"You can take the tiger out of the jungle, but you can't take the jungle out of the tiger."
Calvin and Hobbes
It is often said that Singapore is a First World nation with a Third World citizenry. Given the type of behaviour often demonstrated in parts of the First World, the statement is unfair.
However, there are quirks within Singaporean society that do crawl under my skin. Below I have described five of them, listed in no apparent order.
Why don't people stand on the left while riding escalators? It only takes one inconsiderate person to clog up an entire trainload of subway travellers who are in a hurry or simply wish to exercise their legs! Anecdotally, I can state with high conviction that the majority of the time escalators in Singapore are impassable due to people standing on both the left and right.
People, please be gracious and stand to one side of an escalator.
Cycling on pavements
Cycling on the pavement is illegal. The issue is not debatable.
Please be informed that Rule 28 of the RTR prohibits cycling on footways: No vehicle to be driven, parked or ridden on footway of road; 28. No vehicle, except perambulators, shall be driven, parked or ridden on the footway of a road.
Pedestrians own the pavement. Ringing a bell does not magically confer ownership of the footpath to bicyclists. Bicyclists should have the confidence to pedal on the road. Otherwise relearn to walk.
We have all seen the fear in the eyes of mothers with young kids or senior citizens as bicyclists approach.
I notice the especially sad plight of one old man in my neighbourhood who is visibly recovering from a stroke. He walks with a cane and stops walking when a bicycle is many feet away, fearing an accident. Even the slightest accident can set his physical health back years.
Bicyclists: I don't care how polite you are on the pavement, get on the roads or get off your bike. Obey the law.
Let people alight from trains first
The subway system brings hordes of people together daily at regular times. Not surprisingly, two of my pet peeves pertain to the train.
I don't enjoy walking into people standing in front of train doors as they open. However, when waiting for a train, if you don't stand outside of the designated lines painted on station platforms I will not hesitate to 'rugby tackle' into you if necessary.
People, please listen to the announcements and obey the myriad signs: let passengers alight before making a determined beeline for the closest empty train seat!
Give up seats on trains
Old and infirm people travel on the subway regularly. Yet, seats assigned for the elderly are regularly occupied by teenagers, healthy middle aged persons and just about everyone.
Of course, this is no big deal on empty trains or when no one deserving is standing. However, be polite and give up your seat when necessary. Don't wait to be asked, no one will ask you. And, don't shirk the guilt by avoiding eye contact with senior citizens. Even if you don't see them, the senior citizens are there and still standing.
People, please do the right thing and give up your train seat when necessary. We all age. In a few decades it may well be us searching for a seat after a gruelling day at work.
A little gratitude goes a long way
Am I the only person who gets upset when people take things for granted?
Give up your train seat or hold the door open for a stranger and they don't acknowledge the gesture is aggravating. A formal diplomatic note is not required. A smile is just as powerful and disarms anger like a charm. Use your smile when someone does a good turn. It really works.
Racking up good karma by doing kind deeds is no fun if the recipient is ungrateful. Be a good sport and encourage decency by accepting it graciously. A thank you is nice but a smile is good enough.
Humans are a complicated species. Despite my Hobbesian tendencies, it's hard not to believe in the inherent goodness of humankind. Hobbes view of the State of Nature is best captured in the following statement.
"During the time men live without a common power [government] to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man [the law of the jungle or survival of the fittest]." Leviathan. Chapter XIII.
Leviathan was written in 1651, over three centuries ago. Human society has evolved significantly since then.
Humans live far better lives in the twenty first century. We eat better, die older and recover quicker from illnesses. Generally, we live in societies where some semblance of the rule of law prevails. The laws of the jungle are no longer pertinent. They are superseded by sophisticated legal codes.
Human strength is an abstract concept. It cannot be measured by the kilos bench pressed at the gym. It is better gauged by small compassionate gestures accrued over a lifetime.
However, in a crowd we often forget that Singapore is no longer a jungle and we are not prowling Malayan tigers.
NB: Attributing quotations is a tricky business. In this instance, I took the easy way out and gave credit to Calvin and Hobbes for the opening statement, even if credit is due elsewhere.