Friday, October 27, 2006

Lessons from Beyond the Grave: What 2 Singaporeans teach us (Part 1)

1. Singaporean Tan Jee Suan

Hawker who donates $10,000 to MRT death fall man’s family:

I know what it’s like to be POOR

By Dawn Chia (The New Paper)

October 22, 2006

SO poor that you have little more than the clothes on your back and are always struggling to make ends meet.
All these memories came flooding back to Mr Frankie Gwee when he read about the plight of the Tan family of Boon Lay.
Husband dead, killed by a train. Wife left to cope with mounting debt and two teenage boys alone. (Read on...)

My comments:

Hi friends,

I am deeply saddened that it takes the unnecessary death of another Singaporean for us to be jolted out from our slumber of complacency.

Mr. Tan Jee Suan,46 died last week.

He was one of our chronically unemployed. A blot on our impressive employment statistics churned out ever so often by government ministries and departments. A stain on our record of being able to find work for those who are willing.

Mr. Tan has escaped and slipped through our society’s safety net. I do not deny that hundreds and possibly thousands are helped by government and charitable organisations’ efforts to alleviate the sufferings of these impoverished families.

But one Mr. Tan is one too many.

Had Mr. Tan chosen a more mundane way of dying, eg jumping from an HDB flat, he would just have been another digit in Singapore’s "one suicide-a-day" statistics.

The response from common Singaporeans, when more than $500K was collected for Mr. Tan’s family, showed that we empathise with the plight of people like him. He is one of us and we understand that this underclass exists and is worthy of help.

We certainly do not need elites and their parents to tell us that the poor are poor because they are unable to compete in the new economy. (Useful link about the 3-Wee's Saga)

Unfortunately, all the money in the world will not return Mr. Tan to his household. His sons will have to grow up prematurely. His last gift to them would be the $10 for their chicken rice.

Ironically, less than 10% of this amount would have cleared all his mounting debts. Perhaps even 1% of it, if offered on that fateful day might have dissuaded him from making that tragic leap.

Let us go beyond the blame game.

How many suicides can we prevent? Admittedly and sadly, not all are preventable. But Mr. Tan’s decidedly was.

As government organs go on a collective soul-search amidst finger-pointing, how do we as individuals measure up? How do you react when a friend, a distant relative, suddenly calls you to borrow some money?

I have not been able to find a solution for this recurring dilemma.

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

PS: Time is scarce now as I have just enrolled in an MBA program. Besides neglecting my blogging, I have also almost stopped my regular runs. I am starting to have real doubts if I will be able to do the half-Marathon come Dec. Sigh!

Singaporean No. 2: Akan Datang


ben said...


I do agree with your post. For your dilemma, I will say just borrow the money if you really have enough. I mean if its too big like 50,000 then of course not. But I think 50-200 dollars can mean the difference between life and death. Of course, if that chap is your friend or distance relative. But only borrow 3 times bah. Beyond that is just too crazy.

nofearSingapore said...


The dilemma is worse when the prospective borrowed has a history of gambling and had borrowed from loan sharks. Unless he has reformed, lending to him could mean feeding his vice ( or saving him from suicide).

So what do we do? We lend him once, or twice. Should him lend him unendingly?

I guess we should give him the benefit of the doubt.However, I confess that at times I have thrown quotations such as " Never a lender nor a borrower be " etc at people whom I suspected at people who is using me to feed their vices ( gambling or otherwise).

Actually, if only we have a Grameen bank ( see recent post), then microcredits might have prevented some suicides.


Robert HO said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ben said...

I am a gambler. I never borrow from loan sharks. I lend people money easily because I think money is hardly the point. But I charge interest on the prevailing bank rate of 1 percent so they know that its not a piece of cake and I will pretend that i am not doing them a "favour". But then just me.

And frankly, if a person had dealings with loan sharks...then umm...tough lar...

Grameen bank is tough to sg..perhaps someone can think how and offer suggestion to gahmen

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Robert Ho and all,
I have used my right as owner of this blog to delete Mr. Ho's comments on 2 grounds.
1. It is much too long ( 15 pages0
2. Some words and phrases may be deemed in certain quarters as being "immoderate".

Mr. Ho is welcome to post ( as some content was indeed very newsworthy, but he would have to edit it heavily.

Now I know why it was taking ages to reload my blog!

Thank you,


jun said...

Hi Doc!

Was very busy with work these few weeks to blog-surf!

Last I heard on this issue was that the family had given 1/5 of the donations to the erm, undertaker...

Don't know if that is true or not.

My opinions on this issue -
1) MRT Platforms need a major revamp. Just another one jumped this week. -_-'
2) Public trust to be set up to manage public donations for cases like these.
3) Gov should do away with the income ceiling thingee for families in dire situations - e.g. recently, a friend submitted a request for social aid. Her Dad is paralysed by stroke, her Mum on dialysis and younger Bro has got 自闭. However she was rejected because her total household income (she is the sole earner - S$2,000) is above S$1,600.
4) Build up community awareness. Neighbours and teachers are first-hand helpers.

Instead of focusing so much on the global economic game (I'm not saying that the economic game isn't important), it is pointless expanding the flower bed when there are worms attacked the flowers, Gov should be looking more at helping the citizens now - rather than leaving them to their own means.

