’t enjoy recognition. I don’t enjoy being in the public eye.” The stress from the sacrifices is understandable. By then, it was known that “every YouTuber has appeared in an NOC video” and that the founders of NOC are the mother and father to the community”.

“Employees have noted that even after this survey was done, there was no improvement in the welfare of the staff, and no follow-up actions were conducted. Sylvia’s alleged feedback on this HR investigation was that she was not happy with the results of this survey as she found it to be biased”

It is not unreasonable to assume that Sylvia Chan was experiencing similar professional pressure, enough for the build-up to turn her into the verbally abusive person whose text and audio messages were leaked on social media three weeks ago, opening up allegations—and more allegations—of vulgar outbursts. While it is possible that Ms Chan has not resolved the affliction that she called “rage disorder”, it is also imaginable that she is a temperamental person to begin with, even when she has learnt martial arts, specifically wushu and taekwando (blue belt), whose basic tenets include courtesy, integrity, perseverance, and self-control. Not only are her present and former employees speaking up, others who have had dealings with her, including providers of personal services, are also relaying, “she is not a very nice person.” Armchair psychiatrists and her supporters attribute her explosive temper to survival instincts, honed during her students days, when she claimed she was bullied by classmates and teachers. We may never know the truth, but it is unfortunate that juvenile angst and anger can’t be left behind. Instead, they tag along and dominate adult professional life.

From the start of her career, Ms Chan has not worked as an employee. She made the leap to the station of boss in almost a single bound. Even when she helped out at Mr Tan’s restaurants, she did so as the boss’s lover. When NOC was formed, she ran it as one who had never been part of an organisation, at any level, that would have allowed her to see how an effective, pro-staff manager works. By her admission on Hear U Out, she knew almost nothing when she and Mr Tan started the business. She was even clueless about HR, although, as she said in Draw my Life, she studied “econs”. As she told Quan Yifeng, “At the start, we may not have a finance department, we have no accounts, no auditors, but suddenly we are working with government agencies, and many brands are coming onboard, and they would say, ‘does your HR know how to issue…’” So she went to learn: “I had to do my investigation—eh, what is HR?”

But it seemed she still did not quite grasp what she picked up. She said on Ask.fm, “I don’t know if many of you know but NOC is not just a YouTube channel but also a company—Ryan and I have staff to take care of…” Yet, top on the list of grievances aired on the End the Silence blog post is “alleged failed attempt to remedy HR issues”. As shared, a survey was conducted among the staff to help management better manage HR issues, but, as the writers of the blog stated, “employees have noted that even after this survey was done, there was no improvement in the welfare of the staff, and no follow-up actions were conducted. Sylvia’s alleged feedback on this HR investigation was that she was not happy with the results of this survey as she found it to be biased”. Is it possible that she is still ignorant of HR, and, therefore, runs her company based on unreliable instincts and the instilling of fear?

Sylvia Chan’s disposition is known to be like the colour of her hair: fiery

The startling exposé on End the Silence did not only reveal Sylvia Chan’s “misdeeds and mistreatment”, which the sharers—identified as “Sylvia’s victims”—want her accountable for, the single-entry blog post also laid open supposed financial irregularities that could fall afoul of the Companies Act, issues with salary paid to her ex-husband Ryan Tan (in a text chat that was also shared, she purportedly wrote, “I was the one who assign him the pay”), and the supposed request for her younger brother Sikeen Chan to be under the NOC payroll so that he could attain an S Pass and, as a result, file a PR application (it is not known if he is now a permanent resident, but in a May 2021 issue of Home & Decor, it was reported that “Sylvia and her brother decided to model this 1,700 sq ft shophouse after their childhood kampung home”). While she said on Hear U Out that she and Ryan Tan are no longer at a “玩玩 (play-play)” stage, as there were at the start, and that she has “slowly discovered” that, for many things, she has to “go by corporate rules”, followers of the on-going saga are now asserting that if the serious and incriminating allegations on End the Silence were true, she was merely paying lip service. And Quan Yifeng lapped it all up.

Perhaps more unfair was the digging up of her personal life away from NOC. However, since it was categorised as supposed infidelity, with its own cross head “Alleged Cheating On Ryan While He Was In Taiwan”, the whistleblower probably thought it ranks up there with “the improvement of employee welfare”. Through a series of text chats supposedly shared by “someone who was close to Sylvia” (yes, in the past tense), and who appeared to be away with Mr Tan and his team at the time the text messages were exchanged, Ms Chan was depicted to live a life of a sexually active woman, who enjoys the occasional fling and fellatio. She has admitted on television that part of the reason for revealing her divorce on YouTube—or so publicly—was because people were DM-ing Ryan Tan with the information that she was seen with other guys. She called this “拍拖, 喝咖啡而已 (dating but only drinking coffee)”. She did not deny engaging in social appointments with the possibility that a romantic relationship may develop. Her detractors would say neither did she admit to the details so explicitly shared—including the girth of the man’s genital—with the someone who was once close to her. But in the scandalous text messages revealed, she did acknowledge that she is inclined to cheat.

Social media stars tend to find fame and success rapidly, without the usual mundane trajectories experienced by those not in the same line of work. When they set up companies and are keen to give themselves fancy titles to show that, ultimately, they are the boss, not many are capable of living up to the lofty position that they have hoisted themselves on to. From the time her former husband saw her “on the street and she was scolding some vulgarities to her ex-boyfriend” to the alleged “strong language”—as she called it—used against a novice YouTuber under her watch to the fierceness on the confrontational Zoom meetings, Sylvia Chan has mostly shown the tough, street-savvy side of her that has not quite reflected the acceptance of “corporate rules”, which also include engagement, that she uttered so passionately. From watching her former husband dig into the till to gamble at a casino in the hope of a win to remunerate the restaurant staff to her own alleged late payments of NOC staff brought up in that Zoom meeting that was reported to have taken place last year, she seems to have adopted the stance, as many young, first-time bosses have, that it’s my company and my money, and I can do whatever I want. It is hard to see how this will end. But digital lives are forgettable lives, even when they hang over the heads of participants like a tragedy. Sylvia Chan, like the proverbial phoenix, will rise again.

Illustrations: Just So

Koh Boon Ki, Has It Come To This For You, Too?

Another day, another influencer in the news. Like Sylvia Chan, Koh Boon Ki was exposed and then she apologised. And as with Ms Chan, sort of

Influencers are good at generating news—that, we have to give to them. Few go about their digital lives quietly. After the Sylvia Chan saga, before you could say there would be a lull, another influencer makes the news. And, again, not for excelling in what they do (even if it’s creating some amazing TikTok videos), but what they should not do. Koh Boon Ki (许文琪) is, until now, your regular TikToker and Instagrammer. But she decided that, in her dating life, one thing is a requisite: “Just tell me all I should know before I even start talking to him”. No one guessed it then, but “all” is the operative word. So, last Sunday, she posted on TikTok a message superimposed on her sort-of-dancing (with hand movements to underscore her bust and to the apt soundtrack of Meghan Trainor’s narcissistic song Me Too), telling her 112,000 followers what she intended to do: start a “Telegram group with girls from all the dating apps in Singapore and we discuss the guys we’ve talked to and dates we’ve been on”. But it wasn’t innocently just a social group to “share notes”, as they would say in the old days. Ms Koh added, one senses, with relish: “imagine the excel sheet we can make”.

Shortly after the TikTok post, she created the said Telegram group, and named it “sg dating adventures”. She was determined; she did not renege. We don’t need to tell you what that spurred. The beauty of digital sisterhood is that it is so easy to mobilise members for action. Excited by the prospect of the gossip they could crowdsource and the certainty of the cads that they could out and spurn, someone took up Ms Koh’s suggestion, and turned what could have been an innocuous and girly group into one that is potentially pernicious. A Google spreadsheet, also innocently and inoffensively titled, “Dating Guide SG” was shared by an unidentified person. Split into two unkind, even spiteful, tabs, “Blacklist” and “Avoid”, it supposedly listed dozens of guys, entered by anonymous, don’t-mess-with-me users, with claims that the men are guilty of behaviours adverse to romantic dating life. These ran the gamut, from infidelities to molestations to outright sexual assault. But other than a warning to others of the men best to avoid, it was also a comparative study of some of the listees’ skill—or none—in pleasing the listers, sexually!

