The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: culture

Go to jail in Singapore, do not pass GO, toothpaste turns your teeth green

Singapore has long had a squeaky-clean image: no litter on the streets, certainly no gum problem, etc. But what lies beneath this veneer of sterile spotlessness? A Singaporean blurgtheamoeba shares with us what it was like to have gone through the Singapore jail system.

Thank you for you kind wishes. When i was younger, 90s, weed was very easy to get. I still think it is, but for obvious reasons, i stay away. Most of the people i know who i could get some from are, funnily enough, expats. In the 90s it was dirt cheap. I could get 10 grams for 50 bucks. I don’t know the prices now. I moved from sg in 2000.

Jail was terrible. In remand, our water source was the toilet bowl. The shavers are blunt and used, unless you have gang connections to get fresh ones. The tooth paste turns your teeth green. The soap is not soap, you can find piece of cardboard/plastic in it. We used our fingernails to clean ourselves. (Of course once you start a job in there ((pays like three bucks a week)) you can pool money to by normal soap and paste.) Everything can lead to a fight, from where you sleep, to how you stand/sit. I’d never been in a fight in my life and come from an educated family. It was a massive cultureshock. Racial segregation was weird too. Lottsa violence. You keep quiet and keep your head down and serve your time, basically.

I got lucky at the end. I didn’t have any family here so i couldnt get out on tagging. But the principal of the prison school overheard my story when i was being interviewed to be moved to a halfway house and he got me transferred to KBC where i taught English to the O/A level students till my release. But even there, a week before my release, some inmate lied and told them i received smuggled drugs ( you cant get anything in there. not even a toothpick), and they threw me into Personal Confinement while the investigations were carried out. 6 days in the dark, alone, with 15 mins outside every morning to wash yourself and the bucket you shit/piss in. Fuck that place.

In a nutshell, things are safe on the streets, because all the violent people are in there. And a lot of kids. Mostly malay kids for minor drug cases, who turn into gangsters. It’s a viscous viscious cycle.

I will never touch drugs here because i dont ever want to end up there again. The next time my sentence will be doubled, and I know i wouldnt be able to survive that.

Originally posted here.

Continuing further, he comments on forced sexual encounters in prision:

Yes there are, on the second night i woke up to find a guy masrtubating while looking at me. I pretended to not notice and go back to sleep and, thankfully he was transferred out. Three days later, he was raped in a cell . I guess he did the same to some other guy. The only other one i personally witnessed was when a tranny joined my cell at AWP. !st day in the shower guys approached him aggressively, but he turned straight to the “big gangster” and performed “services” for him on the spot. After that. He was the gangster’s property and noone else touched him. I slept on the other side of them in a big cell with about 20 of sleeping side by side on the floor and made it my business to not get involved with things that were beyond my ability to handle.

How many Singaporeans, living a life where they walk free, know of what it’s like for those incarcerated? Some of the Singaporean commenters expressed having their eyes opened at this facet of Singapore often ignored or not talked about.

He adds that this was a long time ago, and that prison facilities have changed very much since then.

Changi is a modern facility. I can’t imagine people drinking water from the toilet bowl there, for example.

I think what’s scariest is that for many of these guys, they can survive inside but not in the outside world. So its easy to reoffend. Who wants to hire an ex con? not many people, especially if said excon has spent most of his life in an out of jail. Viscious cycle.

I am lucky i have specialized skills (writer/musician). I am a freelancer who can make ends meet. Most ex-cons dont.

Singapore is notorious for its caning corporal punishments. For those who are curious as to who gets caned, blurgtheamoeba adds:

Nah. For vandalism yes. For domestic violence too. For drug cases, only traffickers. For a few others as well, though im not sure of them all. Not for possession/consumption. Because it’s a minority thing, it actually becomes counter productive. Guys who come back from being caned, to them it’s a badge of honor. Like a rite of passage.

Brutal though. they can’t sit down for days. The flesh has been flayed off and the wounds are very deep.

