I’ve always been suspicious of Carnival, or any event that tries to produce happiness just by setting a date for it to happen. Fair enough, it works with parties in general and therefore is merely a function of relaxation, present people and mood (possibly certain narcotic beverages as well). But Carnival was a closed book for me and actually still is. But one after another.
Carnial (or ‘Fasching’) has a long traidion in Germany, but luckily enough it was not contagious enough to spread into every little corner (I could grow up relatively undisturbed in my home village in Saxony). It is most widespread in North Germany and refers to the days before the ‘Fastenzeit’, a time of fasting and penitence by the church (indeed: the word ‘carnelevare’ is Italian for ‘take away meat’, an imperative for catholics to renounce meat for 40 days). It is mostly a catholic fest and celebrated with exuberant parties, processions with decorated wagons that proceed through villages and cities. Carnival usually begins on Nov 11th, 11.11am and ends on Ash Wednesday (this year 21st Feb 07). The Monday and the Weekend before that last day usually feature the biggest parties and processions. My friend Nantha decided to go visit a friend in the small village of Königsbrück (near Dresden), I decided to join him for the weekend and especially a supposedly great party on Sat night. You hear me saying ‘supposedly’…
BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE
Of course, the weekend had to start with Nantha’s luggage getting lost on a ridiculously short flight from Munich to Dresden with FLYDBA (yes! you deserve to be negatively highlighted here!!) Unbelievable..After we had arrived on the airport only 30min before departure and did make it on the plane still on time (puh), we were foolish enough to feel safe. But of course, Nantha’s great just-bought-for-110€ Admiral-of-the-sea costume waited patiently in a neat little suitcase that somehow had been forgotten in Munich (as the ONLY piece of luggage on the plane, of course!). Well, blessing in disguise: Nantha’s friend Marco could provide him with an even better solution…a fantastic black/white nun costume that just looked gorgeous. Time to move on!
On Saturday then we had the ‘luck’ to board one of the open-top, decorated procession wagons, enjoy free-flow booze (of course just only sipped and throw kilos of confetti on the grimmest looking grannies that we passed on our way to the market. Of course, the V-belt of our traction engine had snap only after a few minutes, so a dozen weirdly dressed people had to push the heavy thing right to the village market, where we were then surrounded by the wagons which boasted loud thumping techno, folk and pop music. However, the ‘Finale’ was still to come..
LOOKING FOR BAD PARTY IN SMALL VILLAGE
I guess everyone of us knows the feeling of being at a party where one suddenly realizes that there is total and absolute incompatibility between the humble self and almost all the rest of the present people. I could have hardly felt more displaced than during this night at the official carnival-party in the town hall of the village Königsbrück. Me, who is fond of clubbing in the great venues in Singapore, Bangkok and Hong Kong, who has had the luck to experience nasty, loud, smelly and pitch black three storey clubs in Jakarta, was suddenly stuck in a surreal German country village party picture without the ability to interface with the people. Weird games, even weirder carnival-committee rituals were only interrupted by the most undancable music that I personally can imagine: Discofox (a social dance that evolved in Europe seventies according to Wikipedia and is widely popular in Germany and Switzerland)! AAAAHHHHH…. Nantha observed the scene as ‘interesting’, since as a Singaporean, it was the first time he saw something like this in his life and still could take some pleasure in it. But I felt lost, had to give in and admit that I had to get away as soon as possible to remain sane. Of course, it is not fair to even start comparing an Asian metropolis’ club with this, but I simply could not stop. And it made me mad.
Isn’t it weird that some gatherings of people just disgust us and trigger our instincts to sit alone in the corner or just run away? Guess, that is human nature and I have been away for too long to appreciate something like this (have I ever..?) Luckily enough parties and clubs in Munich are way more international..usually there is less chance of an unfortunate encounter with an evil discofox
Thanks God this Carnival is OVER!
see you next year..
Some time in November my diploma thesis opened up in Word 2003. She (of course female) was angry: ‘Listen Maik, you want me to evolve in a beautiful way, see me flourish, thrive and prosper? Now, get DOWN AND DO IT!’ The problem is (as laid out in Figure 1) there’s always less time than work (same as there is always more month than money). And even IF there is enough time to conduct something as a thesis in 6 months, the typical student’s brain seems to be conditioned to auto-compensate this overabundance of time by finding ever more elaborate ways to procrastinate. What happens? Acting busy and the unavoidable consequence of riding the angry blue curve above, whatever best intentions one might have had in the beginning (same as in the beginning of every semester anyways..).
Long story short: Made it, sent the final softcopy from Melbourne while I was already on leave, handed the Diplomarbeit in on time (thanks to the kind help Ronny and Sandy, who printed and handed it in for me in Dresden!!) and was awarded with ‘Very Good’ . A good end at last…but that’s WHY I did not have the free brain capacity in November and December to produce anything on this page that would have made much sense..
