“$2.80 for a breakfast set? It’s ridiculous, you know?”

To be fair, our choice of breakfast venue isn’t the most economical. Lau Pa Sat on a Tuesday morning calls to mind white-collar bankers and tourists overdressed for the weather, not a student and an energetic retiree.

Not just any retiree, mind you. Loh Wai Poon, 63, is one of the most active Facebook users in the comments section of articles by The Straits Times.

“At least their service not bad. Sometimes really very bad one, you know?”

Dressed in a checkered shirt and oval glasses, Loh is every bit the caricature that netizens have come to term the “Facebook uncle” – an outspoken, middle-aged local male who seems to be awake at all hours of the day and has an opinion on everything the newsroom produces.

The former aviation engineer now spends his time volunteering with the People’s Association, guiding school tours to Southeast Asian countries, and doting on his one-year-old grandson.

We occupy an entire table for six by ourselves, simply because we can. The iconic food centre is not crowded, at least not before the lunch hour begins at 12.

“My weekday is busier than my weekend. I’m going to a birthday party after this, you know.”

He knocks one of two soft-boiled eggs on the table. He tries it again. (I would eventually count 11 loud knocks while transcribing the voice memo of this interview.)

He succeeds on the twelfth knock, spilling runny yolk all over his black Amway messenger bag.

Aiyo, you got tissue? Thank you, thank you.”

A “Facebook Uncle” is born

Similarly, hard knocks and a sudden plunge into a new world was how Loh began as a “Facebook uncle”.

In 2013, Baey Yam Keng was caught in an online furore regarding the supposed $2.50 he paid for a plate of nasi padang in a coffee shop at Tampines Block 475, where he is the incumbent MP.

Netizens were quick to jump on accusations that the stall owner had charged the MP a preferential price, and raised concerns about policymakers’ alleged disconnect from the public cost of living.

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“People were saying ‘It cannot be so cheap! Is the MP trying to bully the stall owner?’ There was an argument, and this commenter was using all sorts of things to slander Baey Yam Keng.”

“So I put in my few words, and he attacked me! I very angry you know, I went to see Baey Yam Keng, who is my MP. He say ‘Ignore it, ignore it.’” But to me, you must counter. You cannot allow a lie to continue, it’s not fair what. I didn’t do it.”

“Anyway, I went to the police post to complain. Nothing happen! How to find him? He was using a fake name, he’s using a picture of Jesus Christ (as his profile picture)! Wah lan. Cannot find him one!”

“I learnt something. If you want to fight fake news, the only way is to deal with it directly. That’s the only way out, you have to fight them. Gun for gun, like a shootout. It actually works for me. I am defending myself against what you are saying about me.”

2018-03-22 (2)

What prompts a Loh Wai Poon Facebook Comment™?

I am curious about the issues that are worthy of a Loh Wai Poon Facebook Comment™, and those that are not.

“I am a social person. For me, I want Singaporeans to be more social-conscious (society-minded), things like NS, tax hike. I want people to speak up about issues that affect everybody – give your two cents’ worth. Eventually, it will work, you know? If everyone starts caring, the Government will see. They will want to do something about it.”

I press in harder. What is a recent issue that has prompted a characteristic lengthy response from Loh?

“The most recent one will definitely be the new Prime Minister. This issue has gone on for so long. We need to have a clear cut PM.”

“The next PM should be known to us as soon as possible. Don’t drag, don’t drag! The sooner we appoint this person, the sooner he can prepare himself.”

“A lot of people think, ‘PAP too presumptuous’, but I think as a political party, they are being pragmatic. To say that PAP will lose their majority in Parliament in the next election, is like 痴人说梦 (dreams of a madman), you know?”

The Straits Times’ #1 Fan

I ask for Loh’s thoughts on print media in Singapore. Is print really as doomed as many make it out to be?

“Journalism ah? Definitely becoming more liberalised. All along we have been too tight. We can only go one way. You can say that ST is becoming more open. People becoming more relax. Millennials are taking over what. Yall think differently.”

“Online content is always going to be years ahead of your print media. People are doing Step 10, we are still arguing over Step 5, you know? Cannot, right?”

“We are becoming more and more like a mature democracy. We’ve been around like half a century already. So we cannot be like in the 60’s.”

“I seldom read CNA (Channel NewsAsia) or TODAY, only ST. I subscribe to ST, and I read the NOW tab on the app. I want the now. I read the incoming, developing news, like, you know, got hijack or what.”

The Straits Times Comments Section Facebook Page

“I used to write to the forum.”

No, I say, this is not The Straits Times, this is a parody Facebook page. They take screenshots of trolls in the comments and share them.

2018-03-22

Loh doesn’t understand and continues with his line of thought.

“Nowadays, I always comment on the Facebook. I think they (ST) realise that the Forum is too slow, take three days to publish. If they don’t want to publish, they don’t tell you also. They ask me for permission, they ask to edit, but in the end, never publish.”

It seems Loh doesn’t know he’s famous.

Loh Wai Poon, the influencer?

“I don’t like to go to my page and post, I just comment. I’m not interested in building a following. I see something, I think whether right or wrong, and I comment on it.”

“I’m not interested in building a following, like some people earn money, like a blogger. You know, I say something, you have to pay me. They becoming something like a spokesman. But I don’t like this kind of thing ah, I think it’s not right.”

“I heard some people can make a living by doing social media, like a sort of celebrity. It’s not a genuine thing, if you have to think of what your paymaster think. They lose the respect of followers.”

Loh Wai Poon, the politician?

“(The ageing population) will become a bigger and bigger issue as my generation pass by. My generation will be around for another quarter century. The ageing issue will be a bigger issue in the coming elections. It’s a lot of people, can shift the political landscape easily.”

“Somebody already set up a party called Singaporeans First, maybe next time got a party called ‘Senior Citizens First’?”

Lunch hour

We’ve been sat for an hour, and Loh’s kopi-c has turned cold. The lunch crowd has begun spilling in, and an elderly cleaner has been nervously eyeing Loh’s tray for the past twenty minutes.

“When I think I am right, I take a stand. I support PAP sometimes, I support WP sometimes, but I am never going to be a political party member. Certain things that I am passionate about, I try to be distant. I like to be a commentator.”

“A lot of people tell me ‘You talk so much, why don’t you go into politics?’ But if I go into politics, I cannot comment on anything already. Because whatever I comment will become the party’s comment.”

“Not everybody likes to be a politician. I like to comment. I like to be as free as I can. I don’t like having my hands tied.”

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