Another eye catching, thought provoking recent news article on the now infamous "I hate Singapore" facebook group. Accordingly to the news snippet, most of the members are unsurprisingly our citizens, which in turn encouraged other expats to give in to their numerous rant and complaints about my country.
(news source: http://newpaper.asia1.com.sg/news/story/0,4136,199816-1240610340,00.html )
"The Facebook page says the creator is one Mr Wils Cheng . When The New Paper e-mailed to ask him why he set up the group, he simply referred us to the write-up on the group's Facebook page. He would not say if he is Singaporean. On whether he felt his group's stand was too harsh, Mr Cheng replied: 'I do regret that the name of the group may be 'harsh and unfair', but the things we advocate - free speech, free blogging, less restriction on art and expression, and cultural progress - are all positive.'"
Firstly what does he has to hide whether he is a singaporean? Afraid of repercusions? Is he a a true reformer at heart or coward in disguise?
Freedom of speech doesnt always equate to objective nor constructive airing of opinions. However, how many of those ranting out there are truly unbiased?Sure, in many ways Singapore is lacking and requires areas of improvement, but hey, which country is perfect? Is it really necessary to bash your own country and being so shamelesly unnationalistic? To set up a group to publicly humiliate your own birth place, really, does it make you a better qualified person to think that you have all sides of the stories especially when I suspect a good portion of the people may not even have experience residence in other continents before they shot off their mouth without regards.
I found it ironical at how China which has more human rights restrictions imposed on its citizens produced more nationalistic citizens than us. The chinese are profusingly genuinely proud of their own nation in comparsion. In face of any criticsims in the political or media arena, many times, China citizens from many parts would band together and stick it out defending their country, lashing at the negativity. Yet for Singaporeans who had it better in many aspects, often had nothing but disdain and public outcry against their own land, much eager to embrace the "renegade" badge as if it is some perverse honor. It is this public group of "thoughtless" people that I really loathe that makes others like us having to suffer the mockery by people of other nations, and having to defend ourselves in the face of slapping our own cheek by our own people.
Everyone in life shares different priorities of what is important to them, hence its up to a person how much one is willing to forgo in acceptance of the values that is dearest to their own heart. I have many expat friends living in Singapore and loving it because they can never imagine return to their own country may it Australia, London or New York. They would rather put up with bad English than return to the inconveniences they grow up in, or the unsafe environment where walking alone at night is unsafe, an underground tube that constantly breaks down, or the wet and gloomy expensive life that surrounds them. Overly passionate ciztiens aside, for those foreigners who had unreservedly shared their candid negative views, I hold nothing against them because they have every right to reject what was offered to them and return to their homeland which in turn have its own vices and flaws. However, the question that I wonder is how many of them have even truly tried to adapt or blend in with the locals without that "I am an expat attitude?"
As to the gripes of Ms Laila Allen from Australia, English may be our first working language medium but regardless how much our govt may try to promote it, it is not our NATIVE language (mother tongue) that is if you havent come to realise in your stay in Singapore. Due to our diverse cultural ethnicity, we need a non offensive neutral common language to communicate - hence English. Yet to many, most of all revert to the language which we are most comfortable with in either Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka, Tamil, or Malay etc when we aint working. Yes it is no excuse for bad pronunciation nor grammatical errors when it comes to service industry, however it is apparent that many of our service staff are not highly educated people. They may not necessary have all had the fortune of a good education and what's more, they most probably come from families where English may not be the main medium at home, nor least of all gone to a top school where one could mouth off English perfectly without your so call bad accent. Plus I do resent the fact that the person you are criticising could jolly well be someone Else's mother, brother or sister who does not have the luxury of a proper education. Rather than be judgemental, think about all those poor old aunties and uncle who have to pick up another working language just to find work in this modern society before one starts to pass a sweeping condemnation on all working staff.
I fail to believe all Singaporeans speak badly. Sure there are many where even I would cringe hearing them but I certainly can vouch for numerous Singaporeans who had fantastic spoken English. And as for accent, does one personally think that the thick Australian Queensland English or the Ireland's slang is anything easier nor understandable to other foreigners?
