Tweets on Singapore may yet prove unpalatable for Zille

Brett Horner

The DA has formally charged Helen Zille following her social media comments on the prickly subject of colonialism.

Readers may recall Zille’s point of reference was the tiny Asian city-state of Singapore, a former colonial subject which has forged a shiny future for itself, conquerors notwithstanding.

As her own fate lies in the hands of her party, Zille’s travels and travails have reminded me of a few days I spent in Singapore before the new century was ushered in.

We’re going back about 20 years or so and naturally the memories are starting to pixelate but the ones that stand out to this day, ironically or not, are coloured by my cultural experiences over there. The stopover in Singapore was meant to be brief, a short respite from the gastro-enteric assault of six weeks in India, before moving overland to Malaysia.

By comparison, Singapore was all spit and polish (actual spitting was, and probably still is, punishable) and heavy on a backpacker’s budget.

An offer to pocket some extra cash came my way via an Irish fellow encamped in the same lodgings where I found myself. Would I, he enquired, like to be in a movie?

If, at this point, your mind is going where I think it is, well that’s fine because with a surname like Horner, you can contrive any number of screen-name innuendos if your cinematic appreciation happens to be the adult genre. When he told me one requirement for casting was a size-28 waistline, I was convinced it was the lower half of my anatomy they were interested in.

The truth is they needed someone of slender build (which India had aided quite efficiently) since that was the size of the brown corduroy slacks I was expected to wear.

Still, a 28 was pushing it and so I wore them without zipping up. The shirt was 70s pinstripe and possibly from the children’s section, so again the top button was left open and the mustard tie that went with this ensemble threatened to noose me.

Hideous garb, all told, but I was not alone. All the extras were stitched together in bargain-bin “Western” outfits.

Thinking back, it was odd because the movie apparently chronicled the life of a famous Hong Kong chef and the scene we filmed recalled the time he served Prince Charles and a royal delegation. On set it was all weird slapstick humour and none of my fellow extras faintly resembled royalty.

Charles was played by a debonair Aussie who insisted on speaking even though he had no lines. The director was tearing his hair out. Quite who I was will never be known. I sat at the dining table and did what I was told – nod and shake my head – for my paycheck of 50 Singapore dollars.

From what I deduced, the real Charles had endured an uncomfortable meal, assailed as he was by the Asian palette which his own British tongue rejected. The movie version was given a shtick makeover but I doubt there was much banter at the time.

Mercifully, we broke after some hours of tedium and a man in a suit gave me and the Irish chap a beverage which turned out to be soya milk. My casting companion made the grave error of declining the drink on the perfectly reasonable grounds that it was awful.

In a matter of seconds he was covered in spittle and treated to some choice Cantonese invective, such was the cultural offence he had just committed. Being a fast learner I did the opposite and chewed my way through his offering, thanking him profusely. I was spared the meltdown.

I have no idea what the movie was called and whether it was a success. My earnings afforded me an extra day in Singapore and I used this time to explore the Chinese and Malay quarters.

Singapore’s meritocracy is to be admired but culturally, it is complex. Zille may yet learn the difference the hard way.

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