Yet more comments after 25 years about a birthplace

Other retained aspects of lifestyles which I liked is that one is safe to walk anywhere in Singapore, even relatively late at night. Malaysia seems safe too. Whereas in Australia, ever since the common man became able to acquire a car, there has been no safety; one is likely to be set upon, when walking through the parks, at the seaside, or even in town. The drug scene has worsened the situation.

Like any tourist, I liked the eating places in the open air in Malaysia and Singapore. There is light, colour, taste, lovely aromas, and other people to watch. In almost each eating place, I ran into someone from Australia I knew. The ‘banana leaf’ curry shops remain superb. In some of these places I saw almost every nationality in the world represented.

Australia too has developed multi-ethnic food places, commencing in Sydney’s Chinatown and spreading to the city’s centre. Before the entry of large numbers of European people, ethnic eating places were expensive; catering for those who felt that they belonged to the higher levels of society. Then, the Europeans opened up cheap eateries for their own people, and the Aussie commoners invaded these places.

Today, there is a large variety of food from all over the world at reasonable prices, in ordinary food shops. Yet the ubiquitous Chinese take-away rules the roost. However, it’s been a long time since my friends and I were asked whether we wanted ‘real chicken’ in the dish ordered. Of course, that proprietor meant well; he was the one who used to serve us the beer we took into the kitchen in a teapot (we drank the beer in teacups) because of the then ridiculous licensing laws.

Looking for developments since my day, my most important discovery was the commitment to Malaysia and Singapore by the Ceylon Tamils. To be sure, some had migrated (and others would in order to access education for the children at an economic price), but these people were there to stay. This applied to the other immigrant communities too. This attitude was reflected in more spacious and comfortable homes than the ones in which they had grown up. Most had good jobs and were well fed. Many were two-income families with few children; “Comfort is not known if poverty does not come before it,” as the Irish say.

Yet some traditions are still upheld. I saw a professional wife serve her husband in the traditional manner, although the food was cooked by a servant. If he wanted a glass of water, the wife went out and got it. She does not drink alcohol, but he will have only Black Label Scotch (or better). Any sensitivity to caste seems to have disappeared; the rubber tapper’s son could be one’s colleague in a legal firm or a fellow schoolteacher. Yet class does represent a barrier …

Other traditions seem to have fallen by the wayside; the successful prefer to work rather than pray for success. “Once on shore, we pray no more,” an English saying, seems relevant. Speaking only English at home is also an increasing phenomenon, especially with the younger generation. I felt quite at home, without my guilt at having lost my mother tongue. In general, there do not seem to be much of the home-based religious ceremonies, as of yore. … Significance can be retained, in different, yet meaningful, forms. My sister’s guru in Singapore is showing his followers how this can be done, whilst developing, contemporaneously, a community out of diverse origins.

The offspring of the Malaysians usually acquire professional or technical qualifications overseas. It was good to see the offspring of the jagas, shopkeepers, and others from the bottom of the socio-economic pile progress to achieve professional qualifications. By the time I met them, their success had already gone to their waists, in many instances. Their offspring were often fat and spoilt; everyone was happy, as in Australia.

(Not all developing countries combine economic progress with social progress. As indicated by the above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out,’ my birthplace seems to have lifted the standard of living overall through development. However, it is a fact that there is a vast gap between the lowest incomes and the highest.

It would seem that such a gulf is intended to enable the high-skilled to save the money needed for future national investment. And that may explain why Australia has been attempting to increase the remuneration of its politicians and bureaucrats. Strangely, while directors of corporations receive what are publicly considered ‘obscene’ benefits, the nation keeps needing foreign capital to just survive, and for any development too).

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