On social trust, who needs empirical evidence?

When observation contradicts theory, hold fast to theory – that is the Singapore way.

The Straits Times, Saturday 29 October 2011, has story about how wonderfully strong social ties are among Singaporeans. Funnily enough, just two days ago, I was shaking my head, saying to myself as I watched an everyday scene: Here’s proof, is any is needed, of the sorry state of social trust in this place.

I was among commuters caught off guard by approaching rain; most at the bus stop did not have umbrellas.

A bus pulled up and 12 – 15 persons gathered around the front door, but since the bus was already quite full, only 3 or 4 managed to get on board, though going no further in than the steps. The driver appealed to other passengers to tighten up but response was poor.

Eight to ten others were left out, staking their positions close to the bus for a chance of a toehold. However, it was drizzling already, but still they crowded around the doorway. This included a mother with an infant in a stroller. And so they stood for the better part of a miserable minute.

The child began to protest at the raindrops, abut there was little the mother could do.

The rational plan of action would be to stand back under the bus shelter, stay dry, and only go up to the bus when there was clearly enough space for a person to board. This however would require all the remaining people to observe a kind of unwritten rule as to who goes first. Forming a queue would be the most obvious thing, and in many cities around the world, people do it quite naturally. Alternatively everyone could observe an unwritten rule that certain persons have priority, e.g. the elderly or infants.

In the absence of either, the mother couldn’t stand back. If she did and left a gap between herself and the bus, a steady stream of other commuters would cut in front of her to board the bus. In fact, no one could afford to stand back, so everyone (with the exception of two schoolboys who didn’t seem in a hurry to get home) crowded around the doorway, rain notwithstanding.

It was an all-too-typical scene. Singaporeans cannot trust that others would respect any claim to priority; we cannot trust that others would observe good manners and exercise consideration. And because social trust is so low, everybody has to fight for resources, getting wet in this particular case. Everybody loses.

* * * * *

Making such observations about the character of our society may not be welcome. Uncouth Singaporeans, the fear goes, would reflect badly on the government. Having been obsessively engaged in social engineering, the government can’t avoid blame if the results don’t look good.

But looking good is important. Demonstrating that Singapore has been successfully engineered into a near-utopia is a feather in the cap the government must have. To this end, leading questions are useful.

The above graphic came from Saturday’s Straits Times:

Strong social ties in Singapore

Three in four Singaporeans would trust a fellow citizen to help them should there be a terrorist attack. A similar number felt that citizens of all races and communities would stand united after an attack.

These findings and others were thrown up in a 2009 Community Engagement Programme (CEP) survey by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

— Straits Times, 29 October 2011, Strong social ties in Singapore, by Kimberly Spykerman

Look again at the statements that had been put to survey participants, and you’d wonder to what extent people felt that affirmative answers were expected of them. It is easy to see that all these statements have an aspirational nature; honest answers are hard to obtain in such a situation.

The other thing to bear in mind is that two of the survey statements (referring to “terrorist attack”)  are hypothetical. How reliable are their answers? Would empirical observations of actual behaviour be a better gauge?

After the first wave of the Jemaah Islamiyah arrests in 2001, plenty of Malays in Singapore reported heightened scrutiny and distancing by non-Malays. Surely that tells us more than anything else what actual behaviour is likely to be.

Ditto, simple observations like how Singaporeans behave at a bus stop in a drizzle. We don’t put a lot of trust in others behaving well. And trust being a key indicator of social cohesion, it is hard to say that social ties are strong.

* * * * *

The 8 to 10 who crowded around the bus never managed to board. The vehicle was just too full. Reluctantly, the driver closed the door and pulled away, and the unsuccessful passengers had to retreat under the shelter, wetter for the experience. They paid a price for nothing. The child continued to fret in his now-damp stroller.

47 Responses to “On social trust, who needs empirical evidence?”

  1. 1 Pauls 29 October 2011 at 18:17

    Your observation about the typical Singaporean behavior in boarding the bus also gives the lie to the oft-peddled notion that ours is a ‘collectivist’ society, unlike those individualistic [read: ‘selfish’] societies in the West. Unless one operates on a wholly abstract notion of society or community, then genuine collectivism requires of its people that individuals sometimes willingly sacrifice their own interests in favor of others – or at least be willing to consider the interests of others. And yet countless everyday examples suggest otherwise, that the typical Singaporean will aggressively protect his own interests even to the detriment of others. Instead I’ve experienced for myself over the years that the maligned ‘individualists’ in so many Western societies are more apt to behave in a civic-minded way – allowing others to board a bus in an orderly fashion, for instance – than most Singaporeans. All this merely suggests that the collectivist rhetoric we’re constantly fed is nothing but a tool to discredit the cause of individual rights and thereby entrench the prerogative of authorities to alone set the social agenda.

    • 2 karl 1 November 2011 at 10:39

      well-said! I had a module in school concerning this matter and I found it strange that Singapore was rated highly in that cat.

  2. 3 foo 29 October 2011 at 20:12

    When resources and space are scarce, it is every man or woman or stroller for themselves. That is the Singapore today.

    • 4 Pauls 29 October 2011 at 23:59

      I sincerely hope this is an observation rather than a defense of the situation, for the latter would reveal an atavistic, even animalistic, morality. Working toward the betterment of our society cannot proceed by stepping on each other to get ahead.

