a community of singaporeans

My neighbourhood… after dark.

Posted by theonlinecitizen on January 5, 2007

By zyberzitizen

In the heartlands of Singapore – and away from the glamour and glossy pictures we see on promotional brochures, advertisements and postcards – lies a question. A question which will be asked at the end of this essay.

I took a late night stroll around my neighbourhood 2 days ago. I’ve never done this before – not at 3 am, anyway, when everyone would be asleep, all shops closed, traffic has died down and the air is somehow cooler (and fresher).

So, a little blurry-eyed, I left the confines of my 3 room flat and started my own little ‘observation walkabout’, if you like, of my neighbourhood somewhere in the east of Singapore.

All was quiet except for a group of young men playing ping-pong at the void deck. (What were they doing so early in the morning?). I left them alone although the thought of speaking with them did cross my mind. Everything else around was dark, silent and the air rather cool, chilling even.

And then I saw this:

He must be in his late 60s, early 70s. Very sound asleep. He must’ve worked hard today (I’ve seen him picking up discarded stuff like cardboards and newspapers around the area a few times.) Normally, he would be without his shirt. But tonight, as he lies there, I could see that he was trying to keep warm, with his clasped hands, and a chequered shirt which he uses for blanket.

I know some might find that me taking a picture of him sleeping is not very nice. I did think about it for a while before I snapped the above picture – without using the flash. My only hope and aim in doing so is that it will somehow make us more aware of those around us – those we do not see, or see but never realise. I certainly do not mean any disrespect to this man. Indeed, I admire his resilience – to physical weather, to life’s hard knocks, and the struggle to fend for himself.

A few thoughts went through my head as I left him to slumber peacefully. Does he have a wife? What happened to her? What about children? Did they abandon him, like those stories we hear and read about? How does he feel being left alone like that?

Where does he (and the likes of him) fit in, in our globalised, cosmopolitan, metropolitan, “biopolis-tan”, Asian-tiger, confucianist society?

The above is by no means an isolated case of homeless singaporeans. I’ve written about this in a previous essay here. There are also more examples of the homeless here.

How much dignity must a man lose before he is considered ‘deserving’ of help?

Perhaps the answers to these questions can be found (in some ways) in what I discovered next – still within my neighbourhood – in the behaviour of some Singaporeans. By no means am I saying that the following account is representative of Singaporeans in general (although some would say it is).

A few blocks away, this is what I saw:

I would have dismissed this as just an isolated incident if not for what I saw again…and again…

As i said previously, I do not think this is representative of singaporeans in general – or singapore at large. I would rather think that this is only the behaviour of some singaporeans – although ‘some’ may mean quite a lot.

Perhaps some might say what is shown above is not that bad. But the next time you walk around Singapore (especially after dark and before the cleaners come out and do their job), you might change your mind.

The pictures I’ve shown above are not the only ones I’ve seen in person. (They’re just a few photos which I snapped.) At other blocks, there were cigarette butts, lots of them, left on the floor by people who had gathered to play chinese chess earlier. At another block, there were discarded newspapers, empty packet drinks, even a small mattress strewn on the floor. More boxes with their contents thrown out at yet another block.

What upsets me is that the entire area had just had its surroundings upgraded by the town council recently.

And this brings me to the question which I mentioned at the beginning of this essay.

Are we on the right track to being a ‘caring society’ – a caring society for our homeless singaporeans and a caring society for our environment? These two questions, really, are at the heart of what being singaporean is all about, is it not? At least it should be.

For despite all the glamour and all the talk of being first-world, it is in the hearts of men (and women) that real grace is found. And what is in the hearts of men and women, I would argue, is found in the heartlands.

At the moment, at least from where I am, it is not a very pretty sight.

Nor very grace-ful.


14 Responses to “My neighbourhood… after dark.”

  1. Harro! said

    Keep walking dude! Good work! Cheers!

