Changi airport would not exist without LKY

From ‘Aviation museum better way to honour Mr Lee’, 13 April 2015, article by Karamjit Kaur, ST

AN ONLINE petition for Changi Airport to be renamed Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) International Airport has garnered nearly 12,500 signatures over four days. The list is with Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew, who said he would bring the matter up with the Government, according to the petition organiser, who goes by the moniker “Remembering LKY”.

When Parliament sits today, Dr Lily Neo (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Mr Ang Wei Neng (Jurong GRC) will ask Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to consider renaming the airport after Mr Lee.

In a recent tribute to Mr Lee, who died at 91 on March 23, Changi Airport Group chairman Liew Mun Leong said: “Changi Airport was his baby, and it has become an icon. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was truly the Father of Changi Airport.” So should the airport take his name?

While the petitioners have good intentions in honouring his legacy in this way, it might not be the best way to recognise his contributions. Make no mistake – without Mr Lee, there would be no Changi Airport. He was the one who pushed for the airport’s move from Paya Lebar to Changi, even though foreign experts disagreed. He foresaw that an airport on the coast would allow room for expansion towards the sea and would direct noise away from the city.

…To take away the name would undo, to some extent, the hard work put in over the past 34 years to build up this reputation. Indeed, one could argue it would diminish the legacy that Mr Lee has left behind. One middle-ground option that could be considered without removing Changi’s brand name would be to rename it Lee Kuan Yew Changi Airport.

The petitioners, who had hoped to go a step further by changing its airport code from SIN to LKY will be disappointed to learn that LKY is already being used by Lake Manyara Airport in Tanzania, Africa.

Well, without LKY, Singapore as we know it today would not exist. Should we rename Singapore to ‘Leekuanyew’ then? But let’s take a few steps back in our aviation history and examine the development of Changi Airport, and whether it’s true that it would not have existed if not for LKY’s calculated risk of abandoning Paya Lebar and going for broke. Along the way, expect to see the forgotten names of some unsung heroes, and unlikely naysayers. To the petitioners I say this: Read up your history before jumping on the petition bandwagon.

In the beginning, there were mangrove swamps and virgin forests on the north-eastern coast of Singapore, save for a sleepy fishing village and a couple of buildings. The serendipity of war led to the initial development of Changi into a state-of-the-art military base by the British in 1942. A year later when the Japanese invaded, POWs were forced to build two airstrips for Japanese fighters to defend Singapore. After the war ended, the Royal Air Force took over until the British withdrew from the island in 1967. If it weren’t for these invading foreigners, Changi would have remained a backwater marshland, nevermind how much blood has been spilled into its surrounding waters.

It wasn’t long before a debate ignited between the two sites, with the Singapore Planning and Urban Research Group (SPUR) recommending Changi over Paya Lebar due to noise concerns for the latter. SPUR consisted of architects and planners from both private and public sectors, including Tay Kheng Soon and William Lim. A Polish town planner named Krystyn Olszewski made the same recommendation in 1971, citing health hazards of having a busy airport in the heart of the city. One disapproving voice against the writing off of 150 million dollars invested in the current airport was Perm Sec Ngiam Tong Dow, who didn’t buy the noise argument. If LKY had listened to the man, the proposal would have its wings clipped, and Changi would today be synonymous with nothing other than an airforce camp, chalets for BBQs and fishing, a haunted hospital, and anyone living around Paya Lebar would need MediShield to cover ruptured eardrums.

1974 brought the first oil shock and slowed the growth of air traffic, and given the delay in building a second runway at Paya Lebar, LKY took the chance to seriously consider an alternative aviation hub and take the ‘$1 billion gamble’, but not without hearing others out. One man who ‘pushed very hard’ for Changi was then Head of Civil Service and future Minister of Defence Howe Yoon Chong, whom LKY referred to as a ‘bulldozer’.  Howe and his Special Committee on Airport Development team did a final re-appraisal and concluded that Changi was the future of civil aviation. In fact, in PM Lee’s eulogy of the man, not only was his ‘vision and tireless energy’ acknowledged, but it was Howe who proved Goh Keng Swee wrong when he insisted that the MRT, and not an all-bus system, was the future of  public transport.

