TikTok banned on US government-issued devices

US bid to ban TikTok raises hypocrisy charge amid global spying
The US debate on the risks posed by TikTok has paid little attention to the privacy rights of non-Americans who rely on US tech firms like Google and Meta [File: Florence Lo/Reuters]

During a five-hour grilling of the chief executive of TikTok last week, United States lawmakers railed against the possibility of China using the wildly popular, partly Chinese-owned app to spy on Americans. They did not mention how the US government itself uses US tech companies that effectively control the global internet to spy on everyone else.

As the US considers banning the short video app used by more than 150 million Americans, lawmakers are also weighing the renewal of powers that force firms like Google, Meta and Apple to facilitate untrammelled spying on non-US citizens located overseas. Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which the US Congress must vote to reauthorise by December to prevent it from lapsing under a sunset clause, allows US intelligence agencies to carry out warrantless spying on foreigners’ email, phone and other online communications. While US citizens have some protections against warrantless searches under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, the US government has maintained that these rights do not extend to foreigners overseas, giving agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) practically free rein to snoop on their communications. Information may also be turned over to US allies like the United Kingdom and Australia.

Though it is common for governments to spy abroad, Washington enjoys an advantage not shared by other countries: jurisdiction over the handful of companies that effectively run the modern internet, including Google, Meta, Amazon and Microsoft. For billions of internet users outside the US, the lack of privacy mirrors the alleged threat that US officials say TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, poses to Americans. “It is a case of ‘rules for thee but not for me,'” Asher Wolf, a tech researcher and privacy advocate based in Melbourne, Australia, told Al Jazeera. “So the noise the Americans are making about TikTok must be seen less as a sincere desire to protect citizens from surveillance and influence operations, and more as an attempt to ring-fence and consolidate national control over social media,” Wolf added.

Why did the US just ban TikTok from government-issued cellphones?
The US Congress banned the use of the TikTok app on government-issued devices. Photograph: Florence Lo/Reuters

The US government has approved an unprecedented ban on the use of TikTok on federal government devices. The restrictions – tucked into a spending bill just days before it was passed by Congress, and signed by Joe Biden on Thursday – add to growing uncertainty about the app’s future in the US amid a crackdown from state and federal lawmakers. Officials say the ban is necessary due to national security concerns about the China-based owner of the app, ByteDance. But it also leaves many questions unanswered. Here’s what you need to know.

Why did the ban happen? The US government has banned TikTok on federal government-issued devices due to national security concerns over its China-based parent company, ByteDance. The US fears that the Chinese government may leverage TikTok to access those devices and US user data. TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said the company was “disappointed” that Congress moved forward with the proposal and that it was “a political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests”.

The ban means that, in about two months, federal government employees will be required to remove TikTok from their government-issued devices unless they are using the app for national security or law enforcement activities. The director of the US Office of Management and Budget and other offices have 60 days to come up with standards and processes for all government employees to remove the app from their phones. Several federal agencies such as the White House and the defense, homeland security and state departments have already banned TikTok, so it won’t change anything for those employees. And earlier this week, Catherine Szpindor, the chief administrator of the House of Representatives, also instructed all staff and lawmakers to delete the app from their devices.

Congress Passes Bill To Ban TikTok From Federal Devices

Congress approved a ban on TikTok from federal devices Friday as part of a larger government spending bill, amid a recent surge by state governments banning the app—owned by Chinese firm ByteDance—on national security grounds, and after Forbes revealed several of its reporters were tracked by TikTok’s parent company.

  • The No TikTok on Government Devices Act, sponsored by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), was included as a provision in a $1.7 trillion fiscal year 2023 government funding bill approved by the Senate on Thursday and the House on Friday.
  • The act prohibits TikTok from being downloaded or accessed through any federally issued device or network, with exceptions for using the app to develop possible risk mitigation measures.
  • The proposed ban complements decisions by several states to ban the social media app from state government-issued devices, including Arkansas, West Virginia, Louisiana, New Hampshire, Idaho, Georgia, North Dakota, Iowa, Alabama, Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, Maryland, Nebraska, Florida and Tennessee.
Employees of ByteDance tracked multiple Forbes journalists who reported on the company, according to an internal ByteDance investigation revealed by Forbes on Thursday. The revelation follows an earlier report from Forbes that discovered TikTok accounts run by the Chinese government attacked U.S. politicians before the midterm elections while pushing divisive social issues without disclosure the accounts were run by a foreign government. President Joe Biden said in a statement Friday he will sign the government spending package as soon as it reaches his desk.

U.S. House panel approves bill giving Biden power to ban TikTok

The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee voted on Wednesday along party lines to give President Joe Biden the power to ban Chinese-owned TikTok, in what would be the most far-reaching U.S. restriction on any social media app. Lawmakers voted 24 to 16 to approve the measure to grant the administration new powers to ban the ByteDance-owned app - which is used by over 100 million Americans - as well as other apps considered security risks.

