Another Scammer, Another Thai Girl

And she has fled from Thailand purportedly to Malaysia, like someone familiar. Who is this nasty Nutty?

In her social media posts, she looks rather natty, but she goes by Nutty. Like most Thais, her nickname—rather unfortunate, this one—identifies her. She is an influencer and she is on the run for alleged scams involving a mind-boggling two billion baht (or about S$77 million). That is even more than what our island’s infamous fraudster-duo cheated and then escaped—a whopping S$45 million more. Thai media reports do not indicate that her passport was impounded. The current speculation in Thailand is that she (and allegedly her mother) has escaped to Malaysia, as Thai fugitives are inclined to, and vice versa. At the border (assuming she entered legally), the immigration officers would have been able to read the name Natthamon Kongchak (นัทธมณ คงจักร์) on her passport, aged 29 (there are reports that state 27, even 30). Some news outlets spell her popular name as Natty, but on social media, she uses Nutty (her YouTube channel is called Nutty’s Dairy and a K-pop EP she released in 2014 was titled The Power of Nutty). It is probably a play on the first syllable of her first name Natthanon, pronounce naht. But, as it turns out, she has more than one name (more on that later).

Thai media has speculated that Ms Kongchak is acquainted with Siriwipa Pansuk, the other half of the married swindlers who were arrested on 11 August in Johor Bahru after hiding there for 37 days. According to Phaisal Ruangrit, a lawyer representing some 30 of Ms Kongchak’s victims, the two women were in cahoots—one dealing with luxury bags and the other in “investments”, as Shin Min Daily News reported yesterday. Today, Thailand’s Criminal Court issued a warrant for her arrest, concurrently asserting that her case is linked to Ms Pansuk and her husband Pi Jiapeng. How so, it did not elaborate. The Nation shared yesterday that, according to Mr Ruangrit, she has “defrauded over 6,000 victims”. Shin Min Daily News spoke to one Singaporean duped by Pi Jiapeng/Siriwipa Pansuk, a Mr Tan: He fears that if Ms Pansuk and Ms Kongchak were scheming together, he is unlikely going to see his money returned, as it would have been channeled to the latter.

Ms Kongchak, in her last video post on IG, explaining her actions and charges levelled at her. Screen shot: nutty.suchataa/Instagram

Ms Kongchak’s massive scams involved no luxury watches or handbags (although she did flaunt them). According to Thai reports, and the many complaints against her, she ran a “Forex Ponzi scheme” about five months ago. On social media, especially YouTube, she made herself out to be a successful “Forex trader” and encouraged her followers to invest with her as she acted as conduit to their new wealth. The lawyer Mr Ruangrit told Thai media that “the YouTuber had used her popularity to lure victims with the promise of high returns in a short time.” One of them purportedly deposited a boggling 18 million baht (about S$688,646) straight into Ms Kongchak’s account. In fact, she often coaxed potential investors to transfer the money directly to her personal a/c. And, curiously, they did. As social media chatter went, she had promised 25% returns for a three-month “contract”, 30% for six, and 35% for 12, with the agreement that payouts would be made monthly. In April, things didn’t seem right when she failed to meet her obligations, with some of her payees saying that they had not received anything for their investments. The online rumble grew increasingly palpable.

On 25 May, Ms Kongchak posted a simple video on IG—where she identifies as “trader, singer, dancer, YouTuber, CEO”—to explain her predicament, even cleverly including hashtags, such as #นัตตี้โกงเทรดพันล้าน (or #nutty cheated billions in trading) so that her post could be seen as a negation. There is even #ถ้าคนจะหนีหนีไปแล้ว (or #if people are going to flee), as if to allay the victims’ fears. Speaking in a somewhat girlish voice, she said she made a “big mistake” and had lost all the money, claiming that the error was in “trading with just one broker.” She admitted that everything was her own doing; she was “sorry for causing trouble to many people and making them disappointed in her.” Hoping to shift the anger towards her to sympathy, she added: “There has not been a day that was not stressful. There is no day I do not stop thinking of getting a refund.” But she was certain she would pay the investors back. In a separate post before the video, she wrote that she “will find the funds to return (the money) in every possible way”. Although many Netizens did not consider what she uttered assuring, that post curiously attracted 6,169 likes.

And then she was heard no more.

In happier times (2022), Nutty is like most influencers: She cannot resist a sexy pose. Photo: nutty.suchataa/Instagram

Natthamon Kongchak was born in the northern city of Chiang Mai, in 1993—the year the popular Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (originally named Mae Sa Botanic Garden) opened in the district of Mae Rim, central Chiang Mai. By most accounts, she spent her childhood in the calm city, attending the co-ed Phraharuthai School, also known as the Sacred Heart College, a 90-year-old catholic institution that, a Chiang Mai native tells us, is “very popular”. Phraharuthai School is a fairly large building, which, from the inside, looks like a composite of village residences. When the students played in the school yard, they would have seen a familiar sight: The Sacred Heart Cathedral, with its distinctive red-brick façade, which in December conducts the city’s grandest annual Christmas mass. Less than two hundred metres away, is the maenam ping (or Ping River), one of the two main tributaries of the Chao Phraya River that flows into Bangkok. Interestingly, her alleged partner in crime, Siriwipa Pansuk, too, went to a Catholic school, in Nonthaburi.

But unlike Ms Pansuk, Ms Kongchak seems to have had a rather privileged childhood. While she had not said much about her younger days or her grades in Phraharuthai School, she did reveal in 2014, during appearances on talk shows (sometimes with her mother), that hers was a coddled life of luxury (she, like China’s last emperor Puyi, did not even have to put on her own shoes!) made possible because of her family‘s considerable wealth. As she regaled, her mother owned a karaoke bar and business was extremely good, with a monthly income of 2 million baht (about S$76,668). At one point, the family (there was no mention of other children) owned 14 cars, and their home had a staff of 22 maids/nannies. Why a small family like hers would require that many automobiles or domestic helpers, she did not say. Although she was pampered, she wanted her mother to spend more time with her. She asked the businesswoman not to go into the bar and let the employees run it. Apparently, this was not a good move, and the business tanked: the mother became a “bankrupt”. It is at this juncture that her back story turned Netflix-worthy dramatic. Thais were riveted to her story as “real life is better than drama”.

Nutty on the talk show At Ten in 2014. Screen shot: 2020 Entertainment/YouTube

Natthamon Kongchak enthusiastically revealed the story of her sensational early life in July 2014 on the Channel 3 evening talk show At Ten (ตีสิบ or tee sip). With financial ruin, the mother decided she could no longer stay in Chiang Mai. Before departing, she divorced her husband as she was too “ai“ (shy) to remain with him, given her economic disadvantage. Not bothered by being a single mother, she took her daughter to Hat Yai, a city in the southern province of Songkla, bordering Malaysia. The divorcée did not say why a bankrupt with a young child needed to flee her hometown for a place some 1,650 kilometres away (24 hours or so by car). In Hat Yai, the older woman met a guy who operates a win-motorsai (or motorcycle taxi). He would take them around Hat Yai (whether he was paid, we do not know). As the mother was looking for work, he suggested to her to consider the other side of the border in the south. When she decided to leave to try her luck, she left her daughter with this man, whom the just-pubescent Nutty called “gaopor”, or “godfather”.

