Margo was one of the first people I met when I moved to Singapore. She was an American psychologist who once mentioned that she taught a “How to Flirt” class for the Singaporean government. I thought she was kidding. She wasn’t.
This was my introduction to the Social Development Unit (SDU), which was more or less a dating service for university graduates. It was created in 1984 by a government growing increasingly desperate over its citizens’ blatant disinterest in baby-making. (The government was right to be worried, by the way — Singapore’s birth rate is the lowest in the world.)
Margo’s flirting class was just one of many initiatives designed to bring men and women together. There were also speed-dating events, dance classes, wine appreciation evenings, cruises, and other heavily subsidized outings. When the non-graduate population rose up and cried “elitism!” the Social Development Service (SDS) was created just for them. In 2009, the SDU and the SDS merged into a new entity called the Social Development Network (SDN — Singaporeans are an acronym-mad people).
The good people of Singapore were underwhelmed by these matchmaking efforts and before long, SDU became slang for Single, Desperate, and Ugly. The marriage rate has increased over the years — imperceptibly — but the expected surge in births hasn’t materialized. Not even the introduction of the Baby Bonus scheme (in which the government awards “cash gifts” of up to $6,000 to newborns and matches parental contributions to special savings accounts) can convince Singaporeans to procreate. The future of the island nation seemed doomed.
Until now! Check out this motivational video by Mentos (yes, the mint people) that was released just in time for National Day (August 9th.) If laughter is an aphrodisiac, this frisky little rap might just succeed in doing what the government never could: getting Singaporeans to do their patriotic down-and-dirty duty.
(I’ve included a guide to the Singaporean references below the video.)
- I ain’t Merlion, baby: the Merlion is a national symbol, courtesy of the imaginative folks at the Singapore Tourism Board (STB.) Half lion, half fish
- SMS: Short Message Service, also known as a text
- EZ-Link card: a stored value card used on public transit by tapping it on a card reader. So civilized. Are you listening, Toronto Transit Commission (TTC)?
- Night Safari: an after-dark excursion at the Singapore Zoo that showcases the nocturnal creatures doing something other than sleeping
- Book into your camp: refers to the mandatory 2-year stint in the National Service (NS)
- Baby bonus: monetary incentives to have children (see above)
- Turn on the A/C: I was surprised to hear this, as I never heard air conditioning referred to as anything but aircon when I lived in Singapore
- Eating durian on the MRT: durian is the foul-smelling fruit which is fortunately banned on Mass Rapid Transit (MRT)
- PIE: the Pan Island Expressway
- KPE: the Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway
- AYE: the Ayer Rajah Expressway. Not mentioned (probably in the interest of time): Central Expressway (CTE), Tampines Expressway (TPE), Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE), East Coast Parkway Expressway (CPE), Kranji Expressway (KJE), Seletar Expressway (SLE), and probably more, but that’s all the Three-Letter Acronyms (TLAs) I can remember
- Put a bao in your oven: a play on the expression “a bun in the oven,” meaning “pregnant” — a bao is a steamed bun
- Tau sa pau: a steamed bun filled with red bean paste
- HDB: Housing Development Board, which is responsible for the housing estates lived in by 85% of Singaporeans. Their apartments are referred to as HDB flats, and their cramped living spaces are probably part of the reason a video like this was needed in the first place. It’s hard to raise a family in a shoebox
- $900 stroller: reference to Singapore’s highly materialistic society
- I wanna hang out in your void deck: a void deck is the ground-floor communal area in HDB estates
- Whether you’re about to get your tau huay: tau huay is soybean pudding (although I sense there might also be a spicier meaning I know nothing about)
- Gardens by the Bay: this plant-lover’s paradise is a new (and expensive) development in the Marina Bay area. Some of it is quite pretty, but I think the Supertrees (vertical gardens) are hideous.