Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ugly Singaporeans?

Several weeks ago, I came across this opinion piece commenting on the phenomenon of “ugly Singaporeans”, that is Singaporeans who behave in an inconsiderate manner, especially in public. I then referred this opinion piece to a friendly acquaintance of mine (for convenience’s sake, I would refer to him as “J”), who happened to be online as I was reading through the opinion piece, and he swiftly came up with a post on his blog in response to it.

Well, reading through J’s response to the opinion piece, I must say that he has made some points which I agree with. However, considering his verbose style of expressing his ideas, I think I would just distill from his response the points that he has made and which I am in agreement with.

And these points are:

One, “ugly Singaporeans” are perhaps a conspicuous minority.

Two, people who behave in an inconsiderate manner exist everywhere in the world.

Three, it is also important to take note of how people react to the exhibition of inconsiderate behaviour.

And before I move on to express my own views on the phenomenon of “ugly Singaporeans”, I would have to first state that they may appear to be a rehash of what J has already said, considering that I would be expanding on the three points above (which, as I have already said, I am in agreement with). However, I would hopefully be able to add something to them, if not express them in a more understandable manner.

Okay, enough with my long-winded preamble…

Indeed, I suppose most, if not all, of us would have personally encountered and/or heard about an encounter with what people call an “ugly Singaporean”. Examples of “ugly Singaporeans” are perhaps abound: people not giving up seats to those whom need them more, people who obstruct the passageway/entrances/exits by placing themselves in the middle of the passageway/right in front of the entrance or exit and then refuse to move, people who play their music loudly, people who litter indiscriminately, people who curse and swear loudly in dialect (as part of normal conversation with those around them) and etc. Considering these examples, we Singaporeans do appear to be a most ugly/inconsiderate lot.

Yet, at the same time, I don’t know about you all but, while I have encountered examples of “ugly Singaporeans”, I also have encountered examples of people behaving in an considerate manner e.g. people who do give up their seats to those whom need them more and people who do not block the passageways/entrances/exits.

Hence, considering the above, I find it strange that while we hear so much about examples of “ugly Singaporeans” through the media and/or stories told by acquaintances, we do not seem to hear as much about Singaporeans who do behave in a considerate manner.

Could it be that while “ugly Singaporeans” are a minority, they are a conspicuous minority? I mean, just think about it, while we have seen various photos and/or videos online that purport to expose the inconsiderate behaviour of “ugly Singaporeans”, how many of such photos and/or videos have we seen that actually show considerate and kind Singaporeans in action? Some of you all may argue that the reason why we do not see photos/videos of the latter kind is that there are very few examples of considerate and kind Singaporeans. Well, while I will concede to that argument, I refuse to believe that we Singaporeans are totally inconsiderate and unkind, partly perhaps due to those considerate and kind Singaporeans who I am acquainted with and partly due to the idealistic streak in me.

In addition, I find it somewhat ironic that Mr. Seah (i.e. the author of the opinion piece) should start off his article talking about this Singaporean man who have “just returned unhurt complained angrily about his encounter with airport delay and telephone breakdown at a time when the Chinese were frantically rescuing people” whom have suffered the impact of the recent earthquake in Sichuan.

The reason why I find this ironic is that while this Singaporean man did, perhaps in his frustration, behave in a rather inconsiderate and insensitive manner, it should not be forgotten that many Singaporeans have answered the calls for donations and appeals for help to aid the victims of earthquake-stricken Sichuan (aside: perhaps as a testament to this, the highest visitor count I have so far on my blog are for my blog post about donations to earthquake-stricken Sichuan and most of the visitors were, if I remember correctly, from Singapore). Why are we focusing so much attention on this one guy while neglecting the many who helped in some way? (And who knows? Perhaps this guy, after recovering from his frustration, made donations to help the victims of the earthquake)

Thus, similarly, perhaps instead of focusing so much of our attention and effort on complaining about “ugly Singaporeans”, we should spend more time recognising and rewarding those Singaporeans who are considerate and kind (however few they may be).

Also, as J has put it, people who behave in an inconsiderate, unkind and insensitive manner exist everywhere in the world. Although this cannot and should not serve as an excuse for the behaviour of “ugly Singaporeans”, it perhaps helps to see the supposed phenomenon of “ugly Singaporeans” in a larger context and not as a phenomenon specific only to Singapore.

Hence, as J has suggested, perhaps even as we attempt to resolve the problem of “ugly Singaporeans”, we should recognise the unpleasant fact that it may be utopian to expect that inconsiderate and unkind people of all different nationalities to totally disappear (unless one is expecting a repeat of the Great Flood that happened in Genesis).

