Monday 28 April 2014

A bittersweet orange celebration

When the Philippines Independence Day Council Singapore announced plans to organise celebrations for the Philippines Independence Day in June on Orchard Road, Singapore’s famous shopping district, it caused an uproar. Campaigners against the event started a Facebook page to share their grievances. They were mainly angered by the proposed location; the shopping street can be considered Singapore’s holiest ground, and if celebrations should take place at all, the Philippines embassy was suggested. 

The accompanying slogan ‘Our Independence, our Interdependence’ was found especially provocative. The group would not endorse any interdependence with any country. 
That Singapore, which has over one million migrant workers, constituting around a quarter of the population, relies heavily on exactly those migrant workers to keep their economy as thriving as it is, the protesters conveniently ignored. Just like they ignored the long and fruitful historic relationship between the Philippines and Singapore.

Singapore is in essence an immigrant city, where everyone was once a foreigner, yet like so many issues relating to recent migrants the debate escalated. Comments were penned heatedly, ranging from xenophobic mud-slinging to appeasing locals professing peace. Even Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong put in his two-cents-worth, by publicly denouncing the protesters on Facebook, and calling them ‘trolls’ that were a ‘disgrace to the country’. The Prime Minister seems to be much more aware than some of his nationals of who helps buttering Singapore’s bread. 

In the meanwhile, the Dutch community in Singapore celebrated their King’s Day in peace. No one protested against the small groups of orange clad ‘cheeseheads’ taking over a few of the bars downtown, downing Dutch beer, and munching on bitterballen and raw herring. Nor against the Dutch school, that like every year, and like every self-respecting Dutch school, celebrated the monarch’s birthday with traditional games and cake. But not after five hundred kids in orange sang Majulah Singapura and the Wilhelmus whilst raising both flags next to each other in assembly. 

At the Gardens by the Bay, that state-of-the-art landmark that makes every Singaporean swell with pride, Dutchness is further celebrated by the Tulipmania exhibition, where tens of thousands bulbs were flown in to colour the Flower Dome like a fresh Lowland spring. 

You can understand some of the celebrations this year bore a bitter aftertaste for me, not unlike the sickly sweet 'oranjebitter' drink that I usually manage to avoid. I could end with a snappy comment about one foreigner not being treated like the other, a joke about the insignificance of the Dutch, or by advocating respect and peace for all. But I won’t. 

I recommend everyone to go to the Flower Dome to smell the heady hyacinth fragrance overpowering all senses. And then go for some Satay by the Bay. I recommend everyone to enjoy all the different smells and flavours of Singapore. Every day again. 

Thursday 3 April 2014


I used to dread the school holidays. With three kids around the house all day, every day, it was such a relief when the eldest started going to school increasing amounts I would flinch whenever there was a prolonged period I’d have them all back at home.

Now, with the eldest two in full time primary, the youngest in morning pre-school and me happy in a three day –unpaid but therefore flexible- job, and on top of that the after school activities, swimming lessons and private mandarin tutoring, I sometimes hardly see them. The prospect of two weeks with the kids without us even leaving Singapore did not daunt me. At all.

It was not that I necessarily planned it that way, I did plan a weekend away at Bali for Easter. It was just that I had not realised that the Easter holidays ended a week before Easter. Or, that Easter Monday was not even a national holiday in Singapore. 

The kids were a bit confused at first. It’s a holiday! Where are we going? I could stop them just in time from packing their bags to explain we were not going anywhere. We were going to stay in Singapore for two weeks. At home.

After some initial grumbling they got the hang of it. With no school bus to run for, and daddy starting later every day as well, we would sleep in. We would breakfast together, lounge around the house, and see what we’d do. Now it’s Friday already and we haven’t even managed the Zoo yet. We were too busy doing nothing.

We played with the neighbour’s kids, hosted sleepovers, went to the playground by the Bay with friends, cycled our new bike, played some more, visited friends with a pool, and build uncountable towers of kapla. One day I rushed home early from a day at work I had not been able to avoid, to pick up the kids for a promised session at the beach I had cancelled a meeting for, only to find the house deserted. Less then an hour later the quiet was over, and I found myself hosting an impromptu art session for nine young kids in the garden. 

Today the gardener build us a vegetable pad, which we sowed with five kids and several packets of seeds, in a way we will never be able to identify what’s what when they sprout. I tidied up, and now the house is empty again, as the flock of kids has moved to another place, another house, so I can sit down for a minute and write this down. This story of the amazing vacation where we stayed at home and did nothing. We never did so much.