CreatureS Cafe and the Book of Revelation

Laksa, CreatureS Cafe, Asian Fusion, Desker Road, Little India, Singapore

Noon on a Saturday after a crazy work week, my empty stomach and I were in search of a good feed, physically and otherwise.

CreatureS Cafe, Asian Fusion, Desker Road, Little India, Singapore

CreatureS Cafe (facebook) on Desker Road (red light at night, but not when it’s bright) looked promising. Ensconced in a corner, I made fair progress through a big tasty bowl of laksa, a slice of durian cake, and the Book of Revelation.

Durian cake, CreatureS Cafe, Asian Fusion, Desker Road, Little India, Singapore
It’s a bit of a tall order describing the Platonic ideal of a bowl of laksa or a slice of durian cake to one with no experience of such matters – “rice vermicelli in spicy coconut gravy” and “pungent fruit in sponge cake” just doesn’t quite capture the lip-smacking lemak lusciousness of the stuff.

In the same way, John seems to be almost hitting the limits of human language with the apocalyptic genre in which he wrote Revelation. But while someone in Outer Mongolia isn’t really going to need to know the taste of Singaporean delicacies, Revelation is applicable to every one alive today and every one who will be born and will live in the future – Mongolian herders, American rednecks, Zimbabwean farmers, Thai hawkers, English chefs, Australian CEOs, the first person on Mars…

Working on the Book of Revelation

In blockbuster movie terms, it is the disaster movie to end all disaster movies. Uncontrollable natural disasters? Got them all. Monsters and beasts? Far more terrifying and powerful than anything ever shown. Something that concerns not just one nation but the whole planet and all of humanity? Yup.

Worse, all this is wrought by the most powerful person in the universe – God. No hope of a deus ex machina turning up and saving people at the end, because God (being really God) decides exactly what happens, and it, well, happens.

Here, in full-colour and Dolby surround sound, we are shown the last days of this universe, and then the end of the world.

If this had been the ravings of a mad man, or a product of the fertile mind of some Left Behind-inspired writers, it would be all somewhat amusing. But it is the message from the God of the universe, told to Jesus, mediated through an angel, and given to John (Revelation 1) for everyone who has lived since the first century.

CreatureS Cafe, Asian Fusion, Desker Road, Little India, SingaporeSo now in current reality, as we go about eating and drinking and working and getting married etc, Jesus isn’t just sitting far off in heaven; he knows exactly what is happening in the churches, his churches. This is a warning to those churches who have been deceived and have wandered from the truth, and a comfort to those suffering because they hold on to the truth (Revelation 2-3).

We’ve also just had Romans 1:18- Romans 3 at Sunday sermons for the last month. God’s judgement on the world isn’t the temperamental whim of a capricious deity, but the completely just sentence of a righteous judge who must, because he is just, punish those who commit the ultimate evil – refusing to worship God as God, and in fact, suppressing the truth about him.

Menu, CreatureS Cafe, Asian Fusion, Desker Road, Little India, SingaporeIn Revelation, we’re taken first through 6 seals – “normal” disasters of war and civil unrest, famine, breakdown of civilisation, then more cosmic destruction (Revelation 6), before the 7th seal opens into 6 trumpets – the escalation of terrible judgement on the earth (Revelation 8:2-9:21), until the 7th trumpet heralds the 7 bowls of final judgement (Revelation 11:15-18, Revelation 15-18) when Satan and all who side with him are utterly cast into an eternity of absolute horror.

Through all this, people are given time to repent and acknowledge God as God. But instead they curse him.

The interludes (Revelation 7, Revelation 10 – 11:14, Revelation 14) assure us though that those who keep holding on to the truth that God is God during the last days will not be subject to God’s judgement in this way (but they will certainly suffer persecution and hardship from, and be killed by, those who disdain God). They endure and conquer not by their own strength, as if there were something great about them, but by the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of Jesus.

To them, an entirely peaceful and intimate relationship with God awaits for eternity (Revelation 21 – 22:5). People sometimes pooh-pooh this as harps on clouds forever, but this shows a lack of imagination. They forget that not only is this when everything will at last be right in the world and in our very beings, this is also a wondrous future with the best person ever, who loves us far more than anyone could ever do.

Advertisements

Showing the Londoners Around Singapore in One Long Day

Two batches of Londoners descended in Singapore over the last month. It was so great to see them, but it made me incredibly homesick for Old Blighty.

Where to bring foreign visitors in Singapore? How to give them a sense of what Singapore is like outside of the constructed tourist attractions?

Singapore as Financial Hub

We started from the Central Business District – the shiny skyscrapers full of hardworking office bees that made Singapore a “financial hub”.

Tour of Singapore: Starbuck matcha lattes at One Fullerton
Tour of Singapore: Starbuck matcha lattes at One Fullerton

Singapore as Tourist Hub

Then a visit to the amazing loos in Fullerton Bay Hotel or Fullerton Hotel to freshen up (a highlight of their trip said two of them), before sipping matcha lattes (“we don’t get this in London”) at Starbucks, One Fullerton, and catching up (and charging phones).