The mother found work in Malaysia as a masseuse. In which city or town, or even state exactly, it has not been established. Soon, her daughter joined her (what happened to the godfather is not known either). According to some reports, she offered foot massage by going door to door with the little girl by her side. Ms Kongchak was then 13 years old (a photo she shared on IG of her at a younger age showed a little girl that probably could not escape the description cute). That would have been in 2006. Nothing is said about her education at this time. In the beginning, they had no place to stay, and would sleep at the homes of customers who took pity on them (others “donated” bicycles—there were two, apparently). A Malaysian man her mother did not identify, but did describe as wealthy (some media reports say a “billionaire”), who owned schools (“universities”, apparently) and other businesses in the country, wanted to marry her child, even when the 48-year-old man reportedly had “several wives”. In agreeing to the marriage, the mother would be paid an undisclosed sum of money. Additionally, he was willing not to touch the girl until she came of age, which, according to the mother, was two years later. Strangely, the single parent did not find the man and his proposal creepy, and agreed to the marriage.

Pre-fugitive days: Mother and daughter in 2018. Photo: nutty.suchataa/Instagram

As no pre-arranged sexual restraint could really be met by those seeking juvenile brides, the man, as Ms Kongchak recalled, “harassed” her. It could be assumed that, by now, the child-wife was living with the fellow. The girl went to her mother to report what her husband (it is hard to use that word here) attempted, but the woman would not believe her. The girl fell into “depression” and apparently “fainted” many times. The mother admitted on camera, between sobs, that it was hard on her daughter, who also teared when interviewed, as the young one did not know what was going on. She then decided to annul the marriage, and had to engage an imam to speak to the man and to act as facilitator. She revealed that she had to pay the man back the money she was earlier given, even when he reneged on his promise. As she had only the equivalent of two million baht (or S$76,673), she was unwilling to gave him all of it; she handed him half of that. She did not explain what she did with the initial sum. It is not known if the man agreed to the amount. After the unfortunate marriage ended, they “escaped” once more, this time to Pattaya.

Again, it is not known why mother and daughter had to flee what would have been home by then (it is not known how many years they were in Malaysia). If there really was a need to, why did they go to Pattaya, the seaside town on the opposite side of the isthmus of Kra, across the Gulf of Thailand, in the east? If they needed to be near the sea, why did they not choose the island of Phuket instead, just 200 kilometres north-west of the northern most Malaysian state of Perlis? The answer may never be made known. Back in Thailand, mother and daughter seemed to have enjoyed a more stable existence. Ms Kongchak claimed she worked as a waitress at this time. In 2014, despite a seeming gap in her education when she was living a married life in Malaysia, she was accepted at and graduated (curiously, she did not share any graduation photos on social media) from the College of Communication Arts at Rangsit University, a private institution in Pathum Thani on the border shared with the north of Bangkok. The province has a considerably high concentration of schools of higher education and Rangsit University, according to EduRank, is ranked no. 1 in the whole of Pathum Thani, where Ms Kongchak’s legal address is registered.

Nutty in school uniform, appearing on a talk show. Screen shot: TikTok

And then the Internet and social media caught up, and Ms Kongchak began fashioning herself as a “web idol”. She was noted for her dancing and for doing covers of Korean pop songs, as seen on social media. She joined Instagram in Dec 2013, and her first post was a twin photo of her in a car. There was no accompanying comment. A month later, she was sharing videos of her confident singing—the first, an English song, no less: Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe. More videos emerged, mostly showing her performing, usually dancing. There was no mention of how she learned to dance so engagingly. Of the 2,301 posts she shared (her account presently shows 310K followers), interestingly only 34 showed food. Like the many who derive an income through IG, she peddled anything, from health supplements to cosmetics (she was a long-time face of local brand Costina) to shoes. It is not known if goods were sold to her fans, who are called “Nutters”. In less than ten months after her IG debut and many dance videos later, she would appear in the talk show At Ten, revealing her colourful past.

She seemed very pleased with the broadcast, having urged followers to tune in days earlier. On IG, she thanked the host, the crew, friends and supporters, and wrote: “I have sat down for interviews and told stories about my life. It’s fun and it’s an honour.” Overnight, she became the “talk of the town”. But a year later, in a post of her mother kissing her, Ms Kongchak shared a lengthy message, in which she wrote, “I don’t have to be afraid of anything. The truth is the truth. Please believe in your child… How many stories in life have we been through? Only our hearts know.” And she went on to say: “Good people don’t fall into water, don’t fall into fire, don’t burn… The child will not allow anyone to do anything, mother, especially over something for which we are not wrong.” Netizens were beginning to speculate if it was her inability to handle her fame. She added, “What’s the story that makes it look bad? If it’s true, Nut (she frequently refers to herself in the abbreviated name) doesn’t care about the image at all. Nut is pure-hearted and ready to face every problem. And you don’t have to organise a press conference, to let it go on TV or something because Nut doesn’t want to be famous in this kind of thing.” What that thing was, she did not say. She concluded with: “If the fact that happens may affect anyone, I apologize here. Nut had to come out and defend herself. Protect mae (mother) Nut in various matters that are being talked about. Because when you protect yourself, you hurt Nut, you destroy her career, destroy all the future that Nut has created for herself.”

On a TV show, Nutty took out huge wads of money to show the audience that with them, she was going to buy her mother a car. Screen shot: TikTok

This could be seen as a regular mother-daughter squabble. But, few believed that was the case. It is likely that, for all the love she showed towards her mother on social media (and she did—a tad excessively), theirs was (and likely still is) a complicated relationship. Many netizens, upon learning of her marriage at 13, and that her mother received money for the “immoral” arrangement, was quick to say that the woman had practically “sold” her daughter. Money and the need to show off cash in the hand seemed to characterise their love for each other. In her third post on IG after she joined the social media at the end of 2013, Ms Kongchak shared a photograph of her presenting to her mother a hamper of bottled bird’s nest and a ‘fan’ of 14 pieces of 1,000 baht notes. Similarity, in 2016, during Songkran (the Thai New Year), she showered her mother with gifts and 1,000 baht notes, fan out so that the viewer could count all 10 pieces of them. Last August, after achieving success as a Forex trader, a TV program—shared on Nutty’s Diary—showed her being interviewed in her car. She unzipped a rather large blue bag, took out a Manila envelope and whipped out thick wads of cash (still bound as if just handed over by a bank teller), informing viewers that with all that money, she was going to buy her mother a surprise gift: A three-million-baht car!

Mae Nut was a constant presence in Ms Kongchak’s life, even when the daughter had to be overseas—in, for example, Seoul. Interestingly, Natthamon Kongchak and Siriwipa Pansuk have something in common: Korea. Ms Pansuk’s scamming career is said to have been seeded in the Korean capital. Ms Kongchak was there to pave a more legit professional path, and, in fact, had arrived three years earlier, in 2014. It is, therefore, unlikely that they ever met there. According to Thai media, Ms Kongchak claimed that her online popularity caught the attention of an “older” fan (gender not specified), who was dating a Korean girl, whose friend, as it turned out, owned a record label. Somehow, he saw “a clip” of Ms Kongchak singing and was convinced she deserved an audition. Things unfolded very quickly thereafter: A contract was signed with a company called Dream Cinema and she debuted in Korea, not as part of a girl group, but, amazingly, as a solo artiste. In October 2014, she went to the city of Incheon, where the airport is located, as one of two Thai guest-artistes to perform at The K-Festival Concert, reportedly organised to foster friendship with Thailand. She shared the stage with the singer/actor Jirayu ‘James’ Tangsrisuk (2019’s Krong Karm or Cage of Karma, shown on Channel U last year). Recorded music ensued, but none made a major impact on the charts.

