Thursday, February 15, 2007

Jottings from Singapura - Part 2

Quintessential Chingapurian - Quick, Quirky and Cute

Dear all!

As warned, I'm back with more jottings/snippets from Singapura! This time, about my first impressions of the Chinese, based on my limited opportunities to observe them here in Singapore. The Chinese forunately are not the kind of people who try to block foreigners out of their purview... they are friendly people, always ready with a smile. I remember what my uncle Babu Periappa said, "In Singapore and London, one won't feel out of place or unwelcome!"
Anyways, here are a few thoughts I quickly noted down, just to torture you all on a nice bright Thursday morning :-)

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The Chinese have smiling faces, especially the older generation! And they love it if I say "Namaskar"... I just tried it on a few people this morning :-)

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We have a lot in common with the Chinese. For example, they do not wear slippers inside the house... like us, they remove it before entering. I was surprised when the guy who came for servicing the air-conditioner the other day, removed his slippers outside before entering the house!

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They are very religious. We have senior citizens as neighbours on both sides. Every morning at 5:30 a.m. (well, I know because I am an early riser!) the old Chinese lady next door waters the plants outside her house and then lights agarbathis and places them in front of some Chinese engraving hung outside the door (a common sight in most homes). Sometimes she even offers an orange or a banana, JUST like we do neividhyam!! Similarly, like we clean the windows and doors and white-wash houses before Diwali, Hindu New Year etc., these people clean and paint their houses before Lunar New Year (this weekend). Similarly, they also ring a small bell and chant prayers, quite like we do! I must one day chat with her and find out about these customs, just that she finds it very tough to communicate in English, except for saying 'Morning when I open the door in the morning (when she waters the plants!)

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The men like to have long hair, while most women have short hair! But let's face it... Chinese men ARE cute, with their funky, spiky hairstyles... they don't seem to age, at all!

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They love to cycle! Like in Pondicherry, you can find SO many cyclists here.

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The Chinese seem to be sticklers for hygiene and decorum. Here is an example of how cautious they are about personal hygiene. If you get to travel by the train here, notice... if somebody gets up and leaves and a seat becomes vacant, nobody will occupy it immediately. Even if they do, they'll sit in the corner of the seat for a few minutes before settling in. In case you have not already guessed why... they wait till there is no trace of the body warmth of the person who occupied the seat earlier! They also follow the rules strictly... if a person with special needs (a pregnant woman or old/challenged people) board the train, the people sitting near the doors will immediately get up and offer their seat. Similarly, even in a crowded train you'll find that nobody even touches anybody else... except the obviously teenaged couples on dates, who just can't keep their hands off each other, to the extent that you'll feel embarassed and squirm if you're next to them!

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The roads are so smooth here that it is very easy to push a trolley/cart/pram on the road. While most people use prams for their kids, don't think there will be kids inside all prams! An old lady pushing a pram might well have her shopping inside it and not her grandchild! It's common to see old people pushing their shopping bags in a small metal cart or a pram!

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You'll see headphones stuck to the ears of almost EVERY single person here. No, not for the mobile phones, but from their iPods! They keep on listening to music, because they BARELY talk to each other. When on the train, when on the bus, when walking, when driving, they just keep on and on and on listening to music. Well, can't blame them because there isn't much they can do with their ears otherwise while on the road... people don't talk much, drivers don't honk... so the only sense you really need to use is sight, for the signals. Otherwise, you might as well listen to music. I've started taking my 'umble HP mp3 player (since I don't have an iPod) with me when I go out alone. Just that I'm trying to get over a bad habit of mine... of singing along when I listen to music. This morning was funny. I was listening to the track "Bavra mann dekh ne chalaa ek sapna" when walking back from the temple and unconsciously I was singing along since it's such a captivating number. When the track got over I suddenly noticed a homely-looking Amritsari (as they told me later) couple giving me an amused look!

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Despite all this, I feel this society is very impersonal and I yearn for India, where you make acquaintances as life rolls by... back home, I could make friends with the librarian, the veggie seller, the grocery store cashier, and if I travelled the same route everyday, then even the bus conductor, but here it's machines, machines, machines everywhere! You don't have to buy tickets... simple use a smartcard which you can top up online. At the library (which is FANTASTIC, by the way), the librarian is nowhere in sight! To return books, you just drop them into a slot. To borrow books, you just use an automated kiosk, where you slip in the library card and place the books one by one under a camera, on a tray, and the books are automaticlally registered! If you go to the supermarket, they don't even waste energy to spell out the bill value to you... you simply have to look at the cash register and pay and they'll give you the change. Wonder when they'll replace a robot for that as well :-) Somehow, I prefer the lifestyle where there's a librarian who scolds you if she finds doggy ears in a book or says a cheery hello when you step up the queue! Anyways, can't deny that it takes a mastery of technology to automate to this extent, and kudos to them for that! To each their own preferences... I am more comfortable with a blend of technology and old world charm!

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God bless them, the Chinese love tea! So, I can step into a "coffee shop" at any time and ask for Teh Alia (ginger tea) or Teh O Alia (ginger tea - black) and I'll get a well-made cuppa! Fortunately, unlike the Japanese, the Chinese seem to like large cups of tea, not miniature ones. God bless them, again!

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Ciao! Miss you, India! More later!

Till then... ta... ta,
Janani