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Naive city in danger of Mallard mugging
Paul Lewis
Sunday November 26, 2006

As some of you may know from regular reading of this column (giant assumption, I know), I have spent a slice of my life in Singapore.

Once, even before living there, I went to the island on a media junket with several other New Zealand journalists. The itinerary was the sort of thing tourism authorities the world over prepare for journalists - see this, experience that, get a sense of the colour and exotica etc etc etc. In the free time we had, we headed out on the town. We ended up in Bugis Street - the famous food-drink-pasar malam (night market)-music-good time centre of Singapore in those days.

Bugis St got a little bit too risque for the Singaporeans; it was eventually bulldozed in favour of an MRT station - the magnificent Singapore rail system.

It was open all night, the focus of many visitors from all round the world and it had a powerful heartbeat. I witnessed the infamous "funky chicken" in Bugis St - which occurred generally when a British naval ship was visiting. The matelots would stand atop a toilet block, disrobe completely, roll up a newspaper, and insert it in the cleft of their buttocks. The newspaper would then be set on fire.

They would then prance around the roof of the toilet block, like chickens, using their arms as wings and clucking while assembled spectators sang Zulu Warrior. The winner was the person who clucked for the longest until the pain of the approaching fire became too great.

Ludicrous? Yes. Juvenile? Absolutely. Tasteless? Completely. But very funny - and all the more so because the Singapore establishment didn't really like it but took little action because of the popularity of Bugis St.

The night I was there with the media party, one of our number - a nice lad from the South Island - was casting fond glances in the direction of a bevy of Asian maidens not far away. "You do know they're not women, don't you?" I said, concerned that he may not realise that these were the famous "ladyboys" of Bugis St. These creatures were indeed beautiful but had a, er, sting in the tail.

He said he understood but I don't think he did. He kept looking, in that way men do, and after more drinks, I noticed he was missing.

He returned about half an hour later. His hair was messed up, his glasses akimbo and he was bleeding from the nose. When I asked him what happened, he said: "She mugged me and took my wallet."

Now, if Trevor Mallard will forgive me, I am telling this story because I see Auckland as the naive reporter in that story. Mallard could be cast as the ladyboy as I think that he has pretty much tried to mug us with the waterfront stadium.

While it now looks as though the waterfront option may be sinking fast, Mallard may not yet be done and could still be looking to steal our wallets, metaphorically speaking. This vast expenditure - and fuss - to build a rugby stadium defies logic and credibility. Until Mallard came along, blinking seductively and offering us the dream of a bright, shiny new stadium, there wasn't an issue. Eden Park was the venue of the 2011 Rugby World Cup final. Then came Trev, wearing a little black number, twirling a handbag, pursing his lips and making cow eyes. The gullible and the optimistic argue that Auckland should get off its conservative, indecisive chuff and build it - for far more money than Eden Park would cost. We would use it for a vast array of "multi-purposes", only no-one knows what they are.

Like the reporter in Bugis St, they are chasing a promise that may take very different form in the light of day. We have been asked to decide on a stadium which hints at plenty - but given no hard and fast facts. We have looked hungrily in the direction of the ladyboys without understanding that they may offer something rather more damaging than promise.

I hope Auckland doesn't end up in tears, with a bloodied nose, dented pride and the feeling it didn't get what it thought it was going to get - losing a lot of money in the process. If Mallard and his Beehive cronies muscle the waterfront stadium through, then I hope it is a success. But I am not sure I would ever be able to shake the feeling that the stadium is a bribe, a vote-catcher, a waste of money which could be spent on the same sort of basic need as Singapore and which finally accounted for Bugis St - rail.

And I can't shake the image in my head - of a triumphant Mallard doing the funky chicken, with his newspaper alight, at the stadium's opening ceremony. I hope he gets a decent sting in the tail.