This first period of time in Singapore ended after a fantastic 14 months on Jan 3rd. Thesis finished (at least almost), future job in Munich mainly secured, I headed to a four week vacation in Asia and Oceania to finally touch down on Munich soil at the beginning of February…my new home for probably the next years. This week should see my first day at work and hopefully the signing of a rental contract for my own flat..
Time passes by more quickly than one can imagine…This is just a short roundup of what happened..There are many things to tell about places such as
- Jakarta (quite Indonesian..clubbing in the craziest, darkest, drug-infested places I have seen in my life, quite before the current devastating flood of course..)
- Krabi and Koh Phi Phi Island (Thailand..Krabi as an authentic Thai village, where one can have fun dancing with the locals and Koh Phi Phi as an outpost of the well-known looking English booze-machos and countless similar-and-sorry-but-boooring-looking blond Finnish girls..’The Beach’ with Leo DiCaprio was shot there, by the way..)
- Macau and Hong Kong (where the Winter fashion somewhat seems to be to wear thick coats and flip-flops at the same time in the subway..a colorful combination that left my mouth wide-open when I saw it..)
- Melbourne (Australia, where we found out that there is a crossing between Kangaroos and Wallabies, called a Wallaroo!!)
- New Zealand (where the 2nd most favorite food in the world comes from See pic at the end!)
- Dubai (United Arab Emirates, where according to some friend’s information 70% of all cranes in the world do their work right now…apparently a dubious number spread by the German Infotainment show ‘Galilio’, but the visual impression came close..)
- Paris (obviously France, where everything is so ridiculously expensive that you wonder how the normal Jacques-Le-Francais can afford his daily breakfast wine-shot..at least I did not suffer from the Paris-Syndrome!)
- Munich (where the public escalators in subway etc. are running at about 50% of Singaporean speed..and the request for spicy Chili sauce in a Burger King is greeted with the most repulsive look one can imagine..)
The blogs name has to change as well, I guess…
TURN THE AIRCON ON!
I am just now writing this from Munich, where I am for Business for a few days. Chrissi was so incredibly kind to let me stay in her flat. Thanks a lot, IOU! Maybe the evenings this week do give me time (what a gentle wish) to process all the photos and experiences. Munich is in deep autumn now…streets are filled with colorful leafs, the air is wonderfully fresh and cold (like somebody switched on the AirCon outside…how great would that be in Singapore? ah..few more years down the road the Asian buzybees will find a solution for the heat. unfortunately, one cannot order the temperature down). And it is a great pleasure to finally get into a pullover and a jacket again and not to transpire heavily after only a 300m quick walk. Naturally, Caucasians are suddenly everywhere (I miss the Asian faces) and I was devastated to find out that I arrived on a Sunday when ALL shops are closed. One cannot even get some bread…
Well, I will shortly go back to a few highlights of the last months. Rawa was certainly one..my new friend and Qimonda-colleague Herbie and me went there for just the typical intern-weekend (means Friday afternoon to Sunday). It is a tiny island located somewhere between the city of Mersing and the bigger island of Tioman. Strangely enough, 99% of Singaporeans would not know Rawa and were questioning my sanity when I told about the upcoming trip then (‘Rara? Rala? huh? are you SURE you know where you’re going?’). I was close to thinking that it was an ‘intern-only’ island to be inhabited by semi-poor Germans, Dutch and Englishmen only. Luckily, I was proved otherwise. However, our resort was mainly occupied with a large Singaporean (female, but not our style) Tai Chi common interest group, some couples and elderly people. Yes, very exciting. We had a lot of -fun- with them playing bingo.
The island could only be reached via a ferry and was so small that the accessible beach could be walked from one end to the other in less then 5 minutes. Two hotels (Safari and Club Rawa) exercise perfect price discrimination in that they jointly offer rooms from one end of the price spectrum to the other (although it’s still not cheap in Club Rawa, which was supposed to be the budget place). So what to do here? Drink the beer and wine that we had brought with us (too expensive on the island; staff was pretty angry at us after two days of continuously requesting ice cubes ), trying out all the different hammocks that were available; becoming wanna-be experts at pool billiard and of course letting the white sand play with the skin while practicing the sport of extreme idling on the beach.
Some more pictures can be accessed via the the Rawa-Foto-badge on the right side pane. Not an exciting trip, but a fantastic chillout place that could have been taken from the catalogue.