  3. 5 allthatjazz 30 October 2011 at 01:29

    i’m not sure abt that animalisitc morality, pauls.
    i feed stray cats, and every evening i watch as
    each patiently waits till whoever was first to finish
    before he takes his turn. kittens get first bite.
    so do bullies.

    my observation is that consideration and manners
    among sporeans are foreign concepts. however,
    to my relief, i encounter both once in a way.

  4. 6 It's OK 30 October 2011 at 07:49

    It’s OK that Singaporeans behave this way.

    Otherwise, if there is too much social trust, they may even gather and organise themselves for protests too, which is the case in most countries.

    That I think is the nature of people.

    So there are pros and cons of such SIngaporean behaviour. The pros are good for the government. Maybe this is also one reason why PAP can get at least 60% mandate in all elections! Because most only trust PAP!

  5. 7 Anonymous 30 October 2011 at 07:57

    Since I came here almost 15 years ago, I have noticed that a lot of Singaporeans do care about their family circle a lot while they couldn’t be bothered less with society. There is very little consideration for others around then as seen in the daily bus boarding routine when people inside the bus won’t move to the back, wouldn’t give way to other people and would stand in front of the bus door for minutes and delay not only the bus journey, but also buses queuing behind said bus.
    The same observation can be made in housing estates where people freely litter and make noise at any hour of the say.
    Courtesy and consideration of others is very low on the agenda not only of the people, but the government of this country. We all know that their political agenda is in effect a manifestation of power.

    And to top it off, Western countries are then mocked as being rotten and full of social ills. That’s partly due to the fact, that the USA is taken as the model of the West, which unfortunately reflects only the worst of western countries in many aspects.

    • 8 Chee Wai Lee 31 October 2011 at 04:15

      “And to top it off, Western countries are then mocked as being rotten and full of social ills. That’s partly due to the fact, that the USA is taken as the model of the West, which unfortunately reflects only the worst of western countries in many aspects.”

      Funny how a comment exhorting Singaporeans to, essentially, avoid stereotypes about Western “individualism” because of “bad apples” will happily create the same monolithic stereotype about the USA.

      I live in Eugene, OR, USA. Here, most bus drivers return my greeting or word of thanks; people thank their bus drivers and each other; and strangers make way for people with needs. Do not misunderstand me, my community is not a monolithic utopia. There are bad hats everywhere. Think about it though, in the “individualistic” society I live in, people here tend to respect you as an individual, with my own needs and desires while remaining a member of the community. The same respect is afforded to family and strangers alike.

    • 9 Daniel 4 November 2011 at 10:06

      I agree. The US isn’t perfect but in daily life you will find very polite and considerate people. Violence on American streets? Never saw it in so many years of living there. It must be some statistical sort of crime rate that makes the US look worse. Singaporeans who are obsessed with rankings and numbers likewise may trust some obscure crime rate calculation more than real life experience. There are a lot of reasons why crime statistics seem higher in the US – the main one being that even minor crimes do not go unreported. Daily life in the US is great.

  6. 10 Anonymous 30 October 2011 at 10:43

    Straits Times is a government propaganda machine. The good columnists such as P N Balji have left leaving those ex ISA employees to write whatever the PAP wants. Even forum writers are increasingly pro-PAP. I can even spot familiar names on the forum every other day. Letters that are critical of the government are rarely published nowadays.

  7. 11 Saycheese 30 October 2011 at 12:50

    Kiasu and kiasi sum up your observation. The same explains why Occupy Raffles Place was a non event, why PAP is returned to power every election and why the majority do not care about the existence of the ISA. LKY has very successfully moulded the population to be this way to entrench his and his family’s control.

  8. 12 Jack Jack! 30 October 2011 at 17:51

    Just add some of my thought!

    Just back from a short trip from Shanghai, and have my first experience with Mainland Chinese! If you think that Singaporean is bad, Chinese is much worst! I don’t even know what word I could use to decribe them! Just look at the 2 years old girl case, and that tell you a lot how COLD the Chinese is!

    Singaporean is after all a Chinese predominent country. With this big influx of Chinese immigrants, thing will only get worst! People here will only get more and more aggressive to each other.

    And talking about care of their family, they probably only care about their direct family. How many old folks nowadays are taking care by their married children? Many nowadays are taking care by their single/unmarried/gay/lesbian children! Otherwise they probably got dump into old folks home, nursing home or hospital. I am a nurse, and I saw too many such cases which we called “dumping syndrome”.

    Chinese way of “Freedom”, perhaps? Free from anyone else, just ME, ME, ME!

    • 13 Yujuan 30 October 2011 at 23:10

      People here are not honest in their reply to surveys. Take the SARS epidemic of 2003. The ambulance staff and the doctors in a private hospital won’t dare to come near the patient admitted in the emergency room. The doctor in attendance was 4 metres away, instructing the nurse to take the patient’s temperature. I was that patient, even though I was only a suspect case, but was later cleared of the disease.
      So in a terrorist attack, you think people would offer help? Fat hope, it’s one’s and his family’s safety first, other people a distant second.

    • 14 Yujuan 30 October 2011 at 23:25

      @Jack jack

      There is two sides to a coin.
      Some elderly folks are not easy to live with. They are so temperamental and quarrelsome, it gets on the nerves of the children and their spouses.
      They would ask their children for help, and when they get attended to, they would change their mind, wasting time and energy of the children.
      I have such a elderly mother. Bought her a flat in her name, give her a monthly allowance, bought her electrical appliances to replace the broken ones, bought her supplements, take her to the doctors, take her for holidays,yet she likes to pick quarrels with me whenever she is temperamental. After a few rounds of attending to her requests to look for hourly rated maid to help with chores, and she rejected every time, i threw in the towel and walk out.
      My patience has run thin. I ask her to consider to check into an old folks home, and don’t bother me anymore.