Then on to the necessary cheesy photos with the Merlion and the ArtScience Museum and Marina Bay Sands:

Tour of Singapore: cheesy photo pitstop with ArtScience Museum, Marina Bay Sands, Merlion

Singapore as Juxtaposition Between Old and New

After, a stroll contrasting the colonial buildings and new modernist ones, munching ice-cream sandwiches from the S$1.20 ice-cream uncle: the Victoria Concert Hall and Victoria Theatre, the Old Parliament House and current Parliament House, the Old Supreme Court and current UFO Supreme Court (a trip to the top allows a good view of the city – but no photography allowed in the building), a peek into the unopened National Gallery.

Singapore as Multi-Racial and Multi-Religious Society (and “Foodie Hub”)

Then a rest stop at St. Andrew’s Cathedral with the sun coming through its lovely stained glass, throwing colours all over the pews:

Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore: stained glass colours, St. Andrew's Cathedral
Tour of Singapore: St. Andrew's CathedralThen to Maxwell Market for delicious chicken rice and other “hawker delights” like char kway teow and chai tow koey, and refreshing ABC (apple, beetroot, carrot) and carrot-orange juices, before popping over to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple:

Tour of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Tour of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Tour of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Tour of Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

We’d wanted to check out Lepark at Pearl Bank Centre as an example of how old buildings were being repurposed by young indie folk. Alas, they were closed that day:
Tour of Singapore: Pearl Bank Centre

Ah, some nasi padang washed down with bandung and teh tarik and milo dinosaur at Kampong Glam, off Arab Street

Tour of Singapore: teh tarik at the sarabat stall in Kampong Glam
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore

before being kitted out with appropriate wear for the Sultan Mosque:
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore
The visitors loved how friendly everyone in the temple and mosque was – how they didn’t have to worry about appropriate wear beforehand, and how willing to answer their endless questions. “Can we take photos here?” they’d nervously asked the docent at the mosque. “Only if you post on facebook!” came the cheeky answer.

A gander down self-consciously hipster Haji Lane, then we stopped off at Raffles Hotel for another freshening up (without a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar this time):
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore

Before heading to Ku De Ta atop Marina Bay Sands to watch the sun set and the lights about town come on:
Tour of Singapore: Marina Bay Sands
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore: Marina Bay Sands
Tour of Singapore

Tour of Singapore: view from Ku De Ta atop Marina Bay Sands

Across the bay for some satay and tourist touting on the street next to Lau Pat Sat:
Tour of Singapore: satay stick trophies next to Lau Pat Sat

Thence to Little India (a little too late for the Hindu temples, sadly), for gawking in amazement at the flower garland makers, some (erm, North) Indian on banana leaves:
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore: Apollo Banana Leaf Curry
Tour of Singapore: Apollo Banana Leaf Curry - box of mints
Tour of Singapore: Apollo Banana Leaf Curry - after-dinner mints

A spin around the amazing Mustafa which had almost everything anyone was looking for, then to Geylang for pek at the red-light district and a dessert of the king of fruits – durian! and its friend the jackfruit:
Tour of Singapore
Tour of Singapore - Geylang jackfruit

The Thought Collective’s Diverse-city Trails: Little India Trail

Enjoyed The Thought Collective‘s Diverse-city Little India Trail. With such a groan-worthy pun, no prizes for guessing that there is a link Ben & Jerry’s, of the delicious ice-cream-with-corny-names fame.

The Thought Collective Little India Trail, SingaporeThe aim of these Trails (there are two others in this series – one in Toa Payoh and the other in Jalan Besar):

Thinkscape’s [Learning Experiences (LEs)] are designed to help people see current issues and institutions in a new light. We hope to help participants develop a sense of ownership over these issues, and propel them towards meaningful and much needed action. Thinkscape also aims to be a citizenship portal for young people. We encourage youths to explore and form opinions on issues critical to Singapore’s survival and success, maturing their own narratives and building harmony with our nation’s broader story.

The pedagogical approach appears to be one of curated social learning (if there’s such a thing! and vs. social constructivism) through the lens of narrative inquiry:

Thinkscape creates experiences that advocate new perspectives on industries, institutions and issues in Singapore. We believe that experience is a powerful means to bring conviction and reality to our learning.

Thinkscape’s Learning Experiences (LEs) take the form of trails and workshops, and are designed by The Thought Collective, which comprises of educators, social innovators and advisers from public agencies and civil society groups. Through building narratives for Singapore, we aspire towards transforming the social and emotional capital of our nation.

Having just returned to Singapore, I was keen to get to know certain areas again. Little India was one of the places I’d spent quite a bit of time in the past. Still, the trail was eye-opening.

