New Years

Happy Chinese New Year! Or Lunar New Year. Tet. What ever you call it. Monkey has arrived.

This year, 2016 as we see it in the Gregorian calendar, aka known as the western / christian calendar (you know, the globally accepted one) there’s been already 2 further New Year celebrations. Russians celebrate theirs at the begin of January, followed by the Lunar / Chinese one. It’s quite interesting we are able to celebrate so many “new years” and still keep track of birthdays and meetings.

My decision to work over the public holidays for Chinese NY, gave me a chance to experience the busy business district turn into a ghost city. There was no one around, not a sole. I stood in the middle of a normally busy crossroad, just waiting to see at least one car. Eventually I gave up and went to the office. For the first time I wasn’t cold as the air-con had been turned off for the holidays. Advanced thinking, Singapore! I had been warned I might go hungry but luckily in this food-paradise city-state someone is always willing to cook for me. This time it was the Indians who kept me fed.

Singapore seems to value it’s multi-cultural existence by providing an equal amount of public holidays for all major ethnic groups. Chinese, Indian, Muslim and christian holidays get a pretty equal share of the public holidays.  For other expats, it’s an opportunity to dive into many cultural happenings and celebrate life and new beginnings.

Isn’t that the connotation of a new year – it’s a new beginning. A chance, an opportunity. Some of us are lucky to get that chance a bit more often than others. If you missed yours, no worries. There are more new years coming up – a fun one is coming up in Thailand in April. Thailand’s Songran is celebrated for at least 3 days by throwing and sprinkling water. Mostly throwing. Don’t get fooled though, although it’s a New Year celebration, their calendar has already turned to 2559 aligning with 2016. But hey, let’s forget the calendars, and just celebrate! Cheers, to all the new years equally!

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Black and White

I’m white. I’m a caucasian women with very fair skin (which just refuses to tan, no matter what and how hard I try) and blonde hair. Not completely naturally but that’s not the point in here. I know I’m in a privileged position by birth in many ways.

I have friends from all over the world, representing many cultures and religions. Muslims, catholics, atheists, not-sures-as-religion-is-not-important-s, Christians, hindis, Buddhists. Whites and blacks, and all the shades of colors in between. Those who want to be whiter and those who admire the tan.

The color of one’s skin matters. The religious views, cultural background and family relations matter. But one is not better or worse than the other. These things matter and should matter as a part of the person’s identity and heritage. They tell part of our story, give it a frame. They don’t need to define us though. They might be part of the story of where we come from, but not where we are going to.

That’s why the Thailand-based campaign for skin whitening products, suggesting that white wins, was absolutely outrageous. Unfortunately it’s true in Thailand. The fairer one’s skin, the higher the respect and career and mating chances. The campaign used a picture of a white and a black women but equally this discrimination is felt by many Thais who face criticism and open mockery for not being pale enough.

Sadly the claim of the campaign has some truth in it. Too often it’s true that white wins. But the solution is not skin-whitening. The solution is making the claim ridiculous. I don’t want to be privileged based on my skin color. I want to live in a world where every person is deemed and recognized as equal by birth. Where the beauty of different looks is admired. Where white is one equal part of the color palette. I want a world where whitening lotions and tanning products are irrelevant. I want to live in a color blind world where the skin color isn’t used to define a person.

Let’s be friends

Last Sunday I spent some time on the beach in Singapore and noticed a laughing group of young people taking pictures of each other. One girl in small bikinis was posing to the camera, being photographed by another girl – wearing a burkha.

I’m too new to Singapore to try and make any expert comments on its integration and cultural policies. Yet it’s obvious that something is right in here, when two girls of such obviously different cultural / religious up-bringings feel so utterly comfortable with each other.

Has Singapore succeeded in finding the way for universal acceptance of one another? Singapore is known for boosting cultural tolerance and for strict measures against racial or religious discrimination. Buildings have quotas for people from different religions and cultural backgrounds, to avoid buildings or full neighborhoods being inhabited by one majority group only. Headscarves are an option for school and work uniforms and all major religions’ most important holidays are celebrated and declared for public holidays.

Certainly there are some underlying tensions, intolerance and even racism. But judging by the appearance on the streets, Singapore seems to have found an admirable level of unity and acceptance. What those 2 girls and their friends on the beach can teach us, is that it’s okay for you to do things your way and for me my way. We can still be friends.