    • 15 Leuk75 31 October 2011 at 00:28

      Chinese chap sat on the priority sit in circle line MRT. Hardly full. Hit Serangoon interchange, cabin started to fill. Indian family with baby in stroller came through, Chinese offered the sit in his very rudimentary English, family declined, said they will stand. In came local guy with newspaper, demanded the seat – hardly qualifies as being disabled or elderly, looks in the late 50s at most. Read: DEMANDED, not request. Chinese guy started asking in Mandarin, “Are you disabled?”

      Local guy with newspaper replied in Hokkien and English %*!#, F&*$ you.

      Poor Chinese guy got up, gave up the seat, local guy sat down and started reading newspaper exclaiming to everyone how indignant it was to be labelled invalid and that “F*$%ing foreign talent” are inconsiderate. Not realising the Indian family he was exclaiming to is also just as foreign.

      I felt so ashamed for not speaking up earlier to stop the bullying behaviour.

      Started telling him firmly that it is not right to say such things, we all have our own freedom of space, bullying behaviour is not reasonable. Got a earful of expletives that finally galled up other fellow locals to speak up. Middle age local chap kena “sia suay” (embarrassed) until he got off immediately at the next stop.

      Perhaps Singaporeans just need a bit of incentive to speak up and stop thinking we should all just mind our own business and the whole world can rot unless it hits us.

    • 16 snkabc 1 November 2011 at 09:38

      you’re missing the point. for all the education and head-start singaporeans have had compared to the chinese, we should be doing much much better than them, rather than eliciting a comparison to them. instead, we should be benchmarking ourselves in terms of such social behavior to the americans, europeans or perhaps more aptly closely to home, the taiwanese. the truth is we are no better than the mainlanders in the eyes of foreigners, and more often than not, we tend to shift the blame away citing the influx of foreigner workers in singapore. are we seriously much better in those respects without the influence of foreign talents? my emphatic answer is a dead NO!

  9. 17 Lim Bt 30 October 2011 at 18:14

    Your observation on the boarding of the bus during a rainy day is valid. The behavior of the majority in Singapore are me first mentality. I have come across many instances. In Switzerland or Japan or Germany people queue up orderly to board the train or bus. In Switzerland pedestrians crossing the road (not highway – only crazy people will do that) will have first priority i.e. the car will stop for you to cross before the driver moves on,.I have experienced this many times.
    In Singapore when you give way or behave politely not many people will appreciate it and say thank you. And they give you a look like why are you doing this and you feel that you are losing some thing or being short change. Same thing when you hold the lift door for someone to come in. Worse still when you run towards the lift and see the door slammed shut in front of your face before you can get in.
    My opinion is that many of us have low self esteem and hence lack self confidence. So we must always win and be right all the time (we call it kaisu or kaisi and what have you). One observation I have is : whenever a global survey is published and Singapore or Singaporeans are not highly rated, the next day or so (especially Sunday Times) ST will conduct their own survey and try to dispute the findings – survey criteria were wrong, wrong interpretation of the data, data does not cover this and that. That will explain away why we are not rated highly and well everyone is happy and nothing done. Instead of understanding the results and see if we as a society or country can improve. There is always room for improvement.

  10. 18 Sunshine 30 October 2011 at 20:51

    I don’t know if this is related to the topic here but the one thing that really irks me when I watch how Singaporeans behave is how they treat their domestic helpers. Countless times I have seen parents walking with their hands totally free while a poor maid is laden with three or four bags, usually pushing a pram as well. If they can’t even think about a person who lives in their home and cleans up their crap, how would they think about strangers at a bus stop?

  11. 19 Gazebo 30 October 2011 at 21:03

    I think this incident described by yawningbread is analogous to the recent famous case in china when a girl was ran over by a van.


    and i will make a bold claim here in this diatribe. firstly, i am going to assume that the majority of the bus passengers were of chinese ethnicity. and secondly, singapore in my books, is still a “chinese society”. if you will go along with me on these assumptions, i will make a case how these incidents highlight why the chinese people are 东亚病夫。 the leper of asia.

    what is the difference between these incidents and the rape of nanking? no difference. the japanese were yes, technologically superior, i agree. but there were so many chinese then. and i have read accounts and seen pictures, where chinese citizens were just standing there, watching a couple of japanese soldiers decapitate their fellow country men. why they did not en masse surround the japanese soldiers and destroy them, remains one of the most outstanding features of chinese culture. this apathy towards their own country men let alone other human beings, pervades every level of chinese and chinese dominated societies.

    look at the graphic chinese clip. look at how many bystanders just walked on. nobody cares. a 2 year old girl laid there dying. and nobody cared. and another van actually ran over her again.

    this is a disease of our chinese societies. really it is. and i am postulating here, this complete apathy is both a direct result of our culture, and a system that advocates family values ahead of universal human values. i dare say Confucius is at blame here. by promoting as first order values that of filial piety, it emphasizes devotion to one’s own family rather than embracing universal human values of compassion and empathy. and the chinese governments especially the singaporean government only make things worse by removing every last bit of societal support and social safety net. in the end you are responsible for yourself and the government rams that into your head. of course one is responsible for oneself, but if you keep emphasizing that to the citizens, who would then care about others? the irony is that studies have shown that among the western societies, it is the Nordic countries with the strongest set of family values. the reason is that because they internalize human values and are assured basic human needs, they are actually freed up as human beings and are able to pursue true community building agendas, whether at the overall societal level or at the family level.

    for the same reason why nobody gave a damn about the poor dying girl on the street, nobody cared about the child standing in the rain, and we also did not care about JBJ peddling his books in public. why? because we just don’t care. or at least we don’t care enough. all we really care about, is whether our jobs are safe. and our wives are safe. and our kids get to go to Nanyang or Red Swastika or Tao Nan primary. and most most importantly, that our HDB flat values remain high. that’s all we care about.

