Straits Times Editor Sumiko Tan

Sumiko Tan is a household name in Singapore. She’s widely recognised by many, not only to the diminishing number of people who actually read The Straits Times.

Ms Tan, who is the paper’s executive editor, now hosts a new series in The Sunday Times titled “Lunch with Sumiko”. The debut column featured Education Minister (Higher Education and Skills) Ong Ye Kung, where she asked burning questions of national importance; like Mr Ong’s policy towards horlicks ice-cream.

She managed to repeat this cutting-edge journalism in her second interview with Michael Kors, making the American fashion designer sound as interesting as a cement-mixer stuck in a traffic jam on the CTE.

Sumiko’s Career

Sumiko’s early career was no doubt impressive. She was a crime reporter, worked at the political desk and, on various occasions, took on the role of Life! Editor, Sunday Times Editor, News Editor, Digital Editor and Deputy Editor. She has risen rapidly through the ranks, and the 53-year-old is now the executive editor of The Straits Times.

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Singapore’s Carrie Bradshaw?

But the biggest reason why Ms Tan is so recognisable to the general public is due to her column, a remarkably long-lived one that has enthralled the nation for years. Readers lived vicariously through Ms Tan, as she documented exhilarating life milestones like trying online shopping for the first time. Some fans would argue that with that post, she single-handedly created e-commerce as we know it today. Others would point out that it was written in June 2016, 10 years too late. But haters gonna hate!

Her column has been a constant in Singapore’s literary scene, chronicling her life from swinging single to married woman. It also earned her the nickname of “Singapore’s Carrie Bradshaw” – referring to the columnist heroine of classic HBO series Sex And The City, who like Ms Tan, was single for a loooooong time before getting married at a ripe old age.

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But her column is a double-edged sword: While it propelled her into the consciousness of Singaporeans, it’s also where most of the ridicule directed at her stems from – apart from the fact that she’s arguably the most public face of an unpopular publication.

So what’s so bad about her column?

Some of her works remind us of a young adult’s diary peppered with first-world problems – except that it’s on the front page of Singapore’s biggest newspaper and not her personal blog.

What worries us is how this frivolous style of reporting has made its way out of her columns and into her interviews with important people. So if you have a penchant for discovering a minister’s favourite ice-cream flavour instead of his policies, Ms Tan’s Pulitzer-winning pieces are right up your alley. Instead of asking Michael Kors about what he thinks about the local fashion scene, you’ll learn how she spent a paragraph neurosing over whether he noticed her outfit.

Here are 10 articles by Sumiko Tan, curated for your reading pleasure.

1. How She Handled The Ex-wife

In this eye-opening article, headlined by AsiaOne as ST writer Sumiko Tan no longer affected by husband’s ex-wife, Ms Tan opens with:

After nearly five years of marriage, I am no longer so affected by The Ex.

She recalls being threatened by her husband’s ex-wife, simply due to the woman’s existence. Ouch. So instead of speaking to her in a civil manner like the professional career woman that she is, she decides to:

  1. Wear sunglasses in the winter
  2. Feign a headache
  3. Hide in the toilet.

Ex-wife 1, Sumiko Tan 0.

2. The Day She Started Using Emojis

In a scintillating 2015 article, Ms Tan, displaying the enthusiasm of a woman 40 years younger, decides to chronicle the moment she started using emojis. This calls for front page news, as other women of her age may not even know how to use Whatsapp.

I never thought this day would come, but I’m now a frequent user of emojis.

We never thought this day would come either – a Straits Times editor writing about emojis.

Of the 12 icons listed, 14 are uplifting ones – hearts in various shapes, sizes and colors, a smiley face, a sunflower, a dog, a kiss, a balloon and a party hat.There are only four unhappy icons – a tired face, grimacing face, shocked face and pouting face.Three are neutral – an old woman, a drop of water and an airplane.

That took us back to our academic days, when we were forced to reach our essay’s required word count with unnecessary word vomit.

Ms Tan continues to talk about how convenient emojis are, and when she uses them.

It’s been years since people have been using emojis, but if you’ve yet to grasp this alien concept, refer to Ms Tan’s groundbreaking piece, titled: ‘How To Use Emojis Plus A Breakdown of When I Use Them (Shout Out To My Husband, H!).”  You don’t often come across articles with the power to lower the world’s collective IQ.

3. The Time She Almost Got An Oven

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This story revolves around an oven and Ms Tan’s dreams of owning one — are you sitting on the edge of your seat yet?

It starts with mysterious heat that was coming through the kitchen floor. Turns out it was a leaking hot water pipe – so Ms Tan thought she should take the opportunity to install an oven.

It’s strange, I know, almost like saying I have never had a washing machine because who doesn’t have an oven in Singapore?

Hollywood could come knocking any second now to buy the rights to turn this instant literary classic into a movie.

“The Oven.”

4. The Time She Requested Help For Her Double Eye Bags

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All those early mornings and late nights must have finally gotten the best of her. However, to the majority of the general public who will never see Ms Tan face-to-face, we can hardly suppress our indifference.

Regardless, we’ve found a solution for this incurable disease that has stumped the great Sumiko Tan to the point of deciding to ask the nation for help.

It’s called Let Me Google That For You. p.s it may be good practice to do this before writing articles!

5. The Time She Talked About Her Relationship With Her Mum

Grab your popcorn because Ms Tan decided to come up with an article about how her marriage has affected her relationship with her mother, all because she was too lazy to move out after being unmarried for so long.

