Saturday, November 9, 2013

Where Are All the Tiger Moms in Singapore?

If the state of a country's political health can be judged by its food, then Singapore is a great argument for a benevolent dictatorship.  T and I recently spent five days there and, between work commitments for me, we did some pretty great eating.  We'd wandered past a little French place in Chinatown during one of our quick walks, and one night we enjoyed an epic meal at La Maison Fantien.  Owned by the eponymous vineyard in Bordeaux, the food was lovely and the wine better, and the warm and romantic dining room upstairs is housed in a building which is a former and by all appearances a rather grand house back in the day. 

We marveled at the architecture, the flowers, genial nature of  almost everyone we ran across, and thrilled at how orderly and clean the entire city appeared.  But what really captured our hearts were the happy children.  Everywhere we went, we saw smiling kids, with their parents looking on delightedly.  On the subway, we saw a group of middle school girls get on.  They talked quietly and giggled a bit, but there were no loud outbursts and they kept their circle wide to include everyone. 

This was also true in Hong Kong, where we spent a weekend following our Singapore excursion.  All over the city, we saw little kids jumping, running, and generally having a wonderful time.  Late in the afternoon, we stopped at a light behind a father and his daughter, aged about 10.  She was speaking animatedly to him, and he was entirely engaged in conversation with her.  It was clear they completely enjoyed one another's company. It made me so happy to watch the love between these parents and their children, and I thought of the evenings when my kids were young and I failed to turn off my Blackberry.  But then I remembered those that I did, and the books we relished together and music we sang to in the car.  I did enjoy my kids. It just went by so fast.

In restaurants, we saw very young children sitting happily and eating all manner of food.  Like the absence of pain, I'd not noticed the lack of temper tantrums until I went to the restroom at a German place in Kowloon's tourist district by the Harbour.  A child was on the floor, screaming, because his mother had gone for a potty break and he couldn't follow her in.  The father stood by, looking hopeless.  As far as I could tell, they were American. God, I've been there, I thought, and wondered how the parents I'd seen in the last week pulled it off.

Singapore's safe and orderly presentation is largely as a result of a strong government presence in all aspects of the country.  Rob someone and get caught, and you can be caned.  Recently an American woman brought over a million dollars of crystal meth into the country, and she is now sentenced to execution.  They don't fool around, and maybe it trickles down somehow to the toddlers. I liked being there, but was glad I didn't visit as an undergraduate.

Still, the happiness I witnessed stayed with me.  A few days after I got back, I went to Central Market, my favorite grocery store in Fort Worth.  As I walked in, I saw a little girl of about four, walking behind her dad and chatting away.  He was pushing the cart, but might well have been a hundred miles away, staring distractedly ahead and paying his daughter no mind.  Who knows what burden he might have been carrying?  Still, it took everything in me not shake him and to tell him to enjoy every minute.  They are gone before you know it.

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