Every time popular Taiwanese getai singer Hao Hao gets a haircut at his usual salon in Orchard, he gets a 50 per cent discount, paying only $100 instead of the usual $200.
When he signed up for a facial package recently, the beautician also gave him "a small discount", before throwing in two extra bottles of facial toner, free of charge.
Such perks come unsolicited, says the 32-year-old Singapore-based star, who adds that they are offered likely because he is a known figure.
He says: "I never ask for these kinds of things. It's not right to ask for them. But the stores will offer the perks to me, and when they do it with sincerity, it's really very hard to say no. They'll be offended because they'll think I don't appreciate what they're doing for me."
He is certainly not the only public figure who gets such unsolicited benefits.
Last week, Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng sparked controversy when he posted a picture on Facebook of his nasi padang meal, saying that it cost him $2.50. A netizen claimed he paid $6 for the same dish, which stirred online debate that the MP had received preferential treatment.
Mr Baey subsequently tried to clear the air in a Chinese-language column in MyPaper newspaper last Tuesday, in which he wrote that the stall owner had said that his staff had recognised him and given him a discount out of goodwill.
A quick check with celebrities here showed that such situations of unsolicited perks arise often, whether it is a nice shopping discount or free food when dining out.
Veteran actor Richard Low, 61, says that when he visits popular stalls at hawker centres, he gets special treatment "about half the time".
For example, he never has to join the snaking queues at the popular hawker stalls Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee at Old Airport Road or the famous Holland Village XO Fish Head Bee Hun stall, now located at Dover Crescent.
Says the actor: "The hawkers recognised me and took the initiative to give me their mobile phone numbers, and told me that I don't have to queue whenever I go to eat there. They said that I can just call them ahead to order my food and pick it up later."
He says that he does not make use of this special service often, especially not when he is ordering food to eat in.
"If I'm just picking it up and taking it away, it doesn't look strange. But if I just show up and take the specially prepared food in front of all those people and then eat it right in front of them, they will know that it's preferential treatment.
"The hawker at the lor mee stall knows this concern of mine, and actually told me to quietly sit further away, and then he'll deliver the food to me."
TV host Dasmond Koh, 41, recalls the time when he discovered extra ingredients in his bowl of fish ball noodles from a coffee shop stall in the Bukit Timah area.
He says: "The stall owner completely did not show any indication that he recognised me when I placed my order, but when I got my bowl, he had put in six fish balls instead of two. The lady next to me saw and asked whether she could 'top up' the fish balls in her bowl like mine, but the stall owner flat-out said no.
"I was so shocked and felt so paiseh (Hokkien for embarrassed) that I never went back to the stall again."
Actress-director Michelle Chong, 36, says she gets "discounts and freebies at restaurants a lot".
Typically, she does not reject those offers "because it is a sign of goodwill", and she will also take pictures of the food and post them on Facebook or Instagram to give them credit.
"But when hawkers want to treat me to free food or drinks, I will insist on paying because I think they don't earn much," she says.
Aside from perks at eateries, celebrities say that they get benefits elsewhere too.
TV host Lee Teng, 29, received a free taxi ride just last month.
He says: "The uncle said he watches my shows, and told me that I wouldn't have to pay the fare, which was about $7. I tried to insist on paying but he refused to let me pay."
Actor Low says taxi ride discounts happen "very often" for him.
"Every few months, a cabby will say that I don't have to pay, but I always reject his offer. The fare is generally about $20 from my house to the MediaCorp TV station, which I think is a lot - cabbies are making a living after all. But they always insist. So, after much haggling, they will finally allow me to pay a token sum of about $10."
Singer and Singapore Idol Season 3 winner Sezairi Sezali, 25, received "such a really good deal" on a guitar at a shop in Excelsior Shopping Centre once that he got to talking with the store owner. He adds: "We became friends and on my birthday, the shop even gifted a product to me."
Getai singer and actor Wang Weiliang of movie Ah Boys To Men (2012) fame, recalls with a chuckle his unprompted discount when buying a movie ticket recently.
He says: "I went to buy a ticket for The White Storm, and the cashier asked me if I had any Passion card or a credit card from a certain bank to get a discount. I told her I didn't, and she then whipped out her own card and said she would get the discount for me."
In other instances, the perks are not tangible. MediaCorp actor Desmond Tan, 27, who made his showbusiness debut in 2007, says that there is a "clear difference" between the way he is treated now, compared with before he joined the industry.
"When I am in a queue waiting to be served, for example, the staff at the shop will notice me and bother to make eye contact with me and give me a really warm smile - and this happens all the time. Before I became an actor, they would not have bothered to do that.
"Just one smile makes a big difference. You can sense their warmth, and it makes me feel really happy."
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Dec 22, 2013
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