No one could say if what were seriously alleged were at all true. What’s even more startling and disturbing is that the compilation purportedly included the men’s full names and contact details. Is it at all surprising then that Netizens were quick to call what was happening “doxxing” and cyberbullying? Even trolling? Ms Koh, who has admitted to the media that there are viewers who find her videos “cringey”, reacted rapidly too, declaring in the wee hours of Monday morning that the group chat she started was closed. Later in the day, the recent pharmacy graduate from NUS pointed out, via TikTok, that she was not the one behind the open doc. She subsequently said, possibly in the hope of absolving herself from guilt, “I did not realise that it was also spiralling into a name-and-shame group”. How about date and divulge? Or, the good ol’ kiss and tell. And a collective one! Group gratification, to boot. Safety in numbers. A vexed SOTD reader texted us and asked, “What’s the difference between this and revenge porn?” We could only reply with “good question”.

“I did not realise that it was also spiralling into a name-and-shame group”

Koh Boon Ki

Pleading innocence further, Ms Koh continued, “It did not turn out the way I imagine, and (sic) it turned out way worse”. Many think “worse” is putting it extremely mildly: she gathered the girls; she was the facilitator; she did not stop the list from view. Or, likely, from circulating. Then came the apology video, which is viewed 282.9K times and is loved by 7,460 followers (at the time of this writing). It is delivered in rapid-fire speech, without even a single use of either of two crucial words: apologise or sorry. She opened by saying, “I am here to address the video that I posted and the group chat I created”. The TikTok video, according to her, was conceived and put out “in the spur of the moment”. In other words, swayed by impulse. It did not dawn on her that her action was reckless. Throughout the explain-herself video post, she littered her prattle with “I did not” and “I didn’t”. Rather than expressing remorse (she did say “regret”, but only that the spreadsheet exists), she cleverly turned the drama into a chance to spotlight sexual assault alleged in the document and “if (they) were true, I hope there are authorities involved”. The lack of self-reproach is, consciously or not, remarkably consistent with the digital lives of uniquely self-obsessed influencers.

The spreadsheet is reportedly deleted after its scandalous existence was exposed and deemed harassment. Ms Koh has mostly denied that she had anything to do with the shared doc although she did first tantalise, not scandalise, her followers with “imagine the excel sheet we can make”. Another layer of mystery emerges: Did Ms Koh already know of such a list, one that would grow a Telegram group in just one night? If not, who would be able to compile the names and the corresponding misdeeds and character flaws with such speed? Or, again, was the list already prepared to be shared? Who has been waiting for Ms Koh’s “spur of the moment” to pounce? That the document exists is, perhaps, unsurprising. We live in a shame-free, co-ed social culture where it seems totally acceptable, even when it’s deplorable, to post such a poser on forums—Hardware Zone, no less: “Nowadays girls all so chio (hot), how married guys tahan (bear it)?” Is the Google spreadsheet “Dating Guide SG” pay-back time?

Koh Boon Ki has 112.7K followers on TikTok, where she posts, like so many of her peers, inane, lamely comedic videos. A member of the site since Christmas day, 2019, she seems to enjoy sharing (mainly) herself in dance, showing moves of no discernible flair, but in touch with her inner Ah Lian. On Instagram, where she enjoys a surprisingly smaller following—13.5K, but no less hyper-visibility, she posts stills of her hawking anything, from clothes to skincare products to pasteurised fruit juice. In videos and in selfies, she reminds us of Elaine Heng (formerly Elaine Jasmine), who was also embroiled in an influencer-style scandal in 2018. They dress alike and pose alike. Both their expressions metronome-clicks between sweet and sweeter (occasionally goofy), a twinning that would encourage her male followers to call her cute or even chio, to use the expression popular in chat groups. Like many of her fellow Gen-Zers, Ms Koh is weaned on fast fashion. As such, she demands fast dates too. She wants to know all she should know about the guy before she meets him, and a group chat would, therefore, “save everybody some time”. On Instagram, she wrote in her “Bio” (and we quote verbatim): “can’t talk right now. i’m doing hot girl sh!t”. Last Sunday, she sure was. Will “hot girl sh!t” then land her in hot girl soup?

Updated (19 October 2021, 23:00): Koh Boon Ki shared a new TikTok video, directed to “my FA friends”, less than 24 hours after her supposed apology video. In her latest post, she said, “the next time I tell you about my spending habits, and you think I need an investment plan, NO. I need therapy”. As she probably does not think she has done anything wrong, laying low isn’t on the cards.

Illustration: Just So

Kim Kardashian Looks Upholstered

So that you’ll know she’s pretty wrapped up in herself?

By Mao Shan Wang

Kim Kardashian has so many firsts that I stopped counting. Her debut as host of Saturday Night Life this past weekend is certainly one. But watch I did, not count. As her performance went rather smoothly and on-script, it didn’t have the same impact as the sex tapes (2007) or the Vogue cover (2014), or the time she broke the Internet (also 2014, a vintage year). I think it has to do with the jelak factor. Even when she is totally shrouded in black for an event that one attends to be seen: the Met Gala. Can Ms Kardashian, 41, surprise anymore? Sure, she is a savvy businesswoman and, to her fans, a style icon, but can there be more to her that would cause our jaw to drop? In that confidently handled SNL monologue, she already ruled out the possibility of being an American president. However hard I tried, I could not think of anything else I want to see her do except not to see her. Or, to see less of her.

When she walked down the stairs of the set of SNL, I thought it was a stagehand gone rogue, beating her to it by appearing as Miffy with a remade body in the shape of Kanye West’s still-legal-wife. But it was not so. As she moved towards the camera, one question immediately hit me. Why would anyone who would not hesitate to share naked selfies of herself on social media now want to look like a upholstered love seat, removed from a love hotel? And in lurid pink! I am serious. Or, after the Met Gala, should I say re-upholstered? Ms K loves nudity, but now she preferred covering every part of her body—more completely than a sofa. Yes, even her fingers and her toes. Why the strange modesty? Is this a divorce-in-the-process look? The fIngers covered so that no one can see that she is no longer trapped by a wedding ring?

The pink velvet(?) catsuit is designed by Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga. We sort of had a preview of Ms K’s total-onesie in the Paris Fashion Week animated short of the Simpsons walking a Balenciaga show. She was seated in the front row, looking vacuum-sealed. Her face for SNL, however, was not covered. But as with the black outfit—also by Balenciaga—that she wore for the Met Gala, there was no mistaking who the silhouette belonged to. A body with such a defined and smooth shape had to be enhanced by some shape wear. It is, of course, expected that she’d wear one to promote her own Skims line (initially called Kimono!), however successful it already is. The Balenciaga second skin needed the Skims for sure. So why let Balenciaga have all the publicity? Now, that to me is a symbiotic relationship. And what better place to show it than on YouTube-bound television, on Saturday night?

Photo: NBC/YouTube

And It Comes To This

Facing controversy, influencers tend be defiant till the end… until they cannot be. Sylvia Chan’s strategy is no different

Warning: this post contains language and descriptions that some readers may find offensive

Like so many people, we too have been following the Sylvia Chan (陈思华) saga. This is far more compelling than her own scripted “content” for Night Owl Cinematics (NOC) and anything that the writers of the won’t-conclude Kin have dreamed up; this is real life, this is hot-blooded harshness. But Malaysian-born Ms Chan is neither Ella Shelley nor Loh May Wan, nor any of their children. She is a bona fide influencer. Major, or depending on how easily influenced you are. And like so many of those who chose this line of work, she is no alien to controversy or behaviour of doubtful propriety. As you would have read, Ms Chan was ”exposed” on the Instagram page @sgcickenrice (yes, chicken spelled without the ‘h’) for language used against employees, including their looks, that are, at best, impolite (the posts have been removed). “Vulgar” and “abusive” have been bandied about in the media, social or others, but, in the newest post on her Instagram page (which enjoys 231K followers), Ms Chan wrote somewhat euphemistically that her “expressions may have been harsh” (may?). One target of her ungentle ways was purportedly NOC’s own talent and fellow influencer Samantha Tan, who is described as a newbie, as she joined NOC only two years ago—but not new enough to benefit from the clemency of an old bird.

