Monday, June 18, 2007

Everyone was looking ….. and nobody was helping

Hi Friends,

Apathy is endemic in Singapore.

Recent examples of people who turn sleuth to trail hit-and-run drivers to record their license plates are but exceptions to the rule.

By and large, Singaporeans are notorious for being self-centered and uncaring. Most do not know ( or care to know) their neighbours, even if they have lived side by side with them for years.

Try saying “Hello” in the lifts and you may be lucky to just get blank stares.

I do not have to mention the bus or MRT…we already know what happens on a daily basis. The prevailing attitude is, if you are pregnant or old or young, do not expect any kindness ( or a seat) and you won’t be disappointed.

I risk being labeled an “angmoh-phile” if I mention that more likely than not, the ones who will spontaneously lend a helping hand to those in trouble might turn out not to be Singaporeans. Hands up those of us who have witnessed Ang-moh's treading where locals dared not?

Of course, this generalization is unfair to those Singaporeans who are civic-minded, but I am sure even this group of Singaporeans will readily admit that they are a tiny minority.

A tiny drop in the ocean amongst people who generally do not care.

I know some amongst us will blame our politicians for being negative role models and for setting the tone that materialism is all that matters in Singapore. I am of course alluding to the ministers’ astronomical salaries.

I do not think that this argument gives validity to our being uncaring towards our fellow human beings. Whether our leaders set good examples or not, bad behaviour is still just that.

And… how many more maids must die from cleaning the windows of “Sir” and “Madam”?

Can someone check … Is Singapore the “Maids dying from window-cleaning” capital of the world yet?

Dr.Huang Shoou Chyuan

Read the related account below:

Man saves maid who fell from third floor apartment
Ng Wei Keng / Julia Ng Channelnewsasia 18.6.07

SINGAPORE: It was a lucky escape for a maid on Monday, when she fell out of an apartment in Henry Park while cleaning the windows.

The owner of a bicycle shop on the ground floor heard her screams, and caught her on time.

Witness Abdul Rahman, an assistant at the Holland Grove Road shop, was reporting for work when he was greeted by what he thought was a familiar sight.

An Indonesian maid, believed to be new to the family on the third floor, was stretching from inside the private apartment, to clean the French windows.

"It's very dangerous. Because the ledge here is so low and she's standing on a stool. At first I saw she was cleaning the window and then I walked into the shop and I thought ok, nothing happened. And then a few seconds [later] I heard a scream," said Abdul Rahman.

He ran out and saw the screaming maid hanging on for dear life. She had toppled over the apartment window.

Her employers and another maid had held on to both her arms and one leg from inside the apartment.

And from below, another person was standing by to catch her.

"I ran out and saw my boss standing under the maid. Everyone was looking at the maid and nobody was helping, and my boss was alone there. So I ran down to help him. Before I reached [there], the maid fell off," said Abdul Rahman.

But thanks to his gallant efforts, 43-year-old bike shop owner Haresh Balani - who declined to be interviewed on camera - managed to catch the falling maid.

The catch helped break her fall and she landed next to the drain.

But in the process, the maid, who was of a heavy build, bumped Haresh into the drain.

Haresh suffered shoulder injuries, while the maid hit her head.

"I said, "Don't move around, just relax, don't try to force yourself to get up". She just [lay] on the floor, and kept saying pain, pain, here and there," said Abdul Rahman.

The maid was sent to the hospital.

Haresh too had to see a doctor for his shoulder injury.

Police are investigating the incident. - CNA/yy


Dr Oz bloke said...

"I know some amongst us will blame our politicians for being negative role models and for setting the tone that materialism is all that matters in Singapore. I am of course alluding to the ministers’ astronomical salaries.

I do not think that this argument gives validity to our being uncaring towards our fellow human beings. Whether our leaders set good examples or not, bad behaviour is still just that."

Hi Dr H,

I've thought about this before.

I've come to the conclusion that for all the unhappiness Singaporeans have with our leaders and complain about it, I realised that many Singaporeans are JUST EXACTLY LIKE THE PEOPLE THEY COMPLAIN ABOUT.

Makes you wonder. Perhaps the leadership truly reflects the people who voted them in.

Anonymous said...

We are what our leaders are just the way corporation are.

