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Neri Mario
26 March 2010 @ 10:38 am
In my experience, in Singapore, the culture of acknowledgement of an individual's presence at a chance encounter is limited to a 5 second conversation: a smile if you really didn't want to talk to him/her, and a decent few sentences if you had something to say. Even in the most awkward of instances - if for example you felt the need to say something at a chance but unavoidable encounter in a lift - a hello would usually suffice.

So it is especially difficult here in Canada, when almost any encounter - at the start of a meeting, at a random hallway run-in or at any other time - that takes up all of 5 seconds generally have people greet each other with a Hey, how's it going? or Hey, how are ya?

I used to think such a question beget an answer more credible than a grunt. But by the time I came up with a meaningful rejoinder along the lines of
Well, I'm great coz' blah blah blah just happened or I'm not too good because yadda yadda yadda, people would have already moved on - both physically and mentally.

It took me a while to realise that no one really wants to know how you actually are. How are you and its myriad variations of considerate queries on your state of wellness merely project an illusionary care-pathway of concern that, when stripped to its element, is nothing more than a empty shell of Hello.

Here too, then, people are proponents of the 5 second conversation.

My detailed answer not only exceeds 5 seconds, but also breaks the rhythmic psychological stride of the greeter who really don't care about my day or my health. With the obligatory greeting conveyed, they just want to move on to the next stage of forced interaction - acceptable silence.

To that end, I made an attempt to shorten my responses. When someone askedHey, how's it going or Hey, how are ya?, I'd say I'm fine, thanks.

Strangely even then, I got the awkward vibe of an unfinished conversation lingering about in that 5 seconds.

And then I realised my second folly: Not only do they want to ask about your health but they wanted to be asked about their wellness in return! Without breaking that ubiquitous rhythmic psychological stride! In 5 seconds or less!

My final solution therefore, after careful eavesdropping on countless pointless greetings and rejoinders, is to follow the herd hereon; To wit, to recite the following script ad verbum:

Hey, how's it going or Hey, how are ya?
Good and you?

I tried it this morning and it played out perfectly.

So there you have it. The 5 second non-enquiry on your health that bookends a random Canadian encounter.

Or - is often - all it is comprised of.
Neri Mario
08 March 2010 @ 01:49 pm
A friend of mine in Singapore was telling me over the weekend how tired she was from having to juggle work and her baby. I was sympathising with her until she told me that had she had to deal with the cooking and cleaning as well, she would have broken down.

Wait! So you have a maid?
No! You don't say maid anymore. It's helper now.

Sematics aside, I wonder if it isn't easier for working women in Singapore to have a decent work-life balance if they also have live-in caregiver support as compared to the average North American working woman for whom ?

Not only is the concept of a live in caregiver less popular here primarily because of the implication of servitude it tends to connote in the minds of a socially liberal populous, but hiring someone to stay in with you and to pay them a minimum wage of 10 dollars an hour for a day of babysitting and light housework is financially onerous for the overtaxed Canadian.

Most women in my situation either opt for day care, or commercial babysitters who are paid minimum wage. They tithe a pretty part of their salary to these options. I don’t think anyone particularly likes having to pay that much, but there is recognition that there is no other choice unless you have able and willing family to help you shoulder the responsibility of minding the child or if you can afford to pay a live-in caregiver for 40-47 hours of work a week at 10 dollars an hour.

In Singapore however, the rate appears to be 400 dollars a month for close to 12 hours work, 6 days a week.

That works out to a paltry dollar an hour.

Over here, that would be akin to working under slave labour conditions.

Well it is better than what they get at home my friend bristled.

And that makes it alright and fair? I asked her. Would you work for a dollar an hour?

My friend didn’t seem to think there was anything wrong in paying the pittance she does. A quick check of Singapore mothering forums suggests that things are even worse - not only are these individuals underpaid but they may have to accede to all sorts of restrictions on their time and life – including curtailing the food they eat and other activities they engage in.

I cannot imagine such restrictions ever being allowed to be imposed on another human being here.

we are not all like that. I send her home every year and I treat her like a member of my family

Do you pay her like you would pay a member of your family?
Money isn’t everything Nisha. She is happy here. Getting more than she would get at home. That’s enough for her. Why do you care so much?