Perhaps Australia is luckier in the sense that their ancestors are of prisoner stock from London, combined with working class migrants from other European countries, hence inheriting the mixture of Cockney, Irish and Welsh, Germany accent. Singapore on the other hand are descendants from of migrants from different part of China, India and Asia states and hence English has never been part of our heritage until we were colonised, which even then, still was a language for the rich and not the common folks. Hence having a weird varied form of accent differing from many other western countries where English is deeply entrenched for centuries is thus comprehensible. We may not have perfect crisp Queens English, nor the nasal American accent for most of the lot but for the last 44 years since English was introduced to our curriculum, and moving on I believe we are getting there, through the evolution of generations combined with the influx of more westerners to taking up residency. However, one has to bear in mind that our society will always be formed by different tier of classes and those who are perfect in English would unlikely be found to be serving in a restaurant, supermarket, receptionist or fronting the desk of a customer service (with exception to citibank customer service perhaps) unless it is a part time job.
On the other matter, just because one asked a question in English in foreign land, one shouldn't arrogantly presume and expect everyone to reply in English, least of all perfect English. If someone continued to speak mandarin or any other foreign language to you, it doesnt mean they do not care about your existence. At times, they are trying to help and hoping in a tiny chance you can make sense of their conversation. When I was in Japan and once asked a (5 star) hotel staff a question in English, he started out feebly in grammatically incorrect English and started to talk in Japanese to himself, to his colleague and to me, desperately hoping hope against hope I may be able to make sense. I am not offended just because he is speaking Japanese to me when I had asked in English. And neither am i critical at the fact that he wasnt able to speak English fluently in a 5 start hotel. In Hong Kong, you can speak English but when you meet someone who doesnt or not quite fluently, they too would also quickly revert back to speaking in Cantonese and fretting about how to convey a point. In Paris, I got misdirected and people tried to point me back in French even though I know they can speak English. Yet I was never offended. Hence the point is, if you dont understand what other people are saying to you, dont point the fingers at others expecting people to accommodate your language. Instead, while in ROME, do what the ROMANS do, go pick up another language, at least basic speech to get you by. If you succeed in acclimatising yourself to the host country, you will in turn be richly rewarded with warmer service and an easier time. When I went back to Japan with the ability to speak their language, the already impeccable service was raised several levels especially by service staff who are not fluent in English and appreciating the simple gesture. The point is , Dont just rave and rant and expect other people to give in to your language medium. If you can speak their language, you would bound to discover how much easier your life will be in a foreign land. I have seen many expats living overseas turn their nose up at the locals and congregate associating amongst themselves, bitching and complaining about matters that would have easily resolve / dissolve if they would learn to integrate with the locals, which obviously was too much to ask from them.
Singapore never professed to be a western country, our national anthem isnt even English. At heart, we are a mix lot, mixed heritage living together. English is only but our common business language. So if one comes across another person on the street, I personally feel that the person is NOT obliged to reply you in English or even be fluent in it. This is NOT to excuse poor linguistic skills in the general public and especially the service industry (which I do concur requires huge improvement but who is going to pay for their British council courses?) but to pin the blame on the whole nation, I think is a little too much. Unless ALL our educational teachers are native English speakers, or had gone through British council course (would parents like to pick up a more expensive school fee tab?) to improve their speech, this situation of weird Singapore accents will always remain a cyclical challenge. What's more, should the huge influx of continuous tourists from China pumping so much cash into western countries expect them to be fluent in Mandarin in the service industry as well if that is the argument to go by? Hong Kong is a good example of a country doing that and no one is faulting their less than perfect Mandarin accent. Hong Kong is colonised by the Brits far longer than Singapore and yet Cantonese remained their main language medium and English is horridly indecent by far and large, situation not helped by the teaching medium swapped to Mandarin in schools years back since the reunification with China. So why is Singapore beating ourselves up so badly in comparison?
There is a difference between airing the gaps and pushing for improvements vs downright negating and turning your back on your own nationality.
