Friday, March 21, 2008

Ode To My Little Green Plant

I like reading horoscopes that analyse a person's character. According to my own horoscope (Taurus), I am meant to possess a green thumb and plants of all sorts - part of my "sensual" nature you know. In actuality, I do love many types of flowering and non-flowering plants. Sadly, the ones who have survived my "green thumb" are few and far between. Most are traumatised into retreating into the soil forever, lasting not more than a few months under my care. Except one little green plant, the Ant Plant (aka dischidia pectenoides).

It is a common decorative creeper originally from the Philippines, popular in Singapore during the period leading up to Chinese New Year. The man who sold it to me warned me that it typically dies after 3-4 months. Well, never mind. It looked attractive and cheerful, so I bought it and put it in my bathroom in a sunny spot.

3 Chinese New Years later, my plant is as verdant as ever and, as I discovered, capable of producing little red pod-like "flowers"! What I like best about my little green plant is that it's hardy and has a strong sense of survival. Everyday, it reaches for the sun with its outstretched tendrils and continues to thrive in a simple habitat.

Greenery makes a difference in my life (even if I have a tendency to kill it). Perhaps because I am so horticulturally inept, I consider myself lucky to live in a country that dubs itself the Garden City.

Yes, we have tree-lined streets and roads. Apart from the much-lauded stretch of road "for the tourist" leading from Changi Airport to the heart of Orchard Road, there are many areas of Singapore where flora and foliage are lush and abundant. For example, there are parts of the Pan-Island Expressway and many smaller roads which have majestic arbor "arches" made up of trees like the Angsana (originally from the Philippines) and the Flame of the Forest (originally from Madagascar). Some other roads - especially the Bukit Timah Expressway leading to Mandai Zoo and Johor - are so beautiful and overgrown, it's hard to imagine that we're still in the city-state of Singapore.

Apart from trees, Singapore also has numerous parks and nature reserves for such a little island-nation. On the main island of Singapore, I can count 4 nature reserves and over 40 parks! This is not including Chek Jawa Wetlands on Pulau Ubin, which I have personally been dying to visit.

The Ministry of National Development has also come up with an aggressive plan to continue to transform Singapore's landscape in a significant way. By 2010, not only will Singapore boast of 3 spanking new parks right in the downtown area by the sea called Gardens by the Bay - we will also have park connectors to join up all the parks around Singapore so running and cycling enthusiasts can now literally go around the island surrounded by nature.

The Gardens by the Bay project is particularly exciting. My favourite part of the East Coast Parkway has been closed for more than 2 years due to the commencement of this project, but I am sure that the results will be more than worth it once the parks are completed. I look forward to the day when the Standard Chartered Marathon "Garden Run" in Singapore can truly live up to its name.
Happily for me, Singapore continues to develop and evolve as a "garden city". And happily for all plant life, I will restrict myself to ant plants :)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Langgar Lady Story

On Tuesday night, I was taking the route I always take to go home after dropping off a friend when a car collided into me. Needless to say, after clocking in 12 hours of work - it was a very annoying accident when all one wants to do is go home and rest. After a little finger-pointing, the Langgar Lady and I parted ways with each other's contact details. A little after 24 hours had passed when she called me to accept the blame and pay for the repairs.

We agreed to meet at her recommended auto repair shop to assess my car. Everything was amicable and pleasant, quickly settled within 15 minutes. She then offered me a ride into town where I was scheduled to have a morning meeting. During this ride, I began to learn about the story of the Langgar Lady.

Originally from China, she and I discovered that we both had roots in the province of Fujian. She left her hometown (a little island opposite Taiwan, outside of Fuzhou) and a comfortable life as the daughter of a high-ranking Chinese official at 17 years of age to take a job as a factory worker in Singapore. Since then, Singapore became her home - all of 21 years ago.

As a Singaporean, born and raised here with my inner circle of Singaporean friends, it never fails to surprise me when I discover Chinese of other nationalities among us. Of course these days, Chinese nationals are not really a big deal. They come in by the shiploads. However, Chinese nationals who came over to Singapore 15-20 years ago seem to be relatively rarer, or was it because I never paid attention?

