The perks of being a celebrity
WANT it or not, stars here often find themselves getting special treatment at shops or eateries.
Every time popular Taiwanese getai singer Hao Hao gets a haircut at his usual salon in Orchard, he gets a 50 per cent discount, paying only $100 instead of the usual $200.
When he signed up for a facial package recently, the beautician also gave him "a small discount", before throwing in two extra bottles of facial toner, free of charge.
Such perks come unsolicited, says the 32-year-old Singapore-based star, who adds that they are likely offered because he is a known figure.
He says: "I never ask for these kinds of things. It's not right to ask for them.
"But the stores will offer the perks to me, and when they do it with sincerity, it's really very hard to say no. They'll be offended because they'll think I don't appreciate what they're doing for me."
He is certainly not the only public figure who gets such unsolicited benefits.
Last week, Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng sparked controversy when he posted a picture on Facebook of his nasi-padang meal, which included a Bandung drink, saying that it cost him $3. A netizen claimed he paid $6 for the dish, which stirred online debate that the MP had received preferential treatment.
Mr Baey subsequently tried to clear the air in a Chinese-language column in MyPaper on Tuesday, in which he wrote that the stall owner said that his staff had recognised him and given him a discount out of goodwill.
A quick check with celebrities here showed that unsolicited perks arise often, whether it is a nice shopping discount or free food when dining out.
Veteran actor Richard Low, 61, says that when he visits popular stalls at hawker centres, he gets special treatment "about half the time".
For example, he never has to join the snaking queues at the popular hawker stalls Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee in Old Airport Road or the famous Holland Village XO Fish Head Bee Hun stall, now located in Dover Crescent.
Says the actor: "The hawkers recognised me and took the initiative to give me their mobile-phone numbers, and told me that I don't have to queue whenever I go to eat there. They said that I can just call them ahead to order my food and pick it up later."
He says that he does not make use of this special service often, especially when he is ordering food to eat in.
"If I'm just picking it up and taking it away, it doesn't look strange. But if I just show up and take the specially prepared food in front of all those people and then eat it right in front of them, they will know that it's preferential treatment."
TV host Dasmond Koh, 41, recalls the time when he discovered extra ingredients in his bowl of fishball noodles from a coffee-shop stall in the Bukit Timah area.
He says: "The stall owner did not show any sign that he recognised me when I placed my order. But, when I got my bowl, he had put in six fishballs instead of two.
"A lady next to me noticed and asked whether she could 'top up' the fishballs in her bowl, like mine, but the stall owner flat out said no.
"I was so shocked and felt so paiseh (Hokkien for embarrassed), that I never went back to the stall again."
Actress-director Michelle Chong, 36, says she gets "discounts and freebies at restaurants a lot".
Typically, she does not reject those offers "because it is a sign of goodwill", and she will also take pictures of the food and post them on Facebook or Instagram to give the restaurants credit.
"But when hawkers want to treat me to food or drinks, I will insist on paying, because I think they don't earn much," she says.
Aside from perks at eateries, celebrities say that they get benefits elsewhere, too.
TV host Lee Teng, 29, received a free taxi ride just last month.
He says: "The uncle said he watches my shows, and told me that I wouldn't have to pay the fare, which was about $7. I insisted on paying, but he refused to let me."
Actor Low says taxi-ride discounts happen "very often" for him.
"Every few months, a cabby will say that I don't have to pay, but I always reject his offer. The fare is generally about $20 from my house to the MediaCorp TV station, which I think is a lot - cabbies are making a living, after all.
"But they always insist. So, after much haggling, they will finally allow me to pay a token sum of about $10."
Singer and Singapore Idol Season 3 winner Sezairi Sezali, 25, received "such a really good deal" on a guitar at a shop in Excelsior Shopping Centre once, that he got to talking with the store owner. He adds: "We became friends and, on my birthday, the shop even gifted a product to me."
Getai singer and actor Wang Weiliang, of movie Ah Boys To Men (2012) fame, recalls with a chuckle his unprompted discount when buying a movie ticket recently.
He says: "I went to buy a ticket for The White Storm, and the cashier asked me if I had any Passion card or a credit card from a certain bank to get a discount. I told her I didn't, and she then whipped out her own card and said she would get the discount for me."