From a murder at the sleazy Orchard Towers to perverts getting their creep on in secret Telegram chats, these were the stories that most shocked, angered and got Singaporeans talking this year.
There was also the brownface controversy that exposed ethnic fault lines and sparked a national conversation about the majority privilege as corporations jumped on the apology train for a Chinese actor impersonating an Indian in an advertising campaign.
Not forgetting the weird and the wondrous that happened online, including that hilarious phone call catching a scammer red-handed to the multi-tasking Grab driver with five screens to monitor the road and his orchestras.
It’s safe to say that it has been a wild ride for Singapore this year. But before we wrap up 2019, let’s look back at the headlines that had everyone clicking.
Singapore’s “four floors of whores” became the backdrop of a grisly murder after a man was murdered in July at Orchard Towers.
The body of Satheesh Noel Gobidass, 31, was found in a pool of blood on the first floor. Security footage captured moments before his death showed a group of people attacking him near an escalator. Eight people were arrested the next day, but only seven were charged for the murder.
What we didn’t expect was that the case had propelled Natalie Siow Yu Zhen, 22 — the only woman of the seven accused – into unexpected stardom for her looks, even amassing a fan base mainly made up of besotted men.
Siow and a few others later had their charges lowered from murder to assault.
This year also saw a string of deaths involving Singaporean men while serving the nation, including Mediacorp actor Aloysius Pang.
The Singapore television sweetheart met his death while on reservist in New Zealand after his body was crushed by a gun barrel inside an artillery unit he was repairing. The 28-year-old later died from his injuries at a hospital.
The incident shocked the Singaporean entertainment industry, especially the Mediacorp artists who came to his funeral in droves.
Then Mediacorp found itself grasping at straws after one of its actors was caught at the center of a brownface controversy.
Mediacorp-signed actor Dennis Chew impersonated an Indian man in a state-wide advertising campaign to encourage people to use an e-payment system. Amid the ensuing online uproar, images of Chew were taken off the website, posters, and banners that were hung at public places like hawker centers were also taken down.
While none of the corporations, including financial services company Nets and ad agency Havas Media, have admitted wrongdoing for the brownface incident, they apologized for “any hurt that was unintentionally caused.”
The whole saga also sparked a weeks-long online debate between two camps of Singaporeans – one of which believes that the brownface ad was proof that minorities continue to be overlooked in the country, while the other thinks that those offended were simply being too sensitive.
The poster duo for the former camp is the Nair siblings Subhas and Preeti, who published an expletive-ridden controversial rap video calling out the brownface ad. The video was later removed from all online platforms including Facebook and YouTube. The pair was also issued a police warning.
Singapore’s growing number of voyeurs reached concerning levels this year after a private Telegram channel with more than 40,000 members came to light for sharing inappropriate images of women, including many nudes.
Dozens, including alleged victims, took to Twitter to condemn the channel. Several police reports were also made, after which four men including two channel administrators were arrested and charged with distributing obscene materials.
The incident came on the back of increasing molest and voyeurism cases in Singapore, including one high-profile case involving university student Monica Baey who was filmed while showering at the university campus.
Baey had campaigned for harsher penalties for Peeping Toms after learning that her perpetrator was let off with a slap on the wrist with just a month’s suspension from school and a ban from visiting the dorms.
Unfortunately, one other woman whose photo was taken without her consent was met with a very different public reaction earlier this year.
Photos of freelance Filipino model Ashley Garcia queuing for the ATM machine while wearing a loose singlet sans bra went viral online as hundreds took offense at her attire.
It even led the Singapore-based model to issue an apology to netizens for her “indecent exposure.”
“I am sorry if you think that this was an ‘indecent exposure’ but it was not my intention,” she wrote in a now-deleted post.
The best of the weird: Many screens driver, scammer caught red-handed, Yishun dramas
We’re not letting you go without a quick wrap-up of this year’s odd stories that made a lasting impression on us.
This year, scammers continued to dupe Singaporeans into giving confidential information and money, but one woman managed to turn the tables on a man in a hilarious phone conversation posted online.
The man had tried to get the bank account details of Kate Gienelyn, a Filipino woman based in Singapore, by claiming she had won a S$50,000 cash prize from Changi Airport’s retail site: iShopChangi — except that she hadn’t purchased anything from there.
Skeptical, Gienelyn posed questions to the scammer on random things including where he lived and how to spell the name of his hometown, annoying the scammer to the point where he lashed out at her and hung up in a rage.
Lesson learned: You can never be too careful these days, there are criminals everywhere out to get you.
This is probably why one Singapore Grab driver is taking extra precautions by monitoring surveillance footage of his home while he goes around picking up passengers. The home surveillance was also among five screens set up in his car, including one for a live symphony orchestra and another for GPS.
Photos of him posted online drew laughs from people, including a passenger the driver had picked up from the airport and took those photos. That passenger happened to be Malaysian comedian Harvinth Skin.
Weird-town Yishun continues to surprise us this year with its dramas and antics. From random horses at its housing estates to inoperable escalators causing commuters to be stuck outside the station’s gantries, which was our most-read Yishun-episode of the year.
More news from the Little Red Dot at Coconuts.co/Singapore.