Our Egyptian Adventure

We just got back from an incredible week in Egypt and I have been dying to pen down my thoughts before the trip becomes a distant memory.

Naren has always loved all things Egyptian (Pyramids, Tombs, bodies in varying states of decay (read: Mummies) etc), and since we have a couple of friends living in Cairo right now on work attachment, we thought this was the perfect opportunity to visit them AND to explore Cairo.

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Sorry couldn’t resist.

We got a really good deal on air tickets to Cairo on Qatar, with a 4 hour layover in Doha. The flight there was completely unremarkable, save for the fact that it was our first flight together. I learnt a few things about my darling husband on the flight that I thought I should share as a public service announcement for anyone intending to travel with him in the near future.

  1. He must, under no circumstances, be disturbed while he is watching movies on the in-flight entertainment system. He typically has a quota of 2 to 3 movies, depending on how long the flight is, and you will be rewarded with a the dirtiest of looks should you infringe on this sacred ritual.
  2. Ok actually that’s all. He isn’t all that exciting :p

The Hamad International Airport in Doha was actually pretty awesome. Its huge and they have  a much wider range for Duty Free Shopping compared to Singapore, and the prices were much better too.The one exciting bit about the airport was this huge…thing…that we saw in the middle of the airport.

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People were actually morbidly fascinated with this, and I later found out (from a kind soul on Facebook) that this is actually the Freedom Bear of Doha. When expats here see it they rejoice for it means they have passed through customs and can go on their holiday. I suppose I do see how it can grow on you.

We landed in Cairo slightly past noon, right in the midst of a sandstorm. Our friend had arranged transportation for us, and so we could immediately leave the airport and leave for their home. I can safely say that my first impression of Egypt is one that I wont ever forget. The cab ride passed by in a blur because I was so incredibly fascinated by the chaos that was Egypt. The traffic situation was incredible. There was such a massive jam in the middle of the day, and NO one signaled when they were changing lanes or turning. The magic of it all is that the drivers seemed to know exactly what they were doing, constantly hitting their horns and maneuvering their way around the cars.

As one of our guides succinctly put it…

“When you drive in Egypt, you need 3 things. A good horn, a good brake and good luck”

Also, we found that practically every building we saw was brown. Dark brown, light brown, medium brown, brown brown…you get the drift. And this is mostly so as to minimize maintenance, especially after sandstorms and the dust.

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Zamalek in West Cairo, where we stayed. It is an Island, surrounded by the Nile River, and is a rather affluent district.

Our friends’ apartment was huge. OK huge is an understatement. It was enormagigahuge. We were told that Egyptians typically had large families and hence most apartments there are huge. The apartment also had a really nice view of the Nile River.

The most exciting bit about the first day was during dinner. See when we reached Cairo, our driver told us that it only rains in Cairo 3 to 4 times a year, and for 5 minutes max. So restaurants and most other places in Cairo are not quite prepared for rain. CAIRO as a whole isn’t prepared for rain, because they do not even have drainage systems on their roads.

So when we went out for dinner at this nice restaurant by the Nile, guess what happened? It RAINED. It was a storm that lasted for much longer than 5 minutes, and the restaurant, which had a roof made out of a white tent, was completely caught off guard. It was incredible how brownish water just pushed its way through holes in the tent and drenched some of the customers. There was loads of screaming and running involved, and because it wasn’t exciting enough, they also had to switch off the electricity.

We decided to make a beeline for the entrance (we had already finished most of the food anyways), and Naren was tagging behind us dragging along his Shisha thingy, determined to get the last few puffs in. It was insanely hilarious and one hell of a start to the trip.

Egyptians

The first thing I noticed about Egyptians is how damn good-looking the women are. Its like one huge massive Ms Universe competition, except nobody is aware that they are involved. The women have the most beautiful eyes, gorgeous smiles, and are just, in general, breathtaking. And the best part is, they don’t really know how beautiful they are, and so come across as being very humble and unassuming. I also spent the week stupidly blabbering on about how I can see how these women are descendants of Cleopatra, but I then found out that Cleopatra is of Greek origins. GO figure.

Egyptians in general are really very nice people, and for some reason, they ADORE Indians.  Probably because they worship Bollywood and Amitabh Bachan. When we were in Hurghada, people kept asking us if we were from India, and when we tried to explain that no, we were from Singapore, they just looked disinterested and walked off. When we finally realized no one there knew where Singapore was, and decided to just say yes we are from India, people’s demeanor towards us completely changed and they looked at us with reverence. We soon caught on, and Naren started telling people his name was Amitabh.

