Humour: Otak-otak man is my wife's fishball stick

My wife has a "nose problem".

Which is to say, she is highly sensitive to polluted air.

One whiff of something disagreeable and she would complain of a runny nose for days.

Which is why when I pass gas around her, I make sure that it's as loud as possible to warn her of the impending olfactory assault.

I reserve my silent killers for other people.

That's what makes me the best husband in the world.

Her nose problem also makes me dread this time of year.

Because of the Hungry Ghost Festival, people are burning stuff near our block.

As we live on a low floor, the smoke gets into our flat, which irritates my wife's nose, which irritates me because I hear her complain about it every year. I would almost rather be haunted by actual hungry ghosts.

My wife can get pretty fired up when her nose problem flares up.

A couple of years ago, someone started grilling and selling otak-otak on a makeshift grill at our block.

The smell really got to her.

Unlike the mass public incinerations during the Hungry Ghost Festival, cooking and hawking food in the open void deck were against the law - or so she believed.

She decided to do something about it. She called the police.

Although it was a nasal emergency, illegal otak-otak wasn't exactly life and death.

So she didn't call triple nine, also the name of the local 90s TV cop show that people still remember actress-turned-fitness entrepreneur and Allan Wu's ex-wife Wong Li-Lin for.

Instead, my ball-and-chain called the neighbourhood police post hotline, expecting someone (not necessarily Wong) to be sent over immediately to arrest the unlawful otak-otak man.

But after grilling my wife for the exact location the unlawful otak-otak man was peddling his illegal grilled fish products (was it in the void deck or on the walkway?), the police told her to call the town council.

So with her nose problem getting worse by the minute, my wife called the town council.

After hearing about the unlawful otak-otak man, the woman at the town council told my wife to call the police.

That was when my wife lost it.

She said she had already called the police who told her to call the town council. And now the town council wanted her to call the police? Relenting, the woman at the town council said she would send someone over (most likely not Wong), but also told my wife to contact the National Environment Agency (NEA).

So for one errant otak-otak seller, my wife was told to contact three different government agencies.

Whatever happened to the No Wrong Door policy?

The policy was introduced on Aug 12, 2004, by then Senior Minister of State for Health and Information, Communications and the Arts Balaji Sadasivan.

He said: "Many a time, when faced with an issue that did not belong to an agency's purview, the agency would simply tell the citizen that he was knocking on the wrong door, and the poor citizen might have to go from door to door until he found the right one."

With the No Wrong Door policy, the civil servant receiving the call is supposed to contact all the relevant agencies and come up with a concerted response.

Then in 2012, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean introduced the First Responder Protocol - supposedly an enhancement of the No Wrong Door policy - where the first agency that gets the call must diagnose the problem and draw the required expertise across the agencies to coordinate an effective response.

But that didn't happen with my wife.

The otak-otak man kept returning.

Apparently, that also didn't happen with South West District Mayor Low Yen Ling recently - except her otak-otak man was a fishball stick.

At the National Day Rally last Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong related how the mayor "had to make multiple calls to several agencies" to find out why a stray fishball stick wasn't cleared from a public walkway.

As he explained: "On the left of the walkway is a slope. The slope belongs to NEA, okay? In the middle, this is a park connector… (It) belongs to NParks.

"On the right-hand side is a pavement. Pavement is next to the road, road comes under LTA."

Sound familiar?

The PM then announced the setting up of a Municipal Services Office (MSO) to tackle this problem.

My question is, how do they know it's a fishball stick?

It could have been a sotong head stick from Old Chang Kee. Or a Korean meatball stick from Dong Dae Mun. Without the attached food, don't all these sticks look alike?

My other question is, with the new MSO, is the PM pretty much acknowledging that the 10-year-old No Wrong Door policy is a flop?

As far as my wife's nose was concerned, it certainly smelled like one.

The otak-otak man eventually moved on to sell his food elsewhere in our area, but I haven't seen him for months.

I dare not tell my wife that I actually bought otak-otak from the guy a few times.

Does that make me the worst husband in the world?

Hey, three for $2 is a good deal.

At least otak-otak doesn't give me gas.

This article was published on Aug 24 in The New Paper.

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