"TikTok is a national security threat ... It is time to act," said Representative Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the committee who sponsored the bill. "Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given the CCP (Communist Party of China) a backdoor to all their personal information. It’s a spy balloon into their phone." Democrats opposed the bill, saying it was rushed and required due diligence through debate and consultation with experts. The bill does not precisely specify how the ban would work, but gives Biden power to ban any transactions with TikTok, which in turn could prevent anyone in the United States from accessing or downloading the app on their phones. The bill would also require Biden to impose a ban on any entity that "may" transfer sensitive personal data to an entity subject to the influence of China.

TikTok has come under increasing fire in recent weeks over fears that user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, undermining Western security interests. The White House this week gave government agencies 30 days to ensure that TikTok is not on any federal devices and systems. More than 30 U.S. states, Canada and European Union policy institutions have also banned TikTok from being loaded onto state-owned devices. The fate of the latest measure is still uncertain and faces significant hurdles before it can become law. The bill would need to be passed by the full House and U.S. Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, before it can go to Biden.

Now that the CEO is off the hot seat, what’s next for TikTok in the US?
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was grilled for about five hours on March 23, 2023 in Washington, DC. He defended the app’s privacy practices, aligning with other social media platforms 

Three days before the CEO of TikTok was interrogated by Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the US Congress, the viral video app published a statement on its website, stating that they have grown to a community of 150 million Americans. In short, TikTok, in a somewhat timely move, emphasized how the US is still home to the majority of its users worldwide, making up nearly half the country’s population.

Then came March 24, 2023, when TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was thrust into the middle of souring US-China relations and faced a hostile House panel that bashed him over the popular app’s ties to China. The five-hour grilling saw Chew reassuring Americans their data is safe and Beijing won’t be able to influence what viewers see on TikTok.

The direction for the Biden administration is clear: get TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance to sell the company or face a ban. The idea of selling TikTok, as expected, was highly opposed by China just hours before Chew testified. That had further riled up US lawmakers who went on questioning Chew contentiously, targeting the app’s relationship with China and protections for its youngest users.

How did the Singaporean CEO of TikTok do in Washington?

Singaporeans love to see how one of their own performs on the world stage, I’ve observed in two decades of teaching here. For five hours on Thursday (Mar 23), all eyes were on TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi, who was born in Singapore and is based here, as he testified in the United States House of Representatives.

This fresh-faced 40-year old surely aced some difficult tests before. After graduating from the Hwa Chong Institution, he became an army officer. He studied economics at University College London before earning his MBA from Harvard Business School. He ascended to the top spot at TikTok in 2021. “I am responsible for all the strategic decisions at TikTok,” Chew told the New York Times last year. The reviews of his biggest test yet are trending negative in the US. Glenn Gerstell, former general counsel of the US National Security Agency, called it "nothing less than a disaster" for TikTok. But I’ll give Chew a clear pass because the task he faced was close to impossible.

The hearing felt as if the schoolboy was called to the principal’s office to get lectured - and not allowed to talk back. At times Chew asked the committee chair for time to respond but the chair refused, giving the floor to the next congressperson instead. Over and over again, American legislators asked for a yes or no answer. When Chew tried instead to elaborate, they demanded “Yes or no?”, cutting him off. It’s a tried and true rhetorical technique for creating the impression that the witness is evasive, and that’s how congresswoman Debbie Lesko described Chew.

Key takeaways from TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi's US Congress grilling
The S'porean CEO was questioned by US lawmakers about TikTok's alleged links to China, as well as access to home Wi-Fi networks

Alleged China links, youth safety and "political grandstanding" – these were some of the themes as TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi was grilled in the US Congress on Thursday (Mar 23) over the social media platform.

Sitting in front of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and with the world watching, Chew started his testimony by referring to his Singapore roots. Over the next five hours, lawmakers posed questions about the app, which has more than 150 million users in the US.

CNA looks at the key takeaways from the hearing:
  • TIKTOK AND DATA COLLECTION - Chew moved to allay fears about TikTok’s data collection practices, but he also said the data is “frequently collected by many other companies” in the same industry.
  • ALLEGED CHINA TIES - Chew responded to the allegations that TikTok posed a national security threat in the US, and said a lot of the risks pointed out were “hypothetical and theoretical risks”.
  • YOUTH SAFETY AND MENTAL HEALTH - One of the key issues that came up during the grilling was the app’s impact on children.
  • SILLY QUESTIONS AND "POLITICAL GRANDSTANDING" - Some of the questions asked by lawmakers were posted on social media platforms and drew ridicule.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew's Congress showdown: Five takeaways

Bruising, damaging, relentless. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced four-and-a-half hours of questioning at a US congressional hearing on Thursday. As one congressman pointed out, some people run marathons quicker than that.

Mr Chew will certainly be feeling it, after a torrid time giving evidence. Many tech execs have stood before Congress, and they often don't get an easy ride. But what was exceptional about this hearing was the stubborn, never-ending line of vicious questioning. From both Democrats and Republicans, there was no let-up. A spokesperson for TikTok said afterwards the politicians were "grandstanding".