I also had girls clustering around me in the Egyptian museum wanting to take photographs with me. Something very similar happened in China, where random people stopped me in the streets wanting to take photos OF me. However, the difference is, in China I felt like an animal on display in the Zoo, and in Egypt, I felt like a Goddess.

Speaking of Naren, Egyptians are so friendly, that he actually thought the airport security was trying to hug him when he reached out to pat him down for a security check. What transpired next was an awkward moment where Naren reached out to reciprocate the ‘hug’ and the security guy quickly made it clear he was just checking him. (I FB-ed this story, but i intend to blog it, and write about it in my diary and maybe engrave it on the walls in my house, because i don’t want to ever forget this story. My great-grandchildren will know about this.

Hurghada

Although it was a really short trip, we were told that we HAD to squeeze in a visit to one of the red sea resorts in Hurghada. We had to take an hour long internal flight (Egyptian Air), and it was one of the most terrifying plane rides of my life. The plane was SO bumpy (even without any turbulence) and for the first time, I actually felt nauseated during a plane ride.

Hurghada itself reminded me a little of Bintan in that it was a tourist town filled to the brim with resorts. However, the sad state of tourism in Egypt meant that many resorts were in different states of completion, with most abandoned mid-way.

We stayed in Tropitel Sahl Hasheesh. a 5 star resort and it was one of the last few resorts in the stretch furthest from the airport. Security was reasonably tight, and they had various checkpoints before we could reach the resort.

The entrance to Tropitel.

Our 3 days in Hurghada were magical. They gave us the honeymoon room, which had a spectacular view of the red sea. We couldn’t tell where the sparkling blue-green waters ended and where the skies began.

We took the all inclusive package, which meant that all meant that all meals and most beverages were included in our package. We spent most of our time eating, lazing by the pool and taking long walks along the beach. In the evenings, after dinner, we spent time in the sports bar. I think the resort is a must go for anyone who visits Egypt. Its a respite from the chaos of Cairo, and you get to enjoy a much more peaceful and calm side of Egypt.

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We took long walks on this pier every day, sometimes more than twice.
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The view from our room
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A view of our resort from the end of the pier during sunset.

Shopping @ Khan El Khalili

When we got back to Cairo, we made a trip to down to Khan El Khalili. It is a huge shopping district in Islamic Cairo, and is mostly geared towards tourists. It is filled with shops selling souvenirs, jewellery, papyrus paintings, coffee houses, restaurants and street food vendors. While the place wasn’t as crowded as we thought it might be, we couldn’t feel all that happy because it meant that the vendors were really struggling to sell off their goods. After the terrorist attacks in 2005 and 2009, the number of tourists to Egypt in general, and Khan El Khalili in particular took a plunge and the despair in the faces of the vendors reflected this.

Otherwise, we found the market to be a delight and loved getting lost in the little lanes and alleys.

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Glass stained lamps. I wanted to get about 50 of these for my house because I couldn’t keep my eyes off them, but unfortunately, the wiring for the bulbs was just messy and I couldn’t deal with it.

For us, the highlight of the market was the Papyrus paintings we saw. The paintings were so intricate, with each of them depicting a scene found in the ancient tombs. The vendors were more than happy to regale us with the stories behind the paintings and to explain to us the symbolism behind them. We went crazy buying paintings for the house and for our friends and were SO excited when we manage to match the paintings to actual artifacts when we visited the Egyptian Museum.

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Glow in the dark paintings.
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Authentic Papyrus paintings.
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One of my favourite paintings. A map of part of the Nile River. Spot Cairo and Hurghada!

The Pyramids of Giza

We knew from the start that this was going to be one of the highlights of our trip, and we weren’t wrong. We had a guide for the trip to the Pyramids, Ibrahim and he drove us to Giza, which was about an hour away.

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View of the City from the Giza Plateu
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The Great Pyramid of Khufu

I think this is the picture that comes closest to illustrating the awe I felt when I first laid my eyes on the Pyramids. I couldn’t get over the fact that each of the stones making up the Pyramids were about 3/4 my height and workers used 2.3 million blocks of stones to build the Pyramids using nothing more than simple machines made up of wood and rope. Also, while the common perception is that the pyramids were built by slaves, the pyramids were actually built by skilled craftsmen who took great pride in the constructing these massive tombs for their Gods. I don’t think I am doing any justice in describing how colossal and perfectly symmetrical the whole structure really is, so I shall let the pictures speak for themselves.

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View of the Pyramids from further in the desert.

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We also visited the various tombs within the Pyramids. Though all artifacts have been removed for display in museums around the world, it was still quite fascinated looking at the hieroglyphics and have Ibrahim explain their significance to us.