Bummer that this small, very romantic island could hardly offer us any female company to clink the glasses while sunset. It is definitely a place to remember and should be revisited with the romantic partner of choice (sorry Herbie, but it did not quite work out with us )
Singapore has seen quite some events during the past weeks of my not-writing. The IMF meeting that took place here a few weeks ago let the world see what can happen in a country where the assembly or procession of 5 or more people in a public area is considered an offence under the so-called Miscellaneous Offences Rules. Some organisations were not let in at all, which made Singapore face a lot of criticism..Sometimes Singaporeans who I tried to ask about their opinion here just decided not to answer at all…maybe that’s safer than blabbing out something that could eventually fire back. At least the bright side was that the country flourished in all possible ways to give a nice picture. Little India’s Deepavali festival preparations were brought forward because of the event..therefore that part of the city is already now an ocean of lights and colors.
Also, the city is under a thick haze these days, which is due to large-scale rain forest clearings in the close Indonesian island of Sumatra. Reports say that some people are already experiencing small health problems…I only realized the slight smell of smoke after a friend told me today and I had a very deep breath around lunch time Not so bad…Singapore’s still the cleanest spot around in Asia…also, one more reason to sit it a safe AirCon’ed office all day..
…IS OVER? NOPE
I find it quite remarkable that I have been in Singapore for one year now (except of course all the trips that I did including the one break in Germany). But on paper it does say one year…and I do feel a change happening. I am currently passing the honeymoon time…the initial Singapore fling is over and I feel that I gradually see this place more from the eyes of a resident. This includes that I begin to take formerly odd things for granted and that I have to really convince myself to go to the tourist attractions that I have not yet seen. And then one tries to distinguish from the ‘normal’ caucasian tourist (which is a nutty and stupid behavior, but it does happen). Even the 8 months that I spent studying and travelling in New Zealand in 2003/04 look like a distant tourist trip in comparison to how I feel adjusted to this city now. I start thinking that one has to go beyond a certain threshold of time to feel this…a growing intuition to know a place but never being able to really be part of it.
Do I want to stay here? Maybe…as time passes, the growing social net of friends and colleagues makes it more and more difficult to finally turn away…China and especially Beijing do still look very appealing for my first real employment next year, but have I really seen all of Singapore? Or have settled down and got infected by the standard sickness of not exploring the place where you live but always travel somewhere else?
THE SMALL THINGS…
These days two friends from Germany (Ronny and his girlfriend Nicole) are visiting me here…and just by realising how they see Singapore for the first time do I understand how I got accustomed to so many details. The eternal fight to find cabs at rush hour, the crazy mugginess and heat every day, the hot spices and chili that I don’t care about anymore, the Mandarin chitchat everwhere that is so funny and enlightning, the incomprehensible bus system that stands out in crass difference to the flashy MRT trains, the latest bluetooth headsets Ipods slimphones pdas that everyone seems to have, the nature of singapore as being one big wifi city hotspot, the crazily overprized starbucks-cafés that became my second home, the endless range of gleaming flashy shopping malls, the street cafes and hawker centres that are overcrowded almost the whole day, the cleanliness and rule-obedience that easily meets German standards (if this is now good or bad..), the escalators that can be found everywhere even in dance clubs, the big German limousines that one can see on the highway just next to a load of Indian workers who sit on a truck’s loading space, the always slim Asians despite a diet that sees so much unhealthy fried food, the friendly looks of some people who automatically think one has to be important to live and work here as a Caucasian…
to be continued
FINE FEATHERS MAKE FINE BIRDS
I feel quite blessed to work in the IT department of my company. It enables me to show up in a very casual look most of the times…which means t-shirts (mostly Infineon or Qimonda-branded of course) and Jeans. Only yesterday I decided to wear my best combination again…finest Bangkok custom made trousers and shirt with cuff-links to impress some HR Ladies I was supposed to meet for lunch
Well, my tired brain already noticed a change in the morning when I was on my way to office (tired because with shirt one has to leave a bit earlier than normal…arriving only at 9 in office would mean to show considerable sweat marks because of the omnipresent heat). People suddenly look different and even longer than normal and I can almost see the question in their eyes ‘What position might he have?’.
Entering the MRT at 8.15 in the morning is like being among Managers only..all men are in nice shirts and trousers…90% of the women still have wet hair from their morning showers and keep checking themselves so eagerly as if this was the first day in a new job. It was only in Singapore that I became aware of how wonderful and sexy Business look can be. Fierce competition indeed produces incredible outcome. (ok, but this is still nothing against a typical Singapore mall on Sat afternoon, some of which often act as public stage and catwalk at the same time).
It was crazier in the evening when I decided to have a little walk after work to a food stall, still in my finest combination. I have not felt so scrutinised in a long while (ok, it is flattering..but considering my real position as a student and intern it is ridiculous at the same time). This amplifies and suddenly I catch myself walking down a pedestrian crossing in a played statesmenlike stride just to see what happens. And yes, women’s looks are suddenly like glue and I wonder how more superficial this can ever be…it felt simultaniously hilarious and sad..
