Saturday, July 12, 2008

Crouching Tigers, Hidden Dragons

YOU ARE at Watsons. You see yourself in the mirror and smile.
That’s when she pounces on you.
“Hi!” Her high-pitched voice startles you. “Slimming tea for your tummy and butterfly arms?”
Meet ‘Sale-by-Insult’, one of Singapore’s illustrious crouching tigers and hidden dragons.

INSULT' has a second cousin: ‘Smooth Operator’.
Now, this tiger does not tear you to bits. He flatters, and comes bearing a gift.
And when your senses are numb with delight, he operates - on your brain - and smooth talks you into buying something to deserve that gift.

is a shoppers’ paradise.
But with our tigers and dragons breeding profusely like rabbits, we’re fast becoming paradise lost.
Seriously, how did we get here?
What happened to 22 years of courtesy campaigns? Why do the rude, bad, and ugly continue to reign in our service industry?

YOU KNOW the culprits.
The ‘Unsmiling dragons’ at check-out counters.
The ‘Circling Tigers’ who stop their taxis only for angmoh tourists.
The ‘Illusionists’ who trail you around in departmental stores like blood-hounds, then vanish like ninjas when you finally need something.
And what about the ‘What-You-See-Is-All-You-Gets’? Ask them for anything - stockings, sandals, salted fish - and they give you the same classic answer: “See lor. Got, got. Don’t have, don’t have.”
Finally, ‘The Terminators’, who disguise themselves as manicurists but are really agents with lethal weapons of precision timing.
These dragon ladies are ruthless. They only unsheathe their claws to terminate - your ego no less - only after your fingers are wet and immobilized, and your toes freshly painted and all clamped down.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” they hiss at you while you sit trembling, like some little trapped creature.
“Dry skin, enlarged pores, crow’s feet. How about a S$599.00 miracle-cure treatment?”

I FINALLY figured out why despite the good work by the Tourist Promotion people our tigers and dragons are still alive and well.
Here's the secret: Singaporeans are just too polite!

Oh we do stick out our don’t-mess-with-me ugly kiasu heads, but only when junior comes running home wailing over unfair PSLE Math questions, or when someone cuts into our Changi Village nasi-lemak queue.
Most of the time, we simply shrug and ‘take it’; or if we are very brave, ‘leave it’.

WE ARE so pathetically polite that we reciprocate freebies we don’t need by paying for stuff we don’t want.
After all, our mothers taught us to be grateful and say, “Thank you”, didn’t they?
We are so embarrassingly polite that we clean up our plates in restaurants like silenced lambs — even when they come late, cold, and, nothing like what we were promised.
Our mothers taught us that too, remember?

WITH DUE RESPECT to all our long-suffering Singaporean mothers, I say it’s time we stop being too polite.
It's time we stand as one united people, regardless of race, language or size or shape; and insist on decent manners, resist traps, and persist in saying, “No!” “Leave me alone!”
Let us resolve to report the villains, reject the insults, and refuse to pay the service charge when no service is due.
Only then can we extinguish the crouching tigers and hidden dragons from our concrete jungle.
Restore our self esteem.
And save our paradise.

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About Me

In the Old Testament in the Bible, there was a man named Jacob who "wrestled with God and man." He wouldn't let God go until God answered his prayers. God admired that and renamed him Israel, "the one who fought or wrestled and prevailed". He fought with man--his inner man--and conquered his own weaknesses. He's my hero. He is what I hope God and man see me to be.