We went over to my niece’s place for dinner on the eve of Chinese New Year. She’s half-Chinese anyway which must tick off some box somewhere in the city. She’s married to a large, cheerful man who not only appreciates good food but is something of a Gordon Ramsey himself. Which, in our book, makes him a very important member of the family.
Anyway, my niece was grumbling that she couldn’t find the pepper. “There’s some in the storeroom,” said almost-Gordon helpfully, then clarified. “No, not the one in the back. I mean, the shelter.”
I pricked up my ears: “The shelter?”
“Yes, we have a bomb shelter,” replied almost-Jaime, revelling in our surprise. “I think it’s like mandatory or something. Let me show you.”
He led us to the kitchen and pointed to a long, thin room on the immediate right of the kitchen’s entrance. Its door had been flung open carelessly to reveal shelves lining both sides of the walls, groaning under the weight of everything from pasta and spices to toilet paper and hardware items.
But the door alone was testament to the reinforced and blast- proof nature of the shelter, a last-gasp recourse against shockwaves and shrapnel in the event of a bombing. To put it simply, it was massive.
We were informed that there were already lights inside but there were extra points where air-conditioning, even a television, could be installed. But “no one bothers, and most people are like us, they use it as a storeroom.”
Singapore has always found paranoia to be a perfectly defensible position. In the 1960s and 70s, it felt vulnerable as “a Chinese island in a Malay Sea” and with the aid of the Israelis, rapidly set out to build a significant military capability.
While its threat perceptions have largely shifted – terrorism, for instance – the paranoia remains. The city-state is widely considered to have the most technologically savvy military in the region with an emphasis on a sophisticated air-force as its main deterrent.
Lest anyone miss the point, however, there are almost 600 large bomb-shelters scattered around the city, mostly in schools and MRT stations. And that’s on top of all homes required to have one since 1996!
Whether it’s practical is another matter. Stripped of shelves and supplies, my niece’s family of four and the maid might ride it out for a day inside, but a few days?
It seems like a recipe for instant claustrophobia. Also, unless you’re on the ground floor, it would not be sensible to use it in a high rise for obvious reasons.
For the record, our place does not have any such shelter although, having had our curiosity piqued, I’ve checked with other Singapore friends. Most said they use it for storage while some said they know of people who use it for their maids – grim! The best one I heard was a fellow who used the room to brew beer. Which is as good an antidote to anxiety as any I know.
Like Paul Simon, however, I suspect paranoia strikes deep in the heartland. Just try its hotline. You’ll just hear a terse bark: “How did you get this number?”
Meanwhile, did you hear about the Singaporean who’s paranoid, dyslexic, and an agnostic?
He’s afraid and worried all the time if there is a Dog.