S'porean, miserable and proud of it

SINGAPORE - Fishballs really are a waste of time, said a friend recently.

In her Cantonese mind, it's ridiculous to turn perfectly good fish into bleached meat pills.

Any animal can be turned into a ball-shaped food substance, I argued.

It makes for a pleasing shape.

Humans are perverse. It is not enough that we eat the creature, we must display our complete domination of other species by shaping their flesh into loaves, cubes, balls, strips, patties, nuggets and something called "tenders".

She was unmoved and felt that fishballs do not make fish better; they make the entire category of ball-shaped foods worse.

What was interesting about the argument is that I found myself, a person who does not give a hoot about fishballs, defending them like I had invented them.

When someone criticises Singapore, that person better be a Singaporean, or I will get upset; it's like when a clueless Cantonese demeans the noble Teochew fishball.

So in a BBC report from an expat writer, Charlotte Ashton, we have been called a nation of miserable people and of course I felt insulted, even as, two minutes before, I had been raging bitterly about a burly bloke I saw not give up his train seat to an elderly gent standing in front of him and wondering what the hell was wrong with Singaporeans.

No matter what we do, no matter how many times we share a Facebook video of a kid sharing an ice cream with a kid whose ice cream dropped on the ground, a survey from a foreign source will come along finding us emotionless, depressed, undersexed, overstressed and generally in need of a good cry.

I'm beginning to get the feeling that we're the kid at school that gets picked on because he seems so perfect, he must come from a family of sickos. We're the teacher's pet of nations, so we'll get a few hard tackles on the football field from the slower kids.

So let's embrace it. We are miserable, we are fed up and we are living on the edge of a hysterical breakdown. And there's nothing wrong with that.

If Charlotte Ashton prefers to live her life on a cloud of pink fluffy joy in the land of candy-cotton trees next to the refreshing lime-soda river down by the leafy shire where apple-cheeked children have a hearty "Good morning!" on their lips and it's Christmas all year round and purple gumdrops come down when it rains, well, good for her.

Because we do have a lot to be miserable about. We are miserable because we have to pay $112 to watch the World Cup on cable TV.

Other countries get to watch it for free because the cost of buying broadcast rights is spread over a population that far outmatches ours.

We are miserable because our trains are packed and no-one gives pregnant women and old people a seat. We are miserable because we live in a high-achieving high-pressure society and because our children don't score enough in maths and science so we go out and buy workbooks with maths and science inside them so they can be as miserable as we are.

We're drowning in misery because after months of no rain, it's coming down like cats and dogs and even as we are baking in drought or steaming in humidity, we are sucking down haze smoke blown from oil palm plantations chopping down the rainforest to make a food product that is clogging our hearts nestled next to the lungs which are turning charcoal with every breath.

If you aren't miserable, you are not paying attention. If you are already miserable, it means you are doing something right.

We are miserable because when we see people piping up waste oil outside a coffee shop it must be because they are going to turn it back into cooking oil, there's no other explanation for it. Such as them being fuel oil recyclers.

Happiness is not for us, and that's okay.

We're miserable because our favourite restaurant has to close because it can't find a Singaporean dishwasher and we're miserable because the restaurant next door has too many foreign workers who go around clogging up our public transport. Oh, and the misery of our historical heritage sites being torn up for condos and flats and the misery of rising property prices because land prices keep going up.

Hi, are you new to the misery party? Welcome, please help yourself to a drink. Go easy on the beer, prices have gone up. Does that make you miserable? Wonderful - you'll fit right in.

Singapore is given to us to take care of, like a nephew whose parents have gone off on a holiday.

He's lumpy and funny-looking and he's a bit weird but he's our lumpy weird kid. Most times, we put up with him and we might say rude things about him now and then.

But if someone outside the family mentions how odd he is to our faces, watch out.

So go to the country they call the Land Of Smiles or The Place Of Perpetual Bliss or maybe it's called The Grove Of Fluffy Kittens if that's where you prefer to live. I live here because I'm miserable, and I'm proud of it.

johnlui@sph.com.sg


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