The dirty work of running the project after Cabinet approved of the shift fell to Sim Kee Boon,  who had the unenviable task of coordinating various agencies to turn a shabby military airbase into one of the finest airports the world has ever known. In Ong Teng Cheong’s opening ceremony speech in 1981, he expressed gratitude to everyone involved in the project, Howe, Sim, down to the contractors and sub-contractors. Well, everyone, except a certain Lee Kuan Yew.

And the rest, as they say, is history. Except that with LKY’s passing, his role in the making of Changi Airport has been, rather predictably, exaggerated. It was a series of fortunate, and unfortunate, events (the War, oil crisis), and the foresight and toil of other people, not just LKY, that led to the materialisation of the dream airport that we’ve become so proud of. In fact, if we were to rename Changi Airport to LKY Airport, it would diminish not just the man’s greatness, but those who contributed so much of their lives to make Changi what it is today. Let there be an aviation museum if you will, but let’s celebrate not just LKY but the people behind the scenes, criminally omitted from our history textbooks, without whom Changi Airport would remain a mere flight of fancy.


$1.47 billion Project Jewel a vanity showpiece

From ‘Who is Project Jewel’s target customer?’, 27 Dec 2013, ST Forum

(Kelvin Quek): I WAS surprised and concerned to read about the high cost for Project Jewel (“Project Jewel at Changi Airport to cost $1.47b”; last Saturday). It is unclear how this expensive complex, 70 per cent of which will be retail space, will give our airport an edge over other competing air hubs.

It is also unclear who it is targeting – visitors, residents, airport staff, or all three. When travellers arrive at their destination, they want to get out of the airport as quickly as possible.

Similarly, departing visitors are unlikely to make it a priority to visit shops, eateries or leisure attractions located outside the departure gates of the airport. If the project is primarily aimed at attracting residents to Changi Airport, the question then is: Why is that necessary?

Why use up valuable land at Changi to build another shopping mall? Why not have an aviation museum or something related to the airport?

…We should also stop building iconic projects which may just end up as vanity showpieces that bring little tangible benefits to Singaporeans. The money saved can be put to better use to meet more pressing needs in areas such as health care, education, transport and housing.

Jewel of Changi

The 1 billion dollar price tag has drawn comparisons to another iconic ‘vanity project’, the Gardens by the Bay. PM Lee himself referred to the Airport’s Jewel, semi-jokingly, as the ‘Gardens by the Airport’ during his National Day Rally this year, unwittingly hinting at the cost of this glorified mall. Visibly gushing over this new addition like a first-time father, he mentioned that the Jewel was not just for visitors, but for Singaporeans too, including ‘families on Sunday outings, students studying for exams and even newlyweds taking bridal photos’, which answers the writer’s question about who the target customers are. Don’t we already have the 3 terminals, and Kinetic Rain for that?

Designed by the same brain behind MBS, Moshe Safdie, Project Jewel appears to nothing more than a posh cousin of the existing T3 mall, a mash-up of our new National Stadium’s dome, Safdie’s LV island maison and the Gardens by the Bay which will draw locals from all over the island for the same reason that people flock to novelties like Jem in Jurong. In 2007, there was similar fanfare over the retail arm of T3, with the promise of top brands like the first Ferrari shop and luxury cellphone manufacturer Vertu. I don’t think these are around anymore. Instead you have ‘Speciality Stores’ like Poh Kim Video and 24 hour light-bite cafes like ‘Heavenly Wang’. If you want to spend some final precious moments with your child before his departure for overseas study, you’d have to jostle for parking space with families going to the airport just to buy stuff from some upmarket grocer, and not see a single plane landing or taking off, as what normal people would do if they’re going to the airport, well, FOR FUN.