In case you think influencers are those who really have nothing better to do than take selfies of themselves and post the photos on social media, as well as aligning themselves with brands for enviable income, Ms Chan is also the co-founder and chief executive of Night Owl Cinematics (in Facebook, she calls herself “big sister” of NOC), a media company that is (self-)touted as creators of “content with a cause”. In fact, co-founding seems a particular professional flair of hers. In 2012, she co-founded her earliest digital media venture, a YouTube channel named Ryan Sylvia—the former, Ryan Tan, now her former husband. With him, she also co-founded NOC in 2016. A year later, she co-founded Food King, another YouTube channel, this time dedicated to the F&B scene. Ms Chan was also co-listed with Mr Tan on the Forbes’ 2016 salute to young achievers in Asia, “30 Under 30”, which capped a career of accolades for NOC, including numerous “Top Trending Videos”, among them the weak-minded, stereotype-perpetuating, and unfunny 12 Types of Classmates. Eleven months after the two co-s announced their divorce on YouTube (garnering 2 million views to date!) in May last year (it was finalised in March), Ms Chan received her Singaporean citizenship.

Is it possible that beneath the smiles, there are struggles with mental health, as in the cases of quite a few women of this past year, who were prone to outbursts and social disobedience?

In an IG post on 30 September, Sylvia Chan shared what could be a first: a photo of her unsmiling self, with another influencer Joanna Lim, a chum from her “all time top 10 friendship list”. The accompanying message read: “Just because someone chooses to smile instead of cry, it (sic) does not mean that she is not struggling with mental health problems”. Almost all of Ms Chan’s selfies on IG offer a smile, sometimes with teeth baring between amply plump and coloured lips, even when she isn’t hawking client Yunnan Baiyao’s (云南白药) toothpastes (we won’t mention Colgate since the company has “decided to terminate all related collaborations with her”). Oftentimes her mouth gapes so she’d look goofy. Is it possible that beneath the smiles, evident since her third IG post in 2014 (she joined the social media four months earlier), there are struggles with mental health, as in the cases of quite a few women of this past year, who were prone to outbursts and social disobedience, especially the recalcitrant? If you, like most, know her only through Ryan Sylvia or the videos of NOC, Ms Chan comes across as a joker or a fun seeker, who can’t be separated from her Ah Lian self.

As it turned out, what she wrote in her post was from first-hand experience. In one edition of the Chinese talk show Hear U Out (权听你说), televised last year, Ms Chan agreed with host Quan Yifeng (权怡凤) when the latter said, “…其实你本人不搞笑, 很严肃 (…in fact, personally you are not funny, very serious [or, as we now guess, even mirthless?]). Speaking in mostly halting Mandarin, breathing with hints of unmistakable Federation accent, she soon revealed that when she was 17 and studying in Anglo Chinese Junior College (ACJC), she was diagnosed as clinically depressed, following the death of her maternal grandmother, to whom she was close to. By her own revelation in English (that peppered much of her chatter), she was suffering from “severe depression, OCD, and rage disorder”, which she said was caused by “hormonal imbalance”. Her doctor gave her “两年的MC, 不是两个月 (a medical certificate for two years, not two months)”. The Johorean quit ACJC after the diagnosis, and later enrolled in an unspecified eight-month course to learn about depression, partly to heal herself and partly because she thought she wanted to be a doctor. But, that fell through once she discovered that she “不是当医生的料 (is not doctor material) as studying science, she 根本都不喜欢 (does not like at all)”. She did not say if she is still suffering from (or receiving treatment for) any of the three diseases mentioned.

The Protestor in 12 Types of Classmates

It is not easy to reconcile Mr Chan’s revelation of last year with the revelation on social media of the past two weeks. On one audio recording (as well as text messages) attributed to her that was leaked, Ms Chan appeared to swear as fervently—and naturally—as Xiaxue (aka Wendy Cheng), and with as much gusto. If her tendency to eff anyone who crosses her was, for many, disconcerting, it is harder to imagine how the victims would feel, especially when one was shown to have been called “fuck face”. While the exposé on @sgcickenrice (and, according to vigilant Netizens, also TikTok) was incriminating, Ms Chan did not respond publicly. But three days ago, NOC did share a four-page post on IG, addressed to “valued artistes, employees, clients, partners and viewers”. It called the online accusations “attacks that have been carefully crafted and mounted on” the organisation and those under its employ. And that they are “serious breaches of the privacy laws”. On the same day, @sgcickenrice received a cease-and-desist letter from her lawyers. Yesterday, two weeks after the accusations surfaced, Ms Chan posted a near-apology on IG.

In the aberrantly-constructed, nine-page post, she wrote “apologise” once. “Sorry” fared better; it appeared twice. But the apology was not extended to Samantha Tan and others at the receiving end of her ready-to-dispense expletives, rather it was for not responding to the online charges soon enough. She was also sorry that she “did not step up to the standards” expected of a person in a leadership role and to her team, whose “good character and excellent work” were “undermined by (her) past action”. Is it any wonder Netizens thought the apology insincere? As for the rebuke of Ms Tan, “strong language”—as Ms Chan called it—was admittedly used, but, she assured readers that there was no “intention to harm, abuse or discriminate against her or anyone”. To the end (and in the last paragraph), she considered what she was accused of as “allegations” (which, together with its verb form, did as well as “sorry”—it showed up twice too). These include whatever was said to make her out to be a person—whose own “notable on-screen personas include Xiao Bitch, Luciana”, as stated in her LinkedIn profile—who was “rude and had used vulgarities”. There was no mention of rage disorder.

Via social media, and as she underscores in the lengthy IG post, she projects herself as one who “give(s) back especially to youths, women and mental health causes”

In all the characters that Ms Chan plays, few, if any, could be considered to be of model behaviour (are these birthed by mental health issues?). In 12 Types of Classmates, she played “The Protestor”, a delinquent agitator, who tells her teacher, “我忍你很久了 (I’ve had enough of you)”. But via social media, and as she underscores in the lengthy IG post, she projects herself as one who “give(s) back especially to youths, women and mental health causes”, while selling/promoting tons of stuff. In the Forbes listing mentioned above, it was shared that she and Ryan Tan were supposed to “start a fashion brand”. Nothing, it seems, came out of that desire. Ms Chan, whose clothier-clients include Love, Bonito and H&M, is not a fashion influencer in the same mould as, say, Yo-Yo Cao. With her predilection of letting her hair go unmistakably pink (and in ombré too), her style is more akin to pal Xia Xue’s, but, perhaps, with the sexiness and doll-likeness considerably dialled down. In her lively posts, the content and message take precedence, rather than the clothes. In fact, her vivid hair is often more the focus than what she wears. But, as she told Quan Yifeng in Hear U Out, she does not think she’s “loud”. Perhaps its myriad colours, like her smile, do not reveal her state of mental health, nor a predilection for profanity, even by her own admission that when it comes to work, “如果哪里做不好,不管是谁我都会骂 (if something is not done well, no matter who it is, I will scold)”.