I do remember when we were in fourth or fifth grade, we got to go on a school trip to our prisons, where they showed us the facilities (concrete, bleak, grimy), the caning apparatus (an A-frame, assortment of giant canes), and had a ‘model’ inmate telling us what crimes he committed and how we, impressionable fourth/fifth graders should never commit crimes and stay out of jail.

I think that “National Education” trip was probably sufficient to traumatise many a child away from the path of law-breaking, given our harsh laws and seeing our low crime rate.

For those curious as to how long blurgtheamoeba’s sentence was:

18mths, possession + consumption + paraphernalia (a friggin cigarette roller). Physically a year. You get a third off automatically and they can add days within that period for fighting/etc.

When superheroes fall on hard times

What happens when even superheroes fall on hard times? Artist Chow Hon Lam gives us an idea of turning their talents into workforce skills. Except for Batman.

superheroSee the full-sized album images here on his Flickr page.

 

A kueh/kuih by any other name

When people ask, “What food is uniquely Singaporean/Malaysian?” the usual dishes of kway teow, rice dishes, curries, and so on usually come to mind. But a lot of those dishes do originate from elsewhere — curry from India, many rice and noodle dishes are from China — it is the adaptation of these foreign influences and transformation into what it is today that make them uniquely Singaporean/Malaysian.

One of the ultimate amalgamation of cultures would be the Peranakan; descendants of Chinese immigrants in Indonesia and the British Malaya in the 15th or 16th century. They’ve retained the ancestor worship of the Chinese, but mostly assimilated the language and culture of the Malays. Their language, Baba Malay, is a creole of Malay with many Hokkien words in it. Given that many Peranakans are of mixed heritage of Chinese and Malay, many look like a cross in-between — darker skinned than most Chinese, but slightly paler than many Malays.

But one thing that’s absolutely amazing about the Peranakan culture is their food. Using many typical Malay spices and traditional methods of cooking, such as crushing flower petals to obtain natural food dyes, Peranakan food is something as much to look at as it is to eat. “Kueh” (sometimes spelled “Kuih”) are various cake-like confections that range from savoury to sweet. The below, taken from Lee Xin Li’s post, demonstrate the mind-boggling variety of Peranakan kueh that exists.

k1 k2 k3

Final homework assignment from dearly departed teacher will bring you to tears

In the original Japanese link of the image, like one of the commenters said about the first characters of the writing on the board, “五十せ?” It was supposed to be 幸せ, just really messily written. Looks like teachers are guiltiest of messy handwriting more so than students.

Linguistic superiority is bunk

Someone once said to me, “哎呀,你的中文那么不标准!”

That basically meant: Aiya, your Chinese is really substandard!

And that was in response to me telling them my Chinese name. That someone was from Beijing, China, and I am from Singapore. We both speak Chinese, but upon hearing my pronunciation of certain words different from the way they do it, they denounced it as being substandard, for not being the “Beijing standard.”

Thus, they claim linguistic superiority of Chinese over any other regional differences.

It’s not even the way Cockney differs from RP in England, or African American Vernacular differs from General American English — in Wikipedia, the Chinese spoken in Singapore and China are both called “Standard Chinese,” but inevitably there are bound to be phonological differences, that even Wikipedia cannot capture.

A very basic example is the way my name is pronounced.

A character in my name, 俊, is transcribed in pinyin as “jùn”. As many of my friends from China would pronounce it, and the way Wikipedia transcribes it, they say:

/t͡ɕyn/

with a /voiceless alveolo-palatal affricate + high front rounded vowel + alveolar nasal/. There is a very audible “tch” sound at the onset of the word.

In Singapore, that character in my name would be pronounced:

/d͡ʒyn/

with a /voiced palato-alveolar affricate + high front rounded vowel + alveolar nasal/. That means that the initial “j” sound in Singaporean Chinese is similar to the way “judge,” “gee,” and “job” is pronounced in English. There is no “ch” sound audible at the onset of the word.

Another difference would be the character 需, xū, as in “to need.” In China, it would be pronounced:

/ɕy/

with a /voiceless alveolo-palatal sibilant + high front rounded vowel/. There is a very audible, thin “sss” sound at the onset of the word.