There is most certainly some truth to that. But between the sometimes frustratingly verbose questioning, we did learn a thing or two. Five takeaways from Congress showdown:
  • Legislators were united against TikTok - There was criticism of TikTok from Republicans and Democrats, and the level of distrust and scepticism from all sides was stark.
  • ByteDance engineers in China have access to some US data - Mr Chew kept talking about a "Project Texas", a proposal which will see it store all data in the US under the watch of American firm Oracle.
  • Chew has shares in ByteDance - Perhaps Mr Chew's least successful defence was his attempt to distance TikTok from ByteDance.
  • Chew's children do not use TikTok - At one point in the hearing, Mr Chew was asked by congresswoman Nanette Barragán, a Democrat, whether or not his own children used TikTok.
  • What about Cambridge Analytica? - Mr Chew generally pulled his punches. He didn't often take the fight back to members of Congress. But there were rare moments where he did push back - and effectively.

TikTok congressional hearing: CEO Shou Zi Chew grilled by US lawmakers

U.S. lawmakers on Thursday battered TikTok's CEO about potential Chinese influence over the platform and said its short videos were damaging children's mental health, reflecting bipartisan concerns about the app's power over Americans. CEO Shou Zi Chew's testimony before Congress did little to assuage U.S. worries over TikTok's China-based parent company ByteDance and added fresh momentum to lawmakers' calls to ban the platform nationwide.

Over five hours of testimony, Chew repeatedly denied the app shares data or has connections with the Chinese Communist Party and argued the platform was doing everything to ensure safety for its 150 million American users. Chew said TikTok for more than two years has been "building what amounts to a firewall to seal off protected U.S. user data from unauthorized foreign access. The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel," Chew said. But not a single lawmaker offered support for TikTok, as they deemed Chew's answers on China evasive and aired concerns over the power the app holds over U.S. children. Others accused TikTok of promoting content that encourages eating disorders among children, illegal drug sales and sexual exploitation.

"TikTok could be designed to minimize the harm to kids, but a decision was made to aggressively addict kids in the name of profits," said Representative Kathy Castor, a Democrat, at the House of Representatives Energy and Commerce committee hearing. Chew responded to many pointed questions by saying the issues were "complex" and not unique to TikTok. The company says it has spent more than $1.5 billion on data security efforts under the name "Project Texas" which currently has nearly 1,500 full-time employees and is contracted with Oracle Corp (ORCL.N) to store TikTok's U.S. user data. But critics were not appeased as the company failed to announce any new efforts to safeguard privacy.

5 key moments from TikTok CEO Singaporean Chew Shou Zi’s combative hearing in US Congress

TikTok chief executive Chew Shou Zi sought to protect his company from a potential United States ban or forced sale during a 4½-hour congressional hearing on Thursday that rarely deviated from the hostile note on which it began.

“Your platform should be banned,” Energy and Commerce Committee chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers said at the opening. “I expect today you’ll say anything to avoid this outcome.”

Ms Rodgers made a point of telling Mr Chew he was under oath and obligated to tell the truth. Other lawmakers repeated that warning during the long-awaited hearing on Thursday, underscoring how little trust there was between the panel and its witness. While that made for a one-note performance, there were several memorable moments:
  • China made its stance clear beforehand - The most important developments may have happened before the hearing.
  • Chew stumbles while playing defence = Mr Chew did a credible job of defending himself and his app in front of a room of largely hostile lawmakers who were intent on questioning his every word, even preventing him from responding in multiple instances.
  • Lawmakers piling on could signal trouble - Key statements came from people who were not even in the room. Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, took aim at Mr Chew’s alleged “lies and omissions” and said momentum to ban TikTok “is growing”.
  • Suicide focus leads to tense moment - TikTok’s popularity among young people (and voters) prompted concerned questions about its content moderation policies, including whether TikTok’s powerful algorithm serves up harmful content to people who may be dealing with addictions or contemplating suicide.
  • Chew says TikTok unfairly targeted - Mr Chew defended TikTok as no different than the other social media giants, saying his company has sought to put even stronger safeguards in place than its competitors due to the intense scrutiny.

March 23, 2023 - TikTok CEO Shou Chew testifies before Congress
Watch lawmakers grill TikTok CEO over data concerns

TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified Thursday before Congress as scrutiny mounts over the app's ties to China, and potential national security risks stemming from it. Here are 5 takeaways from the hearing.

The Biden administration has threatened to ban TikTok from the US unless the app’s Chinese owners agree to spin off their share of the social media platform. The US and other countries have also moved to ban the app on government devices. Remember: TikTok doesn't operate in China.

TikTok was the top downloaded app in the US in 2021 and 2022, according to data from analytics firm Sensor Tower. Some of the 150 million US users, who have built livelihoods and community on the app, say they can’t imagine an America without it.

Highlights From TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi’s 4-Hour Grilling By US Congress

On Thursday (23 Mar), Congress grilled TikTok CEO Chew Shou Zi on various aspects.

