My long-running beef with Ronald McDonald stems from the fact that he’s always competing with me for the ladies.
I once tried to impress a CMB date by bringing her to a fancy French restaurant, even though the only French word I knew was “delifrance”. The meal had gone swimmingly right up till dessert, when she turned down the crème brûlée and macarons in favor of something else.
“Can we go next door and get a McFlurry?” she said.
“It’s a mix of soft-serve ice cream and various confectionery.”
“I know what a McFlurry is,” I said, annoyed. “I just don’t understand why you’d want one.”
It’s safe to say the evening went downhill from there, with her insisting she couldn’t trust the judgment of a man who did not appreciate a McFlurry, and me expressing concern that our offspring would have high fructose corn syrup related birth defects.
But even marriage couldn’t keep that hamburger harlequin from wreaking havoc on my love life. As it turns out, the Milelioness is a rabid McDonald’s acolyte, and constantly harangues me with Delilah-esque cries of “if you loved me, you’d let me have [insert new McDonald’s menu item here]“
I decided to put our relationship to test one day by asking her if she loved me more than McNuggets.
There was a pause. “How many McNuggets?”
I guess what I’m saying is that I might not be the most impartial person to deliver a McDonald’s staycation review, but you know what? He started it.
It may sound like the epitome of first world problems, but with COVID-19 keeping borders on perpetual lockdown, locals are starting to get bored with staycations.
Hotels, therefore, have had to get creative and offer something more than just a four walls and a bed. In recent months, we’ve seen Miffy-themed staycations at Fairmont, Macallan-themed staycations at St. Regis, even an interactive whodunnit play cum staycation staged at the Raffles Hotel. I’m surprised that Hotel 81 hasn’t done a small space special, where you and your partner sit in a tiny room and wonder why babies haven’t popped out yet.
Not wanting to miss out, Klook partnered with McDonald’s to offer a “Happiest Night-In” staycation at the 5-Star Oakwood Premier AMTD serviced apartments.
|Room type||Studio||2-Bedroom Deluxe|
|Cost||$329 nett||$449 nett|
It says something about the fanaticism of the McDonald’s fanbase (or the resale value of the collectibles) that the packages sold out in minutes. I managed to snag one before they all disappeared, figuring it was either that or wait for the inevitable Mothership puff piece.
And so it was that I showed up at the Oakwood Premier on a Wednesday morning, eager to see if we had a new contender for “most interesting staycation ever”.
I was greeted at reception and asked to fill out a health declaration, where I ticked no to the questions on whether I had any fever, breathlessness or sore throat (after all, I hadn’t started eating McDonald’s yet).
Paperwork complete, I rushed up to my apartment, where I was assured a veritable McDonald’s bounty awaited. I threw open the door, and saw only this.
Well OK, it wasn’t the best of starts, but maybe there was more. I did a room by room search for my plastic-wrapped bounty, finding hand towels, sleep masks, toys and a bed runner.
I was distraught that I couldn’t find the loungewear, however. The publicity materials on Klook clearly showed a loungewear-clad couple engaging in some strange foreplay ritual before consummating the evening with McNuggets, and I wanted to do likewise.
Unfortunately, a call to the front desk quickly confirmed that the loungewear was only included with the couple’s package (because mommy and daddy don’t wear loungewear to sleep, if you know what I mean).
This meant my total haul amounted to this:
I was pretty disappointed, quite frankly. I came expecting a Ronald McDonald frat house of ostentatious merchandising; instead I was getting its convent equivalent.
But staring at the miserly assortment, I made a resolution: if McDonald’s wasn’t going to give me a proper themed staycation, then dammit, I was going to do it myself.
Starting with lunch.
Although the staycation package is officially labelled McDelivery®️ x Klook Happiest Night-In at Oakwood Premier AMTD Singapore, it’s an act of marketing mendacity insofar as the included vouchers can’t actually be used for McDelivery.
You’ll need to redeem them in-store, which meant a visit to the nearest McDonald’s at Springleaf Tower, a six minute walk away. It felt long enough to justify you eating there, but not long enough to assuage the guilt on the return journey.