In Singapore, that character would be pronounced:

/ʃy/

with a /voiceless palato-alveolar sibilant + high front rounded vowel/. It is almost indistinguishable from the way “she” is pronounced in English.

Here is an example of how Standard Chinese sounds are generally pronounced by people from Mainland China:

Note the “j” “q” “x” sounds at the 41 second mark.

Compare with this Singaporean Chinese news clip:

Note at the 23 second mark, the news broadcaster even says a name that has my 俊 “jun” character in it, and the initial “j” is a lot softer than the Chinese from Mainland China. Also, the Chinese spoken by the interviewee immediately is closer to how most Singaporeans speak Chinese — with consonants closer to Taiwanese Chinese than Mainland China Chinese.

Another video clip of Singaporean Chinese, as spoken by kids, with a lot of usage of the “xue” word. Note that they all say /ʃyœ/ (sh-ü-eh).

A very simple reason why there is that difference is in the way we learn Chinese. Those in China learn Chinese via the “bopomofo” method (see video embedded above), where there is an emphasis on preserving the initial sounds (“ji-yu=ju” “xi-yu=xu”). In Singapore, Chinese is taught via the hanyu pinyin system, where its English letters are used as a springboard to understanding the sounds of Chinese. That makes sense in Singapore, given that its bilingual education system begins even in kindergarten, whereas English is only introduced in the Chinese education at a much later age in elementary school.

As such, there are some overlap between the consonants of English and Chinese in Singapore, where “xu” is pronounced “she” and “you” is pronounced “you/yew” (as in English), rather than “yo-uu” (as Mainland Chinese people would).

Furthermore, given that the influence of Chinese dialects such as Hokkien (Southern Min/Min-nan), Teochew, Cantonese, and Hakka, all of which are southern Chinese dialects, you get pronunciations of certain consonants that mimic Taiwanese or Hong Kong Chinese, such as interchanging “chi” “shi” “zhi” with “ci” “si” zi” in casual speech sometimes (that is, people who are not broadcasters or taking exams). An example would be the first video of Singapore Chinese I embedded (about the iPhone 4), where the guy said “zè” instead of “zhè” (这).

Does this make any of the Chinese spoken in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, and other parts of the world less “standard” than the Beijing standard?

Were that so, then wouldn’t all variants of English but British English, not even American, be the gold standard of English in the world? Languages change and adapt to the locale, and to insist that only one type of the language is proper and the rest substandard is arrogance in its linguistic superiority.

Learning politically-correct fairy tales

pri1-1[1]Photo credits to Catch Forty Winks

A motherhood-blogger shared a picture from her friend’s Facebook (above); her friend’s first-grader son’s test paper and how he apparently got a question wrong.

The question is one of those “arrange the words” type to form sound sentences. The boy apparently wrote “The fairy godmother turned the handsome prince into a snake” and “The castle was on the beautiful green field” and they were marked as being incorrect. The teacher indicated that the answers should have been “The fairy godmother turned the snake into a handsome prince” and “The beautiful castle was on the green field.”

Why were the answers marked as being wrong? They were all grammatically sound, but because they didn’t adhere to some standard of what fairy tales should have been. some poor child’s rather creative construction  got neutered.

Not that I would like to repeatedly lambaste Singapore’s education system, but this sort of inflexible marking shown by the teacher is precisely what’s wrong. The government and the public lament that our students turning out to be uncreative and un-innovative, and I wonder why that is so. When everything has to adhere to a preset, every fairy godmother has to be benevolent, and every castle has to be beautiful.

It is not known if the student’s parent confronted the teacher over this stunting marking.

The blogger felt that should her son encounter this situation, she would do the following:

1. Meet the teacher, and explain my view on why this answer should be marked as correct. However, this will be dependent on whether I have already sized up the teacher to find out more about her personality. If she is open and accommodating to parental feedback, she might feel a little apologetic and then change her marking on the paper. Or if the teacher is by-the-book and inflexible, my child might get unnecessary attention amongst the 29 other kids in class or just get ignored eventually.

