Category: Singapore

Some things completely Singaporean…

Things that make you smile

Every time I’m back in Singapore, I am immediately stunned at how much has changed since my last visit – new high rises that have plugged yet another green area, new roads I’m unaware of that make finding my way back home like a tour of the neighbourhood, an old favourite coffeeshop is gone etc., and then I am struck at how much that’s still and perpetually, the same.

First of all, all these well meaning information signs that are there to make us all feel happy and safe, while in reality perhaps create more confusion than help, such as this pedestrian sign that embellished a building site area in great numbers.

Pedestrian sign, Singapore.

Helpful signs, adding to the confusion.
Photo © JE Nilsson and Cheryl M. Cordeiro-Nilsson for CMC 2010

And then the obsession with perfection, that everything here has to be neat, clean and tidy. There are new and neat litter bins everywhere and not enough litter to go around. So even the insides of the litter bins are clean.

Litter free, public bin, Singapore.

Clean on the inside as well – that’s efficiency on a whole new level.

And for exercise – shopping!
And then there’s Singapore’s national sport above and beyond everything – Shopping. That every year when the Winter rush and the New Year’s rush and the Spring rush is over, businesses think it is time to spice things up with the Great Singapore Sale. Regardless of your intentions there is no way not ending up buying at least something. Everything from designer clothes to hopelessly outdated electronics (from last month), shoes and household items alike, are on sale.
Continue reading “Some things completely Singaporean…”

The Umbrellas

Clarke Quay canopies, Clarke Street, Singapore.

Large umbrellas or canopies shade the streets at Clarke Quay.
Photo © JE Nilsson and Cheryl M. Cordeiro-Nilsson for Cheryl Marie Cordeiro 2010

Not exactly a Renoir in atmosphere but Singapore architecture brings ‘sky light’ to a different dimension. While there is ample cloud cover on most days in this tropical city, the sun can be ferocious on a clear day and Singaporeans deal with the sun by carrying umbrellas in all sorts of designs and shapes – metallic or reflective ones on a sunny day to a plain matte black for the thunderstorms. So it’s perfectly natural that umbrellas or canopies are incorporated into building designs and walkways.

Pastel under the canopies, Clarke Quay, Singapore.

A patterned canopy tops off the pastel shades of windows in Clarke Quay.

Clarke Street, Clarke Quay, Singapore, under the canopies.

Street name on pastel.

At Clarke Quay, you’ll find one of the prettier sky lights in the form of large umbrellas or canopies covering the walkways. Set against these brilliant overhanging structures are the roof tops and windows in pastel shades of colour that lends a festive flair to the place even at its busiest times.

It’s eye candy architecture.

Children playing in fountain, Clarke Quay, Singapore.

Fountains under the umbrellas where children play.

Too add to the light-hearted mood of the place, the fountains at the central intersection of Clarke Quay invite children of all ages (and some adults too) to dance and play under its water arches, the laughter of the children synchronized with the pattering of the water from the fountains.

Vesak Day and a long weekend in Singapore

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, Clarke Quay Singapore

At Clarke Quay.
Photo © JE Nilsson and Cheryl M. Cordeiro-Nilsson for Cheryl Marie Cordeiro 2010

Yesterday came as one of the best days to take a stroll through the heart of Singapore’s financial district, it being Vesak Day on a Friday, leading up to a long weekend in this city country that hardly ever sleeps. Vesak is an annual public holiday, sometimes informally called “Buddha’s birthday”. This long weekend meant that the streets were virtually empty along Raffles Place, Boat Quay and Clarke Quay. At the nearby parking houses, one could see such unusual signs as, 889 parking lots available…

We began at Raffles Place, walking through Boat Quay and landing up at Clarke Quay. Together with looking at old pictures of the area from an art gallery at Clarke Quay and then realizing what fantastic infrastructure they’ve built these days in the same spaces made the entire walk through the area surreal.

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro Clarke Quay Singapore II

At Mulligan’s, Clarke Quay.

It’s quite a difference from a cool 8C in Sweden thereabouts to land in 28C with a humidity that constantly cloaks you. It doesn’t take long walking in this heat to make you want to run to the nearest water cooler for a drink and any drink sitting in a bucket of ice becomes all at once attractive and desirable!
Continue reading “Vesak Day and a long weekend in Singapore”

In The New Eurasian, Singapore, Oct-Dec 2009

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro in The New Eurasian Oct-Dec 2009

In The New Eurasian, October to December 2009.

Cheryl_Marie_Cordeiro_TNE1

The New Eurasian: People

A truly multi-cultural perspective

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro, former beauty queen, and current academic – has this year graduated with a PhD from the University of Gothenberg in Sweden with a thesis that compares the management styles between her adopted country, Sweden, where she is a PR, and her native Singapore.

