Tuesday, March 15, 2005


One of the most pleasing stories I've read lately was of the Frieder brothers. They were Jewish-Americans who ran a cigar factory up till the outbreak of World War II. They managed to arrange for the migration of about 1400 fellow Jews from Nazi-controlled Germany and Austria. This is a familiar story and theme.

I admit to growing up not thinking highly of my homeland’s own story. I could attribute it to a number of reasons. For example, I believe it would have been difficult for even the most dedicated and motivated teachers to substitute pride and accomplishment for the fear and discontent of the early 1980s . There was the material we had to learn from, books printed on recycled paper, filled with mostly dry and completely un-dramatic text. Pictures were seldom available.

Against a backdrop of slick, lavishly illustrated encyclopedias and magazines featuring America, Europe, Japan, and others, the stories of my country seem to easily fade into a drab and monochromatic echo of sorrow and loss.

I like to think that I did manage to avoid the sense of hopelessness and self-loathing that seems to come too easily when my country’s own history is concerned. The things that help are stories like that of the Frieder brothers.

The Frieder factory was in Manila, and the migration was with the knowledge and consent of the President, Manuel Quezon.

A whole lot has been written about the motives and roles of the players of that story. Certainly, the focus changes with each of the different accounts.

What remains constant is that at one point in our history, we performed an act for no real gain. We performed an act for a group not of our race or religion because, among others, such things didn’t really matter to us.

This was a time when the wealthier countries, the United States included, refused such acts, simply because those things did matter.

I would have liked knowing these things when I was younger.

But I am glad to know of these things now. I am glad to know now of our stories, filled with independence, maturity, and unique generosity.

Singapore's Chinatown Posted by Hello

Saturday, March 12, 2005


I spent an hour in my Singapore hotel room trying to figure out where to go. It was my first time there, and I only had a day. The only information I had were from the brochures and maps I picked up at Changi airport.

One of the brochures had a quote from Rudyard Kipling on "The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it."

I found that to be an odd quote, because no scent stood out from the airport to my hotel room.

Anyway, the brochures I picked up seemed to focus on three areas, shopping, restaurant and bar locations, and man-made parks. But I was going to be there for only a day, and I was looking for a uniquely Singaporean experience. I feel that malls and bars aren't the places for that experience.

I settled on going to Chinatown and eating at one of the areas featured in the guide book. There were a couple of spots on the map marked as places of interest, so I was looking forward to seeing a few things right after eating.

Sure enough, the place was teeming with locals. Well, with Chinese, anyway. I thought that boded well.

I queued up at a busy stall and got myself something popular, sliced fish with noodles. Simple, but certainly hot, fresh, and fairly filling fare. I washed that down with a local specialty tea and milk cocktail, teh tarik. It was wonderfully refreshing.
While eating, I spotted one of the places of interest marked on my guide map. It was a building right across the street, with a sign that read Urban Development Authority.

I found, to my interest, that there was a small museum. To my disappointment, it was closed.

Oh well, there was another place of interest close by, only a block away. I walked for ten minutes to only find that the only thing of interest was a complex of restaurants and bars.

I gave up at that point.

I just hopped back on the train and met up with a friend and his family. I spent the rest of the afternoon up to the early evening hanging out at their place. That I truly enjoyed.

I spent less than twenty-four hours there, but I can't help coming to the conclusion that the only truly interesting thing there may be the people. I didn't get to converse to any while I was there, so I'm just guessing.

These were the people who were tossed out of the Malaysian Federation. These people, the Singaporeans, managed to make quite a living for themselves. In their own little island with no resources but a harbor and willing people, they built one of the wealthiest economies in the region, both in terms of national product and per person.

The spirit behind that was probably dirty, sweaty, and smelly. The spirit behind that deserves a memorial other than the antiseptic Orchard Road corner Patterson.