That questionable influencer behaviours, which digital life shows abundantly, still surprise is, in itself, surprising. The fascination with the slip-ups of individuals who are socially influential won’t wane for as long as followers by the hundreds of thousands consider what the former wields to be influence. Unseemly speech and conduct deemed as undignified are all part of the mix. So are mental health issues as underlying issues. Decorum, online or offline, are going the way of punctuation in text messages: dispensable. Ugly manners and action, like ugly fashion, have ceased to be. Ugliness is no longer even recognisable. However, this post is not to identify it. Shortly after what @sgcickenrice shared two weeks ago, an SOTD reader sent us a message to ask who Sylvia Chan is. This answers the question based on what is already out in the public domain, and not intended to cause, as her lawyers asserted about the recent online exposés, “harassment, alarm and distress to many” (they did not say whether what their client supposedly said about others could effect the same). In her last IG post, Ms Chan wrote that she would be “removed from NOC’s lineup of artistes”. Even if so, she would still be seen as an influencer, an Instagrammer, a YouTuber. In one thread on a messenger chat that is still available on the web, Ms Chan purportedly wrote, “I can’t talk to influencers they are stupid (sic)”. Just with that, she could be encouraging many to agree with her. Let’s hope not.

Illustrations: Just So

Is This Dee End?

The former deejay is alleged to have done all those things he was accused of a year ago

“Some of the allegations baffled me,” Darryl Ian Koshy wrote on Instagram around this time last year, “because they were baseless and untrue.” The seven-image text denial came in the wake of accusations that he had solicited sexual favours from underaged boys. When he was arrested at his Woodlands HDB home in October last year, the police found that the loud and bawdy former deejay/YouTuber, better known as Dee Kosh, possessed “obscene videos”—23 of them, a few reportedly surreptitiously shot, and showed him and his victims in incriminating positions. According to Today, “Some of the videos that Koshy allegedly possessed showed him performing sexual acts with others. These were taken without the other party’s knowledge, the police said in a statement on Wednesday evening.” The 33-year-old had, at first, vehemently denied any wrong doing, even when the first boy to accuse him told Coconuts Singapore shortly after the scandal blew up, “It is disgusting to know that such a big public figure has the audacity to carry out such acts, and yet has no courage to own up for his own mistakes.” Another four more boys emerged to corroborate the first’s allegation with accounts that were disturbingly similar. Mr Koshy posted on IG a firm denial: “Let me state categorically that I did not ever have any sexual relations with him (the first accuser) or with any minor.”

Yet, a total of seven charges were brought against Mr Koshy earlier today: “three counts of communicating with a minor under 18 to obtain their sexual services, one of sexually exploiting a minor under 18, and three for possessing and making obscene videos of minors”, as widely reported in the media. He appeared in person to have the charges read to him, dressed in all black (including motorcycle boots that appeared to conceal a tracking device secured to his left ankle)), a colour that belied his more florid online drag personae. such as the course-mouthed Ria Warna and Leachme Teachu. Under a gag order, the names of the boys involved were not revealed to protect their identities. According to the police, Koshy had, between 2017 and 2020, allegedly induced victims below the age of 18 years old to agree to sexual services in exchange for monetary payments. In one specific charge involving the youngest victim, aged 15, he supposedly asked the boy to perform recompensed—undisclosed amount (he was known to call “incentive”)—sexual acts, between March and June 2018. The results of the lengthy investigation seem to confirm what was filed with the police last year—at that time, at least six reports were known to be lodged against the sexual perpetrator.

It started with online allegations in mid-August last year—and screenshots of explicit chats between Mr Koshy and his victims, who claimed they connected with the “talent scout”, as he was thought to be, on Telegram, as well as through the direct message feature on IG. Those conversations were damning enough, but he refuted the accusations vehemently on Instagram Stories at first, and then later apologised and admitted “that there is truth to some of the things which are being said now”. When the reports were lodged with the police, investigations followed. More reveals circulated on social media. Celebrity friends shared their views—a mix of disbelief and support. Even AWARE lent their weight, posting on IG: “It is categorically wrong to engage a minor in sexual conversation. And there is no situation in which quid pro quo sexual harassment could be acceptable.” Mr Koshy, who still enjoys 188,000 followers on Instagram and 367,000 on YouTube, remained largely quiet, but about a month after the arm of the law caught up with him, he posted on IG a defiant message: “Not dead. Not gone. Just waiting for police investigations.” The wait is now over.

Illustration: Just So

Triple The Treat

For those of you who can’t get enough of Kim Lim, there are three cover stories of her this month. National Day celebration?

By Mao Shan Wang

Great editors think alike. In line with National Day celebrations, three local magazines have Kim Lim (林慧俐 or Lin Huili) graced their covers this month—not quite enough for you to think of 4D numbers, but definitely adequate for many to conclude that Ms Lim is our It girl, if they have not already before. And, as my brother reminded me, yummy mommy. I do not know why we need the three covers—Prestige, Icon (风华), and Her World—and the attended cover features at a go. Many folks of the media/advertising world don’t too, wondering if it’s anything to do with magazine revenue. One media professional WhatsApp-ed me: “I’m looking to see what the magazines got from her stable of companies.” Another, a PR manager, also texted me, after sending a screenshot from Magzter: “Wonder if it’s becoz they’re hoping to get ad $ from her spas.” The suspicions are understandable: an executive from her organisation had reportedly called some members of the media to ask if they would like to feature the beauty mogul-to-be.

Last Thursday, before the burgeoning buzz, I was flipping through magazines at Kinokuniya (curiously both Prestige and Icon are not out, only the latter’s online version). A fortysomething guy asked me, pointing to the Her World in my hands, “Is she so hot?” I could only manage a reluctant “no idea”. But Kim Lim is hot, just not the same hot as some scantily-clad influencers (she is, to he sure, not opposed to the occasional bikini shot for Instagram), but media-friendly hot. From dailies to monthlies, no publication will say no to a Kim Lim story, even if we’ve read them all before. It isn’t, of course, Ms Lim’s first multi-covers-in-one-month exposure. In fact, this August, she graduated from last year’s two (L’Officiel and Icon) to a plus one. It might have been three as well if HW had not published theirs a month earlier then. She was portrayed as an edgy influencer, as well as a loving daughter. This year, she is a sophisticate and a businesswoman. And, in view of National Day, model citizen? Wearing her long bob identically on all three covers, she is dressed differently on each, posing as a society lass in Fendi on Prestige, a wristwatch model in Dior on Icon, and a grand prix racer (or motor technician?) in Burberry on HW.

This month’s issue of what was once known—and marketed—as our island’s best-selling women’s magazine is as thin as the cover girl. Pages 4 and 5 of HW are a double-page advertisement for Illumia Therapeutics, Ms Lim’s one-year-old-plus medispa business which she calls “a beauty powerhouse”. It is an unsurprising industry choice since spa-visiting is increasingly a mass activity. Hers is the only beauty advertisement in the first quarter of the 112-page book, and, in fact, throughout. The Illumia Therapeutics ad, featuring a photo of the profile on the founder, is totally without competition from Estee Lauder or Shiseido, bona fide powerhouses. There are five ads in total, which is shocking to me. Admittedly, I have not read HW for years; I didn’t think they would be this skinny on advertisements. It is not unusual for magazines to feature products of advertisers, or the people behind brands. So, Ms Lim on the cover of HW is not unexpected, and does seem to commensurate with the editorial practice of picking the cover based on obligations to brands. I do not know how many insertions Illumia Therapeutics has committed to HW, but it is unlikely just one, since a single ad—even a double-page spread—is not quite enough to secure a cover story for its owner.

Kim Lim, Kim Lim, Kim Lim. From left, in Her World, Icon, and Prestige

Ms Lim, who turned 30 last month, is known as an influencer since she joined Instagram in late 2012. To date, she has 302K followers on IG, making her the more substantial ‘macro-influencer’. Exactly how influential she has been, no one could say for certain. I think she is able to impact especially those for whom a socialite who dresses fashionably has swaying power. Although oftentimes known as an “heiresses”, like Paris Hilton (now in Netflix’s offbeat series Cooking with Paris), Ms Lim prefers not to be saddled by such tags, even when many of her followers admire her as one who would come into considerable wealth (not that she isn’t already enjoying that, but, as one of her acquaintances said, to me, “her father is the billionaire, not her. Yet.”). She now communicates a more mature version of herself, and, as the reports in the above magazines go, wants to be taken seriously as a serious businesswoman. She told HW, “I want to try and make it by myself. I have a goal in life and somewhere I want to be”, even when she was honest about the initial financial kick-start she received from her tycoon father (whose high-profile business ownerships include Spanish La Liga Club Valencia CF and Thomson Medical Group). “Yes, he gave me a certain amount to start with,” she said. “But he also told me that if I run out, that’s it.”

