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Sunday, January 29, 2023
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ARE SINGAPOREAN GUILTY OF PUBLIC APATHY?

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A more personal and intimate experience sharing about public apathy.

More than 10 years ago, my dad was involved in a traffic accident. A SBS bus rammed into him in the wee hours of the morning when he was crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing. His skull was fractured and several of his ribs broke. He made it to the hospital but he didn’t stand a chance. He was 70, healthy and semi-retired, ready for his golden years. But it was not to be.

My siblings and I staked out at the bus stop near the accident site daily for a week after the accident, talking to people who may have seen the accident. We wanted to find out what happened and get witnesses for the police.

We heard from a few witnesses that after the impact, the bus stopped. There was only one person who went up to my dad to tend to him – an ang mo woman who was a passenger on the bus. No one else helped, although others may have called the police and an ambulance.

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What happened next was sad and infuriating. Upon hearing stories from the few witnesses, we identified ourselves as family of the deceased and asked if they would go to the police to report what they had seen. We emphasized that we wanted them to testify what they saw, and not put blame on any party. All of them flat-out refused immediately. When pressed, one of them said he didn’t see anything, when moments ago he animatedly recounted the entire accident to us. Another avoided us the following morning when she spotted us. Every single one of these witnesses were Singaporeans. None of them came forward to the police. Regrettably, we did not manage to find the ang mo lady who tended to my dad to express our appreciation. Was he conscious? Did she soothe him with words or touch? Whatever she did, we thank her from the bottom of our hearts for stepping up to check on him while everyone else stayed away.

I’ve always thought this experience has similar behavioural undertones to a less tragic and more common one. Many of us have encountered situations in Singapore where someone cuts queue, and everyone would be very annoyed but no one dares voice displeasure. If anyone in the queue stood out to admonish the queue cutter, that person is very likely to be a westerner. So much for our much touted “Asian” or “Confucius” values.

Back to my dad’s accident. Police investigations eventually revealed that the bus driver, who was an elderly Malaysian man, was at fault because he was beating the red light. The next tragic joke was that the driver jumped bail and slipped back into Malaysia. The police did not explain how that was possible. SBS apologized and paid a meagre compensation. A few years later, we heard from the police that the bus driver passed away in Malaysia of old age. We bear no grudges. Closure.

What was etched permanently in my memory was how the witnesses refused to come forward, when the inconvenience to them was merely a couple of hours at the police station. I remember how I looked them in the eye and pleaded with them while they averted my gaze and made up clumsy excuses.

This episode taught me an unforgettable lesson about public apathy in Singapore.

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FB post : Perry Tan

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