Zalora = Z-List Customer Service

A while back, I started seeing a lot of ads for an online store called Zalora. Its offer of free delivery in Singapore, free return shipping (with direct pickup from your requested address) and promise of a “world class customer service team” sounded quite appealing, so I thought of giving them a try.

As is my usual practice before using any new online business, I googled for reviews, but all I could find were trade articles and a few blogvertorials which obviously couldn’t be trusted. Although this was odd for an online store which had already been open for a few months in a shopping-mad country like Singapore, I figured I’d just give it a try. Short of it being an outright scam (and since I only buy cheap things online, I could afford to make one mistake of being scammed), the worst case scenario would be that if I needed to return an item, customer service would be bad. The flipside, of course, was that if it turned out to be a good and well-run business, I would be able to enjoy a clothes/shoes/accessories shopping experience akin to what people have in the US.

Unfortunately, the worst case scenario is the one that materialized – multiple times. By now, there are several other online accounts of poor customer service from Zalora, so at least a potential customer who does their research will now have some guidance as to whether this is an online business they want to use or not. This blog entry is intended to aid such efforts. I am not, by the way, telling anyone not to patronize Zalora – I am simply setting out my own experiences with them so that you can decide whether or not this is a level of customer service you can personally accept.

Incident #1: First They Lose My Shoes, Then They Lose My Refund

12 Jul: I order a pair of shoes. Website promises delivery within 48 hours.

13 Jul: Receive email confirmation that the item has been dispatched.

19 Jul: 1 week has passed with no delivery made or attempted. I email customer service.

22 Jul: Having received no reply, I email again.

24 Jul: Zalora replies saying my order was put on hold for delivery but they will check with Aramex (the courier they use) and get it delivered ASAP at my preferred timeslot. In the meantime, they give me the tracking number so that I can track it online.

26 Jul: I email Zalora that according to the online tracking system, the status of my item has remained exactly the same since 16 Jul. Zalora replies that they are still waiting to hear from Aramex and will keep me posted.

30 Jul: Zalora gets back to me. Aramex lost the package. They apologize and say they will do a full refund.

24 Sep: Refund hasn’t materialized. I email Zalora. Zalora replies saying they will check when the item was received in their warehouse before they process my refund accordingly. I am bemused as to why they are looking for an item their courier lost, and email them to make sure we are on the same page. Oddly enough, they reply saying the item has indeed been received in their warehouse and I will get the refund in 3-5 working days.

Oct 7: Still no refund. I email Zalora again. Zalora replies saying they have sent my request to the finance team and the refund will be processed within 5-7 working days.

So, let’s sum up Zalora’s various customer service FAILS here:

  • Ignoring my first customer support request for at least 3 days.
  • Confused service staff who don’t seem to understand the support thread they are handling. (All initial support request emails are assigned a ticket number and subsequent emails are part of a thread which their customer service personnel can check back through.) How can an item their courier lost now be in their warehouse? And why would its presence in their warehouse even be necessary before they can process the refund they already promised me 24 days ago??!
  • Utterly and completely dropping the ball on the refund. The refund I was promised on 30 Jul never arrived. The refund I was promised within 3-5 working days of 24 Sep never arrived. And now, on 7 Oct, they ask for yet another 5-7 working days to do the refund. One wonders whether there is electricity and running water in the Zalora office, or if they take the same attitude towards paying their bills.

STATUS: UNRESOLVED (UNTIL THE REFUND ACTUALLY MATERIALIZES), BUT POSSIBLY PROVING THE EXISTENCE OF A TWILIGHT ZONE OF LOST SHOES.

Incident #2: The Return Procedure From Hell

12 Jul: I order a pair of shoes (in a separate order from the order I made in Incident #1).

3 Aug: Having decided to return this pair of shoes, I submit a return request for pickup on 8 Aug. (They have since changed their return procedure to require you to drop the item at a post office, but at that time they were still offering direct pickup of the item to be returned from an address of your request.)

8 Aug: Although Zalora hasn’t responded to my return request at all, I wait at the specified place and timeslot. No one comes.

13 Aug: I email Zalora asking about the status of my return request, saying that the pickup date I requested has come and gone.

15 Aug: Having received no reply to my previous email, I send another.

17 Aug: I email a fresh support request since my previous ones have all been ignored (but also include the ticket number of my previous support request, where I stated the relevant order number and pickup address). Zalora replies asking for the order number and pickup address, and gives me 3 pickup slots to choose from.

18 Aug: I reply giving all the information requested (again) and choosing a timeslot. Zalora replies saying they have arranged the pickup for my requested timeslot of 21 August between 9 am – 1 pm.

21 Aug: *crickets*

22 Aug: I email Zalora that no one came to pick up the item. Although my email is polite, the last sentence is “This is getting very frustrating.”

23 Aug: With great sensitivity to customer service, Zalora replies as follows:

Dear Michelle,

I apologise for the missed pickup again.

 

We now have a SingPost dropoff at all SingPost post office.

Our return process has never been easier. It’s just a drop-off at the nearest post office at your convenient time for FREE.