    • 20 teo 31 October 2011 at 21:29

      just a note about the rape of nanking. The Japanese in Nanking were homicidal brutes with a preponderance of military might. The Chinese were a people brutalised by decades of instability and suffering. Regardless of the validity of the rest of your post, I would posit that it is kinda ludicrous to use the fact that many Chinese chose not to send themselves to die at the hands of the Japanese army as evidence of some sort of civilizational malaise. You are holding your own people to unreasonably higher standards.

    • 21 zinc 1 November 2011 at 14:18

      “i dare say Confucius is at blame here. by promoting as first order values that of filial piety, it emphasizes devotion to one’s own family rather than embracing universal human values of compassion and empathy. ”

      What you are talking about is a warped/distorted/abused form of (neo-)Confucianism that has been used/adopted for political or other reasons in the modern society. If you just read one Confucian text in depth–The Great Learning is a good one to start–you would realise that Confucianism is all about humanity and humaneness. The root of it all is not about favouring family over community, or family over self etc… It’s about cultivating the human in us and fulfiling the deep altruistic ethical obligation we owe to humanity as a human being. And to do that, Confucianism focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics, the most basic of which are ren (compassion and humaneness), yi (loyalty and righteousness), and li (propiety and respect). If the right Confucius is studied, and the right teachings followed, the progression is cultivated persons making up harmonious families, creating orderly and real collective societies and thus, ensuing world peace. So I can hardly imagine Confucius, the original sage, being the one at fault. More often, it’s us and our limited understandings that distort truths or blind perspectives.

    • 22 pinkie 14 November 2011 at 13:12

      i lived here for almost 27 years coming from a Ulu town of EAST MALAYSIA, i have the following incidents to share :

      1. Our first neighbour hinted to me ” oh, we come from very well to do
      family, and my husband do not like me simply ‘mix’ with anybody !”
      I sent some ‘homemade’ Pau twice and she returned her neighbourliness-manners with the above hints.

      2. when her car broke down, she knocked on my door but being 7 mths
      pregnant, i asked my sister who was visiting me to help her push the car.

      3. My 2nd neighbour said this right onto my face with her finger almost
      touched my nose’ ” Oh, you Federal people never go oversea for holidays,ONly going back to Federal /home !! my children always go over-
      sea, oversea..!!

      4.when i asked my 2 year old daughter’ playmate ‘s father in the park
      whether his daughter can sometimes come over and play with my daughter, the very funny answer was ” My child does not NEED to play with other children, they have their siblings to play with …”
      He was a Professor & wife is with MOE.
      *my English friend who just lost a baby saw the NEED of my child to have
      a playmate, she phoned around and got me into a ‘western’ play group
      and ALL WESTERN MOTHERS welcome us !!Until today, I CAN NEVER
      young mother who have NO ONE here

      5.When my mother was dying, we flew back home within 24 hrs and the
      first thing my child’ tution teacher told me ” Oh, Mrs X, you didn’t pay me
      as you have been away for 4 weeks..” NO condolences or anything..

      6. When my husband was always out of town doing Regional work, one
      of the church members commented ‘ oh, no body WANTS to do this kind
      of job..” Another said ” Oh, i am So glad i got out of living in a suitcase life”
      SO much encouragement from fellow believers??

      7. When my child had stomach ache, she asked the tuition teacher if she
      can used the washroom, the answer was ” MY WASHROOM IS FOR
      PRIVATE USE ONLY not for PUBLIC USE…do you understand the dufference between ‘private’ and ‘public’ (IN mandarin).
      My poor 9 year old RAN all the way home (10mins) and cried as she had
      soiled her pants and asked “WHY’ we were so nice to her yet she treated
      us this way ?? We always gave ‘sharkfin/birdnest’ as ‘souveniors’ to the
      teacher when we came back from our hometown…

      8. My children were asked in school ‘ DOES East Malaysians still live on TRESS?”Do you have ‘electricity’ ?
      **My children are born here and yet they were not embraced as locals.
      Comments like ‘ wow, you are Malaysian, how come your English so good?” Thanks to the western play group, I told her to relate the story!!

      9.when i joined the school’ fostering programme..and my family ‘fostered’
      2 lovely girls from China..we were shocked locals asked us how much
      were we ‘paid’ for fostering each gril (they stayed in hostels)..and analysed for us whether was it a good deal/worth to do it or not…
      When we explained it was ‘voluterred’ kind of thing and no money was
      involved..They were ‘shocked’ & almost fell off the chairs.
      ** My husband was ‘fostered’ by very kind British old couples when he
      was in Boarding school in the late 60s and we just like to ‘repay’ their
      kindness by extending our home to other young foreigners so that this
      ‘goodwill’ will recycle around..

