A letter published today in The Straits Times Forum:
Be grateful, S'pore
I AM writing to share many things Singaporeans take for granted.
Thanks to years of budget surpluses, when the global financial collapse hit, Singapore was able to use more money as a percentage of gross domestic product than any other country, rich or poor. Now, with its economy rebounding at a 20 per cent rate this last quarter, Singapore has recovered from the collapse faster than any other country. This is something only Singapore, with its deep pockets and years of good economic management, could pull off.
My home city, Toronto in Canada, has its rubbish collected only once a week, yet it is considered one of North America's cleaner cities. It is in the 36th day of a rubbish collectors' strike, with rubbish and foul odours on its streets and an increasingly serious problem with rats and insects. Some people even store rubbish in their refrigerators.
In Singapore, our rubbish is collected every day, no questions asked. For a $40 conservancy fee, we get a clean-up that would cost hundreds of dollars a month in the United States or Canada.
Most buildings in the US and Canada have no sheltered walkways to protect residents from rain or snow, unlike most HDB blocks. This is so even though there are Americans and Canadians who freeze to death outside in the cold every year.
Most North American cities I have lived in are cutting bus and train services just to balance their budgets. Singapore plans to add a new MRT line this year and more lines and stations over the next three years.
If a poor person lives in a building without a lift in the US or Canada, that is his tough luck. In Singapore, the Government is upgrading our four-storey HDB blocks with a new staircase and a wheelchair-friendly lift that stops at every floor.
If a poor person cannot afford to pay his mortgage in the US or Canada, he can be turfed out and left homeless. If an HDB dweller cannot pay his mortgage after he loses his job, he can seek a moratorium on payments from his community development council. This mercy, to the best of my knowledge, has no equal anywhere else in the world.
After living and working in six countries, I have known for a long time that no country takes care of its people the way Singapore does.
Eric J. Brooks
(Brooks, Eric J. Letter. "Forum." The Straits Times [Singapore] 29 July 2009: A22.)
Now, contrast that with a post from a local schoolteacher's blog, Trisha Reloaded:
2 hours that changed me
I didn’t know what to expect. It was my first time visiting a one-room HDB flat. I had agreed to help bring a few students to visit a few of these homes that the school had adopted as part of the CIP (Community Involvement Programme). This should be good, I thought.
I wasn’t prepared for this. The walls were dotted with black splotches of what we were told were the droppings of bed bugs. We were warned not to remove our shoes, lean on the walls or sit on the floor. Mr Y sat on a stool and seemed nonchalant about the infestation in his home. The mattress he slept on bore testimony to the nightly battles he had to endure. The bed sheet was clouded with blood stains. Mr Y used to be a coolie who carried sacks of rice. The bachelor now lives alone in his decrepit rental flat, his emaciated body racked with sickness, the money he earned in his younger days long gone to feed his parents’ opium addiction many years ago. He gets $260 from the welfare agency every month, of which about $100 goes into paying his rent and utilities. The remainder he has to magically stretch to cover his food and medical costs.
The bugs had spread from next door to a few flats on the 5th floor where Mr Y lived. You could see them flitting about on the wall, on the floor, among his clothes, even along the corridors. Nobody there could afford a professional pestbuster, and the town council wouldn’t do such favours anyway. So living with these parasites has become a fact of life. Residents living on the other floors talked about the 5th floor as if it was Purgatory and it didn’t seem an inappropriate description.
Then there was 92-year-old Mdm C – so small and wiry she couldn’t have weighed more than 35kg. She had a hole in her neck where her voice box had been removed, so she couldn’t talk. When she saw us, she simply gestured with her hands that she wanted to die. Looking at her forlorn looking home, who could blame her for feeling that way? The food in her kitchen had all gone bad so we gathered she hadn’t eaten for days, or perhaps she had been eating all the rotten stuffs. When you are sick and have to depend on the kindness of neighbours to help you buy even the simplest food, what other choice do you have? She has 2 daughters, one who visits her occasionally. Another, we heard, comes by and steals the NTUC vouchers that volunteers give to her. Is it any wonder Mdm C would rather die?
In all, we visited 7 homes, each one with its own sad story to tell. My heart is exceedingly disturbed by the scenes I saw today. On the one hand, we live in a country that’s boasting of having island-wide free internet access soon and building world-class integrated resorts and yet, in pockets of this land which worships success and one-upmanship shamelessly, there are the forgotten lot who live in homes with rotten food and bug-infested beds.
Don't piss on my shoes and tell me it's raining, Mister Brooks.