Culture / Food & Drinks / Human Rights / Music / People

From a restaurateur: Seeing the world as it is.

He’s not a foreigner, he’s a local Singaporean. But, this middle-aged chubby restaurateur has spent 6 months in the United States and many more years in Australia.

He moved back from Perth to Singapore about 4-5 years ago. He claims to have had personally served the Queen of Spain, the Prime Minister of Australia, even addressing them in their first names and so on. I don’t know whether this is a true or not, my experience in the past few months has made me a bit skeptical about those who use phrases like “I know X personally”. But, he came back here. And, now, as far as I can tell, he exhibits the characteristics of someone who is extremely disappointed, frustrated, and angry by the system here.

He is not the first, nor the last person I’ll meet who tells me about the difficulties of living in Singapore. Foreigners from more liberal countries who have taken the time to really understand this country (travelling around the upper-class areas of Orchard, City Hall and Bukit Timah will not reflect the true, local culture here), or even those residing in Singapore who have had experience of living overseas have similar ramblings.

Why is this country, which is so successful in the eyes of the world in terms of economic development, technological and educational achievement; a country that attracts the envy of its neighbouring countries, have such a cold and hard society? The existence of this ‘kiasu’ culture, which on one hand, promotes productivity and personal achievements beneficial for the nation’s economy, is a double-edged sword which without a common goal (such as the betterment of human kind through community living) also promotes a highly individualistic and selfish behaviour towards materialistic pursuits.

The restaurateur retracted back a little, stating that the blame should not all be put on the people. Their ignorance combined with the brainwashing through decades of education and the hierarchical, bureaucratic system here force people to behave as such. Without such extreme self-interested behaviours, people would not survive in this dog-eat-dog world a.k.a. Singaporean society.

One of the few reasons, he continued, on why many local people sprout that Singapore is the best place to live in is because most of them have never stepped out of the country before. It’s like a frog who in all its life, lived in a small lake and rashly thinks that there’s all there is although it has never seen the larger world. The Malays use a proverb, ‘katak di bawah tempurung’ or ‘a frog living underneath a coconut shell’ for people who have been sheltered all their lives and are naïve about worldly matters.

We, human beings, are very talented. We can use whatever knowledge we know to compose a story logical enough to convince our minds, and then, believe it whole-heartedly. Sometimes this opinion might be true, but it can be thoroughly false too. But, it doesn’t matter. We’ll use our ignorance to fuel our beliefs and thus, we consider them ‘truths’ when they are not. One recent Tony award-winning musical, a religious satire called ‘The Book of Mormons’ has an amusing musical number to demonstrate how easy it is to think something is true, just because we believe in it:

How I got all this in a clumsy afternoon is something to wonder by itself. Dressed in my student tee-shirt with shorts and slippers, maybe he saw a harmless student sitting alone and sipping on ice lemon tea with books scattered around, and just being a good friendly Samaritan wanted to talk. The conversation opened up from NUS Convocation Ceremony, leading to how the university is ripping off its students’ money by insisting them (either by force or using a more subtle but powerful method called peer influence) to buy the expensive teddy bear for $46, which eventually led to these topics of Singapore and its governance.

I can’t say whether his tale is to be believed or not, but he’s looking for someone to write an article or book about his experiences, which he claims he has the documented evidence for his difficulties. So, if anyone has interested parties, let me know.

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