Moving on, though this may appear to be a rather contrived point but it seems to me that the very fact that we find “ugly Singaporeans” ugly would imply that not all hope is lost, that we still are aware that inconsiderate and/or unkind behaviour is wrong behaviour and that people should not behave in such a manner. It would be a most dismal situation if and when we no longer perceive inconsiderate and/or unkind behaviour as being behaviour which should be condemned.

Furthermore, besides trying to recognise and reward Singaporeans who behave in a considerate and kind manner, we should perhaps also try not to just only feel internally displeased when witnessing an “ugly Singaporean” in action (or, as what some of you all may do also, surreptitiously take a photo/video of the “ugly Singaporean” and then post it online and/or complain about the “ugly Singaporean” on one’s blog), we should try also to behave in a considerate and kind manner ourselves (as perhaps a silent but effective rebuke of the behaviour of the “ugly Singaporean”). For example, if you all are feeling annoyed at witnessing people not giving up their seats to those who need them more, give up your seat immediately (if you are already seated) and/or make an effort to give up your seat the next time you see someone who needs it more than you.

As Mahatma Gandhi puts it, “We must be the change we want to see” and “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching”.

In the end, it may be true that we Singaporeans are indeed an “ugly” lot but then again, ask yourself this question: are you included in this “ugly” lot?


Jieq said...

I cannot help but agree with all the points raised. Sadly, it is not easy for the general public to think in terms of grey like we're doing. Singaporeans are either ugly, or the friendliest nation in the world.

QQ*librarian said...

Well said. I don't deny there are ugly Singaporeans around, but there are black sheep in every country. Like you said, I believe they are the conspicuous minority. I notice that the "ugly Singaporean" term is frequently used by none other than fellow Singaporeans themselves, and not by foreigners. Perhaps, we are the harshest critics of ourselves. Then, in that case, all the more we should look at the behaviours displayed by the ugly Singaporeans, reflect upon them and remind ourselves not to become them.

Anonymous said...

Singaporeans just do not have empathy.

Singapore has little history and original culture, after all its only around 40 years old. Being civilized, having empathy, humanity and all that non-ugly stuff comes with TIME.

It's quite obvious Singaporeans have no empathy when the courtesy campaign was needed. And there was even a campaign to make the locals "smile" haha, even I remember that one. Singaporeans are good.. efficient.. hardworking, academic, but by and large they have no soul. Of-course you find a few who are ugly, some who aren't ugly, but the majority are just passive: they are neither ugly or not ugly, but still there's nothing particularly special or good about them of note.

I am not saying Singaporeans are ugly or unkind. But they are all passive and docile, they need to be told things. But I will say that the majority of them do not have empathy.

Before some of you start getting stroppy and accuse me of being a bigot, let me just say this:

After living in SIN* for many years and having gone through its systems, including being the only foreign "angmoh" in the army and its university. I have experience and knowledge to make my own judgements on the place.

*My new term for Singapore city, since that's what airline tickets refer to it as. And it makes Singapore sound interesting, with the casino and modernization and stuff.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Singaporean do not have capacity to empathize others. Maids do not want to work for Singaporean family because they normally are not treated as 'human'. I often notice those maids who have to wake up and wash the boss's expensive cars are those from Singaporean family. Even the local Singaporean manager suggested to me that I should have a 'live in maid' because that way I can 'own' the maid! I find that statement obscured.

Also as I am currently studying in a Singapore university where 95% of the population is Singaporean aged from 19-22. They often express their unconcerned attitude towards the suffering other countries have. i.e. Once the professor asked what was their point of view about the kidnap incident of Hongkong tourists. Some just openly said, they do not feel anything since it did not involve Singaporean!! Furthermore, in general, students have little respect towards the teacher and other students who wish to study. They chat loudly during class and they do not seem to feel bad to be a social loafer when it comes to team project... When it comes to public service such as in restaurant or local food court, do not expect you will be treated as customer. At least not in general. There are times that you will experience a bit 'service' but I truly think it is very rare. Many Singaporean just do not have patient to properly serve their customers. The attitude is like "come to eat and get the F* out". So much more.. Although I do realize that I developed a rather negative view towards Singaporean but I cannot lie. It is what I have experience so far in 2 years that I am here.

I do agree Singapore has its good quality but I also agree with the blog piece posted earlier that Singapore do not have social grace. It is even sadder to see the young generation group around me are even worse: stopping in the middle of the exit of entrance is such a common act; coughing without covering the mouth; talk so loud in public place etc..

Yes, there are places worse than Singapore. There are 'good' Singaporeans, I just wish so desperately that the 'good' Singaporeans are the majority. I really want to believe. However, according to my personal experience, I only encountered 2 'brilliant' Singaporean friends who had been living overseas for past 5 years so far... Nice Singaporeans, where are you??? I really wish to meet you guys..

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