It is unthinkable that Mr Lim, ranked 17th among SG’s 50 richest by Forbes in 2020, would leave her daughter in a lurch, but some influencers I spoke to think that Ms Lim can always leverage on her social-media fame and reach. One veteran medispa operator I know told me that it is “amazing” that the profile of Illumia Therapeutics (and sibling centre Papilla Haircare) could be raised in such a short period of time. In fact, Ms Lim runs a far bigger business than the two I mentioned earlier. She established the parent company Kelhealth Group, under which another half a dozen companies operate. Many observers think that it is upon the strength of her social-media reach (even when she has a degree in business management from Singapore Institute of Management) that Ms Lim is able to elevate herself and her ventures as successes rather visibly. She has not publicly released figures, so it is not known to what extend her success is. But she seems aware of the limitation of banking on her online fame. Icon quoted her saying, “但只要有更新鲜的面孔出现,随时会被取代。这是一个无可避免的问题 (for as long as fresher faces appear, [social media stars] will be replaced any time. This is inevitable).”

Apart from her online means of communication, Ms Lim is also able to count on the social hive to which she is part of, whose queen bee could well be the celebrity hairdresser David Gan (颜天发), whom Ms Lim calls “我的老娘 (my elderly mother)”—in line with the term of endearment Fann Wong (范文芳) and other Mediacorp artistes use: ah bu (啊母 or mother in Hokkien), as well as pal and fellow influencer, the controversial Xiaxue (下雪 or Wendy Cheng, as she is known to her friends). There are also her media chums, the editors who adore her—including Icon’s Sylvester Ng and Lianhe Zaobao’s Ng King Kang (吴庆康), known to be generous with editorial space when she is featured. Back in 2018, for the December issue, Icon produced a large-scale, multi-city shoot, covering Manchester, London, Paris, and Valencia (are you surprised?), to fill 60 pages of what Lianhe Zaobao, in an editorial to plug the fellow SPH title, called a “林慧俐特辑” (Kim Lim special issue). On Facebook, Sylvester Ng, who refers to Ms Lim as “my dear buddy”, revealed—I sense with great pride—that it was “the biggest (and most expensive) production ever in the 13 years of Icon”. That issue, I remember, had members of the media talking. Close to three years later, on three separate magazine covers, the heiress is similarly encouraging just-as-buzzy talk.

Update (11 August 2021, 18:30):

Elizabeth Leong (left) and Kim Lim in an Instagram post under which is the hashtag #bff. Photo: niawmitz/Instagram

Just four days after my post, and two after National Day, news relating to Kim Lim’s Kelhealth Group has emerged. Medispa veteran Elizabeth Leong, described by the press as Ms Lim’s “business partner”, has shared on IG—about two hours ago—of her “departure and disassociation from Kelhealth, Illumia Therapeutics, Illumia Medical, IllumiaSkin, Papilla Hair, Polaris Plastic, Orion Orthopaedics.” Ms Leong identified herself as a “co-founder” of the above brands on Linkedin. For most of her professional life, she has, in fact, been in the beauty and aesthetics business. Before she joined Ms Lim, she was the general manager of Cambridge Medical Group (CMG) for close to six years. Ms Leong also stated in Linkedin that she was the “co-founder” of Cambridge Therapeutics and other brands under CMG. Prior to establishing Illumia Therapeutics, Ms Lim was the brand ambassador of Cambridge Therapeutics, according to a 2018 Her World editorial.

In Elizabeth Leong’s two-paragraph IG post, she also stated that she is “moving on positively”. In addition, she expanded on what she would be moving on from: “Although it is painful to be pushed out, I am proud of what I have built…” Could this explain what the “departure” is about? She did not say who (or what) pushed her out. Folks in the industry did not hesitate to speculate. Slightly more than two weeks ago, Ms Leong shared on IG a photograph of Kim Lim celebrating her birthday with “30 cakes”. Two days earlier, she posted a nine-shot grid-picture of her and the birthday girl, with the message, “Kim, love you 300”. In her “departure” post (as I write this, there is 79 likes), one of the hashtags she added—among ten that she used (six in Chinese)—was #人要讲义气 (people have to value loyalty). Allegiance, as many of us know, is as fragile as love.

Illustrations: Just So. Profile photos: respective magazines

Who Is Duan Mei Yue?

The model who was unhappy with the delineation of her by a local artist had dreams to land on the cover of Vogue Italia

Our own illustrated likeness of Duan Mei Yue, done, we admit, without her permission. This serves as illustration to this post only, and will not not be used commercially

Warning: this post contains language that some readers might find offensive

Full-time model Duan Mei Yue (段美玥) is trending, but not for a breakthrough runway show or an outstanding magazine cover we usually associate with models who receive ardent media attention. Rather, she’s been making the news for being deeply unhappy with some graphite and acrylic drawings by local artist Allison M Low called Weight of Longing that were discernibly based on a photograph posted on Instagram in February 2018. This photo, shot by professional lensman Li Wanjie, was allegedly used to create a “likeness” without Ms Duan’s expressed approval. (Just because images on social media are posted for all, does it mean they are free for all?) When she discovered that the drawings appeared as a chipped cut-out on the floor of the Love, Bonito store in Funan and, later, on the cover of author Amanda Lee Koe’s award-winning Ministry of Moral Panic, she was livid and so affected that she felt “very violated knowing that someone has profited off my likeness without my knowing or consent,” according to a post on Instagram Stories nine weeks ago. The distress, as she told it (too aggrieved to punctuate properly), wrecked her life—“how can i sleep at night”, “how do i function as per usual”, “how do i not let this affect me”.

Ms Duan’s anguish is understandable. Although she is a model, she did not model for Ms Low. Nor, was she paid by the artist as a model in abstentia. To see photos of her lopped-off face crowned by a head tie and positioned on the floor of Love, Bonito, also a community centre of sort, even under the guise of art, must have been too hard to stomach. It is not difficult to see why she was upset to be placed on that level. But, at Love, Bonito, it seemed to her that the artist was remunerated for the work that was used not only as art-prop, but also as visual for pendants and on tote bags. This could have been a revenue stream for her too, rather than just the artist’s. It isn’t known how much Love, Bonito paid Ms Low for the work (or Empigram Books, publisher of Ministry of Moral Panic), but it was reported that the artist, a Temasek Polytechnic School of Design graduate, made €1,875 (about S$3,000) from a sale of another art piece with Ms Duan’s likeness through an identified gallery. For one who professed that she has “a spending problem”, and “don’t have millions of dollars behind (her) name”, this lost income was, unsurprisingly, maddening. On IG Stories, she proclaimed “i’d be ok with this if it was done after i leave this existence but when i’m still alive and broke? no thank u”. In addition, she declared: “i have no money for a fucking lawyer”.

Interestingly, Ms Duan, who deprecatingly calls herself “just an awkward noodle” and has no problem identifying as “this dumb hoe”, loves to draw, and had often posted her amusing output on social media (on IG alone, she has, to-date, 55.1k followers) when she was still doing her A levels and not modelling full-time yet. Most of them, similar to her likeness in question, were of faces. Whether they were a figment of her imagination or based on photographs, she did not say. But they were expressed, including the self-portraits, in a sometimes quirky manner, not unlike the Arien herself. She said on IG, “im really relatable and im very honest with my vulnerability n flaws”. It is the honesty, perhaps, that led her to confess in her earliest post, that she “fucking love cats”. Ms Duan has a weakness for the F-word: “best fucking strawberry marshmallows” or “dramafest and photography camp made me so fucking happy” (just two of the many examples), but unlike, say, influencer Wendy Cheng (aka Xia Xue), who uses the four letters as cuss word, Ms Duan tends to employ them as adverb and adjective, and possibly also as indicator that she has crossed into adulthood. One expresses irritation, the other, delight.