AND / OR

2. Explain to child that conformity is part of societal expectations, model answers and behavior is needed to get approval from teachers and school. However, share with child that his answer is correct according to English language structure and rules. And continue to encourage creativity in modules of creative writing, problem solving and life in general, apart from school.

In the immortal and forever-wise words of the movie Mean Girls, I quote:

There are two kinds of evil people in this world. Those who do evil stuff and those who see evil stuff being done and don’t try to stop it.

Not confronting the teacher and letting the issue slide does more harm than good. Would the teacher continue marking every prince that has been turned into a snake as incorrect? Then, telling a child that conformity is what is needed in society is just as harmful — this tells the child that deviance isn’t accepted in our society, be it good or bad. How is having the child cripple himself to fit our society’s narrow-minded confines going to be useful in the future?

How would this blogger react if the child grows up expressing views that are deviant from societal norms? What if he grows up wanting to study the humanities, or wants to become a chef, or turns out to be homosexual, or decides that he wants to become a fashion designer — all outcomes that do not conform to the Singaporean norm. What then? Would the parent still tell the child that he or she is still expected to conform? Where does one draw the line?

But I deviate. Not only should the child know that his answer is perfectly acceptable, he or she should be encouraged to make more of such creative sentences. Why stop at the fairy godmother turning the prince into a snake? How about a snake turning a fairy godmother into a snake? The parent could even engage the child’s artistic faculties by asking the child to imagine how something like that could happen, and make an illustration! Take the opportunity to turn such an event into  a way for a child to exercise his or her creative juices.

prince

The fairy godmother turned the handsome prince into a snake by the castle on the beautiful, green field.

Experiencing Darshan?

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I went to the exhibition “Darshan” at the Clampart gallery. The word “Darshan” means “sight” in Sanskrit, but it is used in the context of receiving “spiritual vision,” or the moment of theophany. It is a way of being able to see the divine directly through a medium, be it art, sculptures, landscapes, or great people. Some call it “divine inspiration,” but I like to think of it as the moment of being in awe  in sublimity in the presence of great spirituality.

It can be akin to being taken by the Holy Spirit in Catholicism, a sort of event that happens in the consciousness.

I went to the exhibit hoping to receive that experience, where it claims to recreate that connection one gets in a Hindu temple through the images, incense and invocations, but sad to say I was sorely disappointed.

The pictures on the wall were highly masterful, that’s for sure. All but one of the pictures was not photoshopped or digitally touched, and every element in the frame was the result of real people posing and the arranging of props. That was highly impressive, and the attention paid to detail was delightful.

However, it failed on delivering anything close to any experience I’ve had physically stepping into a Hindu temple.

There were incense urns but not incense lit, and the gallery room was sterile and too white. There was not even anything of the sounds one encounters in a temple, and the gallery felt claustrophobic. Temples are usually designed to impress by vastness of scale, with high ceilings elaborately decorated and such.

Image credit to Wikipedia

Very often, it is the gopuram of a temple, or its monumental tower at the entrance gate, that begins the process of darshan for me rather than just the idols itself.

To think that the darshan of a Hindu temple is received solely through religious images is highly lacking — it involves the sights of the images and colours, the smell of incense and the age of the temple, the sounds of other devotees and occasionally prayer but also the sound of tranquillity, and especially, the touch of cold stone against the bare feet, the grind of dust against one’s foot.

Also, I think that using that faux-devanagari (Hindi) script was a let-down. It’s like using faux-Asian scripts in Chinese restaurants or something.

Understanding the Chinese consumer culture

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Photo credits to South China Morning Post

Ikea bends over backwards to accommodate Chinese keener on sleeping than shopping, but sees unprecedented growth

Shoppers sleeping on display beds; couples taking “selfies” in the showrooms; thermos flasks of drinks and plastic bags containing food sit on the display kitchen tables, with shoppers actually eating and drinking off of them — these sorts of behaviour would be unthinkable anywhere else, but in China, they seem to be the norm.

And it is not as if the store actively encouraged it. In the article, store staff Jason Zhang says that every day, he wakes up about a hundred of them.

