Looking Glass Language

a word bird reflects on life & language

Wah! It’s National Night!

I’ve always hated the slack-jawed look that the act of chewing gum gives people. Mastication ain’t pretty, and chewing gum while talking to someone isn’t just ugly, it’s rude. I also hate the spat-out chewing gum that darkens London’s pavements; as unwelcome in its way as the liver spots that are starting to appear on my own arms.

I was put in mind of all this over the weekend by a Singaporean friend who’d tacked extra days onto the holiday weekend for Singapore’s National Day (August 9th) in order to fly over for Cowes Week. While waiting for the wind to emerge one morning Miranda showed me a hilarious video produced for Mentos by BBH Asia Pacific this time last year. (Mentos must love the ban on chewing gum in Singapore, where the dirty little habit can result in a S$500 fine, and have built their brand presence there with ‘fresh ideas’ and by aligning themselves with the culture and concerns of Singapore.)

The Mentos promotion takes the form of a rap song that cheekily and humorously echoes the government’s concern over falling birth rates (Singapore’s birthrate is around 30,000 a year, and the city-state needs around 50,000 births to maintain its population and avoid the economic problems of an ageing citizenry) by encouraging married couples to get jiggy and conceive a brand new Singaporean in celebration of National Day

There are lots of ‘in’ jokes and geographical / cultural references for Singaporeans:

  • ‘Let’s put a bao (a Chinese steamed bun) in your oven. Tau sa pau’ (Chinese steamed red bean bun.)
  • ‘I know u want it, so duz the SDU’ (Social development Unit, a governmental body set up to hook singles up and promote marriage and childbearing.)
  • ‘It’s National Night come on now let’s get that baby bonus’ (Mothers in Singapore get a baby bonus of S$4000 for each of their first two babies and S$6000 for each of their next two babies.)
  • ‘From the P.I.E. to the K.P.E.’ (Singapore’s main highways)
  • ‘I can’t wait to upgrade our hdb (housing & development board apartment) baby’

The video, which reminded me of Flight of the Conchords’s Business Time, was not, as many think, sponsored by the government, but they did let the sexually explicit ad run, despite having earlier banned a Janet Jackson album for lyrics such as ‘I just wanna touch you, tease you, lick you, please you, love you, make love to you).

Birthrate spike

But isn’t that a bit hypocritical of them?

You could say that… ‘National Night’ has:

  • Lyrics such as ‘I wanna cram real hard, tap u all night like an EZ link card’.
  • The line ‘It’s national night, let’s make Singapore’s birthrate spike’ illustrated by a heart with a rapidly growing hard-on.
  • The rapper telling his woman that she’s ‘finer than a durian left on the MRT’ (mass rapid tranist or tube). Since the durian is a famously smelly, enormous custardy-type fruit, loved by many in south east asia but banned from many of singapore’s top hotels and restaurants for being too stinky, I can only imagine how ripe and rotten the stench of such a fruit left on the underground might be. There must be a sexual innuendo there somewhere, but if I was his girl, I wouldn’t take it as a compliment.
  • Unless I’m very much mistaken, there’s also a dodgy metaphor for a sexual act that I’m surprised slipped past Singapore’s notoriously tetchy censors; one which definitely won’t help Singapore’s birthrate: ‘Yeah baby, I wanna hang out at your void deck’

Anyway, the main point is that it’s very funny, and worth watching. Happy National Night, everybody.

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