Kampung spirit useful in rail failures

From ‘Rail failures: Kampung spirit can help’ 25 Oct 2015, article by Danson Cheong, Sunday Times

…”This is the kampung spirit that we must inculcate in every MRT station,” said Mr Khaw (Boon Wan), adding that Senior Minister of State for Transport Josephine Teo had suggested involving shopkeepers working in the station, so they can play a part in contingency plans.

“Such ‘family-ness’ will be important not just when there is a technical breakdown, but (will be) even more critical if there is a terrorist- led sabotage to our rail system,” he said. He added that he has asked the Land Transport Authority and transport operators to consider the suggestion.

The over-used ‘kampung spirit’ should be evoked only in reference to the ‘village mentality’, whereby neighbours look out for each other, where the doors are never locked, and you could always pop by your neighbour’s house if you ever run out of sambal belacan. When trains break down, you’re hoping for random acts of kindness from strangers, be they Singaporeans or foreigners. They’re not kampung kakis who you grew up playing chapteh with, soaking in the sun chewing lallang. They’re rush-hour passengers who want to get to their destination as desperately as you do.

Shopkeepers are more keen on making money out of stranded passengers than being honorary SMRT staff, and would rather stay behind their cashiers than risk exposing their shops to angry looting mobs. Now our Transport Ministry wants commuters to extend our homely altruism out of our estates into the public domain, so that we can have mass group hugs and singalong sessions on the free shuttle bus rides home during an MRT breakdown. We’re already having trouble keeping the ‘kampung spirit’ alive with our immediate neighbour, now we’re expected to heed the Minister’s call to summon it outside in sweaty work clothes because nothing else can be done to improve our travel experience besides deluding ourselves into ‘loving thy neighbour’.

Come, people, let’s see your ‘gotong royong’, from Pasir Ris to Jurong. Bring a spare umbrella to lend your fellow commuter while he’s forced to march along an overhead track during a breakdown! Keep a tumbler of home brewed green bean soup handy in case someone needs nourishment! Sing ‘Home’ out loud to lighten the mood when everyone is seething with murderous rage! Let’s exude this warm fuzzy feeling wherever we go, whether it’s outside our corridor, around the void deck, or on a shitty train ride home!

Still, where’s this ‘kampung spirit’ outside everyday common-man experience? Does it apply to our billionaires living in penthouses and Nassim Road mansions who zip around in supercars?  Maybe they give it a less ‘rustic’ sounding name, one that involves non-kampungish activities like sharing expensive wine by an indoor pool or loaning your butler to your neighbour while the family’s out holidaying at a private island luxury resort. It’s ironic that our Government bandies ‘kampung spirit’ around to inspire people to pick up trash, volunteer or endure train breakdowns, while at the same time destroying tight-knit heritage estates like Commonwealth’s Chap Lau Chu, thereby exorcising its ‘spirit’ all in the name of ‘redevelopment’.

Kindness in the midst of commuting madness is greatly appreciated of course. But it should be done solely out of compassion for fellow humans, not egged on by ministers who should be focusing on the root problem, rather than trying to soften ugly consequences with tired cliches.

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