      10. Lastly, the most unforgetable incident was ‘
      when i was 8 mths pregnant and i passed out while waiting in line in a Bank at Raffles Place, NO BODY came to lift me up while i fell onto the
      floor gently, until almost 10 mins later the clerk from the Bank came..
      To this day, i still wonder WHY no body came even though so many
      people were just ‘ standing’ in line & not ‘BUSY’..yet, they just gave you a funny look..
      ** As i had low blood pressure, i had passed out in a Casino in LA
      and a up-market restaurant in Australia WHERE PEOPLE WERE BUSY GAMBLING>>(LA) and DRINKING & DINNING.(AUST)..yet, they all
      STOPPED everything and came around to ‘help’ ‘see if i am OK’ etc..
      In Singapore, i DARED NOT HOPE !!

      The lessons for my 2 children :
      We must NOT conform to the Singapore society where ‘Bio chap’,
      ‘kiasi’ ‘kaisu’ are the norms..They were taught to be different from their
      peers. For every birthday party, they would invite their Indian, malay
      and Eurasian friends/classmates as they saw mummy & daddy has
      different foreign friends.Now, I am happy to see they have great social-confidence and have many multi-racial friends and their good friends
      are Eurasians, indians and Malays & Chinese..

      They still visit the aged 85 year old tuition teacher, spring-cleaned her
      studio apt during C.NEW Year and sent home-cooked food 2 times a
      month from me..my younger child (20 yr old) cried recently as she saw
      the teacher in a wheelchair looking very frail..

      We embraced Singapore as our country, we try our best to contribute
      to the society by extending a tea/lunch invitation to foreigners who
      just moved to our area, helped them find their ways around…
      Almost 45 foreign families been invited to our home and shared their
      cultures with us..be it, English, Americans, Indians, Mainland chinese,
      Thai, Indoessians, taiwanese, Hong kongers,sri lankans, Hungarian,
      Kahzastans, koreans, Japanese, malaysians etc…
      We are a blessed ‘culturally RICH’ family !! That is How i was brought up in east Malaysia where my parent’ home were opened to all
      races and they could get help anytime..Locals here always ‘laughed’
      at my ulu home town..I just ‘smiled’..cos’ they are ULU-MINDED !!
      In my heart i knew i had a great childhood, carefree & stress-free..
      and at any time, i can drop-by my Malay friends’ home and they will
      surely host a lovely ‘Rendang Ayam’ feast for me..yet, last week, one
      church member would not disclose another member’ telephone no. to
      me as she has to seek ‘permission’ ?? Gosh, this is a church !!.
      After 27 years, i am used to the excellent hardware-infrastructure, but
      not the software part of it.. Culturally, it is a LONG WAY to go !!

  12. 23 nihaoma 31 October 2011 at 00:27

    Actually I have always thought social trust in Singapore is very low. The punishing education system that already stream us early according to our academia ability already give Singapore youths a sense of segregation from young.

    When the foreign talent floodgates were opened, we find it more increasingly important to defend our social space and privacy and “local Singapore” values.

    • 24 Xenobio 1 November 2011 at 09:44

      Agree with your first statement but not the second one, unless you’re saying that kiasu is a “value”. I think streaming, while it is convenient for teachers, is not good for students because a) in the current system where all students at a certain level are studying the same curriculum anyway, it neither gives the “weak” students easier material nor the “strong” students more advanced material and b) it is bad for learning soft skills like cooperation and peer-teaching, and moral values like compassion. I found that explaning difficult concepts to classmates needing help, made me understand them better myself.

      Finland has the best education in the world; they do not stream; and their Minister of Education even called streaming “dangerous”. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/4031805.stm

  13. 25 kayangmo 31 October 2011 at 02:41

    Get out while you still can. Build a new home elsewhere. The govt has given up on locals, by importing foreigners, do you think YOU or any one here can change that? Fat hope.

  14. 26 Anonymous 31 October 2011 at 07:34

    You wrote an earlier article about how self centered Sporeans are becos we are of ethnic Chinese majority where the immediate Chinese family circle take center stage & anyone outside this circle is considered an outsider not worthy of attention.

    This article reaffirms the earlier points you made in that article. Perhaps you can reference to that.

  15. 28 bootlace 31 October 2011 at 08:48

    Our society is structured along punitive models. There must be rules backed by fines, wardens, cameras and coercion here and there. Without
    the implied ‘do this or else’ people will not comply. The punishment mindset
    runs through the entire social fabric, right down to say school uniformed groups and other activities. Without some authoritiative cue many people are unable to do the right thing at the right time.They gabber during a ceremony and clam up when their input is needed during a discussion.

    This environment does not foster ownership. It breeds people who are selfish, inconsiderate and deceitful. For those who are courteous and thoughtful it often becomes a situation where ‘compliance is punishing, non-compliance is rewarding’.

    I am not sure when or how we will move to a better level and I dread to think how people will behave when faced with a large scale calamity the likes of which Japan, New Zealand or Thailand has seen.

  16. 29 digitzen 31 October 2011 at 09:13

    In a highly materialistic society,
    money(wealth) and time are
    prioritize over humanities.

    It results in dog eat dog and
    power-play, the strong over
    the weak physically, financially
    socially and politically.

    In a autocratic and dictatorial
    society, divides are clearly
    marked to signify who is the

    And everyone wants to be the
    winner in everything.

    • 30 Jeff Dickey 18 November 2011 at 17:25

      I was thinking about that just this morning, when a friend pointed out something in Craigslist, of all places.

      If you look at the “women seeking men” adverts, easily 9 out of ten are for those seeking “monetary compensation per meeting” and/or come-on links to known spam sites.