“I came to notice that there were many foreigners coming to Singapore to set up and run Asian market head offices. Among those were many Swedish organisations. Based on Singapore’s financial and economic strength, it was apparent that these foreign companies were part of what made Singapore a successful business hub,” she said.

Her curiosity led her to get in touch with businessman Jan-Erik Nilsson, who lived in Sweden. As one of the founders of the East-Indiaman Gotheborg III ship project, it was Jan-Erik who encouraged her research plans. In 2002, she left Singapore for Sweden to begin her doctoral studies. Four years later, she and Jan-Erik married.

The talented Eurasian has a BA (Hons) from the National University of Singapore and graduated in 2000 with two separate masters degrees: an MA in English Language from NUS and an MSc in Information Studies from Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

As if she wasn’t busy enough with her studies during her undergrad days, she also took time to represent Singapore at the International Miss Universe Pageant in Trinidad and Tobago in 1999. Around that time, she also appeared as an actress in the MediaCorp TV’s series Brand New Towkay. But her passion for academic research never waned, and she returned to academia.

She hopes her thesis Swedish management in Singapore: a discourse analysis study will help Swedish executives doing business in Singapore to better understand the culture here and will also “show how different cultural backgrounds can make or break any cross-national deal, however brilliant things look on paper”.

As well as her academic life Cheryl, who speaks Swedish and Mandarin in addition to English, keeps a fusion blog on her Northern European experiences, writing on fashion, food, travel and lifestyle.

———oOo———

Thank you, to the Eurasian Association of Singapore, for a wonderful write-up and an update on Eurasians around the world. The October to December 2009 issue of The New Eurasian is out, and personally, I’m already looking forward to the New Year’s Eve Maquerade Soiree! For more information on October to December’s upcoming events, please visit the EA’s website.

Reflections on being Miss Singapore Universe 1999

The following is an article based on an interview by Valerie Wang Jia Yu of the Singapore Straits Times. The article was published in the Sunday Life! print edition section May 24, 2009. Photo © JE Nilsson for CMC 2009

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro in black

Winning the crown

In 1999 when I won the Miss Singapore Universe title, I was 24. I had just graduated with Honours from the National University of Singapore, NUS, and was pursuing two separate Masters degrees.

One was a Master of Arts in English Language with NUS and the second was a part-time Master of Science course in Information Technology with Nanyang Technological University, NTU.

Literally sitting with the crown in my lap, I subsequently graduated with both degrees in 2000 and 2001 respectively.

Curiosity and ambition

I suppose there could be many small reasons why I chose to join the Miss Singapore pageant back then, but it comes down to a combination of curiosity and ambition.

The first reason is that I’m always one to look to expand my repertoire of experiences. Up until my university days, I’ve always prioritized education and academic training. I also noted that I tended to be rather nervous and shy during presentations at tutorials. In that sense, being in a pageant presented a new challenge to me. It would be an event where I will need to be able to present myself on stage, in front of a large audience, overcoming stage fright.

I decided to take up that challenge and overcome my fear of presenting myself in front of many people. I even joked about this at my recent Doctoral graduation dinner celebration: after parading in a bikini in front of Donald Trump and millions of viewers, there’ll be nothing more frightful thereafter in terms of public appearances.

A plethora of opportunities

The second reason that drew me to the pageant was the opportunities that the event presented for the young women who chose to be in it. Contrary to what some might think, that pageants are demeaning to women, personally, I think pageants provide an excellent arena in which young women are given a voice, or at least, they are given the chance to find their voice. Being on stage, these young women are not only encouraged to polish their self-presentation skills but they are encouraged to have their say in the pageant’s related portfolio, voicing their thoughts on women’s issues for example or lending their services to humanitarian efforts.

Promoting Singapore

My portfolio as Miss Singapore Universe for example, was quite broad. Part of my work as Miss Singapore Universe entailed efforts on the humanitarian front, such as heightening awareness on AIDS in Singapore, spending time with the elderly living in elderly care homes. Other aspects of my portfolio included working with the Singapore Tourism Board in promoting Singapore as a choice country of destination for tourism, especially within the regions of Southeast-Asia and Asia-Pacific.

After the crown

There were no radical changes after I won the title in terms of lifestyle or relations with family and friends. But with the win, came a plethora of interesting opportunities that one could take in life and I think that’s where it got interesting for me. Most of all, I’m grateful for most things that came my way after winning the pageant – the trip to Trinidad and Tobago for example, where the international Miss Universe pageant was held in 1999, was truly an unforgettable experience by any standards! The people I’ve met along the way, delegates of other countries as well as the locals from the country is nothing short of a fantastic experience. The international event was a networking opportunity of a lifetime. It gave me insight into the beauty of the diversity of cultures, values, traditions, language, food and religions; and these are aspects that I brought with me in my research interest all the way into my doctoral thesis, which is about how Scandinavian top managers make it in Singapore.