INHALING THE EXPERIENCE
Still back in Malacca (Malaysia) about two weeks ago I decided to go for a foot massage on one evening (I do have knee problems while running since then..maybe it was not soo conducive after all). It was already 8.30pm that night and I caught the 40ish year old Chinese heritage guy just leaving the place. Good Business man as he was, he quickly decided to reopen and ushered me in.
The place had enough space to serve 5-6 customer simultaniously, but I was the only one then. It felt a bit weird in the beginning but I decided to follow my still positive belly sensor. He did not even want me to clean my feet before (was he into smelly odour?), but I insisted. It was still a relaxing thing…and the fact that he was a guy and only doing a foot massage minimised the danger of inappropriate offers (minimise, but not avoid..I have to add. Of course, he wanted me -as a fine and of course happy customer- to come back the next day and receive a special full massage skillfully conducted by one of his female associates).
A special add-on for the massage provided my final approval on using a miraculous, green tibetan powder on my feet and legs. He was so excited about it that I finally had to try..However, I was not so sure if they were from Tibet though..for a price of approx 2 Euro this could still be, but I guess that’s just what I paid for the little Placebo. What it finally caused was to heat up my skin after he wrapped my feet and legs in seperate towels…felt like my outer skin was boiling and made me wonder whether there would be any skin left below my knee to massage the next day.
Finally, I really had to insist on my NO (with an easy heart) regarding his repeated offer to provide me with pure oxygen during the foot massage..I already had to bite on my lips when he tried to persuade me by telling about Michael Jackson’s habit of sleeping with pure oxygen all the time (yes, this guy is indeed a positive example!). But I could not believe my eyes when I turned around in my seat and looked at what he pointed with his finger so encouragingly: a McGyver like 1.8m high gas cylinder…badly overpainted with beige color and saying in thick, blue handwriting ‘O2, REAL PURE OXYGENE’. Would ANY sane person put on the oxygen mask that leads to this tank? Good Lord, I wonder whether I would have discovered a black/yellow skull, if I only had scratched a bit on the bottle where the paint looked extra thick…
Funniest thing though was that he always claimed that his BOSS was watching all the time (via numerous cameras in the room…which I thought were all fake). That was probably to make his customers feel safer, but even mo
re to give himself a good excuse why he could not do any price negotiations himself. After my request to see his boss he only replied that he was very shy and did not want to see customers tonight…haha…I limped home then with my pulsing, boiled legs.
I spent a few days this week with my friend Vikram in the Southwest-Malaysian City of Malacca, a beautiful outpost of Malay culture which is just 3 car-hours away from Singapore, located on the Strait of Malacca (ca. 80000 inhabitants). While he was on Business trip, I went to explore this historic city, which was first taken by the Portuguese in 1511 and then by the Dutch in 1641, before it became part of the then almighty British Empire in the early 19th century.
These diverse influences can be seen all over the city. The outlook of many houses is very different from what I’ve spotted in this country so far (alas, I HAVE NOT seen too much of ‘Malaysia-Truly-Asia’ yet on the other hand ). The big role Chinese culture plays in this country is still a surprise to me, as it contradicts the strange and wrong imagination I had before of a mainly homogenous society. A considerable part of the people is of Chinese heritage, which can be seen by the numerous Chinese temples around the city and traditional Chinese characters that mark and ‘guard’ entrances and windows of many houses. And of course, the available food is a nice blend of all mentioned heritages…I also had my first ‘Asam Laksa’ in Malacca, which comes without (!) coconut milk..A more sour (=’asam’) sensation than expected but still yummy!
YOU LIKE SINGAPORE?
I found it very easy to connect with the locals. It helps a lot to discover a city like that alone and some Mandarin breaks the ice with the people right away (there is no ice anyway, not only because of the tropical temperatures..). I soon realized that my mentioning of my workplace sparked something in them and let them talk quite freely. Apparently, most Malaysians do have their opinion about Singaporeans and don’t hide that there is indeed some love/hate relationship (with a slight emphasis on the latter). It boils down to an almost typical animosity between the two states whose history is so strongly intertwined. I have been to a local museum which portrayed Malaysia’s long way into independence. Singapore’s secession from the newly founded Malaysia in 1965 was justified by the ‘avoidance of conflict due to deep-seated political differences and to safeguard peace’.
Was there almost a war looming then between the two states?!
MALAYSIANS ABOUT SNOTTY SINGAPOREANS
So what do Malaysians think about Singaporeans? I had a long talk to one intelligent and witty old Lady in a craft shop at famous Jonkor street. I will only reproduce what she said, which does not necessarily reflect my own opinion..I just like to explore this little animosity in more detail. There may be a lot of biased generalization but this is exactly what I heard on so many occasions that I can almost take it as public opinion. Well, I myself know examples to prove exceptions to the rules Don’t take it too serious. However, I would be happy to get comments..
