Thursday, February 24, 2005

Election time!

Six days you shall labour, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your manservant, or your maidservant, or your cow, or the traveller who's within your gates. Exodus 20:10, The Fourth Commandment They asked Jesus, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?" so they may accuse him. Jesus said to them, "What man of you, if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out?...It is lawful to do good on the sabbath." Matthew 12:10
So I'm in an Internet cafe again using Firefox because I haven't found a place to stay yet. I think I will, eventually. Anyway, the state election (and this state is quite big, almost as big as the whole of Western Europe combined, with a population of 2 million) is on Saturday. I don't understand the politics here, so I'm going to go for Geoff because I think he's better looking and his name sounds the same as mine. I am very shallow, yes. The far more interesting thing, for me, is the referendum piggy-backed on the elections. Are you ready for the questions? They are not easy. Question 1 (50%) Do you believe that the Western Australian community would benefit if trading hours in the Perth Metropolitan Area were extended to allow general retail shops to trade until 9 pm Monday to Friday? Question 2 (50%) Do you believe that the Western Australian community would benefit if trading hours in the Perth Metropolitan Area were extended to allow general retail shops to trade for 6 hours on Sunday? At first they seem to be easy questions, but hold your horses. It's not as straightforward as I thought. The first thing that strikes me (and I guess any tourist) who visits Perth is the empty streets at 6pm. Shops close at 5pm. And some can't open on Sundays. So I asked myself, where did everyone go/vanish?! Homes, I guess. Be with their families. Bliss. Obviously this comes at a price; I can't go shopping, groceries or otherwise, at late hours. I don't know how people cope, but they seem to be able to. In Singapore (and perhaps most bigger cities worldwide), no one closes before 10pm, and I'm used to that schedule. Nonetheless, this sort of arrangement appeals to me because folks have the time to stay out of commercial activities at night. They can have time to read, to watch TV, to do their hobbies, to feed their pets, to do sports, basically, have a life. Maybe that's why Perth people are so nice in general! Ikea has taken out ads in the newspaper urging people to vote 'yes, yes'. They have the usual layout with the product and prices but beside each picture, a label reads 'not available on Sunday'. A local church has taken out ads urging folks to vote 'no, no'. The Electoral Commission has done a darn fine job in putting up the two sets of arguments in the newspapers; those from 'big business' urging folks to vote 'yes, yes', and those from smaller and independent businesses urging folks to vote the opposite. Maybe Singapore will have a real and independent electoral commission in the future. Singapore's famous department store CK Tang had a similar problem years ago. It simply refused to open on Sunday when everyone else did, no doubt in honour of the sabbath. But economic conditions forced the folks to relook the situation, and now they open on Sundays too. So if I could vote, I'm not sure what to do. On the one hand, the romantic me wants the status quo, small businesses get a little protection from big companies, commercial activity stops at evening time, and folks go back to their families. On the other hand, the convenience that longer trading hours entails is undeniably attractive. I don't really buy the sabbath argument in the traditional sense. The sabbath for an individual can be any day, not necessarily on a Sunday. If I'm forced to choose, I'd go for 'yes, yes'. I think folks should be able to choose when they want to open for business.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


I'm at this cybercafe in Perth, and the default browser is Firefox! If you haven't switched yet from Internet Explorer, please do. It's good for your health. And your PC's health too...

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Zoo and mountain

I visited the zoo yesterday.  The zoo has three new white tigers since I last came here. And they are gorgeous! Here they are, taking their morning nap. This morning, I climbed Singapore's only mountain. At 164m, Bukit Timah ranks amongst the highest peaks in the world. According to the brochure, there are more plant species here than the combined number found in North America. If you're going there, I'd recommend the smaller trails, perhaps the yellow colour one found here. The route's well maintained and you may see snakes (which I did), and other more interesting things. At the Jungle Fall Hut, on the ground there are perhaps thousands (millions?) of ants moving in a very orderly manner among the branches; it's quite amazing. More pictures here.

Monday, February 14, 2005

A rose by any other...

So on the fifth day, my dad decided to go to his clan for a new year gathering. I decided to go along since I've never been inside before. To join the clan, you won't be discriminated because of your gender, your salary, your religion, your educational level, the colour of your skin, the languages you speak, or whether you're married or single. But there's only one restriction; you have to have Yen/Gan as your surname. Living in Singapore for the past couple of decades, I believe I've only met one single person with the same surname as me. It was shocking to come here and see 200 people with the same family name. Look, there's no inherently good reason why they should all be assembled under the same roof. It just happens that they have the same name! So what happens if you don't have this surname? Well, say if you're a Lee, or a Chen, there's another clan just for you right round the corner... Therein lies the dilemma. What happens when you want to join another clan? Let's say there's a pretty girl in the Wu (Tang) clan, and you wanna join for obvious reasons. You can't. You are stopped by a single technicality. You were born in the wrong family and adopted the wrong name. However, the situation can be rectified by a quick trip to your lawyer to have your name changed. Maybe the West could adopt a similar thing. The most popular English surname seems to be Smith. So there can be a Smith clan. All Agents are eligible for membership too. I'm not sure whether the clan would be hit by some class action suit arguing discrimination against potential members. I guess one needed take it too seriously. It's supposed to be a fun thing! More pictures here.

Thursday, February 3, 2005

There's someone outside the door, and he means business

I don't have much affinity for Chinese New Year. I think I might go to the zoo on the first or second day to visit the animals. But there's one thing I like about the season: the funny songs one can hear in departments stores. My favourite is 'The God of Wealth Cometh', and it's quite a catchy song. The lyrics go like this.
The god of wealth cometh
The god of wealth cometh
The god of wealth is outside my huge gate

Welcome him
Receive him
Receive him into my house!

From now on, I'll be lucky
Waves of prosperity will swamp me
Whenever I set up a business,
It'll be profitable
Whenever I buy a lottery ticket,
I will win easily

I will be successful in ten thousand things!
The god of wealth cometh
The god of wealth cometh
Receive the god of wealth!
Not too bad eh? The Chinese (that's me) must be the only ethnic group in the entire world that makes making money the number one or two thing at such an important festival as the New Year. (There are a few candidates for top New Year greetings, good academic results, good health, be successful in ten thousand things, make money).

So essentially, the deity is someone who brings good fortune and wealth to the family. In this particular song, I'm reading it in a fundamentalist and literal manner. It's not a metaphor, someone is actually outside the house and he wants to come in with big bucks! But there's a slight problem. I went to look up the origins of the god of wealth, 财神. It turns out he's actually an accountant in the beginning, but with modern mythology being mixed with more ancient stories, he's evolved into some philanthropist and we should let him in our house.

But think about it, if there's an accountant outside the gates, what does it mean? (Even worse, if it's an accountant from the tax office! Woe unto you!) You'd then have to open your books for inspection. Now, I do understand accountants need to do their jobs, but really, I'd rather they stay outside the house... I don't want no tax officer looking at my accounts.

In the meantime, don't think too much, and enjoy the festivities! Optional reading for today:

Sunday update: I actually saw the god of wealth just now! (Or at least a person dressed in the costume!) He was getting into a car with others, and he wore the costume and hat... It's quite amazing. Maybe he's the guy who appeared in the newspapers. One can hire him for $350 an hour...