Putting “Miss Singapore Universe Winner 1999” on the resume

Being Singapore’s delegate to the international pageant is something that I will always be proud of. On the international scene, more is expected of you. You stop being just a beauty queen and take on an ambassadorial role for the country, you answer questions about your country, its history and its socio-economic and financial policies. I think that to the majority of the public, pageants were (and still are) seen as entertainment, similar to how we would view a sports event, a fashion show, a reality series etc. I think having been Miss Singapore Universe is pretty much a non-issue with my friends and colleagues at the university.

My professional interest however, lies in academia, research and writing.

Style and self-presentation

I think beauty is an evolving concept, and over the years I believe the young women participating internationally have become more career oriented and this is reflected in how the local pageants are run. The professional aspects of style and self-presentation, has become more important than just good looks.

Pageants are after all a very important recruiting ground for all kinds of front persons aiming for a career in the tourism, public relations, modeling, human resources, entertainment, television, movie and the fashion industries – all important, major businesses with global turnovers that count into the billions.

Oprah Winfrey, who is one of the wealthiest and most influential woman on the planet for example, began her career by winning a pageant.

A fantastic opportunity

I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for any young woman to take part in the event because it does offer a platform in which young women can launch themselves in their career. I think that the experience of the pageant in itself is tremendously enriching for all involved. You learn a lot on the job, you learn from other people’s life experiences you meet along the way and you can make lifelong friends with other young delegates you meet at the international event.

There are a lot of fun memories of all the friends I made that I still come back to. If I could do it all over again, I would do it all over again and do it better.

 

When things are different

The following article was first published in Swedish on 16th April 2007 in the University of Gothenburg’s Journal. This post brings you the English translation of the article, followed by the article in Swedish. The article in Swedish can also be accessed via GU Journalen.

Cheryl Marie Cordeiro. Photo by Steven Grindrod

Photo: Steven Grindrod.

I’m a Singapore citizen and a research student with the department of Linguistics at Gothenburg Univeristy. When I arrived a few years ago, it was no small cultural shock that I experienced. While I generally found Swedes to be a warm, helpful and friendly bunch, it didn’t help that I still felt completely isolated. I didn’t understand the language and the various social activities I attended inherently contained values and codes that were unlike my own and what I was used to.

Compared to Sweden, Singapore is fairly conservative. It was only a generation ago that arranged marriages were the norm and the concept of sambo or living together without getting married for all practical purposes is still unheard of. A Chinese girlfriend of mine had a magistrate marriage ceremony in Singapore and thereafter, both husband and wife returned to their respective parents’ place to live. They only moved in together after the traditional Chinese wedding ceremony was conducted a year later.

Graffiti is unthinkable. The competition between organizations and individuals is also tougher in Singapore. Delivery is calculated within the hour rather than days in between and it is not unusual to call after office hours and still get excellent customer service. The public transport system is clean and efficient, with trains arriving every three minutes during peak hours.

About a week ago, I was invited to an international student / researcher reception held at City Hall with the Mayor of Gothenburg as host. It was interesting to have met so many people who were like myself, non-natives of Sweden and who came from various cultural backgrounds.

A French researcher I met that evening said that on his part, he would rather not get to know a country, its culture and its people prior to working / living in that country. This is so that he doesn’t get a coloured vision of the country and he could begin getting to know the different culture without bias.

That was an interesting point of view. In part because it didn’t quite par with my experiences on getting to and living in Sweden and in part, it was my area of research interest. I research Swedish leaders of Swedish owned organizations in Singapore and how thier experiences with the local culture influences / affects their leadership style.

In the way that fish are quite unaware of the water in which it swims, I believe Swedes in general don’t seem aware of Swedish idiosyncracies from the eyes of a foreigner and I’m not talking about snaps, hard bread and small little pigs that run around the Midsummer Pole come Midsummer. It’s much more subtle than that, such as implicit status symbols, hidden hierarchies, politally correct feminism, consensus seeking behaviour etc.

But look at it however, from a Swede who is now in a new culture, in some part of the world away from Sweden. It would be someone deemed to have leadership skills, whose job is to establish and steer a Swedish based organization abroad. They would have the pressing job of performing from day one and thier appointment in the foreign country is costing the organization in terms of salary and benefits. They are the best man for the job and the fate of the organization overseas is in their hands.

If that place were to be Singapore for example, everything would have been clean and tidy. Any season other than warm weather with or without rain, does not occur. The people are effective and friendly but the laws, social, family and organizationnal orientations are different. A congregation of over ten persons in public is forbidden and nobody laughs about the chewing gum ban. The land is multi-religious and religion is taken seriously. You can’t seem to order food from the local hawker center and people might be horrified at your table manners. There are social taboos not to be spoken of or referred to. Status symbols are a mystery. Everyone seems polite enough and they smile a lot but at the same time, you wonder why it is that what you want done just doesn’t get done even when the answer was yes when you asked.