Due to the mere economic facts (Singapore’s GDP per capita is about 3 times as high as Malaysia’s) the city outperforms MY by almost any measure. And according to the Lady many Singaporeans apparently make no attempt to hide their superior position by looking down on other, poorer nations in Asia..and Malaysia is of course on of them. A stuck-up, snooty-nosed attitude is what most Malaysians mention when it comes to the way Singaporeans usually talk to them.
Well, I myself cannot confirm this, which of course may be due to my nature as an Ang Mo (Caucasian white), which (to be very honest) puts me on the highest step of the ladder in this country, whatever I do and say. There is simply no way for me to experience the mentioned impressions first-hand.
THERE MUST BE ORDER IN SINGAPORE
On the other hand, Singaporeans are perceived as very efficient in most things they do and are often taken as good examples to show how things should be run. They are organized, follow rules to an extent that even let my German eyebrows rise (you know..our national saying is ‘Ordnung muss sein’ = ‘Order must be’). Since they have success, they look for ways to show off with what they have. That starts with small things..like the fact that a Singaporean usually has to be superbly dressed for the holy act of shopping (which is not the case in Malaysia). It goes further in the way that many Singaporeans buy uselessly big luxury cars, which can only function as status symbols in this small, speed-limited city. It is almost tragic that the ever present buzy-bees spend all this huge amount of time in office just to being able to hand over their hard-earned money and receive goods which further support representation in public.
THE 5 Cs
Which brings me to the well-known concept of the 5 C’s, which actually have been taught to me by Singaporeans only very recently…five things that represent the very desirable lifestyle in this tropical city:
(with exchangeable order)
Material wealth, self-sacrifice for the job, almost no time for leisure…all apparently chapters in the same book. Is there a way out? Join a French company to enjoy ‘Savoir Vivre’? Leave Singapore for Australia? Or is it just a needed change of the very own state of mind to decouple yourself from public opinion? Is this even what the Singaporeans want?
What I have to add as a last point here is that many Singaporeans seem to understand that very well and can even point to the above facts. They often crave for a change in corporate life.. However, public expectation seems to put many in one big peer pressure boat. I am not even sure if a change is really desirable here..is that one facet of culture I failed to notice or interpret?
MALAYSIAN ABOUT MALAYSIAN
Malaysian Shop Owner: ‘So where are you from?’
Me: ‘I’m from Germany!’
Malaysian Shop Owner: ‘So you must be Hitler grand grand grand son, haha!’
(quoted from the old lady)
Malaysians might live a slower life, are according to her self-proclaimed less efficient but they see themselves as more humble and friendly than their Singaporean neighbors (supported by a friends testimony that she rather flies with Malaysian than Singapore Airlines). They admit with a bright smile to be ‘extremely’ lazy, as if this was a pillar in their life that can never be moved and has therefore to be taken into account when we talk about future development. Jealousy is there of Singapore’s success and Malaysia would love to surpass their little neighbor better yesterday than tomorrow. But on the other hand they see the Singaporean orderly lifestyle and know to somehow that they can only catch up to them if they virtually become them.
I really try not to bash on anyone here, and this might have been a harsh post that polarizes. Having the nice friends/colleagues and acquaintances in mind that I know here I can hardly imagine that the above mentioned allegations are more rule than exception. Nevertheless, I felt that I had to write about the uniformity of Malaysian opinion about Singapore and the honest self-reflection I got from the old Lady (however little objective it might be).
I enjoy this country and people very much, that’s why I extended my stay. However, I have the subtle impression that because of my nature as a Caucasian there will always be facets of culture that I simply cannot experience myself.
Do I only see the bright side of Singapore?
(When I really noticed this flag for the first time a few months ago, I thought that the family owning it must have been a Turkish one. Big mistake..It was only a few weeks ago that the amount of flags suddenly mushroomed in town and I started to wonder where all those Turkish people came from all at once )
Singapore’s most important day passed just 9 days ago..on August 9th this small young country became 41 years old. Not an incredibly long time that has passed since the independence from Malaysia in 1965, but quite a considerable and visible change that this place must have gone through in the meantime..(for example a street called Beach Road, which used to be located somewhere close to the water according to what I heard…but now is quite in town..all due to massive landscaping since then..). I wonder what it must have been like to walk around Raffles Place or Orchard Road in the 60s..(did they even exist then? Or are they just an invention by the tourist board to please mall and glitter-hungry tourists/locals?)
