Nepali Times
Nation
Cabin fever


CHONG ZI LIANG


SINGAPORE- "Honey, the police are outside, and they want to see you." Make that the mosquito police. In the supposed police state of Singapore, it's not the men in blue that we're afraid of. It's the officers from the National Environmental Agency that strike fear in our hearts.

These government agents have the authority to do a spot check on any home (even cops need a search warrant for that) for stagnant water in pails or flowerpots. If mosquito larvae are found, a hefty fine is slapped on the homeowner.

In land - scarce Singapore, high-rise government flats house more than 80 per cent of the population and draconian measures against blood sucking insects are just one of the things apartment dwellers have learnt to live with.

And while some of the rules make sense - dengue fever remains a big problem in Singapore - others are outdated. Racial quotas are placed on every single apartment block to ensure that they reflect the demographics of the country.

The rule was put in place in an effort to allow Chinese, Malays and Indians, who together form the majority in Singapore, an opportunity to learn to live together instead of living separately in their own enclaves.

Kathmandu, let alone the whole of Nepal, with its myriad of different ethnic groups, would have a nightmare implementing such a law.

A racial quota sounds great in theory, but in practice Singaporeans, perhaps having grown used to living in such close proximity to total strangers, hardly interact with their neighbours anymore. Instead, the well-meaning rule has drawn criticism as it makes it difficult for minorities to sell their flats.

Ethnic Indians, making up just 10 per cent of the population, would naturally have a harder time finding a buyer from the same race. This has led many to complain that they are forced to sell their flats at a price lower than the market rate in order to find buyers. Despite such criticism, the rule is still in place today.

Other unwritten rules emerge as people learn to accommodate others living in the shared space. Laundry must be wrung before it is hung to dry so water doesn't drip down onto the balconies below. Common corridors are not to be cluttered with personal items.

When these codes of conduct are broken, apartment dwellers have to work out their differences themselves. Just last month, my father knocked on my upstairs neighbour's door to get them to stop the kids from dropping marbles on their floor (our roof) at midnight. My mother has had to venture further. She went three floors up to tell off the family whose laundry was dripping blackish water and soiling our newly cleaned bed sheets.

As the population grows, new apartment blocks are getting taller. The block that I've lived in for the past 20 years is 12 storeys high. About 10 years ago, 30 storey blocks began to rise up. Now, there is a 50-storey housing building being constructed. The sky is truly the limit.

This can only mean one thing - bad news for people with a fear of heights. No point getting a flat on the 45th floor with a view of the sea at sunset when looking out the window induces a fainting spell.

But Kathmanduites should have no such fear even if apartment blocks are built as housing solutions. After all, Nepal's capital lies at 1,400m above sea level. What is another 12 storeys up?

READ ALSO:
A flat life - FROM ISSUE #461 (24 JULY 2009 - 30 JULY 2009)



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