Friday, May 30, 2008

When it's gone, it's gone

I went ballistic yesterday. Then I was tearful. Then I felt a part of me died.

My elder brother told me that he had just -- last week -- thrown away my Brownie uniform. This was all the more difficult to bear because I had just told a sister to look after it for me because on my next trip I would be collecting that item from her flat.

You see, my son has just joined Cub Scouts and has really taken a fancy to the challenge of badge-collecting. This is a little boy who is so shy and finds it difficult to get out of his comfort zone. He joined the Cubs, asked to be enrolled and has now set sights pretty high.

Many years ago I was just like that. I worked very hard to pass all the tests I needed to become a full-fledged Brownie. The Golden Hand, the Golden Bar, etc and became the Sixer of the 'Fairies'. I turned 12 before I could complete all the tests I needed to get me my Golden Wings. One could only get those Wings if one passed a series of tests before one turned twelve.

The positive outcome was I joined the School Band when I transferred to secondary school. I "abandoned" the Guide movement so that I could join the band, learn to read music, play a musical instrument at school. I've always wanted to play music but my parents just could not afford to give me lessons or buy me an instrument.

Had I got my "Wings" I would have stuck with the Guides. Any way, School Band it was.

But I kept my Brownie uniform for all these 30-odd years. Every time I had a chance I would look at the uniform and thought, "Some day I would show this to someone who matters." I wasn't sure whom I would show it to.

With son in the Cubs it suddenly tweaked: I must show him my own uniform. He is growing up in a vacuum as far as his maternal cultural and historical heritage is concerned.

While his Dad could say, "This was where I went to school" or "O! I remember this place well. There is a row of shops round here" and we would walk round to find those shops, etc, etc.

As we so rarely go to Singapore I can't do "This was where I went to school". Not when the first school I went to has since been torn down to be a power station. The second school I went to has been torn down and the new one is more like a country club house to me. The third school I went to has also been torn down for totally new architecture!! (The original buildings were really awful to begin with.)

Through all this tearing down of schools, I still had my Brownie uniform. Until last week, that is, when my brother decided that it was time he took it to the Salvation Army (which runs thrift shops, recycling points, etc in Singapore).

I've since asked as many people as I could to hunt down this uniform. It's just a bit of fabric with seams on it. But this is precious to me because:
  1. Mum had to put aside household money for some time to buy me the uniform.

  2. I worked really hard to earn all those badges and Sixer stripes.

  3. it is potentially an important symbol of shared experiences between my son and me while we live away from the fast-changing physical landscape of Singapore.

And then I remember how my father's stories of his childhood in mainland China were so meaningless to us. We just could not connect with his history because there was nothing physical or material that we could anchor his history to.

We could not understand the poverty he talked about. We could not understand why -- despite us being poor relative to many people we know -- we had to put money aside to send things like bicycles and sewing machines, etc, to his relatives in China.

I would love to have a bicycle for myself, thank you. Instead all I had was, "We filled another crate with this and that and that and this" while we in Singapore had to do without those same "this and that and that and this".

I don't think I actually connected with my father until after I had been to China myself. But that is another story.

Well, unless a miracle happened and that uniform is recovered, there is now nothing for me to show my young son of my childhood in Singapore. Still we hope to visit Tiong Bahru, that estate we called home. Hopefully things have not changed so much in that sleepy area of Singapore.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts (Episode 4)

The last episode of this series is a bit of an anti-climax.

Basically all six young people decided to be more cautious as to where their clothes come from.

The person who stood out this time was Stacey, she with the inimitable smile and indefatigable spirit and an ever-ready 'Namaste!'. She went about looking for child labourers and at the end of the show we found her returning to the factory where a boy labourer was to be sent home. She was indignant when she found another young child there.

The team also visited a rescue shelter for boys rescued from child labouring. (Whatever happened to the girl child labourers?) There they hit upon the brilliant idea of repainting the walls. The children added their favourite pictures and everyone seemed happy.

Stacey then managed to procure pictures drawn by these children and auctioned them off at a private function she organized.

Meanwhile Tara went off in search of an organization that promotes fair trade and which shares out its profit amongst its workers. When she tried to get them to sew a design inspired by her days in the cotton fields however, she found that their sewing skills were not up to the standard required to produce such garments.

I have high hopes that when Tara (and her mum) sets about designing their next collection that they would consider using more of such workers from such cooperatives. Where these workers lack in skills, effort must be made to train them to do better.

