Sunday, December 22, 2013

No Place Is Perfect

The recent ‘Little India’ incident is a wake-up call and it shows that we can never take things for granted no matter how secure and safe our city is.  We must always be vigilant and be prepared.  Ours is a not a perfect place, definitely not but I won’t swoop this place with another place in any part of the world.  If I hope to land a perfect place, it can only appear in my dream. 

I remember I was 20 and was serving NS.  We were sent to Australia for a month or so training stint.  That year was 1982.  In between training, we had one day rest & recreation (R&R) in this small town called Rockhampton.  My army buddies and I were happily roaming the town.  We walked past a pub and few white men who had a drink too much suddenly barged out.  We did not even provoke them but they started to call us “names” and even challenged us to a fight.  We were on foreign soil and we were definitely out-numbered.  We just kept quiet, ignored them and walked away.  They did not relent and continued to call us “names” just to provoke us but we just walked away.  This was my first time experiencing racism on a foreign land. 

My second encounter was in Amsterdam, Holland.  I was on a course sent by my company.  That year should be in 1987.  I was checking out the place with a colleague from Korea.  We saw a shop and entered together.  The moment we stepped in, the white owner suddenly barged out from his counter.  He said we smelled like ‘garlic’ and chased us out.  He didn’t care whether we will buy anything at his store.  I was very agitated with his behaviour but my Korean colleague calmly pulled me away.  This is racism at its worse.

The third encounter is not about racism but about safety.  I was in Paris for a holiday and that year was 2010.  I was on the airport subway heading to the city and when my guard was let down for a moment, my haversack comprising my passport, monies, lap top and handphone, among others was snapped away.  I was later guided to the police post at the central train station by a good Samaritans to make a report.  The police tried to contact my embassy for me but could not reach anyone there.  They then gave me the address and I tried to find my way there.  After making many wrong turns despite asking many for direction, it finally took me a hellish 2 hours or so trying to find our embassy.  I was so relieved to find our embassy but the notice that stuck onto the gate mentioned it has shifted to another place.  My heart just dropped.  Gosh, I was given the wrong address by the police.  It took me another frantic hour or so locating our embassy and by then, it was way past office hours.  Fortunately for me, I managed to catch hold of a Singaporean staff who happened to work late and she then helped to email to the immigration headquarter in Singapore for me.  As I needed a police report to file insurance claim back home, I was made to wait at least 2 hours at one of their police stations for a report that took just 15 minutes.  It was to be my first trip to Paris but the entire experience was nightmarish from the moment I touched down the airport.  It is not safe to travel in the subway at all.  It is dirty and ventilation is poor.  The staff at one of the train stations was downright rude when I approached for help.  I cannot imagine staying in this first world city without fearing being mugged. 

Back home, one will never encounter a Malay or an Indian shopkeeper chasing the Chinese out or likewise, just because we are different from them.  I can roam the street without the fear of being robbed.  Our trains can be packed during peak hours but anytime, ours is much much safer and cleaner.  Frankly, I am contented enough and I can’t ask for more.  

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