Thursday, 14 August 2008

Plumage Power & Hungry Ghosts

The soiled brown beret was worn at a rakish angle. A solitary and bedraggled peacock feather hung forlornly from under its band at the back.

The owner of the headwear, a thin Indian gentleman, was walking ahead of me as we disembarked from the Buena Vista MRT station.

Why had this caught my eye I wondered? In all likelihood it was because such displays of male plumage are rare in the drab conformity of the Singapore morning rush. In Papua new Guinea I recall being quite accustomed to seeing men walking around with half a football on their head, or bunches of coloured grasses, as adornment. The term for such finery was 'bilas' (Pisin from the English word 'flash').

I wear short sleeve shirts in Singapore in deference to the climate. Apart from the uniformed young men undertaking military training, few follow my example and most men wear long sleeve shirts. However I have noted that almost without exception they are rolled up towards the elbows - which rather defeats the purpose of wearing along sleeve shirt in the first place.

On the subject of business, Singapore too is experiencing the effects of the global downturn but thus far, the impact is far less than in many Western countries. Large reserves and prudent management from government has greatly helped.

Inflation is high and biting nevertheless. This is reflected in local traditions such as the giving of hongbao (red packets)at wedding dinners. If you are invited to a wedding banquet you are expected to pass over such a packet and the going rate was until recently $100. To this you can now add another 20%.

We are currently in the Festival of Hungry Ghosts which is not the most propitious of times to move in to new buildings and undertake new ventures. Families spend large sums " feeding" the ancestors and there are also certain activities that take place at this time.

One of these are the Getai performances which are staged for appreciative audiences. As times are tougher the costs of putting on these performances has also risen so there has been a resurgence of interest in the traditional puppetry as a substitute.

The coverage of the Beijing Olympics is dominating the media here and the all day coverage shown in Singapore seems to be a direct feed from New Zealand television, as I recognise the voice of John McBeth the NZ sports commentator.

By comparison to "he of the bedraggled peacock plumage" the costumes of the opening ceremony were simply stunning. There has been much publicity here also about the organisers substituting the child who sang for a "prettier" version.

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