Thursday, 8 November 2007

The other side of Singaporean life

On Saturday Aimee and I joined our Dutch neighbours, Paul and Sylvia and their two eldest children Roma and Vince on a Charity Food Drive which was sponsored by Paul's company.

Paul works for Cargill, a privately owned American company. They seem to be highly committed to supporting charitable works in all of the local communities they operate in, from Singpaore to the American Mid-West to the Amazon. It was really refreshing to be asked to join in this type of event given the view of mulit-national business we have seen since Leigh started working for a company owned by dollar-hungry venture capitalists!

We went to the oldest social housing development in Singapore which is about a mile or so from our home. As most of the occupants have lived there all their lives, the average tenant is a senior citizen and often living on a very low income. Every weekend a food drive is organised by a local Charity and all of the eligible families in the development are able to turn up and collect groceries for the week, free of charge. Cargill sponsor the charity with other local businesses on an ongoing basis to ensure there is sufficient food available each week.

The Charity responsible for the project invited Cargill employees, family and friends along to see their work and to get involved with distributing the food and visiting some housebound recipients whilst delivering their groceries. That is how Aimee and I ended up there last weekend.

I've spoken to many of you about the "bubble" we live in here as expats. Singapore whilst in Asia, is often described as "Asia-Light" as it does have poverty but in comparison to what we see when we drive for 30 minutes over the border into Maylasia and beyond, Singapore really is the posh relation in Asia. Life for us as expats is so far removed from that level of poverty and even from the average Singaporean that unfortunately, I'm ashamed to say it is very easy to forget just how lucky we are living in our "paid for by the company houses", private schools and with great tax breaks to finish off the deal. As adults Leigh and I can keep ourselves grounded and remember our place amongst all of this, but for the children it is becoming harder and harder for them to know their place in the world when everyone else they mix with leads the same privileged lifestyle as they do.

Leigh and I can talk to the kids as much as we like about how lucky they are and through school they can learn about and be involved in charities which benefit the less fortunate of Asia but like all things in life talking can never teach as well as actively doing and participating.

Aimee didn't know what to expect from the event though I spent time explaing the economic situation of the people she would be meeting and how important it was for her to be interested in them and to show her interest to them if only through smiling and talking to people as she gave out the food.

We arrived at the distribution point and divided into groups of 2 or 3 to each food station giving out various items. I was giving out onions with Vince (age 3!) and Zion (age 5!). Aimee and Roma opted to give out the bread - this is them waiting for the event to get started...

It was quite a humbling experience meeting the poorest people of Singapore and I have to say that I was amazed by how well all the kids handled themselves. They were full of smiles and laughter and interacted well with everyone they met. Poor little Vince got a bit freaked out by the one-legged lady and the Hindu man with red paint all over his face but he is only 3 years old and I think his main problem was absolute tiredness as it was very hot. I was so proud of Aimee, she positively BEAMED at everyone she met and wasn't at all fazed by the old people wanting to stroke her curly hair and chatter away to her in Mandarin.

After the last of the people had been given their weekly groceries I took the 4 children off to visit 3 recipients in their homes with a member of the Charity. Unlike some of the estates in London and even Medway where I'd fear to tread, a Singaporean housing estate is actually a pretty safe place to be. The lifts work and they don't smell of wee!! Its amazing how well people respect property here but then I guess with a rather strict Government and a harsh penal policy its easier to wait till you reach the toilet than wee in a lift and risk a few years in prison!

The kids were interested to meet the families we visited and were amazed by the small living spaces. The people we met all live in studio flat of just one room with a kitchenette and a small bathroom. One man was sleeping on the floor when we arrived and clearly had not even a bed or chair to sit on. That was a visually graphic explanation of these people's situation for Aimee especially.

We stayed for a few photos after we'd finished our deliveries as the American Ambassador had come along to help so I guess there will be some publicity for the Charity at least due to his attendance. But for Aimee and me the main thing was that we'd had a chance to talk about and meet some people we would never normally ome into contact with here in Singapore. Aimee learnt a great lesson in appreciating her own lucky place in the world by understanding how others less fortunate than her are living only a mile from her home. Its hardly going to turn her or I into Mother Theresa overnight but its a start and you have to start somewhere right?

Thursday, 1 November 2007


Halloween was great fun again this year. Being a street well known locally for its ex-pat population (and therefore willingness to dress up and doll out huge quantities of sweets)we were awash with kids and their parents trick or treating.

Aimee was a vampire's cat (basically a black cat with vampire teeth which she soon bored of) and Ollie was a skeleton courtesy of the Sainsbury's outfit Auntie Sarah bought him over last year which fortunately still fits him. Afraid I just couldn't contemplate dressing up this year in my pregnant state - all that man-made fibre and a wig in 33 degrees?? I'm suffering enough in the heat and didn't fancy making it worse for myself so I left the sweet distribution to Mary this year (who was NOT interested in being my substitute evil witch of the house) and went off trick or treating instead.

Was a great atmosphere with lots of people about, various parties going on and a lovely community feeling we've certainly never experienced in England. Halloween in our little expat community of Kingsville is how I imagine it to be in the US - certainly American friends and neighbours who've joined in the fun say its very similar to a US Halloween.

Leigh cancelled his trip to Bali this week due to a bad back but it meant that he got to join in the fun as he was away last year. He wasn't up for a costume, this was his sole effort towards anything remotely ghoulish.......

Unlike our friends Paul and Adrian who you can see really went to town and scared the living crap out of most of the kids! Paul's wife Sylvia is already well known on the street for her extreme enthusiasm for any kind of holiday/celebration. (She happily donned a full Easter Rabbit costume in this heat/humidity, played for an hour with the kids and led an Easter Egg hunt! I can't emphasise how nuts about this kind of thing you need to be to agree to that out here...)

Regina and I were the top-dogs of decorations till Sylvia arrived. Now we merely pale into insignificance! I'm gutted I didn't photograph her house but suffice to say she worked on her plan for weeks and painted a backdrop which covered the whole front of the house and added all sorts of props. That combined with the Paul and Adrian duo was quite a combination.

Here are some of my favourite pics of the evening starting with my favourite costume, Senhon's dead pirate. Loving the grey wig....