Ikea was certainly not expecting such behaviour, and has certainly bent over backwards to accommodate these shoppers in hopes of chasing their yuan, and it has certainly worked — their turnover in 2012 exceed 6 billion yuan.

Understanding why they behave that way requires the understanding of two conflicting ideals: Being insensitive to criticism and the needs of others (having a thick skin), while being sensitive to scrutiny at the same time.

There is a certain lack of awareness of others among the Chinese; if the Japanese are overly-conscious about the considerations of everyone around them, then the Chinese would be the antithesis. Only by having a skin thick enough to brush off admonishments from their inconsiderate acts could they even behave they do in the first place. If the customers at China’s Ikea considered about other customers using the products in the future, they would be more careful with it. If they cared enough about not appearing to be uncouth, then they would not spit in public or be disruptive. If they cared enough about the people trying to get out of the trains, they would not be rushing headfirst as the train doors open.

As such, you have people doing whatever pleases them, oblivious to the disapproval of those around them.

According to Tom Doctoroff, an expert on Chinese consumer psychology and author of What Chinese Want, … going to Ikea may not be too dissimilar to visiting a theme park. Generally, Doctoroff explains, Chinese people tend to take a more recreational approach to consumption. “Shopping in China is far more about the experience itself than it is in the West,” he says.

Blindly charging ahead, in pursuit of their ‘experience.’

Doctoroff also says:

For Chinese consumers, products for domestic consumption are secondary to the more visible status offered by Western brands such as cars, watches or even Haagen-Dazs ice cream and Starbucks coffee.

This is a rather salient point about Chinese consumer culture: buying things is very much less for its utility than the perceived status it affords. Therefore, a brilliant sofa from Crate and Barrel would be inferior to a Gucci handbag, and people would rather tote around a Starbucks cup containing average coffee than a cup of fair-trade organic coffee.

What this means is that just as they brush off criticisms of their actions, they are at the same time sensitive to how people perceive their prestige, and the easiest way to obtain that is through acquisition of material goods. They are eager to be seen wearing their expensive clothing and bags, and eating, drinking and socialising at establishments that boast of an affluent lifestyle.

This obsession with flaunting status is not something new: traditionally, in restaurants, a Chinese host would often order more dishes than anyone at the table could finish, resulting in incredible wastage. This is so that the host can display his generosity and capability of affording such lavishness.

The Chinese equate goods that are expensive, and easily-recognised brands with social standing. One needs only to go to premium outlet malls such as Woodbury to witness the whimsy with which they buy bags and purses from Coach, or Prada, or Gucci. Of course, to afford these goods, they have to have a certain amount of wealth in the first place, and indeed the ones causing the most antagonism worldwide in their squabbling ways are those who can afford to leave the country to tour, travel, work and vacation.

For example: A teenager was caught defacing a 3,500 year old Egyptian temple, Thai message boards were abuzz with complaints of Chinese tourists being a nuisance in public and spitting, a French boutique hotel announcing that they would bar Chinese visitors — the burgeoning affluence of China has opened the doors to the world to its newly-rich, and the rest of the world feels it.

“That China is a lawless, poorly educated society with a lot of money is going to take its toll on the whole world,” said Hung Huang, a popular blogger and magazine publisher in Beijing.

Ms. Hung, the blogger, blames the Communist Party’s tumultuous rule for China’s uncivilized behavior abroad. “There’s an entire generation who learned you don’t pay attention to grooming or manners because that’s considered bourgeois,” she said. While Chinese are more open to Western ideas now, that has not necessarily sunk in when actually interacting with the outside world. “They think, ‘The hell with etiquette. As long as I have money, foreigners will bow to my cash.’ ”

Despite the bad rep, countries are still bending over backwards to accommodate the Chinese, for they represent revenue to be made. As reported in the New York Times, 83 million mainland Chinese spent $102 billion abroad — overtaking Americans and Germans — making them the world’s biggest tourism spenders, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

Wedding companies in South Korea are trying to lure Chinese couples with bling-heavy ceremonies inspired by the viral music video “Gangnam Style.” A coastal county outside Sydney, Australia, is building a $450 million Chinese theme park centered on a full-size replica of the gates to the Forbidden City and a nine-story Buddhist temple. France, one of the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists already — 1.4 million visited in 2012 — is working to further bolster its appeal.