Shops in town filled with red ‘Singapore’ shirts and I was told that on National Day most schools let their students show up in red shirts to respect the importance of the day. Also, the streets were marked by big election-like billboards announcing the NDP..which (as as German) I always but only for one second mistook as an ad for the German Far Right National Democratic Party (which definitely does not deserve any further commentary due to the mere stupidity and backwardness of their neonazi-agenda). According to firsthand information, I was not the only German who had to face this little psycho-effect. We are apparently pretty conditioned in this respect and that is also the reason why I always associated something ugly with the billboards. It is something one cannot influence..like upmarket shops that influence the mood and stay time of customer with special music and smells. And by the way, NDP of course stands for National Day Parade.
The biggest and most important event on that day was a parade that took place in the National Stadium. Unfortunately, I only lerned about its existence when all tickets were already given away, so I could not even attempt to find a way in there (would have been odd anyway for an Ang Mo to be inside, I guess.). The ticket issueing process was basically a lottery with not much chance to get in except you’re lucky or have the right connections, of course. The usual Singaporean is used to watch it on TV at home anyway.
The event itself (I had a glimpse at a few minutes while I ate my Laksa at a street stall) felt like a proud combination of the presentation of all army branches in finest service dress (plus a multitude of tanks, etc..) and the opening of the Football World Cup. Colorful lightshows and the presentation of Very Important VIPs were accompanied by a uniform mass of red-clothed spectators at the grandstands who fervently waved flags and pennants and even had the flag painted on the cheeks (as I said, like World Cup)..I found the effort taken quite impressive, but I still cannot understand why there is no way to let this parade use the streets of Singapore.
Fortunately enough, this has been a public holiday as well.
WHERE ARE THE BABIES?
Just a few weeks ago, I attended a friend’s housewarming party. He and his girlfriend had recently moved in to a new apartment, a so-called HDB flat, which stands for Housing Development Board. These are usually flats in apartment blocks, provided by the state which are then sold or rented. As opposed to the more sought after Condominium apartments, they don’t come with any facilities, like gym or pool. ‘Government provided’ does not necessarily mean here that they are of bad quality though…it is not synonymous for poor people’s housing. The standard ranges from low standard to Condo-like apartments..it is just a matter of price which can reach mind-blowing ranges (they ususally start at about 300.000SGD)
It is widely popular here in Singapore to buy apartments right away and not rent them. However, young people are only allowed to purchase an HDB flat if they are married. As a single this permission to purchase is dependent on the age..one has to be at least 35 years old. I guess this rule is to some extend an example of basic government family planning, which from my point of view fails quite miserably. The current total fertility rate in this country is tremendously low with about 1.05 children born / woman (in 2005), which is even lower than Germany with its current 1.38.
COLLATERAL DAMAGE OF MODERN LIFESTYLE
Apparently, this is an attribute of a society where the usual ‘carrot and stick’-approach (as mentioned in the last post with regard to the army) does not quite work. The Singapore government introduced tax reliefs and for example a range of educational subsidies, but as one can see with only little effect. A female friend told me that the working environment in Singapore is still not quite family-friendy. Maternity leave is very limited (if accepted at all) and most companies seem to have a ‘Gentlemen’s agreement’ to sustain a highly inflexible working environment (no way for different working hours).
Then there’s the yuppy concept, which of course lets young people pursue their personal goals (including career) first…usually kids come last here and to be honest..I am not even remotely an exception, since it is exactly the same case in Germany. Last but not least, it is also a contributing factor that single mothers are not entitled to the same tax incentives as married couples and still scorned upon by many..a social stigma as my Singaporean friend put it.
Ok, I can guess it is an eternal truth that the wealthier a nation and the more business and career-focused its citizens are, the less children there are around (‘because there’s never the right time for children anyway’). However, my friend told me that many Singaporeans don’t know if there will be a bright future in their country. Some fear that the low number of children, the non-existence of raw materials and the uprising of China / India etc. will eventually put an end on Singapore’s economic thriving. Personally, I am more concerned about the political side…especially what is going to happen after Singapore’s holy mentor Lee Kuan Yew (currently 83 years old) will eventually not be here anymore and somebody else will have to take the helm and use the admittedly very concentrated power in an equally informed and hopefully sane way. Good luck on your further way, Singapore!
One thing that strikes me most about buying any apartment in Singapore is the fact that most of the time one does not really BUY it, in the sense of obtaining in exchange for payment. Basically, when one ‘buys’ a flat, it actually means the purchase of the right to use it for the next 99 years (there are also contracts available that go for lower amounts of years, but it is usually ‘Double 9’ for apartments). When this near-century is over, the place will go back to the state automatically and one has the right to rebuy it.
