It is a good sign. However, it troubles me deeply how it was reported in the news (hell, that it was even reported in the first place). Here is the line that bugs me, please correct me if you think I am putting things out of context or that I am being unfair:
The host even catered to Madam Mehrotra and her mother-in-law's vegetarian dietary needs.Excuse me? "even"? I mean ... what is the point of inviting someone over to dinner if you are not going to make sure they have something to eat? Why would the reporter be so impressed that he wants to even make this point, much less use words that give it significance?
Here is some context from my personal experiences here in the US. I live in a campus town of a University with significant international presence. It is the norm, rather than the exception, to invite friends over for a bit of cultural exchange (usually involving food, from which the exchange then flow through questions, pertinent or otherwise). Invitations are often not confined to cultural events, though the latter adds flavor to the interaction. Potlucks are often the richest form of cultural exchange. The hosts of these events are sometimes not ethnically tied to the cultural event they are hosting. Traditions are almost always cast aside to accommodate the cultural restrictions of your guests. Guests often cast away their cultural restrictions to make things easier on the host, unless it is of deep significance to them. Cultures are as varied as it gets and the diversity is staggering. Forget about the CMIO typecast in Singapore.
Well, I am looking forward to the day these things become non-newsworthy-events in everyday Singapore life.
Frankly, as long as something like the Sedition Act remains, it becomes very hard to have a congenial and casual conversation about other cultures and religions. I have learned a lot about the richness of other cultures (including the many different Chinese cultures) through such conversation here in the US.
On the other hand, I have always found the same to be awkward, at best, while in Singapore. To be fair, I have found that people tend to get upset over the slightest thing in Singapore. I remember an episode in my teenage years when I was sucked into listening to a tense all-night argument between two of my friends just because I happened to mention the word "evolution" in our conversation. Here, even when having conversations about religion and culture in the presence of Indian and Pakistani nationals (I know I know, it's a stereotype), I have yet to offend anyone (though I may have generated some awkward moments). In Singapore, I wonder what happened to the commonsense understanding that when you are among friends, your friends do not mean to offend even if their questions may sound offensive to you? I wonder why the Singapore government believes that Singaporeans are unable/unwilling to say "Hmm, what you said is rather awkward and can be interpreted as offensive. Please, let us talk about something else.". It sure is commonsense here in my community in the US.