My point with this not that we should stay home and not venture overseas and not even try to understand the different cultures abroad, but rather to point out that it is important for us to recognize the different nuances between cultures, which is much more than theatre, song and dance. There are institutions, the law, the passions of the people and fundamental values and beliefs in which we, with all our hearts, are convinced that is Truth, given by God, Allah, Brahma, Hunab Ku, Viracocha or Tom Cruise.

As a tourist, we perhaps can afford to explore unbiased and call the reception when we need help, but if the aim is to work with others in a different culture, we’ll need to be aware that there exist different understandings of what is real for others, what makes their morals, their truths and what is right for Them and understand their ambitions.

I believe if more resources were allocated to the study, understanding and respect of different cultures, there is much to be gained for all involved.

My hope is that my research will be a small contribution to this end and that it will help towards a deeper understanding of cultural differences.

Continue reading “When things are different”

Things to do in Singapore, besides shopping

In today’s issue of the Swedish newspaper SvD, there was a question on what to do for a few days in Singapore and if there even was anything else to do there besides shopping. Well, I love challanges and I couldn’t help picking this one up.

Chingay street carnival in Singapore

With its multicultural background, Singapore is bound to be celebrating something at any time during the year. The “Chingay” annual carnival at Orchard Road, is a celebration of Spring.
Photo © Jan-Erik Nilsson and Cheryl Marie Cordeiro for CMC, 2009

There are many foreigners that don’t think much of Singapore as a holiday resort. Actually, there are also a lot of Singaporeans that don’t think much of Singapore as a holiday resort either since it compares badly with most tropical destinations if it is bathing in the sea or scuba diving you want to do. Singapore is basically a city, a capital and a republic all by itself. It is a business hub and a very busy container harbour. You will find the internet connections (available most anywhere) one of the best you have ever experienced. With these limitations as a tourist attraction, you will find Singapore a most interesting place to spend a few days in. Here are a few suggestions that cover some pleasant but not so heavily advertised things to do when in Singapore for a few days, other than shop.

Get some wheels
Singapore’s public transport system is very efficient, with its subway or MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) system being the easiest and possibly cheapest way to navigate the country. So, the first thing to do is to find an underground station and get yourself an ezlink MRT card. Fill it up with some 20 Sing$ and you are good to go. The underground system in Singapore is lightning fast, safe, clean and there is a train about every 3 minutes or so. You tap the card when you enter and tap it when you exit, and the fare is deducted automatically. You can see how much money there is left on the card on a display at the machine. This card is valid on buses too and you can even pay for hamburgers with this ezlink card at some fastfood outlets.

Inside an MRT, Singapore

The inside of an MRT train.

Taxi is also cheap and you see more about where you are going, so doing a combination of MRT and taxi is good. Singapore is very much about being efficient and this way you will be able to cover the whole city fast and quite inexpensively. You might lose some overview if you travel too much underground.

2. Team up with someone to help you around
If I were a guy in Singapore for the first time and alone, I think I would have printed out all the good advice I could get on the Internet and then walked up to some girls having frappuccinos at a table at pretty much any café and explained the problem, that “it looks nice but you can’t figure out how to order food here”. Singaporean girls are a nice and un-snooty crowd that might well listen to your requests for information. Chances are that you might be able to find some volunteering as guides. Don’t get your hopes up too high though, since all Singaporean girls live home with their parents until they marry, but the point is, exploring Singapore is so much more fun when you’re in a group. You’ll also probably need some locals to help you find the really good places to eat. I have written some on the topic of dating in Singapore, but that is a different issue.

3. Don’t give up on Shopping
If you are the slightest interested in gadgets you will want to spend some time at Sim Lim Square. Any singaporean will be able to point you in the right direction because it’s where we go too, to buy our gadgets. It’s a five storeyed shopping mall that sells everything electronic. The first and second floor offer mostly digital products such as mp3 players and cameras while the third, fourth, fifth level offer computer hardware products. You wont believe your eyes when you get there, and it is well worth a visit.

Sim Lim Square, the third floor with a shop specializingin CDs

Of course there are other things to do than shopping in Singapore, but on the other hand, imagine a five storeys high shopping mall crammed full of electronics! This is just one out of hundreds of specialist shops at Sim Lim Square specializing in CD and DVD media.

Just outside Sim Lim Square is a long outdoor market called Bugis Village. It’s a street market through which you can stroll and you’ll find hundreds of little stalls dotting the small area. Here you will come upon stuff like handbags, purses, clothes, jewellery and other arts and crafts. Its fun to explore and the through road will also bring you towards the nearby Bugis MRT station.