Perhaps the money could have been put into better use, like providing proper resting areas for all those in transit treating the airport like a ‘refugee camp’. If Project Jewel fails to take off and goes the way of the Singapore Flyer, one might as well have installed a 4-storey tall, world-record breaking Kinetic Rain display instead, with round the clock security to prevent crazy people from tampering with it. Or an actual jewel-encrusted giant statue of Lee Kuan Yew. Don’t forget to bring in the feng shui masters though.

Changi Airport’s Kinetic Rain damaged by woman in white

From ‘Woman arrested for intrusion into Kinetic Rain sculture at Terminal 1’, 3 Nov 2013, article by Royston Sim, ST

A woman was arrested by the police after she climbed over the railing at Changi Airport Terminal 1 onto the netting below the Kinetic Rain sculpture on Saturday morning. A police spokesman said they received a call about the incident at 8.28am, and on arrival at the airport, officers arrested a woman in her 30s under the Mental Health Act.

Investigations are ongoing, he said. A one-minute video circulating online shows the woman in a white dress perched precariously on the netting. Police officers later helped to pull her back onto safe ground.

A Changi Airport Group spokesman said the Kinetic Rain display was damaged by the intrusion, with some strings on the art sculpture entangled. “We have referred the matter to the police and our engineers are arranging for the sculpture to be repaired.”

A great place to hang out, T1

The Mental Health Act stipulates that a police officer may apprehend anyone they might believe to be ‘mentally disordered’ and is a danger to himself or other persons. In a Yahoo report of the incident, an onlooker thought the woman’s antics might have been a stunt or performance, and did not ‘respond in English’ to the airport security, while CNA mentions that she is ‘not a local’. Some people are just desperate for last minute souvenirs and maybe our terminal shops ran out of ‘It’s a Fine City’ T shirts.

A few months back, a street art installation at the Night Festival was ruined when itchy-fingered visitors stole more than 180 wooden blocks, though the thieves were never arrested. This woman in white probably suffers from the same artpiece fetish, that a hanging shiny copper-coated aluminum raindrop would be so alluring that she’d risk her life for it, like the proverbial Eve plucking a golden apple from the garden of Eden. Or the entrancing ‘dance’ of the computer-choreographed raindrops was simply calling out to be groped, lulling one into an altered state of suicidal stupidity, like the ONE RING from LOTR. The ‘I Walk the World’ blogger admits that the ‘temptation to reach out and touch them was just too high’. I would, too, be fascinated like how I would have the urge to poke a water bubble in zero gravity. Kinetic Rain, or HYPNOTIC rain?

Weirder things have happened at Changi Airport. A man with a TV for a head was spotted in June last year. Rob Zombie was chilling out in the airport lounge in 2011. In 2004, the Amazing Spiderman scaled the airport control tower to promote the Spiderman 2 movie. It’s no surprise that we wouldn’t be able to tell a publicity stunt or performance art from someone of unsound mind being a nuisance to himself and others. The Kinetic Rain installation was once the site of the iconic ‘mylar cord’ fountain which was there since Changi’s birth in 1981. For more than 30 years, it wowed passengers without having anyone jumping headlong into for a free rainshower and destroying it in the process. It was also the first thing my family took a photo with the first time we visited the airport. Then last year it simply disappeared with the multi-million renovation of T1, replaced by a bunch of synchronised metal bulbs that move up and down in concert to create a wavy illusion of flight. There’s supposed to be a dragon and kite somewhere among the 1216 moving droplets, but I guess I’m the sort who prefers the soothing drizzle of water than stand around racking my brain over a charade of metal and strings pretending to be water.

