Top Image: Marisse Caine / RICE File Photo
I grew up afraid of asking questions.
Putting up a hand to ask a question felt embarrassing. And they made me far too vulnerable for my liking.
I’m not the only one that feels this way. It’s clear that this is a thing, judging from the batches of students in Singapore who held their tongues for fear of looking “stupid”.
Then there’s the matter of the current social climate, when there’s always the risk of irreversible reprisal for posting a wrongly-phrased question or statement online.
And it’s tough to have difficult conversations about topics like race, gender, religion and sex without the comments section escalating to incendiary levels. We would know.
Perhaps, there’s a way out now. Singapore-based Telegram channel, Paiseh Questions, offers Singaporeans the best of both worlds—answers to their burning questions and the comfort of anonymity to ask those questions.
The channel, which started in November 2020, has amassed slightly over 8,500 subscribers as of writing.
This is how it works. Users submit their burning questions to the channel’s automated bot account. Each question eventually gets broadcast to thousands of subscribers, eager to share their opinions on various topics. The public anonymously votes for the option that resonates most with them.
Answers arrive in the form of poll percentages. Options for voters are surprisingly inclusive, with identity choices for non-binary individuals as well.
Every so often, a spicy enough topic attracts restless thumbs and online discussion. You notice the questions commonly revolve around certain themes: Romantic relationships, private sex lives, moral dilemmas, and messy friendships. Then there are the inane questions, like “When masks were still mandatory to be worn everywhere, did you take off your mask while shitting in a public toilet?”
Insightful, if you ask me.
Like the questions I once reserved only for myself, Paiseh Questions offers a strikingly hilarious reflection of the things Singaporeans are most curious about—the taboo things we grapple with but are too afraid to ask out loud. Until now that is.
The Many Questions About Masturbation
Paiseh Questions is not safe for lunchtime scrolling, and this is understandable. After all, give netizens a veil of anonymity and hell is bound to break loose.
To grasp the Telegram channel as best as I could, I inspected its history. Paiseh Questions’ original iteration started in the year of the pandemic: November 2020. Barely three months into its existence, the channel’s administrative account was wiped from the Telegram servers. No other reason for the discontinued channel was given.
It has since created another Telegram channel, @paisehqs—the same channel which now has 8,500 subscribers. I scrolled as far back as possible and started with the channel’s first question, “Are we too okay with going to hell?” An edgy question. No surprise there.
Barely a few scrolls later, I came across the channel’s first-ever sex-related question. “Have you ever masturbated in front of someone else while they were watching?”
My predictions were true—a sex-related question would soon turn up within the next two posts.
It wasn’t long before I realised that the question was but one of the many questions about masturbation. Questions about the frequency, location, and ethics of masturbation would appear on the channel’s feed every so often.
It was a barrage of masturbation-related questions so relentless I lowered my computer screen’s brightness for fear of a possible check-in with the HR department.
Of course, pleasuring yourself is nothing to be embarrassed about. But it’s inappropriate in an office (or any other public) environment. Some of the respondents, however, would beg to differ.
If being sexually repressed is our reputation, we don’t have to look far to prove it wrong. The flurry of carnal queries is of no surprise, though. In a conservative culture where sexual proclivities remain a paiseh topic, anonymity affords the chance to spice it up. Just ask Sammyboy forum members.
Romantic Moral Dilemmas
Wedged in between the many questions about sex are the occasional romantic moral dilemmas. It goes without saying that these dilemmas can be especially difficult to manage; one wrong step could potentially hurt a loved one and ruin the relationship.
It’s a tricky thing to ask friends and family, but therein lies the appeal of Paiseh Questions. The collective wisdom of thousands can save the day.
After all, maintaining a romantic relationship with your partner takes carefully cultivated experience and hard work. And what better way to navigate an unfamiliar conundrum than by tapping on someone else’s experience.
Some situations are less grey than others. For this one, 85 per cent of respondents were against their partner going overseas with a member of the preferred sex who has feelings. This poll garnered an especially strong response from over 2,400 subscribers.
A strong consensus could very well indicate a larger, more established phenomenon in the Singapore dating scene. When it comes to serious romantic relationships, Singaporeans are now putting themselves first and drawing better boundaries.
Chair Or Sofa?
I cannot, in good faith, comment on this objectively. The “sofa side”—it’s actually called a banquette—is for me. After all, upholstery is much more comfortable than a chair. Kim, my colleague, tells me that women should sit on the banquette side because there’s more space for them to put their bags.
I am initially doubtful. Perhaps, it’s my reluctance to give up the “sofa side” of the table. But she’s right. A quick Google search on restaurant etiquette confirms Kim’s answer—it is indeed etiquette for women to sit on the banquette. I answer accordingly.
The results are divided: 40 per cent of respondents are men who think they should sit on the sofa and 51 per cent of respondents are women who think the sofa is theirs.
But come on. It’s 2023. People can sit wherever they want. And if the sofa is long enough, and they both want to sit on the banquette, so be it. When it comes to being comfortable while eating, men and women want to be equally pampered.
Bathing in the Morning
Play nice, everybody. This question risks perpetuating racial stereotypes. Of course, I’m certain this question has come up at least once in everyone’s friend circles.
Zat, my Head of Content, raises an important point. He believes that it’s as much about personal hygiene as it is about parental expectations of looking fresh when going to school. “If you don’t shower in the morning, you don’t look ready for school,” he would say, recalling the advice he got growing up.
Of course, the matter of privilege is implied in the options for answers. Do people who are lucky enough to not sweat at night need to bother showering before heading out?
47 per cent of respondents answered ‘No’, regardless of whether they sleep with an air-con or not. Debate on whether people should shower in the morning has yet to be concluded. But at least it offers a glimpse into our hygiene habits—and an explanation behind the whiffs of body odour on the MRT in the morning.
Would You Rather?
In its short existence, Paiseh Questions has chalked up some legendary questions in its lore. These questions are often hypotheticals often positing dilemmas respondents have to choose from. Very reminiscent of the games students play during school orientations.
One particular question catches my attention.
I went with the majority 83 per cent for illustrative purposes. No further comment.
Mind you, these are only a few of the many questions in the channel. Paiseh Questions has grown into a platform for crowd-sourced information, an irreverent respite from the seriousness of everyday life, and the go-to avenue for an occasional laugh.
More importantly, the veil of anonymity afforded by the channel allows Singaporeans to redirect things that bother them the most into snarky questions, ripe for discussion and laughter. What’s left unsaid, though, is perhaps a clearer reflection of the Singaporean zeitgeist beyond the Telegram crowd.