      If you look at similar adverts for the CL sites for, say, Tokyo or Sydney or London, yes, there still are a few, but so few that they stand out and shriek their crassness from the surrounding (relative) gentility.

      “I guess the main things this shows is that modern Singapore is all about the pursuit of money above all, followed by selfishness in general,” says my friend who’s been a citizen here for some years. I could only retort, “Have you been on the MRT lately?”

  17. 31 yawningbread 31 October 2011 at 13:28

    I disagree with the way some comment-makers are trying to make a connection between poor social behaviour among Singaporeans and immigration. Not only is the connection tenuous at best, it is highly unfair towards immigrants. The urge to look for scapegoats is itself a reflection of a lack of graciousness in our society; in other words, the comments themselves prove the thesis.

    I am moved therefore to republish an old article (next one — I saw a man blow his nose) from way back in Feb 2000, to remind us how poor social behaviour among Singaporeans was prevalent long before the current wave of immigration.

  18. 32 Chanel 31 October 2011 at 16:06

    “I disagree with the way some comment-makers are trying to make a connection between poor social behaviour among Singaporeans and immigration. Not only is the connection tenuous at best, it is highly unfair towards immigrants.”


    I think there is quite a lot of truth in people saying that our present poor social behaviour is partly due to the high immigration rates in the past 5 years.

    I suggest you take the MRT train to Aljunied station to experience it first hand.

    • 33 ZZ 1 November 2011 at 14:13

      I agree empirically with Chanel. Immigration has set our social graces back a number of years.

      We are on guard because we all know who will profit, and who the sucker will be, if we are not.

  19. 34 jusdeananas 31 October 2011 at 20:09

    Just to digress for a bit: the issue of strollers cropped up in the ST Forum a week or two ago, and I’m wondering if anyone here has an opinion on that. Not that the typical Singaporean thoughtlessness is excusable in any case, but the use of strollers – esp. the mini-tanker variety – on public transportation is pretty lousy etiquette too. Trains and buses these days tend to be jam-packed even during off-peak hours, and there seems to be little excuse for taking up all that extra space when a sling, or a carrier that straps around the body, works just as well, if not better (easier access, maneuverability and all that).

    • 35 Dr Scrum Master 31 October 2011 at 23:49

      I’m struggling to find the words to respond to this post. Is it stupidity? Is it egotism? Is it simply bad manners?

      Are you the same idiot who rushes to the lift and does not make way for anyone with a pram? (Just like the idiots who rush out of the MRT in order to be the first to stand – yes, stand – on the escalator. If you want to get out quickly, then keep walking up the escalator. The lengths, or lack of distance really, to which Singaporeans will go, or not travel, in order to stand still on vertical transportation is amazing, they will merrily stand in a queue for a lift when an escalator is not so far away.)

      Next you will decry the selfishness of people in wheelchairs.

      Then again, this is a country where motorcyclists think it’s fine to ride and park on pavements – and for the police to do nothing about it. Too bad for the pedestrian, or anyone pushing a pram…

      • 36 jusdeananas 8 November 2011 at 19:39

        @Dr Scrum Master

        I’m going to take this point by point, simply because I think your post – the snarky tone and lazy logic of it – deserves a thoroughgoing refutation.

        1. “I’m struggling to find the words to respond to this post. Is it stupidity? Is it egotism? Is it simply bad manners? Are you the same idiot who rushes to the lift and does not make way for anyone with a pram?”
        — I get that you disagree with me on the issue. However, my previous comments were made in all seriousness, and to that end I did try to refrain from passing unwarranted judgment calls regarding individuals who, for some reason or other, do see fit to utilize strollers on public transportation. You, on the other hand, seem to have a penchant for name-calling and ugly labels. Stupidity ? Egotism ? “Idiot” ?! That you leapt immediately to these clearly objectionable epithets without even stopping to so much as consider the specific argument at hand (see no. 2 below) speaks volumes about your attitude. I’m not sure how you got from a discussion about strollers to curiously vitriolic personal attacks, but if your kind represents the general level of public discourse in this country – the inability to hold a conversation about collective values without inane verbal assaults – then, really, God help us all.

        2. “(Just like the idiots who rush out of the MRT in order to be the first to stand – yes, stand – on the escalator. If you want to get out quickly, then keep walking up the escalator. The lengths, or lack of distance really, to which Singaporeans will go, or not travel, in order to stand still on vertical transportation is amazing, they will merrily stand in a queue for a lift when an escalator is not so far away.)”
        — What does “vertical transportation” have to with the topic under consideration ? My chief point was that strollers simply take up too much space on trains and buses, esp. during the commuter rush. That’s it. I’m not sure I see the relevance of imaginary scenarios regarding what Singaporeans tend or do not tend to do when faced with a choice between elevators and escalators, since – and I repeat this for your benefit, because you seem to have missed the point by a rather wide margin – the issue at stake here is *the use of strollers on trains and buses, in particular during peak hours.* As someone notes in a comment below this one, for every anecdote that gestures at the purported inconsideration – or, conversely, the graciousness – of Singaporeans, there’ll likely be one to the contrary as well. In other words, I can cite just as many real-life instances of Singaporeans (and otherwise) who’ll just as soon clamber up an escalator as they will stay put on it, or take the lift. We could go on in that vein till the cows come home, but it wouldn’t further the original discussion one iota.
        My suggestion would be for you to stick to the question at hand, not go meandering off into the wilds of tangential generalizations.