If corporation fuck up and cock up, we too be cock up.

Look, if you work in corporation, and management lavish themselves with so high pays but just talk rot, why should I work damn hard for them.

Well, this is Singapore incorporated. What do you expect ? Carry balls for them.

nofearSingapore said...

droz: I agree with you that Singaporeans deserve what we get.
anon 2.17pm: living in a society where only money talks make all of us less human and less caring

Ponder Stibbons said...

You are not an angmoh-phile. I was a typical apathetic, uncaring Singaporean when I first went to the US. Two years into my stay there and having been offered help by plenty of strangers on the street, I found myself doing the same. The typical Singaporean reaction when they are offered unsolicited help is a suspicious glare. Certainly not encouraging to would-be helpers.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Singaporeans saying kind words about the surprise considering all the guns, violence, racism, prison, decadence, sex, homosexuals, gambling, crazy teenagers, gangs, school dropouts, and nursing home.......and all the other rubbished-up half-truths that the Singaporean government likes to portray the Americans as. How often do you hear some minister or other alluding to how we must be so so careful about this or that else Singapore might become like the US...

Dr Oz bloke said...

Have you guys read the news about the good samaritan who got shot in Melbourne?

Well in Singapore such a thing would never happen because it is very hard to get a gun in Singapore.

And besides, there wouldn't be anyone to step up to help a lady beign dragged by her hair.

People would just stand by and watch.


nofearSingapore said...

The "Mind your own business" philosophy is deeply entrenched in the social fibre of Singapore.
This disease infects all aspects of our lives. Starting from politics all the way through the neighborhood in the heartlands.
How many people have seen maids abused by their neighbors but chose to put their blinkers on and turned their eyes away.
Until... the maid either jumped to their death out of desperation or like the tragic cases years ago when a maid took matters into her own hands and committed murder?
Anyway, I forgot to give credit to the bicycle shop ownner Mr. Balani who single-handedly saved the maid's life ( no thanks to all the passive on-lookers!)


Gerald said...

Dr Huang,

I disagree that it is only ang mohs who give up their seats for elderly, pregnant mums, etc. Bangladeshi foreign workers usually do that too. I've yet to see Chinese foreign workers do the same. Hmm...I wonder if it is a cultural thing?

Perhaps it is due to our culture of conformity. We want to blend in so well with the crowd, that we are pai seh to stand up in a crowd (literally) even if it means doing the right thing.

In the book Wisdom of Crowds, a professor did an experiment where he asked his students to go on a subway and just request people to give up their seat for no reason. They found that a majority of the time, people complied without question.

Perhaps pregnant mums and old people could adopt this approach.

To be fair, I've noticed the giving up seats problem has improved slightly in the past year. I think we just need to reach that "tipping point" where it becomes part of the culture to do so. Then people won't feel "embarrassed" about giving up their seat.

Dr Oz bloke said...

It's a Singaporean thing.

And it starts from school.

When the teacher asks a question. And a kid volunteers an answer, and gets it right, the kids around him/her will go "Gei Khiang" (meaning show-off).

If the kids gets the answer wrong, the teacher will say wrong. The kid is humiliated and the kids around him/her will go "Don't be hero lah" (meaning don't try to show off when you don't have what it takes)

So kids are taught from a very early age to just keep still, keep quiet, keep status quo, don't rock the boat, don't try to be special, mind your own business etc etc.

It's all in our education system.

It is also what makes Singapore what it is today. Peaceful. No riots. No demonstrations. Law abiding. Respect leaders and elders. Obedient hardworking easily managed workforce. etc etc etc

Pros and cons.

nofearSingapore said...

gerald:You may be right it is a racial thing. Recently I presented a paper in a Beijing conference and do you know that we just present, the Chairman comes to shake your hand and hands out a certificate whilst a photographer snaps a picture and we just leaves the stage. No questions from the floor, no discussions from the other delegates. It seems like everyone is afraid that asking questions might lead to loss of face.
This experience is confirmed by my MBA classmates who did a module in China. The lecturer talks and everyone listens whilst scribbling notes and then.... nothing. No time allowed for questions or interaction. It seems like Confucianism and respect for elders is part of life there. Sigh!

My take is that only with exchange of ideas and challenging norms can society move ahead.

