Report from Tomorrow - Vol 7

1USD = S$1.59 (S$1 = 0.63USD)

Race Relations

This is really a polyglot society consisting of ethnic Chinese, Malay, Indian subcontinent, and Arab people as well as a significant number of white Caucasians (from mostly from English speaking countries). The races mix without tension, however, there is a pecking order here. As one Chinese woman told me, "slanty-eyes on top". The society is clearly run by the Chinese/Malay, but of course they also comprise 80% of the population.

One can find people of any ethnic group at any level, but there is a clear distribution of jobs by group, especially at the bottom. The lowest level (e.g. manual) jobs are held almost entirely by people from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan etc. - street sweepers, maintenance people, rent-a-guard, construction workers, trash haulers etc. Whites are found almost solely in white collar positions - professors, upper level managers etc. I have yet to see a white "blue-collar worker", although I was just told there are some in the ship-building industry here.

I'm told there is a clear bias held by many Chinese against people from the Indian subcontinent. People have reported to me they have seen Chinese refuse to get into cabs driven by an Indian as well as other relatively blatant forms of racism. My small work group at the bank consists of several expat (Brit, Scot, Australian, American), four Indians and a mixture of Malay and Chinese (I don't think I can tell a Malay from a Chinese). Even in this small, relatively elite, well educated group too, there have been instances of the Chinese not taking direction from an Indian.

The Tamil population here came from colonial times where the Brits imported Indians/Sri Lankans for the government. As a result they are generally well off - ranking just below the Chinese economically. The poorest segments of the society are from the Indian subcontinent and are not viewed well by the dominant Chinese here.

Outdoor Kitchens

Perhaps the most curious aspect of apartment living in Singapore is the concept of an "outdoor kitchen". Every kitchen we've seen (with the exception of one brand new apartment) had the kitchen closed from the rest of the house by a door and has no air conditioning. The idea is that the kitchen opens to small porch where the laundry is done and all of the smells of cooking go outside.

Other than that the kitchen is small, but reasonably equipped. In our million dollar apartment, we have a resonable-sized refrigerator (smallish by USA standards, but huge compared to the suitcase we used in Germany 25 years ago), small cheap oven, 4 burner hob and small sink. No dishwasher - that's called a maid here. The place came without any dishes or pots and pans, so we've bought new and will likely abandon them here when we leave.

The net of an outdoor kitchen is that it's much warmer and humid, especially with air conditioning on in the rest of the place. So you might be playing cards in your air conditioned place and then walk into the kitchen for food or drink where you are slapped with a wall of hot moist air. This also means that when you're cooking or doing dishes, it will be even more hot and humid than usual.

Just outside the small kitchen is a small open-air porch where the clothes washer is to be found and an area where you can put up a drying rack. Despite the heat, it's surprising how long it takes things to dry, as this area is shaded from the sun and rain. Air can move through the area, but not directly.

In this same area is a good sized closed in storage area. It is open to the warm, most air, so you have to be careful what is stored here. I suspect clothes would not be easily saved here. We have so little here, our room is mostly used for storing boxes which we'll probably have to throw out :-)