4. Movie theatres and Orchard Road
An evening walk along Orchard Road is recommended. You might find the lights, music, colours and the beat of the city irresistible and something you won’t forget easily.

Along Orchard Road are at least two large movie theatres that can give you a break from the outdoor heat. The sound system is great and the tickets are a fraction of what you are used to paying for in Sweden. Food, drinks and snacks are allowed into the theatres. The aircon is usually set on “mild frost”, so you might actually want to bring a fleece jacket. Insane but true.

Orchard Road by Christmas, Singapore

The sounds and sights of Orchard Road by night makes for a pleasant stroll, even after the Christmas season.

5. Adventure water park
Bring a bathing suit and something water tight to carry money in (or get a “fun key”), to the adventure water park Wild Wild Wet. It’s fun and there are some really weird rides there that could scare anyone. It’s a bit childish, but that is what having fun is all about. It is just a 10-minute walk from the Pasir Ris MRT station. This place is mostly visited by locals so you might find yourself one of the attractions.

Continue reading “Things to do in Singapore, besides shopping”

Chingay 2009, Singapore!

The beautiful people at Chingay 2009! L-R: Lanette Stuart, Sarah Nicole Conceicao from the Eurasian Association (EA), Singapore. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conceicao.

The logo on the left will bring you to the official Chingay Singapore 2009 website where you can purchase tickets to the event.

Chingay, one of Singapore’s most colourful annual street carnival is about to take place on 30th and 31st January, so I thought I’d share with you some pictures from pre-Chingay to whet your appetites before the real blast off of a show!

Having its roots in Penang, Malaysia and then moving south in celebrations to Johor and Singapore, Chingay, which is the Hokkien word for “the art of costume and masquerade”, originated as a simple procession of floats.

As a child, I remember having witnessed these floats, which were usually large vehicles, lorries or trucks that were colourfully decked with lights and transformed into mini-stages of sorts for those performing in them. Each float told a different story and had different accompanying music.

The first Chingay parade was launched in Singapore in 1973, and it was so well received by Singaporeans that it became an annual event. The parade didn’t always have a fixed location, with the procession touring diffrent housing estates annually. But since 1985, the permanent venue for the event is at Orchard Road which allows for tourists and Singaporeans alike to join in the festivities.

I loved Chingay as a child, and today, Chingay 2009 in Singapore is bigger than ever with invites to international performers and costumes so splendidly colourful!

Dancers from Sylvia McCully’s dance school who form part of the EA dance troupe for this event, in front of a Portuguese Carrack. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conceicao

Perhaps more fun than watching the show is performing and being a part of it. This year, the Eurasian Association (EA) of Singapore has joined forces with Cedar Girls and Sylvia McCully’s dancers to form their troupe for Chingay 2009. The atmosphere is electric and the excitement is in the air for the performers!

L-R: Lanette Stuart, Jamie Yun, Michelle Loh and Sarah Nicole Conceicao in their costumes of Spanish inspiration, is designed by Debra De Cotta. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conceicao

Sarah Conceicao who is part of the EA dance troupe fell in love with the costumes and dancing of the EA dance troupe:

Then came Chingay. My mum was actually in it last year, so this year I got my chance. There was no way I was going to give up the opportunity.

I also joined mainly because of the people that I’d meet along the way, full dress rehearsals and all…everyone has been really friendly throughout the whole process.

Its been alot of hard work. But its alot of fun.

Behind the scenes: putting on make-up in preparation for the full dress rehearsal of Chingay 2009. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conceicao.

Practice for the event began in November 2008 with vividly alluring costumes specially designed by Debra De Cotta for the EA dance troupe. You can catch the EA dancers on a stage on the City Hall steps, on 30th and 31st January, 2009.

The dance to be performed at Chingay by the EA dance troupe is choreographed by Sylvia McCully. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conceicao.

Some members of the 4,000 strong performers at Chingay 2009. Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conceicao.

If you’re planning to be at Chingay 2009, you can expect 13 Floats with 4000 performers from 40 local organisations. Cultural groups from 8 different countries such as India, Philippines, Thailand, South Korea and China will also be part of this event.

There are after parties too at this year’s Chingay celebrations and the locations for the various parties / events can be found at the official website.

I think one can expect to have an absolutely smashing time at Chingay 2009!

Kuriya Japanese restaurant, Singapore

The dramatic entrance to Kuriya, an established Japanese restaurant at Raffles City Shopping Centre, 252 North Bridge Road, #B1-06/07, Singapore.

It was unexpected that we ended up at Kuriya at Raffles City shopping centre (located next to Raffles Hotel in Singapore), since I had in mind something local food and a more casual setting for a Friday evening dinner with some girl friends.

