Monday, August 15, 2011

No curry, no kampung spirit

The following is extracted from TODAYonline news. Click here to skip to my commentary.
Number of neighbour disputes hit high
Neighbours lack communication and increasingly intolerant: CMC
By Quek Sue Wen Carolyn, 04:45 AM Aug 08, 2011


Out of the 498 cases seen by the CMC [Edit: Community Mediation Centre] last year, 67 per cent were neighbour disputes, an increase from the 2007 where such disputes only made up 50 per cent of the centre's caseload.


Madam Marcellina Giam, 54, a CMC master mediator, told Today: "I feel (neighbours) are less tolerant these days and they are bringing very small neighbourhood disputes to the CMC like disputes over a few pots of flowers or washing the corridor, which never used to happen."

Fellow master mediator Thirunal Karasu Palaniappan, 49, added that unlike in the past, when the "kampung spirit" was strong and neighbours ventured into each other's homes freely, many neighbours now do not know each other.


Most of the cases the mediators have seen are between neighbours living in public housing, though they have handled some cases involving residents of private estates. About 80 cases the CMC saw in the past two years were also referred to it by the HDB. This is out of the 1,700 complaints on inconsiderate neighbour behaviour the HDB receives on average in a year.

Mediators are also seeing more disputes involving new immigrants. Both mediators felt that most of the cases they see could be easily solved by the neighbours themselves but the latter choose not to.


When neighbours disagree ...

Case 1: A family, who had just moved here from China, had resorted to mediation because they could not stand the smell of curry that their Singaporean Indian neighbours would often cook. The Indian family, who were mindful of their neighbour's aversion, had already taken to closing their doors and windows whenever they cooked the dish, but this was not enough.

"They said: 'Can you please do something? Can you don't cook curry? Can you don't eat curry?'," said Madam Marcellina Giam, a Community Mediation Centre mediator. But the Indian family stood firm. In the end, Mdm Giam got the Indian family to agree to cook curry only when the Chinese family was not home. In return, they wanted their Chinese neighbours to at least give their dish a try.

Case 2: A 40-year-old sales manager was shocked to find a note posted in one of the lifts of his Telok Blangah block. The anonymous writer had complained that his children were making "ear-piercing screams everyday and making the environment very unconducive for resting". The writer said the screams were "hurting the ears" of the residents and called on the children's parents to be "socially responsible".

The sales manager, who wanted only to be known as Mr Su, said he thought of responding and finding out who the letter writer was. He decided against it eventually. "I don't know why the writer had to do that, he could have approached me directly," Mr Su told Today.

He has also told his two sons aged three and five not to make too much noise when they play. Mr Su also said he will let the matter rest - provided it does not happen again.

My 2 cents...

Case 1 cited "a family, who had just moved here from China" asking an Indian family not to cook curry -- an Indian staple food. Perhaps the recently-arrived China Chinese family does not understand that their request is akin to asking the Eskimos not to eat fish?

Case 2 did not mention the nationality of the writer of a complaint note since he/she is anonymous. Nevertheless "ear-piercing" [“刺耳”] is a typical PRC Chinese Mandarin description of loud noises. Localized Singaporean Chinese tends to use the descriptions "noisy" [“吵”] or "sharp screams" [“尖叫”]. It is such minor linguistic differences that were parodied by yet another PRC Chinese in Singapore. IMHO, the reason for complaint may be valid, but the delivery could have been improved for better neighbourliness as remarked by Mr Su in the article.

Someone commented online that Singaporean (i.e. local born) Chinese are different from the recent flood of Chinese immigrants from PRC. I guess it boils down to the question: Where is the kampung spirit?


Massive immigration in Singapore has caused much strain in the social fabric. According to Department of Statistics population estimate in mid-2010,
  • Singapore population is 5,076,700 (100%)
  • Singapore citizens 3,771,700 (74%)
    [Includes 90,000 (2%) newly minted citizens between 2006 and 2010.]
  • Singapore Permanent Residents 541,000 (11%)
  • Other foreigners (workers or temporary visas holders, excluding tourists) 754,524 (15%) [2000 data estimate].
According to the United Nations report World Population Policies 2005, 42.6% of Singapore's population are foreigners.

Occasionally, I read/hear of people in Metro Vancouver complaining of massive immigration too. According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada data for Vacouver urban area during 2006-2010, there were
  • 37,336 permanent residents,
  • 25,520 foreign workers [that is, temporary visas] and
  • 20,488 foreign students.
This makes a total of 83,344 (4%) foreigners out of a population (2006 data) of 2,116,581 for Metro Vancouver. Perhaps I am missing some numbers somewhere. According to the United Nations report World Population Policies 2005, 18.76% of Canada's population are foreigners.

On the other side of the same coin, I sometimes hear of fellow immigrants complaining of the increasing difficulty of immigrating to Canada, or the challenges faced when attempting to return to the equivalent of their previous professional levels in Canada. For sure, the challenges faced are not trivial. Nevertheless coming from Singapore where the impact of open-door immigration policy is felt, I do not share their wish for more open Canadian policies. I prefer a controlled immigration pace that pushes new immigrants to adapt to their adopted land and gives the locals time to embrace the trickle of diversity into their lives.


[Addendum on 16th Aug 2011]

The news of case 1 above has inspired a Facebook movement "Cook and Share a Pot of Curry!". Details of the event below is copied from the FB page.
  • Time: Sunday, August 21 · 11:00am - 11:30pm
  • Location: Everywhere in Singapore and in the World!
  • Information: "COOK and SHARE a Pot of Curry" - to celebrate Curries as part of our way of life - and to share this celebration with those who are new to our shores!
  • Currently: 63,214 52,867 49,443 Attending (including Singaporeans overseas), 8,394 6,606 6,052 Maybe Attending
Woah! I love this social network movement.

It even inspired "The Curry Song". Haha!

And Mr Brown Show's "Curry Curry Night". [Note: "Chou toufu" is "smelly bean curd".]


  1. Replies
    1. Hi LIFT,

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting on my blog. Glad that you liked the post.

      Cheers, WD.