Please note that the products must be in original condition, with all tags attached, and must be returned in the original undamaged box and/or packaging

Once your return is received and inspected by our fulfilment centres (usually within 3 – 5 working days of receipt), your refund will be processed and issued through your original method of payment within 7 days.

For orders placed with Cash on Delivery, please provide your name, bank name and account details so we that can refund you through bank transfer once we receive your item by clicking on the link below.

http://tinyurl.com/zalora-return

We will send you a shipping label along with 3 receipts for a FREE return. Please print all the copies and drop the items at any of the post office. Please refer to the link below to know the nearest post office.

http://www.singpost.com/our-network/post-offices.html?catid=36&id=45

Please feel free to contact us at 1800-925 6720 for any queries.

For any queries, please don’t hesitate to call our Zalora customer service at 1800 925-6720.

Regards,

Baocheng

Zalora Singapore Customer Service Officer

24 Aug: I reply as follows:

So basically, having wasted my time waiting for 2 missed pickups, and even more of my time trying to chase Zalora to respond to my support emails, Zalora is now asking me to just go to Singpost and do the return myself.

 

Your text below says I should receive a shipping label to use for the return shipping, yet you have not sent me any.

 

Honestly, this is ridiculously bad customer service from Zalora.

24 Aug: Zalora replies:

Hi Michelle,

The shipping labels will be sent to you within 3 days after the submission of the online return form.

For any queries, please don’t hesitate to call our Zalora customer service at 1800 925-6720.

Regards,

Baocheng

Zalora Singapore Customer Service Officer

30 Aug: I submit the damn online return form.

3 Sep: Having received no shipping label within the 3 days promised, I email Zalora again asking for a reply.

4 Sep: I receive the shipping label.

10 Sep: I return the item at SingPost. Zalora’s FAQ states: “Once your return is received and inspected by our fulfilment centres (usually within 3 – 5 working days of receipt), your refund will be processed and issued through your original method of payment within 7 days.”

30 Sep: No refund has been received. I email Zalora. Zalora replies saying they will look into it and get back to me within 24-48 hours.

7 Oct: Having received no reply long after the 24-48 hours has elapsed, I email again. (Since the original payment was made with Paypal, I of course check my Paypal account first to make sure no refund has been made yet.)

Where do we even begin in cataloguing the FAILS?

  • Ignoring my first pickup request.
  • Ignoring my followup request.
  • Ignoring my next followup request, requiring me to start a fresh support thread.
  • Asking for information I already gave in my previous support thread (which I linked to in my fresh support thread).
  • Failing at the pickup.
  • In response to what is now a customer with good cause to be frustrated, giving a throwaway apology and asking the customer to now follow a whole new return procedure which has “never been easier”. Let’s remember that they’d just asked me to submit yet another online form with all the same information I HAD ALREADY GIVEN THEM TWICE, and then drop an item off at the post office instead of my requested pickup address BECAUSE THEY HAD FAILED TO PICK IT UP TWICE.
  • In response to a customer who now clearly voices the reasons for their displeasure, Zalora proffers no further apology and coolly asks the customer to submit the online return form. You know, the one asking for information I already gave them twice.
  • Failing to issue shipping labels within the 3 day period promised.
  • Failing to issue a refund within the time period promised.
  • Failing to respond to my “where is my refund?” support request within the time period promised.

STATUS: UNRESOLVED, AND FUCKED UP IN EVERY WAY POSSIBLE

Incident #3: Zalora Erases History And My New Name Is “LEGACY LEGACY”

15 Aug: I discover that all my previous orders (except my most recent one) have disappeared from the My Account section of the Zalora website. I email Zalora giving them the relevant order numbers which have disappeared. Zalora replies saying the orders I mentioned are all still in their system. They ask me to refresh the page or try again tomorrow.

17 Aug: I reply saying the problem is exactly the same.

*crickets*

11 Sep: I happen to discuss Zalora on Twitter.

Surprise surprise, Zalora suddenly emails me regarding this support request, asking if I’m still having the same problem! I reply saying the problem is exactly the same. I also give further information of something else I’ve noticed, which is that my most recent shipping confirmation email addresses me as “LEGACY LEGACY” (as in, “Dear LEGACY LEGACY, your order has been dispatched”) whereas previous shipping confirmation emails addressed me by my actual name.

12 Sep: Zalora replies saying they will look into it and need some time.

18 Sep: I email Zalora informing them that even my most recent order has now disappeared from their website.

24 Sep: I email Zalora asking for an update.

*crickets*

Now, you might think this isn’t a big deal because it’s just a technical glitch. But I think it’s worth telling people about because of the following 2 issues:

  • Remember the 2 other incidents I described before this one? Each of those related to orders which had completely disappeared on Zalora’s website, but pursuing each service issue has required me to refer extensively to my order details. Thankfully, Zalora’s email confirmations contain some of those details, and I’d kept them. Other details (such as method of payment, because I sometimes use Paypal and sometimes use a credit card) weren’t in the email confirmations, so I had to check Paypal and the credit card accounts I use in order to find out where I should be receiving all those refunds Zalora was failing to send me. So if you order from Zalora, make sure you keep your own records of your transaction history in case they decide you don’t exist any more once you start asking them to keep their promises.
  • If an online business can’t even keep proper track of the orders you’ve made, how happy are you to give it your credit card information?