As anyone who’s ever spent time at McDonald’s will attest, you smell it before you see it. The fryers give off the unmistakable aroma of canola oil that carries quite a distance, if the wind is right (Q: what do you call a holy man working at McDonald’s? A: a friar)
Sure enough, I smelled it in the air about 50 meters away, turned the corner and was at McDonald’s: Over 99 billion served.
Lunch hour was in full swing when I arrived, although the work-from-home mandate meant a thinner crowd than usual.
In the interest of testing the robustness of the hotel’s plumbing system, I ordered a McSpicy, accepted the proffered upsize, and chose Coca Cola for my drink.
I took out my fat stack of McDonald’s vouchers (conveniently issued in $1 denominations) and counted out the $8 or so for the meal. The order was assembled in less than a minute- Ray Kroc would have been proud.
Back at the hotel, I stared at the spread before me, unhappily aware that I was about to ingest 80% of my recommended daily sodium intake and 47 grams of fat. HealthHub says that someone my age and profile should be taking in just over 1,900 kcals a day; this alone was 1,300 of them.
Truth be told, it’d been a while since I last ate McDonald’s, and even longer since I had a McSpicy. My previous McSpicy probably came towards the tail end of the Obama administration, and I’d forgotten what all the fuss was about.
Then I took a bite.
My world underwent a Copernican shift as every sensory organ lit up in electrifying bliss. The faint caramel aromas of toasted white bread. The perfectly crisp skin of the cutlet. The juice gushing out seductively. The hit of salt that made you salivate, and the slightly delayed heat which lingered between bites, barely held at bay by the smattering of iceberg lettuce.
Yes, the fries were soggy. Yes, the ice in my Coke had melted, rendering it a watered-down mix of phosphoric acid and food coloring. But the burger was transcendent. Say what you will about McDonald’s; they know how to trigger every pleasure center in the body. A Rice Media columnist once ate nothing but McSpicy for a week, and while I scoffed at his gastrointestinal folly at the time, I was starting to warm to the idea.
I wanted more.
Chomp. Chomp. Chomp. My blood sugar was spiking, my brain was on a dopamine binge. Researchers say that fast food can be as addictive as cocaine, and I was pretty much Scarface at this point. The McSpicy was disappearing at an alarming rate.
Stop. Stop. I kept telling myself. On cue, an angel appeared on my shoulder, represented here by Richard Simmons.
“That burger’s gonna cost ya, you know,” he said as he sashayed through an exercise routine.
It was also at this juncture that a demon in a clown jumpsuit and red wig materialized on my other shoulder.
“Just eat the damn burger, you colossal tree-hugging vegan pansy,” he growled at me. “Kids in Africa don’t have McDonald’s!”
That was incorrect, I informed him. In fact, McDonald’s was present in three different African nations, namely Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa.
“OK fine. Kids in North Macedonia don’t have McDonald’s.”
He had a point. McDonald’s was previously in the former Republic of Macedonia, but left in May 2013 after a contractual dispute with the franchise owner Sveto Janevski. I could just picture those kids now, hunched over their plates of tavče gravče and dreaming of a Big Mac. I had to do this for them.
I wish I could tell you that I fought the good fight, and like Joseph fleeing Potiphar’s wife, hurled the McSpicy across the room and shouted get thee behind me. I wish I could tell you that, but fast food is no fairy-tale world.
A few more bites, and it was no more.
Fully satiated from lunch, the next thing on my McStaycation checklist was to watch a McDonald’s movie.
Unfortunately, The Founder wasn’t on Netflix or Disney Plus, so I had to widen my scope to “movies where McDonald’s gets mentioned”. As you might imagine, a pop culture titan like McDonald’s has appeared in a countless array of films, from romantic comedies like Tootsie to family-friendly slasher films like like Friday the 13th Part 2.
It was a tough choice, but I finally decided on Mac and Me, a film that can’t even be bothered to pretend it’s not ripping off E.T. I mean, the blurb describes it as an “E.T.-like family adventure”, kind of how MaDonal in Iraqi Kurdistan is a “McDonald’s-like restaurant.”
