The Stop Cooking Indian Curry Story Upsets Me

Sunday, August 21st, is Cook a Pot of Curry Day. A brilliant group of Singaporeans set up a facebook page to celebrate curry as our way of life and it already has 17,364 attendees. (Update on 19 August 2011: The page has gone viral in Singapore with 58,093 attendees)

I think the government moderator didn’t get the memo, but even our Singapore Food Festival 2011 was all about curries and spices.

What I posted 2 days ago:

I couldn’t help but be annoyed by this story about the Indian Singaporeans who had to stop cooking curry when their neighbours who are from China, were at home, because they didn’t like the smell of curry. If the Indian family does not adhere to this, they can be sued in court. The first thought that came to my mind…. “What the heck?!” I am shocked that such a request was even entertained by the mediation centre.

The solution just seems unfair to me. When you’re a guest in another person’s home country, you wouldn’t ask them to stop their cultural practices that are the norm of that country, would you? I find the situation and solution proposed by the mediator highly insensitive. And what kind of precedence is being set? It is this kind of thing that upsets locals and causes unnecessary friction as this blogger shares.

It makes me wonder. What will be next? No cooking belachan or eating durian when the neighbour is at home? It is also unfair to visitors living here who make a strong effort to integrate and genuinely enjoy learning about new cultures and trying out new experiences. It’s a case of one rotten apple spoiling the whole barrel and will lead to stereotyping, which is always dangerous.

Case 1: A family, who had just moved here from China, had resorted to mediation because they could not stand the smell of curry that their Singaporean Indian neighbours would often cook. The Indian family, who were mindful of their neighbour’s aversion, had already taken to closing their doors and windows whenever they cooked the dish, but this was not enough.

“They said: ‘Can you please do something? Can you don’t cook curry? Can you don’t eat curry?’,” said Madam Marcellina Giam, a Community Mediation Centre mediator. But the Indian family stood firm. In the end, Mdm Giam got the Indian family to agree to cook curry only when the Chinese family was not home. In return, they wanted their Chinese neighbours to at least give their dish a try.

{via The Today Paper}

Part of the problem is that we live in such a densely populated space in close proximity, but if you chose to live in another country, you should respect their right to their cultural norms and traditional practices.

Didn’t feel at all like blogging about this, but I just couldn’t let it go.

Looks like I was not the only blogger who felt the need to vent:

It’s Not Just About Curry
I Love Curry
Disappointed
Eh! Can you not cook curry?

Note to Commenters: Very sorry, I’m not allowing free speech here (oh the irony), but I had to moderate some comments, as I normally do for this personal journal of a blog. Especially for this post. Thank you so much for taking the trouble to comment, but I tend to delete expletives, threatening language and such. Call me fuddy duddy (I’m old), but am not too comfortable with it. Totally understand that everyone’s very passionate about this topic and I appreciate that. I was pretty irrate too, when I first heard about it. Didn’t expect this post to get that many views.

You can read my latest update about the Curry Storm here.

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore helps me survive the mid-life crisis
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35 Responses to The Stop Cooking Indian Curry Story Upsets Me

  1. Pingback: Eh! Can You Not Cook Curry? « SINGAPORE MEDIA OWNERS

  2. Allan Lee says:

    Hi,

    I linked your article to mine too, don’t mind me. 🙂

    • bookjunkie says:

      I felt so upset and it’s reassuring that I am not alone or not too unreasonable in feeling this way. thanks for the link

  3. C says:

    I was also frustrated by this story.

    As an expat I definitely struggle with integration at times. I don’t always like the smell of local food (and today the wafting scent of durian mooncakes was not a helpful with regards to my nausea).

    BUT…and here’s a big one…I understand several things…
    1-No one is purposefully trying to offend/hurt me
    2-Unfamiliar doesn’t mean bad, even if it’s not MY cup of tea
    3-I can close a window, change my seat, not eat a restaurant if the scent from something bothers me.