The Singaporean CEO not only survived but also managed to thrive and keep a straight face even when asked the most basic of questions. His composure has won him a legion of fans online, both Singaporean and non-Singaporean alike.

Here are 6 of these moments from the session:
  • How does WiFi work
  • He’s Singaporean
  • Chew Shou Zi’s children aren’t on TikTok
  • American social companies don’t have a good social record with data privacy
  • Refer to his opening statement
  • Why do we need to know where eyes are


TikTok, and its Chinese counterpart Douyin (Chinese: 抖 音; pinyin: Dǒuyīn), is a short-form video hosting service owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. It hosts user-submitted videos, which can range in duration from 3 seconds to 10 minutes.

Since their launches, TikTok and Douyin have gained global popularity. In October 2020, TikTok surpassed 2 billion mobile downloads worldwide. Morning Consult named TikTok the third-fastest growing brand of 2020, after Zoom and Peacock. Cloudflare ranked TikTok the most popular website of 2021, surpassing google.com. Douyin was launched by ByteDance in Beijing, China in September 2016, originally under the name A.me, before rebranding to Douyin (抖 音) in December 2016. Douyin was developed in 200 days and within a year had 100 million users, with more than one billion videos viewed every day. Douyin was released in the Chinese market in September 2016. TikTok is an entirely separate, internationalized version of Douyin, and was launched in 2017 for iOS and Android in most markets outside of mainland China; however, it became available worldwide only after merging with another Chinese social media service, Musical.ly, on 2 August 2018.

TikTok and Douyin have almost the same user interface but no access to each other's content. Their servers are each based in the market where the respective app is available. The two products are similar, but their features are not identical. Douyin includes an in-video search feature that can search by people's faces for more videos of them, along with other features such as buying, booking hotels, and making geo-tagged reviews.


Singaporelang - What the Singlish?

Mai tu liao! Huat ah!

This new monthly series highlights the diverse range of stories these Singapore photographers have produced in recent years, from a quirky visualisation of Singlish, to an extensive documentary on life in Singapore’s Southern Islands. Often going beyond what mainstream news outlets produce or publish, these photo-essays add rich new layers to the visual record of changing life in Singapore.

We kick off the series with “Singaporelang — What the Singlish?”, photographer Zinkie Aw’s technicolour love letter to Singlish. So, mai tu liao, check out the photos below and see if you can suggest lagi better captions.

I think I am very Singaporean because I eat, think, breathe and speak like one, and I am self-confessed sibei kiasu with my photography.
While working on this project, I also realised that many people have the misconception that only ah bengs or ah lians or army boys use Singlish. But hey, wrong lor! The whole Singapore does!

7 Must-Know Singlish Words to get around Singapore

If you’re new to Singapore, the best way to get around the country is to learn and master our colloquial lingo, Singlish.

The unique slang of “Lah, Leh and Lor” rolls off the tongue of every Singaporean, and when you think about it. It’s almost like the universal “Do, Re, Mi”.

To get into the groove like the Singaporean version of the Von Trapp Family and learn how to use these 7 common Singlish Words in your daily conversations:
  • Kiasu - A Hokkien term that means “afraid of losing out”, and describing someone as trying to get ahead of others.
  • Shiok - Defined as a feeling of sheer pleasure.
  • Bo Jio - A way of expressing FOMO (fear of missing out). To call someone out when you’re not invited.
  • Can - A versatile term that means “okay” or a way of asking if something is possible.
  • Chope - An act of reserving a place.
  • Atas - A Malay term that is used to describe something as “upper class” or “posh”.
  • Paiseh - A Hokkien term that means embarrassing, or being shy.

A Confused Singaporean Society


*S: I am a Singaporean*
F: But u look Chinese...

*S: I am a Chinese Singaporean / I am a Singaporean Chinese.*

F: So do u speak Chinese?
*S: Yes, but not fluent.*

F: But u r a Chinese.
*S: I am a Singaporean Chinese, not Chinese from China.*

F: So u r not a Chinese?
*S: I am not Chinese from China.*

F: But your great grand father is from China?
*S: Yes, but I was born in Singapore, so I am a Singaporean Chinese.*

F: So your great grand father speaks Chinese?
*S: He speaks dialect.*

F: Do u speak dialect?
*S: No, I don't.*

F: Why not?
*S: Because our country has a Speak Mandarin campaign that is so successful that the new generation practically do not speak dialect anymore.*

F: So u should speak very fluent Mandarin since it's so successful?
*S: No. That campaign was effective before, but not anymore.*

F: Why?
*S: Because most people speak English nowadays. We have a Speak Good English campaign.*

F: So English is your National Language?
*S: No!*

F: So what is the National Language of Singapore?
*S: Malay.*

F: What?
*S: Yes, Malay!*

F: Do u speak Malay?
*S: No.*

F: Why not?
*S: Because I am not Malay.*

F: Then why is your National Language Malay?
*S: That's another long history lesson.*