Parisian officials recently published a manual for the service industry that offers transliterated Mandarin phrases and cultural tips for better understanding Chinese desires, including this tidbit: “They are very picky about gastronomy and wine.”

Such pandering, however, encourages the poor behaviour of these Chinese tourists. Be it countries abroad, or Ikea in China, letting revenue permit the lack of social grace is as myopic as the Chinese who spit and litter wantonly on the streets: focusing on whatever is pleasing now and not having to worry about consequences or how it might affect others.

Perhaps shops should enforce orderliness, and firmly rebuke those who are disruptive, even if it might cost them some business. Perhaps greater social education should be emphasised upon in schools. Change will not happen overnight, and in fact, given the vastness of the country, China may not even see a betterment of its ungraceful problem for many generations, but leaving this wildfire rampant and unchecked is not a solution either.

Followed by stars

twitstar

Why are people so excited to be followed by a star on Twitter?

On a reddit community that I visited, someone posted a screenshot of a famous porn star ‘following’ him back on Twitter. Responses of congratulation and envy followed soon after.

On my Facebook news feed, every now and then, some of my friends who are very into social media would post about how Rihanna or some other famous star started ‘following’ their Twitter feed, and that they “omg can’t breathe” or “am dying right now” or some equivalent.

Why does it matter that someone whom you’ve never met or will meet in person ‘follows’ you back on Twitter? We are in a culture of chasing stars, and the peripheral semblance of contact with them leaves us in a frenzy.

When these stars follow one on Twitter or any other social media, do they even really care about updates on what you post? It seems unlikely that a popular singer would want to know what you had for breakfast, what song is your groove right now or look at the heavily-edited photo of an impending storm on Instagram.

Yet the lay followers of these stars wait fervently for the just-as-seemingly mundane updates about their lives — Getting their nails done at a salon, grooming their dog, recording at the studio.

Maybe people just want to know that their stars lead normal lives too, and that Twitter gives these stars a semblance of that. And when the stars have chosen to make one privy to be voyeurs of their everyday, it makes peoples’ hearts all a-flutter.

And not to mention, a lot of these Twitter accounts are probably run by the PR staff of the stars.

How do these stars choose who to follow back? Well certainly they usually only follow back users who already have a huge following; why else would they want to befriend a no-name? And then what? Popular Tweeters are prolific Tweeters, so the stars are probably going to have to ignore the deluge of constant updates from that one new Tweeter.

So effectively including people into their social circle so that they could ignore them.

Circus death by old age?

Someone once asked me, “Is doing circus tiring?” and I replied, “Yea, sometimes after circus, I’d get so sore and tired I wouldn’t be able to pick things up from the floor.”

“Maybe I’m getting old,” I joked.

To which he asked, “What, how old are you, 23, 24?”

“25,” I replied.

“Yea, that’s like probably like circus death, isn’t it?” he said.

Which I suppose is kind of true. In Cirque du Soleil, most circus performers get their best run in their early 20’s, and by the time they’re after 25, they start to consider retiring from circus. Or so I’ve heard.

Maybe my aches are telling I’m getting old, maybe I should cool down with the exertion, but then what fun would circus be if one is going to do a geriatric version of it?

Aches and sores are external, but what about the internal aspects of circus? Some of my circus peers and friends who are dancers feel that at a certain age, they should settle into a sort of gravitas and step away from the limelight; it is time to “act one’s age.”

But that indicates that there is a certain way to behave when one is of “that age.” Should a 50-year old stop dancing in public because it is unseemly? The moment you stop working on your craft is the moment you give in to these societal pressures about what one’s age should be.

I should be able to spin my fans in public even if I’m not considered to be “in my prime” any more. I’ll stop spinning the day my arms refuse to lift the fans any longer and my legs can work my unicycle no longer.