The Thought Collective Little India Trail, SingaporeSome part of the trail (tour!) was an introduction to the Little India world through the lens of a Indian transient worker, usually working in the construction industry: here is where you’d go to get comfort food when you are off sick, here is where you watch your beloved cricket matches, etc.

The Thought Collective Little India Trail, Singapore

Other bits helped us interrogate the architecture and use of space of the area – to understand the demographic and social changes that (may) have taken place in the last few years.

We were fortunate to meet the one of the few garland weavers left in Singapore. He had previously spoken to our trail leader of the frustration of not finding a worthy successor. The Thought Collective Little India Trail, Singapore The Thought Collective Little India Trail, Singapore

Certain structures and signs (green fences, an open space converted into a car park, a row of shops, prohibition signs, and void deck obstacles were pointed out. They were put in place to discourage the congregation of foreign workers in those spaces, especially during the weekends, and to stop them from cycling through the void deck. The Thought Collective Little India Trail, Singapore The Thought Collective Little India Trail, Singapore

We peeked into some living spaces in pretty old terraces along Rowell Road, and then took a brisk walk through the red-lit back alley of Desker Road: The Thought Collective Little India Trail, Singapore The Thought Collective Little India Trail, Singapore The Thought Collective Little India Trail, Singapore

Then there was the opportunity to talk to people in the Lembu Road open-space: The Thought Collective Little India Trail, Singapore The Thought Collective Little India Trail, Singapore

The pedagogical methodology of “experience and explore” rather than “educate” meant the trail leader’s commentary was somewhat ambiguous, though leaning slightly to the left. This seemed merely to reinforce the perceptions already in the minds of the participants (by sample size of people paying good money to walk around their own country, probably already laden with certain sympathies).

If I’d led the trail, I’d wanted to have been explicit about the concerns and cares of all stakeholders concerned in each case.

Assuming the first step to social cohesion is understanding the perspectives of a group you would not normally hear from or sympathise with, then airtime must be given to both the perceived victim (in this case, the migrant workers) and the perceived oppressor (usually, the rich, the ones in authority – the government or employers, the majority race):

  • not just to transient workers who may be lodged in overcrowded dormitories and have fallen foul of poor workplace practices, but to their employers who may have taken all measures to prevent such things from happening;
  • not just to foreign labourers with no place to congregate, but also to the old people living in the flats above who find themselves living their twilight years almost as if they themselves were in a foreign land, or think themselves in constant danger (a fear either baseless or based on experience) of being forcefully robbed and falling and hitting their head, etc.

I think we have all already been well-fed on the usual tropes of poor victimised migrant worker, and rich fat cat oppressive people in power. But the world is more complex than that, and there are more narratives (and not very straight-forward ones at that) from sinful people than we would like to listen to. Not all poor people are honest or un-opportunistic or non-manipulative; not all the rich got that way by stealing nor will they always fail to care for their workers. We need to be able to give all sides a fair hearing to be able to empathise, and seek real solutions. This is what justice looks like.

You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. (Exodus 23:2-3)

15 “You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour. (Leviticus 19:15)

The Thought Collective Little India Trail, SingaporeGot a bit fed-up with an Australian on the trail, who rolled out the usual “look at all the shiny condominiums and skyscrapers you have in Singapore, built by the blood of Indian workers. You don’t bother with proper safety regulations. And when they fall sick or have an accident, you send them home. You use and dispose them. Exploitation!”

When different groups spoke with various workers chillaxing in the square, they cheerfully assured us that not only were they cognisant of the necessary safety requirements (helmet, vest, ropes, belts, practices), they also knew the Ministry of Manpower guidelines for pay, overtime work, days of leave etc. And they were happy here. There was no work at home, so any sort of work in Singapore was a godsend.

And I recalled acquaintances in the real estate industry wringing their hands over how, much as they tried to implement safety practices on worksites, holding weekly nagging sessions, checking safety gear at the gate, implementing spot-checks, and even fines, terrible accidents still occurred. Some workers, convinced that this namby-pamby society was encumbering them with all sorts of unnecessary safety equipment took them off at every opportunity.

The Thought Collective Little India Trail, SingaporeIn addition to the need for multiple perspectives on certain social issues, I thought there was too much conflation of the purported aim of the trail. The trail leader kept asking what could be done to help transient workers to “integrate” and “assimiliate“. As a Malaysian Indian and I pointed out, (i) it takes two hands to clap; and (ii) transient workers aren’t interested in integrating or assimilating. They were here to earn money to pay off agent fees, then send the bulk back to family, and hopefully save enough to return home and raise their kids and start their own business. And this isn’t just the goal of transient workers but also more generally of the bulk of white-collar types like teachers, IT professionals, researchers.

Being clear about the aim helps us craft solutions more specifically. So while there is no need to help them to assimilate into Singapore society, there is alot that can be done to make them feel welcome in our country, just like you would a visitor to your home.