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Friday, June 10, 2005

Hidden Underbellies

We moan and groan in Singapore about how life is hard, about how things are expensive, jobs are hard to find, and how the gahmen could do more for its people.

This is a particular pet topic of Turtle's. The way he talks sometimes, about how wonderful the welfare system is in Sweden, and how uncaring our government is, and how it could do more, give more, pay more to its citizens, make you secretly wonder whether he's turned commie on you, and make you want to place bets with Jules on how long it takes before the ISD carries him away. (^^!)

And then I read about people like the Wongs, in today's Straits Times.

The Wongs are a pair of jobless siblings, 47, and 48, who have been living in the void deck of their block for about a week now. They've done that because they received a notice from HDB stating that HDB intended to acquire the flat, because they hadn't paid the instalments on it for the past 5 years. (^^!) The Wongs took it as an eviction notice, and moved all their belongings to the void deck. They even cordoned off an area of the deck, claiming their territory with raffia string.

On first glance, [or rather, after reading the first paragraph] you may feel a stab of sympathy for the Wongs. It's like another example of Big Brother shoving poor needy Little Brother and Sister out the door, because they didn't have the money to pay for their flat, and living them out in the cold, lonely snow [ok, no snow in Singapore] confiscating their home, and making himself richer, and them poorer. [cue to evil laughter here]

And then I read the rest of the article.

The letter from HDB was NOT an eviction notice. HDB did NOT confiscate the flat from the duo, since the brother was still in possession of the keys to the flat. It was a notice to "inform them of the board's intention to acquire the flat" and the Wongs could still approach HDB to work out a payment plan for themselves, which would allow them to keep the flat. The Wongs apparently read the notice to mean that they had been evicted, and the sister even indignantly said,

"How can they tell us to move out, and now tell us that we have to move all our things back?"

Not only that, but help had been repeatedly offered to the siblings over 6 years, and always solidly refused. Food had been left at their door, which went untouched. [they preferred to pick up discarded vegetables at the markets for food]

They had another 2-room HDB flat, fully paid up and left behind by their deceased sister. Thus, they could sell the flat they were living in back to HDB, which would deduct their arrears, and move them to their sister's flat. This would still leave them about $160,ooo to live on, and a roof still over their head.

They could rent a HDB flat for about $26 a month. $13 a month for a roof over your head seems a pretty fair deal.

They refused all options. According to the sister, "Our mother told us before she died never to trust anyone and sign anything. If not, we will surely be cheated. We don't want to pay. We want to go to a welfare home. What's welfare if we have to pay for it?"

Now my response becomes: WAH RAO EH. People help you. You don't want. Then what you want?

There's a lot about the story of the siblings that intrigues me. For one, they're not exactly very old. They're 47 and 48, and while they might have trouble finding a job, it won't be impossible for them, even as a cleaner or a dishwasher or something. Even with a cleaner's job, they'd still have enough to live on, and pay for the rental of the HDB flat of $13 each a month. [considering that now they're subsisting on discarded vegetables, I'd say their food needs aren't that expensive. (^^!)]

I'm not sure what education they have had, but considering they're asking for dishwashing jobs in the article, and from their replies, I'd say they weren't university graduates. (^^!) So fine, you won't be able to get some highflying corporate job earning you thousands a month. Is it so bad to rely on a <$1000 salary as a cleaner or a Macdonald's waitress or something?

And importantly, have they been looking for jobs at all?

And they haven't always been poor apparently. From the article, you learn that their father owned a chain of hardware shops, but apparently had gotten cheated of everything. That's when the family became very suspicious and untrusting of people too.

According to a neighbour, the siblings never seemed to work, hardly left the flat, and relied on their mother to pick up discarded vegetables for food, and sell drink cans for money.

My question now becomes: What have these 2 siblings done to help themselves?

They are suspicious that HDB will cheat them of their flat. They refuse to touch their sister's flat, because the sister never helped to feed their mother. [although it looks more like the mother had to feed them, rather than the other way around] They don't want to go to a welfare home unless it's free. (0_0)

It's starting to look more like a matter of pride and abject laziness lor. The more I read, the more I'm like, "Eh, please lah.." You're in that kind of bottom-of-the-hole situation and then you refuse to do these things to help your situation, out of some weird sense of pride. People's help and generosity can only go so far you know.

This is like that 22 year old guy who used to beg at Orchard Underpass for money. He wasn't sick, he wasn't disabled, he wasn't stupid or retarded, [as far as I could see, anyway] so what was he doing there begging? He was just unwilling to get some job and content to sit there and wait for people to give him money.

And then Turtle comes in and raves about the gahmen and how they never help the people enough. (0_0) Sorry to say this, but for some people, I don't really know whether they deserve the help or not. Because from what I see, they aren't doing enough to help themselves.

If you had lost everything you had due to some external circumstances, say tsunami, or economic crisis, I'm inclined to give you my pity. It's not entirely your fault this happened to you, and I can see why you might need that leg up.

But the extra leg up is just that, an extra leg up. It's not something to support you forever, like a chair. It's meant to give you that one boost so that you can start climbing out of this shithole on your own.

Even the more affluent people are guilty of this. My father complains from time to time that "the gahmen should..." Yea, yea, all familiar phrases by now. (^^!) And even in the forum pages, you see people who write that "the authorities should..." "The government should..." blah blah blah.

