Report from Tomorrow - Vol 18

1USD = S$1.70 (S$1 = 0.60USD)


There is a popular local fruit here called a durian. It's quite a large fruit (pineapple sized), green, with a very rough spiked surface. What makes it unique is it's extremely strong smell. One fruit can easily be smelled from 50 feet away. On a corner fruit stand, the smell of a many durians will fill the intersection and surrounding area. No one seems to be immune to the fruit - you either hate it or love it.

We have one of each in our household. By coincidence Mary & I both had our first durian experience on the same day. She sampled the real fruit at a nearby stand and I had some pastry filled with Durians. I rather liked them and brought some home for her to try (which she gamely did). Mary shuddered at the taste (again), immediately declared them "fruitae non-grada" and told me in no uncertain terms I was to eat the remainder of my treat outside on the back porch and have them gone in two days, never to return again. There are lots of such split households in S'pore like ours.

Durians have been cultivated and various strains are now available. Two of the best are D24 and 666 and these two cost quite a bit more. To true aficionados, they are worth it.

Because of the strong smell, durians are banned from most public transportation. You may not take them on the MRT or on an airplane, but may on a bus. I was told a story of a flight from Malaysia which took off and returned twice before they discovered the problem was a durian. Seems a passenger had wrapped the durian in multiple layers of plastic which was fine at ground level, but at 30,000 feet the air pressure allowed the smell to permeate the cabin and the crew thought there was a serious problem.

I read that one must never eat durian and drink alcohol, especially hard alcohol, after eating a durian. Apparently the combination can be more than socially objectionable, but can be literally lethal. Some constituent of durian reacts with alcohol (or one of its metabolic products) in the body to form a potent toxin. People have been killed by this reaction!

Its a Cultural Thing

I guess this entire journal could have been organized under this heading - because almost everything I've written about is mostly a "cultural thing". This is mostly a hodge-podge of disparate items that we've noticed, presented in no particular order:

ANG MO is the Hokkien (a local Chinese dialect) phrase for "red hair", used since the first whites showed up in this area. It's a mildly derogatory term, spoken by the non-white locals about "them" (the whites/westerners). Mary & I use it to label ourselves, like when we're walking to the bus and a taxi slows down expecting us to hail him and we say, "There's a taxi out trolling for ANG MOs."

CONFINEMENT NURSE is a visiting nurse who will come live with you the first month. The purpose of the nurse is to teach new parents how to take care of their newborn and to help the new mother. The nurse lives in a spare bedroom. They extract mother's milk during the day and the baby sleeps with nurse, perhaps allowing the mother to get a good night's rest. The term comes from the idea that a newborn mother and baby are confined to the house for the first month. Although this is not strictly true any more, the job position still exists. Actually I thought this quite a good idea as I remember when Mary & I first had Micah home. We were alone in Germany and it's a wonder he survived his bungling parents.

This is really PLASTIC WRAP society. Everything, seemingly, gets wrapped in plastic. Food at the local Cold Storage gets wrapped several times, of course, but so might your shoes (how the heck do they expect you to try them on?), and your furniture, and your kitchen cabinets, and your books, and so forth. Bigger items like chairs are a real pain, because the wrap is put on before the arms are put screwed in. So this means when you tear the plastic off, you never quite get it all -- unless you're willing to disassemble the chair so you can pull all the plastic off. Every chair at work has some little string of plastic wrap hanging on somewhere.

There are very specific rules about TOUCHING here. Men should never touch a woman in any way unless she makes the first move. In particular when you meet a S'pore woman, do not extend your hand for her to shake unless she offers it first. Many women I've met extended their hands right away, but not all. The head of Human Resources at the bank, who must meet dozens of new people every day, does not shake hands.

On the other hand, TOUCHING between people of the same sex is quite common (as in Europe). This is nothing more than a sign of two people being good friends. It is fairly common to see two men or women holding hands, arms draped over the other's shoulder etc. From the body language it is clear this is not sexual in any way - just two good friends hanging out together.