Part 2 of Religion, Donation, and Alleged Corruption: Media’s Battle Lines

Read Part 1 and Part 3.

Note: In my previous post, I stated that I did not know if the City News website was associated with City Harvest Church. Yesterday, I was going through City News website when I saw a big banner at the bottom notifying people of City Harvest’s service times. I had no idea how I missed that. So City News is associated with City Harvest.

Note 2: Some City Harvest members and former members commented in my previous post that I approached the issue from a very unbiased manner. I did this because I was trying to explore both sides of the situation. I was also trying to understand how the Crossover Project operates and how Kong Hee and Sun’s actions led to the current situation. I did explored why Kong Hee and Sun did what they did, but only briefly. In Part 3 (and the finale of this insanely long commentary), I will go more in-depth into the whys, and it is where my personal opinions will colour the commentary. In Part 1 and 2, I am trying to be more objective.

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In Part 1 of “Religion, Donation, and Alleged Corruption”, I explored City Harvest Church’s Cultural Mandate and how it brought about the Crossover Project. And while both Kong Hee and Sun started off with the good intention of establishing a ‘Christian cultural revolution’ of sorts, namely by bringing the church to the “un-churched” through secular entertainment and means, the early successes of the Project and their overweening ambitions led them astray from the original purpose of the Crossover Project.

In this follow up, I will be focusing on the responses of Singapore’s mainstream and social media regarding the City Harvest case. I am only focusing on how the media reacted, and will be comparing and contrasting the responses from both camps. I will also be using international news media to compare it with Singapore’s news media. As stated earlier, the whys will be concluded in Part 3 (I think I’m getting a bit too obsessed with this).

With Singapore’s media abuzz with a cacophony of news, opinions and commentaries on the case, there is a lot of information to shift through. As such, I will only be focusing on tweets, news articles, commentaries, Facebook notes, and blog posts between the period of 26th June to 30th June. If you are confused with the entire event and the big uproar surround it, and want to know how it started, I recommend reading this part. I have also attached an infographic of the entire incident from Channel NewsAsia via Mr Smith’s blog (1):

 

 

To start off, I will focus on the tweets since they offer the broadest snapshot from a wide cross-section of Singaporeans. And with the use of hashtags, it is easy to locate and isolate trending tweets relating to the City Harvest case. Furthermore, the brevity of tweets allows people to get the gist of the whole situation. Quite useful if you are late to the scrimmage.

 

Unleashing the tweets

In my previous post, I mentioned that there were two camps in this battle: against the church (henceforth shall be known as the ‘Against’ camp), and for the church (henceforth shall be known as the ‘For’ camp). In Twitterverse, the lines were starkly and concretely drawn. To be a fence tweeter was akin to sitting in no-man’s land. You were going to get strafed either way. The only way to stay out of it was to not tweet or retweet anything relating to the City Harvest case.

The only successful fence tweeter I can identify was mrbrown. But then he is the blogfather of Singapore, so he is an outlier. I will explain why later on. (in this part, don’t worry). Essentially, mrbrown played both sides while strolling calmly through no-man’s land.

For those without Twitter accounts or have no idea how tweets work, fear not, I have put up numerous screenshots of tweets for your viewing pleasure.

The first salvo to be fired was not from either camps, but from news providers Channel NewsAsia and The Strait Times. After all, without mainstream media providing the content, how was social media going to comment on it?

Channel NewsAsia uploaded the news of the arrests on their website at 2:47pm (2), but it was all quiet on the Singaporean front in Twitterverse. I couldn’t find any tweets around that time regarding the City Harvest case. The main reason was probably because it was a workday afternoon when CNA reported the news. And most Singaporean youth probably would not check a news website during their mid-year break.

There’s another conjecture why it was so quiet. But I will talk more about it in Part 3.

After the editors from CNA realized that no one was screaming about the news from the top of the hill, they decided to tweet about it. Unfortunately, they lost to The Strait Times by a mere minute.

 

 

Somewhere in the Caldecott Broadcast Centre, the head honcho at CNA was unhappy with fact that CNA lost the ‘breaking tweet’ to The Strait Times and that CNA was getting fewer retweets. “What! WE LOST? Only 131 retweets? Chee bye! Send out a second tweet! And this time, make it pop!” So a second tweet was duly tweeted:

 

 

785 retweets. That’s better. Staring at the screen, the head honcho nodded with satisfaction while sipping on kopi-o.

Not to be outdone, the head honcho at The Strait Times tweeted a second tweet, this time, with a link to the actual news article (3).

 

 

And thus, the scene was set.

To be strictly honest, STOMP, Singapore’s citizen-journalism portal, was the first to tweet about the arrest at 4:32pm. But they are not an official news website, and after a certain fiasco, one cannot trust their tweets. I’ve never trusted the contents on STOMP’s website anyway (I have always disliked that website). So STOMP’s tweet is disqualified for unreliability.

The first few seconds or so, no shot was fired yet. Everyone was tweeting and retweeting both CNA’s and The Strait Times’ tweets, spreading the information throughout Singapore’s cyberspace. Tension was crackling in the air. Everyone knew it was going to be a divisive issue. But the question at that point was, who was going to fire the first shot?

Then it came. The first shot from the ‘For’ camp.

 

 

How was the ‘Against’ camp going to respond? After trawling through tweets after tweets, I think I have identified the first return volleys from the ‘Against’ camp.

 

 

The battle had started. Each side released a barrage of heavy artillery, attempting to take control of a number of hashtags: #chc, #CHC, #cityharvestchurch, #CityHarvestChurch, #cityharvest, #Kong Hee, #Sun Ho, #konghee, #sunho, and the other many variants in Twitterverse. Shifting through the numerous tweets, it was obvious that the ‘Against’ camp was unleashing a brutal salvo.

 

 

Look at the number of retweets for some of the tweets above. Some tweets were retweeted by hundreds of people. I did not block off three people’s faces because two of them are very prominent social media personalities while the other one is Singapore’s most famous cross-dressing performer. The ‘For’ camp is really taking a shelling. But they stand their ground and attempt to return the bombardment they’re experiencing.

 

 

 

For the last tweet, the person tweeted the link to her blog post about how much City Harvest has helped her grow and developed in her personal life. Don’t bother clicking on the link, it’s a screenshot.

As topics relating to City Harvest, Kong Hee, and Sun Ho started to trend on Twitterverse, the ‘For’ camp realized that there was a severe public backlash against the church. So they decided that instead of reclaiming the hashtags and anything relating to City Harvest, they would create new hashtags to announce their show of support and solidarity, and to spread more positive vibes (thus, creating more work for me). So what are the new hashtags?

 

 

#mytrustisnotbreached and #IBelieveintheCHCCrossover started trending on the Singaporean front in Twitterverse. As expected in times of warfare, there will always be retaliation. So the ‘Against’ camp hit back at the ‘For’ camp by coming up with their own hashtag: #WhatIWouldRatherDoWithMyTenPerCent. The ten percent refers to the claim that City Harvest members are always expected to tithe 10% of their monthly salary to the church.

 

 

Even Lathika, Singapore’s most famous maid, jumped into the fray.

So now you get the gist of the entire situation. Mainstream media throws the bone to the public. One ‘For’ camp supporter prays for Kong Hee. The ‘Against’ camp unleashes hellfire. The ‘For’ camp tries to retaliate, but realizes it’s futile and so creates new hashtags to show solidarity and to spread positive loving. The ‘Against’ camp counterattack by creating a different hashtag.

Criticism from both sides were fired all over the place for the next couple of days. In the ensuring melee, mrbrown casually strolled through no-man’s land. Then he tweeted these two tweets on 28th June:

 

 

Damn it, mrbrown, why did you have to create the hashtag #buaysong? Now I buay song too. (Buay song means not happy).

As usual, both of mrbrown’s tweets was heavily retweeted. The next day, on 29th June, of all people, Kong Hee retweeted one of mrbrown’s tweet:

 

 

Wait! But it does not ends here. Later on, Sun Ho tweeted this:

 

 

Okay, that was completely unexpected.

This is why I said mrbrown was such a successful fence tweeter in this melee. Both sides retweeted his tweets and even Kong Hee and Sun, after days of near silence, took part in this lighthearted silliness. I guess having a reputation as a successful satirist probably helped too.

So there you have it. The battle of the Singaporean front in Twitterverse. The summary above is the basic gist of it. It is a lot more complex and if I were to go into detail, I will probably be chasing hashtags and tweets to no end and would never have time to write this post.

Kirsten Han, one of the editors of the website SEA Youth Says So, also wrote a concise article summarizing the online storm about the City Harvest case (4). I used her article as the starting point for my take on the online twitter war. In my appendix, I will list out all the hashtags and search terms that I used in my Twitter research for this blog post.

I am exhausted. I cannot believe I am saying this, but I wish Twitter has a timeline like Facebook does.

 

Circulating the Facebook notes

I have so far identified 5 very popular notes circulating around Facebook. These five approach the issue at hand in a variety of ways. All five also sit on a wide spectrum in their stances towards the City Harvest case. I encourage you to read all the notes if you have not. They are not long and they do raise some very relevant questions. Below, I shall summarize their contents.

We shall start with the easiest.

 

1. “Pray for City Harvest Church” by Lawrence Khong, Chairman of LoveSingapore on 27th June (5)

This note was basically repeating the same thing that so many others had tweeted about: Stay strong together, do not incite any flamewar, keep faith in God and the church leaders, pray for Kong Hee and the rest of the leaders, pray for the church, pray for City Harvest members, pray for Singapore, pray for the wider public.

The good thing was that Lawrence took the effort to point out that the authorities had nothing against City Harvest Church as an organization and that the case is only specifically against Kong Hee and the other four.

The one thing that I found odd was this:

We must seek every opportunity to speak well of City Harvest Church. Its impact on the youth of Singapore is phenomenal. Its community service is outstanding. Its social arm meets a wide range of needs. For example, intellectually-disabled children, troubled youth, dysfunctional families, elderly poor, hearing impaired, terminally ill, ex-offenders, and so on. Let us pray and believe that City Harvest Church will continue to positively influence our nation for Jesus.