Dancing days: Nutty not only danced, she taught as well as, with her own dance school. Screen shot: nutty.suchataa/Instagram

Her singing career did not take off as she had hoped. Reports of disputes with her music labels emerged, and Ms Kongchak reportedly terminated her contract. That some kind of agreement cannot be reached in Korea surprised many. Some also wondered why Thai music companies would not sign her up, with a few suggesting that she should perhaps go to Malaysia, where she has a sizeable fan base. Ms Kongchak, in fact, speaks surprisingly fluent Malay (which may suggest that she did go to school in Malaysia when she was there). In one YouTube post, she sang the Malay song Tak Tahu Malu (Shameless) by the Sabahan brother-duo Atmosfera (Atmosphere), including the speed-up chorus that could have been a tongue-twister for a non-bahasa Melayu speaker. It is tempting to assume she lip-synched, but she did release a Malay single Take You Home two years back, in which she even rapped in Malay. In a Q&A with her Malay fans that she shared online, she spoke Malay fluently, revealing, when asked what she likes to eat, that she loves “nasi lemak dengan kicap (with soy sauce, instead of sambal?)”. To endear herself to her Malay fans, she went a dramatic step further: In one make-up tutorial, she showed the end result wearing a tudung!

Back home in Thailand after her Korean stint, she was not quite crestfallen or defeated, determined to strengthen her online popularity, which still remained high. It was at this time that she began legal name changes that would amount to two in total (this excludes her nickname which remained as Nutty). She was, thus, also known as Leeah (spelled with an extra ‘e’) Kongchak and Suchataa (with an extra ‘a’) Kongsupachak (she was, therefore, called Nutty Suchataa sometimes, and also the moniker used on IG). Why these other names were necessary is not known as she still referred to herself as “Nut”, just as Nutters did. Similarly, her K-pop-style dancing and singing continued as before. Even her coquettish posts, which dates back to her university days (such as a photo of her, all made-up like a doll, in a tight school shirt, that went with the message, “Sweet dreams”) were still very present. Some of her photos started to show more skin, which could be a move to push herself beyond being a “cute” singer/dancer. A profile on her in a local magazine even titled the piece “Naughty Pretty”. Little did the editor know how prescient that was.

As she grew older, her dance moves became sexier, so was her dressing. Screen shot: nutty.suchataa/Instagram

Without a music or acting contract, she started looking at other income streams, and dance, she thought, was a sure way to make money. In 2018, she opened a dance school Diva Studio in Bangkok, but that was badly affected when the COVID pandemic struck. She wrote on IG in August last year: “My studio had to be closed. I could not teach dancing. Savings are running out. Many people’s stomachs are waiting for me”. In the same post, she shared that she had received a gift that was a course in “money management” and that she had enrolled, and had been on it for six months. And she let on that she had “studied stock trading before” but had ”just come to trade”. In no time, she was earning massive amounts of money, bragging to her followers that she could easily “make 300,000 baht (or about S$11,448) in 10 minutes”. COVID-era followers were duly impressed. Her mother was a firm supporter of her daughter’s new, quick money-making enterprise, even showing her daughter in action in IG posts, which led to the suspicion that the older woman played a part in the ruse, and had to abscond too.

According to Thai news site Sanook, Ms Kongchak’s daring scams were exposed by victims in April, when many of them reported they had not seen any returns on their paid-up investments. It is reminiscent of the alleged crimes of the now-caught and awaiting-trial Pi Jiapeng and Siriwipa Pansuk. A Thai Facebook page with the fitting handle Drama Addict shared that they received news of Ms Kongchak fleeing to Malaysia—again, sounding similar, although in the latter’s case, from the north of the Malay Peninsular. Thai authorities do not think that is the case, as exit records do not show her departure. That alone may not proof anything as Ms Pansuk had crossed the Causeway with almost not trace of her daring passage. If Ms Pansuk were not caught, would she and Ms Kongchak meet, assuming they knew each other, as alleged by Thailand’s Criminal Court. Ms Kongchak speaks Malay, and is familiar with the land; she would be a good accomplice to hide in Malaysia and lay low. And there is all the nasi lemak dengan kicap she could eat. A two million baht (about S$76,353) reward was recently put up for information on her whereabouts. Whether in Malaysia or Thailand, online or off, that is good money. Natthamon Kongchak—or whatever name she answers to now—could be wishing the Sacred Heart Cathedral of her childhood is nearby.

Note: It is hard to establish events chronologically as Natthamon Kongchak rarely referred to dates

Illustration (top): Just So

Sort Of “Free The Nipple”

Kylie Jenner confirms that this would be the Year of the Areola

Warning: The illustration that follows, the links, and the subject matter of this post may upset some individuals

Kylie Jenner exposed, and recomposed. Illustration: Just So

What’s the thrill? Frankly we don’t know. Perhaps it’s in the upsetting of the prudish or the religious that some women get immense kick out of? In an Instagram post four days ago, cosmetics queen and mother of Stormi Webster, Kylie Jenner shared a photo of her very self from the inframammary fold up, in a skin-coloured bikini top that sported photo-realistic nipples—yes, the pink punctuations on the mamma. We were advised not to use that image here, as it may be considered obscene, and may even run afoul of the decency laws of this nation (potential wearers, beware too). The above is an illustration of the image that Ms Jenner shared, but with the nipples removed to take away the possible titillating factor that some might find objectionable, or down-right offensive.

Whether it’s part of her optimization strategies to strengthen visibility or just creating content that deliberately do not conform to the general standard of propriety, modesty, or good taste, it is really hard to say. Nudity (or suggestion of nudity) is not really alien to the Kardashian/Jenner daughters. Kylie Jenner could easily pose topless, but she chose not to, possibly because she might risk a ban from Instagram for “violating community guidelines” (last month, Madonna did when she shared nude photos on IG). So she covered her breast, but on the bikini top, it was what could have been if she had gone without. In the comments, she wrote, “Free the nipple”. Naturally, she did not. She faked it. This was Instagram, not OnlyFans. She needed to block to bare.

The €140 swimwear upper-half is from the collaboration of Jean Paul Gaultier and Lotta Volkova, the Russian stylist/designer very much linked to Vetements and Balenciaga (where she is Demna Gvasalia’s face-not-obscured muse). The cheeky capsule, in fact, offered entire lengths of a woman’s body—full frontal—on the dresses. These are not the first such garments. Some months back, Glenn Martens created a slinky dress for the Jean Paul Gaultier X Project Y collab that sported a realistic half naked body that Bella Hadid wore with considerable glee (she would!). There was also the body-con, three-shoulder-strap version by Sergio Castaño Peña that Iggy Azalea donned to mark her 32th birthday. And, others that we have not been able to keep track. The skimpy bikini top Ms Jenner wore is apparently sold out, even if it allowed the wearer to be only partly in the buff. But that presumably does not matter. Free the nipple does, even if it—or both—is not at all hers.

