BEDA #10: Of curry, sambal and excessive cooking oil

So two days ago an article about the rise of neighbourly disputes in Singapore was featured on the TODAY Newspaper. It spoke about the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) and the cases it handled, contributing to the main angle of more people in Singapore not being able to “get along”.

One of the cases as mentioned by the CMC, I believe, caused an influx of enraged statuses on Facebook and tweets on Twitter. I’m actually waiting for anything to turn up on blog moderators to see if anyone has anything more in-depth to say so we shall see.

The case is like so: A family from China moved into a HDB apartment. Their next-door neighbour was an Indian family, whom the family from China was unhappy with because of the pungent smell coming from the Indian family cooking curry. The Indian family, knowing the discomfort of the family from China, had resorted to closing their doors and windows when they are cooking curry though it was not enough.

Knowing the netizens, there was an outburst against China Chinese and lines about throwing curry at their doorstep in place of “loanshark paint” (I seriously don’t know where the latter came about).

Now follow me on this – there are many things wrong with this case but I do not think that the origin or race of each family contribute greatly to the degree of which this case is just… wrong. Here’s what I mean:

  1. The Indian family had already closed their doors and windows while cooking curry, which meant they knew their neighbours’ discomfort and have tried to alleviate the situation. While the lack of ventilation will still have the spicy smells being released into the air after that, it’s important to note that the family tried to help the situation.
  2. Name me a part of Singapore that has no “pungent smell” of cooking. If it’s not curry, it’s probably things like sambal or garlic. Any household that cooks will definitely have some kind of cooking smell/ fragrance coming out of it. Plus, Singapore being multi-cultural would mean a plethora of scents from different backgrounds. So if you live in places where households are packed close together, you are bound to have a mixture of smells and fragrances everywhere.
  3. Somehow I find this the most enraging factor – the family from China had asked the Indian family, “Can you don’t cook curry? Can you don’t eat curry?” Which I think was the fuel for all the enraged stuff that splashed all over the Internet.

First thing, any attempt to restrict any household’s (that’s not yours) cooking is already rude or insensitive at best.

Second thing, curry can already be considered a staple not just in Indian cuisine but also probably the whole of Singapore. So asking one not to cook/ eat curry is almost as good as telling people, “Can you not eat/ cook rice? It’s fattening and we don’t want to be tempted.”

The entire case, as said by CMC, concluded with them telling the Indian family not to cook it when the family from China is at home. In return, the family from China had to try the Indian dish.

May not be the best solution but I daresay it’s a step. Regardless, the intolerance in such cases is quite alarming so I’d say my family is quite fortunate that people from the next block do come over just to catch a whiff of my grandma’s curry or sambal and I’m grateful for such neighbourliness.

It’s probably best for everyone to each take a step back, be it about lighting incense for prayers, smoking neighbours or strong smells from cooking. You live next to/ near each other, would it not be better to come to a consensus instead of just killing each other over something that, on the greater scale of things, seems trivial?

Unless your neighbour burgles/ sets fire to your house, then you call the police.

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