The starting point of thinking here is, that the state in fact ‘owns’ the whole country and therefore all premises. Space is very limited here on these 683sq km (Denmark for example is about 60 times its size), which was the main reason for the decision to remain in control. The state then decides (depending on region and importance) if an apartment / house can be rented for 99 years (‘double 9’), 999 years (‘triple 9’), or if one can even purchase a ‘free-hold’ license, which never expires. Of course, the prices differ from scheme to scheme. If a flat costs you 400.000 Singapore Dollars (~200.000Euros) for the 99 years, it will easily go into a high 7 digit value for 999 years.
Even ‘free-hold’ does not automatically mean that you can build your own castle including trench and live totally on your own. If the state thinks that a new highway has to be built right through your living room they have the right to take it back (of course compensated).
I don’t think I would feel very comfortable, knowing that I am actually gratefully allowed to use the place for a long, but limited period. This might come from my German point of view that property rights and the ‘holiness’ of the own home should be secured in a basic law. Although I can absolutely not imagine to buy an apartment or house (feels like dropping the anchor, or should I
say putting on shackles?) I would not want to miss the feeling to really OWN my place…usually, when Germans build a house they build it for eternity, hoping that their children would take it over years later. I think this is just different here, with the common acceptance that the state is the only big real estate manager.
Hmm.. I don’t know when the scheme was introduced in the first place. The generation that bought the apartments will most probably not be on this earth anymore. Will this lead to a clash between their descendants and the state? After all, one could get the impression that this is just another way to collect a death duty, whose introduction would be unthinkable in a still family oriented society as Singapore’s…
I just guess that some 50 years down the road there will be a massive and steady new inflow of cash into the treasurer’s casket as this source of income finally opens up. I call this insidious future planning on the true assumption that people in these fast-paced times just are not able to think even years ahead in the future, let alone a century.
DO YOU BELIEVE?
Last week, I met the owner of the condo apartment I currently live in for the first time. He moved to Shanghai only recently to join his girfriend there and just rented out the place to my flatmate and me. I was already told earlier that some of the items in the apartment are basically off limits and should not be touched, let alone moved. Hmm…why, you ask? They are at the same time carefully placed items according to Feng Shui laws, which I already outlined to some degree at the last post. At least I’d like to portray the more visibile results of the 800$ worth consultation that has been conducted by a local Singaporean Feng Shui Master in my apartment.
Well, I do not quite believe in superstition and directing the flow of chi with coins, bricks, flutes, vases and plants is really not the first thing that would come up my mind while moving into a new place. However, I generally try to understand motivations for certain actions here in Asia and although many people shake their heads when they hear about Feng Shui, it is apparently still an integral part of a good number of building projects not only in China, but also in Singapore. The application of Feng Shui (which means the careful placing of artifacts and application of certain ‘rules’ regarding the architecture and the alignment of buildings) follows more of a practical wisdom: If I cannot be absolutely sure that it is total nonsense, why don’t I just pay the little money and arrange a few things in my flat in a certain way and thereby eliminate the residual risk and enjoy a good night sleep?
Unfortunately, the depicted door above is not a very supportive one for the successful and healthy wallet development. Actually, one should stay away from this one, because as a ‘TIGER’-door it lets money flow out of the flat. How lucky the family must be just opposite our flat, since their ‘DRAGON’-door enables them to collect just the money that flows out of our apartment. How to differentiate? It is dependent on the way the door opens from the outside. If it does to the left, you are facing the purring felidae. Luckily, the Feng Shui Master found a countermeasure by suggesting to place a red brick in a box just behind the door (within the red marked circle). Good. I am not sure what a superstitious insurance would have said if we missed out on placing that brick and were subsequently robbed (“So sorry Sir…but isn’t it obvious that your little Tiger has been toasted by a greedy Dragon…?”)
According to Feng Shui, every apartment is divided into 9 equally sized squares and each of them does stand for a different meaning. The Feng Shui Master would have been really horrified by my uninformed decision to place the fruits I bought just at the marked corner next to the sink. Why? The architect of the flat must have a had pretty bad taste of placing the kitchen in square 5, which is the one to avoid, because it means bad luck. The Master apparently even had some kind of gauge which enabled him to easily identify not the cause (it is unpreventable) but the centre of the evil kitchen spirit. Of course, the place where I used to store my fruits happened to be the very spot that radiates the most bad luck and should therefore not be used for anything (except for some countermeasure of course…some small vase filled with grains I could not identify…not to be seen on the pic)
Where there’s darkness, there also has to be some light. So despite the actual fate of coping with a TIGER-door and an evil kitchen, there is still hope, especially to be found in the Wealth-spot just between window and TV. Some Chinese are quite superstitious with numbers and even pay horrendous amounts of money to purchase mobile phone numbers that contain as money 6s and 8s as possible (the literally deadliest choice would be 4, since the chinese expression ‘si’ for four resembles the word for death). So there is no wonder that there are exactly 6 flowers with 8 leafs on the upper level, which is also placed exactly 68 inches above the ground. The flowers have therefore no specific meaning, they just stand for luck. The ship below is directed to the inside of the apartment; it carries wealth back from the sea into the home port (and is therefore very welcome). Why not place the ship on top? No clue…one might have to ask the Master. I wonder if it helps to place the piggy bank on the glass table just below..