This also reminds me of the time when I went to Bintan with my cousins and the girl who was as sea-sick as I was asked me for some preserved plums (that I desperately sucked on hoping to abate the growing green-ness in my face). It turned out that she is Vietnamese Chinese, who came to Singapore to attend secondary school then never went back. Or the elderly neighbour that we had when I was growing up who, on occasion, would baby-sit me. She walked around in what I now realise was an ao dai, but as a child it never struck me as odd or different.

Singapore is truly a "melting pot" for Chinese of various backgrounds. Perhaps it's easier because ethnic Chinese from all over can blend in easily into Singapore, whether they're from mainland China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia or Indonesia. They live among us, and maybe we recognise them as "Chinese-educated" or "cheena" without fully grasping the fact that they're not raised in Singapore but are recent immigrants.

An expatriate friend once told me that Singapore has no culture, no depth, no history. His explanation is that the English language - a completely foreign and transplanted language - is destroying our inherent culture. What exactly is that culture? Even Chinese ethnicity is a complete misnomer. With so many Chinese of different nationalities all speaking their own versions of the Chinese language (beyond Mandarin we have Cantonese, Hokkien - also known as Min Nan, Teo Chew, Hakka, Hainanese, Hock Chew, Shanghainese, that I can think of off the top of my head), not to mention the Indians with their own diversity of languages - it's little wonder that the government decided to adopt one language to unify everyone.

As Singaporeans, we always struggle with our cultural identity. The truth is - it's hard to pigeon-hole a Singaporean simply because we are an immigrant society with the indigenous Malays making up a minority of the population. And immigration is not just something occurring 80 years ago (which is when my grandmother came to Singapore) and earlier, but continues to on till today with Chinese, Southeast Asians, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans.

Perhaps what we are instead are the quintessential Asians - a cosmopolitan mish-mash of whatever Asia has to offer. The culture is there, so myriad that it's false to squeeze it into the neat little government-created categories of "Chinese, Malay, Indian, Eurasian". And for the taking, if one would only dig a little deeper to hear a person's story.

My thoughts from a little car accident.

* langgar - Bahasa Melayu for "collide"

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Ideal Woman (from the Singaporean male perspective)

I had the misfortune of coming down with a very bad cold, which started in chilly Shanghai, and led me to the doctor's office on Thursday when I was too sick to go into the office. While waiting for my consultation, I chanced upon an article inside Urban entitled "Their Ideal Woman".

What qualities does the Singapore male rank high on his dating list?

Ah. This particular subject has been a topic of hot debate among my friends so - high fever or no - I read on with relish. The result of an informal polling of 85 single men, aged between 16 - 38 years presented this list in no particular order:
  • offers to pay her share on dates
  • pays for her own shopping
  • takes care of her appearance and dresses well
  • able and willing to cook for her partner
  • enjoys hanging out with her partner's male buddies
  • does not become possessive/jealous when her partner hangs out with his female buddies
  • enjoys watching soccer or sports with her partner
  • gets the stamp of approval by friends & family
And here's the kicker ladies: over 3/4s of the respondents rated good grooming and appearance as the Numero Uno Factor for date-ability. Wow. I think most Singaporean women are already really well-groomed - even if they are not stylish, they are at least neatly dressed. So what exactly are we talking about when we say "good grooming"? Like the eye brows can't be too shaggy or something??

I am not sure what other Singaporean women look for in a partner, but I do know that if I had to list 8 qualities to look for in a date - the list would look somewhat different.

My ideal man...
  • isn't uptight about money and who pays because I'm worth it
  • doesn't nag me about shopping because I am paying for it
  • likes me for my sparkling personality and therefore the way I look
  • hires a maid if he wants someone "willing and able" to cook at his pleasure
  • enjoys hanging out with my male and female buddies
  • maintains close ties with his own circle of friends while we are together
  • enjoys the fact that we share common interests but as different individuals, we give each other space to pursue individual interests with each other's support
  • gets the stamp of approval from my friends & family
As for appearances, a lot can be said for chemistry, great personality, wit and intellect. So I get weak-knee'd over a sharp mind. What can I say? I'm just superficial like that ;)