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This one in particular was interesting because apparently, this is how Obama reacted when    he saw this stone….                                                                                                                                   “That looks like me!” he said. “Look at those ears!”

 

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We also caught sight of the Sphinx, but it was slightly underwhelming after the Pyramids.

Having read up on the Pyramids before we went, I fully expected the plateau to be packed with tourists, and for us to have a hard time maneuvering around. However, the place had but a handful of visitors, with just one tour bus parked in the largely empty car park. Ibrahim shared with us that, like the rest of Egypt, the Pyramids have also failed to attract much tourists after the terror attacks in Egypt. This was evident in the way vendors were hassling us throughout the visit to the Pyramids to buy their wares. They were so desperate to make the slightest bit of money that they were following us around constantly, and willing to let go of their products for ridiculous prices like 5 Egyptian pounds (slightly under one Singapore dollar) for beautiful statues.

Not only has Egypt’s tourism industry been torn apart by the likes of ISIS and the brotherhood, the country is faced with the critical risk of not being able to preserve its ancient heritage.

 

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When we visited the Egyptian museum, the way in which the artifacts were strewn about was such a travesty. While there was an attempt at some form of security, with some of the smaller statues kept in glass enclosures, many of the much larger findings from archaeological  digs are left out in the open, subject to abuse from visitors.

It was my first visit to a country ravaged by the evils of terrorism and it was heartbreaking to see this happen to such a beautiful country.  By and large, the media highlights the immediate death and destruction caused by acts of terrorism, but for the first time, I could see firsthand the long term repercussions on the lives of ordinary Egyptians. We saw so many people begging on the streets, with little children tagging behind us for money.

Ibrahim kept telling us to share stories of how beautiful Egypt is with people back home, so that more tourists would come over. I wish it was as simple as that. Before ISIS and Al-Qaeda, life really was that much more simple. You like a place, you visit it. Now, you have so many different considerations, primarily, the risk of terrorist activities taking place in the country.

I am going to end off this entry doing exactly what he told me to do. Egypt is gorgeous, and Egyptians are really sweet, kind-hearted people. There are many travel journals on Egypt talking about how people are persistent and keep hassling you to purchase things from them. While I do agree that this does happen, when I think about how each tourist might represent some hope for these people when it comes to earning enough money to feed themselves and their families for the day, that momentary inconvenience I face is nothing.

But is Egypt safe? I don’t know. Is any country safe any more? We had a safe trip in Egypt thanks to the immaculate planning and guidance of our friends, and as one of them put it, you just have to pray that you’ll be in the right place at the right time.

Having said that, I really hope that the world will be rid of the sub-par humans who make it their life’s goal to spread terror and destruction, and that the rest of the world can enjoy Egypt and its rich history and heritage as it deserves to be enjoyed.

When we asked our guide how Egypt was going to survive, he gave such a simple, poignant reply.

“We will be OK. The good people will always win.”

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The Wedding.

21st of November 2015

It was the eve of the wedding, and as much as I envisioned myself being a nervous wreck, I was strangely calm. It was almost as if the next day was going to be like any other Sunday, instead of it being the day that would change my whole life as I knew it. The day I was going to get married. With my mom and brother out running errands, I had the house to myself. I was around the house, from room to room, soaking in the flood of memories that ran through my mind. It was the last night I was going to live in the house as just my parent’s daughter. While I would always be my parent’s girl, the next day would bring with it a new identity as someone’s wife and with it, a whole host of responsibilities and expectations.

I gazed at the picture of my dad, hanging by the kitchen wall, and thought about how different things would be had he been around. I allowed myself the rare indulgence of speaking to his photograph, something that I usually refrain from, simply because it made me feel weak, and vulnerable.

I ventured into the prayer room. I had spent many hours in there, pouring out my woes, and thanking God for my many blessings. It was the one room in the house I felt entirely peaceful in. I knew I was going to miss this room the most, and vowed to myself that I would create a space just like this in my new home.

I walked through the living room, where the decorations from the bangle ceremony looked oddly out of place. It was the first happy occasion in this house since we had moved in, and I wasn’t used to seeing the house adorned. As I sat in the regal-looking chair, it finally sunk in, that I was no longer going to be living in that house. I held back tears that had thus far evaded me. I had no idea why I was so afraid of being emotional. Whenever someone asked me if I was sad about leaving my parent’s home and getting married, I always scoffed at them, and said no, and that I was happy to be getting married. But that moment, when I was all alone, dealing with a myriad of emotions, I thought I might be coming close to understanding what everyone was on about.

