If Singapore were to stake territorial claim in the world of memes, it could rightfully do so with the motley crew of

  • Saw Phaik Hwa ,
  • Steven Lim,
  • Aaron Tan, and
  • Yam Ah Mee.

Here’s how each of them entered the hall of digital fame (or shame) – all thanks to the work of creative digeratis.


SMRT’s ‘Cleopatra’ – Saw Phaik Hwa

If there was one incident she could blame it on, it would be the service disruptions on Singapore’s MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) lines, which affected more than 127,000 commuters over a span of 2 weeks.

But former SMRT CEO Saw Phaik Hwa wasn’t the first figure shoved into the line of fire by netizens.

Initially, the attention was centered on one particular photo – that of a train cabin window smashed to smithereens by a fire extinguisher.

This iconic picture was just one of the many snapshots captured by commuters when the most serious incident occurred on Dec 15, 2011.


Within hours, the image spawned a series of parodies depicting the ‘real’ culprit who smashed the window, with the likes of Barney and the Red Bird from the ever-popular Rovio game Angry Birds popping up in forums and all over Facebook.

Be it (from left) the Red Bird from Angry Birds, Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, or Alien, netizens showed just how easy it was to take the ham out of the spate of train breakdowns.

So how did Saw come into the picture, literally? She has  Facebook vigilantes to thank for that.

Photos of SMRT’s annual dinner-and-dance surfaced online 2 months after it was held, showing Saw dressed as ancient Egyptian queen Cleopatra and adorned with jewels, topped off with her own crown.

Saw decked out in antediluvian garb, with servants to boot, in the Compass Ballroom at Resorts World Sentosa.

As if the get-up wasn’t lavish enough, the 55-year-old bachelorette was ferried about on a sedan by 8 half-naked men.


Despite being an ardent taichi practitioner, she could hardly fend off the many parodies online. The headline-making scene was superimposed onto various images on popular forums such as Hardwarezone. .

Taking a trip back to her ‘roots’ in Giza, escaping the dreaded Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) gantry and keeping dry amid the rapids gushing down the Niagara Falls, Saw’s image was exploited on local forum Hardwarezone.

Saw announced her resignation on Jan 6, less than 3 weeks after quashing rumours of an imminent exit. The SMRT breakdown fiasco may have left a huge dent in the reputation of the former DFS (Duty Free Singapore) regional president, but it’s also accorded her instant meme status among net-savvy Singaporeans, who will remember her as SMRT’s ‘Cleopatra’.


When police reports draw mockery – Steven Lim

It was the year 2004, when the debut season of Singapore Idol was being telecast on Channel 5. Thousands of wannabes thronged the audition studios for a shot at fame.

Along came a man with his rendition of Ricky Martin’s She Bangs. This time it wasn’t William Hung, but  then-28-year-old, Steven Lim, who stripped to his swimming trunks and pranced around. Not surprisingly, the act warranted a ‘get-out’ from judge Dick Lee.

Lim, prancing in front of the 4 Idol judges, before the moment when the towel fell, revealing his swimming trunks.

Fast-forward 7 years, and the Nanyang Polytechnic alumnus has ended up employing social media tools like YouTube and Facebook to achieve internet stardom.

His vlogs and music videos were spread around, attracting much derision from netizens. But the fad surrounding his antics died out in less than a week – until a fateful series of Facebook videos brought him into the spotlight once again.

Mischievous teens even started making sexually explicit prank calls to Lim’s cell phone in jest.

After reaching boiling point, Lim decided to make a call to the police – while recording the process on his Macbook. This act subjected him to the greatest amount of ridicule yet.

The video of Steven Lim calling the police garnered almost 500 comments and likes, with many commenters dissing his mispronunciations

But why would a seemingly innocuous police report attract so much derision? It was Lim’s now-famous verbal gaffe, “Good evening to bother you”, that started the teasing on Twitter. Then came embarrassing mispronunciations of sexual acts. Soon, ‘bro job’ and ‘dip troat’ were associated with the 35-year-old.

Adding to his misery, rising YouTube star Dee Kosh responded with a hyped-up vlog entitled “Steven Lim Calls The Police”, taking issue with Lim’s mangled pronunciation as well as his status as self-proclaimed ‘local celebrity’.