Gone With The (Digital) Wind

Kim Lim removed photos of her husband on Instagram and the media became really excited

We delete Instagram entries all the time. It’s the thing we do. Sometimes, every single post. But, when Kim Lim (林慧俐), the influencer and beauty entrepreneur, removed a few on her IG page, the media consider that headline news! Ms Lim, as we learned, did not merely edit the contents of her IG, she apparently got rid of all the photos of her husband of barely four months, Leslie Leow. That is a big deal. Such is social progress. Even The Straits Times was into sharing Ms Lim’s daring deletion: “Her Instagram feed has recently been scrubbed of all photos of Mr Leow, including those of his proposal in September 2021 and wedding on Feb 22 this year”, they wrote. A Mothership report stated that “all traces of Kim Lim’s husband have disappeared from her Instagram feed”. Expunged! Was the guy obliterated? Or, were the deletions tantamount to someone’s death?

One of the earliest to report on the missing squares on Ms Lim’s revealing IG grid was the e-mag GirlStyle two days ago, describing her act as “mysterious”. It helps not that IG does not leave deleted posts blank so that we may know what was removed, even how many. Which led many in the media to wonder why she did what she did: Was it petulance, her “borderline personality disorder” that her father had previously identified, or the breakdown of her marriage? Does it matter? Could the deletion be part of what influencers commonly—and cringingly—refer to as “curation” (which, in the world of influencer engagement, is on-going)? The thing is, much of the contents of social media are what the account holders want you to see. Is it possible that Ms Kim now no longer wishes, for whatever reason, her followers to view those photos she presently does not consider viewable, even if, for most, the images cannot be unseen?

As we know, nothing, once posted online, disappears completely. The Leow’s expensive wedding planner, The Wedding Atelier, has not deleted the two IG posts (excluding those of the flashy guodali betrothal ceremony) of the couple in their matrimonial best. Not yet, anyway. Unmistakably ardent Kim Lim supporter, Icon (风华) magazine, too, has not removed the two photos they shared on their IG feed. Neither are those on the hashtags #kimlim and #klstyle—just to name two—taken out. And even on Ms Lim’s own IG page, her connection to her husband (as of now) is not totally ”scrubbed”. We do not know if Kim Lim wants all photos of her wedded to Leslie Leow deleted for good. A marriage is forever: Online, it is. Search and the images shall be found.

Illustration: Just So

A Career Dee-stroyed?

The ex-radio deejay and now-quiet YouTube/TikTok star Dee Kosh pleaded guilty to the charges of sexual offenses involving teenaged boys. If he still enjoys Watching Cringey TikTok Videos, it is possible he would be doing so from behind bars

Warning: This post discusses a subject matter that may not be suitable to young readers

In his second last post on Instagram in August 2020, Dee Kosh blurbed the next instalment of his Watching Cringey TikTok Videos YouTube broadcast. The theme was “Gross Guys Galore!?” Three days later, he had to share a lengthy post on IG to deny the charges of sexual relations with minors levelled against him through social media, negating the possibility that he, too, might have been a fellow of rank behaviour. “Men have a tendency to be over-confident,” he said in the introduction to that video post, in full makeup. The YouTuber knew what he was talking about. In that firm rejection—a second, in fact—of the by-then very public accusations, he wrote, “Today I stand before you to account for my actions.” And then came the certitude: “Some of the allegations baffled me because they were baseless and untrue”, before, just as bafflingly, accepting “that there is truth to some of the things which are being said now, and I am sorry to the people I have hurt in the process.”

Today, in court, there was no reversal to that admission. But we already knew that it would be so since January, when his lawyer notified the court that the accused would be pleading guilty. Many on social media had already said that it is unlikely that he could be totally innocent. Appearing before the district judge as Darryl Ian Koshy, he did not challenge the seven sex-related offences that were raised before him: He marked three guys between the ages of 15 and 23 (at that time of the misdeeds) for sexual gratification, offered to pay them between S$400 and S$2,000, and made an obscene film by recording himself and a man in “a sexual act”, reported to be onanistic and oral. According to the news, the other four charges “will be taken into consideration for sentencing on July 28”.

In one photograph published online by CNA, Mr Koshy wore a printed, blue and white camp shirt to the State Courts. He appeared to have put on weight, and looked, even with mask on, surprisingly older than his 33 years of age. The shirt, one stylist told us, “is uncle”. It did look like it might have been bought at CK Department Store. Mr Koshy has, through the years, cultivated an image of unmistakable street cool. His attire today was, therefore, unexpected. So youth-centric and pop-relevant he was that, in July 2020, he even wore a hoodie with the phrase emblazoned in the back: “TEAM WANG”. It could be now seen as prescient. American designer Alexander Wang was accused in December 2019 of sexual misconduct by a British model who claimed that he was groped by Mr Wang during a concert at a New York nightclub in January 2017 (other accusations soon followed). While both cases are different (the latter not concerning the below sixteen), they involved behaviors that could be understood to be predatory, since the advances were unsolicited. Was the possibly like-minded Mr Koshy showing sympathy and support for the designer?

According to CNA, “if convicted under the Children and Young Persons Act for attempted sexual exploitation of a young person, he could be jailed for up to five years, fined up to S$10,000 or both.” And if “found guilty of communications for the purpose of obtaining sexual services of a minor, he could be jailed for up to two years and fined. The penalty for making an obscene film is a jail term of up to two years and a fine of between S$20,000 and S$40,000.” With the possibility of jail term, could this be the end of Mr Koshy’s career and the gila antics of Ria Warna? Or, Xiaotina? The online star had, no doubt, normalised brash queerish humour and fans appreciate and adore him for that. One of them wrote on IG last year: “I’m still hoping you will upload videos on youtube soon. It’s been boring without your videos. I hope that things get better on your side an you can come back to yt asap”. If the comeback of Alexander Wang is any indication of how easily and quickly people forget past transgressions of the famous, this fan’s hope may not be dashed.

Illustration (top): Just So. Photo: deekosh/Instagram

This Sweatpants Had A Korean DJ “Kicked Off” A Flight

Even when no skin of her abdominal or limps were revealed. But the bottom she wore was considered by the airline to be “offensive”

Warning: This post contains image and words that some viewers may find offensive

South Korean disc jockey and music-maker Deejay Soda shared on Instagram, two days ago, with 4.3 million of her followers (in two separate posts) that she was booted out of a flight from New York to Los Angeles. She wrote—not quite effervescently—in English (as well as Korean) that American Airlines “kicked (her) off the flight and harassed (her) to take off (her) sponsored @RIPNDIP ‘F**K YOU’ sweatpants in front of people to board again.” The DJ, whose passport registered Hwang So-hee, is currently in the US on part of her coast-to-coast Starlight Tour. According to her, the airline staff told her that the free sweatpants she wore were “inappropriate“ and “offensive”. At some point, she stood “half-naked” in the presence of others.

As she said, the bottom in question was sponsored by Ripndip, an Orlando-born skate brand, available here at Well Bred. In black cotton, the S$125 sweatpants has a white, all-over print of basically two words: “fuck you” in full caps, with a foxy feline-looking creature peeking out of some of the ‘O’s. While the bottom was sponsored, it isn’t known if she was given that particular pair to wear or if she chose it. Nor do we know if she was required to wear it onboard as part of the deal or if it was entirely her choice. Ms Hwang was in fact rather covered up, sporting the brand’s black ‘Nebulan’ hooded coach jacket under a similarly coloured T-shirt. On her feet were black-and-white Nike Jordan 1 High. This look contrasted dramatically with Ms Hwang’s usual style, as seen on IG and her new music video Cold. Sexy is truly the best, even if inadequate, word to describe her style. Only Siew Pui Yi (aka Ms Puiyi) wears moderately less.

