Getting into this box is what's best for both of us. During your time in the box, you will learn so much, and yet experience so little. It's a wild ride, my friend, one well worth the time spent...and let's face it, you don't have much to do these days anyway.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

The not-so-invisible people of Singapore.

The tissue sellers have emerged.

I don't remember seeing them as recently as fifteen, or even ten years ago. Elderly men and women in their late fifties to early seventies, staking out roadsides, underground passageways, food courts and more in a bid to sell their wares - hand-sized packets of tissues. The tissues themselves are priced at three or four times what it would cost to purchase them from a newsstand or drink stall, highlighting the fact that it's not so much business as charity that the tissue sellers are looking for, only they'd rather not be overtly looking for handouts.

The can collectors, too, have emerged; with the gradual vanishing of the once-ubiquitous rag-and-bone man, they have come to fill that vacated niche. Bearing large garbage bags and rusted trolleys, they sift through garbage bins in hopes of aluminum cans, cardboard boxes, and other recyclables to sell for cash.

Now, every society, no matter how well-functioning, has an underclass - it's inevitable that there will always be some damaged people about, and it's all we can do to help themselves keep in line. The professionally drunk and intoxicated, the inordinately violent, the thrill-seekers, the sneaky males, the women who get off by being with abusive men - like rats, they will always exist, and it's all one can do to practice societal hygiene. There will always be "youths" who will take offense for "staring", there will always be secret societies, and there will always be idiots who waste their lives and money endlessly shuffling mahjong tiles along a table.

But the tissue sellers and can collectors aren't these people, at least out in public. It's heartening, in a way, to see that while these old folks might be destitute, they still haven't given up on doing something productive. Alternatively, it can be seen as doing something productive in a bid to avoid starvation. There are those amongst them who can be somewhat insistent, taking offense when they inevitably fail to make the sale, but the majority merely walk away quietly and try their luck elsewhere.

You may remember that recently, I chanced upon a homeless man sleeping on abandoned furniture in a void deck. In efficient, well-regulated Singapore, this is a remarkable and uncommon occurrence - homeless people lying in plain sight are occurrences which only exist in foreign countries, fairy-tale creatures that most people have heard of but no one ever sees. They, too, have begun crawling out of the woodwork, as opposed to, say, Greece, where they are quite highly visible. Oh, there have always been destitute people in Singapore, but they've been safely squirreled out of sight in their homes. Their bedbug-ridden, infested, junk-cluttered homes, but their homes nevertheless, homes which the town councils can send in people to clean up, give them a new mattress or two, pose for a smiling photo-ed, and then leave to sink back into their original state.

Of course, local Singaporeans are uncomfortable with the surfacing of such people. "Someone should do something." "There needs to be a social safety net." "The government should recognise the people who've contributed so much to the nation's success."

Translation: I don't want to do something about it. Daddygov, please get rid of these eyesores with other peoples' money so I don't have to bear them. Nothing about what they themselves can do for these people.

Quite different from the stories my grandmother used to tell me, really.

Do I have sympathy for the can collectors and tissue sellers? My father certainly is old enough to possibly count amongst their number, and yet he has enough to retire in a humble existence without support from my siblings. Where are the children of these people? Why do they not care for their parents? There have been cases where parents sued their children for support; unfortunately, the tissue sellers are not possessed of the resources to make such legal demands. They were in a position to stop the societal dismantling of the day, and either colluded or acquiesced with the program.
Well, enjoy your GDP.

Tzu Yu asked about filial piety.

Confucius said, "nowadays, to provide for parents is considered filial piety, but dogs and horses are also so provided. Without respect, what is the difference?"

- Analects, chapter 2, verse 7.

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