I'm so torn between leaving this country to its own means or stepping forward and help. It seems to be all bleak and grey to me most of the times.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Jun,
Thanks for taking time from your busy schedule to comment.

1. About trust for such hardship cases: Yes. I agree. I don't know if there is any equivalent trust now. The problem would then be who do we trust to dispense this money wisely. Not to miserly nor too extravagantly. Another govt. organ or a non-govt organisation?

2.Criteria for hand-outs and help: Yes the system needs tweaking as too many people who needs help are turned away. But if we loosen this criteria, would society be willing to accept that there will be some who will take advantage of the system and not help themselves? Therein lies the dilemma which plagues us personally when our own friends/relatives turn up at our doors for money. No easy answer.


Rowen said...

Dear Doctor.

There was another case of a man who jumped onto the tracks and died at Clementi MRT.

The MSM decided to keep this low profile and there has been no more reports of this incident.

We do not know whether Mr Tan's sucide prompted the other man to do the same.

However, by keeping a low profile, I feel the MSM realised that if they report of such cases the result would lead to the singaporean people to start thinking and criticising the government.

2 cases just days apart and such different treatment.

Goes to show the inequality of treatment and the harshness of our society.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Rowen,
I feel that this time, the MSM is right to not report nor glamourise the 2nd MRT death.
I have a sneaky suspicion that this is a copy-cat death ( altho I am just as sad that anyone should die or commit suicide).
I hope something will be done to search out those who need financial and social support.
S'pore is getting famous for all the wrong reasons.


40+ Singaporean said...

I know this is not current anymore but my excuse is that I only recently found your blog through Whispers from the heart's blog.

Mr Tan and other Singaporeans like him deserve some help from the government.

Why are we concerned about people abusing the system? It is so Singapore government like. Tweak and tweak and then tweak again, to close all loop holes - that what our policies drafters and our public servants (do they really serve the public? I do wonder some times) are very good at. The only way you can absolutely prevent abuses is not to offer it at all. Our system is already close to that. That however, cannot be the reason for not offering welfare or help.

We should look after the less fortunate among us. The government should bear the bulk of this responsibility. We cannot and should not 'outsource' this totally to self help group or privatise it. We have already privatise certain essential services such as public transport and much of our healthcare. Privatise or outsource welfare??!!

Jun, I agree with your third point but not your first two. Your third is precisely the issue. The government is so concern about people queuing up for handouts like we see in the UK that they have gone overboard, providing inadequate assistance and trying to pass it off as a strong desire to foster a 'help yourself' attitude. Fixing the platform of MRT stations is not the solution to the problem. Are we going to put grills along the corridors of all our HDB flats?

I have an issue with your second point too. Mr Tan's situation, when published, resulted in overwhelming response from ordinary Singaporeans. It is a sign that most ordinary folks have a heart and responded to a situation among one of us who desperately needed financial assistance. Why do we need to have a trust for such cases? Exactly what one of the new MP was reported to have said in the MSM. The assumption s were 1. Mrs Tan will not know how to deal with the donation she has received. 2. She may be cheated out of her money. If the government is indeed concerned about the widow and her family, the government should have done something before the poor man jumped onto the MRT tracks. Furthermore, if government resources are available, it will be far better that these resources be directed to set up some real welfare services OR directed towards the governance of donations taking bodies such as the NKF.

Dr H, I have to disagree with you on the MSM not reporting the 2nd case. Yes, it may be a copy-cat act. Yes, the person may indeed be trying to get the same sort of response and associated donations for his family (I really don't know the truth about this case). I look at it this way. If this person is prepared to die for it, how desperate he must be.

You are absolutely right that something be done to seek out similar cases. Many Singaporeans are asset rich and cash poor because of government policies revolving around ownership of properties and the use of CPF to finance it. I used to think there are no poor people in Singapore, compared to many of our neighbours in the region. Outwardly, most Singaporeans seem to have it all but I am beginning to realise that for some, it is a cashflow problem. They have adequate means to keep things the way they are with a housing loan to pay provided they don't lose their jobs!

nofearSingapore said...

Hi 40+,
You are most welcome to comment on my posts. The topic is always current so long as it affects our lives in S'pore.
I am more attentive to the speeches of MP's and I think I like what I hear from our MP's ( new and old). But words is one thing and action is another. Let us scrutinise all MP's ( PAP and non-PAP) and make sure they serve S'pore's aims. Let's encourage them when they say/do the right things and whack them when they don't!
Will write something about parliament when I can find the time.
40+ S'porean, you have so much to contribute, please start a blog and all of us will benefit!


Robert HO said...

Dear All Commenters,

My blog [url above] is documentary proof that LKY rigged the 1997 Cheng San GRC election. It is important reading. How to publicise it as widely as possible? I only have 160 page views so far.

These documentary proofs explain many things, in particular why Cheng San GRC DISAPPEARED FROM THE ELECTORAL MAP AFTER 1997. LKY lost Cheng San and could not afford to contest Cheng San ever again.

Robert HO

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am a gambler. I never borrow from loan sharks. I lend people money easily because I think money is hardly the point. But I charge interest on the prevailing bank rate of 1 percent so they know that its not a piece of cake and I will pretend that i am not doing them a "favour". But then just me.

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