Report from Tomorrow - Vol 13

1USD = S$1.67 (S$1 = 0.59USD)

Stereotypes and Lies

Every society has various stereotypical views of themselves, which of course are not completely true, but do contain a grain of truth. Here's some local views of Singaporeans.

The Chinese are pretty somber people as a whole. They are hard working and focused on making money. They like to work for themselves and so you'll often find the shopkeepers in Asian societies being ethnic Chinese.

The Chinese are a very superstitious people. They believe in a hell after death and also believe you can be bought out of it. This is done by burning fake paper money and paper replicas of house-hold goods (cars, microwaves etc.).

The number four is associated with death (I think the two words sound alike in Mandarin) and eight is associated with prosperity. At Chinese New Year you are to take 3 Mandarin oranges as a house gift to people you visit (the Mandarin word for this fruit is the same as gold). Take four and you've wished the family death. The numbers 88 or 888 are very lucky numbers and so phone numbers with these are sought after.

Chinese are often buried on the side of a hill, in a plot shaped like a vagina since they believe they return to mother earth at death. More prestige is associated with plots higher on the hill.

Chinese believe it is lucky to have your building/apartment associated with wind and water. Your entry way should not block the movement of air so that any bad spirits can flow right through your house and out. In the same vain houses should have a mirror near the entry way to deflect evil spirits from entering. If possible your place should be near or see water - a river, pool etc. This set of superstitions is called SHEN FUI (Mandarin for air and water).

The Malay population is very easy-going and smile more easily. The Chinese will tell you this is because they don't like to work - and they don't think it's an accident the Malays are called "malaise".

S'poreans in general do not marry quickly and are very picky about finding a marriage partner. Part of this is economic since HDBs are so expensive. It's said that S'porean women consider the "7 C's" when considering a man - cash, credit card, condo, car and 3 more I've forgotten.

The Haze

"The Haze" was a big deal here. Notice the past tense, because as of now, for now, the haze is pretty much a non-issue. We've had a fair amount of rain in the past month and the smoke haze is much reduced.

The fires from the Indonesian islands all around us were generating a huge amount of smoke. In the summer/fall of 1997, the haze was very often so thick, you could not see more than a few hundred meters. The tourist industry here took a nose dive. S'pore doesn't have a lot to see anyway, and "bad weather" made it much worse.

This year they are paying lots of attention to it, but, of course, can't DO much about it. S'pore actually sent some fire-fighters to Indonesia to help, but it truth, there is little that can be done by us here. Last year the winds were mostly from the east which was unusual (driving smoke from fires in Sumatra to us). In early 1998 the winds came from the north as usual, but now as the year goes on, the normal pattern is winds from the West, bringing smoke from Borneo (many hundreds of miles away) so the haze was beginning to be a concern.

The government has been posting an index (PSI) used to measure how bad the haze is. In March the worst day was in the 40s, by April we'd hit 80. At 100 they warn people with breathing problems to stay inside and prolonged exposure will increase the risk of asthma and other related illnesses. Near the fire areas the cities in Indonesia are seeing PSI values > 200.

The expat community bought air filters like mad - at S$400-700 apiece. No, we did not buy one.

Environment

I find the local attitude about the environment quite amazing. This is an island of 3+ million people, having utterly zero natural resources - even all our water comes from Malaysia or the sea. So many things are tightly controlled and influenced by government policy and they do almost zero recycling here.

Twenty years ago, recycling was a fact of life in Europe. Here, we have a complete throw-away society. They don't even try to recycle the simple things, like aluminum, glass and newspapers. Apparently most of our trash is burnt in huge incinerators on the north side of the island (and let the winds blow it out to the ocean). Much of the rest is trucked into Malaysia which has lots of jungle for it all.

Now, strictly speaking there is a government policy to encourage recycling, but you never see any signs of it. No ads, no recycle bins and certainly no locals make any effort. What very little I've heard about has come from the expat community.