The Kinetic Rain sculpture is just over ONE YEAR old and has already been desecrated like a monkey breaking an expensive chandelier after swinging on it (The Changi group have declined to reveal the cost of this contraption). This is also the WORLD’S BIGGEST kinetic sculpture, created over a span of 20 months, weighing a total of 2.4 tonnes and broken within a day. No mean feat to single-handedly dismantle a product of German design, though I suspect the fine that is likely to be slapped (provided the intruder is certified sane) wouldn’t exceed the cost of even a fraction of the 1000 plus 180g raindrops.

Once a fountain which actual water. Kinetic water

Changi Airport CNY discounts for PRCs only

From ‘Airport’s insensitive sale promotion’, 16 Feb 2013, ST Forum

(Ben Ho): …I had checked in at Terminal 3 for a flight to Shanghai late last month. I stopped to buy some chocolates and was told by the cashier that travellers holding a Chinese passport would receive a 20 per cent discount. Being an ethnic Chinese but not from China, I was not entitled to the discount.

I thought that was the end of it, but when I was walking towards the boarding gate, I noticed large signs and brochures in front of the information counter that were only in Chinese. On them were Chinese New Year greetings as well as information on a variety of discounts and offers at all three terminals exclusively for Chinese passport holders. Many stores were participating in this promotion.

I am amazed at such an insensitive promotion, especially in a multicultural society. It is disrespectful to have all promotional materials in a language that is neither the national language nor the official first language. Having a promotion based solely on nationality is also an unacceptable snub to other tourists.

I lodged a complaint with Changi Airport’s public relations office and received a reply saying it “organises different promotions from time to time, targeting different customers”. The Christmas promotions were listed as an example. But those promotions were open to everyone, and all information on them was in English.

One can argue that it is only a marketing tactic. However, there are many ethnic Chinese who are not from China but also celebrate the Chinese New Year. It is unacceptable that one of the world’s top airports should give exclusive rights to people of a certain nationality.

A very Snaky deal

Changi Airport spokesperson Robin Goh explained in his apology that such promotions coincided with the peak travel period for Chinese nationals. Still, it’s like having a Christmas promotion only for people who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, or a Valentine’s Day promotion targetting couples only. There’s a fine line between ‘targetted’ and ‘discriminatory’ selling. If I give free drinks to women based on the size of their boobs it is discrimination against the less endowed because D cup women are not necessarily bigger customers than A cup ones.  Here, it is the shameless, strategic targetting of rich PRC pockets first, though the use of the CNY festivities as an excuse for this entitlement does put the true meaning of the New Year in a god-awful light.

There were hints of this happening since last year. Knowing that PRCs made up a whopping 20% of sales at the airport, senior vice president of airside concession Ivy Wong acknowledged that Chinese nationals were a ‘very affluent group of people’, and revealed that the airport will be ‘rolling out programmes to tap on the spending behaviour‘ of Chinese nationals, shying away from details. So I looked up what ‘airside concession’ is all about. According to a recruitment website it is ‘supporting the implementation of policies and activities in retail planning and leasing, in order to continuously improve and enhance our Transit Malls’ retail mix’. The title suggests something more intimately linked with aircraft, like leasing hot dog stands on the runway. But no, you don’t even need to know how planes work to get the job. And ‘tapping on spending behaviour’ is simply getting people to part with their money i.e marketing, promotion, the works.

This isn’t the first preferential selling attempt by a prominent organisation. Last year, Starhub offered freebies worth $50 for ‘expats’ from select countries participating in the Euro cup finals. The company cleaned up their mess by extending the offer to all fans to make up for what they called ‘scoring an own goal’. Changi would do well to follow suit, given what little time we have left this festive season. How about giving everyone an Ang Pow when they shop at the airport? Hurry before offer ends on the last day of CNY!

Airports are no longer mere transport stations. Gone are the days of just sitting around reading the paper in the departure lounge with a cup of chalky coffee in your hand. Fashionista paradise aside, Changi has also become a hub for fancy lucky draws and jackpot games that entitle you to a shot at becoming an instant millionaire. In the 80’s, such gimmickry were questioned on their selection process and racial bias. Someone lamented that awards like the ‘4th million visitor to Singapore’ tend to be given to Caucasians rather than Asians.With all its promotional fanfare and bounty of giveaway riches, one tends to forget that they’re in a departure terminal, but rather the shopper’s equivalent of Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, where the boarding pass in your hand is your very own Golden Ticket.