The works of art that “violated” Duan Mei Yue: (clockwise from left) cover of book by Amanda Lee Koe, the drawing by Allison M Low, and the chipped piece on the floor of Love, Bonito (also by Ms Low). Photos: Epigram Books, Retrospect Galleries, and Allison M Low/Instagram respectively

She is candid and tells it like it is, which for her followers, is her charm and her pull. Accompanying a photo she posted in November 2017 to be used as a profile picture, Ms Duan wrote, with, again, scant regard to punctuation—and, now, propriety, “i’ll let you guys in on a secret; i photoshopped my armpits bc it’s so wrinkly it looks like a vagina”. Her “vagpit” reference prompted 1,862 likes and 54 comments, of which 24 were variations of “the most beautiful”, with one, calling her “仙女本人” (xian nu ben ren or the fairy herself). Her fans rave about her looks, but she is not considered conventional beauty, a point Ms Duan acknowledges. In 2019, she told the Shanghai media, “我从外貌来看就很少归类为传统模特” (wo cong wai mao lai kan jiu hen shao gui lei wei chuan tong mo te or “from my appearance, I am rarely classified as a traditional model”). But this non-traditional look is possibly why the casting agents in the West have been interested in her—she fits the Western perception of eastern beauty and exotica.

On her face, she has what the Chinese would call “丹凤眼” (dan feng yan or red phoenix eyes, referring to almond-shaped peepers with outer corners inclined upwards). Her eyes are set rather apart, creating a wide glabella that make-up artists don’t necessarily know what to do with. “You can’t shade that area,” one seasoned pro told us. “She also has a lot of space between the upper eyelid and the brow, which may require a lot of colour”. In a commentary on China’s Sohu (搜狐), Ms Duan was described to have “塌鼻梁圆鼻头” (ta bi liang yuan bi tou or collapsed bridge, round nose), which the writer acknowledged to be “颠覆了国际超模的直挺范儿” (dian fu le guo ji chao mo de zhi ting fan er or subverting the straightforward styles of international supermodels). And those full lips, not seen since Ethel Fong. In sum, her facial features may post a challenge to her creative partners, but most fashion stylists generally say she is fun to work with, as “she has character”. There’s a campy side to her too. In one IG post, she lip-synced delightfully to Olivia Newton-John’s Hopelessly Devoted to You!

Duan Mei Yue, now 22, started modelling full-time in 2017 after completing her A-Levels (if modelling didn’t work out, she would have considered psychology in university), but had earlier already wanted to be a model after discounting the possibility of being a fashion designer. She told Female magazine in 2018 that “K-pop and anime were part of my motivation to become a model. I saw how the K-pop idols I obsessed over at that time walked Seoul Fashion Week and they were invited to various fashion shows during the fashion week circuit in Europe and New York so I thought maybe I should become a model to meet them lol”. And ultimately, to be on the cover of Vogue Italia. She also told Cleo in 2019, “I started when I realised that I needed to express my love for aesthetics and fashion”. She has, so far, walked the runways of Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo, New York, and Paris, but was conspicuously absent at the biggest fashion show of the year on our island: last week’s Louis Vuitton presentation, when the “bigger” star at the moment, Yong Kai Gin, had her SG moment in the klieg lights—and the rain.

Ms Duan gives the impression that there were many artists, professionals or amateurs, who desired to draw her face. On IG Stories, she wrote, “every other artists (sic) has either properly compensated me or has agreed to stop the selling and apologised sincerely”. Perhaps, it is true: Her unusual features are more interesting to artists than standard symmetry or placid perfection. That Allison M Low, herself considered a “looker”, chose that fated picture, one that would have been a weak shot for casting agents, is telling of the appeal of Ms Duan’s off-kilter looks. In her response to the controversy, Ms Low told The Sunday Times that “the artworks… were about the strength and grace in women…” but while there seems to be tremendous strength on both sides (and among their respective supporters), there has not been a palpable sense of grace, as the war wages online. As one marketing manager said to us, “Duan Mei Yue has grown-up. The modelling around the world has opened her eyes.” When that photo was shared on the model’s IG page on 18 Feb 2018, this was her comment (and we’re quoting verbatim): “grey eyes from @ttd_eye queen grey go spend some of dat angpao moneys and get yoself some cool grey eyes with a cool discount by using my code “dmeiyue” ✨ portrait by @uuanjie as usual hehe makeup done by moi :*” That girl is no more.

Illustration and collage: Just So

Tantrum On Full Display

Malaysian celebrity/influencer Cathryn Li made a sudden, heated departure during a Facebook Live session when she felt she was attacked by Netizens. Is storming out becoming a social trend?

First there was Piers Morgan, just a day ago. Mr Morgan, co-host of ITV’s Good Morning Britain show, was criticised by others on the broadcast he has been synonymous with, for his caustic comments on Meghan Markle’s allegations—during the recent Oprah Winfrey interview—that he thought to be spurious. He didn’t like what his colleague said (or was unable to fire back), so he upped and left. Now, closer to home, is Malaysian influencer/classical pianist/actress Cathryn Li’s (李元玲) departing in a huff (above), right in the middle of a Facebook Live session. She had been asked to play the piano and to jam along with the hosts. Those who tuned in didn’t think she played well and said so. She was not able to stomach the comments and got up and stomped off; her anger palpable and audible throughout her extended departure, leaving no doubt that she was truly offended.

Ms Li, who describes herself as “an ordinary girl” but is no stranger to controversy, had appeared as a special guest on the two-hour-forty-minute (Ms Markle’s interview was, a measly two hours!) live recording of the sixth episode of 正面交锋 (zhengmian jiaofeng) or FaceTalk, hosted by music producer and founder of Butterfly Entertainment, Andy Chan, and his music pals Fandi Foo and Zax Lee. FaceTalk is dubbed as “all about life’s bullshit and tell it out (sic)”. Broadcast in (Malaysian) Cantonese, it is essentially a web chat show with music thrown in, as the hosts sing and play their favourite songs. It seemed that Ms Li was not informed, prior to her appearance, that she would be asked to perform on the keyboard or to sing. She did say that she would need practice. Still, she was game enough to play when asked a second time. Things took a turn for the unpleasant when she opted out of playing to be audience and started paying attention to her phone (an insolent prelude to the impending fit?) and to the comments of her posted online. Some viewers clearly were not impressed by Ms Li’s performance of pop music and unsympathetically expressed their disappointment. She was seen deeply affected.

For her web appearance, Cathryn Li wore a seen-before-in-IG, dusty-pink, laced, half-half number—dress in the front and romper in the back—that left her ample assets little to the imagination. The ruffled armhole appeared to be way too large for her: throughout much of her appearance on the show, she was seen adjusting the straps, even when in a state of mounting annoyance. Although it could be the ruffles irritating her skin, it did appear that she was pulling her straps up and backwards, so that the bust of the dress would not slip south. Ms Li is, of course, known for her preference of skimpy clothing. Her Instagram photos, which include one of her as Wonder Woman(!), could be seen as material for men’s onanistic delight. There’s a ditziness to her persona, affirmed by inane messages, such as “星星在天上,你在我心里” (“the stars are in the sky, you are in my heart”). What Ms Li, who believes that size “M = Fat” and “anything above M is as sinful as obesity”, wore on FaceTalk was consistent with her taste, if seen through just IG alone (presently, 1.9 million followers). At some point during the show, the microphone (on a stand) was repositioned so that Ms Li was not speaking too closely to it, but in the new spot, the mic cast a strangely phallic shadow on her cleavage, playing up the fantasy of her as the lubricious “Piano Goddess” (钢琴女神).