According to the Feng Shui Master, the placement of AirCons just above doorways all over the aparment is a complete failure. Everytime one walks through, one has to expect that the own soul is sucked directly into the device. Atrocious imagination, but at least my soul won’t have to sweat in hell then..:-) It is also quite relieving that one can remedy this threat easily by placing a specially blessed coin inside the Aircon. If all things in life were just that easy..
The picture above partly shows the not-so-pretty view from my master bedroom. Just try to guess for a minute what the attached stripes could be there for before reading on..
Well, one can see that other building’s corner apparently points directly into my room. The obvious effect is that it slices me up, splits me in two parts which of course cannot be too healthy…When and how this could happen I don’t know, but the remedy is already in place and therefore guarantees my undisturbed good night sleep. The three stripes do not stand for ‘san’ (which means the number 3 in Mandarin), but are a Chinese symbol for wood. Hence, both my windows have been fortified with thick wood and block the vicious corner that tries to find it’s way into my home and castle. No chance! I just forgot to ask what would happen if I opened the windows…do I have to wear a helmet?
Ok..enough with Feng Shui for time being. I will try and see if it has some effect on me on one way or another. But how could I know anyway? I have no way to compare..maybe it does at least limit household accidents, but then it is a very bad sign that the kitchen had to reveal its evil nature…
A confused Maik
WELCOME AGAIN TO THE ARMY!
Every male Singaporean has to do either military or police service or join the civil defense for 2 years soon after becoming 18 years old. The difference in the drawing-in process is profound compared with the so-called compulsory military service in Germany. Equality is not a big word anymore in my home country, where less then one third of all young men have to face any service because of the army downsizing in the past decade. It is simply not fair when some young men ‘accidentally’ are being drawn in to the army and therefore have a disadvantage compared to those who are lucky enough not to face any service, because there are simply not enough positions.
ABOUT SLIM SINGAPOREANS
Well, at least this kind of justice is still present in Singapore, but another regulation marks an interesting difference. Every man is automatically part of the reserve after he leaves and therefore faces the obligation to join the forces for up to 40 total days in a year. My current flatmate, who has done his service with the Singaporean police, had to show up for a shooting exercise just yesterday while he happened to be in S’pore as part of his job with Singapore Airlines.
I was wondering whether this practice meant any danger for the current job, but apparently the Singaporean state fully compensates the respective company with the full salary of the person in question, no matter what enormously paid position he currently has. Understandably, this can be extremely expensive and leads to one simple equation: The better you are paid and the higher your position in your company, the fewer amounts of days you eventually will have to serve a year. This is just a nice, unofficial incentive for the many career-oriented Singaporeans to move up the career ladder even more quickly. Yeahh…
Well, even more interesting is the fact that every man has to undergo a physical fitness test every single year up to an age of 40. If you don’t pass the test right away (which involves for example running the 2.4 km in 14 minutes for a 36 year old man) you will have to take part in 6 weeks of training with two 4 hour-sessions a week to MAKE you pass. Nobody really wants to spend 4 hours after a long working day doing exercises and then again 4 hours during the precious weekend for this.
On the other hand, one can earn from $100 (ca. 50€) to $400 for outstanding performance and is therefore rewarded. For the above example, $400 would mean to run the 2.4km in less then 10.45Min., to do at least 31 sit-ups, 6 chin-ups, do a 4x10m shuttle run in not more than 10.7s and a standing broad jump of more than 215cm. Now, is this one of the main reasons why the number of obese, male Singaporeans is so low? It is striking to see how slim the people here are in general..or is this just another outcome of the ever-prevalent peer pressure and fast lifestyle that penetrates all parts of daily life? I would like to know, how much this system of punishment and reward influences the personal decision of living a healthier life…
Why is something like this not possible in Germany? I mean, not necessarily as part of a follow up to military training, but as a general incentive to live a healthier and therefore at little better life? Government and health insurances could jointly conduct a scheme to pay a certain amount of money for good sportive performance in an optional yearly test (Germans would go nuts if there would be a requirement for this…doesn’t go so well with Bratwursts and beerbellies) This might result in a more motivated society and drive down the costs for the ever-complaining health insurances…huh, am I dreaming here?
And, above all, with some monetary incentive Germany would within no time have the fittest students in the world