Ashamed & Proud to be a local

[Instead of writing this post on the day it happened, I took a couple of days to digest what I saw and choose my words without the emotional element.]

One night when I was walking home, I saw a big group of Indians gathering at my neighbourhood void deck and carpark. It’s not common to see a huge group of Indians here in Singapore, unless you are at Little India. I was a little scared but what I realized was how quiet they were, barely moving from where they stood.

As it turns out, it’s a funeral.

Some time ago, I did some research and for local Chinese, there are details about the Buddhist, Taoist customs and so on, and for Malay, there’s plenty of information about the praying, preparations and even burial. But for the Indians, there seems to be very little information – buried within a day, prayers… nothing specific.

But the very next day, I was mind blown by the details in the funeral at my void deck.

I wanted to post some photos but decided not to as it seems inappropriate. But what I really wanted to say is this –

The funeral I witnessed made me ashamed and proud to be a local. Let’s talk about the good first.

After bringing the casket to the void deck, the final ceremony took place at the carpark. There was a complex way of setting it down in the van, and then right in the middle of the carpark, they would light what looks like a pot of incense and set it in front of the van.

Then similar to the Chinese funeral, relatives would go around the van a few times, but starting with kids. The whole ceremony took about 15 minutes and halfway through, a gas company lorry was about to leave the carpark, but was stuck as the casket was in the middle and people were on the road.

There was no honking. No argument. 

The lorry driver simply waited, backing up slightly so as to keep a distance from the crowd, more for safety purpose I presume.

From the other direction, a cab turned into the carpark. Likewise, there was no question asked (“oi do you guys have permit?”) and the passenger alighted some distance away.

Foreigners can trash Singapore all they want about the deprivation of human rights with caning and lack of freedom but this is what I like about this country. 80% of the time, we live our daily lives with racial tolerance and graciousness. Yeah, one family’s funeral may be delaying bus traffic, the neighbours’ journey, but we understand it isn’t forever, so just be patient. And understanding.

Okay, now the ashamed part.

We have racial tolerance, but we lack racial understanding. Even religious understanding.

As a Chinese, I ask myself how much I know about Deepavali and Hari Raya. Yeah, I write my Indian neighbour a card for Deepavali with well wishes for “the festival of lights” but what does that really mean?

What do they really do during Deepavali? The customs, the traditions, etc.

We know so much about the world but we know so little about those around us, especially the younger generations.

Seeing a real Indian funeral, it’s way more particular and detailed than what we are ever told, taught and exposed to. I mean, wouldn’t it be nice if we could learn these, at some point in time?

As a small country, it’s vital for us to have a global view and a long-term plan. But the daily scene in our lives is just as important.

What do we know about the pioneer generation of leaders? Instead of just remembering them in newspapers when they are gone?

What do we know about the development of our land? Our water? Our electricity? Our laws? Our successes and failures? Our transportation?

What do we know about our neighbours? What do we know about the Malays, the Indians, the Eurasians? How can we learn more about each other?

Tolerance is good, but understanding is even better. Someday, somehow, I want to make that happen. So that this country can be better, the next generation can be wiser, the human relations in this country can be deeper and come from a genuine point of concern.

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