 

Impact on youth? Influence on nation? I’m going to need more concrete evidence and statistics on that, Lawrence.

Other than that, the note was essentially sounding the call of support for City Harvest Church.

 

2. “Death of a Halo: of Kong Hee, CHC, and Christianity” by Samuel Caleb Wee on 27th June (6)

The most popular note among the five notes here, it is also one of the most insightful note I have came across. As a former atheist turned former City Harvest member turned current skeptical atheist, Samuel has come full circle in his spiritual journey and understands what it is like to be on both sides.

It is difficult to summarize Samuel’s note here. While it is written with clarity, it is also extremely subtle, and a sense of disappointment and sadness pervades it. The basic gist is that all humans are fallible, that mistakes must be acknowledged and atoned for, hence the title of the note. It is a little long, but I do encourage you to read it.

Perhaps this paragraph will give you an idea:

It seems to me that in our quest for godliness we often forget what it means to be human, what it means to be like that guy who stopped outside the grave of his best friend, crying, weeping, sobbing, Lazarus come forth, like that guy who comforted a humiliated adulterer and said, it’s okay, it’s okay, they won’t hurt you now, I’m not judging you either, like that guy who hung upon a cross and looked at his mother and said, John, John, take care of her for me please, like that guy who sat upon a beach cooking breakfast for the people he loved the most, and instead we become like those whitewashed tombs and brood of vipers that that same guy loathed.

 

 

3. “Dear City Harvester” by Jin Xian on 28th June (7)

Jin Xian’s note is slightly more complex. As a fellow Christian, he feels obligated to stand by City Harvest Church and its members as it is his opinion that all fellow Christians should stick together since they make up the body of Christ.

But a sense of frustration runs through his note. He is frustrated that City Harvest members and leaders are adopting a siege mentality, refusing to give out any clarification and shutting out any and every one, including other Christians. At the same time, Jin Xian is conflicted with the purported ‘prosperity gospel’ preached by Kong Hee. He points out that there is a conflict in the way City Harvest is operated. Kong Hee and the other church leaders operate the church like a business. But Jin Xian states that a church is not a business entity. Although Jin Xian wants to help, he is also conflicted by the disparate ideas of the church operating in the business world.

At the end of his note, Jin Xian’s frustration spills forth:

We want to help. We want to defend our fellow church. But we can’t do shit if you guys don’t give us information. We get stick too y’know; “eh why you Christians like that one ah.” What am I suppose to say? “CHC not Christian. We; true Christian.”?

 

 

4. “City Harvest Church – The Views of a Muslim Singapore – Remember Operation Spectrum of 1987” by Mohammad Nizam Abdul Kadir on 29th June (8)

This note approaches the issue from unique political and civic perspective. Nizam is puzzled as to why the MCYS (Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports) and the COC (Commissioner of Charities) concluded its investigations when the court had not even found Kong Hee and the rest guilty.

Furthermore, he suspects that the current actions behind the authorities are similar to the ones during Operation Spectrum. This operation was launched by Singapore’s Internal Security Department to round up a number of Christians and Catholics (9). They were accused of taking part in a ‘Marxist Conspiracy’ to overthrow the PAP government and, as a result, were detained under the Internal Security Act (10). As such, Nizam suspects that the authorities are trying to round up Kong Hee and the other four because City Harvest is becoming too rich and powerful.

Personally I disagree with Nizam’s perspective. Nizam himself acknowledges that his point of view might not stand up to some arguments. Nevertheless, I encourage you to read it for the interesting debates that take place in the comments.

 

5. “City Harvest Church – Rebuttal (to) The Views of a Muslim Singapore – Remember Operation Spectrum of 1987” by David King on 29th June (11)

The last note is essentially a rebuttal to the note above. David states that the arrest of Kong Hee and the other four are not politically motivated. He pointed out that the five of them are not denied of their rights and are free to defend themselves in media, alternative media, and in court.

David also states in his note that perhaps Nazim was attempting to point out the unreliability of mainstream media and their reporting of this case.

So that is all for the five notes. It is interesting to see how diverse Singaporeans can be in their stance when it comes to complex issues like this. While we do have a tendency of jumping onto bandwagons, perhaps after the 2011 General Elections, and the Presidential Elections, Singaporeans are making a slight improvement in the bandwagon aspect.

However Facebook notes were not so firm in their stances (except for the last two), but were more or less calling for Singaporeans to discuss and debate on the case peacefully. Blogs were the ones that were more firm in whether they supported or criticized the church.

 

It must be blogged

It is ironic that as a blogger, I seldom read other people’s blogs. I do follow blogs that interest me, but then it is only a few. And unfortunately, the blogosphere is not like Twitter where all tweets can be easily found as long as you know which trending hashtags and topics to search for.

So what I did here, was to simply continue with my blog reading habits. Which means that for those Singaporean bloggers I followed, I checked on them to see if they blogged about the City Harvest case. Some blogs, like mrbrown, would link to other bloggers who have blogged about the case. Sometimes, readers would put up links to other blog posts in the comments section. From thereon, I would go down the rabbit hole.

The second method was to read the blogs that I have found when I was going through all the tweets.

The third method was to actively google for blog posts on the City Harvest case. Surprisingly, it was quite difficult to get good results. I think Google let me down for the first time. Either that or my sleuthing skills are not as good as I thought.

The fourth method, was to search through SgBlogs.com using key words relating to the case. But the search results were too disorganized, so I abandoned it after a few search results.

The fifth method was to search through WordPress using key words relating to the case.

So combining this five methods (four if you want to exclude SgBlog), I managed to find a sizable number of blogs. However, this is not a exhaustive study and is not representative of the Singapore blogosphere.

I am not going to summarize every single blog post that I have found. That would make Part 2 too long. Besides, majority of the blog posts I found were merely reiterating what was being reported either on news website or other blogs. What I wanted was opinionated blog posts and commentaries. Blogs that raised the hecklers. Blogs that pissed people off. Blogs that drew supporters to them. Blogs that sounded the horn of attention. You get my drift.

Below is the list of blogs where I have separated them into different camps.

 

Fence sitters

“Image is everything” by mrbrown on 28th June (12). I used mrbrown’s blog post as the starting point.

“On the Kong Hee scandal” by Joel Joshua Goh on 27th June (13).

“City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee arrested” by Mr. Smith on 27th June (14).

“On City Harvest: Don’t use your faith to kill” by Yongy on 27th June (15).

“I sincerely believe Pastor Kong Hee is innocent” by Unbranded Bread n Butter on 28th June (16).

 

Against the Church

“City Harvest Church” by Klinsen on 26th June (17).

“I am Angel of Heaven Rockson Takumi Tan!!! You will kiss my Horse!!!” by Rockson on 26th June. (Note: This article contains a lot of profanities. He told you to kiss his penis in the title. Also, it is written in Singlish. So if you don’t understand, you might want to skip this) (18).

“My ‘peanuts’ cents take on the City Harvest probe” by Lopsided 8 on 27th June (19).

“Crossing over from gospel to vanity” by Alex Au on 29th June (20).

“A sense of proportion. What S$23 million can do…” by Alvin on 28th June (21). I mentioned this blog post in Part 1.

“Gyrating For Jesus: A Pow-Ka-Leow Guide to Sun Ho’s Greatest ‘Hits'” by Michelle on 28th June (22). This was also mentioned in Part 1.

Limpeh is Foreign Talent blog (recommended by ah men). The blogger wrote quite a few articles on the City Harvest Case. They are mostly leaning towards the negative side (23).

 

For the Church

“Thoughts on City Harvest Church and Pastor Kong Hee’s arrest” by Estelle Kiora on 26th June (24).

“City Harvest, My Church” by Daphne on 28th June (25).

“of a napkin and a pastor” by Blacktaffy on 27th June (26).

“Scribbles from Abroad, on City Harvest Church” by La piedra exotica on 28th June (27).

 

Some blog posts are long. Some are short. The shortest blog post, I think, belongs to mrbrown. But then his blog posts are usually short. I have highlighted the most divisive/ most commented blog posts in each category. But I would recommend you to take your time reading all the blogs above. I will be referring back to some of these blogs in Part 3.

Compared to Facebook notes which were more ambivalent in their positions towards the case, bloggers were much more firm. Yet, it is also interesting to note that some bloggers did not take MSM at face value and in fact, came to their own conclusions separate from MSM.

 

Mainstream media’s field day

I have been saving the best for the last.

Mainstream media (MSM). Hmm, where to start?

MSM played a complicated role in this saga. Without them breaking the news, this entire issue may have been swept under the carpet and the public would have been none the wiser. Some of you may disagree with me, saying that S$50 million dollars is a huge amount to keep it on the down low. But reading all the tweets, blog posts and some Facebook notes, the intense solidarity and support for Kong Hee demonstrated by City Harvest members could suggest otherwise.

At the same time, MSM also fueled the flames of the social media war. Some of you may also disagree on this. You may point out that majority of Singaporeans netizens jumped on the bandwagon in persecuting City Harvest. That may very well be true. When it comes to social media, opinions tends to quickly devolve into the lowest common denominator. As what many redditors (people who use Reddit, a social media website) pointed out, the hive mind is strong.

But, if you follow the ant trail, you would find that MSM was the one who instigated this entire saga. Here, in the final section of Part 2, will be where I show you how MSM did what they did.

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Let’s go back to the first three online articles posted by CNA, The Straits Times, and AsiaOne. First, let’s exam their headlines.

 

CNA: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee, four others arrested” (28).

The Straits Times: “City Harvest church founder Kong Hee and 4 others arrested” (29).

AsiaOne: “City Harvest case: Where the S$23 million allegedly went” (30).

 

Now, both CNA’s and Straits Times’ headlines are almost the same. Kong Hee and four other people from the church were arrested. Fair enough. It provides some information but at the same time, makes you want to read more. However, notice that Straits Times pull off something subtle here. It mentioned the word ‘church’. CNA left that word out. So if you have no idea what City Harvest is, you would not know that it is a church. But by inserting the word ‘church’ into the headline, Straits Times were priming you to be biased against City Harvest.

