Friday, July 22, 2011

Of Culture and Crime in Singapore

So there I was, more than a fortnight ago, traipsing around Geylang and Joo Chiat with my cousin Pet, trying to capture my elusive childhood memories.
Gone were the smelly wet and dry markets, now it's all under one organised and sanitised complex.  Gone were the grimy bus terminal, the crammed textile shops and the flea-infested cinema.  No more pawn shops, no more street hawkers operating from their portable wooden stalls in the narrow back lanes.
The mi rebus and sate vendors have moved to the neat and orderly food court with its brightly coloured plastic tables and chairs stuck to each other.  We shared a pre-lunch bowl of mi rebus from Haji Watusi, while an old friend of my cousin's, vented her anger at Malaysians in general and Johorians in particular.  The lack of system, efficiency, hygiene, security, so on and so forth.  The unveiled jealousy the Johorian Malays harboured towards Singaporean Malays who own upmarket properties in Johore, yadda yadda ...  
When I returned to KL, I encountered a news article (below) which broached on the issue of rising crime, stress and suicide rates in the island republic.  How I wish I had also asked the antsy lady what's her take on the possible erasure of the last Malay cultural showcase (apart from Kg Glam complex in the Arab Quarter) right there in her beloved neighbourhood. After all, she had also lamented on George Yeo's agreement with the PRC government which had led to the flooding of mainland Chinese food servers in Geylang and Joo Chiat, whom even Halal outlets such as Hajjah Maimunah (where we had our lunch) have to hire over fellow Muslim brethrens from Malaysia and Indonesia who could, of course, speak the language of the majority of their customers.
Dear all,
The management is requesting that our lease with Housing Development Board be extend as the lease will be expiring in September 2011.

We seek your support in appealing for extension of lease so as to enable Kampung Melayu Geylang Serai to continue and provide an ideal place for anyone to experience various cultural activities, shopping and dining amidst the kampung atmosphere.

Saturday July 9, 2011

An epidemic of corpses


IN RECENT days, parts of this law-and-order city, whose murder rate ranks as low as Japan’s, resembled scenes from the American TV series Crime Scene Investigation.
Against its staid nature, seven gruesome bodies have been found in various parts of the island since July 1, unrelated to each other – at a rate of one a day.
In fact, the grisly spate had begun earlier, from around mid-April when a decomposed body was found in a luggage bag at the casino resort of Sentosa.
A month later, an Indonesian maid’s body was discovered submerged in a rooftop tank that supplies drinking water to nearly 200 residents at Woodlands. Her Bangladeshi boyfriend had been arrested.
Since then a total of 13 bodies have turned up, prompting shocked citizens to ask: “What has become of Singapore?”
Police investigators and pathologists – as well as sociologists – are working overtime to probe this epidemic of corpses. Most were believed to be murder or suicide victims.
Until a clear picture emerges, people are blaming it on the rapid intake of foreigners, as well as the presence of two casinos, or possibly both.
Wat-er tragedy: Police removing the body of an Indonesian maid who was found in a water tank on the roof of a flat in Singapore on 16 May. — Singapore Straits Times / Asia News Network
As a result, the second most densely-populated city in the world (next to Monaco) is now also poised to overtake Las Vegas as the second largest gaming destination as well.
These two factors have pushed economic growth sky-high but few ordinary citizens are celebrating.
Families are extremely concerned about the social impact they may bring – including crime, family stress and suicides.
“In fact, they may already have started to take a toll on society,” said a housewife.
Several of the bodies had been found in surrounding waters or forested areas, a few having died or been killed some time ago.
Among the grotesque finds was the lower half of a decomposed female body which was discovered floating in the Bedok Reservoir, a source of drinking water for many Singaporeans.
So far, the phenomenon has not really dented Singapore’s reputation as one of the world’s safest cities, with an average of two murders a month. This works out to 0.5 homicide per 100,000 people, a proportion close to Japan’s and slightly ahead of Hong Kong’s.
But suicides here are another matter. Despite its prosperity, the republic ranked 43rd in the world in 2009 with 401 cases; that was before the casinos opened their doors.
At least half were non-Singaporeans, a few of them China mainlanders. In the latest case, a decomposed body was found near the National University of Singapore (NUS) on Wednesday.
Two days earlier, a couple taking a stroll along the Singapore River were shocked to see the corpse of a Chinese woman floating below the Helix Bridge.
Many Singaporeans are wondering if the 38,600-strong police force is adequate to cope with the population expansion – by 65% to five million since 1990.
Long overcrowded, the city state has undergone a tremendous transformation in almost every field.
Financially, people are generally richer, live better; most youths are better educated. But among the lower income earners, social problems and tales of poverty abound.
As bodies were turning up, the state television reported that the Government was picking up the highest number of homeless individuals in the city in four years.
A total of 339 homeless individuals and 15 homeless families (totalling 50 people) were found last year – compared with 217 individuals and 17 families (comprising 82 people) in 2009.
Nearly one in every six households has more than US$1mil (RM3mil) in assets, making it the densest population of wealthy households in the world, according to the Boston Consulting Group.
But despite the high GDP growth, the lot of the other half is gloomier.
Widely-travelled business consultant Imran Ahmad likened it to “Singapore’s long trip from Third World to First World and back to Third” in which serious crimes are getting more common.
The city before 2004 was less crime-prone, Imran noted. He named some recent social ills: floating corpses in drinking water tanks, a flabby (family) man dressed in wet underwear at Singapore Zoo, a woman threatening a train official after refusing to pay her son’s fare – and so on.
“It is impossible to turn the clock back. Nor does one wish to return to the past. However, Singaporeans must be conscious of society’s direction,” he warned.
Meanwhile, a Chinese-language tabloid reported that a man was arrested for attempting suicide at a flat – half an hour after another man had fallen to his death in the same block.
The public is showing a mixture of bafflement, anger and worry about these social ills.
“Floating bodies are found everywhere every other day,” said a man who wished to be known as Swift Disaster.
“Our crime rate used to be among the lowest, with incidents like these (ones) very rare.
“Foreign workers (are now) robbing and killing each other and domestic maids, illegal prostitution is on the rise, our void decks are being terrorised, rubbish bins being scattered.
“Our children no longer feel safe in the streets of our home. Our aspiration of becoming a First World standard in everything is taking a toll on our lives.
“I hope it’s still not too late for us to make changes where needed and bring back the beautiful Singapo­rean lifestyle. It (might not have been) perfect but it was beautiful.”


WHERE2 said...

We still have our Kampungs in Malaysia, and yet I still yearn for "Those Kampung" feelings of the yester years; kids freely climbing trees and jumping into the rivers, the week long community wedding celebrations etc.

Good Luck with the petition and may God bless!

BaitiBadarudin said...

Salam WHERE2,
Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
Thank you for dropping in and posting your well wishes.
I pray that we'll protect the kampungs in Malaysia so they will not be demolished and bulldozed in the name of 'progress' and 'development'.