As with most group meetings, a designated time and meeting place were chosen. But after having decided upon a time and place, in keeping with the Singapore tradition of meeting-up, nobody turned up on time, or at the designated meeting place. A quick call via the mobile phone, and I found the others happily shopping in the mall, as was I. We mapped ourselves terrestrially within the mall in an instant, and they found me a few minutes later, in the Aldo shoe store browsing for a festively sexy stiletto. Continue reading “Kuriya Japanese restaurant, Singapore”

PS Café along Harding Road, Singapore

About to bite into a chocolate fudge cake at PS Café.

One of the coziest spots in Singapore to have a languid Sunday brunch is at PS Café, situated along Harding Road. The café is not difficult to find if you’re familiar with the cluster of eateries that mushroomed amidst the tropical rainforest at Dempsey Road, including Samy’s Curry.

A wooden planked path leads right to the doors of the sprawling PS Café.

The grounds of PS Café is sprawling and large. A wooden planked path leads to the entrance of the café and everything about its design suggests a cozy private house with a well kept garden, where one can sit at the patio for hours, refilling that cup of tea. I felt all at once welcomed, and delighted at the thought of spending a few hours there, eating and socializing with close friends on the patio.

The spacious and green interior design of PS Café makes you feel like you’re dining outdoors, even when sitting in.

The café had both indoor and outdoor seating, though the high ceilings and glass walls of the café gave the impression of dining outdoors, even when seated indoors. Two large golden shower orchid plants greeted us as we entered and I couldn’t help but feel like settling into a soft sofa before perusing the menu. As I found out, the menu contained a varied selection of frosted drinks for the often warm days in equatorial Singapore. Continue reading PS Café along Harding Road, Singapore”

At home in the tropics: the banana tree

An idyllic spot in the tropics of Singapore allowed this banana tree to grow this beautiful bunch of bananas.

The banana tree is native to the region of Southeast-Asia, growing quite freely in the wilderness of Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia. In the suburbs of Singapore, where concrete has replaced most of the secondary forests here, the banana tree is something of a tropical idyll to have in one’s private garden. The tree doesn’t grow too tall and its broad lush leaves provide shady relief from the mid-day sun.

Banana trees in the morning sunlight.

The ease at which the banana tree grows in this region has made it a popular choice of ingredient when cooking local food. The leaves for example, are not only used to serve food as with the Indian tradition, but it is also used in traditional Malay desserts such as Kueh Lopes and the Chinese dessert, Banana Hoon Kueh, made with green bean flour and sliced bananas. Continue reading “At home in the tropics: the banana tree”

Visiting Singapore – A banana leaf meal in the middle of the rainforest

A meal served on a banana leaf at Samy’s Curry at Dempsey Road, Singapore. They serve traditional south Indian food.

The Singapore scene is one that is constantly changing. In a short span of a year, new roads and buildings have appeared, with new eating places that support the vibrant food culture of this place.

Nestled amongst lush rainforest trees along Dempsey Road is Samy’s Curry, that serves up south Indian cuisine on a banana leaf.

Samy’s Curry at Depmsey Road is comfortably nestled amongst a thicket of rainforest trees. The lush leaves cool the atmosphere, even on a hot tropical day.

Eating on a banana leaf was a more common sight in Singapore about twenty years ago. These days, only specific Indian eateries and restaurants serve their meal on a banana leaf, one of them being Samy’s Curry. Their waiters walk around carrying tins of spicy looking concoctions that smell as delicious as they looked! Their mission is to re-fill the banana leaves on tables that threaten to go almost empty of these side dishes.

Indian cuisine in Singapore is characterised by the use of spices such as cardamon, cinnamon, fennel, cloves and nutmeg. Coconut milk is often used in curries and plain yoghurt is also used in their cooking. Indian food can also be largely vegetarian, so one can find the most delectable vegetarian dishes in this restaurant, alongside barbequed chicken, squid and fish. Curried gourds, aubergine, ladies fingers and lentils are a staple in vegetarian dishes. Potatoes find their way into curries quite comfortably too, giving the curry a thicker texture.
Continue reading “Visiting Singapore – A banana leaf meal in the middle of the rainforest”

Christmas light-up in Singapore, 2008

A Christmas Tree stands in front of Tanglin Mall, at the end of Orchard Road.

It’s been a rainy past few days in Singapore, which is typical weather for the monsoon season in this part of the world, in Southeast-Asia.

Despite the undercurrents of the world financial crisis, the Christmas spirit is nonetheless present here in the Lion City and Orchard Road, which is its main shopping district, is once again lit in an array of designs and colours to mark this Christmas season.

Large flowered chandeliers and a cascade of stringed lights can be found in the circular foyer of Tanglin Mall, which stands at the end of Orcahrd Road, next to Traders Hotel.

