Chan Chun Sing’s recent slip-up about cotton coming from sheep has recalled memories of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s infamous “mee siam mai hum” for several netizens.
During a virtual doorstop interview on Saturday (30 May), Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing spoke about how important international trade is to Singapore’s survival and said that even a “simple” surgical mask cannot be made without supply from other parts of the world, to make his point.
Explaining that Singapore cannot produce the cotton that goes into making three-ply surgical masks, he said with a snicker: “Don’t have too many sheeps [sic] in Singapore to produce cotton.”
Cotton is a natural fibre that comes from cotton plants. Sheep produce wool.
A clip showing Mr Chan’s blunder quickly began trending online. The ruling party politician later wrote off the error by claiming that he spoke too fast, that he had been thinking of alternative resources to make masks and that he had a lack of sleep.
Some netizens responding to the viral video of Mr Chan’s slip-up indicated that they were reminded of PM Lee’s “mee siam mai hum” gaffe. PM Lee made a comment that drew swift criticism during his National Day Rally speech in 2006, when he took aim at a podcast by Mr Brown.
Referring to a podcast in which a fictitious Jeff Lopez orders bak chor mee – without ter kwa (pig’s liver) at a hawker centre, PM Lee tried to make the point that politics “is not all fun and games.”
He then famously said: “You put out a funny podcast, you talk about bak chor mee. I will say mee siam mai hum.”
PM Lee’s “mee siam mai hum” (mee siam without cockles) remark soon went viral since mee siam does not actually contain cockles. Several Singaporeans felt that PM Lee’s lack of awareness that this common dish does not come with cockles in the first place shows how “out of touch” he is with ordinary Singaporeans.
Meanwhile, the “mee siam mai hum” remark became a running joke in the coming years and even spawned several song parodies and memes as it gained popularity:
This was not the only time PM Lee was called out for making an “out of touch” comment.
During an official lunch with then-Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in November 2018, PM Lee claimed that a wantan mee dish he had at Bidor, Perak years ago was topped with freshwater prawns.
The Malay Mail responded to his comment by clarifying that Perak wanton mee does not come with freshwater prawns. Indicating that this mistake may show that PM Lee might have just mentioned wanton mee to look like Singapore “cares a lot about its hawkers…for the sake of the country’s publicity”, the publication said:
“To sum it, Singapore may look like it cares a lot about its hawkers, but perhaps, they are just better at milking them for the sake of the country’s publicity.
“After all, in a lunch he hosted for Dr Mahathir, Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong mentioned the wantan mee he had decades ago in Bidor, Perak, of all places. Although weirdly enough he mentioned it was topped with freshwater prawns, which the dish does not have.”
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