This infamous episode breathed life into a Facebook page entitled “Steven Lim Meme”, where colour-wheel image macros featuring cut-outs of the part-time performer’s face filled the Wall, complete with references to Lim’s idiosyncrasies.

This photo from the series of colour-wheel ‘Advice Animal’ image macros summarises the incident that brought Lim into the spotlight once again.

Well, if Lim’s quest for real-life fame never takes off, he’ll at least have the knowledge that his antics elevated him to meme status in 2011.

The big ‘wong-ning’ – Aaron Tan

If the year 2011 had a label, it’d probably be conferred the title of ‘Year of the pai kias [Hokkien for bad boys]”. First, the story of 14-year-old Adelyn Hosehbo came to light after she admitted her brazen act of theft and violence against her own mother, just for the sake of a $1,000 Louis Vuitton bag.

Then, tales of a pregnant 15-year-old bragging about her new baby bump on Facebook caused a stir throughout the blogosphere.

But it was 18-year-old Aaron Tan who stole the headlines. In a self-filmed video, Tan threatened a 14-year-old boy, Ryan, for allegedly making advances towards his girlfriend Nina. Tan even offered a $100 ‘bounty’ for anybody who could find Ryan, whom he wanted to ‘settle a score with’.


What seemed like a genuine cause for concern progressively degraded into a running joke of its own due to Tan’s unfortunate mispronunciations.

Just like Steven Lim, he simply couldn’t get his tongue around the letter ‘L’.

Prease [sic] hor!” became a hot new catchphrase, together with “I wong [ warn] you first”.

Although Nina later revealed that her ‘relationship’ with Ryan was a ruse to make the clingy Tan let go of her, he didn’t let up with this clarification.

Popular blogger mrbrown parodied Tan on his YouTube channel, making a fictitious wager with an imaginary teenager who tried to, in his own words, “kao his zha bor” (seduce his woman).


Following in the footsteps of Steven Lim, Tan’s self-made fiasco inspired netizens to start an Advice Animal series of ‘Aaron Tan the angry beng’ image macros, making jibes at his language skills and anticipating other words he might mispronounce.

A netizen’s interpretation of how Tan would probably sing the classic Christmas ditty, ‘Jingle Bells’.


In response to this slew of wannabe bad kids ruffling feathers on the Internet, I have just one question: Prease hor, what will it take before pai kias stop using the internet as their vanity stage?

As Yam-my as can be – Yam Ah Mee

UrbanWire first ran its very own story on Returning Officer Yam Ah Mee’s popularity in May 2011, garnering the site’s highest viewership in a single day in 2011.

No matter which end of the political spectrum Singaporeans belonged to, they were united in lavishing their idolatry on the 54-year-old.

Yam Ah Mee, the Returning Officer who became “Yam Ah MEmE”.

The craze started out as a sign of bewilderment and disbelief towards Yam’s monotonous style of speech and calm demeanour, despite the fact that the heart-stopping results for Singapore’s 11th parliamentary general election spilled into the wee hours of the morning. Even his never-shifting, Brylcreem-inspired hairstyle became a talking point.

Club remixes of his voice soon broke into the fray, together with hilarious representations of Yam as various movie characters, endorsing products and in movie poster parodies.

3 months after the general elections, Yam was to find that his fame still hadn’t died down.

At the People’s Association Headquarters on Nomination Day for the presidential elections, crowds of supporters could be heard chanting his name as he announced the first 4-cornered fight for the presidency.

And, possibly for the final time until the 2016 general elections, Yam declared Dr Tony Tan as Singapore’s 7th President almost 5 hours past the stroke of midnight on Aug 28.

There, netizens gave the Chief Executive Director of the People’s Association his biggest 2011 swansong, pushing him to become a trending topic on Twitter. Even youths voted him for Best OMG! Moment in the m:idea Youth Choice Awards 2012.

Even the producer of the GE Club Mix, FallenSuperhero, took to the keyboards once again for a brand new PE Club Mix.

With Yam Ah Mee being confirmed as a legitimate meme on internet meme encyclopedia Know Your Meme, the former brigadier-general has successfully clinched the title as the first Returning Officer ever to be made a meme.