AsiaOne’s headline left out the word ‘church’. But I felt that their headline was a tad too dramatic.

CNA – 0 (no agenda setting)

Straits Times – 1 (for agenda setting)

AsiaOne – 1 (for slightly dramatic headline).

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Now let’s look at the body of the article. The first screenshot is CNA’s article. Second screenshot is Straits Times’ article. AsiaOne’s article was 4 pages long. It was the most in-depth article. So I took a screenshot of the first page.

 

CNA

 

The Straits Times

 

AsiaOne

 

CNA approach the issue from a more objective viewpoint. It succinctly explains the entire situation without trying to imply anything. Yes, it mentioned ‘church’ in the first sentence. But I feel that that was to inform readers the type of organization that City Harvest is, rather than to do enforce any agenda. Similarly, AsiaOne approached the issue from a perspective that focused more on the misappropriation of the money.  It did not try to get a rise out of the readers and left opinions up to everyone.

On the other hand, Straits Times tried to blow up the issue. “Arrested by police“, “picked up by police”. By using the words police as a noun, Straits Times sets the tone of the article as good guys vs. bad guys. I could hear the COPS tune of “bad boys, bad boys, watcha gonna do when they come for you?” when reading the article. Yes, CNA did use the word ‘police’, but only as an adjective. AsiaOne makes no mention of it.

CNA – 0 (nice work CNA).

Straits Times – 2 (agenda setting and dramatic flair).

AsiaOne – 1 (for slightly dramatic headline).

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Now, let’s get down to the picture they used. Drumroll… and it is Kong Hee! The first screenshot is CNA’s photo, the other is Straits Times’ photo. AsiaOne wanted to show off and had a whole bunch of pictures. So I just took the main picture under the headline.

 

CNA

 

The Straits Times

 

AsiaOne

 

CNA, looking good. AsiaOne, eh, your photo is a bit too melodramatic. And horrible photoshop. You should not have stolen the photo from the Straits Times. Sigh, better luck next time.

“Early dawn raid” Wow, Straits Times. Just wow. Not only must you slap your readers in the face during your article, but you must beat them on the head with your photo caption. I love how Straits Times portrayed Kong Hee and the other four as Singapore’s greatest heist group. Straits Times should headline their next article on City Harvest as Kong Hee’s Four – The Misappropriation. I demand royalties.

CNA – 0

Straits Times – 3 (agenda setting, dramatic flair and cinematic imagination)

AsiaOne – 2 (for slightly melodramatic headline and for using a photo from Straits Times)

Thus, Straits Times gets the highest points for attempting to influence readers’ opinions.

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And there was evening. And there was morning. The second day, 27th June.

This is where the MSM ups a notch. Instead of going through article by article like I did above, I am going to point out different parts of really sensationalized articles. I will link the articles in my appendix so that you can read it full and make your own judgement.

Ladies and Gentlemen, please, let’s welcome, the spell-binding, sensational, Strait Times!

Strait Times: “Ho Yeow Sun: ‘$23 million bid for stardom'” (31).

 

 

 

I am hoping that this sensationalized article was the doing of an executive editor. Why? Because this I like to think that the head honchos spent so much time thinking of KPIs (Key Performance Indexes) that they have lost touch with what is reporting and what is yellow journalism.

If you think the above article was bad. Wait till you see AsiaOne. Apparently, not happy with a mere 2 points yesterday, AsiaOne went all out. They seriously dug dirt on Kong Hee and Sun.

AsiaOne: “From $127k HDB flat to $9.3m Sentosa Cove penthouse” (32).

 

 

 

I highly recommend you to read this article. It was quite an entertaining read, probably akin to watching MTV’s Cribs. I also found it highly amusing that they filed this story under ‘Business/ My Money/ Property’. I wonder what AsiaOne is trying to imply here. Hmmm….. anyone?

Let’s see CNA article for comparison.

CNA: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee, four others charged” (33).

 

 

 

I do not know if I am being biased towards CNA, but is it just me or is their reporting fairly neutral? I know that they mention  words like ‘sham transactions’, ’round-tripping’ and ‘…devised to conceal the diversion…’ But compared to Straits Times and AsiaOne, CNA does not rabidly jumps to conclusion.

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And there was evening. And there was morning. The third day, 28th June.

The third day was less severe. By now, City Harvest issued a statement to the media (34). I’ll put up City Harvest’s statement later. For now, let’s see how the MSM reacted to the statement.

Let’s start with Straits Times, as usual.

Straits Times: “City Harvest stands by Kong Hee, others: Executive pastor” (35).

 

 

 

Surprise, surprise. For once, since the City Harvest case started, Straits Times did not issue a very dramatic article. Now let’s see CNA’s article.

CNA: “City Harvest Church stands by Pastor Kong, senior members” (36).

 

 

 

More or less similar to Straits Times’ report. AsiaOne, on the other hand, continued to dig more dirt.

AsiaOne: “Who is City Harvest’s Wahju Hanafi?” (37).

 

 

 

I do not know AsiaOne, I really have no idea who he is. Do tell.

Granted, it was an article written by the Business Times, not AsiaOne, so it is not entirely AsiaOne’s fault. But by putting up this article on their website, AsiaOne was probably condoning sensationalist journalism. As for the picture the article used, their source is… wait for it… the Internet. Whence from the Internet, Sherlock?

There are numerous other articles over the period of 26th June to 30th June. One could say that MSM was having a field day with this case. Below is the list of articles from Singapore MSM. Check out Straits Times’ headline and article below. They still have to steal the spotlight from other MSM.

 

Straits Times: “Ex-finance chief of City Harvest in spotlight” on 28th June (38). Your spotlight or the court’s spotlight? There is a difference, Straits Times.

Straits Times: “City Harvest Church responds to allegations ” on 29th June (39).

AsiaOne: “Church was not cheated of $50m, says City Harvest” on 29th June (40).

CNA: “City Harvest Church’s Kong Hee maintains integrity” on 30th June (41).

 

But, the kicker came from Straits Times on 30th June. They called Mr. Aries Zulkarnain’s statement on the 28th of June as an “unusual move”. Below is the full statement from City Harvest’s website (42):

 

28 June 2012 – City Harvest Church has responded to certain issues raised this week concerning the CAD case.

 

Mr Aries Zulkarnain, the executive pastor and a founding member of the church since its start 23 years ago, says that the church stands with the members involved.

 

“The people currently in the news are our pastors and trusted staff and leaders who have always put God and CHC first. As a church we stand with them and I believe fully in their integrity. Pastor Kong is still our Senior Pastor.”

 

Mr Zulkarnain says that COC has confirmed that Mr Kong Hee, the senior pastor, and Mr Tan Ye Peng, the deputy senior pastor will continue to preach at the church.

 

He emphasizes that church activities are not affected by the case. “City Harvest Church will continue to do its work. Our services and cell group meetings will carry on as usual. As a church we will continue to take care of our members and our community. We will not stop doing God’s work.”

 

With regard to the allegations, Mr Zulkarnain says, “It has been suggested that the church has been cheated of $50 million. This is not accurate. The $24 million, which went to investment bonds, was returned to the church in full, with interest. We didn’t lose the $24 million, nor did we lose ‘another $26.6m’ as alleged. The church did not lose any funds in the relevant transactions, and no personal profit was gained by the individuals concerned.”

 

Speaking on behalf of the Board, Bobby Chaw, the pastor in charge of missions at CHC, says that actions had been taken the past two years in accordance with the MCYS’ code of governance.

 

“We replaced 50 per cent of our Board with new members. We engaged RSM Chio Lim to do a full internal audit and we have been putting their recommendations into action, and will continue to do so,” says Mr Chaw. “We appreciate the need to maintain good corporate governance, and we are continuously working with MCYS to do so.”

 

However, Mr Chaw expresses his disappointment with some of the media’s coverage so far, particularly in relation to the COC inquiry.

 

“In some instances, they seem to have pre-judged us. We will be dealing with this in due course,” he says.

 

He adds that the church was also surprised that COC chose to implement the suspensions of the members involved without prior notice. “We have been co-operating with COC for two years since the start of the case, so these sudden suspensions came as a surprise to us.”

 

The church’s Advisory Pastor, Rev Dr Phil Pringle is in Singapore to stand with CHC. He is the senior pastor of C3 Church, Sydney, and the C3 Global Network of Churches. Dr Pringle expresses his support for the leadership.

 

“I have known City Harvest Church, Kong, Sun and Ye Peng for a long time. CHC is not just a local church in Singapore. It has 49 affiliated churches and 6 Bible schools all across Asia. It has impact on international ground, and it has proven through many years that it serves the global community, both spiritually and practically through humanitarian works.”

 

Dr Pringle says he, along with CHC’s Advisory Chairman Dr A R Bernard, who is the senior pastor of Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn, New York, fully believe in and endorse the church’s Crossover Project as a mission to reach the world.

 

The church states that the Crossover Project is not about one person’s singing career; it is a mission that is fundamental to the congregation of CHC. The Crossover Project is an outreach that uses Sun Ho’s singing and music to engage people and places that would never otherwise hear the Gospel. As a result of the Crossover Project, many churches have grown worldwide and the faith of many has been strengthened. Impact has been made on the needy in Haiti, disaster victims in China, the depressed and suicidal in Taiwan, and the sick children in Honduras, among others.

 

Dr Pringle says, “The Gospel is the Good News and Christians are meant to share it. CHC has done this through the Crossover Project, which lies at the very heart of our religious beliefs.”

 

 

Those in bold are statements from Mr. Aries Zulkarnain. Read his statements carefully. After you are done. Read Straits Times’ article below (43). The article below is in response to both the press statement issued on the 28th June by City Harvest and the remarks of Mr. Aries Zulkarnain. The ridiculousness of the article beggars belief.

 

Church’s remarks raise questions

 

It could be seen as interfering with judicial process, say some lawyers

 

By LEONARD LIM and BRYNA SIM
30 June 2012

 

The unusual move by City Harvest Church to issue a statement dismissing the allegations of misuse of funds before the case has gone to trial has fuelled questions of its intent.