The premise is disarmingly simple. An alien (who looks like pure nightmare fuel) hitchhikes to earth onboard a NASA space probe, escapes from the lab and is befriended by a wheelchair-bound boy, all while trying to hide from nefarious G-men.
The execution, however, is an orgy of product placement for Skittles, Coca Cola, and of course, McDonald’s. The alien only eats Skittles, Coca Cola has the magic power to restore it to life, and Ronald McDonald introduces the movie in a fourth wall breaking trailer. It was about as subtle as a football in the groin.
Even if you could ignore the contrivance of the alien being called Mac (the script swears it stands for “Mysterious Alien Creature”), it’s hard to gloss over the infamous scene where Ronald McDonald and his crew bust a move in an inexplicably well-choreographed dance party set, where else, at the local McDonald’s.
The movie ends with Mac receiving full US citizenship (don’t tell HWZ aliens are getting citizenship; they’ll be very upset), before driving off in a pink Cadillac blowing a chewing gum bubble that reads “We’ll be back!”
Well, no. Mac and Me was a commercial flop which was summarily savaged by the critics (“E.T. phone lawyer”, said the Washington Post) and holds a 4% score on Rotten Tomatoes. But what do a bunch of ivory tower highfalutin film critics know anyway? The movie commands a 4.8 out of 5 Star rating on Amazon Prime. The people have spoken.
The full version of Mac and Me can be found on YouTube, presumably because the copyright holder is too embarrassed to lodge a claim. It’s now taught in film schools as an example of a feature-length commercial, and was nominated for four categories at the 9th Golden Raspberry Awards, winning Worst Director and Worst New Star (for Ronald McDonald).
Cheer up Ronald, Halle Berry managed to turn it around.
By now I was experiencing the inevitable crash that comes after downing an ultra-processed meal full of fat, salt and sugar. It was time to get active.
In the wake of Morgan Spurlocks’ 2004 documentary Super Size Me, McDonald’s had a major public relations crisis on its hands. It had to somehow refute the narrative that it was single-handedly causing the decline of Western civilization, and slapping some fruit and salads on the menu just wouldn’t cut it.
So they launched an aggressive marketing campaign with the tagline “it’s what I eat and what I do”. In other words: “it’s partially your fault too, fatso.” McDonald’s went all out to cultivate a trimmer, healthier image, engaging sports stars like Venus and Serena Williams to star in TV spots (sample lyrics: “I’m burnin’ calories like a fiend, leafy greens so right for you. I’m making good choices, you can, too”).
Ronald McDonald traded his jumpsuit for a tracksuit and headed to schools as a health ambassador, in countries where that sort of barefaced advertainment was allowed. After a stirring speech on the importance of personal responsibility, kids were invited to have fun through active play- all the better if said play was in the playground of your nearest McDonald’s.
According to the adverts, the next course of action after consuming a McDonald’s meal would be skateboarding, snowboarding and/or mountain bike riding together with my group of racially-diverse friends, while up-tempo power ballads blasted in the background.
Those weren’t options for me (although some of my best friends are etc.), but it seemed apt to visit the Oakwood’s health and fitness facilities nonetheless.
I had ordered a McDonald’s pool float specifically for this staycation, but to my great annoyance, it would not arrive on time.
While I wanted nothing more than to recline on this floating trademark infringement, I had to make do with lying on my back instead, seeing how much of my distended McSpicy belly was visible above the surface.
After a good period of navel gazing, I headed to the gym, only to remember that fitness facilities were temporarily closed due to the return to Phase 2 conditions.
But I came prepared. As part of its rebranding exercise, McDonald’s partnered with a fitness company in 2006 to offer exercise DVDs at its restaurants, free with every salad order (odd, because you’d think the burger crowd would need it more). Four DVDs were created in total, each focusing on a specific kind of exercise: yoga, cardio, core and strength.
Here’s where it gets interesting. These weren’t traditional exercise videos with a live trainer. Instead, a virtual avatar named Maya took viewers through a 15-minute workout.
Why virtual? The DVDs were published by responDESIGN, makers of the Yourself!Fitness video game (probably the least interactive game you could possibly think of). I’ve a sneaking suspicion they took non-interactive cutscenes from the game, reskinned them and packaged it into a DVD. Just look at Exhibit A below:
So yes, McDonald’s customers were basically getting glorified shareware.