In 2011, one Chinese businessman spent quarter of a million dollars on a botttle of whiskey at the airport, as part of a ‘Masters of Spirits’ promotion, an invitation-only showcase targetting true ‘connoisseurs’ and ‘collectors’ of the world’s most expensive booze. With such filthy-rich visitors walking around just waiting to snap on any bait you dangle before them, this CNY ‘targetted promotion’ was a simple matter of opportunistic greed. You only have so much time to snare a big customer before they catch a flight. I’m surprised Changi didn’t offer free tram rides for PRCs just to get them from one participating shop to another. It also doesn’t matter to the people at airside concessions if these same rich buggers start rioting and abusing your ground staff over flight delays. In fact, all the better so they have more time to, you know, buy whiskeys and stuff to drown their sorrows.

Cops vs Shoppers

Buffalo hunter caught with bullets at Changi airport

From ‘Aussie woman found with live ammo at Changi airport’, 3 Jan 2012, article in news.

An Australian woman was let off with a warning after she was found with two rounds of live ammunition at Changi Airport on 12 October last year. According to a Northern Territory News report, Jessica Powter, 34, had left the two 8cm-long bullets used to shoot buffalo in her camera bag after a one-off hunting trip three years ago.

“The bullets were rolling about in the car so I put them in my backpack and forgot about them,” she was quoted by the paper as saying. The camera bag had supposedly passed several airport checks previously, including two at Brisbane and one at Cairns.

Powter, who was returning to Darwin via Singapore from a holiday in Thailand, said that she had been detained for 23 hours and that she had her passport confiscated, was searched and interrogated, then handcuffed and escorted from the airport.

Aussie huntresses who gun down innocent animals aside, Filipinos have also been known to be detained for bringing in live or spent bullets, commonly used as ‘talismans and amulets’. In 2008, a Malaysian woman was caught for wearing a belt made of empty cartridges, the reason given by a ICA inspector was that these could be ‘filled with gunpowder and used to hurt someone’.   It’s far easier to fill plastic bags with boiling water and drop them onto random passers-by from the top of a building, than find an underground local lab to synthesize gunpowder, then nick a police officer’s pistol to discharge your bullets. If I were to bring in a cannonball would I be detained as well, considering the nearest weapon that it can fit into, though unlikely to be shot from,  is at Fort Siloso, Sentosa? According to the Arms and Explosives Act, a cannonball would possibly fall into the classification of a ‘projectile’ or ‘missile’, though it’s unlikely that customs officers would be able to distinguish this medieval ammo from a bowling ball.

2 years post 9/11, anything resembling phallic ammunition got customs officers fired up into a frenzy. In 2003, dummy missiles on a model aircraft were mistaken for live rounds, leading to a Briton being detained for 10 hours despite the filial intentions of buying the offending article as a gift from Vietnam for her father.  Which means GI Joe toys or anything that so much as squirts shots of goo would come under scrutiny as well. Like Powter, a case of absent-mindedness was a convenient excuse for a Malaysian cop in 2002, when 1o bullets were found in his bag at Changi. In 2001 itself, a French soldier was caught by local customs for carrying a bullet as a souvenir in his WALLET. Incidentally, he also managed to whisk it past the Australian authorities at Sydney airport, which either suggest lax security Down under, or that buffalo-hunting equipment is as commonplace and acceptable as fishing lines and hooks.  The contraband was confiscated and he was let off with a warning, though one wonders what if he had bought a boomerang instead.