F: So your National Language is Malay & nobody speak it?
*S: The Malays speak Malay. That's their mother tongue. We have 4 races: Chinese, Malay, Indian & Eurasian. Each speaks their own mother tongue.*

F: So your mother tongue is Chinese?
*S: Yes.*

F: But u can't speak it fluently?
*S: Yes.*

F: Does the Malay or Indian speak fluent mother tongue?
*S: More fluent than the Chinese speaking Chinese I supposed.*

F: Why?
*S: Because that's their mother tongue.*

F: Then why can't the Chinese?
*S: Because we speak English mainly in school.*

F: I last heard that Singapore has a bilingual policy.
*S: Yes, we have, we do learn mother tongue in school.*

F: But u cannot speak Chinese fluently.
*S: Yes.*

F: Why?
*S: Because our country's working language is mainly English, there is not much places to use the language, perhaps only with our grandparents & when we buy things in the market.*

F: Then how is that bilingual?
*S: I don't know.*

F: So u r a Singaporean Chinese who can't speak your National Language, & cannot speak your mother tongue fluently & can only communicate in English with a strange accent.
*S: What's wrong with my accent?*

F: I don't know, it is just weird.
*S:Does it sound British or American?*

F: Neither, I thought u should sound British since u have been colonized before?
*S: No, that was long long time ago, dude.*

F: How come u try to sound American?
*S: Because I watch alot of Hollywood movies.*

F: Your English still sounds weird.
*S: Oh, we call it Singlish.*

F: So what r u really?
*S: I am a Singaporean!*
Si Beh Luan ah!  [死伯乱]

read more

Singlish Reflects the Power of My People

Is the government’s war on Singlish finally over? Our wacky, singsong creole may seem like the poor cousin to the island’s four official languages, but years of state efforts to quash it have only made it flourish. Now even politicians and officials are using it.

Trending at the moment is “ownself check ownself,” which was popularized by Pritam Singh, a member of Parliament from the opposition Workers’ Party. He was mocking the ruling People’s Action Party (P.A.P.) for saying that the government was clean and honest enough to act as its own guardian.

Singlish is a patchwork patois of Singapore’s state languages — English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil — as well as Hokkien, Cantonese, Bengali and a few other tongues. Its syntax is drawn partly from Chinese, partly from South Asian languages.

Singlish - Uniquely Singapore
Singapore's famous spouting Merlion statue - in Singlish "merlion" means to vomit profusely

Singapore's government has long insisted that everyone in the island nation should speak English - it's the language used in schools, at work, and in government. But in practice many people speak a hybrid language that can leave visitors completely baffled - Singlish.

Singapore is known for its efficiency and Singlish is no different - it's colourful and snappy. You don't have a coffee - you "lim kopi". And if someone asks you to join them for a meal but you've already had dinner, you simply say: "Eat already."

Singlish first emerged when Singapore gained independence 50 years ago, and decided that English should be the common language for all its different races. That was the plan. It worked out slightly differently though, as the various ethnic groups began infusing English with other words and grammar. English became the official language, but Singlish became the language of the street.

Politics and the Singlish Language

No official recognition is given to Singlish as a marker of Singaporean identity or an indigenous patois. This is despite political leaders using Singlish during election campaigning to better connect to a local audience.

The government recognises that Singlish cannot be eradicated but it will not take kindly to attempts to promote it.

The concern is that any mixed signals on Singlish will undermine efforts to raise English language proficiency. A similarly tough and consistent stance is taken against Chinese dialects, in order to promote Mandarin Chinese proficiency.

Singlish join Oxford English Dictionary
A plate of char kway teow from Alexandra Village Food Centre. FOTO: THE NEW PAPER

More "Singapore English" words used colloquially here have been added to the lexicon of the venerable Oxford English Dictionary (OED), following its latest quarterly update this month.

Top on the list of new words - "aiyah" & "aiyoh", which are often used to express impatience or dismay, & "ah beng", a stereotype applied to Chinese men.

"Atas", an oft-used term by Singaporeans to deride people for being too arrogant or high-class, was also included in the list.

Singlish: Singapore Colloquial English

The year is 1974. A song was banned by Radio Television Singapore – the state broadcaster at the time. The reason? Improper use of English. 

Over the next few years, educational reforms swept through our young nation to fix what then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew called “distortions in Singapore English”. But a spontaneous series of events would stir the imaginations of Singaporeans and push Singlish into once forbidden waters.

Musician and host Shabir Tabare Alam discovers how our common tongue came to be and traces its journey from nationhood to the cusp of the new millennium.

Singapore’s ‘Kiasu’ culture 惊 输
Singaporeans commonly use personal articles such as tissue packets to reserve tables in the city’s crowded food courts before purchasing a meal. The practice is considered quintessential “kiasu.” (David Pierson / Los Angeles Times)

Long before Americans discovered FOMO — the fear of missing out —Singaporeans were fixated with its more excessive forebear, kiasu.