Korean disc jockey Deejay Soda. Photo: deejaysoda/Instagram

If what the the 36-year-old DJ claimed really happened, American Airlines has considerable explaining to do. Even if Ms Hwang’s choice of trousers is “offensive”, is making her “take off (her) pants in front of the whole crew and standing half-naked” while refusing to board her, if true, not “offensive” too (some of her supporters called it “abusive”)? It is, of course, odd that in the US, where free speech is so important and anyone can say anything, including the profanity-as-repeated-pattern on Ms Hwang’s pants, having them printed on one’s garment is more abhorrent than coming out of one’s mouth. Conversely, was the passenger, even with a business class seat that she was sure to note, not aware that what she wore could be objectionable? It was not just two words; they were repeated many times. Or, was she on the same page as Whoopi Goldberg, who wrote in her book Is It Just Me? Or Is It Nuts Out There?: “I would love to teach every kid to say ‘fuck’. That is a word that doesn’t have any effect. But ‘stupid’ and ‘dummy’?”

American Airline may disagree with her on that. According to their Condition of Carriage, the simple term of “bare feet or offensive clothing aren’t allowed” is stipulated. It does not, however, say what makes clothing offensive. But its staff, in making the DJ strip, spoke volumes. Would Ms Hwang’s usual boob-accentuating tops be considered incompatible with the American Airlines’ rules? We do not know. Nor, why Deejay Soda chose, assuming she did, that particular sweatpants. It might work in the dimness of her show venues, but in an airport and an aircraft, would it not draw unwarranted attention and annoy those for whom such blatant display of insouciant insolence is totally repugnant? One thing Whoopie Goldberg wrote is not wrong: It’s nuts out there.

Update (29 April 2022, 09:10): In a statement issued to the media, American Airlines wrote: “During the boarding process for American Airlines Flight 306 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, our team members informed Ms. So-hee of our policies and provided her the opportunity to change out of clothing displaying explicit language. The customer complied with requests and was allowed to continue travel, as planned, to Los Angeles International Airport”. They did not address Ms Hwang’s allegation of harassment

Product photo: Ripndip. Illustration: Just So

A Face Artists Love

And, purportedly, to use “without permission”. Duan Mei Yue finds herself in an unpleasant spot, again

An easy-to-paint face? Do you see the same girl? Duan Mei Yue (left); photo: Duan Mei Yue/Instagram. And her ‘likeness’ by Russian painter Angelina Poveteva; Photo*: Angelina Poveteva

Model Duan Mei Yue (段美玥) has a unique—some might say, enviable—problem. Her face is a visage so comely artists love to paint it… but without her permission, so Ms Duan has asserted, with utter disgust, on social media. Just last year, she blasted on Instagram the “unethical” use of her likeness without being asked by the Singaporean artist Alison M Low, based on a photograph of her by photographer Li Wanjie. The image later appeared on a book cover and on the floor of a Love, Bonito store as a piece of chipped cut-out. Now, another artist in, of all places, Russia(!), has seemingly given this by-now-recognisable face the treatment of the artist’s hands (she used them in place of paint brush). One Angelina Poveteva (Ангелина Поветьева) has been accused by Ms Duan of a familiar offence: painting her face, based on the said photograph, without her formal consent. Ms Duan is adamant that the subject in the painting is her.

Angelina Poveteva is a portraitist from the town of Michurinsk (named after the famed biologist/horticulturist Ivan Michurin) in the Tambov region of the Bryansk oblast (a federal subject) of Western Russia, near the border with Belarus. She is a graduate of Kochetov Children’s Art School in the rural ‘village’, as some call it, of Kochetov. Although also in Bryansk, the institution that Ms Poveteva attended is some nine hours to the west by car from her home village. It is not known how long she has been an artist or if she is pursuing art professionally. But it does appear that Ms Poveteva is partial to large-scale works. Her piece that Ms Duan took offence to is what she calls “the second in a row in the series ‘Birth’”. On Instagram, she writes: “I create understandable art”. Not quite comprehensible is the subject: why her?

Angelina Poveteva with one of her art pieces. Photo: Angelina Poveteva/Facebook

Her painting of a supposed Ms Duan is last year’s winning entry of the competition segment of the IV International Festival of Contemporary Art, dubbed ‘Artlife Fest’. Her monochromatic two-face piece, titled ‘Time to Open Your Eyes’, was among 400 works shown at the annual exhibition held in Russian capital last October, at the Moscow Manege, a 19th century neoclassical building that is also the site of Moscow Design Museum. Without revealing who the subject of her prize-winning entry is, Ms Poveteva, in a release to the local media, said: “Art for me is a path of endless development, an opportunity to learn all my life, to become better. For me, living without creativity is like living with your eyes closed.” Unfortunately for her, Duan Mei Yue had hers very much open.

Ms Duan, who, coincidentally, is now also an artist, likened Ms Poveteva’s use of her face in a for-sale nude to being traded as a trollop. She told Asiaone: “To see myself depicted naked, exhibited and sold off, I felt like I was being prostituted.” She also commented via a keenly-edited TikTok video that the “hundreds of people” who “posed and (have) taken pictures” in front of Ms Poveteva’s supposed painting of her at the Moscow art exhibition did so “like (she’s) some kind of Oriental freakshow”. This was not exactly Paris Fashion Week (or, Shanghai), and she was not draped in Dior. That TikTok video is viewed over 6,000 times in two days, as well as the 25K+ times after she shared it on IG. Some observers wondered if Ms Duan was aware she herself drew attention to a painting few would otherwise know, by a painter even fewer would be aware of, outside now-heavily-sanctioned Russia.

…“hundreds of people” who “posed and (have) taken pictures” in front of Ms Poveteva’s supposed painting of her at the Moscow art exhibition did so “like (she’s) some kind of Oriental freakshow”

It is, of course, understandable that she would be overcome by shock and anger. No woman, model or not, wishes to see a likeness of herself floating online, and, least of all, sans clothes (in that particular painting, the subject was delineated to the waist naked, with nipples shown). A depiction, even if accurate, is not necessarily flattery. In Ms Duan’s case, she deemed it a flagrant violation. And claimed she cried “for 3 hours” when she saw the images of the painting. “Before (this), I was more upset in terms of how my ambitions of being a model were being exploited,” she told OneAsia. “This time, I feel so personally violated.” It is not clear if Ms Duan’s career has been adversely impacted by the existence of this painting. Nor has she said how so. Or, if, conversely, she had augmented her fame with the strong online condemnation.

To rub salt into the wound, the portrait—Ms Duan learnt—fetched USD10,000 (we are not sure how she came to know of this selling price or if indeed it was transacted at that amount), without a cent going to her. And if that was not insulting enough, the artist denied being inspired by her photograph—first shared on IG in 2018—or even used it as a reference. To prove that she was indeed not guilty as accused, Ms Poveteva allegedly produced a photo of a woman of unknown nationality and indeterminate race, and claimed she painted the Duan Mei Yue lookalike based on this other person. Ms Duan seemed certain that the photograph sent to her as “proof” had been “photoshopped” to look like the girl in the painting. The Russian artist has set her social media accounts to ‘private’ after this confrontation.

