A snapshot of a Middle-class Chinese Singaporean`s life

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The first thing that Lim Kiat Chee notices as he climbs out of bed early each workday morning (which includes Saturdays) and pulls the curtains of the master bedroom of his three-bedroom HUDC maisonette (a townhouse or terrace house with a tiny downstairs garden for those inhabiting the ground floor) are the rows of high-�rise apartment buildings visible in all directions from his upstairs window, each separated by grass and quite often containing playgrounds for their younger inhabitants. He considers himself lucky to live close to the street level in a maisonette rather than up to twenty-four stories in the sky, where he would have to face the daily confrontation with the often unreliable elevators. His three-bedroom unit was originally built as public housing for mid-income professionals like himself and has since been privatized. Lim Kiat Chee is a mid-level manager with Singapore Airlines and he bought the apartment with money accumulated in his compulsory Central Provident Fund account. This is the Singapore substitute for a pension scheme into which both employer and employee pay a percentage of their income monthly into a savings account held either as a retirement fund or for buying property and certain permitted investments. Now that the apartment is almost paid for, Lim says he is “happy with my home, my marriage—a love match and not one arranged through government sponsored ‘love boat’ cruises or relatives—and my statistically average number of children.” His working wife, a former SIA flight attendant, now works for a travel agent in the city. Their two elementary-school-aged children both attend a nearby Christian school despite the fact that they are Buddhist (although the family rarely participates in formal religious practices other than attending funerals of elderly relatives). As Lim Kiat Chee showers, he can hear the Filipino domestic worker bustling around downstairs preparing breakfast for the children. Like most middle-class Singaporean families, the Lims have a domestic employee, a Filipino woman not much younger than Mrs. Lim and actually better educated. “Aunty Maria” (as the children address the domestic worker) is a college graduate who gave up a career as a schoolteacher in the Philippines to earn twice as much income in Singapore. On her day off, Maria attends a downtown Catholic church and then gathers to picnic and catch up with many immigrant workers from the Philippines in the Botanic Gardens (Constable 2007; Yeoh, Huang, and Gonzalez 1999). On workdays, Maria takes the children to school, and does the daily marketing on her way home. Upon returning from the local fresh foods market with its cacophony of vegetable, fruit, fish, meat, tofu, and cooked-foods hawkers, Maria’s daily routine entails doing the Lim family’s housework. She cleans, washes, and irons, makes the beds, eats a simple lunch, and then collects the children from school before preparing dinner for the family. Today, the senior Lims decide to go out together to one of the many nearby food stalls close to the market, where they can catch a quick breakfast of coffee, mee siam (a dish of spicy noodles), or roti prata (a kind of Indian bread dipped in a curry sauce). Following breakfast, Mr. Lim takes the subway that now runs out to the airport, and Mrs. Lim boards the air-conditioned bus downtown to her travel agency located in a large shopping center on Orchard Road, the main downtown thoroughfare. Despite the expensive costs of keeping a car in Singapore, where road taxes are deliberately prohibitively high to keep the car population low in such a small country, they do own a car. This they use mostly on weekends, for visits to their parents or for a day at the beach or zoo with the children. The Lims speak a variety of languages in a typical week: they communicate entirely in English with their domestic worker, and primarily in English with their children. They speak Hokkien with Mr. Lim’s parents and Cantonese with Mrs. Lim’s parents. At work they speak either Mandarin or English, depending on the context. Fairly apolitical, they vote (they are legally required to do so)—but otherwise stay fairly far from politics. This they leave to the government (dominated since independence in 1965 by the People’s Action Party), which they consider to be, if rather authoritarian, at least efficient and corruption free. On the whole, they consider themselves pretty well off—a nice family, a pleasant home, two good salaries, and a stable and secure living environment. Though their lives may be relatively uneventful, they are materially satisfying. In these respects, the Lims are fairly typical of middle-class Chinese Singaporeans. Although the Lims’ income and middle-class culture separate them from working-class Chinese families in Singapore (with whom they share little except language), Chinese Singaporeans of all classes generally share a sense of common ethnicity as well as aspirations to better themselves and to participate actively in the Singaporean consumer culture (Tan 2008; Chua 2005; Kau, Tambyah, and Tan 2006).



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