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Diwali 2014

This year we really made an effort to celebrate Diwali.Screen Shot 2014-10-22 at 9.55.34 pmWe began the day with Jalebi’s to get our year off to a sweet start.  This is a family tradition Ravi grew up with that we continue.  Don’t tell anyone that I used a box mix.  (I actually bought jalebi yesterday but woke up to find out that they don’t reheat, so I had to pull out the mix and make them properly.)

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We next made a rangoli.  The girls aren’t old enough, nor am I artistically talented enough, to make one freehand.  But I found a  kit at the Diwali market by Mustafa.  You peel off numbered stickers that correspond to bags of colored gravel.  You shake the gravel over the sticker and it….sticks.  This is what my floor looked like by the time we were done.  The mat caught most of it, but I swept up quite a bit as well.

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Here it is assembled by the front door.  Hopefully since it is off to the side, it will not get destroyed over the five days of Diwali (I say that like I didn’t learn only this week that Diwali is a five day celebration–we’re not Hindu so I’m learning on the fly for the most part).

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Here’s Ellie being silly by one of our Diwali decorations.  Traditionally both girls would get new Indian clothes for Diwali, but this year I gave them new t-shirts, as they’ll wear those more.  They also each had an outfit that fit already, so we elected not to buy them more clothes at this point.

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Here are our lit diyas.  Ellie made the one on the left at school while we bought Rhiannon’s at the Diwali market.  Rhi kept blowing hers out because her only real experience with candles at this point is from her birthday.  So she’d blow it out and say “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”

IMG_9244We finished the night with sparklers.  Ellie loved it.  Rhi loved it too, but kept dropping her sparkler in the grass, giving us a heart attack each time.

You can check out the full set of Diwali pictures on my flickr account here.

We ended our day with sparklers.  Ellie loved it.  Rhi liked it, but kept dropping her sparklers in the grass, giving us a heart attack each time.

There is a great article in the New York Times about how Diwali is becoming more widely celebrated in the US.  Congratulations to Notabilia, whose wonderful book Mama’s Saris is mentioned in the article.

Wordless Wednesday: Diwali outfits

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Sal Mubarak!

Happy Diwali from our family to yours.

Gender and Work Assumptions (MOE form edition)

To go along with yesterday’s post about the problem of racially based assumptions, today we’re going to talk about gendered assumptions.

I took these photos of the P1 registration form I filled out last week.  Along with a zillion other details, the MOE would like to know the occupation of the mother and father. These are hard to read, so I’ll summarize below.

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Both Men and Women had the job options listed below

  • Accountant
  • Businesswoman/Businessman
  • Director
  • Engineer
  • Executive Officer
  • Hawker
  • Lecturer
  • Manager/Manageress (Really, Manageress? Is that a real word?)
  • Sales Executive
  • Teacher

Then things get a bit sexist.

Only Men have the following jobs listed

  • Construction Worker
  • Contractor
  • Delivery Man
  • Driver
  • General Foreman
  • Mechanic
  • Police Officer
  • SAF Personnel
  • Self-Employed
  • Other

Only women have the following jobs listed

  • Account Clerk
  • Bank Executive
  • Customer Service Officer
  • Director
  • General Clerk (what is this?  I don’t understand what this job even is)
  • Housewife  (I loathe this word with the fire of a thousand suns.)
  • Insurance Agent
  • Nurse
  • Production Operator
  • Secretary (Let’s burn this term too.)
  • Other

It’s no secret that Singapore is often a deeply sexist country.  In just the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen ads that blame women for getting groped, I’ve been to a restaurant that used gender to describe small and large portion sizes of their Sunday roast, I’ve learned the deeply troubling definition of rape in Singapore–among other things, you can’t be raped by your husband, the CEO of the Science Centre saying that women couldn’t hold the CEO position there because it’s just too hard for them, Agatha Tan’s brilliant takedown of the deeply sexist Focus on the Family “It’s UNcomplicated” workshop (which yes, is ending in 2014, but someone approved it in the first place), and so so so much more.