Publicity handout of Angelina Poveteva and her painting, Time to Open Your Eyes. Photo: Administration of the City of Michurinsk

Warning: objectionable language ahead

Ms Duan also said via the TikTok post that she was 18 when the vaguely seductive, semi-sultry photo of her was taken. “To see my eighteen-year-old self being painted naked and then being paraded around like that without my consent,” she said, “shattered me.” She told her viewers that she wishes to sue the artist but had learnt that copyright laws in Russia are complicated. She told AsiaOne that she wants to be compensated and to be offered an apology by both Ms Poveteva and the art school “in charged of” the artist in question. The school is believed to be Artlife Moscow (also known as Artlife Academy), an institution that “teach(es) painting online under the guidance of famous artists” and is, interestingly, the organiser of the eponymous exhibition Artlife Fest that awarded Ms Poveteva her win last year. Ms Duan alleges that the school is “super dismissive of this whole situation”. Additionally, she hopes that “a law can be put in place to protect everyone from artists like them”.

Four days ago, Duan Mei Yuan posted on IG a painting she did of that photographic portrait artists love. It was accompanied by a two-page essay on her reason for painting herself (and berating the two artists, so far, who have “PLAIN DISREGARD TO (HER) PRIVACY AND PERSONAILTY (sic) RIGHTS”), and the original, four-year-old photo. In the comments, below the images, she fulminated (and we quote verbatim), “if you wanna use me as the cover for your art, PAY ME. I AM NOT A PICTURE, I AM A HUMAN BEING. I AM NOT SOMETHING TO PUT ON ROCKS OR NAKED TORSOS. I AM NOT TO BE VIOLATED OR TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF.

I AM FUCKING HUMAN.”

*We took the liberty to pixelise part of the image of the painting in view of public decency

Updated: 08 April 2022, 1.30pm

Hungry For Luxury

Chanel has refused to sell to Russians overseas, who intend to use their merchandise back on home soil. Despite the ban, there are Russians who are determined to buy their fave bags, failing which, they take to social media to denounce the perceived Russophobia

Is it true that Chanel is presently Russophobic, as charged by some Russians online, after they failed to secure their desired items, even when abroad? According to media reports, Chanel stores across the world have stopped selling to Russians who reside in their native land (the French brand has, like their counterparts, stopped operating in cities such as Moscow). Chanel has stated that they are merely acting in accordance with EU sanctions that forbid the export of luxury goods to Russia costing more than €300 (or about S$445), as well as the sale of these goods to shoppers who intend to use them there. Bloomberg quoted a Chanel spokesperson: “We have rolled out a process to ask clients for whom we do not know the main residency to confirm that the items they are purchasing will not be used in Russia.”

Unhappiness over the drastic Chanel move was expressed swiftly on social media. Russian influencers were the first to condemn the purchase ban, as if it they were prohibited from buying sugar. One of them, Liza Litvin, who was shopping in Dubai, was quoted in many news reports to have posted, “I went to a Chanel boutique in the Mall of the Emirates. They didn’t sell me the bag because (attention!) I am from Russia!!!” The outrage was expressed by wealthy Russian fans of Chanel not only in words. Some went even further. Marina Ermoshkina, actress/TV presenter/influencer, was reported to have cut up her Chanels in disgust, and posted a video of the destruction, saying “If owning Chanel means selling my Motherland, then I don’t need Chanel.” It is not known if Chanel has calculated the cost of incurring the wrath of Russian influencers.

Customer browsing at the Chanel store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre

The Russians who were able to score Chanel merchandise were reportedly told to put their signature to an agreement that they will not use—or wear—their new purchases in Russia. Ms Litvin confirmed this by sharing on social media that Chanel “has a new order that they only sell after I sign a piece of paper saying that I won’t wear this bag in Russia.” The company has admitted to the press that “a process” is in place to ensure that what they sell do not cross into Russia. Many Russians call this need for signed assurance before a transaction can be completed “humiliating” and a slap to the staggering amounts they had been spending in Chanel stores.

It is remarkable that Chanel remains so desirable that some Russian women are willing to face painful loss of pride to buy something from the house. Despite repeated price increases globally in the past two years and, now, this ban, these Chanel measures have not put a damper on Russian enthusiasm for Chanel, or the die-die-must-have stance that many women here would relate to. This surprised many observers: “Chanel is not that exclusive to be this desirable”. Wherever you go, from neighborhood shopping centres to Orchard Road malls, you’d see someone carrying (rather than wearing) something with the familiar double Cs, they noted.

Curious to know if the ban is extended to these parts (or SEA), we asked a member of the three-person staff manning the queue outside the newly refurbished Chanel store in Takashimaya Shopping Centre. She said she wasn’t aware and would have to ask her manager. Before she disappeared inside, we wanted to know as well if a Singaporean buying for another Singaporean residing in Russia is allowed. In less than a minute, she was back. Cheerily she said, “All are welcome.” We expressed surprise. And she repeated, “All are welcome. Everyone can buy.” Two women, who had just scanned the QR code on a tablet held by another staffer to receive a queue number, heard our query. One of them asked the other, “Got ban, meh?”

Illustrations: Just So

The Shein Top

…at the heart of the latest influencer controversy

By Pearl Goh

It is an itsy-bitsy top, but it has an oversized effect on social media. And the response to the proud wearer/influencer’s subsequent riposte was massive enough for her to enjoy a couple of long digital headlines. Making, I presume, the online retailer she touts very pleased. Chrysan Lee is a YouTuber, an Instagrammer, a TikToker, and an “actress” on the YouTube channel Wah!Banana. She appeared in this top by Shein on IG (sharing that what she wore was “top to toe outfit from SHEIN!” and offering a code which offers the user a “15% off! [yes, also with exclamation])” and TikTok and, as a (predictable) consequence, invited viewer comments, flattering and not. Unfortunately for her, few said anything about the garb itself, but how she looked in the skimpy top. Enraged by the many negative criticisms, she hit back by naming and shaming those who made harsh and uncomplimentary remarks about her appearance. And, as it usually is nowadays, effectively dividing the followers of her social media.

You’d think that the admittedly exiguous top, requiring fabric tantamount to how much it takes to make a bandana (or two handkerchiefs), would be a discreet entity, but on some bodies, it might cry, ‘look at—and comment about—me’. Ms Lee, to be sure, does not look dreadful or deserving of the sometimes hostile impulses that ensued. The piece, which seems to me to be designed to sufficiently cup ample boobs, has a rather one-dimensional effect on her. It looks flat, not what most of the viewers she attracts (102K on IG), guys especially, hope to see: cup(s) runneth over. On TikTok, she adjusted the top (I have no idea why) by pulling it upwards, and it slid smoothly without the tug that a more-endowed wearer would experience. As we know, it takes very little these days to induce the online community to disparage. Or, draw attention to comparatively restricted physical dimensions. Even girls-friendly websites, to my surprise, unambiguously point out her “small tatas”.