While it could have been an thought-provoking piece about mother-daughter relationships and how they’ve grown through different stages in life, she chooses to instead emphasise her own lack of motherhood like this:

It must be tough being a mum.

I don’t mean to trivialise the issue, but the closest I am to being a mother is to my dogs.

When she finally gets around to talking about her mother, it’s more about her mother’s awkward relationship with her husband (who lives with them) than with her.

For an article supposedly about her mother, this is the only indication of their actual relationship:

We’re not a touchy-feely family – I can hug my friends and even strangers but not my family – but we were close. I confided all my relationship woes in her.

Terms of Endearment, this isn’t.

6. The Time She Played Pokemon Go

We’re not sure why she’s proud of revealing to people that she plays Pokemon Go, other than the fact that it makes her feel young.

There are two gyms near where I live. One is a waterfall feature at the entrance of a condominium, and the other is a church. I visited both and, after much frantic tapping on my phone, have managed to control the gyms on three or four occasions (I’m in Team Mystic.)

We were at Millenia Walk one Sunday when, taking the escalator up to Harvey Norman, Dragonite appeared on his screen. I was trailing behind him (heading to a PokeStop outside the building actually) and he beckoned to me. Alas, Dragonite – an elusive Pokemon – was nowhere to be found when I got there.

We’ve only got one word to say, its a 21st-century slang and in this context, it couldn’t be more apt.

Stahp.

7. The Time She Explained Her Eating Habits

In this article, Ms Tan spoke of shark’s fin and her late father’s obsession with the expensive dish. She also revealed that as a kid, she had “shark’s fin soup coming out of her [my] ears”.

What message was she trying to convey? Whatever it was, we don’t think it would endear her to the general public, who don’t have shark’s fin soup coming out of their ears.

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She then spoke of how she’d never order shark’s fin soup for herself – but it’s not so much because of anti-shark’s fin lobbying.

It’s because she’s still sick of it, as she had consumed so much of it when she was young.

Brava, Ms Tan, for channeling Marie Antoinette and her famous “Let Them Eat Cake” statement.

She then goes on to say that she will eat shark’s fin if it is served to her – spoken like a true French queen.

8. The Time She Complained About Holidays

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Many people wish they could go on holiday as Ms Tan, who gets to go on many of them. But instead of enjoying her holiday, she writes an article with incessant complaints about the inefficiency of the Singapore Airlines website, mismatched clothes she packed into her suitcase, the amount of stress that goes into preparing for a holiday, the nostalgia for the just-ended vacation that looms over her when she returns… you get the gist of it.

While we can relate to the part of feeling nostalgic, the complaints are intolerable. Surely she’s aware of the number of Singaporeans who can’t afford to go on a holiday, no matter how hard they work?

I don’t know about you but I find the run-up to a holiday such a drag.

Better still, to add salt into the wound, she sees fit to critique the dress sense of those she leaves behind in Singapore while she is on her latest sojourn to Tokyo and Hong Kong.

Whenever I come back from Tokyo and Hong Kong, for example, I always feel dissatisfied at Singaporeans’ fashion sense – or lack of – mine included.

Add this to “Sumiko’s List of First World Problems”.

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Thankfully, the digital copy was given a different title: Surviving a holiday.

9. The Time Her Bones Ached

We have a winner. This has got to be the most painful article we’ve read.

Everyone ages, Ms Tan is no exception, even though we may like to think of her as some ageless vampire queen.

I’ve got lumbar scoliosis, which is curvature of the lower spine….
I tested negative for indicators of rheumatoid arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis…
I also have trendelenburg gait, causing the right side of my spine to collapse, impinging on nerves and resulting in referred pain.

This feels very much like a one-man show monologue at a sleazy theater in New York  that no one shows up for. And instead of musing about the vagaries of age and the effect it has on older women, she blames the Internet for giving her too much information and making her mind run wild:

When it comes to my health, I am often over-anxious, pessimistic and convinced the worst will happen.

I blame it on the Internet.

There’s so much information about diseases, not only from websites like webMD and Mayo Clinic but everywhere from women’s to fitness, news and entertainment sites.

Dear Ms Tan, it’s not the Internet making your mind run wild, it’s your mind making your mind run wild.

10.  The Time She Confronted Middle Age

She does confront Father Time in this, another self-indulgent article about herself.

The 8 points she talked about in her as-per-usual rambling, lengthy write-up are as follows:

1. My poor aching body
2. Obsession with health matters
3. Seeing danger everywhere
4. The long bedtime ritual
5. Preoccupation with footwear
6. Fashion posers
7. Looking longingly at old photos of myself
8. More open-minded

In case you didn’t get the memo: Sumiko Tan is going through a mid-life crisis, and possibly, menopause.

But on hindsight, this article isn’t too bad. We were taken down memory lane with this piece, as she talks about how easily she lost weight and was seen as a “fresh daisy” back in the day.

Thanks for the reminder Ms Tan, we would’ve forgotten how youthful and vibrant you used to be otherwise.

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More, Please

Please do not glean from this article that we dislike Ms Sumiko Tan. In fact, we think that she is an inspiration: She’s a living example of a successful career-oriented woman that still managed to get married at a golden age. According to ST, her life is an issue of national importance; and as trite as her articles might be, we respect how far the lady has come.

Hate her all you want, but she has reached a level of success that many journalists and aspiring writers would strive for. Nothing better than exposing your first-world problems to the nation while getting paid for it.

This post was brought to you by not Sumiko Tan.