“What la, these fellas, spend hundred dollars on petrol, one two dollars also cannot put,” said the Skinny Tamil as he walked past me. I was sitting on the Astroturf at St. Wilfred’s Sports Complex, off St. George’s Rd, Bendemeer. I quite like playing there. Except for the micro black rubber sand that squirms into every possible crevice on your person – shorts, shirts, boots, hair. Oh, and falling on that frictionfull pitch can leave you with a nasty burn.
Skinny Tamil had just walloped the ball out of play (the tennis players on the adjacent courts were by now used to Size 5 Adidas balls bouncing in, interrupting their games. HAHA! There’s another class juxtaposition for you: Soccer vs. Tennis players) so that all the car-owning players could rush off the field, snatch their car key from their sport bags, and rush to their car before the Ticket Auntie got there. The Ticket Auntie? Yes, the dreaded Ticket Auntie. Dressed in white and blue. Prowling Singapore’s car parks for cars sans coupons. Keying offender’s details into their mobile computers and then issuing ‘samans’ (fines). I would hate their job. Their job is to bring misfortune to others. The more sadness they bring, they more money they make. Can you imagine? Every time you make money, you infuriate somebody. And nobody likes getting fined for parking offences. Especially when there are tons of spots available. I mean, what’s the Marginal Cost of me parking there, right? ZERO!
Anyway, somebody on the sidelines had screamed, “Ticket Auntie here!” a desperate call to action that most players initially dithered over. Once it sunk in, and Skinny Tamil had booted the ball out, the car-owners sprung into life, and raced off the field. Some got there in time, a few others ‘kena saman’ (got fined). Ticket Aunties showed no remorse. They had to make a living.
But Skinny Tamil had a point. Why do the few Singaporeans fortunate enough to own $100,000 cars find it so difficult to punch out $1 parking coupons? Lazy? In a rush? Cheap? Or that old adage, “Do what you want, just don’t get caught”?
Lazy? Are Singaporeans lazy? We can be if we want to. “Chin Chai la”. “Bo Chup”. A bit of laziness in there
In a rush? Often we are. Often we invent it. Often we like to seem it.
Cheap? Again, we can be if we want to. Maybe frugal’s a better description though.
“Do what you want, just don’t get caught”?
That has Singapore written all over it. It’s in our blood, it pumps through our veins, it clouds every decision we make.
I bet that most people who don’t display coupons feel they’re not going to get caught.
“Quickly, lah, I’m sure I can run in and ta pao some char kway teow before she comes round.”
But at a more macro level, this strikes at a very fundamental Singaporean chord. We act according to what we can and cannot do. We think and speak with boundaries firmly in place. We walk where we’re told to, and don’t dance where we’re barred from.
Rules (and enforcement) govern our lives. Completely and absolutely. We Singaporeans have outsourced our moral judgment to our Government. It happened a long time ago. We flush the toilet not because we want to keep it clean. We flush because there is a big fat fine waiting for the pee crime.
When will we move from a culture of negative enforcement to positive enforcement? From sticks to carrots? When will organic civic consciousness grow and the need for top-down Government instruction decline? Who knows. Who really cares.
Why, you may ask, do we need positive enforcement if the negative works? The outcome is the same, isn’t it? Either way, the toilet gets flushed, right? Yes. But the spirit is different. And only when we start flushing because we care for the next user (and not because of a fine fear), will we be able to escape the self-interested, egotistical complex that this system has bred in us.
But this post has gone off-topic a bit. Let me bring it back, unsuccessfully probably. Skinny Tamil, after uttering the opening line of this blog to me, walked to his team’s psuedobench, where their belongings were. And then it struck me. Skinny Tamil’s entire team was there! They were still by the pitch! Not a single one of them had heeded the
“Ticket Auntie here!” call! They must be frustrated with us. Half our team had gone. We were holding the game up.
Half our team had cars, none of theirs did. Our team was Chinese (save for a Manjew – half Manjen, half Jew – and me), theirs was Indian.
All said and done, the wealth disparity in this country is startling.
This is not a jack against the powers that be. I doubt they can do much about this instantly. No silver bullet. In fact, we already live in a splendid meritocracy. We have tremendous equality in educational opportunity, compared to many other nations. No country has yet learnt how to redistribute wealth well, especially when the disparity falls along racial lines.
But we must keep trying.