a safe swiss haven?

Everyone who has visited or lived in Switzerland can be easily lulled into a sense of ‘feeling safe’. Compared to many other European countries (especially when you read the many news reports of teenagers looting and setting cars on fire), Switzerland is indeed a beautiful and peaceful country and its people are generally quite shy and reserved. This is the place where between 12 to 2 in the afternoon on weekdays and for the whole of Sunday, no vacuuming, drilling, hammering or loud rhythmic bedroom noises are tolerated because this is the time set aside for farm animals and old people to take their naps.

That is why it always comes as a surprise and great disappointment to me when I hear about incidents of house-breaking, school-bullying or any other forms of anti-social behaviors. Then again, most of such stories were passed down from a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend. Well, you get the idea.

I had my very own encounter with anti-social behavior a few weeks ago. I was on a swing on the playground near my house with my son when I saw two teenagers skate-scooting up the pedestrian walk next to the playground. They rode past a house with a big bush covered with easter decorations and started pulling the ceramic bunnies and eggs off and throwing them really hard at the house. Never in my life have I witnessed such unprovoked meanness. They then made their happy escape, laughing proudly at their misdeeds before they realized I saw everything. The skinnier boy raised his hand up at me. I couldn’t tell if he was waving at me in blatant defiance, or making a Nazi salute at me. I reciprocated with a firm middle finger. I think he was quite taken back and was not expecting any reaction from me. Anyway, both of them rode off.

Five minutes after my ‘act of bravado’, I finally had time to think like a responsible parent. What if the 2 big kids started attacking me and timmy? There was no way I could fend them off. They were armed with two big skate scooters; I had only my iphone (30% charged battery) and an innocent, snotty-faced child busy burying his toy car in the sand with not a clue in the world about what happened. I kept turning my head to make sure the 2 boys were not hiding somewhere ready to throw their skate scooters at me.

Last weekend, we saw a lot of trash like a Macdonald’s take-away bag and other plastic bags lying on the grass infront of the lake and on our front porch. My neighbor who lives 2 blocks away from us said that weekend, there were also a lot of trash found hanging on the trees!

The weather’s warming up really quickly now and a lot more people are starting to have picnics or use of the free bbq-pits infront of the lake. I have to remember to remind my husband to find somewhere less conspicious than the bins by the lake to dispose of our son’s soiled nappies, prawn shells and chicken bones. You don’t want any gooey poo dripping on you when u relax under a tree by the lake! I don’t want him to be made a scapegoat for all the trash spawned on public grounds when all we want to do is keep our balcony nappy-poo-stench-free. (read my blog about ‘the price of being green’)

Another friend who lives about 2 streets away from us said her neighbor’s huge Dodge, which was parked out in the open, was set ablaze late one night. There is still an ugly melted-in patch of tar left on the front porch where the fire took place. Who would do that? Maybe someone who doesn’t like american-brand lorries.

Most Swiss kids we’ve encountered are polite and quiet. A few years ago, my husband took my son out til close to midnight and was trying to get down the escalator at the railway station as fast as he could with the pram to catch the last train home. A teenage girl dressed in goth black got her boyfriend to 1) put down his carton of beer, 2) hold the train doors open for my husband and 3) help him carry the pram up the steps.

I always think Swiss kids, very much like Singaporean ones, are very sheltered, protected and somewhat more guilible than their european/south-east asian counterparts. Both have a well-educated and affluent population, and both countries do not have to grapple with issues of social unrest, poverty or war.

Perhaps it is due to the absence of pressures and conflicts, that the young become restless, and take it upon themselves to create armaggadons in their own little backyard.

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Home sweet home

I got back from Singapore last week and headed up to the Swiss Alps for a weekend of skiing with friends. Singapore and Switzerland, my two homes, are as different as chalk and cheese, or in this case – kaya toast and swiss cheese. The cold crisp air up on the mountains hits you in the face and gives you an intense brain-freeze, as much as the humidity in sunny Singapore makes you feel like a shrivelled prune after 70% of moisture in your body has been sweated out of your pores.

I’m still not quite sure which experience I prefer more though.

I love Singapore and am really proud of all its success and good standing in the world. The Singapore that I flew back to looked a little more edgy, more hip and cool, albeit a little unfamiliar and distant from my childhood memories too. The energy of a bustling city is so intoxicating. I felt as if my senses are shaken up and were on the receiving end of stimulus-bombardment all day long. First of all, how many new cab companies have sprung up in Singapore in the last 5 years? I saw a jumble of white, black, blue, pale green, silver, red and orange taxis plying the roads now. The new grid on the MRT train network looks so complex. And the food centres are crowded every minute of the day.

This is one of the constants in my life: the veteran blind musician playing faithfully to the faceless crowd that walks through the Orchard road underpass everyday. He has been there for more than 10 years and he still looks the same. He still plays the same repertoire of evergreen songs too. I wonder what goes through his mind about the rapid changes in Singapore. Does he now hear more accents and people speaking in foreign languages walking by? or maybe a more altruistic and kind audience who appreciates his quiet presence there?20120314-124950.jpg

The super chic Singapore:

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20120313-220707.jpgThe famous 50-storey public housing apartment blocks20120313-220605.jpgwhere’s wally? 20120313-220409.jpgOld shophouses given a new breath of life