I suppose you might argue that they’re basing these categories upon which sex holds which job most commonly.  I call foul because Teacher is an overwhelmingly female profession. Are men never customer service reps and never sell insurance?  I see a ton of male bank executives–go up a few levels and women are pretty much absent from their ranks.

I also call foul on the “construction worker” option for dads–construction workers are overwhelmingly young foreign men who have no children in SG to send to P1 such that they would need to fill out that form.  Singaporeans are construction workers about as often as they are FDW’s.

The assumption that men can’t be the primary caregiver, or that women can’t be self-employed are more examples of sexism at play.  It’s disrespectful to female police officers and those women who serve in the military.  It furthers the idea that nursing isn’t a manly career, or that men can’t be the office assistants.  Just as I suggested in the MT post that maybe you just stop calling it that and let people just pick a language, if there were ever an open forum on this topic, I’d suggest one big box, lots of jobs with two circles after each job.  That way you’s also have the space to include missing professions like Doctor, Lawyer, IT, and more.  Better yet, just leave it blank and let us write in our jobs.

The MOE is in the process of revamping and revitalizing their curriculum right now.  Maybe when they’re done with that, they can take five minutes to bring the paperwork into the 21st century, too?

Seriously, though, I want to know this–have any of you actually ever used the term Manageress?

Her mother tongue isn’t Tamil

***A quick note of explanation before I get into the post.  English is the language of instruction in Singapore.  However, all students must take a second language–called a Mother Tongue  (henceforce I’ll refer to it as MT) language.***

I recently went to Ellie’s new primary school to fill out some paperwork for the MOE.  As I was filling out a form, I saw the box where you can write your child’s Chinese name.  I said jokingly that although Ellie has a Mandarin name, I can’t write it and that she’ll have to tell her Lao Shí next year.

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 2.49.57 pmI asked her to write it for me.  In pinyin it is Ài Lì

“Her dad is Indian, so her Mother Tongue is Tamil. You want her to study Mandarin?” the attendant asked me.

I explained that her Indian MT is Gujarati, not Tamil.  That Gujarati and Tamil are very different languages linguistically.  That Elanor’s Indian MT being Gujarati is a moot point because my husband only speaks English.  That Ellie has been studying Mandarin in school since N1 and that she’s been working very hard to be ready for P1 Mandarin, including twice weekly tutoring at home.

“Okay, you’ll need to fill out this form.”

I then write that in the space provided on the form that requires a reason for changing MT’s and pass it back to the attendant.

“Oh, okay.  Shouldn’t be a problem.”

From what I’ve heard it won’t be.  Switching to Mandarin is a pretty simple process.  (A word of warning to expats who plan to attend local schools–anecdotal evidence seems to imply that is extremely rare to get a Mother Tongue exemption for a P1 child and that they will need a second language.)

In all fairness, we could have chosen to switch her MT to Gujarati (or whatever your MT language is–check with the MOE).  However, she would have to receive instruction outside of school, and still pass MT exams in Gujarati in school.  We had given Ellie the option of doing so, and she elected to continue with Mandarin rather than start at square one with a new language.  Given her Indian identity, we were actually a bit surprised by this.  Then again, she has worked so diligently to learn Mandarin perhaps we shouldn’t have been.

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 2.55.20 pmMy favorite image result for “Mother Tongue”

Much like our experience at the ICA where the clerk wrote that Ravi’s language was Gujarati and my religion was Christianity (detailed about halfway down in this post), this was a minor but common instance of racial assumptions that we’ve run into in Singapore.

The Indian population of Singapore was 58% Tamil in 2000 (with the remaining 42% divided among various other Indian ethnicities).  The Indian MT language is Tamil because it is the most widely spoken Indian language within Singapore.  But both the MOE and non-Indian Singaporeans as a whole tend to conflate being Indian with being Tamil.  When I’ve spoken to non-Indian Singaporeans, I’ve heard the assumption that Tamil is the Indian national language more than once.