 

Insiders said the church, now headed by executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain, 39, deemed the statement necessary to allay the concerns of its 30,000 members.

 

An executive member who has been with the church for more than a decade said City Harvest, in making that strongly worded statement, was seeking to lift the congregation’s spirits and ‘unite them’.

 

The church’s founding pastor Kong Hee and four others, charged in court on Wednesday, could face lengthy jail terms – even for life – if found guilty.

 

Lawyers yesterday said that the statement by the church was risky – if not reckless – because it could be construed as interfering with the judicial process.

 

The statement, posted on the church’s website and sent to the media on Thursday, said the church stood with those involved in the case, including Kong.

 

It added that church activities were unaffected and that Kong, 47, and his deputy Tan Ye Peng could continue to preach at the church.

 

The pair have been charged with criminal breach of trust as agents.

 

They, with three others, are alleged to have funnelled $24 million into sham bond investments to further the music career of Kong’s pop singer wife Ho Yeow Sun, and alleged to have misappropriated a further $26.6 million in church funds to cover up the first amount.

 

The five have not entered pleas and are due in court on July 25.

 

What surprised many was that in the City Harvest statement, Mr Aries addressed the allegations and maintained that the church did not lose any funds in the alleged transactions.

 

He also said the accused did not make any personal profit.

 

Lawyers interviewed were divided on whether his comments constituted subjudice, a legal concept referring to words or actions that may affect or prejudice the outcome of court proceedings. It is an offence to do so.

 

The president of the Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore Subhas Anandan said: ‘To address the allegations is subjudice, as the evidence has not been heard in court.’

 

But others said it is debatable whether Mr Aries’ comments were in contempt of court.

 

Criminal lawyer R. S. Bajwa said that while the church has said no funds were lost, it remained up to the prosecution to decide if that will be a point of contention.

 

‘If the prosecution decides to debate on whether restitution was in fact made, then what the church has said would be considered subjudice,’ he said.

 

The Attorney-General’s Chambers, asked to respond to the church’s statement, said that criminal charges were before the court and that neither the prosecution nor any other party should comment on issues which will be subject to adjudication and on which evidence will be led in court.

 

The police gave a similar response: ‘Generally, in law, the offence of criminal breach of trust of monies is established once there is misappropriation of the monies with the requisite intent, regardless of whether there have or have not been subsequent attempts at restitution by the accused.’

 

Meanwhile, church members The Straits Times spoke to said the statement had reassured them and clarified the situation.

 

Communications manager James Yan, a 31-year-old who has been with the church for more than 10 years, said: ‘The statement was helpful. It did not speculate, but merely clarified certain facts.’

 

 

Straits Times, may I interrupt your butt hurt article for a moment? Let’s put it this way. For the past few days, you and other mainstream media tried to frame your articles in such a way so as to influence the opinions of the public. Yes, The court had charged Kong Hee and the other four for misappropriation of funds and criminal breach of trust. But the five were not even bought to trial yet. Trial starts on the 25th of July, which you and other MSM reported. Yet, before the evidence could even be consider in court, you and other MSM framed your articles in such a way that it was foregone conclusion that Kong Hee and the other four were completely guilty.

And now you are insinuating that Mr. Zulkarnain was in contempt of court for subjudice? Reading through City Harvest’s press statement, it does not even look like a proper press statement. It looks more like a record of a press conference. Which means that a reporter asked the question on the allegations of misappropriated funds. Sure, Mr. Zulkarnain could be more media-savvy and not replied the question. But with so many people hounding them for an answer, that question was designed to push him into a spot. Saying ‘no comment’ would be the same as acknowledging that the allegations are true. Either way, it was a Catch-22 for Mr. Zulkarnain.

Oh wait, I guess a bunch of Singaporean netizens and I just committed subjudice, though I am not sure how our comments are going to influence the case.

I may not support City Harvest, but Straits Times, I think you are trying too hard to paint City Harvest and its leaders as the devil’s spawn.

I bite my thumb at you, Straits Times.

_________________________________________________________

International news media also reported about the City Harvest case. In fact, the City Harvest case was incredibly well covered around the world. However, it is important to remember that most were a variant of AFP’s or AP’s reports. Furthermore, the style and framing of the reports by international news media were not much better compared to Singapore MSM.

At first, I thought it might be due to the influence of Singapore MSM slanted reporting. But then the cynic in me questioned that. International news media seldom cared about the feelings of Singapore MSM (unless the PAP government brings them to court). So the other possible reason for international news media’s biased reporting might be due to the fact that having a pastor allegedly misappropriate S$50 million also means having a news article that will definitely attract readers.

The list below shows the various articles from international news media.  Compare their headlines to Singapore MSM.

 

Associated Press: “Singapore mega-church founder charged with fraud” (44).

AFP: “Singapore pastor charged in $19 million fraud case” (45).

Al Jazeera: “Singapore pastor charged in $19m fraud case” (46).

BBC News: “Singapore City Harvest Church pastor charged over funds” (47).

Time: “Singapore Pastor Allegedly Used Church Funds to Finance Wife’s Pop Music Career” (48).

Daily Mail (UK Tabloid): “False (pop) idol: Singapore church leader charged with fraud for syphoning £12m to fund his wife’s singing career” (49).

The Christian Post: “Singapore Pastor Kong Hee Charged With Fraud, Facing Life in Prison” (50).

The Telegraph: “Singapore church founder ‘misused £11.5 million in donations'” (51).

Hindustan Times: “Singapore pastor arrested over misuse of $18m” (52).

 

Conclusion

In terms of social media, Twitter had the most divisive opinions. The line was starkly drawn between supporters and critics. But I chalk that up to the 140 characters limit enforced by Twitter. It is quite obvious that Twitter may not the best social platform to have a debate. Furthermore, on Twitter, your stance was distinctively and quickly stated by whatever hashtags you used. As such, in Twitter, a sort of black-white perspective developed.

Blogs and Facebook notes allowed for a more nuanced discussion between both parties. However, of the two, Facebook notes were much more nuanced and ambiguous in their views. This is probably because the writer had to spread his/her note through their network of friends before the note will be shared with the wider community. The nuanced and ambiguous stance allowed them to state their opinions without offending anyone in their network.

Blogs were somewhere between Twitter and Facebook notes. Some were ambiguous, but most were firm in their position towards Kong Hee and the church. This is probably because the blog functions as a personal website and outlet for the writer, and so the writer will be more emboldened to state what was on their minds. Furthermore, as they were not constrained by character limits like Twitter, they could fully flesh out their opinions and commentaries to potential readers.

Overall, I felt that most of the discussions, commentaries and opinions were coming from the critics and ‘Against’ camp, and the Fence Sitters. Loyal supporters for the church either reiterated that Kong Hee was not a bad person or just wrote about how much the church had done for them.

I am less impressed with Singapore MSM

Singapore MSM fanned the flames of accusation with the way they framed their articles, especially Straits Times. Sure, you had fights on Twitter, on blogs, on Facebook notes; but Singapore MSM was always pouring oil on troubled waters.

This was already a potentially explosive issue, especially when Singapore had similar cases of financial fraud relating to charities such as the National Kidney Foundation (53) and Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre (54). As City Harvest is a charitable and religious organization, the backlash would be twice as bad. Yet, Singapore MSM made an already divisive issue worse by stirring up more emotions through their framing of the articles. I am not sure what agenda they are trying to set, but some Singapore netizens stated that they were probably trying to divert the public’s attention away from the STOMP fiasco.

I do not know if the broadsheets published by Straits Times is different from the content they put online. I do not have the luxury to get Singapore Airlines to deliver newspapers to my doorstep in Sydney. So I cannot compare the Straits Times’ broadsheets to their online content.

However, that is no excuse. CNA and AsiaOne are purely web-based news providers, yet they do not play up their articles as much as Straits Times did. For a newspaper that constantly crow about its ‘journalistic integrity’ and so-called ‘neutralism’, Straits Times’ behaviour demonstrated by this case had just peeled away more pieces from its crumbling veneer. I had sort of expected this heavy-handed agenda setting from Straits Times, but not to this extent.

I find it highly amusing that Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean called for calm and told Singaporeans not to make hasty judgements as the case is already before the court. Yet, all the while, Singapore MSM was wrecking havoc with their reporting.

All in all, spending two and a half days chronicling the online storm of the City Harvest case had been quite a fun and amusing, albeit tiring, experience.

Part 3 (and the last part) will be out sometime on Friday. I need to take a break.

 

Appendix (“Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”)

1. Channel NewsAsia infographic via Mr. Smith’s blog: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee arrested”

2. Channel NewsAsia: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee, four others arrested”

3. The Straits Times Breaking News: “City Harvest founder Kong Hee and 4 others arrested”

4. Kirsten Han, SEA Youth Says So: “Singapore mega-church faces online storm after allegations of misused funds”

5. Lawrence Khong: “Pray for City Harvest Church”

6. Samuel Caleb Wee: “Death of A Halo: Of Kong Hee, CHC, and Christianity”

7. Jin Xian: “Dear City Harvester”

8. Mohammad Nizam Abdul Kadir: “City Harvest Church – The Views of a Muslim Singaporean – Remember Operation Spectrum of 1987”

9. Wikipedia: Operation Spectrum”

10. ibid

11. David King: City Harvest Church – “Rebuttal (to) the ‘Views of a Muslim Singaporean – Remember Operation Spectrum 1987′”

12. mrbrown: “Image is everything”

