Last year or so, a senior citizen’s rehab centre was constructed at the void deck of my mother’s block. Interested residents and neighbours kept looking through its windows to see how the inside was being done. Quite swank… I didn’t hear of any NIMBY outcry. After it was established, I kept peeking in – lots of elderly people, including the wheelchair-bound, Some doing light physiotherapy exercises, some involved in beadwork, others playing mahjong. The television set was on. Looked pretty convivial to me.
In the neighbouring block is a student care centre which had been operating for longer – some kind of pre-school, nursery and kindergarten combo. It was far noisier here, with children singing songs and parents assembling to get their tots home after class. These were not just children and parents who live in the HDB heartland; nearby private estate residents had enrolled their kids there too.
This is a good community, I thought. With long-staying residents and long-serving hawkers and stall holders. Where even if you were not on first name terms, you nod at each other and say good morning in three languages and a dialect or two.
I raise this because it seemed an example of the essence of community living. Sure, there are foreigners as well, who shop in the wet market. Something useful happened because of their presence, the stallholders, including their Chinese national assistants, had to start learning to speak English.
So I was interested to read the big pieces in ST today on the us-them survey and the Nimby phenomenon. I think the us-them survey merely confirmed what we’ve always known – that it’s competition for jobs and space that Singaporeans chafe at. While aspects like foreigners not adopting social norms that are “Singaporean” limp behind, I think you can’t quite separate this aspect from the Singaporean’s beef about feeling squeezed on this small island. The ST survey did not touch on the NS question, which the IPS survey did. It didn’t even figure among the list of top peeves Singaporeans had towards foreigners. That was a pity. I would have liked to see some confirmation/elaboration of that IPS survey.
The most useful piece on the us-them divide isn’t found among the many articles on the survey in the Saturday section. It was found in the Opinion pages (it irritates me when things aren’t put in one place for the reader). This was by William Choong on forging the bonds of brotherhood (which is a terrible headline saying nothing) Actually it was a compilation of views on what should be done to erase this bad feeling among Singaporeans when the children of PRs do not do NS. He wants Mindef to spell out what were the supposed “adverse consequences” such people will face instead of us having to imagine them. To plug loopholes where the PR can renounce his citizenship, skip NS and get back in to study in a university here or get an employment pass. Yup! Yup!
As for the Nimby phenomenon which various commentators have tried to explain away, I wonder if (dare I say it?) it’s just an aversion to having “old people” around. I haven’t read about NIMBY noises about other structures being set up, save a foreign workers’ dorm. You know, very soon, we will be populated by grey people and those fellows making noises about where they should be put up will be OUTNUMBERED. I read of see such NIMBY instances and I wonder why the “grey” lobby isn’t stronger. Like the Mountbatten group reported today which is fighting to HAVE the centre built in their backyard. Right now, groups at the national level that serve the silver/grey generation seem more intent on giving them skills and keeping them healthy and financially sound. In the US, the elderly are a big vote – a loud vote. Here, they are quiet, even self-effacing. I would to hate to see the day when we have to do surveys on foreign/local perceptions, the income divide – and the young versus old.