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The ugly Singaporean|
By SEAH CHIANG NEE
Have affluent, educated Singaporeans become too self-centred and insensitive to other people’s plights? Can Singapore be considered a First World city with such boorishness? A mature, developed country isn’t defined only by wealth and education; it is also about humanity and concern for others.
JUSTIFIABLY or not, the disastrous Sichuan earthquake has sparked off a re-look here at a Singaporean characteristic that overshadows his economic achievement.
In a TV interview, a tourist who just returned unhurt complained angrily about his encounter with airport delay and telephone breakdown at a time when the Chinese were frantically rescuing people.
One viewer commented: “He kept complaining bitterly as if the whole world owed him an explanation about the airport delay.”
Another added: “the man was practically shouting at the camera. His behaviour was really shocking.”
In the face of the terrible suffering, the middle-aged Singaporean’s insensitive complaint about his personal inconvenience spread consternation and a sense of shame among viewers.
It highlighted a trait often attributed to affluent, educated Singaporeans that they have become too self-centred and insensitive to other people’s plights.
After years of social campaigns, tales still abound of people rushing for train seats or refusing to give one up to the elderly, ill treatment of maids, littering or inconsiderate driving.
Many of the offenders are middle-class, young and educated who seem to have little interest in other people’s feelings.
The Singaporean tourist, instead of lending a helping hand, was fuming about his own safety – even after he was safely back home.
“Typical ugly Singaporean the sort that makes other people dislike us – totally self-centred,” said a blogger.
Others disagree, with one defending it as a normal reaction for a foreigner desperate to escape quickly. “He may have put it badly, but he was scared and obviously wanted to return to his family,” he said.
“Realistically speaking, not every one can be highly principled about helping in a disaster in a foreign country,” he added.
Most, however, condemned his insensitivity. “It reflects the overall selfishness and self-centredness of middle-class Singaporeans,” said ‘investor’.
“My general impression is that they are the second most selfish and self-centred people in Asia, next only to Hong Kongers.”
The debate raised the question whether Singapore could be considered a First World city with such boorishness.
A mature, developed country isn’t defined only by wealth and education; it is also about humanity and concern for others.
Several days earlier, a girl who refused to give up a seat (meant for the elderly and the handicapped) to a pregnant woman, called her a “@@@” because she had stared at her and shook her head.
Some blame it on the environment, especially an elitist, each-man-for-himself mentality.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch” is a theme that has been drilled into every child and adult. A whole generation has grown up believing that if Singaporeans get into trouble, they can expect no help from anyone.
It may be a good teaching for a small city without resources, but it has also spawned an antithesis: If you can expect no help from others, you also do not need to care for others.
“Living in a society where only money talks makes all of us less human and less caring,” says ‘Anonymous’.
Another writer said he was a typically an apathetic, uncaring Singaporean until he went to live in the United States.
“Two years into my stay there and having been offered help by plenty of strangers on the street, I found myself doing the same,” he said.
“The typical Singaporean reaction when they are offered unsolicited help is a suspicious glare. Certainly not encouraging to would-be helpers,” he added.
The person who has the single biggest influence on how Singaporeans think and behave is Lee Kuan Yew. Many of the current leaders and civil servants as well as older Singaporeans, emulate him.
The Minister Mentor has never been too concerned about his own – or Singapore’s – popularity as much as its interests. Giving charity to countries in need, for example, has rarely been its forte.
The political elite, followed by and large by the citizenry, takes after Lee’s generally no-welfare, harshly competitive and unsentimental leadership.
Last year, the “survival of the fittest” type view, believed to prevail among the top elites, burst into a public furore following remarks made by the scholar-daughter of a government MP.
Condemning a young professional, Derek Wee, who wrote about the pressures faced by the common people, the student, Wee Shu Min lambasted the critic as wretched, an idiot and “leech”.
She appeared to be defending the class divide in Singapore or “a tyranny of the capable and the clever” saying that “the only other class is the complement.”
She ended by telling Derek: “Please, get out of my elite uncaring face.”
Her MP father criticised her intemperate language, but supported some of her sentiments expressed.
A nationwide condemnation ensued.
The issue would have ended there if it were just regarded as a teenager’s rants. It was more than that.
Because Shu Min was a scholar designed for a possible leadership role and daughter of a People’s Action Party MP (from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s constituency), it instantly became a political hot potato.
The critics said it reflected a government perception that a class divide was inevitable and may even be necessary to encourage people to strive harder in life.
The target of her invective, Derek Wee, was actually echoing a popular public sentiment when he said Singaporeans were suffering partly because the government failed to understand their plight.
Shu Min’s message was that failures were caused by laziness or lack of capabilities, which the persons themselves were responsible – with no words of support or care for those in need.