It isn’t only the streets that become decked with lights for this festive season but the insides of shopping malls blossom in deep reds and greens. Continue reading “Christmas light-up in Singapore, 2008”

Cross-Cultural Dating in Singapore

Regardless of how westernized the Asian societies might appear today, dating someone from a different culture is dating more than just that one person, it’s an entirely different ball game.
Model: Carol Chin. Photo © by Kevin D. Cordeiro.

In this none too scientific post, my target audience is primarily western / Scandinavian males who are going to work or are working in Singapore. Since the scientific research I have been doing over the past few years has been mostly about Scandinavian top managers working in Asia, the point of view and perspective reflected will with few exceptions come from those with whom I’ve spoken. To this, I have added my own point of view as a woman and individual who has grown up in Singapore.

The dating scene in Singapore is lively
The pubs and restaurants and the social life in general encourages all kinds of human interaction in public places at all times. You are out meeting people more often than not. Most events from having breakfast at the local kopitiam (coffee-shop) to having coffee, lunch, dinner or anything in-between is a reason to meet. Technically speaking “dating” is not a problem while eventually everything around it might be.

Singapore, an easy place to blend into
A poignant surrounding factor that can cause problems when dating a girl from an Asian society is, culture. With that, comes a host of other related issues within the web of culture such as language, tradition, beliefs, religion and – food.

A spread of traditional Nonya food by the Straits Chinese. The customs and traditions of the people are as intricate and detailed as the wrappings and presentation of the food. Picture by King’s Hotel, Singapore (Khoo, 1998:130).

The culture in Singapore as well as in most of Asia is collectivistic in that sense that families are close, tightly bound, large – in some cases amounting to clans – and run by patriarchal values supported by a large, often gossipy bunch of aunties (and almost all elderly women in Singapore are called ‘aunty’) with opinions on everything and everybody.

Yet Singapore, as Asia goes, is an easier place than most other Asian societies to blend into due to its immigrant beginnings. More or less everybody came from somewhere else just a few generations ago however, well into the 20th century marriages were arranged between suitable parties, as most Asian cultures from the Indians to the Chinese, had arranged marriages as their tradition.

Today, the Singapore society at large bothers little about cross-cultural relations and interracial marriages, being currently more concerned with its falling birth-rates since 2004 (see Washington Post and the Singapore Window). Yet local to non-local relations still make interesting topics and a couple is still looked upon, observed and commented on – even by people who hardly know you.

A total stranger, when least you want to hear things
Anyone can step-up to you and start asking very personal questions, such as the woman who serves you coffee at the local kopitiam (coffee shop). One Swede observed that he from morning to morning got lower prices on his coffee obviously to soften him up for some reason. The price on his morning kopi-o (coffee, black) ran from the ang-moh (Hokkien word to mean ‘Caucasian’) price of more than $1 SGD, down to the local friends’ price of 40 cents. Flattered by the close fren price he was still unprepared for the attack. The conversation went like:

Coffee Lady: Sir, where you from?
Swede: Sweden (*one raised eyebrow*)
Coffee Lady: You how old?
Swede: Eh? Around fifty …
Coffee Lady: You got chirrun?
Swede: Eeeh?? Yes
Coffee Lady: How many?
Swede: Eeeeeh?? .. well, two …
Coffee Lady: You here for business or wat
Swede: Yes
Coffee Lady: You got your own business
Swede: Yes, in fact I do …
Coffee Lady: You earn how much?
Swede: Ehm, well yes …
Coffee Lady: You here for gerfren (girlfriend) ah?

After the questions had been satisfactorily answered and the coffee lady had figured out whether the Swede would be in the market for a meeting with any one granddaughter, niece, daughters of friends, third cousin’s neighbor’s friend’s daughter or some other eligible young woman that was felt was lagging behind in her family career of getting married and having children and needed a push in the right direction, the coffee price eventually went right back up again to the normal solid $ 0.80 SGD.

To the utter embarrassment of the younger generation, aunties can also have no qualms about inquiring about family relations and trying to set up meetings even in the very presence of the persons in question. They will happily talk right over your head as if you were not there. If you think of this as a most well meaning tradition based on the collective nature of the Singapore society you might get used to it and react on it in the proper way, which is to give evasive answers and a friendly smile. I think of it as having its roots in a kampong (village) tradition where everybody knew and cared about everything and everybody. So eventually you will be dating the whole family whether you like – or know – it, or not.

Sarong Party Girls (SPGs)
The collectivism leads to another aspect of cross-cultural dating, its social implications. Even if social gossip may not affect a foreigner with a possible time limit to his stay, there will be a social pressure from family, friends and perhaps even total strangers that might cause problems for the local woman.

The different Singaporean sub-cultures are different in this respect about social pressure and each will have varying degrees of open-mindedness towards foreigners in the family.