    I think the Indian family was perhaps too gracious, and the Chinese family hypocritical as I can think of plenty of Chinese dishes I would not want to smell.

    The thing is, I don’t know if this is specifically an integration issue, even though there is a local family and a foreign family involved. I would argue instead it’s about selfishness versus openness.

    Like you said, we have chosen to live in a high population density center. There are sacrifices this involves and dealing with your neighbors is one of many.

    • bookjunkie says:

      Was looking forward to your thoughts Crystal….thanks for sharing 🙂 I do agree as well, that a harmonious society is built on openness that seems to be absent in this case. Was upset that the mediator came upon that ruling as well which didn’t seem very fair to me and might lead to so many other similar types of rulings….a bad domino effect? It might even go beyond just food.

    • Rashvender says:

      I totally agree with u

  4. Alan Wong says:

    How does one expect the Indian family to survive without their favorite curry AND how does one know in advance whether your neighbour is at home ? Are they waiting for a time bomb to explode ? And they called it a win-win solution ?

  5. anon says:

    IT IS THE HEIGHT OF THE RIDICULOUS! WHY ARE SINGAPOREANS BEING BULLIED IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY?

    This is yet another sign of how perverse and obtuse the govt has become at the expense of Singaporeans.

    When in Rome do as the Romans do.
    Have that Chinese family heard of the saying?

    The mediation centre if it has any sense of fairness or respect for locals who also happen to be their own countrymen, should have merely done a survey among the other neighbours of the Indian family. If most of them think it is all right then there is no case.

    • Soojenn says:

      The mediator.. Is a cuckoo.. So can the Indian family tell these immigrants from china not to cook Chinese food?

      Cannot imagine a Singaporean advocating this decision and claim it is win win.. My god.. Where are we heading towards.

  6. Pingback: Daily SG: 11 Aug 2011 « The Singapore Daily

  7. anon says:

    Give an inch and they want a yard. Soon WE will have no room to even stand. The only way to make a point is to stand firm and publicize LOUDLY what the govt is doing to our decades of inter-racial understanding and tolerance and mutual respect and tolerance.

    When in Rome, do as the Roman do.

    I bet you if these same people were to do the same in places like NZ, Europe, US or Australia, they would be bashed to a pulp or hounded out of the neighbourhood and eventually the country as MISFITS who are unable to fit in with the local community.

    Only with a govt as absurd as this place that a new comer can make demand on locals whose forefathers helped open up this place that is providing them with the opportunity to come over.

    Please publish my comments as I am only speaking the facts.

    By the way, if we are foolish enough to vote in Tony Tan as EP, be prepared to hear him side with the foreigners. We may even be disallowed to eat durians in our own home.

  8. Senior Citizen says:

    I am rather disturbed by this incident and the mediation result.

    Try going to stay in Taiwan and complain about the Taiwanese smelly toufu and see what the outcome would be.

    This incident is a sickening example of how an insensitive and bending-over-backwards Singaporean mediator (official) is currying favour too far. This must be stopped at all costs. Otherwise our harmonious society that we have built up over the last 47 years will break into pieces in no time.

    The highest office in our land should take note of this incident and put a stop to prevent more of such incidents happening, before things get out of hand.

  9. Grace says:

    Very angry of the whole issue on cooking curry at home.So should all Singaporean who likes cooking curry leave Singapore and move to another country.So this shows that we must live to the liking of foreigners.Let the foreigners have all the say and we singaporean have to keep quiet

  10. MYB says:

    ‘you have to live with the discomfort’
    ‘foreign talent = better society’ Certainly not this type of ‘talents’

  11. Tharenii says:

    Hi I think this mediator is dumb as heck

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7MLVMKXd7s&w=560&h=349%5D

    Check oout this video done by me. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7MLVMKXd7s

  12. Belinda Lee says:

    I too am disgusted. I wrote to the Min of Law….
    I find this whole issue shameless and disgraceful!!!!