STATUS: UNRESOLVED, ALTHOUGH I ADMIT “LEGACY LEGACY” IS A COOLER NAME THAN WHAT I AM ACTUALLY CALLED

So there you have it. Well, I left out a 4th incident involving yet another failure to issue a timely refund, but since they eventually did follow through after I’d nagged them about it, that’s the only one of the 4 service issues I’ve raised with them that is actually resolved. If you know people who are considering ordering from Zalora, I’d encourage you to share this post with them.

This message has been brought to you by “LEGACY LEGACY”.

UPDATE (15 Oct):

As usual, complaining publicly on the Internet and publicizing those complaints through social media gets you a response far faster than any number of polite private emails. Zalora has now resolved the first 2 of the issues I described above, and assures me it is working on the third. To that extent, I can give them some credit. However, read on to make up your own mind.

8 Oct

Late morning: This post starts getting views from Twitter and Facebook.

6.15 pm: Zalora’s official Twitter account tweets me asking for my email address so that they can urge their customer service to help.

6.45 pm: Jonah from Zalora calls me saying he wants to discuss the service quality issues I have been facing. I am not able to speak with him then and there, but we reschedule for the next morning.

9 Oct

11.00 am: Jonah calls me. He is pleasant and professional, and listens to my numerous criticisms without getting defensive.

Without making excuses for the poor service I have received in the past, he says they have since beefed up customer service. He invites me to try calling their customer service hotline and assures me I will get through to someone. For emails, he says I will get a reply within 24 hours. I point out to him that an email I sent on Sunday night has still not been replied to, so he says he will have to look into that.

He takes down my bank details to do the refund, offers me a voucher to make up for the inconvenience I have gone through, and says that I should loop him in on my future purchases from Zalora and he will personally ensure that they go smoothly.

However, something that confuses me is that he claims his call has nothing to do with my blog post – in fact, that he isn’t even aware of the blog post but will certainly seek it out to read it – but that I am one of a list of customers he has identified as having received unsatisfactory service (based on the email customer service records), and he is calling about 20 customers per day to speak with them firsthand on the issues they’ve faced. (I’ll write a bit more on this point at the end of this update.)

2.45 pm: Jonah emails me. It is a courteous email and satisfactorily follows up on the points we discussed.

7.30 pm: Jonah calls me asking for more details of the “LEGACY LEGACY” issue, which he says he is looking into with his IT team.

10 Oct

4.20 pm: I forward Jonah the “LEGACY LEGACY” shipping confirmation, as requested, and he replies almost immediately asking for one other detail he needs. He also checks that I have received the refund. (My bank records show it was made on 9 Oct.)

* * *

So, I think it’s fair to say that Zalora’s response once I complained on the Internet has been satisfactory – but there’s the rub. I am still not sure how it can be so coincidental that the only two times Zalora has ever made efforts to reach out to me regarding my customer service problems has been when I called them out publicly (see Incident #3 above for the previous time), and yet Jonah says his call was not in response to my blog post. I guess it’s possible Jonah has an ongoing to-call-list which someone else compiles for him, and that person gets a heads-up from the social media team about any particularly unhappy tweets/posts.

The question relevant to every Zalora customer facing a customer service issue is then: what is the best way to ensure you get an adequate customer service response, given Zalora’s poor record at this? It’s only fair for me to refer you to Jonah’s response above regarding the measures they’ve taken to improve their responsiveness, and I’d suggest you give them a 1 call/email opportunity to live up to the service levels that Jonah set out. But if their response to that 1 call/email is unsatisfactory, it’s hard to conclude from my experiences that continuing politely along their standard customer service procedures will get your problem resolved faster than calling them out on the Internet.

One last point – my remaining unresolved issue with Zalora is Issue #3, regarding my epic renaming and the disappearance of my order details. Jonah appears to be looking into it, and I’m okay with giving them a while to get to the bottom of it. However, it doesn’t help answer my previous concern regarding whether you can trust their IT systems to keep your credit card details secure, and I would suggest that if you are careful about stuff like this, consider using their other modes of payment instead.

Pollen & Photobombing: An Afternoon at Gardens by the Bay

Even if you’re a lazy couch potato who hasn’t had any interest in going to Gardens By The Bay because it would probably involve being outdoors for a prolonged period during daylight, when your husband announces he’s booked lunch at Pollen just because he wants to spoil you a bit, you say “That sounds wonderful, dear, I’d LOVE to go to Gardens by the Bay!”

There are probably tons of spectacular photos of the Gardens out there by now – no doubt taken by the intrepid shutterbugs we saw toting their tripods all over the place – and mine won’t measure up at all. But here they are anyway.