20120314-124926.jpgroom with a view: from my mum’s living room on the 24th floor20120313-220849.jpg

the sun rises on the marina bay sands 20120313-221032.jpg

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the city that never sleeps

the price of being green

A blog post has been circulating on facebook, written by a guy who went to the supermarket and was reminded by the young cashier to bring his own bag in the future, and that all the environment problems that we now face are because his generation didn’t do enough to ‘save’ the earth. Of course he refuted by talking about his generation’s way of life with fewer energy-wasting appliances, re-filling old bottles and walking to work instead of driving cars that emit too much toxic fumes etc.

here is the post if you are interested to read: http://gaasedal.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/anyone-over-the-age-of-35-should-read-this-as-i-copied-this-from-a-friends-status/

I must admit I am not much of a ‘greenie’, but I try to do what I can by reusing plastic bottles, printing on both sides of the paper, doing my 10-year series assessment books 2 to 3 times before my A’ levels, using the ‘weak’ flush option if I am just peeing (altho my husband complains I always leave toilet paper floating in the bowl), and I try not to waste food by eating my son’s leftovers, and my friends’ leftovers if we eat out.

Living in a high rise apartment in Singapore most of my life, it was a way of life to throw all types of trash down a long rubbish chute with little care of the noise of glass bottles splintering into a million pieces down 24 storeys, or any notion of recycling plastic or glass items. Most people I know cannot sleep without air conditioning, otherwise you end up drenching your bedsheets with sweat because of the 80% humidity. Almost everyone owns a car despite the efficient and extensive public transport system, costly road tolls and parking fees. Shopping is the 2nd favourite past-time of Singaporeans, and most hardly worn clothes or old models of iphones or electrical appliances can be easily disposed of when the ‘garang-guni’ or ‘rag and bone’ man comes by and takes them away for you. He even pays you a token fee, usually $0.50 to $5 for your junk.

Switzerland must be one of the top ten countries that puts great importance on energy saving efforts, research into using cleaner fuels, recycling and keeping the environment clean and green. Afterall, what is Switzerland without their creamy snow-capped mountains and cows running carefree-ly on luscious green fields. This year, the ruling party with their proposals to reduce the number of foreigners moving into Switzerland lost their majority stake to a new party with a serious green agenda.

I find sometimes being green comes with a price. And it doesn’t need to be monetary.

Our town council hands out a yearly calendar listing the schedule for the collection of cardboards (usually once every 2 months), newspapers (once every month), and Christmas tree and other plant waste. For our apartment, the rubbish truck only comes once a week to take our trash away. Those with young kids would know how quickly your rubbish bag gets filled up with soiled nappies and milk cartons. We usually store all the stinky soiled nappies on the balcony, that is why the balcony, with an awesome view of those creamy snow-capped mountains is hardly used. Each 35-litre rubbish bag costs about chf 2, and if you leave your trash out much earlier than the stipulated day of the week, you run the risk of your trashbag being ripped open by deranged dogs or crazy pent-up youths; or civic-minded neighbours reporting you to the authority after they’ve rummaged through your smelly compost and found some form of identification like a letter with your name, or a soiled nappy, especially if you are the only family with kids. (they fail to realise some older adults use nappies too). My husband use to do a secret run in the middle of the night to throw bags of soiled nappies into the public waste bins opposite our house along the lake. I think someone must have found out what he did and changed the bins to ones with a very narrow opening.

Every Saturday morning begins with a 3-min drive down the road to the recycling area to dispose of our brown, white, green glass bottles and plastic containers.

We had a family outing last Saturday morning to The Big Dump to dispose of some large wooden crate boards and chunky styroform pieces. My husband bought me a massage chair from Singapore and it was delivered in a huge wooden crate. Thankfully we got the help of 5 muscly friends over New Year’s to carry the chair up 3 storeys of stairs and into our bedroom. The massage chair weighs 120 kg, but together with the wooden box it came in, it weighed 200kg. (This is to give you some idea how heavy the wooden boards that I have to help my husband put on top of my little Audi S3 were).

Going to the Dump is quite the experience. We were the 2nd last car to drive in, (it closes at 1130 am on Saturday and we arrived at 1115am), and there was still a long queue of cars waiting to go to the Dump. All the cars have to park in designated lots and wait for the dumpster guy to come and assess the amount and type of rubbish you are disposing. We were told our rubbish cost chf 50 (!!!??!!!), and that we have to carry them to the dumping containers all by ourselves. I thought to myself, why are we being penalised for disposing our rubbish???

We left our son in the car backseat and planned the best way to hold the wooden boards without getting any splinters into our palms or getting poked in the eye by the few sharp nails sticking out from the sides. I was cussing and telling myself if we were in Singapore, we could easily hire a truckload of bangladeshi workers (and this is not a joke) and pay them peanuts to take away the wood pieces. I dragged the boards, along with whatever shred of dignity I have left, up the flight of stairs and do a clumsy toss/swing of the rubbish into the dumping containers. There was a lady with full-on dark grey eyeshadow, dirty-blond pigtails and thick gloves ploughing through all the rubbish to see if there are any knick knacks she could savage. I suspect she comes here quite often.

I don’t know if I will live long enough to see the reward of my back-breaking efforts. Perhaps the end of the world will come soon and the alps will be flattened to the ground when they get hit by an alien fireball. The Swiss’ costly efforts in building artificial lakes on the mountains to pump out artificial snow would all go down the drain then. Or maybe we will all die from breathing the toxic fumes from smelly nappies.

My husband told me the last time he went to the Dump to dispose of our old furniture when we were moving house, a group of scavengers cheered loudly as one guy waved something in the air.

The lucky guy had found a stash of porn DVDs in one of the bags in the containers.

Well, at least the videos would get a new lease of life in someone’s bedroom.

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