And after a while, it's enough to make you gasp in exasperation and make you wonder why no one ever says something like "We should come together, and do something about this." "We should write a petition" "We should organize some rallys"

Then yea, there's the usual complaints as well. "I'm too busy at my job" "I have to look after my kids" "How to watch my ch8 serials??" [Ok, so maybe that last one was a bit off]

Or the best one yet. "The gahmen will never listen to us" Well, is that an excuse for not even trying? Or an excuse to give up?

Because if you're off put by the idea that someone will object to what you're saying, and you're not willing to face the adversity that your ideas may bring, are you sure you are at all passionate about your ideals? Maybe to you, you'd rather live with the problem rather than face the can of worms that it could potentially bring up.

I'm not sure whether that makes you a total coward, or a person who fully doesn't believe in what they're saying.

Crap. We're a nation of people who're just waiting for the next handout.


kein said...

Always believed that if you want people to help you, you must first be willing to help yourself :)

No first step, how can.. tsk tsk.

jseng said...

And after a while, it's enough to make you gasp in exasperation and make you wonder why no one ever says something like "We should come together, and do something about this." "We should write a petition" "We should organize some rallys"

Got. that's why we took things into our own hands and started

Han said...

Governments are not the solution. They are the problem.

Anonymous said...

Bums will always be bums. It is rampant in unemployment welfare-ready states and leads to people waiting for dole and begging for that extra bit of cash to buy alcohol and sometimes drugs.

But looking at how the press reports things, they will try to push the perspective of people who actually read the papers to that of yours. One that says " You cannot help yourself until you exhaust every avenue of help, serve you right for not taking action." And your analysis puts one thing clear, the bums are clueless on what is accessible to them and are plain lazy.

There's dumb and then there's dumber.
This is the worst kind of citizen there is.

PS: What about the thousands who are able and going for job interviews week in week out, and eventually forced to look for/settle on jobs paying far less because of cheaper foreign alternatives. A voice should be put first and foremost to this group of people. The perk of certain governments is to place an onus on MNCs and local companies to provide a decent wage as well as job security. One wonderful aspect of the Australian government is whenever a foreigner/PR-seeker is to be cleared for employment, the department of employment rights will match the job to any unemployed local in their database and if there are suitable candidates found, the company has to give a thorough answer to why they sought the services of a foreigner/PR-seeker.

Usually what is allowed to happen in sg are rampant job cuts and then re-employing when the economy picks up. Why should employees pay for the sins of bad management and capitalism?

Anonymous said...

And after a while, it's enough to make you gasp in exasperation and make you wonder why no one ever says something like "We should come together, and do something about this." "We should write a petition" "We should organize some rallys"

What makes you think people aren't already doing this? Seriously.

Roxanne said...

Seems that the couple were so closed into their own shell that they were afraid to sign any appointment letters that comes with any job. They moved back in anyway. Can't help thinking it's the way they were brought up by an overprotective mother.

Anonymous said...

At 7:11 PM, June 12, 2005, jseng said...

And after a while, it's enough to make you gasp in exasperation and make you wonder why no one ever says something like "We should come together, and do something about this." "We should write a petition" "We should organize some rallys"

Got. that's why we took things into our own hands and started

Wow. Mr Seng, so are you admitting that wanting and acting to do something about how life is supposedly hard in Singapore, instead of just whining and ranting is a reason why was started? Isn't that what the article is really about? I wasn't under the impression that Tomorrow wrote petitions, organised rallies or engaged in pro-active civil activism or reform in this country to improve your own lives. I thought it was just a meta- blog without an agenda.

What are you trying to say? I try not to take you too seriously all the time, but this latest blurb of seng-ism is hard to ignore. Go ahead and make a joke of this.

jseng said...

Yo Mr Anonymous. You have to try harder to troll me haha. I am pretty much immune to all these sort o insults.

ps: Sorry bringing the troll here at your site.

Paul Delima said...

I do think Singaporeans can and should whine, and this is why.

Anonymous said...

I ask you a legitimate question and you accuse me of trolling. What more can I say? Have a good day, James.

adinahaes said...


just wanted to say that not all poor/destitute people are like that pair of siblings. For every one person like that, there will be others out there who are genuinely in a fix.

I have friends who are social workers and they've met families in dire need of cash but who had their water/electricity cut off because PUB refused to grant them a grace period.Some of them did not even have the money to take a bus to find a job.

There will always be people looking for a handout, but lets not lump them together with the truly unfortunate.

Anonymous said...

I think jseng could've been implying that they (TSG team) got together to create a metablog to allow such things to be initiated by bloggers. That is what I can infer from the earlier discussions we had with regards to the following post's comments.

But this approach will generally not work as it doesn't stir up anything if people don't care. If TSG were to put a 'take' of sorts to such posts submitted, then I think that will be a true first step into promoting active discussion. No point waiting for the next 'infantile' to just skim past these supposedly boring posts. :)

Mr. Anonymous is right with quoting jseng on his comments about TSG being agenda-less. I am not being anal or picky, far from it. I don't want to be proven right, I want to be proven wrong and see editors taking a pro-active role and ignoring the 'About Us' section on Tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

so this year got NSS shares anot? election year coming soon...