Fireside Chats

What do you think about fireplaces and firewood?

To a tropical ole Singaporean like me, fireplaces instinctively bring to mind Christmas and socks, and wondering how the socks can be hung over fireplaces without catching fire, or getting soot and ash all over them, and whether people continue to wear them after that. However, I’ve never thought about the idea of firewood to be a way of life, something one thinks and fusses about daily. Sometimes we just don’t understand how certain things can be an obsession to a whole community of people, much like this.

Really? Watching some wood burn on television for hours? Writing in to suggest where the wood should be placed next? This sounds more like an app to lull people to sleep, or some kind of Tetris game. But it’s a culture of a far-off country where winters can be very cold and burning wood for warmth is an important survival resource. What with the invention of electric fires and radiators, it can be hard to imagine that anyone can still place such heavy reliance on axes (isn’t logging illegal for environmental concerns in this era?) and it can seem like a backward practice in a backward place. Or at least, that is what it seems to me.

But I suppose this is where the fascination lies. Norway isn’t an especially backward place — it is one of the most comfortable countries to live in according to many surveys — and it is precisely because in many ways it is similar to our perception of a typical developed country that this stubbornness towards tradition is appealing. It’s not just forest tribes who cling onto the old ways of doing things, but surprises can pop up even in societies so similar to ours. This is what makes the study of different countries much less bland and much more colourful.

Many countries like Singapore aim to be more like the United States. They want to be modern, fast-paced, successful, rich, well-known, bustling, happening. It becomes taken for granted that naturally everyone else wants to aspire towards that too. But is that really the only pace of life we can and should adopt? Many people want to move to places like Australia or New Zealand when they retire. It’s a lot more peaceful there, they say, and slower, and they’ve the liberty to do as they wish. Is it strange then that in their homelands it’s not peaceful, too fast for them and they’re restricted in what they can do? Why can’t people live as they wish in their own home countries, and be friendly and nurturing to each other? Why can’t people watch a show about firewood burning to de-stress, instead of being faced with incessant commercials and violent shows?

Most people think cities are over-urbanised, stressful, fast-paced, full of pollution, congested. But most of them also agree that they wouldn’t want to move to a more rural area, because they need their handphones and their computers and their convenience. Is it possible to ever have a city that combines the best of both aspects, I wonder?


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