Singaporeans are whingers, period

I found this letter in TODAY amusing in a sad way (note emphasized paras) – it is scarily accurate in reading Singaporeans and at the same time sheds some light on part of the problem our homeless animals face in trying to eke out a living among us.

We are so intolerant of our fellow-men — people who have come here to do the dirty jobs singahpor pansies can’t even bear to contemplate — how can we have the generosity of heart to be compassionate for the non-humans among us? Cats have died just being. Plus, the government is happy to bend over backwards to accommodate whingers… so while the behavior of the woman may not be representatitve of Singaporeans, it’s not all that uncommon either, to the point that two members of Parliament, Dr Mohd Maliki Osman and Mr Lim Biow Chuan have said that Singaporeans are too complaint-happy, too reliant on the government for resolution, and too intolerant. How much lower can we sink?

This story was printed from TODAYonline
Doesn’t our food smell, too?

Prejudiced mindset must change if we believe in multiculturalism

Monday • November 12, 2007

Letter from KUMKUM SETH

I refer to media reports on concerns about foreign workers in Singapore.

I find it very disturbing to hear the increasingly prejudiced views expressed in public about foreign workers, especially construction workers.

At a meeting recently with a Member of Parliament and local residents, a well-dressed Singaporean woman raised the “problem” of foreign construction workers. When pressed, she admitted that they had never done anything to her but seeing them in her area disturbed her.

“They may cause crime,” she said. The other residents nodded in agreement.

A senior policeman pointed out that foreign workers in the area rarely commit crimes and that most of the culprits were pub crawlers. But no one wanted to drop the idea that foreign workers were trouble. The policeman had no choice but agree to keep a closer eye on them.

Other than the imagined crime we attribute to foreign workers, these are some of the flimsy objections we raise:

•Too many of them live in one apartment. Here’s a thought: Would Singaporeans be able to afford to live any better if they were paid the same wages as some foreign workers are?

• Curry smells. Doesn’t our food (fried fish, belacan and durian) smell, too? Are we so parochial that we only object to smells that are different from our own?

• They hang their clothes outside to dry. A walk around any housing estate will show the many laundry poles outside our flats, attesting to the fact that Singaporeans hang their laundry out to dry as well.

• They hang out in large groups and that’s scary. I think our prejudices are far more frightening than a group of men finding company in numbers when far away from home.

• They don’t speak English. It’s unlikely that they can afford the time or money to take English language classes. If this is really an issue, the Government could make it mandatory for employers to provide all foreign workers with two-hour English language classes every week.

It seems perfectly fine for foreign workers to work long hours with low wages to construct the buildings that drive our economic boom. But many of us fail to remember how difficult their daily lives must be.

This mindset does not speak well for multiculturalism. It isn’t enough for Singapore to produce tourist brochures showcasing us as a harmonious, multi-ethnic society. This attitude needs to be part of our daily lives before it becomes true.

Let’s start with the way we think about foreign workers.

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.

This is the article the letter-writer referenced

This story was printed from TODAYonline
foreign in our own way

Loud chatter, strange food … Singaporeans seem just as alien to others when they are abroad

Weekend • November 10, 2007

Crispina Robert

IF EVER an HDB block of flats represents Singapore’s current mix of inhabitants, mine would surely be it.

I live in a part of Singapore that does not fetch sky-high property prices, nor does it attract parents who want to be close to choice schools. But I do find it fascinating being a Singaporean amidst people who come from such distant lands to make a living in my country.

Next door to me live a posse of shipyard workers from India who wake up at 6am and return home exhausted at 8pm every day. At least six of them are crammed inside that little flat.

Next door to them is a single Chinese man who I assume is a local because he greets me in Singlish.

Next to him is a family of five, two young boys, their parents and another man who sounds like he is from Thailand. I am not sure because they usually do not make eye contact with me.

When I tell people where I live and that many of my neighbours are foreigners, they baulk.

“You better lock your door properly!” said my ever-paranoid mother.

“Aiyoh, not safe right?,” added another curious relative.

At first, I admit that I did find it quite annoying. Walking past a household full of men is not always a feast for the senses. The mix of sweat, food and unwashed clothes hits you like a sudden, unpleasant wave.

And the aroma of their pungent curries can be overwhelming at times. When we bump into one another in the lift, I also wish they would be more polite and not stare at me.

When I take my children to the playground a few bus stops away, it feels like I am in the United Nations’ staff quarters. At one end is a gaggle of women speaking in Hindi. When they do see me and smile, they ask a very common question: “Are you local?”

Perhaps a little too indignantly, I answer “yes” and then bury my head in my book.

In another corner, a group of Chinese mothers squat by their babies and eat kwa chee (melon seeds). I watch them throw the shells on the ground and feel like telling them not to litter. But I don’t and go back to watching the kids.

Reading the many complaints about foreigners in the press and on Internet forums got me thinking. Why are we so irked by foreigners? Is it really them? Or does the problem lie with us?

Let’s look at the numbers. Our population stands at about 4.7 million people. Of these, some 1 million are foreigners, not including PRs — all of us living cheek by jowl on just over 700 sq km of land.

And this number is set to swell — the Government has said it expects the population to grow to 6.5 million. Since Singaporeans can’t add to the head count all by ourselves, the result is this new social situation.

If we invite foreigners here so they can boost our numbers and economy, are we being unreasonable in expecting them not to live in our neighbourhoods, go to our shopping centres or hospitals and take our buses and trains? But what a strange thing to expect!

Many of the people who clear our rubbish bins are foreigners, as are those who work in our shipyards.

Many caregivers, the very people who help look after our loved ones are — you guessed it — foreigners!

It might help if we make the effort to understand how people behave. Yes, it is hard to get used to a foreigner’s mannerisms and habits but isn’t it the same when Singaporeans are abroad?

Our need to be who we really are does not change just because our location does.

No matter how fancy a four-room flat may seem compared to a hut in a foreign country, we can’t expect foreigners to give up what they like doing — whether it be talking loudly, cooking strange food or tossing their rubbish about nonchalantly.

I do, however, recognise that making a logical argument doesn’t take away the resentment many of us feel.

When I log on to online forums, there are many posts about “FTs” (foreign talents).

Invariably, the posts centre on how they take away spots for our children in schools, our jobs and our seats on the MRT. These feelings are here to stay and with space getting tighter, the complaints will probably get louder.

Sometimes though, our prejudices block us from being honest about our own failings.

The lifts in my block constantly reek of urine. I’ve been curious to find out who the unmannered culprit was.

One day, I caught someone relieving himself behind the letterboxes. I was certain it was one of “those” foreigners and was determined to make a complaint.

But when I sneaked up to see who it was, I was surprised and disappointed. I knew the “urinator” — he was a friendly elderly man who lives in my block. He is also 100-per-cent Singaporean — I know this because we’ve spoken several times.

Bad manners isn’t only confined to the guests living in our country. The hosts can be just as guilty. So the next time you start to complain about foreigners, take a good look in the mirror first.

Crispina Robert is a freelance writer and editor who tries to make conversation with the Bangladeshi cleaners in her block. She hasn’t yet been successful because they don’t understand a word she says.

Copyright MediaCorp Press Ltd. All rights reserved.


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