13. Joel Joshua Goh: “On the Kong Hee scandal”

14. Mr. Smith: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee arrested”

15. Yongy: “On City Harvest: Don’t use your faith to kill”

16. Unbranded Bread n Butter: “I sincerely believe Pastor Kong Hee is innocent”

17. Sarcasm blasts until your ass bleeds (Klixen): “City Harvest Church”

18. Rockson: “I am Angel of Heaven Rockson Takumi Tan!!! You will kiss my Horse!!!”

19. Lopsided 8: “My ‘peanuts’ cents take on the City Harvest probe”

20. Yawning Bread (Alex Au): “Crossing over from gospel to vanity”

21. Alvinology (Alvin): “A Sense of Proportion: What S$23 Million Can Do…”

22. Syntaxfree (Michelle): “Gyrating For Jesus: A Pow-Ka-Leow Guide To Sun Ho’s Greatest ‘Hits’”

23. Limpeh is Foreign Talent: multiple blog posts

24. Love You Wrong Time (Estelle Kiora): “Thoughts on City Harvest Church and Pastor Kong Hee’s arrest”

25. Mother, Inc. (Daphne): “City Harvest, My Church”

26. Blacktaffy: “of a napkin and a pastor”

27. La piedra exotica: “Scribbles from Abroad, on City Harvest Church”

28. Channel NewsAsia: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee, four others arrested”

29. The Straits Times Breaking News: “City Harvest founder Kong Hee and 4 others arrested”

30. AsiaOne: “City Harvest case: “Where the S$23 million allegedly went”

31. The Straits Times Breaking News: “Ho Yeow Sun: ‘$23 million bid for stardom'”

32. AsiaOne Business: “From $127k HDB flat to $9.3m Sentosa Cove penthouse”

33. Channel NewsAsia: “City Harvest’s founder Kong Hee, four others charged”

34. City Harvest Church: “City Harvest Church Responds to Allegations”

35. The Straits Times Big Story: “City Harvest stands by Kong Hee, others: Executive pastor”

36. Channel NewsAsia: “City Harvest Church stands by Pastor Kong, senior members”

37. AsiaOne: “Who is City Harvest’s Wahju Hanafi?”

38. The Straits Times Big Story: “Ex-finance chief of City Harvest in spotlight”

39. The Straits Times Big Story: “City Harvest Church responds to allegations “

40. AsiaOne: “Church was not cheated of $50m, says City Harvest”

41. Channel NewsAsia: “City Harvest Church’s Kong Hee maintains integrity”

42. City Harvest Church: “City Harvest Church Responds to Allegations”

43. The Straits Times Big Story: “City Harvest Church’s remarks raise questions”

44. Associated Press: “Singapore mega-church founder charged with fraud”

45. AFP: “Singapore pastor charged in $19 million fraud case”

46. Al Jazeera: “Singapore pastor charged in $19m fraud case”

47. BBC News: “Singapore City Harvest Church pastor charged over funds”

48. Time: “Singapore Pastor Allegedly Used Church Funds to Finance Wife’s Pop Music Career”

49. Daily Mail (UK Tabloid): “False (pop) idol: Singapore church leader charged with fraud for syphoning £12m to fund his wife’s singing career”

50. The Christian Post: “Singapore Pastor Kong Hee Charged With Fraud, Facing Life in Prison”

51. The Telegraph: “Singapore church founder ‘misused £11.5 million in donations'”

52. Hindustan Times: “Singapore pastor arrested over misuse of $18m”

53. Wikipedia: “National Kidney Foundation Singapore scandal”

54. Wikipedia: “Ren Ci Hospital and Medicare Centre”

Twitter: #chc, #CHC, #cityharvest, #cityharvestchurch, #CityHarvestChurch, #Kong Hee, #Sun Ho, Kong Hee, Sun Ho, city harvest church, chc.

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Part 1 of Religion, Donation, and Alleged Corruption: The Cultural Mandate

Read Part 2 and Part 3

If you have been following the news and social media in Singapore for the past week, you would have know by now about the alleged misappropriation of over S$50 million dollars of church funds by five Executive Members of City Harvest Church.

You can imagine the aftermath.

The five were arrested and brought in for questioning by the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) on Tuesday morning (1). The arrests are the result of a two-year investigation launched by both the CAD and the Commissioner of Charities (COC) into the church’s financial irregularities (2).

Senior Pastor and CHC founder Kong Hee, along with the other four, have been charged in court on Wednesday for alleged misuse of church funds and criminal breach of trust. The five were charged for misappropriating S$23 million dollars to fund pop singer Sun Ho’s secular music career in the United States (3). Sun Ho is the wife of Kong Hee and was formerly the music director at CHC before stepping down in 2002 to focus on her music career. She has not been arrested or charged (4).

To put this into perspective, Alvin, blogger of Alvinology, gives a few examples of what you can do with S$23 million dollars (5).

But that’s not all. When the charges were read out in court, it was claimed that a further S$26.6 million dollars was allegedly misappropriated to cover up the initial S$23 million dollars, bringing the total value of misappropriated church funds to over S$50 million dollars (6).

The Singapore media, along with the public, has been following the case with breathless anticipation. Each time a new development in the case surfaces, the media pounces and devour the scraps before regurgitating it to the enraged public.

It does not helps that the church has always been a polarizing figure within Singaporean society. With an attendance of 22,049 church members (7), the non-denominational and charismatic mega-church is the largest Christian congregation in Singapore (8). Furthermore, the church has constantly been under the glare of the media’s spotlight, and usually for less-than-fantastic reasons. The church made headlines when Sun was criticized for her skimpy outfits that were deemed inappropriate (9), and again when the COC received alleged complaints back in 2010 that the church was misusing its funds to launch Sun’s music career (10). This was also the proverbial pebble that started the avalanche.

Within the public, non-Christians and Christians from other churches were highly critical of the church’s culture where members are greatly encouraged (some say coerced) to donate and contribute financial resources to the church funds. It was also rumored that wealthy members had to tithe 10% of their income to the church.

City Harvest members, on the other hand, pointed out that no members were coerced into tithing and that the funds were necessary as the church runs and operates numerous community and social outreach programs, including evangelical programs to educate and train evangelists and to reach out to non-Christians.

Ironically, one such “evangelical program”, the Crossover Project, is at the centre of this case. I will explain later why I have doubts about the Crossover Project.

Following the intense media scrutiny and public outcry, the resulting fallout has split the Singapore public into two broad camps: for the church and against the church. When it comes to alleged misuse of funds by a charitable organization, and a religious one to boot, there is no fence sitting. Either you rally to the church and its leaders, or you stand aside and castigate them for their greed.

Judging from the tone and atmosphere of Singapore’s social media and mainstream media, to fence sit is equivalent to supporting the church.

The social media in Singapore has been awash with numerous tweets, blog posts and even Facebook notes commenting on the case and taking potshots at City Harvest members, who in turn stood their ground. The entire time when I was following the case, I thought: “No way are Kong Hee and Sun Ho going to escape this unscathed.” But then, as days passed, and the more I thought about it, the case raised more questions than answers. Why was the public backlash so severe? What was it that caused both the media and the public to react with such ferocity? Was it really necessary to arrest the five? Finally, there’s the question of the actions of Kong Hee and the other four. What drove them to do it?

My housemate asked why I found the City Harvest case so interesting when she saw my whiteboard scribbled with all the possible connections relating to the case. It is because beneath the cut-and-dry case of church leaders abusing their powers, there is a complex host of other factors. And these are the factors that I’m trying to explore here.

In Part 1, I will be exploring in detail City Harvest’s Cultural Mandate. According to City Harvest, it is their attempt to reach crossover to the secular world and to reach out to non-Christians through secular entertainment. In short, City Harvest is bringing the church to the “un-church”. The Crossover Project is the result of City Harvest’s Cultural Mandate.

 

The Crossover Project: CHC’s Cultural Mandate

To understand the current case, we will need to go back to the Crossover Project. What is the Crossover Project? For something so central to the case, it is surprisingly hard to get information on the Crossover Project. Most of the news website only devote a paragraph to the Crossover Project. Even the press release by the COC only devote three sentences to it.

I did some Googling and managed to get a detailed article on the Project from a website called City News (11). Although I cannot verify it, I suspect that it is either owned by or affiliated to City Harvest. Still, the web article provided a lot of interesting insights to why Kong Hee and Sun set up the Crossover Project. From here onwards, I will be focusing on the article by City News. According to the article:

The Crossover Project was an extension of CHC’s mandate to build a church without walls—to bring the Gospel to the unchurched across society, and this included the world of entertainment.

 

One thing I’m curious about is the sentence about building a church without walls. According to Christian theology, the church consist of the congregation and makes up the body of Christ. The church does not refer to a building. So technically, a church is already without walls. But it seems that City Harvest assumes that a church is a building. I might just be nitpicking here.

Anyway, this was corroborated by the COC’s press release (their mere three sentences tribute):

1.   In 2002, the Charity’s founders, Kong Hee and Ho Yeow Sun (“Sun Ho”),
embarked on a “Crossover Project” [“the Project”], with the purported intention to use
Sun Ho’s secular music to connect with people and reach out to non-Christians.

 

Continuing from the article, the seeds of the Crossover Project were planted in 1999 when Kong Hee was ministering at the Bread of Life Church in Taiwan and Sun was there to lead the praise and worship. According to the article:

… to their surprise, many young people, most of them un-churched, came to the church night after night, not to listen to the preaching but to watch Sun leading praise and worship. They loved her colored hair, her pop culture look, and they loved the pop songs she sang in between the worship songs.

 

It was then that they realized that pop music could be a powerful bridge to communicate the love of God to the youth. What if they could repackage the message of faith, hope and love of Jesus Christ and bring it into the schools, the boardrooms and the bedrooms of the unchurched? At that time, it was unheard of for those in the Christian world to share the Gospel through the secular entertainment platform.

 

What I found surprising is the remark about Christians not attempting to share the Gospel through secular entertainment. I have to admit that I don’t know much about the history of Contemporary Christian Music and it is hard to search for credible sources on the Internet. But CCM was a thriving music industry in the United States by the late 1980s and early 1990s, Christian music acts such as Amy Grant and dc talk were crossing over to mainstream popularity. Perhaps Kong Hee and Sun were attempting to spread the Gospel through secular entertainment within Asia?

Reading through the article, that was exactly Kong Hee and Sun’s intentions:

In 2002, Sun recorded her first Chinese pop album, Sun With Love. She held her first pop concert in the biggest indoor arena in downtown Taipei, the National Taipei Sports Complex. The team worked with a small Taipei church, New Life Church, which had about 200 members then. “Nobody was sure if anybody was even going to turn up,” said Kong Hee. On the first night, the 4,200-seater stadium was jam-packed, with thousands more watching on big screen projectors outside. It was estimated that 80 percent of the audience had never been to church.

