Most outsiders usually see Singapore and Hong Kong as two former British colonies now thriving as highly developed and competitive ethnically Chinese cities. But the two may, in fact, be as different as night and day, as demonstrated by the two-million-strong street protest against the aborted extradition bill. The brave stand taken by the people of Hong Kong forced Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to apologise twice for introducing the legislation which would have allowed fugitives to be extradited to China to face trial.
Two million demonstrators in Singapore? Can you imagine that happening in Heng Swee Keat’s wonderful “with you, for you, for Singapore” vision? I think, with all due respect to Singaporeans, they may not even know or remember how to protest, unless they are given instruction manuals to guide them.
I am not talking about riots – whether racial, political or instigated – which any thinking person would oppose. These were common in the pre-self government/independence years and 1960s – whether by Chinese middle school students, bus workers or others. But I cannot recall any significant protest outside a full-scale rally against perceived threats to academic freedom and university autonomy in the Bukit Timah campus of the then University of Singapore in the mid-1960s. That was led by a student union leader who later became a People’s Action Party MP. Many whiners and grumblers since then. But, no Joshua Wong then, no Joshua Wong now.
Every taxi uncle (ex-PMET, ex-airport executive, ex-failed SME boss) will have his anti-NTUC and anti-PAP gripe. But he will not be moved beyond that and with the 500,000 vote bank raided by the Merdeka Generation Package to add to the Pioneer Generation Package already mollifying yet another 400,000 Singaporeans and their healthcare worries, few people are inclined to abandon the comfortable kopitiam tables for so-called Hong Lim Park “rallies” against anything that upsets the carefully cultivated artificial garden that is Singapore.
This is just one major difference between Singapore and Hong Kong that outsiders less familiar with the two Chinese societies will never be able to fathom.
The “Chinese” of Singapore and Hong Kong are not the same as the Beijingers or other PRCs in the inner mainland. The coastal Chinese – Hokien, Cantonese and Teochew – have been exposed to the outside world far longer than the insular mainlanders. They have been more innovative and, perhaps, more flexible in their way of life. Those who have become part of the diaspora spread around the world have been quite successful in the countries where they have settled down.
The once mainly dialect-speaking Chinese in Singapore – strengthened by those from Malaysia, Indonesia and even Thailand and Vietnam – would have been seamlessly assimilated into the region if not for the intervention of the non-Hokien, Cantonese or Teochew speaking Lee Kuan Yew to force them to regard Mandarin as their only official language and China (six hours flight away) as their hinterland. The majority have now become neither here nor there – can’t speak proper Mandarin or excel in English. They can’t compete with PRCs in Mandarin or Indians and Filipinos in English. All this is the result of an unforgivable omission in the education system which will disadvantage our young in the long term. Unless 300 million Malays become Mandarin-speakers overnight.
The inability of many Singaporeans to take charge of their own destiny and not to accept everything they have been told as the only truth or way is worrying. Compare us with Hong Kong people. They are more than aware of the reality of their situation – that they cannot change the fact that they are part of China. Quite a number would have listened to Lee Kuan Yew’s advice during one of his visits to Hong Kong that Beijing would tolerate protests in the name of preserving the HK way life but would not allow demonstrations which even hinted at changing the status quo in China. The line is very thin. A street protest by one million citizens which would have been carried by social media around the world would have rippled through the mainland. Troubling because June 4 is still in the conscience of many PRCs.
Put simply, Hong Kong’s youths have guts and fire. And they would be worthy trailblazers in the Asian Century already upon us. Singapore? A colourless period of “With you, for you” is all we have ahead of us.
Prams, elderly, lifts and escalators: Priority of peak hour MRT is speed
The issue is really simple. The MRT at peak hour is all about speed. It has to transport as many commuters as possible to and from work in the fastest time possible. Any other non-working commuter should not expect special consideration during such times.
Mums with prams and the elderly should time their travel for the non-peak hours, so that they would not inconvenience other passengers who are in a hurry to get to work and in the evening to get back home after a day’s work.
Prams have priority in the lifts since their pushers should not be using escalators at all. After them would come the elderly and the handicapped.
Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.