Thursday, August 18, 2011

Curry War on Chinese Nationals in Singapore who could not assimilate pronto

A belated news article spiced with self righteous innuendoes and inaccuracies sparked off an appeal to launch an international curry protests known as "Cook a Pot of Curry" and distribute by those who claim to be patriotic and food loving Singaporeans. That the world already knows this is their favourite obsession but the intention of this event is to make a strong statement.

Even as the organisers reassured that to showcase their culture and it was not targeted at any particular race or nationality, they are unconvincing.  Within a few days, Facebook has garnered a significant following of more than 50,000 (for a tiny country) and internet discussions are redolent with racist and xenophobic rants. Some remarks calling for migrants to return to their own countries echo the lines of white supremacists since imperial times.

People are entitled to food preferences. Pushing a product you like but knowing that the audience may not like it marks of insensitivity. To say that no offence was intended because this is the way life is here and get used to it is a poorly disguised insolence.

Well, at least they had the decency not cook in front of the people they didn't like in an enclosed area.  Unlike landscarce Singapore, in most countries where houses are separated by fences, yards and garden space, aroma drifting across boundaries that could give rise to unhappiness.

After all the outcry and mobilisation, would this be a redundant exercise that shows the infantile behaviour of its organisers and participants? Since the incident happened seven years ago, it was stale news and the parties concerned might no longer be neighbours or could have become good friends. The galant proposal by the Indian family not to cook overpowering curries when the Chinese neighbour was at home was commendable. Living together in high density housing is about give-and-take. Apparently in cases involving a first and second generation Singaporean, the outcome has to be a win-lose in favour of the longer stayer.

To understand why Singapore Chinese which compose a majority of the population in the country and yet are so different from mainland Chinese despite their common ancestry, one has to look at historical developments.

There is a segment of peranakan Chinese who are fourth generation or more Chinese; some are of mixed have Malay or indigenous blood but predominantly they are considered "straits Chinese". The only "Chinese" lingo they speak is adulterated Hokkien (Fujian, southern coastal provincial dialect) mixed with colloquial Malay and English. Most do not have have any understanding of Confucianst teaching.  Though some peranakan have incoporated ancestral worship, many are Christians, having been educated in English mission schools. Unlike the first generation Chinese who could "eat bitterness" and work hard, the peranakans are well-to-do and could afford to be more laid back, a bit like the Malay attitude.

Then, there are other non-peranakan Singaporeans who opted to enrol in English schools that taught Malay as the national language and omitted Chinese language altogether in the curriculum. For decades since independence before the China dragon awakened, many Chinese Singaporeans looked down on the Chinese educated who could not command half the salaries of the English educated counterparts.  Chinese medium schools had closed down one after another had it not been government's contrived effort in promoting them as bilingual special schools. It is well known that Chinese educated command lower pay and are looked upon with some disdain by their English educated counterparts.

Despite having a world recognised education system in churning out technical and exam scoring experts, even educated people sometimes come across as snobbish and indiscreet (as everywhere else in varying degrees).  Nevertheless, the well heeled are more subtle than the uncouth and crude ways of the lesser educated (not in terms of qualifications but intellectual maturity and perceptiveness). To common knowledge, a favourite past-time of ordinary folks is watching TV and complaining against the neighbours and government if it is free of charge and have no consequences.

There are, of course, some understanding and reasonable Singaporeans (excluding the apathetic, indifferent and disinterested ones) who do not partake in such trivial fanfares. Some including Indians have taken a stand to reject exclusionist posturing and not to let one person or incident spoil all the apples and overturn the cart.

The Singapore government has adopted a pragmatic open door policy to import foreign low cost labour as well as attract talented skilled professionals to work and settle in the country in order to maintain a critical mass for continuous economic growth.  However, many citizens have criticised the government for pushing immigration policy too quickly and indiscriminately, at the expense of the citizens' job security and stake in national resources. It is well documented throughout world history that during an economic downturn, locals tend to become more xenophobic and less tolerant. 

Such gestures of disrespect for individual preferences and minority rights would not go down well with majority of first generation Chinese nationals who may well love curry or have tried hard to integrate.

To any Chinese or Asian in the world, these hot vapours of one-up - manship will evaporate. There are bigger and better things in life to care about.

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