Mr George Yeo’s loss of the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency. Tin Pei Ling’s alleged flouting of Cooling Off Day Rules. Mr and Mrs Chiam See Tong’s respective electoral defeats in Bishan Toa Payoh GRC and Potong Pasir Single Member Constituency. Tweets, Facebook posts and blog entries were rambling on incessantly about these hottest topics on local netizens’ minds.
Then, out of the blue, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, following the results of Singapore’s 16th general election, an unlikely star stood out – Yam Ah Mee.
Unlike headline-making figures like opposition leader Low Thia Khiang and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Yam himself is no politician. Instead, the 54-year-old was merely the Returning Officer of the Elections Department, appointed by the Prime Minister himself.
But how did the man, whose day job is being Chief Executive Director of the People’s Association rise to such unprecedented fame, becoming the 5th and 2nd most searched keyword on Google for Sunday and Monday respectively?
To begin with, Yam’s role in the general election was no small feat. The responsibility of relaying the results of voters’ ballots on Polling Night lay on his shoulders.
Amid the frantic speculation among political watchdogs and netizens, up on the podium Yam stepped for the moments of truth. “Pursuant to Section 49, Subsection 7E, Paragraph A of the Parliamentary Elections Act: I declare…”
Yam’s seeming emotionless, slow and monotonous delivery of the long-awaited bits of news garnered more attention than the results themselves. As if to bring humour to the sometimes depressing news, out came hilariously cringe-inducing mispronunciations of political candidates’ names.
Newly elected Workers’ Party candidate Sylvia Lim saw her name mangled into “Silver Lim”, while Minister of State for Education and Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli was called “Masagos Chukifree“. Even the man who appointed him, PM Lee, wasn’t spared. “Lee Hsien Loon” was the name audiences heard, when the results for Ang Mo Kio GRC were read out.
Still, it appears that Yam has been adored more than hated, whether truthfully or cynically, by Facebook users. The sudden spurt of interest in the former army Brigadier-General saw Yam gathering more than 30,000 fans on Facebook, half the number of fans uber popular National Solidarity Party candidate Nicole Seah gained in a month, in a mere 12 hours of the page’s creation.
The former Land Transport Authority chief was brought into more attention by political satirist Lee Kin Mun, better known as mrbrown, when the latter posted on his blog, “I think you will agree with me when I say the Man of the Hour is Returning Officer, Yam Ah Mee, a.k.a. Robocop a.k.a. Justice Bao.”
As if in acknowledgement to Lee’s branding of Yam as the cyborg police officer in the 1987 film, creative netizens started posting up musical remixes, making use of pitch-correcting software Auto-Tune to create, or rather enhance the already inherent robotic tone of Yam’s voice. Others, like YouTuberFallenSuperheroSG, went to the extent of creating a club remix, attracting more than 100,000 views in a day.
For Facebook users armed with photoshopping tools, there was no stopping hordes of these fans as they worked to post pictorial parodies, pointing out every detail exhibited by Yam. They compared his deadpan expression to former Best Actor-award winning MediaCorp actor Xie Shaoguang and satirically attributed the greasy look of his hair, combed with a centre-parting, to the now obscure hairstyling beeswax product Brylcreem.
Others chose their random brand of humour, placing his face on bottle labels of medicated oil, preserved plum snack packets and even a parody of canned-food brand Ayam Brand.
The explosion of Yam’s fame soon caught on with local print media, with mypaper and Chinese tabloid Lianhe Wanbao catching on onto the story. Rocketboom’s Internet meme portal Know Your Meme saw the article Yam Ah Mee, Returning Officer Extraordinaire as its latest entry.
Apart from the numerous remixes and parodies, comments on Yam’s Facebook fan pages and personal Facebook account stood out. On a new fanpage entitled “Yam Ah Mee for President”, fans made puns on his name even more obvious. “If YAM ran for President, his campaign slogan would be “You gentlemen of Singapore have served the army. Now, the Ah Mee serves you,” a fan wrote.
Others made comically cynical jibes, like Facebook user Alfian Zul, 27, who said, “Sir, if U r going to be a newscaster,I will definitely not miss the news anymore.” Fellow Facebook user Jared Chan garnered more than 1,000 responses to his satirical poll on what future roles Yam could adopt, ranging from MRT announcer to marriage solemnniser. Some even suggested that Yam host the annual National Day Parade.
The meme finally burst its banks and flooded into real life, when netizen Xlyvie Huang started peddling Yam Ah Mee merchandise, consisting of T-shirts, cups, badges and iPhone protectors.
Thankfully, Yam himself seemed to be taking his newfound viral fame in his stride. Using his personal Facebook account, he thanked his fans for their support. “Hi Everyone, thanks for all your interest:) Just trying to do a good job as the RO. Hope everyone has a good rest after the GE.!!!!”, he commented on Monday evening. He gamely posted up his ‘favourite’ parodies on his official fan page as well.
Yam even took the time to answer to queries on his robotic tone of voice. He explained that the cause of such a trait was due to throat surgery, to remove a fish bone lodged in his larynx.
For now, fans can’t get enough of the Hwa Chong Institution alumnus. Radio personalities Cheryl Miles and Maddy Barber of local radio station Radio 91.3 posted on their Facebook, “Yah [sic] Ah Mee, Returning Officer Extraordinaire is the biggest star of all. See you in 5 years Mr Roboto :).”
However, the opportunity to rejoice may come sooner than 5 years, as Yam’s planned reprising his role as the Returning Officer for the upcoming presidential election means that fans needn’t wait until the next general election by 2016 to hear Yam speak again. Instead, they’ll only have to wait for 3 months before their ‘hero’ makes an appearance on national television once more, provided that the presidential election is contested.
Regardless, it’s safe to say that this name will ring in the minds of Singaporeans when talk of the 2011 general elections comes up – ‘Yummy’ Yam Ah Mee.