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Singapore, Singapore

Cook and Share a Pot of Curry Day

Community Mediation Centre

May 29, 2013

Helping newcomers integrate through a celebration of food,  local culture and good neighbours

Photo Credit: JT Singh

In the last decade, the population of Singapore has risen by one million, with a majority of permanent residents arriving from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Although almost 75% of the city-state’s citizens are of Chinese origin, the PRC newcomers have little in common with Chinese Singaporeans – whether it’s the use of English in everyday life or their tastes for various kinds of food served in the region. This influx of new permanent residents from mainland China has created tensions among local Singaporeans who worry that Singapore’s cultural identity – based on its multi-ethnic population and multicultural past – is threatened.

Since independence from the United Kingdom in 1965, Singapore has made maintaining good inter-ethnic relations a high priority. Not only does the country have English, Mandarin Chinese, Tamil and Malay as its official languages, the government has a long-standing ethnic integration policy to ensure proportional representation of its main cultural communities in areas ranging from housing to seats in parliament. For example, to prevent the development of so-called ethnic enclaves, the flats in the government-run housing system (HUB) are apportioned according to an officially designated quota system which specifies the proportion of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Others (C.I.M.O.) who can own apartments in any one building. In recent years, Singapore has also responded to its changing demographics by actively promoting the need for further integration through public campaigns and the introduction of a National Integration Council to promote social cohesion.

The Curry Affair

So what happens when a newcomer family from mainland China complains about the aroma of a curry being cooked in the neighbouring flat of an Indian Singaporean family? In highly regulated Singapore, a solution was quickly dispatched through the government-run Community Mediation Centre (CMC) which offers community mediation services in order to cultivate “a more harmonious, civil and gracious society.” CMC provides a neutral platform for ordinary Singaporeans to resolve disputes amicably without resorting to litigation.  Through CMC, the two quarreling families were able to come to an agreement: one family would try eating a curry while the other was asked to cook the dish when the other family was not at home.

The story does not end there. In the summer of 2011, when news of the “curry affair” became public knowledge , Singaporeans reacted as if the decision was an attack on their multi-ethnic, food-obsessed way of life. The desire to stand up for Singapore’s multicultural identity led to a grassroots movement that rallied around curry as an everyday and essentially Singaporean food, available at hawker stalls throughout the city. Over 61,000 people joined a Facebook event page to “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry Day” as a way to show pride in Singapore’s multicultural identity. While the pro-curry response initially had an anti-foreigner bias, complaints about the biased tone of the conversation quickly resulted in a more positive and inclusive discussion, one that encouraged newcomers to join in.

Success

The success of the 2011 culinary event has led to the establishment of “National Curry Day” held annually on the third Saturday of August when everyone in Singapore is invited to cook, eat and share curry recipes. What began as a dispute between neighbours over a curry pot  has been transformed into a celebratory event that builds social cohesion, strengthens a common identity and introduces newcomers to Singapore’s unique culture.

Contributed by JT Singh (edited and condensed for publication by editors)

Making it Work for You:

  • Skilled mediators can help resolve community or workplace disputes; however the final outcome must be a mutually acceptable and shared solution that all parties agree to honour.
  • Conflict raises issues that sometimes need discussion. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the issue at hand and to develop workable solutions that can be sustained in the long-term.
  • Look for what people have in common rather than what divides them. Community engagement can be as simple as neighbours sharing a meal or a game of football in the local park.


For this Good Idea contact:

Community Mediation Unit, Ministry of Law
The Treasury, 100 High Street
#03-02, Singapore 179434
Singapore, Singapore,
179434
Hotline: (65) 6325 1600
http://www.cmc.gov.sg/


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