Today, you’re not allowed to bring in lighters that even resemble bullets, in fear that terrorists or bank robbers in the guise of taking a smoke, would suddenly wave it around threateningly at people going ‘Don’t move! I’ve got a BULLET!’. ICA officers generally give the benefit of the doubt for people leaving ammunition in their luggage, though the shameful handcuffing and warning is a slap on the wrist for anyone trying their luck and succeeding in lying their way out of it. Powter had to ‘bite the bullet’ through detention as she was a special case; a buffalo hunter, meaning someone who’s not commissioned to use firearms to enforce the law or protect a country, but more likely to succeed at a distance killing shot than the average person. According to an Australian report she ‘felt like a criminal’. Tell that to an animal lover, or the woman detained for buying a harmless toy airplane for her father.

Your bloody passport

From ‘Why visit a place where we are not welcome?’18 June 2011, ST Forum

(Lawrence Koo): …Last Saturday, I left home at 7am to go to Malaysia for a holiday. I took the Second Link hoping to beat the jam at the Malaysian immigration checkpoint. It was rather smooth clearance at the Tuas side. But to my horror, it took me four hours to clear Malaysian immigration.

Just before I drove off, I said to the immigration officer attending to me that the new system was really bad and impractical. Instead of saying sorry for the inconvenience caused, the officer replied: ‘Then don’t come, lah.’

That was almost unpardonable coming from a government official who is supposed to be tourist-friendly. Who would want to visit a place that is unwelcoming to visitors?

It was reported that visitors from Singapore made about 13 million trips to Malaysia last year, which constituted about 53 per cent of Malaysia’s total tourist arrivals – contributing RM28.4 billion (S$11.6 billion) in receipts. Whose loss is it if Singaporeans stop visiting Malaysia?

The friendliest immigration officers I’ve met in my Asian travels were the Japanese, and the sulkiest sort were the Cambodians at Siem Reap who barely look at your face that you wonder if they’re doing their job or not. I suppose the grouchy attitude is to ward off any unnecessary feedback from the throng of strangers entering your country  everyday. It’s debatable if immigration officers, Malaysian or otherwise, are supposed to be service-friendly and polite all the time; after all they need to be stern when quarantining dubious characters so that they can administer naked squat body checks and such. The nature of their work is strictly business and one shouldn’t get too hard up on this scathing unfriendliness which isn’t entirely representative of Malaysian hospitality. I’m certain the offending officer must have gotten complaints the whole time (probably mostly from Singaporeans) while Mr Koo was stuck in the jam, and it’s not like he could do anything about it. Still, this outburst is tame, and even sort of makes sense, compared to the treatment dealt to Malaysians themselves in the 1970s (See below, Hard words and no chicken, 24 Oct 1970, ST Forum)

Of course, one shouldn’t flame Malaysian authorities and preach about service standards when our own immigration officers aren’t exactly tourism ambassadors themselves (See below, Our unpleasant return to Singapore, 12 Aug 2009, Today).

In terms of derogatory treatment, Malaysia’s notorious naked squat and strip searching is a stroll in the park compared to the POW grade detention practices of the Canadian immigration authorities in the 80’s,   that it actually drove a Singaporean tourist to commit  suicide right in their office (See below, Holiday girl’s nightmare in Canada, 8 November 1985). I myself was subject to an embarrassing ordeal by Canadian officials once after being initially deceived by what appeared to be friendly banter when it was in fact tactical interrogation, and in spite of how welcoming everyone else outside the airport were, it’s still one country I’d swear to avoid as much as possible. So, be respectful in front of an unfriendly officer, but be even more careful when he’s exceptionally friendly.

Tissue chope-ing a Singaporean tradition

From ‘At Changi Airport’, 26 April 2011, My Point, ST Forum and ‘It’s uniquely Singaporean and very rude’, 26 April 2011, ST Forum

(MR JEREMY CHIAN): ‘I recently went to Changi Airport to pick up an overseas guest. While waiting at the arrival hall I cringed on seeing huge posters informing visitors that if they saw tissue packets placed on foodcourt dining tables, it meant the seats were already taken…How embarrassed I was when my guest inquired if this was the culture in Singapore. Publicising this practice gives our country a bad image.’