 

I’m suspicious of the figure 80%. How did they know that 80% of the audience had never been to church? Did they ask the audience to raise their hands? Perhaps they took a survey before and after the concert? One cannot know. But this is not the point. The article continues with Sun’s musical performances across Taiwan:

Sun performed in various other cities, including Taoyuan, Hualien and Tainan—it was here that one of CHC’s affiliate churches, Rhema Harvest Church was birthed. In Kaohsiung, on the eve of a concert, a typhoon was raging, but 700 people still came, and 560 responded to the altar call. In the small town of Jia Yi, Sun performed at a high school to about 1,100 students. One of the students, a teenage girl named Christina Yu, testified of the miraculous work of deliverance from depression God did in her heart as she listened to Sun sing.

 

Today, Yu pastors 400 members at New Life Church, among whom are three pop stars who flew in for a special performance during the service— Chen Weiquan, Wing Luo and Huang Mei Zhen. It was a pleasant surprise for the congregation, as they listened to the trio cover some of Sun’s songs in addition to their own hits.

 

As for that little church, New Life Church, which helped put together the very first concert, it experienced a great revival too. From 30 people, the congregation grew to 1,250 in three years, and today, counts Universal music producer Chen Ailing, Liu Geng Hong, and Faye Chan and Real Huang from F.I.R among its members. Each is a testament to the seeds of the Cultural Mandate Ho’s concerts had planted. To date, Taiwan’s Christian population has more than doubled, from a mere three percent to 10 percent in 10 years.

 

That last sentence seems to imply that City Harvest and its affiliates were solely responsible in the increase of Christian population in Taiwan due to the success of the Crossover Project. Also, notice the mention of Taiwanese music celebrities. I will be coming back to that later. Nevertheless, Sun’s popularity continues to soar:

From Taiwan, Sun flew to Hong Kong and performed at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium to 10,500 people over three nights, and yet again, thousands gave their hearts to Jesus. One of the most dramatic salvation stories belongs to Teddy, the notorious leader of a gang and owner one of the largest nightclubs in the city. He also had dealings in illegal gambling, drug trafficking and prostitution. Kong recalled that Teddy’s parang-wielding henchmen were all waiting outside, ready to pounce in to protect their boss. But at the end, Teddy came forward and gave his heart to Jesus Christ.

 

Sun also performed in Malaysia, including Sibu and Kuching. Out of her performances there, Kuching Harvest Church was born. In Kuala Lumpur, her concerts in 2003 sparked a revival in City Harvest Church Kuala Lumpur. Today, CHCKL is one of the fastest-growing and most vibrant churches in Malaysia.

 

In Indonesia, in the cities of Jakarta, Makasar, Medan, the response was equally tremendous—people actually broke down the doors and pushed their way into the concerts. Even the security guards who were sent to protect the team responded to the altar call themselves.

 

Back in Singapore, Sun performed 14 times over one weekend at the church’s premises at Jurong West. Over two days, 30,700 people came, and 10,140 salvation decisions were recorded. It was the second highest salvation decision in Singapore church history, the highest being a rally at the National Stadium in 1978 when evangelist Billy Graham gave an altar call.

 

Kong Hee and Sun have managed to expand the City Harvest’s ministry and its congregation through secular entertainment across Taiwan, Malaysia and Indonesia. So far, the Crossover Project is a huge success in Asia.

However, one thing that confuses me is the timeline. According to the COC’s press release, and other mainstream media reports, the Project officially started in 2002. Yet, from the article, it seems that the Project officially started in late 1999 or early 2000. Perhaps Sun decided to soft launch her music career before Kong Hee and she officially launched the Project in 2002. Why do I assume this? It’s because of these two paragraphs:

Over the next few years [emphasis my own], Sun released four more Chinese albums. Ironically, it was the most criticized song on the Sun*day album, “Miss Catastrophe”, that caught the attention of the former general manager of MTV in the US. This paved the way for Sun to enter the American market. In 2003, she became the first Asian pop icon to be invited to sing at the Hollywood Film Festival. Subsequently, she was also the first Chinese singer to be invited to the 46th Annual Grammy Awards in 2004 as well as the MTV Europe Awards in 2007.

 

Her debut American single, “Where Did Love Go”, produced by David Foster and Peter Rafelson, was the number one breakout hit on the Christmas week in 2003—“God’s Christmas gift for us,” said Kong. After her first Billboard dance chart number one hit “One With You”, Sun went on to score another four number ones on the Billboard dance chart, the last of which was 2009’s “Fancy Free”.

 

So did the Crossover Project officially started in 1999/2000 or in 2002? Another thing to note is that after all the detailed success of the Crossover Project in Asia, this article is surprisingly brief on Sun’s sojourn in the U.S. All you get about the results of the Crossover Project in the U.S. is from that two paragraphs above.

Michelle, blogger of Syntaxfree, did a fantastic rundown on Sun’s music in the U.S (12). To be honest, it is less than stellar. One music video that went viral is “China Wine”. You can read more of Michelle’s blog post in the appendix.

Personally, I think that Sun’s attempt to break into the American market was a very, very bad move. In 2002-4, bands such as P.O.D, Switchfoot, and Relient K were making very successful crossovers to mainstream popularity. Furthermore, the U.S. market is saturated with their own talents. And step into any music store in Singapore. You’ll find that the majority of Western popular culture music are from U.S. singers. All in all, Sun’s success in the U.S. was less spectacular than in Asia.

Near the end of the article, it stated that:

The three-hour-long service presented the full story of the Crossover Project to many in the congregation, many of whom had not previously understood its scale, scope and perhaps even its legitimacy as God’s assignment, but had chosen to trust in the leadership of the church.

 

This is the main contention I have with the Crossover Project. From the way the article described the Crossover Project, it seems to be mainly about Sun Ho’s music career. Yes, the Project helped to kick-start CHC’s 98 humanitarian projects, started a youth social enterprise and dance school named “O School” in Singapore, and increased CHC’s congregational size from 10,300 to more than 18,000. But all these were presented as side effects of the Crossover Project. The question is, what did the Crossover Project become after all these years? At what point did it devolved into a series of side projects that made the Project simply too unwieldy? Furthermore, does it means that City Harvest members were donating to the Crossover Project without really knowing what it actually was? Perhaps the church members knew the basic of the Crossover Project: using Sun’s secular music career to attract non-Christians, but then they did not know about the numerous side projects that it started.

However, I commend the church’s leaders for presenting all the information to their congregation. But for a project that was meant to attract the “un-church”, you would be hard-pressed to find any actual information on the Internet or City Harvest’s website. I mean, the Crossover Project enjoyed spectacular successes across Asia (we’ll leave America out), and yet they are not proclaiming their success to the “un-church”? For a church that is so involved in social media, I find that odd. Even their website has no official page for the Crossover Project. And the statement from City Harvest on 28th June is quite vague about the Project:

The church states that the Crossover Project is not about one person’s singing career; it is a mission that is fundamental to the congregation of CHC. The Crossover Project is an outreach that uses Sun Ho’s singing and music to engage people and places that would never otherwise hear the Gospel. As a result of the Crossover Project, many churches have grown worldwide and the faith of many has been strengthened. Impact has been made on the needy in Haiti, disaster victims in China, the depressed and suicidal in Taiwan, and the sick children in Honduras, among others.

 

With both media and public hounding them, you would think they would have provided more concrete details about the Project.

But now that’s all said and done, what do I really think about the Crossover Project? Before I continue, I have to say that the following conjectures are based on what I’ve read from the article above, and from information collected from news website. Like I said, there is not much information on the Crossover Project itself.

First, I think that Kong and Sun started off with good intentions. They wanted to attracted more people to Christ through music. I know Hillsong in Australia (another mega-church) have a separate music project to record and promote their music. Likewise, I think that was the original purpose of the Crossover Project. That’s why I don’t consider the Project as a true evangelical outreach. It was first and foremost, a music project for City Harvest. After all, Sun was formerly the music director at the church.

The problem was that I feel both Kong and Sun got sidetracked after all the side projects started popping up and instead of trying to separate the side projects from the Crossover Project, they combined it with the main project, thus making it too unwieldy.

Also, the early successes of the Crossover Project led to a hubris. As I stated earlier, the New Life Church in Taiwan started to include many Taiwanese celebrities in its congregation, and this probably led to overweening ambitions on Kong and Sun’s part. An ambition that led them to the current situation.

The second and the main problem was the music itself. When you watch Sun’s U.S. music videos later, ask yourself, at what point did you think Sun was actually trying to attract non-Christians? My verdict: at no point.

The issue of using secular entertainment to promote Christians values is not a new topic. You have Christian rap, Christian hip-hop, Christian death metal (seriously), Christian punk, Christian rock and many other Christian genres. But at a certain point, when a certain artist or band crossover to mainstream popularity, they are faced with a certain dilemma: should they stop promoting Christian values and be accused by Christians of being a sell-out or should they promote Christian values and in doing so, lose their mainstream popularity?

Most try to straddle the thin line by saying that they are open with their Christian faith, but that their music will only focus on their artistic talents. And I think that’s what Sun tried to do and failed.

I don’t think the Singaporean media and public are angry with her skimpy clothes or her music. I mean we had Singaporean actress running down Orchard Road in bikinis on national TV (13) and Singaporean youth are constantly listening to pop culture music. What they are angry about is the mixing of church funds with Sun’s career. While professional Christian bands and artists are funded by record labels, Sun’s music is ultimately funded by the Crossover Project which depends on church funds. There are also claims that church members have to buy Sun’s music CDs in order to support her career (14), and that is probably what drove the proverbial stake into the heart of the issue: the line between Sun’s professional career and City Harvest’s involvement was starting to blur.

As the aphorism goes: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

 

In Part 2, I will focus on the reactions of Singapore’s mainstream and social media.

