Can Race Matter?

A few months ago I wrote about my bewilderment on Brunei’s immigration asking about my race upon entering the country. That text has since become my most viewed blog posting, raising interest on the question of race, and on its relevance.

I discussed the question with an Indian friend, to whom “race” is a much clearer topic and present in her everyday life. She’s used to replying to it as she has that question posed to her in plenty of occasions. Living in Singapore however, it’s not perceived a discriminating question but a matter of fact. Same as asking for one’s gender or age.

My friend is right about Singapore attempting to positively be a mixed-race nation. All different, all equal, all mixed up. Singapore asks for the race of people moving in to the country, to ensure they have a nice balance and mixture of races within. They developed an Ethnic Integration Policy in 1989, “to promote racial integration and harmony in Housing and Development Board (HDB) estates”

Yet, there’s a clear difference between race and ethnicity. One can only have one race, and is born to it. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is associated with culture and one can have multiple ethnic identities.

Singapore has achieved a population where people identify themselves as ethnic Singaporeans, with multiple races such as Malays, Indians and Chinese. At its best the achievement is appreciation and conservation of different cultural heritages, while being open and accepting of others.

Although asking for one’s race can be meant for good purposes, I’m still torn with it’s negative connotations. In an ideal world everyone would be color-blind what comes to races but the reality is that race just isn’t a neutral topic. When race matters, racism will arise.

I’m supportive of any attempts to preserve cultures and respect and appreciate different ethnic backgrounds for their historical, cultural and identity values. But I can not support categorizing people, and especially not where there might be the slightest connotation for different values for different people. We were not born equal in terms of opportunities and capacities, but all human beings were born with equal value as a human being. No matter their race, ethnicity, gender etc.

I dream of a world where race doesn’t matter. If again asked of mine, I’ll thankfully borrow one from the commentator newmanTheHuman, and write down “Human”.



I don’t love wasting food. Do you?

Do you waste food? I do sometimes but have become quite good at eating all I take and using all I buy. Mostly probably because I don’t cook so there’s next to nothing to waste from an empty fridge.

Food wastage and lost are huge problems globally. About a third of all the food produced globally, is lost or wasted. Technically, we produce enough food for no one to go hungry in the world. The figurative fact doesn’t comfort any of those 800 million people who don’t have enough food to lead a healthy life. Or to live at all.

I currently live in the wealthy city-state Singapore, which despite its small geographical size is one of the world’s top food secure countries. With the extremely limited agricultural ability, Singapore heavily relies on imports for food. Yet out of it’s annual imports, in 2014 it wasted 13 % of it. According to the statistics form the National Environment Agency, Singaporeans waste 788,600 tonnes of food, which equals to the weight of 108 full load double-decker buses.

Attitude change of consumers – normal people like you and me – is essential to tackle the issue. I recently saw the below disturbing video by Ministry of Funny, giving light to the controversy of food wasting. People on the streets got really mad about the comedian throwing away food and tried to stop him – yet at home, behind closed doors, they do the exactly same thing. All the time. Maybe the food is not intentionally wasted – but it should be intentionally addressed.

Eating every you take and buy won’t directly benefit any of the hundreds of million hungry people. But it is an easy action contributing to more efficient and reliant food distribution chain development and over time supporting to reduction of food waste. Being conscious of ones own choices and demanding grocery markets and food stalls to improve their practices as well will have direct positive impact. Reducing your own food waste is the least you can do.

Raffles Here, and There, Absolutely Everywhere

Welcome to Singapore, to the Raffles – City state. Founded by Mr. Raffles, Singapore is extremely fond of showing this heritage. If you had never heard of Raffles before, it’s a name you won’t be able to forget after visiting Singapore.

Raffles is absolutely everywhere here. Hotels, shopping malls, plazas, restaurants, bars and who knows whats are named after him. Make a meeting and it’s likely to be at Raffles something. Which is so very confusing. (loud sigh). It’s not just once or twice that I’ve gone to a wrong place first because I got confused whether the meeting was at Raffles Place or Raffles Plaza or Raffles City or just at a street address with a Raffles in it.

In Vietnam I was always confused with addresses cause they were incomprehensible to me, all almost the same but different and unpronounceable. Dien Bien Phu, Huong Vuong, Tran Hung Dao, Le Hong Phong, Hong Bang, To Hien Thang etc. I kept getting the parts of the name mixed up all the time, and even if I got it right my pronounciation was never right. Ever been to Vietnam, you’ll understand. Thailand has tones as well but they are rather easy with street names – only using a name for the few big streets and just soi + number for the side streets. Piece of cake.

But the naming policies are rather interesting, truth be told. And offer an insight into the history and heritage of the place too. Vietnam proudly recognized many of its soldiers, artists and statesmen. Singapore has had less time in all its 51 years of existence.

Small World. Really Small.

Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of “a friend of a friend” statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps.” That’s the wikipedia-introduction to the proven concept of our known world being a damn small place.

Tonight I went to a hot yoga class after work, and decided to take the mrt home. Still sweating, and mentally exhausted after a long day at work filled with meetings after meetings, I glimpsed a guy in the same cart as me, who looked familiar. That I “see” old friends and acquaintances in random places is nothing new. I’ve explained it to myself being a cause of me having moved so often, not feeling rooted anywhere, always making new friends but not having anyone around for a very long time.

This time, I thought it was just my exhaustion from work and yoga. But the guy looked so very much like an old friend from my younger years…at home I did what is done nowadays. Looked him up in Facebook. He wasn’t among my friends – that’s how long it has been since we’ve last been connected. I sent him a friend request with the very random message of asking if it could have been possible to just have seen him in a mrt in Singapore, against all odds. And true it was. It wasn’t the sweat dropping to my eyes or my tired brain playing tricks this time.