The doorbell rang, and I sprang up to answer it, thankful for the distraction. It was my best friend. She had come to spend the night, to keep me company, and to keep me from running away should I have cold feet. We spent the next hour talking about the fact that I was having what could only be described as an out of body experience. The moment I had been dreaming about for years was finally here, and yet there I was, discussing it as if it was happening to someone else, instead of being hyper and screaming for joy. Perhaps, it was the movies? Deluding us and creating unreal expectations of how we ought to feel?

 

 

 

22nd November 2015.

It was about 6.30am in the morning. I had woken up at an ungodly hour, and had my wedding face painted on by my makeup artist. I kept alternating between not recognising myself, and feeling that every woman should always feel and look the way I did that morning, beautiful, and radiating so much happiness that it was almost a tangible presence in the room. I looked calm, but I was anything but. I couldn’t help but wonder what my husband-to-be was doing that very moment, and suddenly, I could wait for the wedding to be over, to be called Mrs N.

We reached the temple in 3 seconds. It was 30 minutes I was told, but it sure felt like 3 seconds. My entire family on my mother’s side was waiting outside the temple, but I searched out for the one person I wanted to see. My grandmother.  My grandmother is really old, and very fragile. Every time I visited her, her one wish was for me to get married, and she always made sure to shower me with her blessings that I would find a good man who would take care of me. In the deepest recesses of my heart, I always harboured the fear that she wouldn’t be around when I eventually did get married. It was therefore a blessing of the highest order to be able to catch her eye, and to see her smile contently.

I was made to wait in the dressing room behind the stage, and as I waited, my heart started palpitating and I couldn’t control the jitters. I couldn’t believe it. I had had weeks and months to freak out, and I chose to do it minutes before the wedding ceremony. It was always as though my heart and brain decided to gang up and betray me in the worst way possible. It helped though, to have all my loved ones visit me and give me moral support. I felt so much of love on that day. I never knew I deserved that much of love, but I do know that I am still figuring out how to thank these people. From my family members, to my bridesmaids, to my friends, to N’s friends (whom I have come to treat as my own), they all played a part in trying to calm me down.

Before long, I heard the sound of the Chenda Melam (traditional Kerala percussion instrument), signalling the arrival of the groom, MY groom to the stage. I must have stopped breathing for abit because when my respiratory system finally started to work again, I was fully aware of gasping for breath like a dying fish. Suddenly, someone came in to the room and said it was my turn to come out. And I knew something was wrong. It was far too soon. When we had spoken to the priest, he clearly said there would be at least 20 mins between N arriving, and me needing to go up on stage. I tried to reassure myself that perhaps I had lost track of time. We made our way down a secret stairway, so that we could make our grand entrance into the hall. As I went down the stairs, I couldn’t shake away the feeling that we were going up too fast. The drums started sounding, and we made our way up. As we walked up, I saw the confused expression on the faces of some of our friends who were helping us, and I knew we had gone up too soon.

The walk-in music couldn’t start on time, and I felt like I was going to faint from nervousness. I had dreamt of this walk-in since forever. I had spent weeks choosing the walk-in song. I had spent hours practicing my smile and the way I would hold my bouquet in front of the mirror. None of that was happening and I didn’t know what to do. Miraculously, the song that I had painstakingly chosen suddenly came on midway through the way in. I snuck a glance up at the stage, and saw N smiling at me, with so so so much of love, and suddenly none of it mattered. I forgot to worry about the walk-in. I forgot to care about whether the hall seemed full (one of my biggest worries since it was a morning wedding). I forgot to see if the deco was what I wanted. All that mattered, in that one moment of clarity, was that I had made the right decision in choosing who I wanted to marry, and that was the most important decision I would have had to make. That and where to cater the food from of course. Oh and my saree too. Oh and…ok never mind.

I sat down next to him, and promptly chose that moment to forget all the Tamil I knew, which meant that the priest had to repeat every instruction, sometimes more than twice. He gave Naren vaguely sympathetic looks, presumably sympathising with him for having to living with someone so clueless. And then, before I knew it, the Thali was around my neck. I wish I could say more about those momentous few minutes, but any further elaboration would be a lie. I honestly, for the life of me, cannot remember anything. The one thing I will forever remember of course, is the expression the faces of everyone around me. My family, my friends, and of course, the man who just married me. Everyone was so incredibly happy for me, for us.

And with that, the weight I had been carrying around for the past year (since wedding preparations started) just melted away, and I could finally bask in the happiness of everyone around us.

Did I cry at all?

I thought I would, when we had to go back to my parent’s house, and make our way to our new place from there. I honestly think it is a cruel tradition. It dramatizes the emotional upheaval the girl has to undergo by leaving her parents’ house by making an event out of it. But funnily, I was rather put together and calm. Perhaps because we had just had a gate crashing type event where the bridesmaids made the groomsmen dance before he could enter the house (sorry guys!).