The show—admittedly an over-long interview that was, at best, inane) started well enough. Ms Li was cutely amicable. She even said, to the amusement of viewers, that she wants to be the “first female Asian weightlifter” who models rather than compete. Her “goal”, in doing so, is to “inspire women to take up weightlifting as a sport, and not to consider themselves as weaklings, who need protection, who leave the heavy-lifting to men.” That galvanising of strength soon whittled when she showed that she was not strong enough to take on her critics or haters. “Everyone is scolding me,” she yell-lamented in her choppy Cantonese. “I didn’t come here to be scolded,” her voice close to choking with tears. “I didn’t know I have to play the piano,” she insisted. “You guys didn’t tell me to prepare.” Throughout her outburst, she kept repeating, in English, that she’s “just a classical pianist”, and, emphatically, “not a keyboardist.” That distinction is important. Ms Li has a masters degree in piano from the Birmingham Conservatory of Music. It is said that she took further professional guidance from Li Yundi in summer residencies of sort. It was also reported that Ms Li was discovered by Fan Bingbing’s (范冰冰) assistant, which led her to roles in some (forgettable) Hong Kong movies.

After she marched off the performance area of FaceTalk, Ms Li returned to confront the three hosts in a hissy fit. The men had repeatedly placated her by saying that there were also many viewers who had praised her twinkling of the keys. They went as far as to say that, in fact, they played poorly, and could not catch up with her. But Ms Li would not have any of that. She had to blame someone for the criticisms levelled at her and the visible rage that followed. The three guys were now as culpable as anyone else. She asserted, “If you guys didn’t sing, there won’t be any problems.” By now, she was allowing her short hybrid outfit to be in full, front-centre view. Ms Li was dressed for an occasion, if not for a web performance. But rage has cut off her awareness of self and dress. As she clamoured confrontationally, with her arms flailing, a perceptible side boob became the veritable side show.

Storming off during an interview that is being recorded is, of course, nothing new or terribly shocking. Hollywood actors have done it, pop and rock stars have done it, even presidents have done it. Now, journalists do it to other journalists. It seems that, in our increasingly fracturable society, there are those who become so emotionally fragile that they, even as guest, would abruptly and angrily walking out of a video recording as the only way to express their anger at situations and reactions that can’t be controlled during a live, one-take session or streaming. However acceptable the behaviour, it’s hard to see it as becoming. Cathryn Li, despite her ‘classical’ training in music and ballet, and a weakness for the delicacy of lace, let herself go to cavort with the terrible twins, temper and tantrum. And very quickly forsaken grace for disgrace.

Screen grabs:  正面交鋒 FaceTalk/Facebook

Gosh, Kosh!

Dee Kosh, the YouTuber-turned-radio-DJ, is now battling some very serious allegations. The “fried chicken connoisseur”, who switches between wearing a dress and hoodie with incredible ease, “stand(s) before you” to refute accusations of inappropriate chats with and proposals to boys deemed too young to engage in social media filth

20-08-17-22-52-04-603_decoDee Kosh’s alter ego, the headscarf-wearing Ria Warna. Screen grab:  SIAxRIA show/YouTube

This evening, he posted a seven-page explanation/defence on Instagram (24 paragraphs on Facebook) that was accompanied by a short comment: “I’m sorry.” As it turned out, Dee Kosh, 32, was sorry for being outed for “sexually harassing” under-aged boys. The allegations, made via social media, as most tend to be these days, have now budged the arms of the law. According to Today, the police are investigating after “several reports (four, as of now) alleging sexual harassment of teenage boys were filed against him.” All the victims are apparently under 18 years of age.

Dee Kosh’s ostensible apology came after initially denying any wrongdoing. Two days ago, one kiddie-looking Instagrammer, who goes by the handle _epaul, posted a since-deleted exposé, claiming that the YouTube star had made indecent propositions to him, even “kept asking for sexual favours”. Despite being flatly rejected, the proponent would not give up, even resorting to “an alternate Instagram account” to convince the teenager to give in. A day after the incriminating post, _epaul was sent a cease and desist letter by the law firm of DC Law LLC, purportedly acting on behalf of Dee Kosh. That letter was shared on _epaul’s IG account and, hitherto, remains there although reports have emerged that the lawyer has “withdrawn” from representing Dee Kosh.

That single post opened the proverbial can of worms, and more allegations with details followed. Shortly, Dee Kosh posted on IG Stories an announcement: “Im (sic) aware of the allegations against me(.) Will be taking the necessary steps to clear this all up. I’m denying all allegations made by the people who have said what they’ve said(.)” Denial, as is often the case in recent charges of inappropriate, sexually-loaded behaviours (such as those alleged against Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey), is the first step to a dramatic downfall. Swiftly, the radio station that hired the controversial YouTuber released a statement today: “POWER 98 does not tolerate any form of harassment. Dee Kosh is currently on leave.”

20-08-17-23-11-09-209_decoSans costume, Dee Kosh, the unlikely YouTube star. Photo: deekosh/Instagram

Although known as Dee Kosh, his name on his I/C is Darryl Ian Koshy, He was born in the Philippines (thought to be in Cebu City) to an Indian father and a Chinese mother (both their nationalities then were unknown). Despite his “Chindian” ethnicity, Mr Koshy (as he shall be known from this part of the post on) stated on Facebook that he’s “Malay by (sic) heart”. He certainly looks like he’s from the peninsular to our north, allowing him to gleefully refer to his “Malay roots”, cleverly blurring any clarity of his racial mix, and allowing him to freely create racial stereotypes and to take pot shots at those he deems worthy. That he speaks Tagalog, although the provenance of his family name can be traced to Kerela, enhanced his “regional” appeal.

Also a “content creator”, “CEO bitch” of his own persona, friend of Xia Xue, and, as claimed on Twitter, to be “in a loving long term (sic) relationship with Fried Chicken (proper noun? Could this be a person?)”, Mr Koshy found fame and following as a YouTuber (where he began posting in 2011) and is followed for his brashness, no-filter talk, senseless humour, kurang ajar antics, sexual references, and a propensity to laugh out loud, including at his own perceived cleverness. He is part of a “top” YouTube clique that includes Tan Jianhao and the “content hub” Night Owl Cinematics. His fame climbed when his negative comments on the K-pop boy band BTS generated furious fan-backlash. There was even a petition on change.org to “restrict Dee Kosh and his associations from being allowed to engage with BTS in Singapore”. Mr Koshy eventually called the fiasco a “social experiment”. Netizens are now wondering if his interfacing with minors are, similarly, for experimental purposes.

As an entertainment package, Mr Koshy’s get-up and facial gymnastics bring to mind the just-as-loud celebrity-makeup-artist-turned-private-dining-cook Tinoq Russell Goh (aka Pasir Panjang Boy, who has moved to Hong Kong last month to “open a restaurant”), and his humour and loquaciousness a pinch of Jojo Joget (aka Suhaimi Yusof, The Noose alum), all with the decibels cranked up. Of late, he is known for his reactions to TikTok videos that are considered “cringe-y”, which encouraged him to be as inane, slapstick, strident, and unfunny as the targets of his judgment. As one social media observer said, “It really takes a cringe-inducing to appreciate the cringe-notable.” Truth is, Mr Koshy was already TikTok-worthy before there was TikTok.

20-08-18-10-12-50-972_decoDee Kosh’s PR shots for his podcast tea with Dee. Photo: Marc Lim/Tea with Dee/Instagram

A social media success trait is brashness, enhanced by garish and flashy clothes—crass over class. As part of his loudness (a fact even his mother won’t negate, as seen in the first YouTube video featuring her), Mr Koshy creates online characters that borders on camp, but without the clever artifice (or kitsch) that comes with effective campiness. His is all unthinking, prattling pondan power, with no consideration for entries into the ledger of grace (that his Ria Warna hasn’t yet upset Malay women is surprising), only the tacky clothes (prints and patterns are major) and the eye makeup, here and there, that one fan called “flawless”. Now, it is more than bedak, it involves budak-budak.