  2. Yawn Ing said

    You have deleted my earlier comments in other posts.
    No more comments from now on. Always hear the good news.

  3. leocs said

    i like your entry. i hang out alot in my area (west side) in the wee hours and i have seen more people sleeping around, most are the old people.

  4. Dude said

    Have you considered that the two incidents are related?

    My own block has a pseudo-homeless guy who lives very shabbily in his 3 room flat. He goes around all the dustbins emptying them out onto the floor to collect rubbish that he can sell to the garang guni man. He doesn’t bother to clean up the mess afterwards.

    In that case, is he more deserving of your sympathy because of his poverty, or more deserving of his chiding because of his actions?

  5. nata said

    sad 😦 You must live in a horrible neighbourhood ?
    My neighbour sure doesn’t have such things… the only gripe i have is that all the rubbish is all dumped at the recycled bins instead. making it a large rubbish bin…

    however at the end of the day, the neighbourhood is clean and tidy..
    Thanks to our friendly and efficent foreign workers.

  6. What a mess. And I have seen this elsewhere. It’s rather common. Rubbish all over. Somehow, I doubt if we will see a sense of civic consciousness in our society anytime soon.

  7. Tomas said

    The title of your article “My neighborhood… after dark” has caught my attention and I have read it with great interest. What looks as a matter of course causes surprise and depress-challenges us to examine the heart and to awake. After dark people awake in horror at their daily judgments, yet typically fall asleep again after the dawn, unfortunately.

    You question: “Are we on the right track to being a ‘caring society’ – a caring society for our homeless singaporeans and a caring society for our environment?”
    People all over the world question themselves something alike, when they awake.
    I live in Lithuania and the typical views of Singapore look wild exotics here – at first glance and judging outwardly. However, after dark, I have read your article like my daily paper-my own diary.
    Any talking about society is just policy that divides us into needing of care and the caring. That builds the abyss between us-imprisons ourselves into our musings (judgments). We can find the key only in our own heart. How do I act myself? Do I care or just judge? Did I helped my neighbor or was I just looking?
    The homeless on the streets see the same dreams like we do. The toys of childhood awake at midnight alike everywhere around the world.

  8. tiger4 said

    I agree with Dude observations. This is also seen at my place in Jurong. I have seen unwanted belongings stacked nicely near the rubbish bin in the morning for the garbage collector to throw away. However by evening time, people have ransack through it for valuables, scattering the rubbish all over the place. Sigh….

  9. Lee said

    Looks great; I been to Singapore once and loved the river side; your photos really capture the skyline.

  10. Veron said

    Have you heard of my $2 pledge yet? Give this old man $2 for me yah?

  11. Hi Veron,

    That’s a really cool site you have.. 🙂

    The $2 pledge is an interesting idea. How has it been so far? Chinese New Year is around the corner and you may have to hand out more $2’s… 🙂

    I’ll do my bit when I come across a homeless person next.. pay it forward… 🙂

    Best wishes,

  12. No use being sad at the plight of these homeless souls. I sympathize them but how much can we do?

    The trigger for any real action to be taken by you-know-who is when there is a majority of people having the same sorry plight.

    You can write such articles highlighting this, maybe minorities, but do you think it will pressure you-know-who to take any actions. Even the international bodies are not able to pressure the you-know-who into any action. What still makes you think that the pen is mightier than the sword???

  13. Dear V,

    I wouldn’t be so defeatist and fatalistic. I think everyone has a part to play – no matter how small. Talking about it here or anywhere brings awareness to others who may not know. Granted that our audience is small but still, it’s better than nothing, right?


  14. Celine said

    Government will only use little amt of money to support our financial crisis. They will use this 30 dollars increase to shut our mouth up and think that we are worth that much. what can u do with merely 30 dollar increase, with increasing in transportation and essential increase. Even lift upgrade are done, we still need to pay money to the town council for the so call maintenance. that is why government does not reveal to us how much they are earning and they is our hard work money.

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