I was horrified at first when I heard that the MDA had issues with the script that was written for the Hossan Leong Show (Sep 23 – Oct 9), then indignant when I found out further that someone had taken offense and complained about the words, “Halal Vegetarian Babi Pongteh”, which was a dish to be concocted by “Bibik Lim”, a recurring character in the show.
The offending words were also in the publicity material distributed around the island.
This is how things unfolded: Last year, at the end of “Bibik Lim”‘s skit, she (Bibik Lim) decided to tell the audience about the next dish she was about to prepare: something that was all-inclusive, all-embracing – and came up with the name which was subsequently used as part of publicity material for this year’s show, which was printed some time in April this year.
The name of the dish was completely ad-libbed (by Hossan Leong), and off the cuff. It was, as you can imagine, never meant to offend.
On the contrary, the creative team behind the show have always struck for a story arc of sorts that told of our country’s multi-culturalism and its attendant difficulties. It is obviously very ironic that in trying to do so, we’ve stuffed up and offended someone’s religious and racial sensitivities.
I know what they say about the road to hell, but there is no excuse for me not spotting the fact that the simple juxtaposition of the two words “halal” and “babi” would have been likely to cause offense.
I therefore apologize unreservedly to the gentleman who spotted the offending copy on the flier, who was upset enough to write to the local Malay-language paper. The production company has, on the direction of the MDA, recalled every poster and flier from every distribution point in Singapore.
This is, however, a chance for a sensible talking point, and I have always been an advocate for more discussion about our country’s racial/religious diversity, with the view that the more we talk, the more we’ll understand. This is sadly and dangerously lacking – as is attested by an exchange between students at SMU earlier this year.
In the meantime, the MDA has also asked that we revise the offending portion of the show itself. While we are loathe to do so — because it is comedy variety show, and in comedy variety shows, there will be some people who will be offended — we have agreed to their request because, amongst other things, the team behind “Bibik Lim” had spent weeks cracking their brains trying unsuccessfully to work out how to make ‘halal vegetarian babi pongteh’ anyway.
You could say that as a result of this debacle, “Bibik Lim” is currently experimenting with a few new racially inclusive, new migrant embracing dishes with a Peranakan twist. No, Assam Ox-Tongue Wrapped in Beef Cheek is not one of them. But I encourage everyone to give Bibik Lim’s dishes a shot – come and watch her on the Hossan Leong Show (23 September – 9 October, Drama Centre Theatre).