Sunday, February 06, 2005

Datapoints Perth 14.

Subject: Back in Singapore. Perth log Day 12.

It takes a while to re-adjust back to Singapore after being away for about two weeks. The usual reverse culture shock after being away for more than a week or so. I probably still need a day or two more to get used to Singapore again.

Took a walk through one of the neighbourhood shopping areas yesterday afternoon and felt totally overwhelmed and disorientated. Had to suppress the urge to bolt from the crowds and run blindly until I could find some quiet space. Not a very dissimilar feeling from when I was stuck in central Wanchai (Hong Kong) area on a heavily raining Saturday night couple years ago.

And there is that adjustment to the oppressive tropical humidity after the dry desert heat. And the smells. I took the MRT during the peak hour and was assailed by the stench of human sweat and the nauseating smell of oil-laden foods kept confined for too long in polystyrene containers. I find myself missing the smell of powdery sun-parched desert dust tinged by eucalyptus.

And there is that social interaction re-adjustment. People not standing to the side on an escalator hence holding up everybody behind them. Nobody clears the trays when they are done at a fast food place. Shoving and pushing on the buses and trains. General lack of respect for personal space in public areas. The incessant touting and rabid purchasing activities when walking through a shopping mall. My blood pressure rising from claustrophobia.


The last morning I was wandering around Perth's shopping areas half-heartedly attempting to (unsuccessfully) pick up trinkets for the folks back home.

Smack in the middle of the high traffic tourist zone was this dazzling array of chalk pastel art works (done on paper) spread out on the floor away from the main flow of human traffic. I do not know much about art, but I liked what I saw. Others seem to agree as the artist had gathered quite a crowd milling around admiring her work. The artist - a petite lady who looked in her mid-30s - was working on another piece on the floor while keeping an eye on her displayed works. A one-woman art DIY exhibition. I stopped and lurked for a while.

There was a small sign besides the works that had words to the effect of: These are some of my chalk pastel works. Each piece is done on Number 8 paper and takes up to 30 hours to complete. If you like my work, throw me a coin that I may continue doing what I love.

A tourist couple offered to purchase one of her displayed works. She declined politely saying that the exhibited works were amongst her favourites that she was not ready to part with. She offered to do a commissioned work and contact details were exchanged.

I emptied my Australia coins into her collections container. It felt good giving a hand (in my limited way) to somebody who makes beautiful things, rather than tossing the coins into some anonymous charity collection box at the airport (as I usually do).


C. writes of how someone comments and "is right about Perth making me soft after too long. I don't have riches, success, or regard, but i do, on the other hand, live where i take such spectacles for granted everyday" (referring to the sunsets over the Indian Ocean).

In that statement lies a hint to understanding the native Perthite's mindset. (Perthite used synonymously here with Western Australia resident as Perth is 70% of population.) Most of us would have read the tourist blurb that Perth is the most isolated city in the world. The population density over Western Australia is amongst the lowest in the world. Perth is also the state capital and population centre of Western Australia. Which is a primary producer (agriculture, livestock, fishery, wine, mining) powerhouse.

You are looking at a very isolated city in an harsh environment which has become more or less self-sufficient. Where land and space are not at a premium. Which abounds in generally untouched natural beauty. In a socialist government which advocates a fair go for everybody and penalizes high-income earners and a social structure that celebrates the battler and detests the tall poppy.

Without understanding the milieu of Western Australia, it is presumptuous of us hard-driven resource-scarce city-state islanders (Singapore and Hong Kong specifically) to dismiss the Perthites as soft lazy unmotivated slobs. It is an easy and very tempting mistake to make. Even Lee Kuan Yew in the 1980s critising Australia's strong unions and social welfare programs and claimed that Australia would become the "white trash of Asia".

We are looking at a very different circumstance, a very different culture, a very different mindset here. I am not sure I understand Western Australia. But I do know that is fundamentally different from the milieu I grew up in.


Blogger Calamity Man said...

it was also a rude shock to me when i returned to sg from a couple of weeks in oz a couple of years back.

i felt the same thing you did. like wanting to run and hide somewhere from all these walls and people.

February 06, 2005 7:19 PM  
Blogger Tym said...

Thanks for sharing your travelogue (although I realise it's not just that). It's thoughtful makes for a good read, even for someone with no intention of visiting or moving to Perth.

February 08, 2005 5:48 PM  
Blogger Patricea Chow said...

I rarely shop at Orchard Rd and when I do, I only do so on Mon or Tue because then I do not have to fight the crowd. I don't like the shopping malls with the throng of bargain hunters and people just hanging out. I appreciate the fact that I can go into work half an hour later than most people as it means that I don't have to be packed like sardines into the MRT compartment and find my face squashed next to the opening doors.

I still wonder how I manage to survive in this island city...

February 13, 2005 2:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't believe you! Don't you dare tell me Perth's trains are not packed? Don't you tell me caucasians don't sweat and have a sweaty smell?

February 15, 2005 9:47 PM  
Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

I was at the Perth main station during the morning peak hour on a weekday and it was nowhere as bad as the Singapore MRT City Hall interchange during weekday peak hours.

Also as I mentioned in Datapoints Perth 02:

68% of population drive to work (or as passengers).
Only 4% of population rely solely on public transportation.
99% of household have at least 1 motor vehicle, with 71% owning at least 2 motor vehicles and 17% owning at least 3 motor vehicles.

February 15, 2005 11:59 PM  

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