Monday, December 03, 2007

You can have Fun without Alcohol ....but why take the risk.

I was recently given an important sociological lesson by a Malay friend of mine who invited me to his wedding. This friend of mine is a musician and I guess after a few nights of coming to watch him perform, he felt comfortable enough to invite me to his wedding – and boy, what a wedding it was.

The Malay community in Singapore is probably one of the biggest headaches for anyone in the corporate rat-race known as Singapore. The community sticks out like a sore thumb in the rat-race that is modern Singapore. This is a community that has by and large shown itself to be disinterested in ‘bettering itself,’ in the modern economy. Former Malaysian PM, Dr Mohammed Mahatier tried to legalise them into being successful and failed. South of the causeway, the Malay community has spent the past 40-plus years frustrating Singapore’s pushy civil servants. While the Chinese and Indians struggle to make their mark, the Malays simply shrug and carry on living as they always have.

As a Chinese in Singapore, you grow-up with the idea that the Malays are simply lazy and stupid. I mean, Chinese have common sense so when the government tells them to have only two-children (threats of cutting subsidies for a third child), you only have two children or you have less. The Malays…they happily carry on producing kids – how stupid is that!

But somehow, after my friend’s wedding, I’m wondering if there’s another side to the story. Perhaps the Malay community has got something right. Chinese weddings are always a demonstration of status. Families negotiate the number of tables they get for their relatives. Relatives pull rank by making it a point of turning up late (The later you are, the more important you are). Food is admittedly spectacular but everyone buggers off once the dishes have been served – point made.

Malay weddings are by comparison, more simple affairs. They’re usually held in the void decks of housing estates and somehow in spite of the humble settings, the weddings are elaborate affairs. Suddenly people dress-up in traditional costumes and become dashing. Families gather together to cook-up a storm and washing up is done by friends and family.

The funny thing is, especially when you consider the fact that this is the Muslim Community, people sing and dance without a drop to drink. I mean, there is a saying that you can have fun without alcohol, but why take the risk? Well, the Malay community seems to have taken that risk and it’s paid off.

We live in a society that is always on the move. We turn our noses up at people who seem uninterested in the chase for the almighty dollar, euro or pound. But I wonder if we, the economically successful people realise the cost of the life we lead. Somehow, we’re always telling ourselves that we are driving ourselves on and on so that one day we can be financially free and then we’ll spend time with our loved ones. But then, when we stop working and chasing ownership of bigger and better things, we find that our loved ones have left us behind and the moments we thought we have don’t exist.

As a Chinese, a descendent of immigrants, one is ingrained with the idea that you cannot accept your situation as it is and you must strive to make yourself better – and there are definitions of better. If you are uneducated, you must make your children educated. If you live in a flat, your children must live in a house. Perhaps I shouldn’t knock this mentality – this is the mentality that has given me the good things that I enjoy.

Somehow, I seem to get a kick out of living on a knife’s edge. The people that I associate with are like me. We chase deals here and there just to get buy. One of my partners wanted me to help him sign up for a car – the tug on my heart strings was – “My daughters will feel shy if I don’t have a car.” OK, I don’t drive but my ego seems to be tied up to how much I can bill and keep within a month or even a year.

Then there is the other side. The Hindus and Buddhist believe its Karma. The Muslims are focused on things being Insh Allah or God Willing. My Algerian friends tell me they see the good fortune of the Saudi’s as being “Insh Allah,” and they tell me that when you think like this, you can accept another person without envy. The Saudi’s on the other hand tell me that they’re aware that they’re good fortune is God given and so they’re obliged to be generous to the less fortunate. (Of course it’s not as hunky-dory as that but I think they’ve got something there).

And so you have it. In Singapore it’s the Chinese who run around for material wealth and material power. Statistically speaking, the average Chinese student gets better marks and is usually much better paid in latter life than the average Malay. Simply put, the Chinese chase these things harder.

It’s not that the Chinese are harder working or that the Malays are lazy. The Malays divert their energies elsewhere like in having a nice home and a decent quality of life. In a way, the Malay attitude reminds me a Ghurkha I knew. He was proud of the fact that he had seven children. He admitted that his salary was barely enough to support all of them but he and his wife loved them dearly. I suppose the Chinese attitude would be to point out that love does not put food on the table. But I sometimes wonder if our practical attitude has left us out in the cold, a land where children barely know their parents. It’s like Neil French, former WPP World Wide Creative Director said, “Money can’t buy you a Dad.” Nor can it make you one.

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