For the record—according to the Wikipedia entry on Languages of India, there are 22 official languages in India.  Tamil is one of those 22, spoken by 61 million Indians  (according to 2001 census data) and is part of the Dravidian language group.  Gujarati belongs to the Indo-Aryan family spoken in the Western part of India and is spoken by 46 million Indians (again, according to 2001 census data).  Hindi is spoken by approximately 258+ million people and is the language of government in India (along with English).

***edited to add—When Ravi was a tween, he and his parents lived in Bangalore for two years.  Bangalore is in Karnataka (the state next to Tamil Nadu) in the south of India.  The language spoken there is Kannada.  Ravi’s parents, who grew up in India and each speak three Indian languages, did not understand Kannada.  They relied on English to get by.***

Screen Shot 2014-10-17 at 2.39.38 pmThis is India.  The red is where they speak Tamil.  Ravi’s family isn’t from there.

Beyond the non-Tamil Singaporean Indian citizens, there is a large population of Indian expats in Singapore both from India itself and the larger diaspora (such as the US, in Ravi’s case).  Non-Tamil Indians find themselves as an odd minority within a minority population, and in instances like MT they are an invisible population.  Ravi doesn’t have much in the way of strong emotional or cultural ties to India, but he was uncomfortable with the conflation of Elanor’s Gujarati heritage with the Tamil language.  There is no value judgement about Tamil language or culture implied.  His (and my own) frustration over the erasure of Elanor’s Indian heritage comes from constantly being told that Singapore is a leader in diversity while simultaneously shoving everyone whose heritage can be traced to the subcontinent into the same box labeled “Tamil.”  Tamil culture and language are rich and have contributed much to India and to Singapore, but it has nothing to do with Ravi (and by extension Elanor and Rhiannon’s) ethnic heritage.

This erasure and compression of many ethnic groups into one ethnicity does not just apply to Indians in Singapore.  It’s also true of people of  Chinese heritage in Singapore.  I don’t know any Malay Singaporeans or much about Malaysia as a whole, so I apologize for not including them in this post.  But when it comes to the Chinese in Singapore, just as the government decided that Indian=Tamil, it was also decided that Chinese=Mandarin, whether that applied to a family’s actual heritage or not.  I have several Chinese friends who have told me that while they can speak Mandarin, they can’t speak to their grandparents, because Mandarin isn’t the language of their Chinese heritage.

If I were to speak directly to the MOE, I would say the following–When we would have to request a Mother Tongue Exemption for the girls to study their ACTUAL mother tongue of Gujarati, there is a problem.  Mother Tongue is a loaded term, and it’s understandable that people will be extremely sensitive about how it is used/how it is applied to them.  Perhaps the MOE should consider renaming the language program and stop automatically sorting students into languages based on ethnic heritage that may have little or nothing to do with their daily lives. If we have to fill in forms before the start of P1 anyway, why not make selection of a language part of that process?

It’s great that Elanor will in all likelihood be allowed to shift to Mandarin, but I should have just been able to pick it without wasting time on debunking fallacious assumptions based on race.

Happy Birthday Rhiannon

This past Monday was Rhiannon’s third birthday.  If you’re a long time reader, you probably remember when she was born.  It’s hard to believe she’s already three!

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I have an annual tradition for birthdays–I make each of the girls a personalized birthday video.  Here is Rhi’s third birthday video.  I’m sorry, it’s not available on mobile devices.

Second birthday

First birthday

NoQ is no more

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The online bookstore NoQ has closed.  I once reviewed them and in return for doing so had an active discount code for the website.  I have deleted that post to prevent confusion.

If you are looking to buy books online, you can still go to Groovy Giraffe (a remainder book store with deep discounts, specializing in children’s books), Open Trolley, and international booksellers such as Book Depository and Amazon.

RIP NoQ

E & O Residences Kuala Lumpur (Serviced Apartment Review)

We are not F1 fans, so we decided to go to KL this past weekend.

