Monday 24 March 2014

MP Indranee Rajah stands up for man mocked online for torn shirt

By Goh Chin Lian, The Sunday Times, 23 Mar 2014

People still do not appreciate enough that their actions can have unintended consequences for others, especially on social media, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Education Indranee Rajah in a Facebook post yesterday.

The Tanjong Pagar GRC MP was defending a resident in her ward whose attire Miss Singapore Universe 2013 finalist Jesslyn Tan had mocked in a recent Facebook post.

Mr Koh Hee Huat, 55, was asleep in the MRT and wearing a T-shirt with a hole in it.

Ms Tan, 25, posted a photograph of him on Wednesday with the caption: "Holey moley. Sibei trendy worzxxz."

Sibei is a Hokkien word meaning "very".

Ms Indranee said many people had criticised the post, and Ms Tan had since removed it and apologised for being insensitive, "albeit online and not to Mr Koh directly".

But the MP said she wanted to address the issue from the man's perspective, "so people can understand the impact the episode has had on him".

Her post attracted more than 26,000 "likes" at press time, and was shared more than 5,000 times.

Ms Indranee described the helper at Ye Shanghai Teochew Muay stall at Bukit Merah View as a hardworking man and a familiar face to her and cabbies on the night shift.

He is on his feet from evening until 3am, taking orders and dishing out the food into small plates, she said.

"He makes an honest living to support his mother and his family. His wife works at the same stall. He has a daughter waiting to enter polytechnic," Ms Indranee added.

She said Mr Koh was bewildered as to why he was singled out.

"His T-shirts have holes because he wears them for work. The stall has metal fixtures, which snag on the T-shirts, causing them to tear. It's just part and parcel of his work environment, in the same way that people who wear overalls may get grease stains, or outdoor workers get dust on their uniforms," she wrote.

Mr Koh also felt a deep loss of face and hurt, as many customers asked him about the comment, and he initially thought of quitting his job because of it, she added.

But his boss encouraged him to keep working. She and her grassroots leader did too.

Ms Indranee urged visitors to the area to encourage him.

"If anyone merits a boost, it is this quiet, hardworking, unassuming man. He may not be sibei trendy but he is definitely 'sibei ho'." ("Sibei ho" is Hokkien for very good.)

Noting the adage "the pen is mightier than the sword" still holds true in the Internet age, she said: "A sword cuts deep but words can cut deeper. We need to have a care in what we say about others."

In a comment on the post, Acting Minister for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin urged netizens not to respond in kind to Ms Tan's original post, and to think about the way they interact online.

"Let's build a better society in the way we converse and connect with each other. It is really quite possible and starts with all of us. Do not encourage some of the boorish behaviour we see, and we should stand up to it."

Man with hole in T-shirt stands tall
By Darren Tang, MyPaper, 25 Mar 2014

THE tables have been turned in the controversy surrounding former Miss Singapore Universe finalist Jesslyn Tan.

The 25-year-old - who had poked fun at a Teochew-porridge stall helper's T-shirt with a hole in it - has gone to ground while her victim is standing tall.

Hitting back at Ms Tan's comments yesterday, Mr Koh Hee Huat, who works at Ye Shanghai Teochew Muay stall in Bukit Merah View, said that what she did was "wuliao". Wuliao means meaningless, or lame, in Chinese.

Ms Tan had posted an image of the 55-year-old, asleep on the MRT and wearing a T-shirt with a hole in it, on Facebook on Wednesday. She then mocked it, remarking: "Holey moley."

Speaking to MyPaper at the stall yesterday, Mr Koh said: "There was no need for her to take a photograph of me while I was sleeping."

Mr Koh, who has worked at the porridge stall for the past 20 years, said he takes the MRT from Woodlands - where he lives - to work every day, an hour-long commute. He works from 5pm to 3.30am daily, taking orders and dishing out food.

"I work long hours so I can put my daughter through school," said the father of one, whose daughter is about to start school at a Singapore polytechnic.

When asked if he has changed his attire because of the incident, Mr Koh said he did not think that throwing out every shirt with a hole in it is practical.

Since the controversy erupted, he has received words of encouragement from many of his regular customers and is "grateful for their support".

"I am thankful to the customers, netizens and MPs for their kind words," he said.

Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Indranee Rajah commented on the issue in a Facebook post, encouraging Singaporeans to "go and give Mr Koh a word of encouragement or a thumbs up".

When contacted, Ms Tan declined to comment.

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