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Tickled by chopsticks and a 'helpless' hubby

Artist's tribute to S'pore sets Internet ablaze, thanks to her use of an unusual medium

MAD FOR THE MERLION

A Malaysia-born artist's tribute to Singapore is making a splash online.

Hong Yi, otherwise known by her nickname Red, was tasked by Facebook recently to create a mural for a 10m-long cafeteria wall in its Singapore office using nothing but chopsticks.

"I wanted to experiment with alternative methods to create a mural, so instead of painting on the wall, I decided to set it ablaze," she tells The Sunday Times.

With the help of her team, she glued, blow-torched and layered 15,000 bamboo chopsticks to depict the Singapore story.


Hong Yi, who was tasked by Facebook recently to create a mural for a 10m-long cafeteria wall in its Singapore office using nothing but chopsticks, decided to set the bamboo eating implements ablaze instead of simply painting on them. PHOTO: HONG YI

The mythological half-lion, half-fish Merlion is seen smiling, while buildings and constructs, both new and old, lie nestled within its body.

"The guardian of Singapore has protected the country from waves, storms and enemies from its early days as a village to where it is now," she says. "Filled with optimism and confidence, the Merlion looks forward into the future, bringing Singapore along with it."

Her unflinching optimism seems to have struck a chord. A two-minute video of the entire process was uploaded last Wednesday. Since then, it has been viewed more than 1.4 million times, and picked up more than 48,000 likes, comments and shares.

Her inspiration stems from the close ties she has to the Republic, she tells The Sunday Times in an e-mail interview.

Hong says she has vivid memories of visiting the zoo and bird park here when she was a child. She also remembers hunting for stickers in the shopping malls. "As a kid, Singapore meant wonderful stickers," she says.


A Taiwanese couple’s spoof of popular Instagram meme #FollowMeTo had netizens laughing out loud last week. PHOTO: FORREST LU

The Merlion is not Hong's first foray in using challenging materials to create art.

Past works include using 20,000 teabags to create a "teh tarik man" at the World Economic Forum and sprinkling 100,000 sunflower seeds in an old alley in Shanghai to make a portrait of dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Asked about how she felt about her latest work, Hong said: "As a neighbour from Malaysia, I'm so proud to see where Singapore is today - the country has come so far in the last 60 years. I am hopeful for even better things to come."

HOLD MY HAND, NOT MY HEAD

Heard of the popular Instagram hashtag #FollowMeTo?

It was started by a creative couple - Murad and Nataly Osmann - back in 2011 as a means to showcase the places they have been to.

The images follow a tried-and- true format: A man, with his arm outstretched, is being led to by a woman heading out to some far-flung, exotic, heartbreakingly beautiful location.

The Osmanns have about five million followers on their Instagram accounts.

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But a Taiwanese couple have put their own hilarious spin to the meme on their recent trip to Hawaii.

Instead of holding hands like a pair of helpless romantics, the woman is photographed "dragging" the man around by his hair, ears or nose. The caption, written by one Forrest Lu, says: "Dear wife, you have to hold my hand, not my head."

The photos have been covered widely by Chinese humour sites.

Netizens seem to enjoy this "change of pace", with many users humorously stating that this would now be one of their "relationship goals".

MANUFACTURING COMMENTS?

The Fifty Cent Party has long been suspected to be a tool of the Chinese government to control opinions on social media.

These netizens, so-called because they are believed to be paid 50 cents per post, are typically pro-government and vehemently argue against sceptics online.

But a recent study based on leaked data from China's Internet Propaganda Office revealed that their modus operandi might be far subtler.

The work of Harvard University researchers Gary King, Jennifer Pan and Margaret Roberts posits that the Fifty Cent Party, rather than engaging other users on controversial issues, seeks to distract instead.

"The goal of this massive secretive operation is to regularly distract the public and change the subject, as most of the these posts involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime," the researchers said.

The study also found that the Fifty Cent Party members are not, as previously claimed, ordinary citizens paid piecemeal for their work, but comprise mostly government employees who "contribute" part-time outside their regular jobs.

They are prolific. Each year, this group puts up about 488 million social media posts on behalf of the government.

More than half of these comments can be found on government sites, the study suggests, and the frequency of posts goes up during politically sensitive periods such as Communist party meetings and outbreaks of unrest.

The authors, however, do admit that their theories are not absolute as the data was extrapolated from a specific tranche of leaked data. This means it is highly possible that there are other organisations out there which adhere to a different set of rules.

But even taken with a pinch of salt, the findings are certainly food for thought.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 22, 2016, with the headline 'Tickled by chopsticks and a 'helpless' hubby'. Print Edition | Subscribe