 

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Appendix (where I stole my sources from)

1. The Strait Times Breaking News: “City Harvest church founder Kong Hee and 4 others arrested”

2. Commissioner of Charities’ Press Statement

3. Bloomberg News: “Singapore Pastor Arrested for Funds for Wife’s Pop Career”

4. Southeast Asia Real Time – Wall Street Journal: “Founder of Singapore’s Biggest Church in Hot Water”

5. Alvinology: “A Sense of Proportion: What S$23 Million Can Do…”

6. The Straits Times Big Story: “City Harvest case: Allegedly total of $50m misused”

7. City Harvest Church: “Church Stats Attendance”

8. Southeast Asia Real Time – Wall Street Journal: “Founder of Singapore’s Biggest Church in Hot Water”

9. Scene Asia – Wall Street Journal: “Pop-Star Wife of City Harvest Church Founder in the Spotlight — for the Wrong Reasons”

10. Commissioner of Charities’ Press Statement

11. City News: “City Harvest Church: 10 Years Of The Crossover Project”

12. Syntaxfree: “Gyrating For Jesus: A Pow-Ka-Leow Guide To Sun Ho’s Greatest ‘Hits'”

13. Wikipedia: “The Champion (TV series)”

14. Southeast Asia Real Time: “Wife of City Harvest Founder in the Spotlight”

Saying goodbye to Unimates in style

I mentioned in one of my previous post that I’ve stepped down as the President of Unimates at the end of last month. If you’re wondering what Unimates is, we’re basically a student society for International and Exchange students in USYD. Unimates organizes weekly events and trips to help International and Exchange students to settle down in Sydney and USYD.

If you’re curious, go to the society’s blog to find out more. If you’re coming to USYD for the first time, do join us. We’re open to everyone, International or local student. (Yes, I’ve just sneaked in an advertisement for Unimates).

I’ve actually mentioned Unimates six times in my blog (here, here, here, here, here, and here). Seven, if you include this post. But this is the first time when I’ve explicitly spoke about Unimates. It’s not that I’m ashamed or embarrassed, far from it. Basically, at that time, Unimates was becoming the focal point in my life and I just needed a little private space where I didn’t have to talk about Unimates every single time. So subconsciously, I semi-banned Unimates from this blog.

Hell, I didn’t even follow Unimates on Twitter until twenty-four hours ago. Not that I was very active on Twitter in the first place. But you get the idea.

But now that I’m no longer actively involved, I’ll lift the semi-ban on Unimates.

About two weeks ago, I wrote a farewell message and posted it onto the Society’s blog. Considering the two years stretch I’ve spend in Unimates – as long as my National Service – there was certainly a lot to write in my farewell message.

One thing I like about farewell messages is that they are the simplest, yet at the same time, most complicated messages to write. To me, a farewell message is a four-in-one message:

  1. Short preview of your history and achievements with the organization/place
  2. Thanking everyone and the very important people during your time there
  3. Distributing “good lucks” and “best wishes” to the people left behind
  4. Actually saying goodbye.

And let’s not forget about the tone of your message.

I like writing farewell messages. The longer I know someone, or the longer I’ve been in an organization, society, et cetera, I try to compose a creatively crafted and well-written farewell message. The main problem was trying to keep my farewell message short and sweet. I struggled for a day or two before I came across a simple solution: just tell a story.

So for the farewell message, I told a story (somewhat).

Note: The original was posted on the Unimates’ blog. The farewell message reproduced here is a word-for-word copy. The only minor edit I made was to adjust the layout.

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I’m no longer President! Bye-bye everyone! And screw you pelicans!

 

 

In case you have been hiding under a rock, holed up in your home, or plain unaware of what was going on, I’m no longer President of Unimates.

Effective on 1st June 2012 (last Friday), Patrick Ward is now President of Unimates.

Yeah, I was just as shocked when I received my retrenchment letter.

I’m FIRED?

 

Here’s me about to bitch-slap Patrick:

Heeeelllllll no

 

I’m kidding.

No firing or bitch-slapping ever took place. What actually took place was that Patrick was elected as President at the Unimates AGM on 14th May 2012. I wrote about it here. On 31st May 2012, my term officially ended and all Presidential superpower was transferred to Patrick. As for that photo above? I was just asking Patrick to say a few words during dinner at Unimates Night. No bitch-slap ever took place! Honest!

If you’re thinking, “Wow, this guy has such a short term. Only 6 months as President.” That’s because I was supposed to finished my 1 year term as Vice-President. But due to circumstantial situations, I was elected as President and took over last year November.

Anyway, now that I reflect and look back, I’m pretty amazed about how far I’ve came. I can say that I spent close to two-thirds of my university life with Unimates. Sure, I joined various other clubs and societies over the course of my university career, but Unimates always remained the focal point.

But, it wasn’t always this way.

When I first came to USYD as a fresh-eyed undergraduate in July 2009, I joined Unimates and only turned up for the Welcome BBQ. My reaction to Unimates back then was:

“Meh.”

I wasn’t too impressed with Unimates (“For Fantastic Fun and Friendship”? Come on. That’s kitschy). This went on for my entire first semester. It wasn’t until the next semester, in the beginning of 2010, that I decided to give Unimates a try. I wanted to put their motto to test.

It turned out that Unimates wasn’t too bad. The events allowed me to explore of  Australian culture while at the same time widening up my social circle. It’s an understatement to to just say that Unimates has many people from different cultural backgrounds. Unimates is so diverse that at any event, I can always count on meeting someone from a new country. It that sense, my attitude to Unimates changed.

So at the end of Semester 1 2010, when Unimates held the Annual General Meeting (AGM), I decided to run for 4 committee positions and spectacularly failed to get elected at all.

Yu Heng, the outgoing President at that time, told me I could still be a General Committee member. So I thought, why not? It’ll offer me a good chance to learn the ropes.

Even then, I didn’t got off a good start. At my first official event, the City Tour, I lost my entire group and got shitted on by a pelican at Fish Market.

 

 

Yes, that’s me two years ago. Now stop gawking.

Bloody pelican.

Anyway, one more semester rolled by and Unimates held a General Meeting because some of the committee members were leaving. Joyce (who was to be Treasurer later) and I got elected as Coffee and Cakes Officers. Or as the Constitution now states: Coffee and Cakes Coordinators.

So as Coffee and Cakes Coordinators, Joyce and I were essentially controlling the backbone event of Unimates. We had to power to make or break Unimates. Furthermore, I realized that this was my chance to capture power in Unimates!

Joyce and I scheming

 

Dave Ball approves

 

So I planned, schemed and began laying out my course of action. Soon, I realized that having one ally was not enough. I needed one more ally to complete the trinity of power that will dominate the Committee and steamroll any opposition.
Hmm…. who shall it be? Turned out the answer was sitting right beside me:

Thea laughs while I brood over her future

 

So another semester passed by, and Unimates held the next AGM. Joyce was elected as Treasurer, Thea elected as Secretary and I was elected as Vice-President. Once I became Vice-President, I realized I need a makeover if I wanted people to take me seriously. No more looking like a hobo. Gone was the fedora, gone was the shaggy hair, gone was the facial hair. I got a haircut, shaved and started dressing more appropriately:

I laugh as someone confronts my evil plans

 

And the rest was history. After six months as VP, I took over as President and from the Iron Throne, ruled with an iron first and iron heart. Forever shall my name be spoken in fear and awe.

Bow before me, pelicans

 

So there you have, the history of my rise to power*

Aside from that, I had the one of the best times of my university life with Unimates. I would like to thank the outgoing committee members for all their hard work and effort. Without their dedication, Unimates would never been where it is today. I would also like to thank everyone from the previous Committees for letting me have a chance to develop personally, and for providing one of the strongest bonds of friendship I ever had. You people were truly awesome.

I would also like to thank Ben Yan, Danny Wang, and George Hwang for mentoring me when I first became Vice-President. Without their patient tutelage, I would probably cause a colossal fuck-up.

I would like to thank the two Presidents of SUAMS (Sydney University Association of Malaysian Students) for working so closely with Unimates during the past year. Thanks, Andrew and Wei Ming, for Sharing the Malaysian Love, especially after my fellow Singaporeans called me a traitor (okay, okay, I should have joined the Singaporean Society). But seriously, you guys are top blokes.

Fist bumping Andrew

 

BFF Wei Ming

 

And I would also like to thank Sarah from TCA (USYD Teochew Association). If she didn’t inform me about the Masked Murder on the Dancefloor Cruise Party (quite a mouthful), Unimates would not have taken part in this awesome, awesome event. So many thanks to her! From one Teochew nang to another: jiatbẹung (Sorry, that’s the only phrase I know).

And many thanks to both Joyce and Thea for being the rock and the hard place. With their firm support, their complete dedication and their tireless efforts, I probably wouldn’t be able to achieve anything. I was basically standing on the shoulder of giants.

Once again, thanks everyone, for the great memories and the great friendships. Especially you, the Unimates member. Thank you for your support! And thanks for reading my ramblings during this semester.

I wish everyone the best for the exams. Without further ado, I bid you good night, and good luck:

To all Singaporean naysayers!

 

Zareth Lim
VP S2 2011/ President S1 2012
For Fun, For Friendship, Forever
 
*60% of the story is fictional. The author takes no responsibility. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

The Second Last Week (A Sequel)

I’m back, yet again. It’s definitely not the first time I’ve let my blog rot away. There were times when I did not blog for a month or two. But at almost five months, this is by far the longest I’ve been away from my blog.

There’s two reasons for this absence. First, I was President of a student society for International and Exchange students in Sydney University. It’s called Unimates. I did mention Unimates a couple of times here. For the past five months or so, I was so damn hyper-focused on Unimates that I didn’t have much for anything else. Then of course, there’s coursework and other campus activities. Anyway, I’ve officially stepped down last Thursday.

The second reason – and this is the main reason – is that I was sick and tired of blogging. I could have used the excuse that being a President of a student society was time draining. But then that would be an easy cop out. I was Vice-President last semester and even though I was busy, I still manage to blog on a monthly basis.

But it seemed this year I had no will to blog. I wouldn’t say I stop blogging completely. I did wrote a few blog post for my society’s blog. But then, that’s a society’s blog and as the then-current President, there’s a limit to how much you can say, although I did try to take certain liberties (ahem).