I couldn’t get my hands on an original DVD (they’ve become something of a collector’s item), but I did find some videos on YouTube.
And so I did a 30-minute cardio session with Maya, thinking how much easier this would be if I just had the cheat codes.
All that pretend exercise was making me hungry. It was time for the next challenge: making my own Big Mac.
Contrary to popular belief, the Big Mac recipe isn’t as closely guarded a secret as, say, the Colonel’s blend of 11 herbs and spices. In fact, McDonald’s Canada put together a video explaining how to make a Big Mac at home.
As it turns out, that special sauce is very similar to Thousand Island dressing, sans the ketchup. Simply add mayonnaise, white wine vinegar, onion and garlic powder, sweet pickle relish and mustard, and mix well.
Making the sauce was the easy bit. I had much more difficulty with the patty. The McDonald’s website lists the uncooked weight of a single Big Mac patty as 45g, but that can’t possibly be right.
At 45g, the patties were razor thin. They barely held their shape, no matter how long I set them in the refrigerator for.
As expected, the patties disintegrated almost immediately upon meeting the pan, hissing and spitting molten hot fat like some sort of Lovecraftian monster.
For the second attempt, I upsized the patties to about 150g each, which did the trick. The bulkier mince released more fat that acted like glue, increasing the structural integrity of the patty.
After dry toasting the buns and slicing some pickles, white onions and iceberg lettuce, I was all ready to assemble my DIY Big Mac.
The end result was none too shabby, if I may say so myself. Sure, my Big Mac was probably a few sizes too big, and the cheese wasn’t nearly as neon yellow, but it otherwise looked the part.
With a homemade Big Mac under my belt, I was now destined to follow in the footsteps of distinguished fry cooks like Spongebob Squarepants.
The hotel staff had asked me on multiple occasions how my kids were enjoying the stay, which confused me because I didn’t have kids, at least any I was aware of.
As it turns out, since I’d booked the family package (70 sqm two-bedroom) instead of the couples one (30 sqm studio) the working assumption was that I must have kids. I suppose that’s reasonable; at the risk of flogging a dead horse*, why on earth would a childless couple need anything more than a small space?
*I will apologise for flogging said dead horse if demanded.
But fine, perhaps I should see this as a training opportunity for fatherhood. And besides, I had all the tools I needed.
While the lifetime dream of many a children’s author may not be to have their works distributed alongside greasy plastic toys, Cressida Cowell is no bargain basement scribe. In fact, she’s the the author behind the How to Train Your Dragon and Emily Brown series, as well as stand-alone tomes like Don’t Do That, Kitty Kilroy (the Wikipedia entry transposes the comma, creating the impression it was an iron curtain spy thriller about a KGB agent with a proclivity for felines).
I had my work cut out deciding which book to read to my McKids. “The Twins Follow a Polar Bear” is the story of the Treetop Family who invent a time machine, and instead of going back to kill Hitler or stop Justin Bieber from ever starting a YouTube channel, they selfishly go on time safaris to study animals past and present for their own personal enrichment. Ray Bradbury saw it coming.
“Can Trees Talk” (no silly, because we cut them all down to make farmland for the hamburgers you’re eating) explains how umbrella thorn acacia trees give off ethylene when damaged, triggering nearby trees to pump toxins into their leaves to deter predation. It was informative, but seemed a bit cerebral for a bedtime story.
I finally settled on “The Twins Meet Two Tyrannosaurs” because I do love a good dinosaur book. I’m writing one right now about a futuristic amusement park where dinosaurs are brought to life through advanced cloning techniques. I call it “Billy and the Clonesaurus.”
“The Twins Meet Two Tyrannosaurs” is a passable yarn, I suppose. The time-travelling family head back 75 million years, meet a Gorgosaurus and a Daspletosaurus (two variants of tyrannosaurid), and avoid stepping on any butterflies or marrying their mother. In the end, they conclude that if even tyrannosaurs can share, maybe we can too. Perhaps this should be mandatory reading for the UN General Assembly.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the lack of corporate propaganda (or corproganda, as I call it) in the story, half expecting Ronald McDonald to appear in a Harrier jet, blast the dinos to a flash fried and steam marinated crisp, then toss Happy Meals from the cockpit to the liberated crowd.
