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Halloween 2014

If you’re looking to celebrate Halloween with Trick or Treating, here is the low-down…

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On Halloween (Oct 31), take a CAB to the Singapore American School in Woodlands from 6-8 pm.  DO NOT drive yourself-there is no parking.

You will see giant hordes of people trick or treating on the streets adjacent to SAS.  The police block off the streets to make them a pedestrian zone.  People will be at their gates handing out candy (see above).

We’ve been going for several years now.  Americans, Singaporeans, everyone is welcome.

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We celebrate Diwali because of Singapore

Ravi grew up with only one family tradition surrounding Diwali–eating a jalebi (to give the new year a sweet start).  If we had stayed in the US, that would likely be the only Diwali tradition that the girls grew up with.  We would have followed their lead, and as Boston doesn’t have a huge Indian community that we were part of or any sort of public acknowledgement of Diwali, the jalebi would be the extent of our traditions.

Ironically, moving to Singapore is what gave us the opportunity and motive to create family traditions for Diwali.

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Diwali is a public holiday in Singapore

In the US, Diwali isn’t a widely acknowledged holiday.  It’s not a day that children get off from school or grown-ups from work.

Now, this Diwali, I am heartened by how my daughter embraces her Indian-American heritage and by how different my daughter’s America is from mine. Diwali is celebrated at the White House. The television show “The Office” had an entire episode dedicated to Diwali where the non-Indian characters were more knowledgeable than the clueless Indian one played by Mindy Kaling, the writer and actress. And (in true recognition) Diwali has been placed on the coveted New York City Alternate Side Parking calendar.(source)

However, despite these small advances, I think it would be hard for a family like ours–without a strong connection to India or Indian culture–to create Diwali traditions without support.

In Singapore, Diwali is a day where everyone is home.  The girls learn about the holiday in school and do Diwali crafts.  There are Diwali markets in Little India.  There is no shortage of support for the holiday and opportunity to celebrate.

 

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The Diwali markets are a resource for materials to celebrate

We go to the Diwali market to buy decorations, to get mendhi, and if we want to buy clothes there we can.

I go to Mustafa to pick up jalebi mix.  I realize it’s not as good as making it from scratch, but it works for us.

This year we also purchased our first rangoli kit.  If we moved back to the US, it would be great to give the kids sidewalk chalk and let them decorate the walkway or the driveway.

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Our traditions have grown over time

In 2010 we went home in November and Ravi’s mom made jalebi.  In 2011 I had a newborn and not much got acknowledged that holiday season.

So it was 2012 before we celebrated Diwali on our own.  That year we read a book, lit diyas and got mendhi.

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Last year Notabilia and I took our children to the Diwali exhibit at Gardens by the Bay and the girls celebrated in school for the first time that we knew about.  We got mendhi and lit diyas once again.

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This year, with Rhiannon getting bigger, we added a few new traditions to the ones we’ve been building.  Each year it becomes a better and better holiday with traditions that the children (Elanor, at this point) are looking forward to.

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Now, when/if we move home, we’ll make the effort to keep up our traditions.

Maybe we’ll take notice of Singapore’s National Day our first year back home.  I’ll keep an eye out for CNY or Mid-Autumn festival opportunities, but would probably not go out of my way to do things to celebrate them at home.  But we’ll keep Diwali.  And we have Singapore to thank for that.

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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

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