(Su Timmins): …At a well-known food chain, just as my husband and I were heading towards a table with our food, two girls walked in and headed straight for our table to place their tissue packs. I told them it was our table and they moved to ‘reserve’ another. We finished and left before they even got their food.

As we left, another two girls placed their tissue packs on our table and there were at least 15 people in the queue ahead of them.

When I complained to the owner, his reply shocked me. This was the custom and culture of Singapore, he said, adding that he did not think he should reject the traditions followed in the place he operated.

Since when and how has this practice become a Singaporean cultural tradition?

The humble, practically worthless tissue pack has the perfect size and visibility as an object to stake claim on a space, compared to say, a watch, a pen or anything that one is less willing to lose. By its function, it is understood that someone wants to eat there, and the very fact that it is so dispensable means patrons  are aware  of the tenuous hold  that the tissue pack has on eating space, since no hearts would be broken if someone swiped it.  Likewise there’s no authority or  SOP on tissue chope-ing, and nothing illegal too if someone throws it away or assumes that it was left behind by a previous patron and sits down anyway, though you would earn some scowls throughout your meal as a consequence of your tactless flouting of the Singaporean ‘chope’ custom.

Singaporeans nonetheless have grown to accept this ‘unspoken rule’, just like how it’s accepted to slurp your ramen loudly in a Japanese noodle shop, waste water at a Songkran festival in Thailand, or run with the bulls risking a butt-gore in Spain.  These customs aren’t pretty, even absurd, but our perceived ‘rudeness’ of seat chope-ing can’t possibly be worse than our reputation as ruthless vandal caners. What matters is that we have achieved a social equilibrium and mutual understanding of the  gesture amicably without ending up in a brawl tossing chilli at each other. Some foreigners even claim that reserving seats (including using someone to ‘jaga’, a staple method for those who eschew the tissue-chope) is unheard of in their country (see below, Is anyone sitting here? 8 Feb 2001, Voices, Today).  The science behind ideal turnaround times at hawker centre tables is as fuzzy as traffic prediction, so it’s hard to tell if a free for all no reservations system  as the writer below suggests would ensure that everyone walks away satisfied and without a black eye. In fact, with prohibitions on reservations, you’d see people rushing for seats, clashing trays, spilling food all over the place and fighting because of the two predisposing factors to an ugly situation: Hungry. And being Singaporean.

In fact, some would even argue that tissue-choping is a time saver (Tissue system’s a time saver, 17 April 2007, Voices, Today), ensuring that tables are occupied for less time since the group would otherwise have been waiting for the ‘choper’ to finish his meal before giving up the table together. Which probably explains how this ‘system’ has evolved from the stress of a tight lunch hour, sometimes half-hour even, that most Singaporeans are allowed as a side effect of our obsession with productivity, unlike the leisurely hour and a half long lunches (power naps inclusive) which our complaining tourists are used to.

The problem really, is ENDORSING through posters as what Changi Airport does that tissue chope-ing is our de rigeur way of doing things here, alongside say getting the death penalty for drug trafficking. One might as well include it in the disembarkation form for tourists to check the acknowledgment box that says ‘I will not sit at tables with tissue packs on them while eating out’.  This effectively tilts the delicate balance in favour of the tissue-chopers, who would otherwise be forced to compete with the likes of people who just throw their tissues away or ignore them. It also means that you can get away with the ‘phantom tissue’ argument, whereby you accuse an innocent random patron for stealing your tissue pack just so you can squeeze into his table at the expense of his lunch companions. In any case, there’s nothing anyone can do about such deeply entrenched behaviour (at least 10 years) short of imposing a fine for ‘littering’, if not for ‘reserving seats’. So other than just making do, we might as well make the tissue pack a national icon too. Hey, it’s uniquely Singaporean, what.