It’s a small world. This is but one reminder. Typically what happens is I meet people with whom we have odd common friends with or have happened to live in another country at the same time. When I was living in Berlin, I got in touch with an old friend from Texas – who was living in Leipzig, and had been living there already at the same time as me before. We had quite likely spent time in same bars and perhaps our paths had crossed in the university, but never recognized each other. In Thailand, a friend from Germany run into me in one of my favorite bars. Recently on my weekend trip to Bangkok I pumped into 2 of my close friends from HCMC – at 1 am on a side soi to Sukhumvit, on my way from a bar to the hotel. A colleague from Thailand, later moved to Egypt and became colleagues with an ex-colleague of mine from Berlin.

World has become very small. Thanks to Facebook especially, it’s easier than ever to track connections as well. When making a new friend, it’s fun to check through if we have any random mutual friends. Quite commonly there are – which wouldn’t be odd between 2 people who have been living in the same neighborhood for long times. But in my life, where neighborhoods keep changing at a speed that even good friends struggle to remember in which country I live in, it is. Odd, random and fun.

I do believe in the six degrees of separation theory – not just because it’s been scientifically proven but because I’m living that theory. My life is filled with random encounters with strangers whom I have friends or old homes in common with and even more random reunions with old friends. Too bad I didn’t react to recognizing the guy in the mrt faster, but at least we ended up re-connecting in Facebook and had a good chat. Fortunately I did not have my eyes focused on my iphone as pretty much everyone else in the mrt, but had my eyes up. A good reminder how our real lives are happening not on the screens of the smartphones but around us. Better keep the eyes open, never know who you might see or meet!

Diving in Singapore

imageWhen one is thinking of Singapore, many things come to mind. Diving probably isn’t one of them.

When I was offered a job in Singapore, I wasn’t too excited. About the job, yes, but not about living in Singapore. To me Singapore embodied the boring developed side of Asia – being organized, clean and, well, organized and clean. Over the years in Southeast Asia, I’ve grown very fond of the opposite. I love the chaos of HCMC and Bangkok, the motorbikes, noises, never-ending hustle and bustle of the thrilling cities. They are original, authentic, so very Asian.

I used to travel to Singapore on business a lot so I thought I knew the place. And I was right – it is organized and clean. It has plenty of superficial entertainment, upper-class feeling and high ceilings.

But it still has “Asia” in it too. In the hawker centers, on the streets of Little India, in China town. It also has much more, it has the fantastic Arab street, cute Bukit Timah, and pretty much all possible sports one can think of available. Even diving.

See, up until now, I’ve been praising Singapore for it’s fantastic sports opportunities and naming only diving and skiing missing. Well I haven’t figured out skiing yet but diving, I went diving in Singapore waters. A 10 minute boat-ride from the shore and voila! We were on a reef.

Needless to say, it wasn’t among the best dive sites I’ve dived on. But it was better than what you’d expect a small city-state with a massive harbor could offer. Much respect to those environmentalists and conservation enthusiasts who have fought for the reef and for underwater education. The Sister’s Trail in the Marine Park offers 2 dive trails along which one can learn more about the species and conservation and take part in the efforts, by observing, recording and sharing data.

Visibility was as expected very poor, but I’ve actually dived in worse conditions. With the lack of visibility, there’s no need to keep eyes open for big stuff that might swim by, allowing an undisturbed focus for the interesting macro world. There were many nude branches, seahorses, critters, schools of fishes and interesting corals to see. Much, much more than I’d ever have expected. I was sincerely interested in looking around and our dive master is convinced to identify completely new species in the near future.  He kept his eyes open for a pink seahorse for me.

Singapore – you’ve given me thrilling experiences from dragon boating by Gardens by the Bay, abundance of netball games, yoga of all kinds in amazing small studios and in a park and so much more. Now you’ve given me an opportunity to go diving for an afternoon, and at the same time learn more about the underwater world and its inhabitants and help to protect them.

And I have to say, coming back to surface, floating in the warm waters between two uninhabited islands, looking over to the beautiful Singapore skyline – that’s pretty remarkable. Something different, something unique, something memorable.


Of airports, of the joy of living

Most people I know love traveling, exploring new places, and typically referring to the part of being on holidays.

I love traveling, exploring new places and holidays included, but what I really mean by “love traveling”, is the act of traveling itself. Being on the road, in the air, going to places. My favorite travel song says “the destination is out there, ahead of us somewhere, let’s go but drive more slowly”. There’s no rush, we’ll get there, let’s enjoy the trip itself, the getting there.

Part of my passion for traveling is flying. I love flying. Sitting on a chair, in the air. It’s nearly as good as breathing underwater. So unnatural, so me. Further to that, I actually love the airports. Not all of them, Manila for example has about the worst terminals one can imagine, but most. The feeling of stepping into an airport terminal, looking at all those potential destinations displayed, dreaming of new places to go to, and getting excited about soon boarding one of the planes. That’s magical. No matter if the board shows 2 destinations like a small airport in Laos on a wooden, hand-written board, or hundreds like the big airports, there’s always that feeling of a world being out there. Near and far, within my reach.

There have been many memorable airport experiences, and one of the never disappointing ones is Changi in Singapore. It has that feeling of a cozy living room, with many cool amenities such as a movie theatre, swimming pool, butterfly garden, couches and free massages – and then of course the gates leading to all over the world. Every time I’m at Changi I’m partly hoping for a flight delay, to get just a bit more time to enjoy that special feeling of soon being on my way to somewhere.

Airports embody to me the essence of life – it’s right here, right now, meant to be lived and enjoyed. The destination is out there, you’ll make it there, but stop first to embrace the place you are in now. This moment. When that moment is Changi-like, remember to value and treasure it, that will get you through those Manila airport moments of life.

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.