It’s been a week since I've come back from Vietnam and as things would have it, I've been given plenty to write about. If you were superstitious, you could say that the dragon (it’s the Chinese Year of the Dragon) has decided to swipe its tail to reveal the ugly side of the place I've called home.
I’m generally quite happy in Singapore. Anyone who’s lived here can tell you that the place has gotten plenty of the important things right. I will never tire telling people that Singapore is what a city should be – clean, green and rich. In terms of our basic facilities and amenities, we’re as good; if not better off than most places on earth (I’m comparing Singapore with developed cities in the USA and Europe). I do value things like the safety.
What gets to me about living in Singapore is the attitude of my fellow countrymen towards the less fortunate, particularly if the less fortunate happen to be dark and come from other parts of Asia. I've been living here for over a decade now and I should be immune to these things by now, but I’m not. You might argue that it’s a character flaw of mine but I get very upset whenever I come across the attitudes of Singaporeans towards “other Asians.”
Like with most things in Singapore, the ‘omnipotent’ government needs to bear a chunk of the responsibility for the development of this attitude. The government calls it being pragmatic. I would call it being a racist bully. We are currently killing ourselves to welcome ‘Western Bankers’ into the island. I've got nothing against Westerners per se, some of my best friends and family are. I've also got nothing against financiers per se.
What I do object to is how the group that brought us the “sub-prime” crisis is being billed as ‘heroic’ and ‘necessary’ for ordinary people. When three of them assaulted ordinary people, the police decided it was best to let them go and a few decided to defend them on the internet. The actions of the powers-that-be have sent a clear message – certain people need to be venerated.
Just as official policy venerates one group, it denigrates another. Try being Indian, Bangladeshi, Vietnamese, Pilipino or Mainland Chinese. These groups work in the so called ‘dirty’ jobs that the locals won’t do and instead of making it easier for this lot to either make a living, official policy does the opposite. Just as we kill ourselves to welcome Western Bankers, we proudly sent gun boats to turn away Vietnamese boat people fleeing a war in the 70s and nearly 40 years later, we’re doing exactly the same thing. The government proudly denied entry to Vietnamese vessel that had the misfortune to rescue 40 Rohingaya’s fleeing genocide in their native Burma.
Perhaps the politicians are seeing something that I don’t see here but who we show compassion to seem grossly wrong. When Westerners who have been screwed out of their homes decide to turn on the bankers who screwed them, we rush to show compassion to the bankers. When people flee being imminent slaughter, we decide that they’re not worthy of our compassion. Not sure where the logic in that comes from.
Anyway, we've always known that politicians are an interesting lot. What gets to me is the attitude that people show towards the less fortunate.
Thankfully someone else has expressed outrage in another blog (http://limpehft.blogspot.sg/2012/12/heartless-government-heartless-people.html) and I’m not going to list out the attitudes that people have.
What I will say is that it necessary to make voices like the mentioned blogger more available and to turn youthful outrage into something more sustainable. It gets to me when you have a picture of people struggling to survive and the response, which is best summed up as, “Oh, they’re so dirty, they’ll affect my nice comfortable life.” I think of Andrew Loh, publisher of Publichouse.sg, who wrote a piece about the appalling living conditions on yahoo (http://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/leave-tough-talk-aside-110105229.html) and had responses that were as immature as “Wah, you want to hire a maid for them ah”
What gets to me is that many of the commentators are not stupid or uneducated. Most are middle-class working professionals. So, I have to ask myself if being educated is really all that it’s cracked up to be. It’s like we've become so sanitized that we've forgotten what it is like to be human.
I think of my week in rural Vietnam with the other half’s family. People didn't have the facilities that we have. Yet they all had enough to eat and people helped each other. There was a sense of humanity there.
I’ll be honest here. I had internet withdrawal symptoms and I needed to get back to trying to work. I did miss modern amenities.
Yet, a day after settling back into modern amenities, I started missing rural Vietnam. The place energized me. I couldn’t place my finger on what it was that made me feel so energized after the place. I've now figured it out. People over there have retained some sense of humanity. It’s something that we need to regain.