I did cry though, when N and I were finally alone in our new home. Everyone had left, the house was extremely quiet, and after a day of nothing but loud, exuberant sounds, the silence was deafening. And at that moment, when I was in N’s arms, I finally broke down and cried. I cried because I was going to miss living in my home so much. I cried for the silliest of things, over the fact that my mom would no longer be making for me my favourite tea in the morning. Over the fact that she would no longer be there at home when I got home after a long day of work, for me to talk to. But through all of those tears, I can safely say that that was the most perfect day of my life, and all went well, walk-in saga none withstanding, because it was the day I married the person I was meant to be with. And wore a gorgeous saree…and…ok nevermind.

Dear Appa

In exactly 20 days, I will get married. As a young girl, there have been many times when I imagined how my wedding would be like. I dreamt about the sort of man I would marry, about the place I would get married in, the clothes I would wear, and so and so forth. Up until I turned 17, the one thing that remained constant in all of these scenarios would be the fact that you would be there, by my side, through it all.

I imagine you would have frowned when you first found out I had a boyfriend, and then subject him to the deepest of scrutiny to see if he was good enough for your daughter, before you finally gave us your blessings.

I imagine you would have loved Naren. He is so much like you, its almost unbelievable. He looks like a grumpy bear, but has the softest of hearts. He is kind. He is compassionate. He has such a bad temper (which is fine by me, because I inherited a far worse temper from you). He hates to perspire and is happiest standing in front of a large industrial fan. He loves home-cooked food. He has a wicked sense of humor. When he laughs, it is the heartiest of laughters. And most importantly, he loves me so much, almost as much as you did. It is almost as though you felt really bad that you couldn’t be here to take care of and protect me, and that you wont be there should I need someone to run to, so you decided to send me a man exactly like you, one who would take care of me better than you would, and one from whom I don’t need to run away from.

The wedding will not be the best it could ever be, nor the happiest, because you wont be there with our family, but I will get married with a peace of mind, knowing that you will be with us in spirit, that you would have loved my husband to be, and that your blessings will always be with us.

I am a 90s Kid!

We just received our SG50 funpack and I love the fact that they included so many items that brought back so many memories of growing up in Singapore.

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I decided to deal with the wave of nostalgia in the only way possible, by googling for pictures of the best things about growing up in the 90s. I realise there are SO many blog posts and articles online with the same title, but these are memories that are closest to MY heart.

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1) Milk cartons

As a primary school kid, I loved getting little cartons of milk to sip on with my little friends. We would wait for the day when 7 six-packs were delivered to our classroom and patiently wait as our teacher distributed the cartons to us. My favourite was the chocolate flavour (big surprise) and it was a huge treat to be able to get my hands on it once a week!

2) Mass dental hygiene lessons. 😉

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I hated these as much as I loved the milk cartons. Whenever our teachers made us get out our red plastic cups and toothbrushes, I burst into tears because I always thought it would end up with a trip to the dentist. But all we would do was to stand in a straight line along the long metal basins and learn how to brush our teeth together.

3) Story-telling sessions

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My favorite part about English lessons was when our teacher made us sit on the floor, took out giant A3 (or bigger) storybooks, secured it onto a little whiteboard with button magnets and read to us the story. She would have our undivided attention as we listened to her, spellbound by the way the story came to life with large glossy pictures. We also perpetually had our hands raised as we tried to answer all her questions.

4) Pets Textbooks

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These were the simplest of books, printed on really cheap paper, but we cherished them so much, and took pride in moving on from the A book to the B one, and from climbing ranks…from 1A/B to 2A/B and so on and so forth.

5) The Bookworm Gang

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We didnt have much money growing up and hence we used to save every single spare cent we had in eager anticipation of the booksale held in school that would have a huge collection of the bookworm short stories. I couldnt wait to get my hands on these books to find out more about the shenanigans of the gang, in particular Porky and Mimi,who were my favourite characters.

6) Cheap and utterly delicious snacks

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In retrospect, the chocolates often tasted rather stale and mamee had way too much msg, but none of that mattered when we were kids. We pooled together all our remaining pocket money and bought gold foiled coins and little cone shaped jellies and the number 8 m&m imitation chocolates and stuffed ourselves with them as we whiled away hours in the playground after school.

7) Ice Sticks

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These only cost 10 cents and lasted for ages, making it the best treat for those hot days when we ran around playing block catching and hide and seek! We even had entrepreneurial makchiks who add real fruit juice with bits of fruits and sold them for a staggering sum of 30 cents (which we only could afford on occassion).