        3. “Next you will decry the selfishness of people in wheelchairs. Then again, this is a country where motorcyclists think it’s fine to ride and park on pavements – and for the police to do nothing about it. Too bad for the pedestrian, or anyone pushing a pram…”
        — Now this last bit is completely disingenuous. Common sense should told you (or perhaps not) that that’s a vast difference between disabled/motor-impaired individuals in wheelchairs, and mothers who choose – yes, CHOOSE – to bring a stroller onto a train or a bus, when there are more than a few other space-saving options available, alternatives which I very explicitly adduce in my previous comments (and which you make absolutely no mention of, unsurprisingly). In fact, your entire tirade would seem to suggest that you either (a) don’t bother reading before leaping to all sorts of bizarre conclusions, or (b) have difficulties understanding what you do read. In any case, I’ll probably spend less time thinking up juvenile insults and more time thinking though the issues, if I were you.
        As for that final detour into the question of motorcyclists vs. pedestrians, that – once again – is a whole other matter, and immaterial in the present instance.

    • 37 Xenobio 1 November 2011 at 09:51

      I’m not a parent but I certainly sympathise with the difficulty of bringing small children on outings. Many people have back problems also and find carrying kids for long periods quite painful. I do agree however that parents should also try to minimally inconvenience others and choose strollers with a compact design.

      A big problem in Singapore IMHO is that too many parents keep older children in strollers, who should really be walking (kindy to Primary 1 age!) Not only does this contribute to crowding in public spaces, it teaches the kids bad habits from an early age. I cannot believe that there are that many physically disabled children in Singapore, most of them appear to have functioning legs. Yesterday I saw this big fat kid who barely fit into his stroller, being pushed into the MRT by a woman who appeared to be a domestic helper. Clearly his parents haven’t seen the news about too many NSFs failing their fitness tests.

  20. 38 DetachedObserver 1 November 2011 at 09:41

    Our cultural values – not only in Singapore but Asian societies in general – emphasizes loyalty to self and to those within one’s social circles. To the westernised Singaporean, we will find it somewhat uncomfortable to accept but in reality this is the default human condition.

    [I don’t really blame Confucius. He was a product of the chaos of his time and I see his work on what appeared to be his ideal society akin to Plato’s work on Utopia. It was at best a very grand thought exercise. Personally, I think the only thing one should take away is his emphasis on self-improvement.]

    Human beings are equipped with a set of instincts which drive him/her to take care of oneself, his/her mate (or spouse), their offspring and extended relations. Anything beyond a tribe you required artificial hierachial social constructs and that’s where the complex stuff come in and once in a while, things would go a bit wonky.

    Of course, we are definitely capable of more. We had philosophers and sages pop up once in a while to preach a different path. Too bad nowadays, we pray at the altar of currency and materialism.

    The problem in Singapore is exacerbated by over four decades of social engineering. Get married, get that HDB flat, produce 2.1 kids, slog at job till retirement age, etc. Everyone knows what is kiasu-ism and kiasee-ism, and we might make light of it but these are serious sociological pathologies. When everyone is busy chasing after the next car or promotion, they don’t spend time to do self-reflection.

  21. 39 RK 1 November 2011 at 11:28

    It is rather disheartening to see that in such a developed country this kind of lack of etiquette, manners, and thought for others has not been reduced to rare cases. You’d think by now, you’d see this kind of selfishness and lack of grace only once every month at most.

    I’ve witnessed the same thing with the bus scene everyday. Another similar situation would be how people hogged seats in a bus (I’m not even talking about not giving up seats for the elderly and etc. I’ve seen often that there are people who like to sit on the outside seat and put their bags on the inside and when someone who’s obviously looking for a seat comes near, they just ignore instead of picking up their bag to place on their lap to allow the other person the seat).

    Another thing I’ve seen is at a taxi stand once there was a disabled man sitting on the ground in a puddle, his pants soaked. His walker was a meter away from him, and he had no means to get up. In front of him were a line of about 10 people waiting for their cabs and ignoring him. And in the time from when first spotting him from where I was walking until I reached where he was, at least 10 others walked pass him without even a glance.

    Personally, I don’t think trust is the root issue here, but rather the undertone of the effects. It shows more of a lack of consideration for others. And because of this existing in themselves, they think the same of others. Hence they fight for even the smallest things and in a cyclical chain of cause and effects prove to the next person that this belief of others’ inconsideration to be true, incurring more pettiness such as this.

    Here’s what I think is a befitting quote from someone I know:
    “These people act out of fear… fear of giving away or losing something they don’t have in the first place.”

    To put in the context of the disabled man at the taxi stand, I would say that people don’t help others out because the conversation in their heads often conclude that “Why should I help him when if in the same situation no one would help me, don’t I also have my own worries?” and thus they fear to help someone and not get back any help. Whereas a person without fear would give away their help without any expectation of any help in return.

  22. 40 Shanice Foh 1 November 2011 at 11:33

    I don’t often read ur blog but TOC posted this on their page . So i have something to say :
    There are, i am sure many kind commuters around. Some people are so cynical nowadays ,or should i say the observer is one himself.

    And he is talking about the survey done be the Straits Times which i don’t really believe. And he put the blame to the goverment again about those dozens of people going up the bus ….

    Uncouth Singaporeans ? How u know they are really Singaporens ?

    Don’t blame everything to the goverment when your parents should be the one teaching you manners.

