The Dustbin Question

If you take a drive along streets of Perth, you'll notice the streets are relatively clean. I won't say it is Singapore-clean clean but the difference isn't vast. The obvious difference between the two cities, however, is the number of public dustbins on the streets. In Singapore, there is 1 bin placed in every 30 metres. In Perth, there may be some public dustbin somewhere but I have yet to see a single one throughout all these 5 years. I have yet to see a public cleaner cleaning the streets after the people either. There have to be a few hundred or thousand of them around somewhere keeping streets clean but whatever the figure is, it will be easily dwarfed by the 70,000 cleaners employed in Singapore to keep our 719.1 km² of land clean.

Perth is rather big in comparison, at about 5,386 km². With literally no public dustbins and a fraction of cleaners employed, rubbish should be filling to the brim here - going by Singapore's rate of littering. What littering? I am pretty sure many Singaporeans don't even know what I am talking about. Take a walk under a HDB flat at 3am in the morning and have a hard look to find out. Then imagine the scene if all cleaners in Singapore go on strike for a week. No wonder going on a strike is illegal in Singapore. Take a look after an outdoor event, at the heaps of thrash left behind by participants. 

So why is Perth still being kept rather clean against the odds? How different are the residents of Perth and what special things do they do? The fact is, there isn't something special about Perth. It isn't abnormal, Singapore is. It was reported a couple of years ago that Taipei employs some 5000 cleaners to keep the place clean, 14 times fewer than Singapore. I don't think there is a need for a research to conclude Singaporeans are hardcore litterbugs. What do we expect from a population who cannot even clean their own houses and have to employ a slave maid domestic helper to clean our shit assist in keeping our hygiene level at world class, green-clean standard. I knew people who even claimed their littering habits were keeping the cleaners' jobs, otherwise a massive number of people will be unemployed. I couldn't tell if those were said in jest or not.

After the holiday in Perth where I did the fateful Walk of Desperation, I returned to Singapore and life went on. However, the dustbin issue bothered me to no end. It tells me that Singaporeans do not care about their environment but the roots run much deeper. We are selfish and live only for ourselves yet hypocritical enough not to admit it. It is not limited to caring for the environment but stretches to every crevice of all aspects of Singapore life. We secretly celebrate when our classmates fail the exams, gloat when we buy a new car or get promoted at work but go deep green when nice things happens to the others. The way we backstab one another to climb, the way we hunt for glory. Every god-damned mother fucker and his dog is suddenly related to Joseph Schooling after his gold medal swim but the losers have no friends, quietly forgotten or dishonoured. Everyone is proud to be Singaporean with renewed pride when one among us can swim remarkably fast but no one is ashamed of having to employ 70,000 cleaners to veil our lack of civic mindedness. No one is ashamed of our ruthless driving attitudes, our racism towards the minority races and our treatment towards the weak, the old and the disabled.

Officials called for stronger enforcement to deal with the dipping cleanliness standards in hope of, perhaps, reducing the shocking cleaners headcount for the first time in history. Barking up the wrong tree is what we often call 'pragmatism' in Singapore. That's one thing I really dislike about our problem solving attitude. The easiest solution is often seen as the best solution but is it really so? After 5 decades of nation building, we cannot even educate a population to clean after ourselves like the first world human beings we like to see ourselves as. To reduce cleaning workers yet maintain an acceptable of cleanliness, we need to up enforcement. What a joke.

Enforcement again. No wonder they see us as animals or at best, retarded kids. We need to be round up by a shepherd dog all the time like hapless herds. There are enforcement for parking because we cheat whenever we can. Millions has been invested to automate parking, so that enforcement cost can be reduced with an anti-cheat system in place. We cannot be trusted to buy our own bus fares. So the Transit Link paying system had to be replaced by Ezylink to prevent commuters from paying $0.60 for every bus ride they take.

A friend working in a community charity organisation told me one major reason why criteria are set so strict in order to receive financial assistance is that his clients tend to cheat, taking advantage of the system by getting themselves qualified - on paper - to receive social assistance when they do not need it. Then we read about grown adults arriving in their Mercedes Benz at a book distribution scheme for the needy to jostle with the others for free books.

It comes back to that same chicken and egg question that Patrick and I will usually take opposite sides on. Did the system make the people behave this way or the people make the system because they cannot be trusted? Does the constant limitation of resources cause the people to be selfish, kiasu and mean? Or was the system in place so that people are protected from the undesirable traits commonly found among Singaporeans?

When I showed Angie the open BBQ pits that are free for everyone to use here, she immediately commented that system will never work in Singapore. It will be abused to no end. The users will not clean up after use either, like most of the users of BBQ pits in Perth. Judy told me there if grape vines were to hang freely in vineyards like the way they do it in Perth, there will be nothing left to harvest by the time they ripe. Most of us accept this dog-eat-dog, paper grabbing, money chasing system as a way of life. I don't believe in such things because I saw a place where things are better, people are kinder and have lived here to confirm it.

To me, the definition of a First World country is not about building expensive skyscrapers, introducing sophisticated technologies, paying obscene money to maintain a beautiful and clean facade and banning discussions about race on the pretext of racial harmony. Instead, it is the quality of the people that defines a respectable civilisation.


  1. Yes, very right... And we complain about the mainland Chinese behaviour.... :)

  2. You are so on point on this matter.