I don’t know what to say to that.
Call me naïve, touched by the Western sun, not living a Singapore reality - but am I the only one appalled by this colossal affront to human dignity? How does the concept of ‘paying them a fraction of what other human beings are paid because it is better than the alterative’ justify abysmal working conditions and unfair wages which I am sure none of my fellow Singaporeans would personally stand for, for themselves?

We won’t be able to afford maids otherwise. Then we can’t work. Then our manpower will be severely reduced. It is a government policy you see.

Maybe I buy-in to the equality of humanity a little more than I do the incessant need to maximize earnings, but how in God’s name can the work done by a Burmese/Filipino/Indonesian be any less valuable than the work done by a Singaporean? Has money made us develop such a God complex that we think it is completely normal for payments, rewards and ways of life to be tiered by race and nationality?

It is easy enough to blame the government for a bad policy, but who do you blame when your conscience does not see it fit to perceive all human beings as equals?

I doubt things will change in Singapore. Even if the government policy changes, I think people will baulk at co$t of justice.

There is nothing wrong with getting help – we all need it to balance our career and family aspirations. But I do wonder what it says about an aspiring first world country – for this reason alone, Singapore will stay a third world nation to me – when Singaporeans think that changing the moniker from maid to helper shows more respect than actually paying these individuals a fair wage for taking care of their young and for treating them as equals.

I ended that phone call with far more respect for the North American system.

Say what you will about the high cost of living here, but a working lady who acquiesces to a financially challenging childcare solution because she appreciates the economic worth of the individual who is taking care of her child, demands respect. Definitely more respect than the lady who claims to be a successful working mother even as she outsources her caregiving duties to another individual for a fraction of her own perceived economic worth.
Neri Mario
01 March 2010 @ 09:48 am
Parking a car in this country of old, underground parking lots can be a challenge on the best of days, even in a nice compact smart car. It really isn’t as much about the size of the lot as it is about the god-awful huge pillars that appear to have been plunked down beside each lot almost so willy-nilly that you’d imagine the near-socialist rub that caresses the Canuck mindsets attempts to punish you for having bought –god forbid!- a car instead of using le bicycle or le-gs to get around.

I’ve lost minutes in a parking lot and hours of my life trying to navigate around these pillars in a sedan when parking and when attempting to escape these parking lots. M has a great spot downtown, in the only parking lot with piped in music and nice shiny floors. M also has to tithe a pretty portion of his salary to the parking gods to park there so it is not an option open to me.

Nevertheless, years on, I have learnt the art of parking in a Canadian underground parking lot downtown with minimal damage to myself or the car. That is, till I encountered the parking lot at work.

This is a parking lot with a design pilfered from a theme park ride. 3 floors of crazy pillars, tight corners, deceptive depths and a slope that is definitely at a 50-55 degree angle that simulates so perfectly your descent into a another layer of hell every time to drop a level. It is a parking lot INTENDED to discourage parking while offering a tantalizing 9 dollars a day for full day parking right under the building. With no other underground car parks around, this parking lot truly is Hobson. And there is no other choice.

Still, despite a heart stopping, bone chilling pillar scrape in my first month here, I had become adapt at rounding the corners and pulling my sedan into a corner, still my beating heart, pay that great rate and go to work.

However, having just upgraded to an SUV, my nightmare started all over again. My sedan was a pavam – it did what I asked it to, turned where I asked it turn, and backed into spots as nicely as it could carry out my instructions. The SUV though, has a mind, body and spatial definition of its own. It LUMBERS up a slope, AMBLES down a stretch and HEAVES through a turn.

On an open road.

In Hell’s Carpark, it didn’t stand a chance. I hit the back while backing it into a spot because I was distracted by my need to ensure it actually FIT into these spots. (Did they know of SUV sizes back when they drew the lots out in this old, old capark?). I noted two small marks on the passenger side one evening from the care next to it whose owner – awed by my behemoth – had carelessly (or carefully?) opened his door right into mine.