This is the Rhug estate pork belly with broad beans, slow cooked squid and chorizo we had as part of the Pollen set lunch. As someone who isn’t actually that keen on pork or fatty meat, this was still quite tolerable for me because the fat was much less sickeningly rich than it might have appeared in the photo, and the beans, squid and chorizo complemented it perfectly. It wasn’t the best pork belly dish I’ve ever had (that honour belongs to the “slow cooked pork belly, potato puree, black pudding and sauce Robert” I had at Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner), but it was among the best. And yes, that big keropok-resembling thing behind it is crackling. Omnomnom.

Pork belly (Pollen, Singapore)

This dessert of chocolate roast cocoa nib ice cream with jasmine parfait and cherry might seem like just another chocolate dessert, but the jasmine parfait gave it a dimension I hadn’t expected. It didn’t take long for my tongue to go from “wow, this tastes interesting and different” to “why doesn’t every chocolate dessert come with jasmine parfait”? I loved this, and I’m not even that keen on chocolate. And, it wasn’t even the best dessert of the meal! (It was just the dessert I didn’t completely suck at photographing.)

Dessert (Pollen, Singapore)

The other dishes we had were:

  • Duck consomme with slow cooked quail egg and lapsong souchong tea (starter; rich and satisfying)
  • Roasted baby beetroot salad with goats curd and pine nuts (starter; nice but not cataclysmically tastier than the beetroot salad we make at home, even though the ingredients they are using are obviously several million times better than ours)
  • Roasted cod, creamed olive oil potatoes, lemon conserve and sauce grenoblaise (really good even though neither of us is that keen on cod)
  • Crispy burnt lemon meringue with cucumber sorbet (best dessert of the meal and one of the best desserts we’ve ever had)

After the meal I was very pleased to find out that as patrons of the restaurant, we could get into the Flower Dome for free. I may not be very interested in flowers but I am absolutely riveted by the idea of getting something for nothing, so I was all like OH HELL YEAH LET’S EXPLORE US SOME FLOWERS!

For about an hour, anyway.

I’m more of a cactus person, really. When I saw these two, the little easy-listening radio station in my head started playing Sometimes When We Touch. And then, because little easy-listening radio stations never last very long in my head, the retro porn music channel started up instead.

Sometimes When We Touch...

I’m not sure why, but when I saw this, the retro porn music channel switched to a crackly sputtering one with an old British man reciting Jabberwocky. (No, I don’t know what Pollen put in those desserts.)

Twas brillig and the slithy toves...

I’d brought along the ultra-wide converter I don’t use enough, and had some fun playing with it.

Flower Dome (Gardens By The Bay, Singapore)

Outside, I strolled down something marked as a viewpoint for the Supertree grove and was quite amused at the particular view it gave, which is basically a real tree photobombing whatever photos you might want to take of the huge fake trees. Nature can be such a troll.

Real tree photobombs photo of fake trees

Evening came, and with it an intense need for teh ping and a return to my couch. So Alec brought the wife he occasionally refers to as “Mrs Boo Radley” home, but not before she thanked him for the lovely afternoon out and admitted the Gardens by the Bay weren’t so bad after all.

Supertree Silhouettes (Gardens by the Bay, Singapore)

Dear London

I wrote this on Facebook a few days ago but wanted to save it here (with some linkification to give context to the sappiness), since Facebook will inevitably go kaput at some point in the future.

Dear London,

I was not physically there with you to celebrate winning the bid in 2005, or to stand in solidarity with you when terrorists attacked everything you stand for the very next day[1. Well, I was there soon after, but to be honest I had been quite a scaredycat about deciding to go.], or now in 2012 to welcome the world to your wonderful, unforgettable embrace. But (if you will forgive me an overblown poetic reference) just know that there’s some corner of this foreign heart that is FOREVER LONDON.

Have an awesome Olympics.

Love, Michelle

Joo Chiat Photowalk

Cyclist on Koon Seng RoadBefore I spent more than an hour watching the really fascinating Javanese “horse trance” dance performance I chanced upon in Joo Chiat, I had been on a self-initiated photowalk down Joo Chiat Road. As a long-time Katong/Joo Chiat resident, I was walking a route I already knew well, but had rarely bothered to photograph.

If you’re from this part of town as well, I hope my photos will reflect what you know and love about our neighbourhood. And if you’re not familiar with it, I hope you’ll like what you see in my photos and come visit!

 

Javanese “Horse Trance” Dancing In Joo Chiat

It’s been too long since I showed Joo Chiat some photo-love on this blog. We often wander there for bak kut teh at Sin Heng or drinks at The Cider Pit, but perhaps because I take it for granted for being so close to home, I rarely bring my camera. A few weeks ago, I did, which is why I managed to film and capture one of the intriguing things I have ever witnessed in public in Singapore.

At the junction between Joo Chiat Road and Joo Chiat Place, a traditional Javanese dance called Kuda Lumping (also referred to as Kuda Kepang) was being performed. Apart from carrying and manipulating horses made of woven bamboo, the participants in this dance are said to go into trances where they behave like horses and are treated accordingly, such as being fed and whipped. As they are supposedly immune to pain while in this trance-like state, they also perform various dangerous feats such as eating broken glass.