But yes, I was tired of blogging. I could have continue blogging, but then it’ll be nothing but boring fillers: “Beloved Blog, today my friend was a judgmental nincompoop. I shall cease any correspondence with this offending and odious person. BAH!”  Well, you get the idea. Still, it’s not that I have nothing to write about. I do. But sometimes it’s harder to get it onto the screen and get your ideas across to the readers. And to be honest, I make a very horrible blogger. I promised to write a blog advert for this Singaporean upstart back in February and I never got to it. And then there’s Mike Thomas’s film that I promised to write about it way back in October.

Yes, I’m a shithead. Or as I mentioned, an offending and odious person.

So I’m back. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’ve put too much investment into this blog to let it really, really rot away. And now that I’m no longer President of Unimates, maybe I’ll have more time to rant about random stuff.

But this post is not about random rants. This post is about the sequel to the very short story called The Second Last Week. I wrote it last year for one of the Unimates’ event. It was supposed to be a short event description for the final Unimates event (a dinner party) and it somehow turned into a very short story. You can read it here.

The sequel to The Second Last Week is for the exact same event, only eight months later. This Unimates dinner party actually took place last Friday. When I was writing the event description, I thought it would be fun to write a sequel. So I banged out another very short story.

The Second Last Week has influences from the 1998 film Six-String Samurai to Kevin Smith’s Dogma. And it also placed Global Financial Crisis and the University of Sydney Union’s membership pricing in a humorous context. The sequel still references to Six-String Samurai but I’ve changed the rest. I was slightly more heavy-handed in terms of pop-culture referencing in the sequel. Anyway, enough jabbering on my part. Read on.

 

_____________________________________________________

 

The Second Last Week (A Sequel)

You sit up and look around. The surrounding landscape stretches out before you, barren and undulating. A tree or two, grow out from the ground cracked by centuries of heat. The trees’ barks are roasted to the colour black.

“What…” a hoarse sound escapes from your mouth.

You remember dying at the hands of Lord Exam. The brief pain when his blade severed your head from your body. And the sweet, sweet darkness that you succumbed to. And afterwards…

Hold on.

A small fragment of memory is floating around. You push through the fogginess of your brain and try to reach it. So close. The memory of laughter, of food, of drinks. But where did these memories come from?

You look around again. There are no sign of your guitar and samurai sword. You look up, shielding your eyes from the blinding sun, and see, for the first time, a red gash on the sky. That’s odd, you thought, you don’t remember seeing that there.

“Are you lost?” a smooth, baritone voice shatters the desert silence.

You half turn and see a strange-looking creature, with dirty, matted orange fur, staring at you.

“I, er, I can’t remember.”

The creature raises an eyebrow quizzically. It continues staring at you with its dark green eyes. Slowly, it circles around you, its right hand casually resting on the hilt of a small sword.

“You cannot remember if you are lost?”

You eye it warily. The creature could be a marauder. They were frequent in the desert. But then, it didn’t look like any marauder you’ve seen before.

“Where am I?” you cough, the words sandpapering your throat as they left your mouth. “Is this the Mojave Desert?”

The creature stops pacing. “Mojave Desert? No, my friend, this is the Red Waste.”

“I’m sorry, but I seem to be suffering from amnesia. I don’t remember being your friend.”

The creature hisses. “It is a mark of courtesy. Unless, you would like to have the honour of becoming my enemy.”

Small as the creature was, it looks as if it handled its fair share of battles. Furthermore, the creature was armed.

“I’m sorry if I’ve offended you. I remembered being killed by Lord Exam. The last memory I had was laughter, and weirdly enough, of food and drinks too.”

“And who is this Lord Exam?”

“He is…” you pause. Lord Exam, Lord Assignments, and Lady Projects were the most fearsome of marauders. How could the creature not know the tripartite of Doom?

“Hold on, where am I?”

“As I have mentioned, you are in the Red Waste. To be more precise, we are in the Red Waste,” the baritone reply resonates through the desert.

For such a small creature, it sure has a deep voice.

“I know, but I mean, what is this place? I remembered I was in the United States.”

“United States? I do not know where that is. But no, my friend, you are in the land of Essos.”

“Essos?”

The creature sighs and rubs its forehead. “Yes, the land of Essos. The land of the Free Cities. The land of the Dothraki Sea. The land of the once mighty empire, Valyrian Freehold.”

You blink at the creature, confused.

“Clearly I have not managed to enlighten you. I hope that you will regain your memory. But for the time, we must continue walking. The Mother of Dragons will be here soon, and she wants my head.”

“The Mother of Dragons?”

“Ah yes, a very beautiful woman. Her eyes are pools of lavender, while her hair shone with the white of the moon. I promised to wed her, but wanderlust took over me and I escaped from the City of Qarth.”

You stare at the creature.

“Clearly you do not believe me. But now it is not the time to convince you. Come, we must continue our journey. Can you walk?”

You slowly get onto your feet, stretching the tensed muscles. Apart from a sore backside, your body is still in good condition. Taking a few unsteady steps, you stroll beside the creature. You did not realize how small the creature is. The top of its hat barely reaches the height of your kneecap.

“By the way, what’s the red thing in the sky?”

The creature looks up, the wide brim of its floppy hat shielding its green eyes from the sun.

“I have heard many stories in Qarth. Some say that it is the Dragons’ comet. Some say, war is coming. But the most frequent story I have heard is that the gods are angry.”

“The gods are angry? With whom?”

“I do not know. But the tale is that someone was kicked out from the realm of the gods after failing to pay for a meal.”

That sounds familiar. But you have no idea where you have heard that tale before.

“I see. That’s an odd tale.”

“It is. But I do not believe in these stories from Qarth.”

“I’m sorry but I don’t think we’ve introduced ourselves. I would have gave you mine if I remembered it”

The creature smiles. With flourish, the creature doffs its wide, floppy hair and gives a deep bow.

“My name is Puss-In-Boots. It is a pleasure to meet you in the Red Waste.”

“And it is my pleasure too.”

“Come, my friend. The Red Waste is a treacherous desert and we are a long way to the City of Braavos.”

Above, the red gash glowers from the sky.

The Second Last Week

I was supposed to write a short description of Unimates Night (the society that I’m part of) and it turned into a very short story. After I emailed that to the Secretary, she texted me back: “seriously all that?”

Er… I suppose so.

Anyway, I decided to post this short story The Second Last Week. I dashed out the story within an hour, so you know, be nice.

Nah, just kidding. I welcome your literary criticism.

And heads up, readers. I’ll be blogging about this documentary film called Living with the Tiger and my email interview with the director, Mike Thomas. It’ll be out sometime in Wednesday or Thursday.

 

Updates: One of my friend, Justine, asked if “… the market for restaurants in heaven a monopoly, perfect competition, oligopoly etc.? That may have a huge impact on whether they can make that little profit or not, hehehe!” To be honest, I haven’t really thought about that. Well, I would say the market for restaurant is a monopoly since God is the head honcho up there. Bartleby and Loki are just skimming off the profits. Also, she pointed out a minor grammar mistake 😀

 

 

_______________________________________

 

The Second Last Week

It’s the second last week of the semester. You’re tired, hungry and thirsty. You’re running on empty and you still have to face Exam’s coming onslaught.

You stand alone in the desert. In the distance, you see Exam and his minions charging at you. You collapse, the guitar and samurai sword slipping from your hands. The heated ground burns your skin as you lie in your final resting place. Beside you, the guitar strings snap under the heat of the sun, mournfully twanging your funeral song.

Exam and his minions approach. You close your eyes.

All is silent. You only hear the desert wind and thundering hooves of your approaching death.

Then you hear laughter.

But, wait… you open your eyes and see that you’re in a cozy Italian restaurant. Around you are your long-lost friends, mates you have not seen for a long time. In front of you is a endless row of free-flowing pasta, pizzas, salads and Italian delicacy.

It was like the old times.

Am I in heaven?

But hunger pushes away any thoughts. You devour the mouthwatering food and drink the refreshing spring water. You chat, laughed and make merry with friends that you haven’t seen for ages since their death at the hands of Lord Assignments.

It was like the old times.

But good times have to end. Sated and drowsy from the delicious meal, you decide to retire for the night. As you make your way to the exit, a guy with slicked back hair stops you in your tracks. He looks vaguely familiar, but you can’t remember where you met him.

“Yeah?” You ask him.

“You have to pay for your dinner,” he says.

“What? PAY?”

“Yes, you have to pay.”

“This is outrageous!”

Slicked-back-hair guy shakes his head.

“You’re not the first person to say that. But the food and drinks in Heaven are not free. Ever since the Global Financial Crisis, we’re running low on cash. So we decided to make a little profit.”

“But… but… who are you?”

“Sorry, it was bad manners of me. My name is Bartleby”

“Bartleby?”

“Yeah, I was a former angel. A Watcher to be exact,” Bartleby says.

“But… I don’t get it. How can Heaven be affected by the GFC?”

“Errm, yeah, that, it’s a pretty long story. But let’s just say Loki and I lost a bet to Lucifer. Look, it’s not something I really want to talk about now.”

“Who’s Loki?” You ask.

“Loki’s the former Angel of Death.”

“Former?”

“Yeah, God’s actually pretty pissed with us right now,” says Bartleby, “He stripped us of our titles.”

“So… where’s God?”

Bartleby sighs, “He’s still around, just not talking to us. We are destined to serve the newly deceased for eternity.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, anyway, Loki and I came up with a fantastic plan. We’re planning to stage an Occupy Heaven protest. We just need some donations from you.”

“Wait, wait, wait. So it’s not for the meal I had?”

“No,” says Bartleby, “half goes to the food and drinks. The other half goes to the Occupy Heaven protest.”

“Okay, fine, how much is it?”

“$29 for Non-Access and $25 for Access.” Bartleby flashed a smile.

You stare at him.

“I don’t believe this shit.”

“Well, better believe it. Heaven’s in deeper shit than you thought. You don’t have Access? It will be $29, please.”