  23. 41 Mully 1 November 2011 at 13:15

    Well, what can I say! I agree that the current S’porean behaviour (especially the youngs) has a lot to do with the immigrants (foreign talent or not) and global exposure from the internet. S’pore Govt. is solely focus on economic growth as they have the responsiblity to answer to fellow S’porean. The rest ……have to wait!

    Let me give you another real-life example. A friend of mine is a taxi-driver, supporting his 7 members-family. Two of his children is in tertiary level and their transport and pocket money cost a bomb to him. After calling ComCare for assistance, he was finally directed to North-East CDC for help. The CDC replied that ‘based on their guidelines’, they normally give $30/child for the transport but nothing about the pocket money!! His son’s transport fee is $60/mth, while his daughter’s $40/month. Their pocket money is $200/month.

    Does CDC implies that his son can only go to his campus for 2wks/mth? If the Govt. or CDC REALLY wanted to help, why give help half or quarter way? This is not helping honestly!! Just Wayang!!

    The degrading value of our citizen’s is certainly the result of Govt policies ….. but do S’poreans wanted a change?

    • 42 pinkie 14 November 2011 at 13:28

      Do you know the costs of maintaining the tress by our road sides cost
      more than helping these disadvantaged children ?

  24. 43 ZZ 1 November 2011 at 14:36

    Unfortunately, bad news is the only way to get the Government’s attention. The Government has validated our lack of trust in it to deliver of its own accord.

    In principle we should blame ourselves for anti-social behaviour, yet we all know the Government is not without a role.

    If the Government wishes to present Singapore as a Global City complete with good social graces, that is well and good (and has nothing to do) with me.

    But I will not support its objective unless and until it supports my very reasonable objectives: decent public transport and immigration policy.

    Until then, I will be happy to see its objective suffer. This is far from ideal, but the Government made the rules when it decided it could play God with its constituents and enact social engineering through direct and indirect penalties.

    We should not play ball unless the Government plays ball.

    We should not get with their programme until OUR Government gets with our programme.

  25. 44 variasian 1 November 2011 at 14:41

    I agree with some of Pauls’ observations about civic mindedness in some Western countries. If all of the commenters on this post can, the next time they witness such an event, offer to shepherd people into a queue and say something like, ‘Please let the mother go first’, or similar, things in 10 or so years will become completely different. Look upon the ‘social miscreant’ with disapproval. Whatever it is, take a stand. Even if the others boarding the bus ignore you or refuse to listen. Don’t let that stop you from doing it again the next time. Take photos and post them online.

  26. 45 Anonymous 1 November 2011 at 14:55

    seriously, our success at nation building is an almost total inculcation of prgamatic, realistic human (not social) behavior that can be measured with statistics, things like GDP, Employment rates, etc..
    A lack of social kindness is the shortcoming of this pursuance of economic success.
    The government fully believes that with $$$, all things will take care of itself, as you can see from the half past six schemes of social assistance, birth benefits, and a clear lack of social happiness policies.

  27. 46 mirax 2 November 2011 at 00:52

    I am really sorry but the ridiculousness of your anecdote about a woman with a youg one in a stroller waiting in the rain to board a bus that is already packed full strikes more me far more than the angst over our lack of social graces. what was the woman hoping to achieve and how could any of the others waiting have helped her if the bus was already packed as you described. Her only option was to – put he safety and comfort of ther child first- and move back into the bus shelter.

    Yes we know that Singaporeans are uncouth, crude and selfish – none other the venerable old man and our media has been drumming this one from the sixties- so your disdain is not anything new. We are all peasants, well most of us.

    But I must be living in a different place from most of you elite folks – heartland hougang! – as I actually encounter many more acts of kindness and courtesy from my fellow singaporeans than acts of selfishness. My day to day interactions with my neighbours, salespeople, taxidrivers etc is actually tolerably pleasant. I am a little less bothered by snot than the neighbour who waters my plants for me. That same neighbour has an elderly relative who’d be destitute if not for her kindness in housing him. Said relative is a bit deranged and lurks about corridor late at night and regularly hides his garbage amongst my plants. I dont complain because i recognise that people are just trying to do their best with limited resources.

    I am not chinese or a papbot but all this talk about the nastiness of Singaporeans just about drives me up the wall. Any of you know what life is like commuting in any Indian city? Do any people have a , er, natural instinct to line up? It is an entirely learned response – with social disapproval to face if broken. Let us then learn to make life easier for ourselves and our fellow citizens instean of reaching for essentialist and rather racist explanations for quite minor problems.

  28. 47 mirax 2 November 2011 at 01:05

    Let me give you an anecdote about how some of our new citizens behave then.

    There is a hindu temple in serangoon north frequesnted by a lot of the new expats who dont actually worship there but flock there in huge numbers for the free food served. The lines (Alex, you must be so happy to hear this) snake all the way the main entrance. Before the temple authorities made the queuing up mandatory, the new citizens crashed their way up front leaving kids and elderly folks with no food sometimes. I know because my 8 year old niece attended language classes there and complained numerous times about being pushed aside by the adults. When my sidter started complaining and stopped going to the temple despte it being a mere 5 minute walk from her home, I thought she was being haughty and snobbish as i had mistakenly assumed the culprits to be poor foreign workers trying to save a few bucks and felt that no one should begrudge them that. Sorry, but it was never the poorer foreign workers.

    I spoke to someone on the temple committee and he confirmed the situation was indeed a new and trying one for the temple. Just goes to show you that for every one anecdote you give about the bad behaviour of locals , I can match it for one where they behave much better than foreigners. Care for a temple outing?

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