8) Old school biscuits

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Forget oreos and whatever else other cookies we get these days. These were the way to go. From little jewel biscuits, with swirls of coloured, hardened sugar frosting, to jam sandwiches to alphabet biscuits, these biscuits made the best tea time snacks.

9) Eraser games

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My primary school class actually had a champions league out of this game and every opportunity we got, we played this and tried to get the erasers with the most powerful flags (At 8 years old, I have no idea how we decided which were the powerful flags but I assume we considered it powerful if we had heard of the country ;))

10) 5 stones and pick-up sticks

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These were the best recess games for when the weather was gloomy and we couldnt go out to play. Us girls particularly loved heading to the bookshop to see if there were new prettier 5 stones that we could buy.

11) Hopscotch

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Emergency game for when the monkey bars were occupied and for when we were too tired to play catching. We used to steal bits of chalk from the chalkboard in the classroom and draw our own makeshift hopscotch boards.

12) Young Scientist Program

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I loved this young scientist program by the Science Centre, where we were given a little card with a list of activities we had to finish before we could get one of these badges. My favourite was the Young Botanist and the Young Zoologist. I remember always wanting to get a young Astronomer badge, but my school didnt offer it.

13) Tamagotchi

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I remember all the kids going crazy when these were released and became all the rage. You had to look after your own little digital pet, feed it, play games with it, discipline it, and take care of it when it was sick. I loved how grown up it made me feel, but soon got bored when my pet died like 5 times a day.

14) Payphones

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You only needed 10 cents to make a call and these were found all over Singapore, from coffeeshops to mama shops. It was such a relief to spot one of these, especially when you were stuck outside in the rain, and needed your parents to come and get you.

15) Yaohan

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This was my favourite department store of all time, for no reason other than that it brings back so many precious memories. I grew up with my grandparents, and only stayed with my parents on weekends. Every Sunday morning, my brother and I would get up early and go pounce on our dad to wake him up. He would then bring us to Yaohan and get us a new toy each.

16) Army Daze

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Movies like Ah Boys to Men pale in comparison to the gem that was Army Daze for so many reasons. This movie was filled with so many real, raw characters and could tug at our heartstrings one moment, and make us roll over in laughter the next moment. It was filled with racial stereotypes but no one took offence because it came out at a time when the Kampung spirit was truly well and alive and we could all take a jibe or 2 at each other’s expense and not get upset because of the affection we had for each other.

I have thoroughly enjoyed this walk down memory lane. Am now off to dig around my bookshelf to see if I can find any copies of the bookworm gang I might have stashed away. Have an overwhelming urge to poke fun at Porky 😉

Racial Harmony Day

So apparently the authors of the Chinese Privilege Tumblr Site have requested the following.

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So I have decided to oblige by talking about everything I love abt RHD!

1) I have always loved having the opportunity to have that one day to share more about my race and religion with my students. I teach in a school with a very rich Chinese history and hence the student population is predominantly Chinese. Given that my students range from 13 to 16, many of them hardly have any exposure to Indian and Malay cultures and I completely do not blame them. At 13, MY priority wasnt to go and find out more about other races and religious groups, and I was probably too much of a self-absorbed teenager to give the concept of ethnic sensitivity much thought.

So I take this day as an opportunity to have some time to speak to them about my tradition, and practices. 99% of the time, my students are interested and eager to find out more. I also get so many students wanting to loan indian outfits from me. Are they misappropriating my culture?  I hardly think so. At 15, that is probably one of the FEW ways in which they show their acceptance of different cultures and I think that ought to be encouraged.

Any racist remarks that are made are quickly nipped in the bud with humour, wit and firmness.

Infact, forget racial harmony day. As an Indian teaching in a predominantly Chinese classroom, I encounter racist comments very often. And I have learnt to cope with it, not by getting used to it, not by getting angry and most definitely not by calling Chinese in general racist. I cope with it by countering them with logic. I enjoy doing it, because it is gratifying to see students STOP making such remarks henceforth. Also, as a teacher, I rather I hear these comments, so that I have the opportunity to address their behaviour, rather than have them get into serious trouble outside of school. 

2) I enjoy using RHD as an opportunity to address racism. One of my most memorable Racial Harmony days was spent sitting in a circle with my students and getting them to recollect ALL the racist comments they have ever made, and all the comments they have had made against them. We spent a good couple of hours talking through these comments, exploring the misconceptions behind these comments and rectifying them.

Till today, I have students who thank me for that session because it helped them to integrate better when they went on to junior colleges and polytechnics that had so much more racial diversity.

