February 15, 2018
The problem with a multicultural society is that sometimes, Chinese New Year (eat meat dumplings!) Ash Wednesday (don’t eat meat!) Valentine’s Day (love and lovers!) and Total Defense Day (a lot of people died horribly) line up their lunar and Gregorian selves and really serve to confuse a person. I mean, check out this CNY gift bag swag. Mixed message, right? In a good way.
The cool part is that Singapore seems to have it all sorted. “I got a dispensation for the eating,” whispered the Chinese Catholic to me at the party, “plus, the salmon is vegetarian.”
So that part was confusing, but in a way that I could at least understand.* The calendar stuff, not the business about vegetarian salmon- that’s just bizarre. I did have great fun throwing the “fish” around, though, in the traditional celebratory way. I am loving the people I work with and how they include us in all the diverse food and parties. Big kudos to the world for coming up with so many reasons and ways to have fun with each other.
On an “other side of humanity” note, however, today I headed with my partner school to a memorial dedicated to civilians who died in World War II. There is some dark, dark history I’m currently too upset about to get into here, but what it boils down to is that in the 1950s and ‘60s, when Singapore was planning and building what was to be a newly sovereign nation, they kept finding masses of human remains at construction sites. There had been multiple slaughters of civilians- especially the ethnically Chinese in unnatural disasters like Sook Ching, or “purge through cleansing”- during the Japanese occupation. It was continually heart-rending to witnesses and survivors, and it was way, way too raw.
So the Singaporeans created a memorial. They collected all the bones and reburied them at one sight, opting against cremation because of the various religious beliefs of surviving family members. They commissioned this monument:
which has four towers progressively leaning toward each other until they are bonded at the top. This represents Singapore’s four “races”: Chinese, Malay, Indian, and other (mostly Eurasian) and how they must always support each other as one nation.
51 years later, they invited some school children, with whom I limped along in my flesh-eating bus station shoes, and -WHOA!- the first female and current President of Singapore, Halimah Yacob.
I took a picture of the motorcade because I was kind of impressed. And then, even though I was this far away for her speech,
I continued to be impressed, if more sweatily. I like how world leaders are still able to emphasize the necessity of cooperation and unity across differences. And I like that I can still be surprised by Singapore, since they included bagpipes in the post-keynote ceremony. Definitely did not see those coming.
I got a little closer for the photo ops, where I made eye contact and smiled in a way that I hope reassured her that World Peace: I’m For It.
I don’t know if the look worked, but my partner teacher has former students in impressive places, so we got a photo op ourselves! Since I’m not a selfie taker, I just did this:
and called it good. Somewhere there’s a professional picture of me and an actual President, though, which is pretty neat.
I hope I didn’t have salmon in my teeth.
*Not a “why the effing eff doesn’t Congress get their shit together like the entire rest of the world because children are dying???” kind of confusion. Or a “further, why are we not voting the calluses out???” kind of confusion. Because I’m really angry about those two things, but I’m keeping it down here because it doesn’t really fit the tone of everything else above.