I don’t know if you have read TNP on Sunday, but you should go buy it. It has an interview with the mother of the two boys who died in that horrific crash in Tampines. Not because I think people should prey on her grief, but to have an insight to a typical Singaporean household – it breaks my heart. It is so familiar.
In all that discussion about what kind of Singapore we want to be and what sort of numbers, immigrants and babies we should have, do we know enough about how most Singapore families live and the values they hold?
The Yaps live in a four-room HDB flat – father in the SAF, mother who was Indonesian turned citizen and two school-going children. It’s not just this profile and housing type which struck me but the mother’s account of the children’s growing up years and the family’s daily life.
Grandparents helped look after the elder son, Nigel, in his early years. The family was worried about his hyper-active condition, trying both Western and traditional medicines to soothe him. The couple tried unsuccessfully at first for Baby Number 2. But complications arose, she had to abort her baby.
Then Donovan came along, some six years after Nigel, and with it came the usual worries about the age gap between the two boys.
The family does the usual family things – a Universal Studios trip the weekend before was their last outing.
There were the usual concerns too about education. Teachers were worried for Nigel, who was just glad enough to pass his PSLE. He was not embarrassed to tell people about his aggregate score of 121. It was an achievement, and he looked at it that way. He was posted to a Normal Technical stream. (I think a more middle-class or upper class family would have kept the score quiet…)
I don’t think the boys had private tuition but education seemed important to the family. Nigel’s teachers were in touch with the parents. The mother’s last instruction to Nigel was to remember to teach Donovan his spelling.
The mother had quit her factory job to look after the children for a while but returned to work part-time at McDonalds. She said it was because it seemed that Nigel, at 12, was able to step into the role of the younger brother’s care-giver. From what she let fall, he did the dishes and what household chores she used to have to do. She was proud of him.
She cycles and so did Nigel. When she found it tough to pick up Donovan after his wushu CCA because of work, Nigel offered to do so.
And that was that…
Isn’t this the closest portrait you can have a Singapore family? Hardworking, interested in education, close-knit. Birthday celebrations and family outings. Brother looking after brother. No maid. Mother making some extra dough for the family. Grandparents pitching in to help. Framed pictures of the family around the house, including what looks like a kindergarten graduation photo – that so important picture in a Singapore family. A void-deck wake.
I think families like the Yaps are all over Singapore, the silent majority. Resilient. Their stories appear only when tragedy strikes or when a major surprise happens. I reckon it’s one reason we grieve along with the family. Not just that they lost two sons, but also that their family story is “familiar” and so everyday-like.
These are the people who make up Singapore. Not those who can afford sky suites or a second property, or send their children for Gifted tuition classes, or ferry them to school in the family car.
Some of us have gone through the process and come out on top, with good grades, good jobs, good housing and good incomes. As we gripe loudly about the quality of life, let’s not forget the people who are the bedrock of Singapore. People like the Yaps. I thank The New Paper on Sunday for the reminder.
Finally, my sincere condolences to the family.