In fact, the narrative integrity is commendable, with the only hint you’re reading a McDonald’s sanctioned tale coming on the final page’s call to action: download the Happy Meal app (yes, there’s a Happy Meal app).
With the kids put to sleep, I crawled up next to The Milelioness in bed. Gazing at her beauty made my heart skip a beat, although that could just have been early onset atherosclerosis caused by two McDonald’s meals in a day.
“Hey darling, want me to burgle your hams?” I said in my most sexy voice.
She gave me a grimace and turned to the other side, which made me think I should have led with the line about my birdie.
Despite the comfortable bed, I didn’t sleep very well that night. You might scoff, but meals high in sugar have been known to cause nightmares, and I dreamt that a giant Big Mac was chasing me through the streets, emitting a banshee-like wail of twoallbeefpattiesspecialsaucelettucecheesepicklesonionsonasesameseedbun.
In the kitchen area lurked the remnants of last night’s feast, which looked just as edible as it did 12 hours ago. When the last McDonald’s in Iceland closed in 2009, a man bought a set of hamburger and fries and put them in a glass cabinet. 10 years later, they showed little sign of decomposition, prompting McDonald’s to issue an indignant press release saying, in essence, “of course our burgers decompose!”
I wasn’t about to get drawn into that debate, and anyway, I didn’t fancy leftovers for breakfast. So it was back to the Springleaf McDonald’s once more.
The restaurant was quiet in the morning, with its handful of denizens keeping mostly to themselves. A retiree clad in brisk walking attire sipped coffee in a corner. A few tables away sat a reticent office worker, staring into space like a man who had learned there was no hell beneath him, above him only fluorescent lighting.
The Milelioness and I sat in a booth, like Pumpkin and Honey Bunny at the start (and end) of Pulp Fiction. Hunched over a Big Breakfast and Egg McMuffin, we engaged in a heated debate about the role that McDonald’s should play in modern society.
“I think it’s great that McDonald’s builds playgrounds and ball pits around the world,” she said. “If the local government doesn’t do its job properly, shouldn’t private enterprise take the initiative?
I knew it was a mistake letting her watch Tucker Carlson that morning.
“And they give kids so many happy memories too. So what’s wrong with McDonald’s?”
“What’s wrong with McDonald’s?” I said. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s how they disproportionately target underprivileged minority kids. Maybe it’s how they’ve become the world’s biggest distributor of toys, to the point where child influencers even plug their stuff for free, creating an environment where one third of children and adolescents eat fast food on a given day. Maybe it’s how Happy Meals foster a stimulus-response relationship between kids and fast food. Maybe it’s how they circumvent public health initiatives and flout codes about advertising to kids with aplomb. Maybe it’s how they show up at underfunded schools, paying them a thousand bucks at a time to talk to kids. Maybe it’s because we live in an age where children who can’t even read recognize the McDonald’s logo.”
Well, I wish I said all that. Instead, I munched on my hash brown while I watched a little girl through the glass pulling on her mother’s dress, pointing at the McDonald’s signboard.
When the first-ever McDonald’s in Singapore opened in October 1979 at Liat Towers, there was a palpable excitement in the air. The arrival of the iconic chain was a sign that the fledgling country was finally getting recognised on the global stage, and thousands of excited patrons queued up for its grand opening.
Fast forward 42 years later, and we now have 135 restaurants stretching from Joo Koon to Changi City. Has McDonald’s been a good thing for Singapore? It depends on who you ask.
For some, McDonald’s is a happy childhood memory; a birthday party here, a special family moment there. For others, it’s an existential threat to public health, and a danger to hawker food culture.
As for me personally, I can appreciate McDonald’s for what it is: a once-in-a-while indulgence that makes you feel amazing for 10 minutes before crashing you the next few hours. It’s indulgence, then penance- but isn’t that life in a nutshell? And while I’d try and keep my kids from it as long as possible, there’s a certain resignation deep within me that somehow, someway, the clown always wins.
That McSpicy, though.