Was I then to not drive this car? Should I give up sirus radio and a warm ride every morning for a cold trek to the wet subway and then a cold walk to work? Is that the alternative.

Thankfully though, my problems are over as of this morning. As I moodily descended down to the third layer of Hell – a terrain largely uncolonised at the time I pull into work – and cautiously navigated myself into a spot, a kindly lady rolled down her window and said

You know, with a car like that, you might want to use the lot next to mine. It is extra big.

And it was. I have no idea how I had never seen it before. It was very big, very roomy and here was the kicker:

It had no confounded pillars next to it.

I pulled the craziest maneuvers over the next few minutes and eased myself into this spot. I relaxed for a second, and opened my door W-I-D-E and jumped out.

This truly is LUXURY.

Thank you so much for telling me about this! I gushed to the lady.
You’re welcome. But you’d better make sure you get into work this early every day. There is a Hummer which usually parks there.

Competition for a wide parking lot in a lot of small ones. That’s not going to be pleasant.

But that's a parking adventure for another day.
Neri Mario
25 February 2010 @ 03:48 pm
It has been months but time flies when you have a kid, a job (finally!) and a schedule that is beyond insane. I wake up at 5, get ready, get kid ready, pack kid into car, drive to babysitter, drop her off, drive to work, work, drive to babysitter, pick up kid, drive home, eat dinner (no time to cook so the guilt *sigh*), feed baby, play with baby, put baby to sleep, collapse in bed coz' baby wakes up at night or hubby snores so I cannot sleep so I need to sleep when I can.

This schedule is worsened by the crazy crazy minus dunnowhat weather we are having here. I feel bad for Arya more than for myself. I don't know what it does to a baby's system to be transported so much everyday in this weather..

But the 3 week viral gasterioentitis she is currently fighting is killing my spirit want to work. She is on a nebuliser now.. and I am living on the trust that my babysitter is using it properly on her. I am, for all intents and purposes, living on trust. Trust in the babysitter, trust in God, trust that this is a natural progression of life, one that babies are built to handle. I pray hard that it is so. And that this weekend, finally, our little family will be healed.

I miss home. Here I go again, but really, I feel a disconnect from Singapore that I abhor and wish I could bridge. Working here makes me realise the things I take for granted within the working environments back home. And I hope to God someday, I can return home for a longer period of time than a month or so.

Someday, God will make it happen.
Neri Mario
14 December 2007 @ 10:46 am
I am madly, passionately and totally in love with Pushing Daisies.

Rarely do you see a show that so completely warms the coldest cockles of your coronary crevices (they alliterate a lot on the show), and even more unusually does a show leave you walking on air with a grin on your face long after the Pie Maker and Chuck have pretend-held hands or pretend kissed (they can't touch each other, see?).

AHhh... it is such a lovely Tuesday evening treat and Drat! that silly writer's strike for depriving me of more episodes. I can't wait for the DVD to be out - my mom would enjoy it very much seeing as how it's so pretty, light and has zero-to-no vulgarities.


Which brings me to a rather epiphan-ic moment a few weeks ago, when during the course of a conversation with the Parentals, I decided to leave out details of a particular situation - because I thought it was a tad bawdy and too gruesome and because, well, parental discretion was advised.

Have the tables truly turned as I turn 30 next year? Am I now the custodian of the familial responsibilities, the nagging family health watch dog, de facto censor on all forms of suitable entertainment, etcetera.

Tis' slightly troubling and leads to questions that question the Circle of Life and question further how quickly it all seems to be hurtling towards Full Circle. With deviant thoughts of child rearing and good school districts weeding themselves sneakily among career aspirations and of a vibrant lifestyle ruled by Kate Spade bags and The Downtown Lifestyle, the hitherto carefully cultivated dreams of worry free tai-tai-dom have been quite surely and systematically dislodged.

So as I gingerly find myself toeing the line dividing my mundane but carefree life from that altogether still frighteningly foreign realm of Grown Up responsibilities, I wonder if this is part of that maturity I once declared I would never, could never, shall never cross over to..

Questions for another day perhaps. Today, I have to browse charming Villeroy and Boch chinaware at the new Bed Bath and Beyond, that just opened in my corner of suburbia...