Happy 50th Birthday Singapore!

I am a Singaporean born here in 1964.

Singapore is a rich place. No, I’m not talking about money. It is culturally diverse, interesting, vibrant, ever changing, steeped in tradition while always looking ahead.

We’re not just the little Red Dot. We’re like a rubber ball. We’ll keep bouncing, not matter what. We roll with the punches. We make things work.

A few years ago, I started documenting Singapore to capture its diversity – not just Marina Bay Sands, the skyline, the Merlion and such like – but the fullness of what we have. It’s an ongoing project on http://www.streetsingapore.com.

I’ve put a few of my pictures into a video with the classic “Home Truly” and this year’s SG50 song, “Our Singapore.”

I may or may not be here during SG100. If I’m not, raise a toast on my behalf.

This gentleman is a cleaner at Pasir Panjang Food Centre. I live very nearby so I go there often and know most of the stall-owners and the cleaning staff.

I have a habit of greeting the cleaners and bringing my finished dishes to them instead of them having to come to me. So over time, I’ve developed a relationship with them.

This guy is really cool. He’s from Shandong, China. When I see him, I smile and say, “ni hao” (hello in Mandarin) and he in turn says “Hello Uncle” (yes, I’ve evolved into a heartland uncle). He speaks virtually no English. I speak virtually no Mandarin apart from “hello”, “have you eaten?”, “thank you” and “good bye.”

During our earlier interactions, he was quite shy but he’s now comfortable with me.

Today, I needed a kopi-o gau. So I went there for my caffeine fix. I took the book I’m reading with me.

As I sat down with my kopi-o gau, I saw this gentleman and said hi. As usual, he replied, “Hello Uncle.”

It wasn’t a busy period so he came by and sat opposite me.  Although, I had intended to read, since he sat down, I proceeded to make “conversation” with him.

After “It’s hot” (in English) and “nǐ chīfàn le ma?” (have you eaten?), the conversation predictably stalled.  He picked up the book I had put down on the table. The scene was so endearing. He looked like he was engrossed in the book and studying it deeply. Of course, he didn’t understand a word (it was not even a picture book). I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was holding it upside down.

As usual, I asked him if I could buy him a drink. He always says “no.” But this time, I asked the kopi uncle to bring him a liang teh on my account. He accepted gratefully but a little pai seh. I said it’s ok. We sat together for a while. He motioned to me if I’ve eaten. I said yes.

Soon, a family eating on a nearby table left. He smiled at me, said “xie, xie” (thank you) and went to do his job.

I sat alone reading and drinking my coffee. After I was done, I walked up to him (he was seated on another table with another colleague – a cleaning lady), thumped him in the shoulder and said bye. Both of them beamed in return. I felt great.

For all the ranting about foreigners who live here, there are many many more absolutely stellar individuals. It’s just that these usually don’t make it to social media.

I tell you what. This is Singapore. And I love it. #sg50

Sorry. Couldn’t resist the pun. It was there for the taking.

I think it’s ace. Even if you don’t agree, love all.

It was great watching her play. She was really enjoying her game.

More at Scenes from Singapore.

Canon 5D MK II with Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM

Edited with Apple Photos

I went to Bukit Merah View Food Centre for brunch this Saturday morning. I love heartland life. While Marina Bay Sands, Gardens By The Bay, etc. have more social airspace, the silent majority and real Singapore resides in the heartlands.

Beautiful incidences that don’t make it to social media play out in the heartlands on a daily basis. Well, unless I’m part of it.

Today, I was part of another one.

After brunch, as I headed home, I caught the eye of a gentleman.

I have a habit. Whenever I make eye contact with a person I will smile and/or say a greeting. This gentleman was sitting on a bench in a playground. I smiled and said, “Good morning!”

He was eating a fruit from a bag at his feet. He motioned to me. I approached him. He beamed a huge smile and offered me two fruits from his bag – passion fruit, he explained. Feeling pai seh, I declined. He insisted. Having little resolve,  I easily caved.

I was so touched that I asked if I could take a picture with him. He was lavishly thrilled and happily agreed.

After the picture, he offered me two more passion fruits. It was impossible to refuse this beaming gentleman.

I smiled at a stranger. In a flash, I left with four passion fruits.

Who says Singapore lacks passion?

All it takes is eye contact and a smile.

Think about it. That’s where passion always starts – with an eye contact and a smile.

I love Singapore.

I was asked by a Pastor to share what the Holy Week meant to me. This is what I wrote to her:

Holy Week forces me to focus. It brings the Gospel to reality. God speaks to us through His Word from Genesis to Revelations.

But from the beginning of time to Eternity, EVERYTHING hinged upon the Holy Week. He rode into Jerusalem on Sunday knowing what was going to happen. Monday to Wednesday, he carried on with His Father’s work. On Thursday, was His Last Supper. He served His disciples, even the one who betrayed Him.

Then He went to Gethsemane. Gethsemane is particularly moving for me. Here, His humanity was most harrowing. He could have said no. He had the option. He chose obedience.

Gethsemane changed everything. It changed history. It changed my life.

On Friday, I crucified Him.

On Sunday, God raised Him.

He won. I lost.

What did He do then? He brought me into the winning team.

Holy Week is the entire Bible, entire creation, and eternity brought into focus. Holy Week makes Jesus real to me. Holy Week brings me to me to tears.

Lee Kuan Yew, sir.

I am deeply honoured to be able to say with great pride that I was born and brought up under your watch. Thank you for the privilege. I have learned much from you.