Taken from the Chinese dialect Hokkien, kiasu translates to a fear of losing out, but encompasses any sort of competitive, stingy or selfish behavior commonly witnessed in this highflying city-state:
  • If you stand in line for hours just because there’s a gift at the end, then you’re kiasu.
  • If you claim a spot at a table at a busy food court with a packet of tissues while you wander off in search of grub, you’re kiasu.
  • If you’re a parent who volunteers hours of your free time at a school just so your offspring has a better chance of enrolling there one day, then you’re most definitely kiasu.
It’s a survival instinct born out of Singapore’s dominant Chinese culture and deep-rooted insecurity as a blip on the map, one that’s only slightly bigger than the San Fernando Valley. Letting opportunity pass is tantamount to failure, the thinking goes. And if you do, you have no one to blame but yourself.



Char Kway Teow in the 1920s 炒 粿 條

Update 18 Mar 2024: ‘Served his last plate of kway teow on March 18’: Fu Ji Fried Kway Teow shutters after owner dies
Hawker stall Fu Ji Fried Kway Teow is known for its old-school style of char kway teow, as seen in photos by Facebook user Mike Ng in April 2023. PHOTO: COURTESY OF MIKE NG

Hawker stall Fu Ji Fried Kway Teow at Berseh Food Centre has shuttered following the death of its owner, Mr Song Yancheng (transliteration from Mandarin), on March 18. The stall is also known as Hock Kee Fried Kway Teow, which is the name on its stall signage.

Mr Song, who was born in 1955, died late that night after “serving his last plate of kway teow”, according to his children who made two posts on the stall’s Facebook page on March 19. There is a five-day wake until March 23 at 388A Bukit Batok West Avenue 5. The stall, located at unit 01-16 of Berseh Food Centre in Jalan Besar, moved to its current location in March 2018.

While lower in profile compared with more famous stalls selling the dish, such as Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee, Fu Ji Fried Kway Teow has its own following. It had shared a recent post by a customer, Mr Anthony Tan, who wrote about the stall on the Facebook page of Hawker United – Dabao 2020 on March 7. Mr Tan, who had ordered a $5 plate of char kway teow, praised the dish for its combination of sweet dark sauce, garlic, pork lard, chilli sauce and smoky aroma.

History of Char Kway Teow in Singapore

For the history of fried kway teow 炒粿條 in Singapore, we have to start from Chaoshan char kway teow 潮汕炒贵刁 far away in Guangzhou, China of today. Chaoshan is a region in the southeastern part of Guangzhou province of China where Teochew speaking people live.

Chaoshan fried kway teow is flat rice noodles, chive, bean sprout, pieces of pork with skin and fish sauce stir fried in sizzling pork lard in a hot wok. That's all, it's that simple. No egg, no lup cheong (Cantonese wax sausage), no fish cake, no blood cockles, no prawn, no chili sauce. No crab, no lobster nonsense. It is best enjoyed while the pork lard enveloping the rice noodles or kway teow is still piping, smoking hot. The kway teow's subtle sweetness is complemented by the savoury toasty taste of caramelised sauce forcefully seared onto the strands of rice noodles. So simple, simply so good that it connected people through generations.

Of course, even in Chaosan there are variations in char kway teow. This stall still uses wood to fire the wok. The chef uses goose lard instead of pork lard. The kway teow is fried with eggs, bean sprout, chive, chye poh (preserved turnip), optional chili sauce and small pieces of pork (optional). The host tried 3 plates with different options and he felt that the basic version with only egg, bean sprout, chive and chye poh is the best as there is little to interfere with the flavour of goose lard.

Famous CKT Since 1961 In Bedok South

Char kway teow isn’t one of my go-to hawker dishes, because there’s really only one stall that I eat it at—Hill Street Fried Kway Teow in Bedok South Market & Food Centre. Unfortunately, it’s pretty far out of my zone of convenience, and the queues for their fried kway teow are always super long, so I only eat it once in a very, very long while.

Hill Street Fried Kway Teow is listed on Singapore’s Michelin guide for the “intense flavours” in their CKT, which they have been known for since they started in 1961 as a pushcart stall. They’re named for the first hawker centre that they set up shop in, but have been here in Bedok ever since the turn of the millennium.

Sadly, the original founder passed away in 2018, but not before he had passed his skills on to his eldest son, who runs Hill Street Fried Kway Teow today. In fact, it’s said that it took his son a whole year of practice before his plate of CKT met his late father’s exacting standards.

Char kway teow

Char kway teow (Chinese: 炒粿條; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: chhá-kóe-tiâu) is a stir-fried rice noodle dish from Maritime Southeast Asia and is of southern Chinese origin. In Hokkien and Teochew, char means 'stir-fried' and kway teow refers to flat rice noodles. It is made from flat rice noodles (Chinese: 河粉; pinyin: hé fěn; Cantonese Yale: hó fán) or kway teow (Chinese: 粿條; Pe̍h-ōe-jī: kóe-tiâu; pinyin: guǒ tiáo; Cantonese Yale: gwó tìuh) of approximately 1 cm or (in the north of Malaysia) about 0.5 cm in width, stir-fried over very high heat with garlic, light and dark soy sauce, chilli paste, whole prawns, shelled blood cockles, chopped Chinese chives, slices of Chinese sausage, and bean sprouts. Other common ingredients include fishcake and belachan.