    This is my email which I wrote when I was seething:

    You have set a precedent! Each time I don’t like any of my neighbours of a different ethnicity cooking something I can bring it up to your department???

    I was born here. My husband and son did their national duty. Yet, if one of our imported citizens – probably I have to be a little more specific here, our imports from PRC – make a complaint against me cooking something I can be asked to give in to my neighbours from PRC???? Aren’t you being a little facetious in your role???? The Indian family can be brought to court because their priveleged neighbour brought it up to you??? So we, the minority in Singapore aren’t represented because we aren’t of the same ethnicity as the complainant?

    Give me a break!!! Our taxes go towards paying your salary? What is this country coming to?

    And this was their response:
    Dear Mdm Lee,

    RE: Bending Over Backwards In our own backyard!!!

    We refer to your email dated 10 August 2011.

    2 We thank you for your feedback and concerns raised regarding the article in TODAY, “Number of neighbour disputes hit high” (8 August 2011) and write to clarify the case facts. The article stated that community mediator, Mdm Marcellina Giam, “got the Indian family to agree to cook curry only when the Chinese family was not home”. We have checked with Mdm Giam and this is inaccurate. The solution to the dispute was proposed by one of the parties and accepted by the other party. Mdm Giam did not propose the solution for the parties, neither did she impose it on them.

    3 This is in fact the crux of mediation. The community mediators, who are trained volunteers, act as a neutral third party to facilitate discussions between the disputing parties. Their role is not to decide on the outcome of a case; they have no authority to do so. The final outcome, which is unique to each case, must be a mutually acceptable solution arrived at by both disputing parties after discussion. Mediation seeks to provide an informal and amicable way of settling inter-personal, social and community disputes to cultivate a more harmonious, civil and gracious society.

    4 In cases where parties are of different ethnicities, cultural background or nationalities, the community mediators take great care in trying to get parties to understand the varying perspectives, and foster greater understanding and communication. In this particular case, despite clearly different cultural backgrounds, both parties were able to come to a mutually agreed solution by themselves in the interest of neighbourliness.

    5 We have also issued a clarification on the matter in TODAY (11 August 2011). You may refer to the ‘Voices’ section for the clarification at: http://www.todayonline.com/Voices/EDC110811-0000303/Mediators-are-a-neutral-third-party

    Yours sincerely

    Ministry of Law

    I’ve deleted her name out of courtesty.

    • bookjunkie says:

      It’s wonderful that you wrote a letter which all Singaporeans will appreciate. The reply though seems so inadequate….as it is with all standard governmental type replies.

      • Belinda Lee says:

        Absolutely and I said so too in my email in response to the above:

        Thank you for your response. I will share it with those who are really riled up about this. I dread to think whats in store for us natural born citizens :((

  13. tthkkong says:

    We should go to Chinatown and geylang to gather and cook curry there. You can see many chickens at these 2 places.

    When these PRCs come to singapore, they should respect and tolerate our cultures and living habits. We have many different races and nationality living in Singapore. If they cannot tolerate these small little things, then go back to China.

  14. J says:

    I’m a Singaporean living abroad and if I were to make a comment like that to the locals here, it would probably get me deported! But we Singaporeans, know that we have to learn to adapt and respect each other’s culture and habits.

    I am appalled at this happening to our own country.

    My cousin has a neighbour who smokes all day and the secondhand smoke and bad smell gets into their house. They have raised the issue but unfortunately nothing has been done. Doesn’t this case have more weight than curry smell, seeing as this actually affects our health?? And with the governments efforts to curb smoking, they have chose not to do anything about this?? Why?

    Where is the fairness?

    • bookjunkie says:

      I am more upset at the way our government handles things than the person who made the complaint. It’s so unfair and just depressing that they are so insensitive to their own citizens.

      Thanks for sharing about your experience as a Singaporean expat abroad. Yes it’s so true that we wouldn’t dare do the same if we were abroad and governments abroad seem a whole lot more protective of their citizens. I just want to implore those in authority to be more sensitive to our feelings and rights.