You have now left a hole in Singapore. But that hole shall be our soul.

I will not forget. Thank you.

Rest in Peace, sir.

Danesh Daryanani

I’m an avid photographer. One of my projects is to capture Singapore in all its richness, nuances and quirks before it all fades into oblivion. My photoblog is called “Scenes from Singapore.”

I started it to capture street photography in Singapore but it has slightly expanded beyond that definition – but not too much.

Some scenes I have captured exist no more. For example, this graffiti inspired by the movie, “V is for Vendetta” (2005).

Recently, I ventured into a very old Muslim cemetery to take some shots there. I posted this photo on Facebook with the location tag of the cemetery (In this post, I’m keeping the location vague at the request of the cemetery caretaker).

Photo I posted onto Facebook © Danesh Daryanani

Not long after I posted the picture, a friend of mine, a Malay gentleman, contacted me. My friend, F, is the eldest among three siblings. There was however, a fourth sibling, a boy who was born just after him. Tragically, his brother departed at only 3-days-old in 1973.

F explained that his 3-day-old brother was buried in that very cemetery but he did not have the fortitude to visit his brother. He asked me if I would take him to find his brother. I, of course, immediately said “yes!” and set a date.

I sensed F needed to visit his brother for some sort of closure. Having been to the cemetery before, I know how old and overrun it is and I was not sure if we would be able to locate his brother. And each time I visited the cemetery, there was NO ONE there. Who to ask? I decided to go to the cemetery by myself again before accompanying F to see if I could make any sense of the plot and perhaps devise a strategy to find his brother.

View of the Cemetery © Danesh Daryanani

Alas, no clue. Again, there was no one. Many of the tombstones were unmarked, some were removed and placed in a pile, and others just buried under the plants and weeds that had proliferated over the years. Even those with inscription, many were faded and even if they haven’t, I wouldn’t be able to read jawi or Arabic script anyway.

I wasn’t hopeful that F would be able to find his brother.

On the morning I was to accompany him to visit the Muslim cemetery, I prayed to my Lord and ask that somehow, F will be able to identify at least the plot where his brother lay.

I picked F up. On the way to the cemetery, I attempted to manage his expectations on being able to find his brother. I parked a short distance from the cemetery, offered him some mosquito repellent, sprayed some on myself and took the short walk to the cemetery.

As soon as we walked in, we both saw a tattooed Indian man without a shirt. He saw us too and yelled, addressing us, “As-salamu alaykum!” (Peace be upon you). My friend yelled in reply, “Wa-Alaikum-Salaam.” (And unto you peace).

Caretaker © Danesh Daryanani

Caretaker explaining the geography of the cemetery © Danesh Daryanani

This was the first time ever I saw anyone there.

He happened to be the caretaker of the cemetery. This Indian gentleman was born into a devoutly Christian (Pentecostal) family (his father was a Pastor) but through his own journey, converted to Islam when he was 18. Although this gentleman has a fascinating history, I’m going to keep the details sketchy because he’s a very private person and prefers to remain that way.

I turned to the caretaker and explained that my friend F, was looking for his brother who was buried in the cemetery in 1973. Incidentally, 1973 was the last year that a burial took place in the cemetery.  Besides that, we had no information. Due to the understandable heartache and trauma of the infant death, neither his mother nor father could bring themselves to visit the cemetery.

Curious about me, he asked if I was a Muslim. I explained that I am a Christian. This surprised him on two counts.

I’m a Sindhi (and he knew that as it came out during the conversation). Sindhis are generally Hindu and extremely rare is a Sindhi Christian.

Secondly, he was surprised that a Christian brother would accompany his Muslim brother on such a task as this.

I told him that I take it as an honour and a sacred privilege that my Muslim friend would ask a Christian brother to help him find his brother in a Muslim cemetery.

Let me digress for a moment. There is a lot of talk during this period about Lee Kuan Yew’s accomplishment. The economic success, the glistening bay front area, the international reputation, and many other visible signs of success. But, I stopped and asked myself, “Which other country could see a Christian Sindhi, accompany a Malay Muslim helped by an Indian Muslim (converted from Christianity) to find his brother in an old Muslim Cemetery?” Along with the glitz, this is the stuff that makes Singapore special and would make LKY proud.

Couldn’t resist a wefie with the caretaker who was very game © Danesh Daryanani

OK, back to the main story.

The Indian caretaker took us around the cemetery explaining who was buried at which plot, the rough burial date of each section, what an infant’s grave looked like and through rambling with him, we finally came to a landing on the area (about 3 square metres), where F’s brother was buried.

Having identified the area where his brother lay, F asked me if he could have five minutes to pray for his brother. I said, “Of course. Take as much time as you need.”

I stepped aside, some distance away but close enough to see him.

What I saw was touching. He took out a small book which contained an excerpt of the verses from the Koran that is used for funerals. He was conducting the last rites for his brother. Here, the two first-born boys were united. This was closure.

A touching sight. My friend F, praying from the Koran for his brother © Danesh Daryanani

I watched from a respectable distance until he was finished.

We thanked the caretaker and promised to come back with kopi and curry-puffs to thank him and to shoot the breeze in the cemetery.

I took F home. He thanked me for accompanying him. I thanked him for the honour.

Two men. Different religions. Sure, we may not agree on everything. But there was kinship, there was respect and there was love.


Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honour; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.

Romans 12:9-13


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 823 other followers