Originally developed and catered to overseas-born Chinese labourers in the Southeast Asia region, the dish has achieved widespread popularity within the region from the late 20th century onwards, particularly in Malaysia and Singapore. On the other hand, the dish has also acquired a reputation of being unhealthy within modern contexts due to its high saturated fat content, as it is traditionally stir-fried in pork fat with crisp croutons of pork lard. The dish was often sold by fishermen, farmers and cockle-gatherers who doubled as char kway teow hawkers in the evening to supplement their income. The high fat content and low cost of the dish made it attractive to these people as it was a cheap source of energy and nutrients.

The term "char kway teow" is a transliteration of the Chinese characters 炒粿條 (in simplified Chinese 炒粿条). The dish's name is Hokkien (chhá-kóe-tiâu?), but the dish may have its roots in Chaozhou in China's Guangdong province and is mostly associated with the Teochew. The word kóe-tiâu (literally meaning "ricecake strips") generally refers to flat rice noodles, which are the usual ingredient in Singapore and West Malaysia. There is no fixed way of spelling chhá-kóe-tiâu, and many variants can be found: examples include "char kueh teow", "char kuey teow", "char koay teow", "char kueh tiao", "char kuay tiaw", "char kueh tiaw" and so on. In Singapore, char kway teow is a popular, inexpensive dish usually eaten for breakfast and sold at food stalls in Singapore. Blood cockles and prawns are standard fare in typical hawker preparations, while more expensive or luxurious versions incorporate cuttlefish, squid, and lobster meat. Singaporean style char kway teow mixes yellow wheat noodles with flat rice noodles. Some cooks prepare more health-conscious versions with extra vegetables and less oil

Char kway teow

Char kway teow (炒粿条; chao guo tiao in Mandarin) is a dish of flat rice noodles and tubular yellow wheat noodles fried in garlic, sweet soya sauce and lard, with ingredients such as egg, Chinese waxed sausage, fishcake, beansprouts and cockles. The dish, of Teochew origins, is a familiar one in hawker centres, coffeeshops and food courts in Singapore.

In the Hokkien vernacular, char means “stir-fried” and kway teow refers to flat rice noodles. To prepare the dish, rice sheets are cut into thin noodle strips. The flat noodles are then combined with thick yellow wheat noodles and stir-fried in dark, sweet soya sauce, garlic and lard. Other ingredients include cockles (popularly known as see hum or just hum in Hokkien), lup cheong (referring to “Chinese waxed sausages” in Cantonese), beansprouts and chicken eggs. A sprinkling of cut cai xin (an Asian leafy vegetable; alternatively referred to as chye sim or choi sum in Hokkien and Cantonese respectively) and chopped chives add a touch of green to the dish. The cockles and other meats are usually put in last in order to retain their juiciness and prevent overcooking.

A hot fire gives a wok hei (Cantonese for “smoky aroma”) essential to this dish, and a charcoal fire is believed to provide the best flavours. Skilled control of the fire lends the dish its trademark smoky fragrance, which is also the mark of a good plate of char kway teow. As late as the 1950s, some hawkers used firewood instead of gas fires to cook char kway teow, so as to infuse the dish with a smoky flavour. Sweet black soya sauce, sweet flour sauce, light soya sauce and fish sauce give colour and flavour to the dish. A savoury, sour chilli sauce is typically added at the end or placed at the side of the dish for those who want a spicier char kway teow. Hawkers usually cook each dish individually, ensuring that each portion is thoroughly flavoured with the ingredients before serving. Despite its Hokkien name, the stir-fried noodle dish is associated with the Teochew community and is believed to have originated from Chaozhou in China’s Guangdong province. Char kway teow began as a simple meal for the ordinary man, an uncomplicated dish of rice noodles fried with lard and dark soya sauce. Rice vermicelli was added to the original flat noodle dish, but this was later replaced by yellow wheat noodles

Singapore Style Char Kway Teow 新加坡式炒粿条

Although it’s old fashioned and I’ve probably say it countless times, still I wanna say it !! LOL. TIME FLIES !!! And we are into the second half of the year already. Gosh, I haven’t been keeping track of how far my resolutions have gone by, but something definite is that, I ought to push myself harder into achieving more goals. But you know la, sometimes lazy bug just gotten too much into me. Haha.

Nevertheless, I geared myself up to cook up this really Singapore styled Char Kway Teow. Why do I say singapore styled ? Because I grew up eating and enjoying the sg style which comprises of pork lard, cockles and perhaps some cai xin and fish cakes too in the local char kway teow scene. I always tell the char kway teow uncle to cook a little sweeter for me (because I liked it that way) and also to cook the hum (cockles) well (熟一点). Although I know cockles has to eaten half raw to taste good, but it often gives me the runs, similar to the problem of oysters from our fried oyster cake. 