  15. Pingback: Cook A Pot of Curry Day (& Chen Show Mao Eating Curry) — Singapore Actually

  16. Lyn Wong says:

    I am actually more concerned that this news was report inaccurately, according to the reply from the Min. of Law (if they are even right to start with). As most of us know, public media in Singapore can be quite dubious sometimes.

    However, I do have a point to make here, which is how often do we have to deal with unfriendly neighbours anyway? I have a horrible neighbour who refuses to spend money to prune his floras and faunas and even claimed that a bee hive (which was on his tree, close to my house) was good and can hardly do harm. The government refused to step in despite of us contacting nparks, nea and the likes, claiming that we are living in a private area and should settle “privately”. Makes me wonder why we need officers-in-charge in private areas at all.

  17. Angeline says:

    Such complaints can be reached to ‘mutually agreement’ by the mediator? It’s indeed very depressing solution.

    The chinese always believe the saying “When in Rome,do as the Romans do”…

    I stayed near to the kopitiam where there is a burmese cuisine foodstall where the burmese cooking smell are pretty strong and unbearable too. Hence in this instance, for those who find it unbearable also approach the mediator to reach for a solution?

    Whatever, we have to learn to accept their unique taste of burmese food. We can’t be so unreasonable in asking the kopitiam owner to ban the burmese cuisine just because the cooking smell are unbearable! Same goes to durian smell, some may find it so nice where some may find it unbearable too.

    Conversely, we have to learn to adapt and respect each other culture and habits.

  18. Ken says:

    Firstly, I would like to say I am a locally born Singaporean. I think we need to examine the incident closely and we should not focus on the fact that it was PRC complaining.

    I believe from reading this piece of news, there are many factors being neglected such as the severity of the irritation caused by the smell of the curry. We all know sometimes the smell of curry can be really strong to one’s nose. So, i feel that the resolution to this problem may not be entirely wrong if the situation is really too severe to be compromise.

    If I am in the shoes of the PRC, maybe I would feedback to my neighbour if what they cook really caused me uncomfortabiliy. I think we should not judge blindly here. Ask and understand the situation b4 complaining abt PRC. Some PRC are good too…

    • bookjunkie says:

      Some of the nicest people I have met are Scientists from China.

      You’re right about the fact that we should not stereotype, but in this case I still feel that the guest in a country should not request for the host to change their way of life. I guess I am more annoyed by the reaction of the authorities than the person who complained. If this situation remained just between neighbours and they talked it out amongst themselves I guess everyone wouldn’t be so irate. The problem started when it became something legal and binding.

  19. sukumaran says:

    …..SEND THEM TO TEKKA TO TAKE A WALK….. I THINK THEY WOULD RUN AWAY FROM SINGAPORE. DONT TEACH US WHAT TO DO AND WHEN TO DO THINGS JUST MYOB IF U CANT TAKE THE LOVELY SMELL OF THIS FOODS LEAVE MY COUNTRY DONT SPOILT THE IMAGE OF YOURS

  20. whatsaysyou says:

    This is a mind-blowing yet eye-opening post you wrote. Thank you for sharing this issue.

  21. Roger says:

    Celebrate the Smells of Singapore
    Food is an important part of any culture and for me, living in Singapore for four years was all about the wondrous cooking smells that assailed my nostrils. I didn’t care if they came to me through the open balcony of my condo or from the street-side foot centres as I walked past.
    Be it balachan, durian or curry these are the odours that help define what Singapore is and should be celebrated, not derided.
    It saddens me that an Indian family has been forced by the legal system to apologise and alter their family schedule due to the intolerance of others.
    We had an Indian family living below us in Queens and the cooking spices they used may have pervaded other apartments but I enjoyed the experience.

  22. Pingback: McDonald’s stops serving curry sauce, causes panic, grief on Twitter | New Nation

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