Halal & Haram

I assume the “Latest Arrivals” section of Zalora.sg is populated by a simple feed of all the new additions to its various product categories, based purely on time of addition to their various brand pages. Here’s the amusing juxtaposition that greeted me in that section a few days ago.

Page with mix of bikinis and modest clothing

Best Of #SingaporeShadesOfGrey: A Long Hard Entry

Before this, I was a virgin. A Twitter trend virgin, that is. Being fairly new to Twitter I’d just not got into the habit of checking trending topics, but happened to spot #SingaporeShadesOfGrey as it was gaining momentum and realized it was right up my alley.

Kudos to the inimitable Mr Brown for starting the hashtag and providing some of its funniest examples. He’s collected his tweets and some others (including one of mine!) at his blog already, but when I read the list I felt a little dissatisfied that others I’d enjoyed hadn’t been included. Well, as many women know, you need to take charge of your own pleasure rather than always relying on a man to do it for you. So I made my own list.

The tweets I personally found funniest tended to be the ones with recognizably Singaporean references in them rather than generic double entendres which could be made about life in any other country. Unsurprisingly, two of the things that Singaporeans talk about the most (no, not Fiona Xie’s boobs) emerged as major themes in the trend, so I’ve presented them as collections here. However, some magnificently filthy non-Singapore-specific ones did also manage to squeeze their way in.

Kong Hee Kong Si Mi??! Towkay Jesus And The Calvin Klein Crucifixion

Wow.

Thanks to everyone who read, responded to and shared Gyrating For Jesus: A Pow-Ka-Leow Guide To Sun Ho’s Greatest Hits! A certain amount of gratitude is also due to Sun and her team for coming up with material so hallucinogenically bad that the snark just writes itself.

I’m honestly rather shellshocked by the attention this blog has received in the past week, given that it has languished in near-obscurity for the past 12 years, and it was only about a month ago that I wrote about the many times I’ve considered just closing it.

In fact, I nearly even abandoned Gyrating For Jesus halfway. Because after initially plunging into the idea with outrage-stoked zeal…

…it wasn’t long before I realized the full extent of the suffering I had let myself in for.

Yes,  I do realize it’s a bit LPPL to complain about how awful it was to watch Sun Ho videos repeatedly, and then end up having to watch them again IN SLOW MOTION in order to get screencaps for the image[1. For anyone reading this who doesn’t already waste too much time keeping up with memes, and also simply because I would marry Allie Brosh if bisexual bigamy were legal, I have to give credit to the original source of those drawings.] you use to illustrate the complaint. But just to give you an idea of what it was like, I also made a gif.

sunho

For those of you who came for the snark and are considering sticking around, I really hope you like it here, but I’m also quite neurotically stressed that you won’t. Apart from the Sun Ho article and a few other examples, the content on this blog isn’t generally thaaaaat bitchy (immaturely vulgar yes, punny yes, more sophisticated forms of humour not really). I also don’t tend to do the sort of topical Singaporean comedy that people like Mr Brown or Rockson are so awesome at, although you might find my kitschfest photo stories of Haw Par Villa and the Lilliputt “uniquely-Singapore” Minigolf amusing.

So, what do I do here when I’m not picking on poor helpless multimillionaire geisha pastors from China? Among other things,  I geek out about music I love, and share my attempts to improve at photography. Over the years I have also written things here which are personal and heartfelt, such as the two surgeries I have had to remove breast lumps and the love I have for my husband (when I’m not calling him a Spandex Party Boy, that is). I really don’t know how many of you who found this blog through the Sun Ho article will find any of that interesting, but if you do, I would love you to hang out around here a bit longer. :)

But on to the meat of this post. While it may not be obvious from the Sun Ho article, I am actually Christian, a lifelong Catholic. At Mass this past Sunday, it so happened that the following Bible reading was used:

2 Corinthians 8: 7,9,13-15
You always have the most of everything – of faith, of eloquence, of understanding, of keenness for any cause, and the biggest share of our affection – so we expect you to put the most into this work of mercy too. Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was: he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty. This does not mean that to give relief to others you ought to make things difficult for yourselves: it is a question of balancing what happens to be your surplus now against their present need, and one day they may have something to spare that will supply your own need. That is how we strike a balance: as scripture says: The man who gathered much had none too much, the man who gathered little did not go short.

While I had a feeling that a passage like this is the sort that would be easily exploited at City Harvest Church to shore up the twisted priorities that it promotes, it is chilling how easy it was to find support for this hunch. Watch Kong Hee’s “Was Jesus Poor” (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4) sermon on Youtube for yourself to see how he makes this passage the concluding linchpin of a shockingly simplistic hour-long crusade to convince his faithful that Jesus was rich. Because “if you believe Jesus isn’t poor…you are able to break through out of poverty and come into God’s abundance and God’s prosperity…you will always end up…the way you choose to believe.”[2. 6.55 of Part 1.] One wonders whether financial records revealed in the course of Kong Hee’s trial will include royalty payments to the author of The Secret.