So a positive result all round. These young people relate better with their own parents. Amrita sells her designer clothes to give the money to a worthy cause and Richard talks about the need for clothes labels to give 'health warnings', etc.

But the most troublesome question was: what would happen to these child labourers or even those adults in sweat-shops if we decided to stop buying what they produce?

If within a day we (everyone of us) were to double or treble what we normally pay for an item of clothing and say, make sure the primary producers get a fair share of this, would we be able to rid us of their sweatshops?

On the other hand, is it going to get better if we stood still and did nothing?

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Christian Aid Week 11th-17th May

We went to a different church on Sunday because my soon-to-be-enrolled Cub Scout son wanted to attend a ceremony at the church which sponsors his pack. We learned that it is Christian Aid Week.

There is a little old lady who faithfully comes round to every house on the street at this time of year with this little envelope, and she'd come back again to collect, hoping that people would put some money in it. I really take my hat off to people with that kind of committment.

And so we faithfully give.

Present Aid is the 'shopping' outlet for Christian Aid. Through this site you could buy various gifts -- even a can of worms -- that will make a significant and positive change for those who need it most.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Shopping ethically

In line with my current interest in the Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts series, I thought it worthwhile to link to some ethical / organic shopping sites. Apart from People Tree listed by Laura in a previous post (thank you, Laura.) :

Sale on here for 10th to 18th May

My husband is looking for some casual organic cotton shirts (to replace those from the last millennium). Any recommendations?

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts (Episode 3)

Hats off to these young people for their cooking skills. I am suitably impressed.

While five of the team were slaving at the cotton mill, Amrita who found herself allergic to this work took to the market and cooked up a meal for the team. No one complained, so the food -- which looked good -- must be good.

Several of the team members complained about headaches. It might be the sun, or it could be the pesticides, we will never know.

Apart from finding it difficult to complete the task set for them, leading to the owner of the mill having to resort to asking his regular workers to work overtime, there was also the ongoing dispute over who should clean up the toilet.

The girls insisted that the boys had blocked it up and the boys insisted it was the toilet tissue used.

No one -- and nothing -- budged. So the stand-off and stench continued. By the end of the programme we still didn't know how it was resolved. But a plumber would cost 120 rupees.

It just reminded me of how boys and plumbing somehow do not mix.

What is it about boys that they would not put their hands into the sink to clear a blockage, let alone unblock a blocked toilet.

I used to partner Bernard G at Chemistry lab while preparing for my A Levels. At the end of each gruelling three-hour session we were supposed to clear the sink. But would Bernard stick his fingers into the drain hole to pick up some escapee litmus paper?


Nothing I said would persuade him to clear the sink.

This programme suggests to me that the young people have never had to clean a toilet and therefore did not know how.

Good to see that Richard has stopped complaining. Hilarious to see him mucking around the mountains of plucked cotton. The supervisor told him to work and not have so much fun.

Richard's reply was his workers would work better if they had fun at the same time.

At 70 rupees a day for seven to eight hours work, what fun can you talk about?

Also very odd that he said, "I'd kind of forgotten that someone has to pick the cotton."

Just as milk comes from cartons, Richard thought (logically but wrongly) that someone had invented machines to do the actual cotton-picking. Not in India.

In the mega-farms in USA, they do use heavy machinery, but this can only be done after chemicals have been used to defoliate the plants.

Already the six are coming round to think that it is unfair that so little should be paid for so much hard work. So we live in hope that next week 'fair trade' would take on a different meaning for them.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

How could fathers do that?

Having posted three times about mothers (even though I sometimes meant 'mothers and fathers') I guess it is only right to post this.

But I found it too difficult to write about this. It challenges all that I held about fatherhood.

The news is still about the Austrian father who imprisoned and abused his daughter.

It has also affected my faith in thinking that "God does not make mistakes".

Did God make a mistake in allowing the birth of this very evil man?

Did God make a mistake in allowing the birth of these children/grandchildren?

Having learned that I nearly did not get born because of the impoverished state of my already large family (Mum was advised to abort me) I thank God that I was given an opportunity to life. I love my life. I feel that I have been able to do so much about my life.

Then we think of those children, many such children especially in areas of civil and political conflict, born of rape and we wonder "Why does God allow these children to be born?"

How could our all-loving God allow such children to be born to such suffering not of their own making, or even that of their mother?

I do not have the answers (yet?), but this case is just so beyond the incredible. It sickens me just to think of it. Was this a man, or was this an animal?

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