Friday, July 22, 2022

Is Singapore too "tense" for our own good ?


For reasons which can only be explained if you know me well enough, I seldom have a meal with my secondary school classmates. It's just the way it is if you are a banana and your school is very Chinese helicopter. But when I do, I always learn something.

Prior to the latest event, my classmates asked me why his dad could support a family on one income but he can't and whether it is feasible to emigrate to Australia. 

This time around, my classmate, who is a very senior Malaysian R&D engineer, said that Singapore is very tense and he'd rather live in JB and commute to Singapore than living here in Woodlands. Initially, I thought this was an economic argument because SGD goes a long way in JB. 

But it is not, the main draw is that he can be with his family in JB over weekends.

So I was puzzled because what's the difference if you spent a weekend with family in JB versus SG beyond the obvious economic advantages?

I did not unpack the argument. His reasoning was that Singapore is just a "tense" place.

Just today I found out the hard way what my classmate meant.

I was bringing my son back from school and this bastard rode a bicycle at warp speed towards a crowd of K2 children. I did the best thing I could and interposed myself between my son and him, forcing him to slow down, then he cussed me in Hokkien, and rode away. Upon reflection, there was nothing I can do because my son rode a tiny scooter and I would hypocritical to tell a bicyclist off in front of my kid, so I just kept silent.

In my head, there were two scenarios, if my son was hit and I go berserk on him, I will die. He's got a hard luck Kranji Turf Club face and looked fit in his forties and I'm a diabetic sedentary worker who might have sarcopenia. If somehow I survive and hit him with a lawsuit, I'll probably be able to do better than engaging in melee combat, but I probably can't recoup my costs, so I won't win either way. 

But the outcome is optimal, I keep quiet and go about my own way, and bicyclists will continue to plague the pavements around the primary school.

You can interpret the meaning of the word 'tense' from the rudeness of the encounter. That's one way of seeing it. 

In KL, the infrastructure is so bad, bicyclists will have to contend with potholes rather than schoolchildren. Traffic infrastructure is so bad that courtesy actually helps a lot if you need to cross the road. Same in some US states - if everyone can carry a gun, being extra polite is a survival skill. 

I think the deeper problem is the internal calculus I am so used to going through as I go by the day-to-day business in Singapore. I can :
  • Physically fight, but that never achieves any objective and getting caught on camera will ruin me.
  • Call the police, if there's clearly a Penal Code violation, but my experience is that police may reject the case. 
  • Go to court where you can find recourse in Civil Litigation. But you need to be rich and the amounts at stake substantial. 
  • Complain to MP. A favourite manoeuvre. 
  • Somehow pay the problem to go away, but the other party wins.
I apply the same mental model in many tense situations. If a fight breaks out, should it be done with words, a video, my fists or a writ?

A society can be thought of as "tense" if everyone is constantly evaluating their options this way. 

Apparently, things can be as ferocious in one local social media platform for traders and investors. I heard of this story/myth/ rumour from friends. All unsubstantiated, so I will keep the parties anonymous.

Apparently, some seasoned investor takes it very personally if he plugs a buy call for particular company stock and someone actively brags about trying to short it. One altercation got so bad, the police got involved because someone's profile even got uploaded to a gay dating website. 

For me, whoever shorts a stock I really like is a True Friend, at least others can buy it at a cheaper price.

No, I will not name that platform with salty traders. 

I will also never go there.


  1. "Tense" is too polite.. I think people here nowadays are rude, impatient, selfish, self-entitled and just plain "heck-care" about other people.
    I drive, and also frequently have this internal conversation about how I should react when I get bullied by some other motorist - if I flip him off I run the risk of him coming after me and further harrassing me. So now I just breathe, and move out of lane 1 if there are cars tailgating me. If someone rudely cuts into my lane without adequate space in front and with without indicating, I just curse him, but do nothing.

  2. You're lucky you only encountered such tense-ness after so long. It's more common among lower SES and occurs from young.

    You would have experienced micro tense-ness before in toxic organisations or colleagues.

    This is just what it is especially in high population density cities. It's the same everywhere in the world.

    It sucks but we generally accept it in exchange for bigger economic rewards & material-focused well being / quality of life.

    You don't get nice houses & job opportunities & convenient medical or food services in small villages and kumpongs.

  3. It is not called "tense", it is called "asshole".