Wearing ethnic costumes belonging to other groups, having concerts, getting the canteen to sell special food items, all of these are aspects of the celebration that are most visible. That does not mean that meaningful exchange is lacking.

3) Have the Maria Hertogh and 1964 riots been used by the government?  OF COURSE. Should the government be using these riots? You bet! The current generation is growing up in an era where they have NOT experienced the turmoil and hardship of war and conflict. They will NOT know the damage racially/religiously insensitive comments can inflict on a society, especially a multi-ethnic one that is already so fragile. I dont see social studies textbooks telling everyone that the Indians and Malays are minorities and hence dont matter. I see them educating people that EVERYONE matters. So is it Chinese privilege that the Indians and Malays are considered minorities and are specifically highlighted as being a group whose needs need to be taken care of? I say its a FACT.

I cannot stand accusations about how SS textbooks are propaganda. In the hands of a GOOD teacher, NOTHING is propaganda. In all my years of teaching, I dont have a SINGLE student who left my classroom feeling that he had pro-government propaganda imposed on him, or feeling like he has no space to be an active citizen or no space to voice CONSTRUCTIVE criticism. I know we have leaps and bounds to go in terms of freedom of speech and I wont deny that. That doesnt mean one can disregard importance of students knowing our history, ALL of it, and the importance of RHD.

My school will be celebrating Racial Harmony Day this week. I am going to have a fabulous time with my students, talking about all things racist, taking a million different cliche photos and tagging all of them #RHD #RHD #RHD.

.Of Gratitude

We all have flaws. Sometimes, I think I have far too many of them.

I am incredibly hot-tempered. It takes me approximately 1.5 seconds to go from smiling to wanting smash something. Unfortunately, it is often my loved ones who ending up bearing the brunt of my anger.

I can be really grumpy and when I am having an extremely bad day, anything and everything makes me want to snap.

I can be really unreasonable sometimes, and have unfair or misplaced expectations of my loved ones.

I am sometimes rude, and mean.

I am sometimes not very accepting of differences and it takes me more than a while to get used to the fact that not everyone does things the same way.

I sometimes hold grudges.

I can be a complete scatterbrain and pull the stupidest stunts.

But somehow, somewhere along the line, I must have done something right, because I managed to find someone who is willing to accept me despite all of the above, who is willing to work with me through my flaws, and is so patient with me.

I am not writing this post so that my loved ones can reassure me that I am not as bad as I make myself out to be, because no one knows us better than ourselves. Only we are privy to our honest, raw, emotions and only we know the difference between our private selves and public selves. Rather, this is written so that I can, in some way, express my gratitude to the one person, who could have chosen to avoid all of these, and yet chose to stay. (Also, it is written as a reminder of how wonderful he is so that 1 year down the road, when he forgets to wash the dishes for the millionth time, I wont set him on fire)

So you, thank you for being the best friend, boyfriend, and now fiance, that a girl could possibly help. You are far more than I deserve 🙂

soulmate-quotes-4

Chinese Privilege

After reading the website on Chinese Privilege yesterday, and after blogging, I have been fascinated with the whole concept. I have been reading as many articles as I can get my hands on (partly because we are studying the chapter on ethnic diversity in school and this is such a rich topic for discussion)

I have picked out a whole bunch of examples that have been cited as evidence of the manifestation of Chinese Privilege and some questions I have about them.

Note: I am NOT denying the existence of a majority privilege, nor am I defending Chinese in Singapore. I am merely trying to rationalize why it is called a privilege as opposed to a natural phenomenon that takes place in ANY multi-ethnic society.

“Chinese privilege is when my Chinese friends use the word ‘mud’ casually (a pejorative for a stereotypical Malay individual) to dehumanise their personhood, while laughing and joking about it.”

Firstly, a bit concerned that I don’t know the meaning of pejorative. Need to read up on that.

Secondly, fair point, that is incredibly racist and derogatory. However, what about when the Indians and Malays refer to the Chinese as manjans? Is that ok? Are the Chinese expected to be ok with having derogatory terms hurled at them because there are so many of them and hence they can form support groups and sit around and cry about it together, while the Indians and Malays, by virtue of the fact that they are minorities would have no such outlet and hence have their, um, personhood dehumanised?

“Chinese privilege is when my aunt claims they are not a racist, yet they would definitely be horrified if they found out that one of their kids married a non-Chinese.”

I actually know of many Indian mothers who would cry bloody murder and threaten to inflict various unspeakable acts of harm (all inspired by various mega serials from Sun TV) on themselves should their children suggest marrying out of the race, religion or worse, caste.

Chinese privilege is when all those silly PAP town council banners i see hung around the towns have this token Malay or Indian kid smiling in the background who probably isn’t really smiling inside when one of their classmates called them a racist term”

This one so problematic lah ok? Put photo also got problem, never put photo also got problem.

