The Coke Bottle

Most Singaporeans will nod proudly whenever a foreigner tells them that Singapore is such a clean and beautiful country. The product or result is what it matters, that is the mentality we are brought up with. A minority of Singaporeans will tell the same foreigner to talk a walk at a normal neighbour hood at 4am in the morning to understand the underlying process. Ah, process, process. Who cares about the process so long we have results? Who wants to wake up at 4am to find out the truth? Nobody appreciates a scene of litter, insects and sometimes even rodents running about for scraps. The ugly truth should be buried under silent night, never to see light. In the morning, all will be well. We are the cleanest country in the world and therefore our residents are the most civic minded.

Let me share with you a personal story during my early days in Perth. One afternoon, I dropped an empty coke bottle on the grass verge by the road near my company. Bad Singaporeans litter, anything new? Three days gone by. I noticed the same coke bottle was still lying on the verge where I parked my car. One week went by and then one month, the bottle was still there, sticking out like a sore thumb along the long stretch of nothingness, reminding me of my sin. I finally picked it up and threw it into a bin one day.

For those who had been here before, you would have noticed the towns and city of Perth looks as clean as Singapore though the cleaning maintenance appears to be much lower in frequency. I wonder makes the difference? Wouldn't a clean Singapore with much less cleaning, less cost be better for us? Not if we go with the flow of the pragmatic nature of our society. If it works, don't even think of changing it. Results, results. All that it matters. So what makes the difference? I am no researcher but I am a good observer of life. All people who write stuff are, if you think about it. I will make a guess of the factors behind the different mentality between Singaporeans and Western Australians. 

Singapore has a very interesting way of instilling a perspective into its people. When someone puts on a high-vis vest with big bright wordings of CWO, which stands for Corrective Work Order and he picks litter in the park, that is supposed to teach the public to be good and take care of their environment. I wonder what was going through the mind of the litter offender? That going through public embarrassment is the price of not doing the part of a civic minded citizen or not checking properly if there are NEA officers around when he litters. We cannot deny this mentality because when you tell someone you got caught on a speed camera for speeding their first reactions will be, "Wa, so suey." 

"You can do anything you like but don't get caught." 

That is the unofficial, but most important 8th core value of the Singapore Armed Forces deeply entrenched in the Singapore society. Over at Perth, a Singaporean will be surprised to be lambasted by a stranger who spotted his littering act because 10 out of 10 times if he does the same in Singapore, people will mind their own businesses - unless the 10th guy is an NEA officer. And so he declares that Australians are racists.

It is a known fact that kids in Australia are exposed to work at a much younger age compared to Singapore. Toddlers can be seen "helping out" at their home garden patches, crawling and laughing among the creepy crawlies. Kids will help parents to sort rubbish from recyclable waste and place them in the correct bins that every household will have. For example, we taught little Albany to dispose her own soiled nappy into our waste basket at home at 16 months or so. These days, she does it without prompting and clap her hands after she dunk it correctly.

If the household miss the "bin-day", where the bin truck will empty these bins once a week or fortnight, then the household will be in for a sorry time to put up with lack of bin space or even stench from old waste. There is a lot of environmental awareness being instilled in every kid from their early childhood and they grow up to understand that we exist because of good environment, not the other way round.

After awhile, we come to realise why the Australians love their ocean, bush, woods and rivers and they welcome foreigners who are willing to play their part. Not the kind of foreigners who junk a coke bottle on the verge when no one was looking. And certainly not the kind of foreigners who takes a dump on the road and get their kids to pee into the water drains, fast increasing in numbers in Singapore.

In his quiet corner, the coke bottle litterbug slowly understands why he shouldn't do certain things even if he is very sure he will never get caught. And be a better man, a better human being.


  1. SAF added safety as their 8th core values so our most important value shifted to the 9th..

  2. I always pointed out to non Singaporeans who praised the Singapore's clean green city, that we actually have 2 army in Singapore: the Singapore Army and the foreign army of cleaner hired by the Singaporeans.

    I knew Singapore society was on a very slippery slope when I went to camp for reservist training (dont ask me why I even bothered since I was already in Australia - just call it a moment of madness). We didnt have to do area cleaning as they wanted us to concentrate on training. And sure my company was full of highly trained professionals.

    But to see South Asian foreigner workers coming to our camp and doing the area cleaning just tell me a lot of where Singapore was heading.

    Today menial jobs, tomorrow technical jobs, next week professional jobs (which is really now since this happened in the last millennium).

    Singaporeans as a whole still have a very long way to be civic minded, like Japanese or Koreans, and we are not even on par with the Taiwanese, IMHO

    Until then we will just continue to buy cleaning services from other countries.