Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ibu Sakit Gigi

I had an interesting lesson in grammar recently. About a week ago, Milady had a toothache that ultimately required her tooth to be pulled. As I drove away from the dentist's office, I tried to tell my two-year-old daughter why we had left Ibu (Mother) behind: "Ibu gigi sakit" (literally, "mother teeth hurt"). The maid, who was sitting behind me in the car, corrected my sentence: "Ibu sakit gigi."

I found this difference in syntax interesting. Using the rules of English syntax for a Malay sentence, I was trying to say, "Mother's teeth hurt." But the Malay syntax makes it seem to me that "Mother hurt (her) teeth." In English, of course, we assign blame (or not) in our sentences as the case may be. Milady didn't hurt her teeth deliberately; the tooth began hurting of itself. From my perspective, it seems like the Malay sentence is casting blame on my wife for having hurt her tooth intentionally, even though I know that's not really the case.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Feet and Shoes in Korea and Singapore

One of the blogs I read through Google Reader is Juliette Wade's TalkToYoUniverse. Juliette is a science fiction author who blogs about the writing process. One of the topics she frequently writes about is how more realistic fictional worlds can be created by taking real-life examples and using them as the basis for fictional settings. In particular, Juliette examines cultural perspectives on different subjects, and tries to get other writers to think about how people in their fictional world/culture would approach the subject. As a former expat who lived in Japan, many of Juliette's blog posts discuss Japanese culture.

In a recent post, Juliette wrote about feet and shoes across cultures, asking, "What do you know about feet?" In the post, she discussed a number of topics about shoes and attitudes toward feet; for example, different types of shoes (e.g., Japanese fishing boots and snow boots, shoes for the bound feet of Chinese women, etc.), form vs. function in the design of shoes, walking vs. driving, and attitudes toward the wearing of shoes inside one's home or not.

Having been exposed to several different Asian cultures, I decided to comment on some of the observations I've made about the wearing of shoes in South Korea and Singapore. In my comment, I tried to complement her topics by adding additional reasons why attitudes toward shoes are the way they are here in Asia. Below is most of my comment that appears on her blog:

There are actually quite a few other factors that help determine the style and wearing of shoes in addition to those you mentioned. When I lived in Korea, their attitudes toward the wearing of shoes in the home probably mirrored that of Japan, although I can't say about whether most Koreans wore slippers within their homes. Certainly my apartment had the equivalent of the genkan (1) where shoes were taken off and left. Actually, that area next to the front door was "sunken" or, rather, the rest of the apartment floor was raised because of the onbol (2) that lie underneath the floor, providing some warmth to the room.

A lot of attitudes toward taking shoes off in the home come from practical considerations. Singaporeans universally take off shoes before entering a home (regardless of ethnicity or religion) because the climate is very wet here and one walks through lots of puddles and/or mud. Korean and Singaporean men also frequently spit and, while one tries to avoid stepping in that, one never knows if one did accidentally, so, best to take the shoes off rather than tracking that into the house as well.

Both Singapore and Korea are still developing economically, and construction sites tend to be muddy and/or dirty.

Various religious facilities (e.g., Mosques and Buddhist temples) require one to take off one's shoes before entering those buildings. (In Islam, that consideration is practical as there is no furniture in the prayer hall which allows people to walk anywhere, and one puts one's face on the carpeting during prayer.) Also, because one needs to take off one's shoes within mosques, many Muslims choose to wear shoes that don't have laces. In Singapore, sandals and flip-flops are the preferred shoe to wear to the mosque because they are the easiest to put back on when one is leaving the building.

In Singaporean and Korean homes, bathrooms tend to be wet as there are no bathtubs, thus showering is done in the middle of the bathroom floor (there's a drain in the floor for the water). Only rarely have I worn flip-flops in the bathroom; usually it's just bare feet, which also means that many Singaporeans walk around with bare feet in the rest of the house; wearing socks means needing to take them off before going into the bathroom.

Singaporeans tend to have two places to store shoes, one indoors and one outdoors. Many apartments here have an outdoor shoe rack, which may be used by family members or guests. However, many people just leave their shoes lying outside their front door when they come home and leave them there overnight. (I used to do that with a pair of flip-flops, but they were stolen, probably by an estate maintenance worker who had big feet like me. Since then I always keep my shoes indoors, unless I know I'm going to be leaving the house within an hour or two.)

One other factor is health. Several members of my family, including me, all wear sandals as our normal foot wear because we are type 2 diabetics. Type 2 diabetics are susceptible to bacterial and fungal skin infections, and closed-toe shoes are perfect environments for those types of beasties (moist, warm). With sandals the feet are drier and cooler, which helps to minimize infections (which are very painful itches). With the exception of some athletic shoes that are only worn for an hour or so at a time, I haven't worn anything but sandals since 2005. (That includes at work, so I tend to buy more stylish sandals. ;) )

One other side issue is home flooring. Singaporeans and Koreans almost exclusively use ceramic tiles for their floors. With so much dirt and mud here, people would be forever vacuuming their carpets. With tile, cleaning is much faster: just a sweep through and mopping. Those few rugs that are used here tend to be small rugs, either for the kitchen and/or bathroom or larger carpets (like a Persian rug) that's used for decorative purposes.