Never include minority: Gahmen biased. Racist.

Include minority: Drama only lah. Put for the sake of putting.

Minority never smile: Because suffering, struggling. Gahmen biased. Racist.

Minority smile: Actually fake smile. Inside hurting.

Suda lah.

Chinese privilege is having the ability to go through one entire day in Singapore without being reminded that you are an ethnic Chinese.”

Not sure about this. Sometimes I go through the whole day not being reminded that I am Indian and I end up wondering if perhaps I am an oompah loompa.

Indian men who date Chinese women are desperate to assimilate. They instinctively realize the privilege of being Chinese, and unable to access it any other way, aspire to marry a Chinese woman. “

Really? I see why my own thoughts about it were so far-fetched. I always thought it was because, you know, they fell in love with them or something. No? It is because they want to assimilate? Ok then.

“You get to form the ethnic majority in a housing estate without it being called a ghetto” 

Hmm, I don’t know. What then? If you form 70% of the country’s population, isn’t it inevitable that you WOULD form the majority in housing estates no matter how fair or equitable distribution is? Unless the author is suggesting the EIP is abolished and Malays and Indians be allowed to form ethnic enclaves. I don’t know how much better that is for racial relations in Singapore to be honest.

“You have a whole slew of media dedicated to you. 3 Newspapers, 3 Radio Channels and 2 TV Channels.”

This is pure economics no? How would 10% of Indians be able to sustain more than 1 newspaper, TV and radio channel each? Would it even be profitable for media organizations to invest so much of resources in order to cater to such a small group of people? Is it logical to expect the same number of entertainment channels to be provided for 70% vs 10% of the population?

“You don’t have to keep zooming down to the same one or two stalls every time you head to the food court”

Again, same point. Should the proportion of stalls in the food courts be representative of the number of people likely to eat at their stalls? What is the point of opening so many different stalls to cater to a small group of people, and result in the owners of the stall losing money due to a lack of profitability?

“Chinese privilege is when it is even necessary to come up with an article ‘is Singapore ready for the first minority PM?’ (Tharman)”

This was one of the first valid points I read. I don’t quite care if my PM is an Indian, a Malay, a Chinese or a bottle of Nutella, as long as he is competent, I personally feel Tharman is long overdue a role that would allow him to contribute to Singapore in a much bigger capacity than he already is and I think most Singaporeans also don’t quite care about the race of their leader, as long as he is not a moron.

You get higher clearance in the army and get posted to more sensitive vocations”

I won’t even pretend to know what happens in the army, nor would I pretend to know why the government does what it does. However, are the Chinese privileged because of this? Do incompetent Chinese Singaporeans get high ranking positions in the army because they have an edge over their counterparts? I hardly think so. In which case, is it appropriate to label this as a privilege accorded to the Chinese, or would it be more accurate to label this as a form of discrimination which should be addressed on an institutional level?

You get to have your numbers topped up by migrant workers from China when your birth rate falls”

I irrevocably agree with this. I am frustrated that I repeatedly have to use sign language to communicate my orders at certain restaurants or other establishments, simply because the person behind the counter speaks less English than my neighbour’s cat. But again, given the tension between the local Chinese and foreign Chinese, given that the current generation of local Chinese are far more competent and comfortable speaking in English, is this a privilege?

No let’s assume that OK, we do in fact classify ALL of the above as a form of privilege accorded to the Chinese, then what?

What sort of change needs to be affected?

On an institutional level? Definitely. Policies that are explicitly discriminatory need to be revisited and reviewed with the current social, economic and geo-political context in mind.

What about the rest? Do we really need an equal number of food court stalls? TV channels? Do we need to nit-pick everything that the government does (e.g. advertisements) and bring the racial issue to the forefront even though it has no relevance to the topic of the ad?

Should we start to assume we are all-knowing and know the rationale behind inter-racial marriages? Behind why a family prefers to have their children marry within their racial group?

Debate and discourse is fantastic. Singapore’s political landscape has changed so much over the years and is more vibrant that I have ever seen it to be. There are so many young Singaporeans fearlessly stepping forth to critique and question and willing to effect change. However, whilst we do that, we need to be mindful of what why when where and how.

What is our objective? Is it to stir up controversy for the sake of it or is it to effect meaningful, significant change?

Is there a constructive purpose in mind, or is it because it is trendy to be anti-establishment?

In which case, are the methods in line with achieving those objectives?

Are the methods responsible?

As an educator, this is what I would tell my students. I could be wrong, I could be outdated, but it is what I strongly believe in.

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