In the course of the sermon, he makes 9 paper-thin biblical arguments to prove Jesus was rich[3. Starts at 1.04 of Part 2.]. One such gem is that Jesus had a treasurer, and you don’t make someone treasurer of no money[4. 4.29 of Part 3.]. (Tell that to the treasurer of Project Crossover USA.) He also explains, smiling and nodding, that even with Judas Iscariot embezzling from the treasury, Jesus could still afford to continue his ministry. Comforting words indeed from a man increasingly referred to online as Kong Hee Fatt Choy!

But the crowning glory of this exercise in idiocy must be his assertion that because four soldiers fought over Jesus’s underwear, that means Jesus must have worn good clothes even on the way to being crucified[5. 0.18 of Part 4.]. Christianity explores many profound philosophical questions, but I had never been aware till now that it also delves into that eternal conundrum: boxers or briefs? I can only imagine that Jesus’s coveted finery must have been something like this.

I want to end with something a little more serious. The Corinthians passage I quoted above is what brought me to Kong Hee’s sermon, and I have now wasted some blog space on what a passage like that means to him. To balance things out, let me say something about what a passage like that means to me.

St Paul addressed this passage to the wealthy Christians of Corinth as part of his fund-raising efforts for the church in famine-struck Jerusalem, so it is true that to a certain extent he was talking about money. But no conventional resource out there from the simple to the scholarly treats this passage as proof that God is as fixated on having prosperous followers as Kong Hee is. Quite to the contrary, it is a call for Christians to let what Jesus gave up for us inspire what we are willing to give up to help others. It is also a reminder that the more blessed we may be – not just in terms of wealth but also in “faith”, “eloquence”, “understanding”, “keenness for any cause” – the more we are expected to put these blessings to use in the work of mercy.

The churches of Corinth and Jerusalem were not as unified as one might expect them to have been. In a time of widespread anti-Semitism, the Corinthians (non-Jews) were being asked to help needy Jews who had never really welcomed them into the faith to begin with. So while the passage may sound like no big deal to us today – what’s so amazing about Christians just helping out other Christians? – it was actually a pretty tall order back then. Today, I’m fairly sure that the average Catholic would regard the passage as a call for charity wherever it is needed, regardless of religious affiliation. (I say Catholic because that is my reference point, but it’s more than possible that other Christian denominations would think similarly.)

There’s a fair amount of wishy washy “Oh, let’s just be vague about what we disagree with and pray for CHC, because at the end of the day the body of Christ should stand united” sentiment out there among Christians. I know this is well-intentioned, and honestly wouldn’t blame anyone for finding my post about Sun Ho’s music overly bitchy. But until I had watched Kong Hee’s sermons for myself, I hadn’t grasped the true extent of how antithetical the City Harvest perspective is to what I (and I daresay many other Christians) believe. So, dear fellow Christians, I commend your forgiving and prayerful nature. But if you haven’t already watched the preaching you seek to stand united with, I would recommend you do so[6. If “Jesus’s Crucifixion Chic” wasn’t enough for you, try “The Laws Of The Harvest” (part 1, part 2).] in order to understand, at the very least, just how hard you will need to pray.

Gyrating For Jesus: A Pow-Ka-Leow Guide To Sun Ho’s Greatest “Hits”

It’s easy to jump to conclusions about the guilt of the City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders, but I’m not going to do that here. Instead, I’ve decided to engage in the admittedly snarkastic exercise of listening to every English release by Sun Ho which I could find on Youtube, to see if the quality, content and success of her music could ever have justified the expenditure of S$23 million, authorized or not.

(For those unfamiliar with the backstory, City Harvest is a hugely rich megachurch in Singapore, founded by pastor Kong Hee and his wife Sun Ho (once described as a “music pastor”). Several of its leaders, including Kong Hee, have just been charged with committing criminal breaches of trust and falsifying accounts regarding the use of church funds. In particular, S$23 million worth of church funds was purportedly misused to fund the “Crossover Project”, an initiative started by Kong Hee and Sun Ho to use Sun’s secular music to reach out to non-Christians. Sun has been trying to launch a US-based secular music career since 2003.)

#1 Dance Hits Which You’d Never Remember Dancing To

Given that you can usually find almost anything ever committed to recordable media on Youtube on the basis that someone somewhere somehow thought it was significant enough to upload and share with the world, I was surprised to discover no trace there whatsoever of Sun’s debut American single, “Where Did Love Go”. For a song produced by David Foster which reached #1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play “Breakout” Chart in 2003, its “breakout” impact appears to have been short-lived. Sun’s management should address this problem by making it available on Youtube ASAP – it could, after all, rake in a few hundred accidental views from non-Christian lazy typists who were looking for the Supremes’ classic.

After this disappointing start, I was relieved to find some clues as to what Sun’s other “#1 dance hits” may have sounded like: one remix of “One With You”, two of “Without Love”, one use of “Gone” as backing track to an optimistically-titled montage of “international star Sun Ho” at US Fashion Week 2006, and three – wow, three! – remixes of Ends of the Earth.