And a fiery hot flame is needed to cook up this local dish which though we couldn’t get the same such “wok hei” from home, but still I think it’s pretty good enough, considering we omit such things such as MSG. LOL. Although some people say that using pork lard for cooking is unhealthy, but I ever heard of another saying is that in actual fact, the bottled oils that we are using are even unhealthier because they have gone through some forms of chemical treatments and contain preservatives for the long shelf life. Hence said, the au natural pork lard is in another sense free of such preservatives and chemicals and thus better for health. Hmmm… I don’t have any take on this for once, because I feel that as long as all things are taken in moderation, that should be fine ? What say you ?

Finding the perfect plate of char kway teow

It’s hard to describe char kway teow, even as a Singaporean. The Singapore Tourism Board defines it as a “heady mixture of flat rice, noodles, eggs, prawns, and cockles” and a “near perfect balancing act of sweet, salty, crunchy and chewy”. While descriptions vary from person to person, there’s one thing we all agree on: few things more pleasing than a great plate of CKT.

Through extensive research on blogs, forums, reviews, magazines, newspapers, and asking for personal recommendations, I drew up a list of the 20 most interesting and raved about CKT in Singapore, before engaging on a week-long binge-cum-marathon to find out once and for all, who fries the best game on our small, little island. 

You’ve seen the usual suspects on listicles around the web, but having visited the 15 best char kway teow stalls, I’ve made some pretty unexpected discoveries on my journey. Join me on the countdown to #1! Different people have different ideas on what constitutes a great plate of CKT. To ensure a fair result, I decided to rate each plate based on the following five criteria:

This photo was taken at the Rasapura Masters at the Marina Bay Sands

Let me give you a background on the famous Char Kway Teow. The phrase literally means “stir-fried ricecake strips” and it is a popular dish in Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. It has been said that it is one of the favorite national dishes in Singapore.

According to Wikipedia, Char Kway Teow is made from flat rice noodles, approximately 1cm in width, stir-fried over very high heat with light and dark soy sauce, chili, shrimp paste, whole prawns, cockles (saltwater clams), bean sprouts, and chopped chives. It is commonly stir-fried with egg, slices of Chinese sausage and fishcake. It is traditionally stir-fried in pork fat, with crisp croutons of pork lard, and commonly served on a piece of banana leaf on a plate. Just with the list of ingredients, you can already visualize how unhealthy it is. Though I must tell you that is truly has a rich and distinctive taste that would make you crave for more.

It’s a good thing though that in Singapore, the dish has evolved into a healthier version with more vegetables and less oil. And what I really liked about it is how the greens and bean sprouts give off a fresh and crunchy texture. Yum yum yum! Now, the first one I have tried tastes good and I am quite satisfied. I haven’t noticed much prawns but the other ingredients are all there. The small plate costs S$6.00 but when you visit the hawkers, you’ll get a plate for only S$3.00. Visit this blog to see the Top 5 places which serves the Best Char Kway Teow in Singapore. Have you ever tried this dish? What do you think of it?


Char Kway Teow also known as Fried Kway Teow is one of the most wanted dishes in Singapore that you cannot pass through. You may be melted with the mixture of flat rice noodles and egg noodles which will be commonly stir-fried with eggs, cockles, lap cheong (Chinese sausages), bean sprouts, and Chinese chives.

A traditional plate of char kway teow could not be done without lard, which delights the dish with special flavors. These days, in the healthier version of this delicious fried noodle dish, lard is replaced by oil, and more vegetables are added in.

Char Kway Teow can be found at any hawker centres in Singapore, but it’s not easy for you to find the best one. So, we are happy to share the 5 best Char Kway Teow destinations, recommended by many locals that you can add to your priority:

10 Best CHAR KWAY TEOW In Singapore That Will Warm The Cockles Of Your Heart

Char Kway Teow 炒粿条, which is essentially stir-fried noodles with rice noodles, is one of those local hawker dishes that I appreciate more as I get older. There is this ‘fear’ that when the hawker retires, I am never going to get that taste again, especially when more stalls serve up the similar ‘food-court-taste’.

The dish of Char Kway Teow is a very personal thing though. Ask “Where is the best Fried Kway Teow in Singapore?” and you may get quite varied and occasionally defensive answers, because many of us grow up eating a particular stall. You never get the same type of Char Kway Teow between stalls. And as most owners (typically older uncles of a certain age) fry them plate by plate, you may not even get that same taste even as you go back to the same stall.

Sometimes, depends on uncle’s (or auntie’s) mood. That is what gives it character:
  • Hai Kee Teochew Char Kuay Teow
  • Hill Street Fried Kway Teow 禧街炒粿條
  • Meng Kee Fried Kway Teow
  • No. 18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow
  • Guan Kee Fried Kway Teow
  • 91 Fried Kway Teow Mee
  • Lao Fu Zi Fried Kway Teow 老夫子炒粿条
  • Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow
  • Apollo Fresh Cockle Fried Kway Teow
  • Tiong Bahru Fried Kway Teow