Those who follow the increasing uproar over social-media misbehaviours, point out that what Mr Koshy is alleged to have committed is an ironic turn of events. In January 2018, Mr Koshy released a damning 20-plus-minute video post, “Eden Ang Whats (sic) Up?!”, that revealed scandalous details—which he repeatedly and emphatically called “facts”—regarding the fellow, highly popular YouTuber, who was accused of sexually harassing an 18-year-old employee, to which he denied, as Mr Koshy did to his own charges of wrongdoing. The radio DJ professed to “know how it feels to feel powerless in a situation”. He even dramatically added—as if holding back tears, “When I was young, I was abused, and I know what it feels to be taken advantage of.”

Despite this knowledge, Mr Koshy did not hesitate to say what he said to those boys. On Eden Ang’s alleged victim, Mr Koshy said, “She is an impressionable 18-year-old girl, especially when it comes to famous people. You guys look up to these people. When you meet them, you’re enamoured by their fame.” Was he not in the same situation when he, a famous person, meets the “enamoured”, in his case, minors? The thing about allegations of sexually inappropriate behaviours in the age of social media is that when one surfaces, more would emerge. It is not easy to follow Mr Koshy’s claim that he is innocent or that the allegations are “baseless and untrue”, even when he concedes that “some screenshots circulating of me texting with a 15-year-old I now accept is problematic.” Never mind if it all seemed sleazy. His denial of misdeeds becomes less convincing when one views the trailer posted on Facebook on 14th May for his podcast Tea with Dee. It ended with Darryl Ian Koshy saying—diabolical glint in his eye unmistakable—“Gather round, children, we’re about to begin.”

Elaine Heng Has A Fashion Label

The popular blogger tries her hand at retailing. Looks like there is no decline in the demand for more clothes of garden variety designs

Ilo P1

Influencer Elaine Heng, 27, is a proud owner of a fashion brand. It’s called Ilo the Label—yes, as in Ilo Ilo, title of the award-winning film and, if spelled as one word, a seaport of central Philippines. But the brand prefers the Finnish meaning—joy. Or, according to them, “sunshine”. It isn’t clear why it is necessary for her brand to be identified as “the Label”. We can only surmise that it is a trendy naming convention, such as at Collate the Label and Ying the Label. Ms Heng, who now posts on Instagram under the name Elaine Rui Min (瑞敏), and considers herself an “entrepreneur” occupationally, launched her fashion label online in mid-March, eight days before the Multi-Ministry Task Force announced stricter measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 that would lead to the Circuit Breaker measures about two weeks later.

Despite the charges of professional shortcomings and the iffy video defence she posted on IG Stories in 2018, Ms Heng has not suffered any blow, nor has she been impeded from furthering her career as an influencer. She has been able to happily align herself with retail names such as the Japanese eyewear brand Owndays, lingerie label La Senza, and beauty brands Olay and Sum37. She continues to act as merchandise promoter on Instagram, which radiantly exhibits her (now-married) life with enviable felicity. Marketability dictates that she is dressed her best, in clothes that her audience can relate to: pretty. Elaine Heng, who graduated at NUS in communication and media studies, is the girl-next-door you envy, knowing you can never dress to look like her. When Malaysian singer Ah Niu sang in 1998, 对面的女孩看过来 (Girl Opposite, Look Over Here), he probably had someone like her in mind.

Ms Heng is aware that her girlish style has bankable following and, hence, business potential. Two years in the making, as the brand declared on IG, Ilo the Label appears to be conceived to mirror her wardrobe or what she tends to wear to earn her income on IG. If a girl, among the countless, desires to start a fashion brand, especially online, this would be it. No design value required, nor point of view. Just straight-on pretty, vanilla pretty. Ms Heng calls it “my joy”, which is consistent with the brand platitude that quotes Australian poet Gemma Troy, “Whatever that makes you feel the sun from inside out, chase that.”

Ilo P2Influencer Melissa Jane Ferosha in Ilo the Label. Photo: Instagram

To be sure, Ms Heng is not a fashionista in the mold of Yoyo Cao, Willabelle Ong, and Andrea Chong. But, she is considered a “fashion blogger” It is, in fact, her ordinariness that those who seek the same find captivating, not a bold, statement-making style that would score her a best-dressed nomination at any of the annual society balls. From her beginning as a blogger, she has not shed her pronounced girlishness, her xiaoyuan zhihua (校园之花 or schoolyard beauty) posturing, her marketable cheerfulness. The prettiness is projected to be palatable and is tempered with a healthy dose of sexiness. She moves between the two comfortably and are just as willing to pose in a sundress as negligee. She has co-ed appeal; she is both women’s envy and men’s fantasy, effective as a go-to for what to wear for a date on Saturday night and what to see when, for the guys, that evening turns lonely.

As a fashion entrepreneur, Ms Heng typifies many who dream of their own fashion label. Or, (re-)creating whatever they already buy and wear. They are not in the business to fill the proverbial gap in the market; they are merely adding to the surfeit of similitude. Bloggers-turn-fashion-designers of her ilk are nothing new. The clothes are casual, cheery, and common. How does Ilo the Label then stand out? It doesn’t. Perhaps, that’s not the aim. As with many other labels these days, the five-month-old brand is “beyond just creating pretty clothes,” according to their own description, even if they don’t step out of the comfort, over-shared zone. They “hope to create a community that sparks fun, laughter and joy, thereby lifting the spirits of anyone that is part of it.”

Ms Heng’s clothes consciously project this joie de vivre, just as her IG posts present her as a particularly ebullient person. Ilo the Label does this by featuring hand-painted house prints, featuring dainty flowers that could be as comfortable on tea towels or bed sheets, or bath mats. One Orchard Store would come a-calling. According to her designers, “Our founder, Elaine, is all about prints and the first thing she told our team when we first gathered was ‘Ilo is going to be a brand of happy prints.’” The exultation of spirit through blooms is typically Gemma Troy: “I’m the type of person that falls in love with flowers…” And Elaine Heng too. In an IG post back in 2017, she wrote of an unremarkable WheresCinderella floral dress, “Somehow, I always find myself drawn to wearing florals because they make me happy.”

Ilo P3The startling sameness of Ilo the Label

This selling of positivity rather than design is also the modus operandi of brands that she promotes, such as All Would Envy, Lovet, WheresCinderella, and possibly her absolute fave, Thestagewalk—all labels for women who want to look pretty in the manner that is not intimidating—roses among roses, rather than to stand out dauntlessly—thorns among roses. It is hard to differentiate between these brands since all embrace the conventional than the unconventional, the straightforward rather than the complex, the winsome rather than wondrous. It is through Ms Heng’s fashion choices that one could learn of the many like-minded brand owners who have shared aesthetical preferences, and are happily part of a group of relatively quiet online businesses that trade in pretty dresses Ms Heng and her followers view with eye-watering delight.

You need not click on Ilo the Label’s generic-looking website to imagine there would be maxi-sundresses, spaghetti-strapped shifts, rompers, off-shoulder tops and more maxi-dresses, spaghetti-strapped shifts, rompers, off-shoulder tops. Most are made of 100% “quality polyester”, the brand emphasises, like those who underscore “luxury denim”. The prints—ditsy florals digitally rendered on those polyesters—comprise mostly small blooms with positive vibes, such as honeysuckle that “inspire love and passion”, all painted in a style that an art teacher might say lovely, but a gallerist would not. The sum are clothes that could easily be found on Lazada or Shopee, or in any mall across our island.

And therein lies the limitation of the brand. Ilo the label veers to the side of bland and sits on the centre of commonplace, inspiring the reaction, “another one of those”. They are as differentiable as the countless clothiers that started to pop up in malls prior to the pandemic: The Closet Lover, Fayth, Playdress, Yacht 21, et al. Many of them, like Ilo the Label, tout creating their own prints, which, for most brands, is an easy way to generate pieces that stand apart even if the silhouettes are similar, if not the same. This is an approach even stall owners of Bangkok’s Chatuchak weekend market adopt. It isn’t certain if Elaine Heng has learnt her métier as a fashion professional. However, given her present standing as a successful blogger and sunny stalwart, she can sell anything. Sunshine, too.

You may also be interested in… The Closure of Ilo the Label

Photos: Ilo the Label