Singapore’s more like China than China

CNY Celebrations at Sota 23

It’s been as busy as we’ve expected this Chinese New Year, and with Kai nursing a new cold (how many do babies get in their first year?), we were expecting even less sleep than usual, and we were right.

That’s not to say we haven’t been enjoying time with our families and relatives jetting in from all parts of Asia.

Our sister-in-law from Shanghai tells us that the only thing about coming to Singapore for the CNY holidays is that when you want to do a spot of shopping on the first or second day of CNY, you’re probably going to be limited to Mustafa’s or a few other smallish shops.

I said that was because Singapore is becoming more like China, as more and more companies seem to be observing more “Chinese traditions” as a result of employing more (Mainland) Chinese workers.

But I’ve now been told that by our good sister-in-law that that’s bunk, and that in Shanghai, most of the shops are open throughout the New Year.

The other WTO

Toilet Humor

I imagined a joke about someone telling another person that he works at the WTO, and the other person asks, “Wow, how long have you been in Geneva?”, and the first person asks back, “What do you mean, Geneva? I work in Toa Payoh.”

People laugh at our obsession with toilets – and how as a nation, we made all our public toilets flush themselves because we couldn’t be trusted to flush them, and now we don’t have to flush them so often because water is scarce, and how we actually have a national contest to see who has the cleanest toilets.

Having cogitated on this for a bit (on the toilet no less), I have realised that it really is no laughing matter. Good sanitation means less disease, and we should be spreading the word about efficient waste management.

Lack of public action and education has led to people defacating on street corners in Dhaka because of a lack of public toilets. And you really should teach some people that not everything can be flushed.

So, don’t laugh, and be proud of the fact that Singapore hosts the World Toilet Summit (whose logo looks suspiciously like Standard Chartered’s), which was held last December. And the next time someone says s/he works at the WTO, ask him/her how things are in Toa Payoh.

There’s that R-word again

No, the other R-word. I don’t really care about Pastor Rony Tan and his idiocy – he’s of the same cloth, as far as I’m concerned, as the evangelical pastor in the U.S. who once made his point against migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds by famously declaring that “if English was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me!”

I’m referring to our nation’s obsession with race. I was rummaging through our personal documents last night because I was trying to get them organised for Kai’s first passport application.

On his birth certificate I saw something in Naomi’s details that made me chuckle and recall the little argument I had with the lady registering our details for Kai’s birth certificate.

On the column for Naomi’s “race” is printed “Japanese”. Which is alright I guess if you consider Japanese a “race”. The box next to that, “Dialect Group”, I had left blank when we filled out the form, and the lady clerk had pounced on the blank box with her pen and said, “you must fill in dialect group. What dialect group is your wife?”

She wouldn’t take “none” for an answer, and insisted that there had to be a dialect group for Naomi, whether she was Japanese or not. After around the 27th time I had said that I had no idea, the officious but helpful clerk looked at me like I was stupid and said, “ok, what language does she speak apart from Japanese? Japanese is her first language right? What else does she speak? Come on, I’m sure you know.”

And so, Kai’s birth certificate shows that his mother belongs to the “English Dialect Group” of the Japanese Race.

Singapore’s Oskar Schindler

They either never taught us this in history lessons, or I just wasn’t paying attention.

Thanks to a contributor on sammyboy.com, I found out that one of the heroes of the Japanese Occupation in Singapore was Japanese. Shinozaki Mamoru was a press attache with the Imperial Foreign Service and was assigned to Singapore before the Japanese invaded.

He was jailed by the British for spying (a charge which he denied), and was freed by the occupying Japanese, and given a role as a welfare officer of the civilian administration of occupied Singapore.

Among his heroic deeds included deliberate storage of food supplies in the Thomson area so that the Little Sisters of The Poor would have a steady supply of food; and his very liberal issuing of thousands of safety passes to members of the Chinese and Eurasian communities, an act which probably saved thousands of them from being rounded up and executed.

Shinozaki eventually testified at the war crimes trials against his fellow countrymen, and later wrote a book – Synonan, My Story, which is apparently still a source of information about life in Singapore during the Occupation.

You can read more about Shinozaki here.