Some Swedes I have interviewed for my research were well aware of the concept of SPGs. This is a loose expression for a local woman who would consider dating a foreigner in much the same way as a western girl would i.e. with no immediate plans of getting married to him as soon as possible and not even asking to be paid to do so. In Singapore the SPG label implicates questionable moral or worse, as in bad business sense on the part of the woman, in a society where arranged marriages were the norm not more than a generation ago.

First, meet her parents. Then …
Picture by Lily Khoo, from The Straits Chinese (Khoo, 1998:94):

… meet her family, whom you will also be dating whether you know it or not. As an example, this old picture shows 4 generations of a family, gathered to celebrate the 80th birthday of the family patriarch. The scenes are surprisingly similar around for example Chinese New Year up until today. (Picture: Khoo 1998:39).

So while dating a local woman is not impossible, the foreign male should remember that he is out on uncharted territory. In Asia, you are not approaching only a person but whole a culture and a mindset that is as with all values are so set as to be invisible for those who share it while to the outsider will appear suddenly and out of nowhere as a glass wall at night.

Rather than to be discouraged, there is in fact plenty to gain in dating cross-culturally. There are new ideas and perspectives to discover and share. A key to smoother relations is to begin with understanding that it isn’t just a pretty face you are meeting.

References

  • Khoo, Joo Ee, 1998. The Straits Chinese. The Pepin Press: Amsterdam, Kuala Lumpur.
  • Reflections from Sentosa hotspot KM8

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    At Sentosa hotspot KM8
    Text & Photo © JE Nilsson, CM Cordeiro-Nilsson 2008

    The speed at which Singapore transforms never ceases to surprise me. When back for Chinese New Years celebration with family and friends after just a few years in Sweden I hardly recognized the most basic sights. The national library was gone and where we used the take a shortcut along Orchard Road, a new six star hotel has already been opened.

    Thursday the 7th was dedicated to personal relaxation and the outfit of the day, a tie-dyed cotton sarong and sun protection factor 55. The destination, the manmade paradise island just off the west coast of Singapore. When I grew up in Singapore, Sentosa was a historical relic with ugly memories from the war. Then modernizations set in with the purpose of creating a nearby beach area for the stressed out Singaporean working population. Continue reading “Reflections from Sentosa hotspot KM8”

    Culinary couples: Singapore and Sweden

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    Appetizer at Buko Nero, a blend of rucola and pomelo

    Buko Nero, Singapore

    Type in the words Buko Nero in a google search and you’ll find a long list of reviews, mostly enthusiastic and positive, on this small and personalized restaurant in Singapore, located along Tanjong Pagar Road.

    The restaurant with a seating capacity of not more than approximately 25 persons or 6 tables, looks literally as its name suggests, a ‘hole in the wall’. It’s an easy location to miss, being situated amongst the larger bridal boutiques and pubs that line the stretch of shophouses along Tanjong Pagar.

    What makes this place special is the fusion of Italian and Asian flavours that lace most dishes they serve. The fusion of flavours perhaps being a reflection of the background of the Italian husband and Singaporean wife team, Tracy and Oscar Pasinato. Continue reading “Culinary couples: Singapore and Sweden”

    Common footwear in Singapore

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    The flat sandal

    Even before I landed in Singapore this time around, most girlfriends of mine who were in Singapore often spoke about getting their manicures and pedicures done. Pedicures these days are considered almost a must for the well groomed woman in Singapore and you need not be a tai tai (a Chinese term for women who married well and need not work) these days to have your toes done. At SGD$12 – $17 (ca. 77 SEK) per pedicure session, it isn’t considered by many women to be all that a pocket blowing hobby to indulge in or make oneself happy. Continue reading “Common footwear in Singapore”

    Suburban kampong

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    Suburban Singapore

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    A plot of land in the midst of high rise apartments in Singapore

    Being a tourist in most countries often means that one doesn’t get the opportunity to explore local living. You’re scuffled around to designated shops that work on tourist commissions, famous landmarks that everybody goes to see and take pictures, and you find yourself even eating places ‘for tourists’. Continue reading “Suburban kampong”

    Leveraging on events, beyond Nya Fröken Sverige

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    Me and Lina Hane, Miss Sweden Universe, September 14, 2007

    A while back out of sheer desperation with what I read about how Sweden was dealing with their Miss Sweden Universe (Nya Fröken Sverige) event, I searched out who was running it. A few days later I met with the most considerate and charming CEO of Panos Emporio, Mr Panos himself, who after having been in the jury for some years, decided to take over the whole event in an attempt to turn the tide in Sweden back to the glamorous and high prestige event it had once been.

    The treatment Miss Sweden gets in the press was so far removed from my own experiences when I took part in the Miss Universe final in 1999 that I hardly recognized what I read in the Swedish newspapers. How come the same event was seen so different in Sweden, and why?
    Continue reading “Leveraging on events, beyond Nya Fröken Sverige”