…she adjusted the top by pulling it upwards, and it slid smoothly without the tug that a more-endowed wearer would experience

This swimwear-like chest-wrap—S$11, on the Shein SG website—is described by the number one Chinese fast-fashion brand as a “halter neck ring chain rhinestone backless crop top (sic)”. A mouthful, no doubt, even if you could figure out the order. As much as I tried, I could not discern the halter part of what is essentially a bandeau (known in Chinese as a 抹胸上衣 moxiong shangyi or go-around-the-chest top. On the brand’s Taiwan site, a search yielded 3,254 items!), drawn together in the middle by way of a ring to create a circular key-hole right between the breasts. The halter effect is in the chain-and-rhinestone necklace that is looped through the front opening. When placed around the neck, I assume it helps hold up the top when worn on those for whom such additional securing is required. The necklace doubles as a decorative component too, and augmented by more of the same—with additional charms(!)—that hang from that middle ring to a tape-loop stitched to the centre-back of the straight rear (Shein describes the piece as “backless”, but it is not). If it recalls a belly-dancer’s costume, then I am not alone.

The sparkly, poly-metallic shangyi Ms Lee featured is one among more than 560—frankly I lost count!—variations of scantiness, categorised under “top/sleeveless/sexy/glamorous” in the Shein website, nearly all no more than S$20. Among these, more than a dozen—lost, again—sport the ring in the middle that affords a circular peek at the cleavage, as if creating a focal point. At the time of this posting, only sizes L and XL are left. I can’t be certain if its seeming popularity is the result of Ms Lee’s still and video posts, but the sell-out of popular sizes and the fact that Ms Lee singled this upper garment out to feature could attest to the acceptance and adoration of racy looks now pervading social media and the runway. Chrysan Lee herself is partial to swaddling her upper body in what would normally be considered the upper half a bikini set—very ready for online followers, even when she claims to not know where her sartorial inspo comes from. She said on one of her hitherto just five YouTube posts, Answering your Stupid Questions—Part 1, “I’ll be very happy to find clothes outside that fits me”. As with ‘to clothe’, ‘fit’ is being actively redefined for fashion of the pandemic era. Less, I suppose, is definitely more—whether on a voluptuous body or not.

Illustration by Just So

OTT Guo Da Li

One betrothal ceremony that is big, bold, and boastful

What does Kim Lim (林慧俐) have that many of us do not, apart from beauty and money? This question was recently posed to us by a friend who admits to an irrational fascination with her social media appeal (on Instagram, she has 324K followers, among them Paris-based Singaporean designer Andrew Gn) and immense popularity among journalists. The answer was not obvious to us until now: she gets to enjoy a wildly lavish guodali (过大礼) betrothal ceremony! Ms Lim and her (still) unnamed fiancé (he’s only known by the handle ‘waleoweh’) are not quite married yet, but the soon-to-be groom did not hold back on the gifts—and their symbolisms—that he presented to her and family yesterday, according to a report on the digital edition of Icon. It was a boon to luxury brands (Rolex and Hermes!) and traders of shanzhen haiwei (山珍海味) luxury foodstuff. Her family needed to know she would be well dressed and fed, and he showed it! The expensive everything, reportedly to the tune of S$2 million, formed a sea of red against an acrylic floral wall, and the couple were happy to pose in the centre of the imposing and orderly array, underscored by more than a dozen boxes of chunky gold jewellery—way more than the sidianjin 四点金, four touches of gold (excluding the reported “15 gold bars”), that are customarily offered to the bride-to-be.

As invitee Xiaxue enthusiastically described the ceremony on IG Stories, “It’s the most bamz (something that’s very good) guo da li I’ve ever seen”. The groom arrived (at presumably the Lim family residence) in one black Rolls Royce, followed by another. He was decked in what Icon described as 上海滩唐装 (shang hai tan tang zhuang or Shanghainese Tang suit), in the colour of the fissures on the pale and expensive huagu (花菇 or flower mushroom) seen in the posted photos. Big-headed dolls and lion dancers came out to greet him, indicating an affair to follow that’s so massive, it would get social media immediately texting and sharing. The many images that appeared showed the impressive tiered set-up that could pass off as a brimming nianhuo (年货 or new year goods) stall on Waterloo Street during CNY. Or even an auspiciously-merchandised kiosk at a bridal show. This, according to Icon, was conceived and put together by The Wedding Atelier, the Singapore-born “luxury wedding planner”, with also an office in Hong Kong, and a client list few can proudly say they belong to.

Guodali (or gor dai lai in Cantonese) this huge and this elaborate is rarely seen these days, although in the distant past, the betrothal ceremony could be immense, lasting a few days and, for those with wealth, just as opulent, and an opportunity to show to those, who consider being informed of such matters essential, the families of the betrotheds’ riches or worth. The Hokkiens and the Peranakans know this as lapchai (纳财 or bringing in wealth), and theirs, especially for the latter, even came with a noisy procession of gift bearers, a band playing traditional instruments, and relatives deemed lucky enough to witness the ceremony. At its most basic, the guodali is a formal meeting between two families to exchange gifts that represent prosperity and—to ensure progeny—fertility too. But, as seen in what Kim Lim and her friends shared on IG, hers was far from basic. It was lavish, adorned, and splashy. Every single item—even the many cans of abalone—was affixed with the shuangxi (双喜) double-happiness character, and, if possible, encased or sheathed in red. For once and a change, the fiancée was upstaged.

One elderly lady brought to our attention that the guodali is normally dispensed with if it’s the second marriage for the woman. Ms Lim had tied the knot before. According to Icon, whose editor Sylvester Ng gets first dibs when it comes to stories of the fushang qianjin 富商千金 (daughter of a wealthy businessman), she registered her marriage in 2016 to Kho Bin Kai, a little-known fellow to the public she had met in Thailand, but the wedding banquet was held in March 2018 (no guodali was mentioned, although it is likely it took place, possibly more modestly), after the couple’s son was born. A year later, man and wife separated, and in 2020, both chose divorce. Soon—last September—she announced on IG that she was engaged. And now this OTT guodali, born of prodigal resources. It was a staggering display of immense attention to detail, rich with symbolism rarely appreciated today, presented by a guy not leaving the minutiae of ritual to his fiancée. It is no wonder that Kim Lim posted on IG when he proposed last year, “YES TO YOU A THOUSAND TIMES OVER AND OVER AGAIN!” We wish her (and fiancé) as much happiness as there were shuangxi cut-outs on every gift presented so dramatically to her, ahead of what is likely to be an even more staggering and extravagant wedding.

Photos: (top) thefloralatelier.co/Instagram and (bottom) kimlimhl/Instagram

Taste: It’s Good When It Isn’t

Refined and impeccable taste: Have they become so boring that going the opposite way is now far more appealing? Recent trends—and events—have made us wonder: is bad really better?

In a recent article about the rise in the popularity of wellies, the Guardian described the boots mostly associated with rain wear as “bad taste”. And it’s in the headline! Wellington boots, to call them by their proper, more tasteful English name, have a long history—whether illustrious or not, we can’t say. They go back to the early 1800s, and are associated with the British aristocracy. The footwear is, in fact, named after the 1st Duke of Wellington, Arthur Wellesley. The good Duke was a military man and a Tory statesman. In fact, the chap served as prime minister not once, but twice. We do not know if he was an aesthete, but since he ruled over a dukedom, he probably had refined sensitivity towards his sartorial choices. Yet, the trusty wellies that he popularised, as well as their descendants (Bottega Veneta calls theirs by the positively low-brow ‘puddle boots’) are now associated with taste that’s not anywhere near good.

