Sunday, 25 February 2007

Junk Mail

It is the sheer volume of bits of paper stuffed into mailboxes that amazes. Little printed squares of paper arrive daily, sticking to the insides of the boxes and statically attracted to plastic so that it is impossible to extract letters without scattering this confetti. And scatter it does so by 6pm, the floor is strewn with the little blighters even as consciencious people try to get them into the bin.

They are pushed through the array of mailbox flaps with robotic precision using a small wooden stick tipped with a rubber ferule, at the rate of 2 per second. This ruthlessly efficient activity is piece work, performed by people riding their bikes around the blocks, quite uncaring of the consequent litter or (likely) futility of the marketing.

For no better reason than idle curiosity, I collected all the non-addressed mail for a few months. Truthfully, I expected the result because the high-runners stand out very early on but in true scientific fashion, here is the breakdown:

Estate agents - 67
Flat Wanted Ads - 55
Replacement doors - 8
Electricians - 8
TV services - 7
Private Tuition - 6
Furniture - 5
Food outlets - 4
Plumbers - 3
Car sales - 3
Manicure / Pedicure - 3
Replacement windows - 2
Video Hire - 1
Employment agencies - 1

The 'private' ads for flats wanted, often promising $20k over market price show considerable creativity, ranging from the factual "we have just married, need flat" to the more emotional "young family with 2 young children need more space". They appear handwritten but are actually mass printed from an original. Actually, I'd consider selling my flat to someone who took the trouble to hand write out 3000 notes and posted them but the copies just join the other mass of impersonal junk mail.

There is also the monthly leaflet from the local MP regarding local activities, open houses, developments and other updates on their hard work as public servants. But that's another story...

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

The Season of Receiving

Chinese New Year (CNY) fell on the 18th February this year and lasts for 2 weeks. It is by far the biggest event in the Chinese cultural calendar and has numerous rules, expectations, rituals and general fuss associated with it. The council has been stringing up lanterns around public areas and holding switching on events together with the obligatory lion dance.

It's difficult to summarise the affair succinctly but to say it is a time of renewal comes close. Debts are cleared, the house tidied, new clothes bought (all new wardrobe is possible) and symbols of prosperity are created. And there are many of the latter, including oranges, pineapples & fish salads.

The fish salad (lo hei or yu sheng) has a complex history but has more recently become codified into a standard which is available at all restaurants as a solid money earner especially for the business crowd as suppliers take customers out and lo hei while expressing hopes for big money contracts.

The calendar for CNY is roughly:
day before: family reunion dinner at restaurant; give red packets of money
Day 1: Mostly stay at home, or visit elders
Day 2: Visiting day, ritual trouping around relatives with biscuits, presents, red packets
Day 3: No visiting relatives, but may visit ancestor's graves
Day 7: more lo hei
Day 9: Big in Hokkien culture (hence Singapore) to venerate the Emperor of Heaven
Day 15: Normal end of official CNY, may have lantern festival.
Day 16: (start dieting).

I tried to figure out the rule for calculating the date (based on the incredibly complicated
lunisolar calendar) but failed. Better to just use an almanac. The only thing to remember is that it is never 1st Jan, so people with birthdays early in the western year cannot use those simple "what Chinese animal are you" charts without remember to check the exact date.

So what's it all about? A season of giving? goodwill? happiness? Not really, more of paying respect to family and ancestors and doing everything humanly and divinely possible to wish for financial prosperity in the coming year. A heartfelt season of receiving.

Monday, 12 February 2007

Blood Coloured

If it were up to me, I would put blood donation (and probably organ donation) on an Opt-Out basis. Until we can fabricate a decent facsimile, it's the Right Thing to do. So I was checking out the local agency & rules and quickly discovered that I am not eligible to donate here. If you have lived in the UK for more than 3 months between 1980 and 1996, then you cannot donate blood. BSE and concerns over prions leading to CJD are presumably the cause given the dates.

I'm tempted to suggest a certain xenophobia in the whole matter as in the UK, I always get quizzed by the supervising nurse because I have visited Malaysia in the last 12 months (worried about Maleria). Mind you, I was once turned away because I had biten my lip earlier in the day and the nurse kept saying We have to be very careful you know, while not actually saying I couldn't donate. A bit puzzled, I eventually had to ask if they were refusing me, which was fine, except that they wouldn't actually say it. We need to be careful. Goodness knows what they wouldn't tell you if it was serious.

It reminds me of a cartoon a few years back showing two cows talking in a field:

Cow #1: Aren't you worried about Mad Cow Disease?.
Cow #2: Not at all. I'm a fish.

To which, all I can say is moo.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

Talking the Piss

Living in flats means lifts, and opening lift doors is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you're going to get. People, bikes, McDonalds delivery boys, Indian cleaners, hawkers and school children selling ice cream are all pretty standard fare.

In Singapore, there are rules. Elevators have 3 don'ts: Smoking, Littering, Urinating. The odd person unselfconciously smokes, some littering (discarded envelopes and junk mail, cigarette butts), but no big deal. It all gets cleaned up every morning by the ever efficient Indian cleaning team.

That brings up to the third point. A strange diagram of a cherubic child relieving himself with a pair of handcuffs around him and a dire warning of $1000 fine makes the official position clear. The prospect of trying to sneak a quick leak between floors seems unappealing and offences seem thankfully non-existant. A recent conversation with a neighbour sharing a lift suggests an additional motive for high compliance. A slight pool of clear liquid (discarded drink most likely) prompted him to say there were urine detectors installed and if triggered, would stop the lift with the doors closed and raise an alarm.

The sheer unlikeliness of this scenario, even in Singapore whose authoratarian reputation is well founded, didn't dent his apparent conviction.

"You can't see the detectors, they're between the floors". You can't argue with that.