(1) A genkan is an area inside the front door of a Japanese home where shoes are taken off and stored before entering the rest of the house or apartment.
(2) An onbol is a set of water pipes located underneath the floor of a Korean home or apartment; the onbol heats up the floor during the winter months, helping to make the home a little bit warmer.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Exorcisms "R" Us

The block I live in has a row of shops on the first floor instead of the usual void deck, with one of the shops selling joss paper. That, in and of itself, isn't unusual; in fact, this block has always had a retailer selling joss paper, joss sticks, etc., since Milady and I moved here.

What is unusual is that the new retailer has a small sign posted outside their shop, which I took a photograph of today. Both Milady and I had our curiosity aroused at the first service offered: exorcisms. :) All of the other services offered are very commonplace here, especially among the Chinese community, but this is the first time I've ever seen anyone say they're willing to perform an exorcism. One wonders whether they've done this before and, if so, how successful they were in the past? :)

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Are You Chinese, Japanese, or Korean?

I'm currently reading Yasutaka Sai's book, The 8 Core Values of the Japanese Businessman: Toward an Understanding of Japanese Management. In his third core value, "Aesthetics and Perfectionism," Sai retells a story about three different Asian perspectives as to what is aesthetically desirable (pp. 55-56):

Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) was tea master to the leaders Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi and founder of the Sen school of tea ceremony. One bright autumn day, having invited guests for a tea ceremony, he ordered a young monk to clean the small temple garden. The monk swept up every fallen leaf and told Rikyu that the job was finished. The tea master glanced at the scene and stepped down into the garden. He gently shook two or three trees until a few dead leaves fell to the ground. "Now the stage is set for our guests," he said.

A south Korean intellectual has criticized this incident as typical Japanese affectation. He said that a Chinese would probably have left the garden clear of leaves, as the priest had cleaned it, and a Korean would have held the ceremony with all the fallen leaves just as they were, in their natural state, finding that truly beautiful.

So what are you? Is your aesthetic sense "Chinese," "Japanese" or "Korean?" (I do think that Singapore, being a Chinese-majority country, does have a Chinese sense of aesthetics.)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Seen in Little India

Today's bumper sticker:

Terrorists don't scare me.
Your driving, that scares me!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

SG Acrnyms

Pop quiz, hot shot! Think you know all the Singapore acronyms? (We're an abbreviated society here. ;) ) Here's a small sampling of the various three-, four- and five-letter acronyms that are commonly seen in Singapore. (I'm skipping the two-letter acronyms altogether.) Name the following:




Bonus Question: Name the 5 C's.

Now, before you get your knickers in a twist, here are some hints:
* Most acronyms are the same number of words as there are letters, but not always.
* Many of the acronyms ending in "E" are "expressways," but not always.
* Most of these acronyms are serious (e.g., government departments, businesses, educational institutions, etc.), but a few are cultural acronyms.
* Finally, almost all of these are or can be used in everyday conversations.

Answers can be found in the comments, or you can cheat and click here.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Yum! Food!

The following photographs were taken by myself over the past two years or so, using two different cameras.

Spicy Beef Lung

The above photo was taken at a "halal food exposition" at Singapore Expo some time back. Spicy beef lungs aren't exactly my type of food, but they are popular with Malays here.

Seaweed Shaker

As you can see, the "Seaweed Shaker" packet here came from McDonald's. These were for orders of french fries. Customers received their fries with one packet of seaweed and a small paper bag to shake the fries and seaweed in. I collected a bunch of these packets for family back home (who've yet to receive them; bad JD). I have eaten seaweed before, primarily up in Korea. It tastes somewhat like paper.


The final photo is the most recent. The previous two photos were taken with a digital Panasonic point-and-shoot; this last photo was taken with a digital Nikon SLR, which Milady and I bought two-three weeks ago. After buying the camera, Milady, her brother and I walked over to a nearby Burger King while we waited for a computer to be built. This is the second photo I took with the camera, where I just pointed it at the wall in front of me, which had this huge photo wallpaper of a Whopper. I looked at the photo on the back of the camera body and said, "Wow!" I showed the picture to my bro-in-law and he said, "Wow!" :) It's a nice camera.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Singapore Flyer

Over the past few months, a huge ferris wheel has been built near the Marina Bay section of Singapore. This behemoth, when finished, will be the largest ferris wheel in the world at 165 meters tall (the London Eye is 135m, and the Star of Nanchang is 162m), with a diameter of 150 meters. The Flyer had principal construction of the wheel finished a few weeks ago; since these photos were taken, four of the (temporary) internal spokes have been removed.

The Flyer, which is scheduled to begin operations on 1 March 2008, is expected to cost a total of S$240 million; the basic ticket price will be S$29.50 per adult for a 37-minute ride. (More information on the Singapore Flyer can be found here.)

All of the below pictures were taken by me with my hand phone camera while I was riding to work on various speeding taxis. :) Each of the photos were taken about one week apart. Unfortunately, as I was cropping these photos, they lost a lot of detail and so the sky in particular has become rather smudgy. However, they still give a decent idea as to how progress on the Flyer has progressed over time.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Ah Chew Hotel

I've been wanting to take a picture of this sign for several years now, and I finally got the chance while walking by the hotel yesterday. This is one of those little backpackers' hostels located on the corner of North Bridge Road and Liang Seah Street (as the picture indicates), across the street from Parco Bugis Village. I have no idea how good or bad the hotel is, but the sign has always amused me. :)