It does not require deep knowledge of current affairs to know that ‘ugly’ is, for more than half of the decade, not the ugly that we know. Ugly, the cousin of bad taste, is attractive; ugly is good; ugly is cool. We were even told that ugly wasn’t a passing fad. And it is true; it is still a trend! Ugly has redefined what is flattering just as much as it has changed what is considered attractive. In fact, chances are attractive is really not. Yet, it now encompasses so many aspect of contemporary tastes that even awful is in the jumble. And there is a word for it: inclusive. Or, the fake synonym, diverse. Both let ugly into the club. Ugly is dancing and winning. Now, if you refer to ugly in the negative, you’d have ugly-shamed! Ugly is so influential (in digital life, is influential synonymous with ugly?), it brought bad taste in too.

The thing about bad taste is that it needs it’s competitor good taste. Without good taste, bad taste won’t be that bad. One isn’t the mirror image of the other, but one can see what the other is not. It isn’t the bad that’s so bad it’s good. It’s bad that makes good look its part. What would Cinderella be without the bad—er, ugly—stepsisters? Would Cinderella stand out? Was it not the Fairy Godmother who gave her everything she needed that had some semblance of good taste? But what the Fairy Godmother created for her so that she could go to the good-taste ball came from the opposite of good: the footmen from mice, the driver of the coach from a frog, and the ball gown from rags! Oh, there is, of course, the coach; it was a pumpkin transformed, not a Yubari King melon!!!

Graphics om the Balenciaga ‘The Simpsons’ T-shirt. Product photo: Balenciaga

Fashion these days is hemorrhaging so much bad taste that it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore it as aberration that will vanish the next season. More and more, we can’t wish it away. It keeps coming at you, like mosquitoes on warm and humid days. Sometimes in ways you won’t expect. We are not hyperventilating. The Simpsons of every-town America, Springfield, for example, are not fashion darlings. As Matt Groening told the Smithsonian magazine in 2012, “I thought Simpson was a funny name in that it had the word ‘simp’ in it, which is short for “simpleton’”. But thanks to Balenciaga—the fearless bender of taste, the family of five are fashion icons. Is any of the Simpsons, now in Balenciaga and on Balenciaga, the epitome of good taste? Even poor Lisa Simpsons looks like a misguided 2nd grader who spends too much money on Shein, pearl choker intact. The Simpsons in Balenciaga seem to suggest that taste, like mood and marriages, can change overnight.

Balenciaga of the present, of course, straddles good and bad tastes, but oftentimes with one foot firmly planted in the latter. Their pairing with the Simpsons maybe irony at its highest order, but is it good taste? Or is this a sure reminder that so many people, like Homer Simpson, simply have no taste until someone comes along and gives them some. Not that Homer Simpson would be able to tell what is good or bad taste. In the case of the Balenciaga makeover of the residents of Springfield, it really depends on luck. But Balenciaga is increasingly able to make make bad taste better, so much so that it becomes good bad taste, or, as some might call it, “impeccable”. Example: Crocs. And recently it shows that on the runway or red carpet, bad taste can walk both. But with their haute couture revived, who’d dare say that Balenciaga is the arbiter of bad taste? Just badder?

Sometimes bad taste comes in the clever guise of ‘eclectic’. This eclectic is a parody of bad taste, often with kitsch as a partner in crime, and the devil around the two. That it might be steep in historicism does not take away bad-taste-as-eclectic’s parodic heft. The pied piper of this constantly jokey, retro-tinged pastiche is Gucci. Like stablemate Balenciaga, Gucci has made bad taste impossibly good, even gauche, galvanising the glaring and the glamourous into action. But few drawn to Gucci see the parody, nor, to be sure, the bad taste. When overexposed to such bad taste, we become immune to it. Bad-taste eclectic has a special—even sexual—power over those seeking fashion that looks like fashion. The nouveaux, like part of China’s social class tuhao (土豪), as well as the new-to-fashion are especially drawn to eclectic, like the proverbial magpie to shiny things. Or, a scene we get to see, flying termites to street lamps!

Chanel’s attempt at bad taste as seen on Lily Rose Depp in a recent campaign

When Balenciaga leads others follow. Bad taste is so potent that many can’t resist its pull, like boba tea. Chanel, once the epitome of good taste, is now moving away from it, baring so much underwear (above), just to name one transgression, that it would be considered bad taste just three pandemic-unheard years ago. Even Lily Rose Depp in the fall campaign couldn’t reverse the course. In fact, none of them nubile young things could. Blackpink’s Jisoo in the promo video Exploring Dior with Jisoo, expressed no taste, good or bad, when she saw the clothes; she was only able to utter, “I love this… I love this… Oh my god, I love this”. Is good taste daft? Chanel and its ilk joined the circus, but others have always been the ringmasters from the start. All-out bad taste at Dolce & Gabbana (including their marketing communication) keeps it in the spotlight. Others may fare less triumphantly but are no less trending, such as Roberto Cavalli and Virgil Abloh’s also-designer/DJ pal Heston Preston. Even to be named the “King of Bad Taste”, as Philipp Plein has, is an accolade. Zoolander, it seemed, saw the future.

To be sure, the Guardian isn’t the first to have ‘bad taste’ in its headline. Vogue, ever the seer of the future, already declared in 2018 that “Bad Taste Is the Best Thing to Happen to Fashion”. It did not conceal its enthusiasm for looks that were “about the hodgepodge style of looking like you don’t care at all coming into fashion”. But of course they cared (and still do), and the media continually shines a spotlight on bad taste, sending it on its inexorable rise. They do this by featuring the many artistes and celebrities, for whom bad taste is also the passport to ‘cred’, such as the Beibers, as well as so many American artistes-turned-whatever. Hip-hop stars have a big part in the rapid rise of bad taste. Whether by designing stuff or wearing them to effect insider advantage and cool, the sum of which frequently courts bad taste. But it isn’t just American stars who succumbed to taste aligned with bad. The Berlin rapper UFO361, a proponent, who attended the Balenciaga couture show, enthused in Stay High, “Nobody rocked Balenciaga. Crazy man. Long live Demna”. Ditto bad taste?

Perhaps bad taste is still taste, and in the world of fashion, it is increasingly better to have some taste than no taste. As the English novelist Arnold Bennett wrote in the Evening Standard in 1930, (even back then) “good taste is better than bad taste, but bad taste is better than no taste”. Although Mr Bennett was commentating on literary taste, what he said is just as applicable to much of today’s culture, not just fashion. In fact, bad taste is so much better that we have become used to it, and to the point it isn’t bad anymore. For many here, bad taste is who are: this is how we dress and behave. Accept it! And who even calls out bad taste when they can wallow in the repository of bad taste—TikTok, even YouTube? Has social media accelerated the consumption of bad taste? Its widespread use has certainly put bad taste persistently visible online. Bad taste manifests in not just what we wear, but in how we behave, in how we speak, in how we write, in the expletives we prefer, in the division we sow, in the crassness we consume, in the asinine jokes we rollick through, and in the private lives we expose—all delightfully. Even the most ardent among the promulgators of bad taste have become the arbiters of good taste. And our appetites only grow. And grow.

Illustrations by Just So

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