Dr oz: I have always told my kids.. if you are not sure, ask the teacher and do not be afraid to pester till you understand. Unfortunately, many teachers think that answering pupils' questions is an inconvenience and simply ignore or even scold the students.

I read somewhere that a certain race which has many over-representation of smart people ( ok.. Jews) often ask their children... not how many answers did you get right in class today but " How many questions did you ask today?"
We must encourage our people to be questioning and not take anything as gospel truths!


Dr Oz bloke said...

Inquisitive minds.

But you see, in certain cultures they also practise "Curiosity killed the cat"

So one must be careful and note where they are and what the prevalent values system is.

travaillingdoc said...

Hi Dr. Huang,

Just recently there was a furore when a Hispanic woman died on the floor of the ER of a hospital in LA. She was vomiting blood from a bleeding upper GI. She laid there for 20 minutes or so, and no doctors or nurses came to her help.In fact, the cleaner came and mopped up the blood around her.The desperate husband who speaks no English called 911, but they refused to come and move her to another hospital saying she was already in the ER of one.
By law,in the USA, no ER can turn away anyone who need emergency care for life or limb threatening conditions, for any reasons, including inability to pay, race, or religion.
There is a huge media outcry, and the people are very angry. There will be a huge legal fallout for the hospital and city.

In congested and stressful cities, all over the world, human frailties and ugliness are more manifest. These seem ubiquitous.I have seen them in Miami, London,LA, Toronto and New York, not to mention, Taipeh, Hong Kong and Seoul.
Rat experiments in overcrowded cages , showed the rats to be more aggressive, restless and in a constant state of hyperstimulation.

Conversely, people are courteous,in small towns and cities.What amazes me is how the Japanese can keep their cool in crowded Tokyo.
The Chinese Nationals, I encountered in the USA are polite , amiable, and helpful, contrary to what they are perceived as in Singapore.

With the influx of more people into the island of Singapore , we can expect such behaviour to increase.In fact, this may be a boiling cauldron of volatile and unpredicable ingredients, since Singapore envisages an huge influx of persons from very variegated countries and backgrounds.The result of the mixture of these peoples between themselves and with the Singapore ethos remains to be seen.

Education, upbringing and a cultural perception of the humaness of our neighbours, may be contributory to how we interact and behave towards our fellow citizens.

We cannot blame society as the fallguy for our iniquities, but take upon ourselves to first assume the posture of human kindness and politeness to others before we can see any change in the way others will behave.
If these do not work then throw in the draconian laws for which Singapore is infamous for.


nofearSingapore said...

HI travailing doc:

Welcome back and thanks for the insightful comments (as always)!

I agree that it is not so much the ugly Chinese or Singaporean per se but more the ugly urbanite! But maybe some one out there will contradict me by showing me that in some “just as urban” centres there flow some milk of human kindness and humanity?

Doc, I am sure even in urban US cities, there are some cities renowned for kind and neighborly acts. Someone out there may help us learn how to change our bad “couldn’t care less” behaviours.

I think a sense of belonging has something to do with good/bad behaviours. Within our own homes, we ( most of us anyway) put things where they should be, tidy up after use, but in a public place where everyone just treat the place like a thoroughfare, it seems pointless to keep the place in order? You think that makes sense?

I heard, the Japanese ( the older generation esply), are so well-brought up that if they cannot find dust-bins, would instinctly keep wrappers and rubbish in their pockets etc.

Like you said, it is probably “Education, upbringing and a cultural perception”.

Anyway, I do my part and nag to my kids, return the empty trays to the bins at MacDonald’s, notwithstanding the fact that the cleaning uncles are near-by. Personal responsibility!
Not everyman for himself. Make sense?


Ned Stark said...

Dr Oz,

To be honest during my holiday in Taiwan i was amased to find that the Taiwanese were rather considerate. Imagine a situation whereby everyone in Raffles Place queues up for the train and allows those inside to leave before entering. That was what i saw in Taiwan.

Dr Huang,

Indeed putting trays back is one of the manisfestations of the singaporean character. It is heartening to know that there are those who still care after all.

Ned Stark said...

Erm sorry, I was actually referring to the travelling doctor and not Dr Oz. I apologise for any confusion caused.

