Sunday, February 28, 2010

Toss of Fortune

Today is yuan xiao, the last day of the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations. The Chinese put aside 15 days of every year to celebrate its New Year, and it is universally practiced, wherever the Chinese are.

And in true Chinese fashion, food figures extensively in these celebrations. In Singapores, droves of Chinese families, including mine, headed for our favourite dining haunts, whether it is to a traditional Chinese restaurant, or to a Western restaurant servings potatoes and steaks, or to a Japanese sushi joint, or even an Italian restaurant. You name it, in Singapore, we have it.  The Chinese in Singapore is a cosmopolitan lot.

But what marred the evening for me was the unending stream of people who came by the particular restaurant I was queueing up at buying take-away yusheng, that Chinese salad mix of raw fish, syrup, nuts and possibly 8 types of vegetables. I was about to say 'herbs and spices' but there really isn't much of it in this concoction, except Chinese pepper powder. The restaurant was kept so busy that I had to wait about 45 minutes before I could get a seat in the restaurant. I warned my partner not to order the dish as I knew that she was a salad junkie, even at $38.80 a pop!

Truth be told, this salad concoction is anything but traditional. It only became fashionable (yes, that's the right word to use) in the last 10 years or so, and in keeping with the occasion, it goes for $18.88 to $1,888 (and then some) depending on the serving size, and I suppose the type of fish and the brand name. The Chinese believe that taking this salad-like concoction will bring them good luck, good fortune, good health, etc. etc. when you, together with the family and friends, 'toss' the salad and mix in the raw fish, communal fashion, and chant 'God of Fortune, bring good wealth, good health, good fortune, money money money...' (you can sing the money part to the tune made famous by ABBA). The Chinese, they are crazy, about money!

Well, to me, the only people this concoction benefit are the sellers. The sellees, uh, buyers, are the fools. When ever has the toss of salad and fish ever brought anything good each year? Establishing the correlation is, at best, pseudo-science, at worse, it is no more than shamanism. Ok, I am mixing up culture and language, but you get what I mean, right? And yet, however shrewed the Chinese are reputed to be when it comes to making a buck, they just burn up their money, very willingly I assure you, at the very next turn that yusheng is sold. Really, only one type of people (and it need not be Chinese) who are assured of a fortune in plying this dish are the restaurants, who just cannot keep up with the orders from the long queues that do not stop forming up outside their shops. It is at these time that one dreams of owning a restaurant, preferably a Chinese restaurant. The money is so easy when you have an army of gullible and foolish queuees in front of your restaurant. Heck, even the Supermarkets have jumped on the bandwagon and hawk these concoctions, making tonnes of money in the process.

For the rest of us, may what we have tossed for come true. If not, there is always the next Chinese New Year to toss again. You did ask to live at least another year in your toss, didn't you?

I hope then to be the seller, not the sellee.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Flogging a dead horse

It would appear that, from what little I have read, that Singaporeans, or at least those who live on this little red dot of an island of ours, is having a field day putting in their 2 cents worth over the incident of Past Rony Tan's sermon on Buddhists and Taoists. Now I must confess that I haven't read much of these comments, nor am I interested in reading any of them. But I do notice that besides apologizing to the Buddhists and Taoists, that some are demanding that Pastor Tan also apologize to the Lesbians and Homosexuals. What next? The Muslims? The Jains? The Government? The man has said his sorries, very publicly, so what else is there to flog? People just cannot leave the issue alone. They must say something. I think they should heed the advice of Jesus, who said, '...let he who has no sin cast the first stone', or the common and wise saying that 'he who lives in glass houses should learn not to throw stones'. I think our Buddhist and Taoists friends would agree wholeheartedly with these.

But of course there will be many who will disagree with me. They see this opportunity to lambast others in the name of their beliefs and self-interest too good to pass up. In this sense, how are they any different from the pastor?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Let the games begin

"The Chinese are inveterate gamblers", said MM Lee Kuan Yew, when the setting up of resort casinos for Singapore, along the lines and scope of those in Las Vegas and Genting, was approved. True to fashion, Singapore's first casino was opened to the public on the first day of the Lunar New Year, at the auspicious hour of 12:18pm. Auspicious for who, you wonder? For the operator, which in this case is Malaysia's Genting group, or for the punters, the gamblers? Even the God of Fortune will find it hard to give its fortune to both the Operator and the gambler at the same table at the same time.You either win the money or you lose it. There is no third way about it.

But of course, some gamblers will tell you that they take pleasure in the act of gambling, and therefore losing any or all of their money is no different from dining at an expensive restaurant. You get treated like a king. You get served (I heard that free food was offered to one and all), you can drink in the den's ambiance, savour the atmosphere which must be very different from queuing in the neighbourhood 4-D and Toto counters). If you want to gamble, do so in style and comfort, they say. So there was a reported bee-line for the entrance of Resort World Sentosa's (RWS) newly minted casino, never mind that you lose a S$100 to the Entrance Levy (tax) before you pass the door into the casino. But that money doesn't belong to the Casino Operators, it is money made by the Singapore Government in the name of gambling addiction*. It is probably a good idea to levy the fees to fund the programmes meant to correct the anticipated problem behaviour and chronic habits that gamblers would pick up as a result of accessing the gambling facilities blessed by the government. Sounds convoluted? Yeah, but gambling is straightforward - either you win or you lose. And for the Operators to be around, gamblers must lose more than they win. That's simple Mathematics, although the Math underlying the Game of Chance may not be understood by most people. 

This is indeed a milestone, as our Institute of Mental Health (IMH) prepares to admit its first patients in the new category of big time problem gamblers.

God help us, in more ways than one.

*p.s. If 75,000 people got into the casino on the first 2 days, the government itself would have raked in a cool $7.5M. Now that's what I call good business and easy money.