There is little to be said about any of these songs. The tunes are forgettable, Sun’s vocals insipid, none of the songs have any discernable lyrical connections with Christian beliefs or morality beyond pedestrian references to love, and whether you like them or not will largely depend on your tastes in dance music and the abilities of the producer/remixer. One also wonders why anyone would see generic Eurodance as a good way of spreading the gospel in the US music industry in the first place. Perhaps the Crossover Project thought this is what gay clubbers like listening to.

Sadly, we’ve already reached the high point of Sun’s US chart success. But let us not waste any more time here. The low points yet to come are far more entertaining.

In God We Thrust: “China Wine” (2007)

 

“China Wine” was released in 2007, the same year that the misuse of funds allegedly began. I couldn’t possibly guess at how people with actual Caribbean music credibility like Wyclef Jean, Tony Matterhorn and Elephant Man were recruited to collaborate on the song, or why a famous MV director like Wayne Isham would have any interest in doing the video. I guess they must all have been big fans of Sun’s Eurodance work.

(It’s easier to appreciate the WTFness of this song if you’re already familiar with certain dancehall music references, so let me quickly explain that “wine” in the dancehall context doesn’t refer to the Blood of Christ but to gyration of the hips, and that the “dutty wine” is a well-known dance move where you whip your hair around while gyrating your hips.)

“In China,” Sun claims, “we luv da dutty wine so much dat we mix it with de China wine”. So basically, the song is about cross-cultural hip-gyrating. I’m not seeing a clear Christian connection there, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out if I think hard enough – oh hey, maybe this is how Jesus partied it up at the wedding in Cana! CANA WINE! CANA WINE!

dancing Jesus gif

Elsewhere in the song, Sun exhorts girls to “sing from the hoo-has”, Tony Matterhorn namedrops fashion designer Ed Hardy (Sun’s company is the exclusive distributor of Ed Hardy clothing in Singapore), and Elephant Man suggests that Sun’s gyratory skills (“so she do it fast, now she do it slow”) can make something dead grow. He is probably not referring to the Resurrection.

Out of the clusterfuck of nonsequiturs that make up this song, the biggest one may be why the hell a Singaporean is calling herself “Geisha” to sing a song about how much “we” in “China” love to dutty wine. Perhaps Sun hit her head after being slain in the Spirit one day and it affected her geographical knowledge.

They Call It Murrrrdaaaa[1. Apologies to Damian Marley and Ini Kamoze for associating them with this bilge.]: “Mr Bill” (2009)

 

It is baffling to think that anyone looking back at “China Wine” two years later could have regarded reggae as an ideal musical direction for Sun to continue in, but maybe Wyclef’s weed[2. c.f. Tony Matterhorn’s “China Wine” verse where he asks Wyclef to “passa blem”.] was just that good. “Mr Bill” is certainly more mellow than “China Wine” – except, of course, for some minor lyrical hostility involving Sun’s decidedly unmellow impulses to murder her cheating man.

Still rather confused about exactly where she is from in Asia, Sun aka “Geisha” begins the video by berating her man in Mandarin for lying to her. At times during the song, her attempts to deliver her lines with a ragga-tinged lilt are so inept that she might as well be speaking in tongues. And the less said about her dancing the better, except for letting you know that in or around the same time that this song came out, she was training with superfamous choreographer Marty Kudelka in her lavish Hollywood Hills home. Let’s add “groove” to the list of things that S$23 million still can’t buy, although it’s nice to know that Sun enjoyed 29,000 square feet (at US$20,000/month) worth of space to practice her flailing in. 

Fakey Gaga: “Fancy Free” (2009)

 

Following the disappointing failure of “China Wine” and “Mr Bill” to get the world pelvic thrusting for Christ, Project Crossover must have come up with a new strategy for “Fancy Free” to make its mark in a 2009 pop music landscape dominated by Lady Gaga. But simply writing a knockoff Gaga song is for poor schmucks who don’t have S$23 million to spend. If you’re funded by Project Crossover, on the other hand, you can also get what looks like a pretty expensive video directed by a hot shot MV director who’s already done Gaga videos, and employ Gaga’s then-choreographer Laurieann Gibson, just to leave nothing to chance.

Pity about the inconvenient fact that Sun ain’t Gaga. After several years of trying to make it in the American music industry, there’s still nothing that distinguishes “Fancy Free” from a Paris Hilton vanity project, except that the Hiltons never promised their hotel guests that no Hilton revenues were used to fund Paris’s singing career.[3. ”In 2003, an individual alleged in the media that the charity was funding Sun Ho’s music career. However, this individual eventually issued a public apology and retracted his allegations. Facing media scrutiny, City Harvest issued press statements, as well as representations to its church members, that they had not funded Sun Ho’s career.” – Asiaone]

And if you were hoping that Christian messages in Sun’s music might finally have emerged by now, with “fancy free” possibly referring to some sort of detachment from material goods, you obviously need to bone up on your core megachurch doctrines. Sun wakes up “feeling like a millionaire”! Which is pretty easy if you’re either waking up in a LA mansion or a S$9.3m Sentosa Cove penthouse!