Angry_One said...

I must be lucky, because in my commuting hours most passengers in the Singapore MRT do give up their seats to the elderly and pregnant.

Occasionally i come across those who pretend to sleep etc, but i notice that the primary factor here is...distance. If the needy person is right in front of the seated, someone in that row of seated people will give up his/her seat.

If the needy are further off, like at the pole near the doors, no one will get up, come over and offer their seat.

Of course, we have a long way to go about other travelling habits, like not giving way to alighting passengers, not moving in and giving space, not queuing, leaning on poles etc. By and large, taking the train every day, being squeezed like a sardine and witnessing bad behaviour etc. pisses me off.

nofearSingapore said...

Ned stark/Angry_one: Thanks for your comments. I am sure we can learn even from cities like Taipei, where urban Asian population (like ours) learn to be considerate and civil to one another.

Angry_one: I am sure we have improved but I hope the happy incidents that you have experience become more the rule rather than exceptions. Thank you

nofearSingapore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
travailling doc said...

Hi Ned stark,

Good to see that I am wrong about the Taiwanese. I have this Taiwanese anesthetist who will crack jokes about the whities in Mandarin in their presence and we will have a good laugh.

My views of Taiwan were many moons ago.Things will have changed . But back then, the traffic was so bad in Taipeh, that our hosts warned us the cars stop for nobody, except when there was an accident.But you are right, the people personally were very polite.

Ned Stark said...

Travelling Dr

Oh the traffic situation seems as chaotic as ever. When i was there there was a sign board announcing the increase in the no. of traffic accidents. But in terms of courtesy they definitely thrash Singapore. Most of them stand on the right side of the escalators. Therefore it galls me to no end everytime MSM engages in Taiwan bashing. So what if they have jokers for politicians (and there is a reason for that too:P)? Their people are on the average more considerate than the singaporeans.

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, I'm NOT yr typical k3 Sengkapolian. The general mass of kiasu, kisi & kiamsiap fellow countrymen, sadly.

I smile most time.
Helped one n all: any race, young & old. In Sengkapoh or overseas.
Look out for needy passengers n give up seats in public transport. In Sengkapoh or overseas.
Press n hold lift door open for young & all..

Nonetheless, haha, this is so silly:
I still meet all manners of lousy, uncouth service & behaviours from fellow citizens & service people.. Why not?

Kiasu: afraid to lose out.
Kiasi: afraid to get into trouble.
Kiamsiap: stingy, selfish

Sengkapolians Not Stupid. Although crude. Sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I'm not being self-righteous here. Just wanna share wif U guys:
My dad & bro each helped in daring skyrise HDB rescue of 2 diff persons who attempted suicide in 2 diff situations.
As civilians like U & I. No credit was sought nor given.
I grew up remembering them both most vividly.
Till today, I stood up n out where my fellow countrymen stay in the background. Despite the schools or military or work environments profusely telling me otherwise, I believe in initiating worthy actions.
Kudos to the bike shop owner for his act of love!
Thks for this blog of heart, Dr Huang!

Sengkapolians Not Stupid. Can Be Loving Too! ;)

nofearSingapore said...

Hi anon above:
Thank you.
I am glad that there are still Sporeans like you who are consciously trying to do deeds of kindness. Wish there are more like you.
As you might have guessed, I also try to do my part.
I remember when I was a kid ( living in a small Chinese kampong in Upp Serangoon), a tree fell across the path leading to our group of houses/huts.
In the pouring rain, I helped to saw and move the obstruction. A distant relative told me that I should have just left it for the "gahmen" to do it!!
Don't listen to advice and talk from "toxic" people. Do what we think is right no matter even if others think we are "busy-body".
If we all do that, Sg won't be such a selfish and impersonal place to live in.

Anonymous said...

Appreciate your interaction, Dr Huang. Thks. :)

With time & life experiences, I (we all do, don't we?) learn to temper my (our) initiatives & actions in greater discretion. Even at times, succumbing to the comfort of society/ peer/ family pressures. ;P

Like in the aspect of politics, I'm no hero nor will I be garang. It's sheer folly IMHO!

Looking forward to more sharings from U guys here. :)

Sengkapolians Not Stupid. Although Sian-ed Liao! ;)