Are We Outsourcing Our Social Responsibility?

A couple of weeks back I was invited to speak on a panel discussing a Clean & Green Singapore. I said agreed because I had always wanted to meet Sivasothi, one of Singapore’s leading environmentalists. We’ve known of each other since the term “blog” was invented, but for reasons uninvestigated, we had never actually met.

The discussion panel took its predicted path down governmental measures lane and civic mindedness alley and it was only when Siva spoke about what he did to the students he taught at NUS that I really began listening (sorry NEA, rest of panel – it was one of those days I was triple-booked).

Siva, who later shared my regret that we weren’t as entertaining and fiery as we should have been, has this fabulous requirement of his students. They are required to put their chairs back in place after a lecture has concluded. And – this will blow your socks off if you weren’t wearing slippers like the sloppy Singaporean you are – he makes his students find out the name of the cleaner who cleans the areas in and around the lecture theatres!

Then I started thinking about what had been spoken earlier in the discussion: that Singapore is not a clean city – it is a cleaned city. We don’t see, and neglect to care about the dusk to dawn army of cleaning workers who pick up our garbage in the streets and parks at night.

I’ve mentioned how we delegate our personal responsibilities to so many people that we’ve forgotten we have these responsibilities. Not only do we not know who takes away our trash, we don’t even take out our own trash.

Earlier in the week, I left for work at the same time the guy from the cleaning company was mopping the floor at our lift lobby. I said good morning and he jumped out of his skin. I decided not to startle him further, and will ask for his name next time we meet.

At a meeting a fortnight ago, a bunch of young entrepreneurs was telling us about the disparity between the cleaning company’s contract fee and the actual salary of the person actually doing the job. Yes, there are cleaners who are getting paid $800 a month or less.

It’s a lot more complicated than just saying ‘yes, we need to pay the cleaners more’,  and the tyranny of modern economic conveniences will mean that business owners will still want to engage a cleaning company than to employ a cleaner directly.

It follows that something needs to be done about the people who are directly employing the cleaners. And apparently, something that will pay them more than a mandatory minimum wage, like the progressive wage model I wrote about earlier will come into being next year. Here’s hoping it works out well.

But as I was saying on that panel that evening, if you want a more caring, compassionate society, you have to start thinking of the consequences of every action. There are things within your means you can do to help low wage workers like cleaners.

You want to care about the cleaners who are paid little? Make their job easier. Pick up after yourselves, return your tray, push your chair back after you get up.

I sit on the management council of the condo we live in, and I went on a little power trip at a meeting last week. The security guard company we hire had requested for a fee increase. I voted ok as long as we know that the two guards, who look after our premises and make sure no idiots anyhowly park in our car park, have a commensurate pay increase as well. We even voted on a little thing – making sure there’s enough mosquito repellent in the guard house so they don’t kenah dengue.

I’ve just found out that what we were doing was this thing called “best-sourcing”, which is gahmen-speak for outsourcing in a conscious, conscientious and socially responsible way. And like many things about this fine country, there’s even a monetary incentive to do so.

But as we become increasingly out-sourcery, we must not let ourselves or our corporations outsource our social responsibilities.

I think it’s time I called another council meeting.

The Future Looks Straight And Narrow

Good job on tweaking Medisave/Medishield; PSLE; Changi Airport.

But we cannot keep treating GLBT, singles, unwed and divorced parents as second class citizens. Being GLBT single, unwed or divorced does not diminish their potential to fulfil their so-called roles in society. But pegging housing affordability to officially heterosexually married status states the opposite.

Just as Malaysia’s pro-Bumiputra policies as regards education and public service has effected a terrible talent drain in the past decade, so will continuing to uphold such unfairness in our country. And our people are our only resources.

#$*%&! Who Say We Not Happy?

A fortnight ago, mrbrown and myself visited Tekka Market. It is a happy place though you’d normally think otherwise. It’s hot, noisy, smelly and gets really crowded at peak shopping hours.

So what makes people at Tekka happy? Is it because that venerable wet market has resisted the tide of change and retained its Hokkien name? (It was for a short time known as Zhujiao, much to everyone’s dismay). Is it because it’s a happy confluence of China and India and everything in between?

It would likely be the array of food laid out at market, together with the shopper’s delight at having bargained twenty, thirty cents off a bunch of vegetables, and the thought of bringing all that fresh produce home to make a meal for the family.

There are fresh vegetables from wherever we import vegetables, and herbs that you’d think only Cold Storage or some other atas grocer would stock. And in a darker corner in the market, there is a Tamil lady who sells only banana leaves. In two sizes – One for “praying” and one for eating off.

This, well, happy combination would warm the cockles of anyone’s heart, I think. Speaking of which, cockles can be bought at several seafood stalls in the slippery middle aisle of the market.

There was also a kinda-sorta-if-you-ignored-the-signage-next-to-them impromptu concert in the market itself, though not in the slippery aisle, ‘cos you’d cause all sorts of calamity if someone got electrocuted, ‘cos wet market floors and sound equipment don’t get along, y’know?

The singer, Belvyn Khoo, and her accompanist guitarist serenaded all and sundry with their renditions of Teresa Teng classics such as Sweet Like Honey and The Moon Represent, Yo.

It brought smiles and curious looks to everyone within earshot.

Then all hell broke loose.

Some woman – I have no idea if she’s a stallholder or customer – barged her way to the stage and commandeered the microphone and asked Belvyn’s guitarist to follow her lead. I think she sang “My Way”, though I couldn’t really tell from the off-key rendition.

Now that got everyone’s attention, and it got the biggest cheer of the morning.

Anyone that says Singaporeans are unhappy can go and lick the floor of the slippery middle aisle.

I urge everyone to be like that bold and slightly tone deaf woman and spread joy and happiness everywhere you go. Then share your happy moments on the Happy Everywhere Facebook App, and yes, stand a chance to win stuff.

Slightly off-key lady brings it!
Slightly off-key lady brings it!

How I Majulah Singapura

My reflections on this year’s National Day, first published on YouSayISayWhoConfirm.SG as a joint post with mrbrown’s National Day Song.

I used to think that I was Singaporean because of the way I spoke and how I could code-switch from standard English to Singlish even within a sentence. I used to think it was because I could understand why people would use packets of tissue, newspapers and umbrellas to “chope” seats at hawker centres when all it takes is a rule where you’re not allowed to sit at a table if you don’t have a tray of food with you.

But the fabric of society is changing. Close to 40% of the country’s population is non-Singaporean, and I think a sizeable chunk of Singapore citizens are made up of new migrants. You know those “emerging fault lines” the PM keeps talking about? They’re here, and they’re pretty disruptive.

Suddenly we have many Singaporeans we don’t feel the bond of kinship with. More than once I read on Twitter and Facebook that people or their parents didn’t feel proud that a “China-born” table-tennis player won another medal for Singapore. I’ve seen young people tweet things like “Argh! This bus is full of Pinoys!” without stopping to think for once whether what they were saying was racist.

Read more at YouSayISayWhoConfirm.SG

Three More Interesting Facts About Singapore

1. Singapore is home to 3,971 species of vascular plants, 364 species of birds, 295 species of butterflies, 98 species of reptiles, 52 species of mammals, 28 species of amphibians, and 255 species of hard corals.

2. A two-part episode of Hawaii Five-O was filmed in Singapore, featuring a thrilling scene on the Sentosa Cable Car.

3. Including Tan Howe Liang, every Singaporean Olympic medal winner was born in China.

If you haven’t already, do read the other 44 facts about Singapore I wrote three years ago.