Cringeworthy hubris reaches its peak when Sun trills “Feels just like I’m on a shooting star / Made my wish to be a superstar”. It’s like saying you wish you could buy a Birkin when you can already afford to buy 2,300 of them, if you could only find a shop that respected you enough to sell them to you. Also, it appears that even long-ridiculed boy band tropes like rhyming “fire” with “desire” are too sophisticated for a song which rhymes “star” with……”star”.

A Conclusion And Some Parting Insults

Pages more could be written to deconstruct the multiple levels of epic fail in Sun Ho’s US music career, but there’s only so much torture I can take and I’m pretty much already at the point of uttering “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?” So I will leave you with two last atrocities, and thank God for small mercies that they are only available in short preview clips. (Things seem to have gone suddenly quiet on the Sun music front just before the initial complaints against CHC surfaced in 2010.)

First up, “Hollaback Girl” oh sorry I meantCause A Ruckus” is Sun’s clubbing manifesto. Clad in shades and her “tight wifebeater”, she urges you to “leave your do’s and don’ts at home”. I was under the impression that the 10 Commandments are applicable everywhere, but what do I know, I’m not a pastor’s wife. Sun later contradicts herself with a command to “Do what I do,” which is rather alarming when followed by the tally of “one Tom, two Tom, three Tom, now four”. Which is a worse sin, fornication or bad pronunciation? But don’t worry, Sun, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, unless your US$100,000 media team[4. “In or around April 2009, a plan was conceptualised by Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han, Serina Wee Gek Yin and Tan Shao Yuen Sharon to transfer monies amounting to $600,000 donated by Wahju Hanafi to the Charity’s Building Fund via a “refund” of Building Fund donations into the MPA to meet some funding needs of the Project, which included US$100,000 (S$128,000) to finance a media team from Singapore to publicise and write about Sun Ho’s music career in the United States.” – Asiaone.] uploads your gluttony to Youtube.

Like I said at the start of this post, I am not in a position to judge whether the channelling of S$23 million from CHC funds in support of Sun’s US music career was properly or improperly done. However, after suffering through what that S$23 million might have paid for, I’m inclined to state that even if every single CHC member wrote in their own blood that their tithes should be spent on Sun’s US music career, the question remains how anyone keeping track of this musical turd parade could possibly believe it to be pursuing or achieving the goals of Project Crossover. I have no answer for this question, but perhaps Sun does. Enjoy the last clip.

If you are interested in this issue, you may want to read my follow-up post: Kong Hee Kong Si Mi??! Towkay Jesus and the Calvin Klein Crucifixion.

Uncle After Hours (Bridge Cafe Project, Singapore Arts Festival)

Uncles breaking out into song and dance in an ice cream café? The Bridge Café Project in the Singapore Arts Festival Village is one of those concepts that had me from hello. We dropped by on Saturday evening for dessert and some new dance moves for Alec, and were as charmed as we had expected to be. But I didn’t write this entry to tell you about the experience the ArtsFest intended us to have, but rather the unexpected delight that we happened to encounter later on – a collateral benefit, you could call it – when art left the Festival Village and seeped into life.

You should visit the Bridge Café Project yourself to enjoy the full 3D uncle experience, but if you can’t, there’s a video here. In case it isn’t already clear from the video, the appeal of the experience doesn’t lie in the finesse of their performances but in their unbridled enthusiasm. 

Dancing Bridge Cafe Project Uncles, Singapore Arts Festival

When the uncles aren’t performing, they are exceptionally snazzy café waiters.

Bridge Cafe Project Uncle, Singapore Arts Festival

But wait, you say – this entry wasn’t supposed to be about the café itself, but about some nebulous arty thing that happened afterwards! Get to it!

This is where I introduce you to my favourite Bridge Café Project uncle.

Bridge Cafe Project Uncle, Singapore Arts Festival

I don’t have any better photos of him because I was using a manual focus Minolta MC Rokkor-PF 58/1.4 lens with my Nex and let’s just say manually focusing on vigorous dancing uncles is not part of my photography skill set yet. But I hope it’s at least clear that he seems lovely.

After our ice cream we strolled through the flea market area of the Festival Village, and Favourite Uncle just happened to be at one of the stalls, playing a woodblock. Because he could, I suppose.

Later, we watched the kickass musicianship of Soumik Datta and Bernhard Schimpelsberger at the main stage, and once that was done we decided it was time to head home. A now-familiar figure stood at the bus stop, presumably on his own way home now that his duties at the café had ended for the night.

I don’t know if he knew I was filming him. While it would be reasonable to assume that anyone who signs up to burst into song and dance every twenty minutes in an ice cream café is unlikely to be a shrinking violet, he was not (here, or in the café) conspicuously extroverted or attention-seeking. He stood at the side of the bus stop facing away from the few other people there, not seeming particularly interested in the world beyond the umbrella and his fingertip. I wanted to tell him I had enjoyed his performance in the café, but because of this slight detachment I sensed from him, and my own shyness, I didn’t.

Our bus came and we got on. Favourite Uncle didn’t. Without wishing him too much of a delay before his bus arrived, I hope a few more people got to experience their own little moments of unlooked-for joy before he headed home for a well-deserved rest.