I have lived in Australia myself and the English of many people there are neither perfect nor always pristine grammatically correct even if it's their first and ONLY language. And yes, while I readily agree that the Australian staff are friendlier, and warmer, however that does not equate to competency either. I too have my endless fair share of rants about service in Sydney to the point that I often wonder if one should abolish the "welfare allowance" or that the unions are not wielding too much power to the point that the staff doesnt care about what is "customer oriented service", nor do they care about what is call after sales service. Such complacency to me is much more deplorable than an "incompetent singapore staff" who may not know how to handle a question but had the decency to rope in their manager to address any complaints of the staff. In David Jones Sydney, I had the fortunate experience of a male staff who served us halfway but decided that it was time for his smoking break, and no qualms to leave us waitin for good 30-45mins while he scooted out without a word. When we enquired for the followup, no one had a clue, and no one bothered to locate any floor manager if there was even one. When the staff returned, no apologies, no concerns. Whatever we asked, he had no idea and couldnt care less. In another instance, the female staff were just chatting and chatting and couldnt care less that I was in a hurry to pay and go. In another instance where I was promised white goods delivery, and only to have the guys dumping it on my doorstep saying that carrying it into the apartment or assembly is NOT their job, not giving a damn if a single woman could even carry the heavy goods in that require 3 big blokes to handle. So how is Sydney any better when it comes to service quality? Perfect English alone doesnt redeem bad service either nor gain any affections in my books. I rather have someone who is half arsed in English but get the job done without me fretting or getting annoyed with the blatant "couldnt care less" attitude. Hence I think it is a bit rich for any Australians to complain about service in Singapore or any other Asia countries for a fact.
A good portion of westerners may have learned a 2nd / 3rd language but that good portion has never master it well either. I take Kevin Rudd as an outstanding exception. However, even with a chinese son-in-law, how many in his family are able to speak mandarin well? We take a look at a good portion of Australians, which many are not able to speak another language apart from English, not even when they have Aboriginal people in their own backyard and a substantial number of Asians in their community. What is worse is they are still fighting discrimination of the locals against the aboriginals the land they had cruelly stolen from. A good portion of American likewise in a similar position, where English is the only dominant language despite the fact they are a melting pot of other ethnic races like the Hispanic etc. The point I am trying to make here is that there are many groups of people out there who felt so discriminated against to a point that it was a cheering fact that a non-white president has been elected. Hence. shouldnt there be more hate group out there from other countries then to rant about the inequality, discriminating and judgemental society they live in compared to the peeving, trival matters that had been raised in this "I hate singapore" group?
While it is natural and almost 2nd nature to have tons of grievances, contentions about nagging issues,and exasperation's over flaws of a country, however it is childish and petty, even bordering on ingrate for any citizens to declare an open hatred for your own country over such inane matters (unless someone has a political agenda to it which makes it a separate matter). People who constantly gripe about Singapore laws, I often throw back a question, why should strict laws offend anyone who doesnt seek to act out a crime? Incidentally to the ignorant foreigner, personal consumption of gum is not an offence, the sale of it is.
Living in other countries, one also has to pay (different) taxes, abide by another set of laws, work, sleep, eat, watch TV, hang out at cinema cafes malls and beach. What's the big difference? For those complaining of the lack of fun and scenery, go get a great job, and that's what paid holidays and travelling are for. Dont just take for a week or two and gleam only the surface of pretty things, try roughing it out and perhaps some exposure of other people's way of lives in another country would do you a little good and widen your shallow narrow horizon. I had a friend who once told me the difficulty she had locating a rental apartment because no one wanted to rent to a non Japanese, regardless how good her track records may be. Or doesn anyone know the sort of "social" class a working woman at work has in Japan a well civilised country?I was shocked by such a given alienation. People in Sg doesnt know how good they have it despite our country's imperfections.
As for those who carelessly and unreservedly stamp their disapproval and hatred towards Singapore so much, one has to rem there are always 2 sides to a coin and rem the old saying, where the pasture is always greener on the other side but isnt necessary so when you actually do step across.
sidetrack: It's always sad to have a bunch of born and bred people doing their own country bashing without needing some other people to do it... and also to be the only country consisting of a handful of ethically chinese citizens turning their back against their own mandarin mother tongue, finding it a chore to master it... it is at this point where I often envy other countries that produces generations of nationalistics of citizens, even if their logic is at times out of whack.