Singapore—On Sunday, December 22, diplomat and professor Tommy Koh wrote a column in The Straits Times (ST) wherein he listed the five tests Singaporeans should pass before becoming first-world people. This references a remark Mr Koh made in October, wherein he called Singapore “a First World country with a Third World people.”
While some netizens heartily agree with Mr Koh and have written in what they consider as characteristics of first world people, others reject his premise and draw attention to how those in so-called first world countries behave.
But first, a summary of the five tests Mr Koh wrote about: The first test concerns the need for Singaporeans to stop littering, since “First World people such as the Japanese, South Koreans, and Taiwanese do not litter,” he writes. On the contrary, they don’t only not litter, but go out of their way to clean up the litter that they see and call out those who throw their rubbish anywhere.
He adds that while Singapore has come a long way because of the campaigns from PAP to clean up since the 1960s, of late, people have seemed to go back to their old ways of littering. Mr Koh wrote, “When I look around Singapore today, I see trash everywhere.”
The second test concerns having public restrooms that match the cleanliness of those of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.
Again, he acknowledges that there has been a big improvement in the condition of our toilets, but mentions that “the remaining 30 per cent, found in markets, hawker centres, coffee shops and even some restaurants, are still very Third World.”
The third test has to do with civic-mindedness and good manners—even habits as basic as saying “Please” and “Thank you”.
He adds that there are still Singaporeans who “rush in without waiting for those inside the lift or train to make their exit first,” or those who don’t stand on the left side of an escalator to let others pass, as well as youths who take the priority seats in public transport, writing, “This lack of civic-mindedness is deplorable.”
Mr Koh also gives the examples of not returning trays in hawker centres and cleaning their tables, and talking loudly in restaurants, theaters or concerts. “In First World countries, people do not commit such inconsiderate behaviour.”
He also added, “A First World people should be active volunteers and generous philanthropists.”
The fourth test has to do with cultural literacy, since, “a First World people is a cultured people,” who are “gracious and kind,” “treat those who serve them with courtesy and appreciation” and appreciate culture and the arts, read books, visit museums and show interest in Singapore’s history and heritage.
The final test is the country’s attitude towards nature and the environment, including awareness of the dangers of climate change. He wonders why Singaporeans love to set their air conditioners at 18 degrees, when this consumes so much energy. “I wage a daily struggle with hotels, restaurants and clubs to persuade them to reset their thermostats to 23 deg C,” he wrote.
He ended his column by writing, At the risk of making myself the most unpopular man in Singapore, I stand by my comment that Singaporeans are not a First World people.
I hope that we will pass the five tests I have posed. Only then can we say that Singaporeans are a First World people.”
Many netizens agreed with Mr Koh’s points and even added some examples of “third world” behavior they see in daily life.
Others believe that the many foreigners and newcomers to the country should be taught how to behave well.
Other commenters did not jump on Mr Koh’s bandwagon.
Some netizens say that the situation is not actually better in places that are considered to be first world.
Others questioned if anyone can actually be considered to be truly first-world.