I spent a number of years working in various front office positions in college and grad school for Sheraton and Omni hotels.  In the early years of our marriage Ravi and I traveled frequently, something Elanor’s birth didn’t stop.  To say that I’m picky about hotels is a huge understatement.

Five years ago what I wanted out of a property was easy–a big comfy King sized bed and a 24 hour room service in a central part of the city.

These days when the entire family travels it’s a bit more complicated.  I need somewhere for everyone to sleep, and specifically the kids need to be in a space where we won’t wake them after bedtime.  Sure they’ll go to bed later than normal, but we’ll still be up even later.  In five to eight years, we’ll just get adjoining hotel rooms.  At the moment though, given that the girls are still young, it’s become easiest to stay in serviced apartments or suites with a kitchen.  This allows me to feed people on our various schedules and gives us the kind of space that makes us happier.

On our trip to KL, we chose the E & O residences, which had highly favorable ratings on travelocity.

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It’s a very nice property.  Clean, well maintained, polite staff.  Beautiful rooms–far nicer than what my apartment looks like at the moment with the couch that my cats have scratched and my kids have colored on, and the pile of toys over there and so forth.

At first glance it’s almost dazzling.  The two bedroom (which is what we chose) is massive.  Two bedrooms, an office, the living room/dining room/kitchen, and two and half bathrooms.  I could write sonnets about the master bathroom.

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But over the course of a few days, I did have some complaints

For me, and my bad back, the beds were MUCH too hard.  It was like sleeping on a board, and by the time we came home on Monday, three nights of sleeping on that meant I needed pain medication and a day of rest to move without pain.  But this is a highly individual thing, and people want very different things out of a bed.  I’ve found as a whole that Asian hotels tend to have harder beds than their American counterparts, even when they are part of the same US based chain.

My real issue was that in a serviced apartment, the amenities were stingy

  • There is no broom or vacuum to clean up after yourself.  I had to leave a LOT of crumbs for the cleaning service.  While yes, they are marketed (I’m sure) more to a business traveler, I know that they too might need to occasionally sweep.
  • The cookware was abysmal and lacked so many basic items.  There was no measuring cup.  There was no wooden spoon.  The only thing provided to clean your dishes with involved a hard scrubber that had long since removed any non-stick of the pans which was exacerbated by metal cookware.  So while they technically give you a kitchen, you are then at a loss to do anything with it.  I eventually went out and bought several items so I could cook basics–nothing complicated like I would make at home–simple things like pancakes or scrambled eggs.
  • They provide tissues and toilet paper but no paper towels.  Again, if you are providing me with a kitchen, you might put out a roll of paper towels as a basic courtesy.
  • There is a washer and dryer but no soap.

These are probably minor issues for people who are staying for weeks at a time.  But for your casual guests, like us, it renders these benefits of serviced apartments useless.

Based on the Hilton’s Homewood Suites brand and various New Zealand properties where we traveled for almost three weeks last year staying in at least 4 different serviced apartments, these are actual oversights.  Sure, the non stick of the pan is up for debate at any property, but paper towels, small packets of laundry soap and so forth are all typically in the apartment.  Or you should be able to buy them on site, which you can’t.  There is nothing on site, and the nearest convenience store is small and poorly stocked.  I had to do a late evening trip to the Cold Storage at the Petronas Twin Towers after a long day of travel so that we could get through the morning.

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That said, I did really like the property.  The pool was great fun.  We didn’t make it there but they also have a playground, making a great property for parents with kids.  We didn’t try walking anywhere with them as there was construction next door and the subway was a distance that we weren’t comfortable having Rhiannon tackle.  However, the concierge always got us taxis with only a brief wait (or no wait–there is often at least one sitting there waiting for passengers).  The girls enjoyed their room (minus Rhi falling out of her single bed–she has a double at home and isn’t used to such a small space).

The air con was a bit weak, but the overhead fans made up for it for the most part.

I’d definitely recommend them as long as you aren’t planning on using the kitchen, or are willing to bring your own cookware or stock up in order to use theirs.  In what would be a 4/5 stars from me, that knocks it down to a 3/5* property.

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