星媒訪台驚訝:台北沒人亂丟垃圾


 

新加坡英文「海峽時報」前總編輯、現任新加坡報業控股公司執行編輯韓福光(Han Fook Kwang)日前一趟台北行,讓他對台灣人公民素養印象深刻。他在昨天海峽時報兩度以「這裡不是東京」提醒讀者台北在公德心的進步。

 

韓福光約一周前造訪台北,對台北保持清潔的印象深植在心;這是他相隔超過廿年後再度到台灣,以往對台灣印象都來自於媒體,且負面印象居多。昨天他以「新加坡不光彩的事實(The dirty truth about Singapore)」為題撰文。

 

文中他自問:「難道都沒人丟垃圾?」「如果你手上有一張想扔的紙巾,是放進自己口袋?」韓福光的導遊告訴他,「台灣人就是這麼做的。」

 

台灣人沒有亂丟垃圾,而是回到家再丟;台灣人也把可回收的垃圾,與不能回收的區隔開。這讓他想到新加坡在垃圾分類上面臨的困難,更別提把垃圾帶回家。

 

韓福光寫到:「我必須提醒自己,我是身在台北,而非東京。」看到捷運站排列有序的通勤族等候列車,即便擁擠,仍是單排依序上車,「這是新加坡看不到的」。此時,他再度提醒「這裡不是東京」。

 

四天行程中最讓他覺得不可思議的是在餐廳;他說,這不是到頂級餐廳,服務卻「比東京還要好」。

 

韓福光從非常年輕的餐廳服務生身上看到的是,「我從未在世界任何地方體驗過如此個人化、熱情、有見識的服務」。

 

這是他在鼎泰豐體驗到的,而以這家餐廳「翻桌」速度來看,他寫到:「可不能說這是個慢條斯理日子裡遇到的特殊服務。」

 

回過頭來,韓福光提醒讀者,新加坡人很多不好行為長久以來都未見修正;包括通勤族占據捷運出口,食客在熟食中心吃完飯不主動歸還碗盤,居民不做資源回收,看電影講手機。

 

韓福光寫到,很多人常說新加坡是世界第一等的經濟體,卻沒有伴隨著社會的優雅行為(social graces),這可能要花一個世代的時間才能兩者兼顧。

 

新加坡華文報紙近來最常以「公德心」描述所謂的優雅行為,在韓福光這篇文章,他認為,薄弱的社區意識導致新加坡人缺乏公德心。

 

他也問了在台灣工作的同事,台灣人為何這麼有公德心。

 

這位女同事說,原因很多,特別是一九八七年解嚴後,政治與社會覺醒,更多人參與與台灣有關的公眾事務,讓大家有更強的「台灣人本體意識(Taiwanese identity)」。

 

韓福光說,政治上,台灣常有些不光彩的事,經濟發展遲緩也有一段時間了,「但他們在社會態度舉止方面,似乎踏出了一大步」。

 

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Singaporeans' poor social graces a result of a weak sense of community

By Han Fook Kwang, The Straits Times, 30 Dec 2012

 

ST-Miel-The dirty truth  

 

I couldn't find any public dustbins in Taipei where I was visiting about a week ago.

 

The city was clean and as well kept as any I have seen elsewhere.

 

But nobody throws rubbish here? What happens if you've a piece of tissue paper you want to get rid of?

 

Leave it in the pocket?

 

That's what the Taiwanese do, said my guide. They dispose of it when they get home so they can separate what can be recycled from the rest.

 

That's really impressive, I thought, especially considering how difficult it is to get Singaporeans to recycle their waste, let alone carry it home with them.

 

I had to remind myself I was in Taipei, not Tokyo where you expect the Japanese to be ultra civic-minded.

 

It was one of several surprises about Taipei and its people, which overturned my previous preconceptions about the place.

 

Truth is I didn't know very much about Taiwan, not having visited for more than 20 years - I was last there on a brief news assignment.

 

Much of what I knew came from reading the papers and watching the news on television, and it was mostly negative - the unruly politics, fist fights in Parliament, and headline-grabbing melodramatic elections (remember the mysterious shooting of then President Chen Shui-bian a day before the 2004 presidential election?).

 

There were other revelations from my visit.

 

At Taipei's MRT stations, commuters waited in orderly, single-line queues for trains, a sight you don't see here in Singapore, and their trains are just as crowded.

 

(Second reminder - it's not Tokyo.)

 

But the stand-out observation of my four-day visit was the service at restaurants.

 

It was better than Tokyo's.

 

These were not fine-dining places that I visited, where you expect service to be good, but popular ones such as Din Tai Fung and T.G.I. Friday's, both of which are also in Singapore.

 

I have never experienced such personal, enthusiastic and know-ledgeable service anywhere in the world - and from very young waiters barely out of school.

 

It was packed in Din Tai Fung, so you couldn't say the exceptional service was because it was a slow day there.

 

The issue of how to get Singaporeans to be more civic-minded has been an evergreen one because there are too many examples of bad behaviour which have gone uncorrected for too long.

 

Commuters blocking the way of those getting off the trains, diners not returning their trays at hawker centres and foodcourts, residents not recycling their waste, moviegoers using their mobile phones in cinemas. Many visitors have also commented that the city isn't as clean as it used to be and more people have been caught littering in public places.

 

The list goes on.

 

That's not even including how motorists behave on the road - top of my hate list being the way they accelerate instead of giving way the moment they see another driver signalling to get into their lane.

 

It's often said we're a First World economy but without the accompanying social graces, and that it'll take another generation before we get there.

 

It was such a refreshing change to visit a city where you could see a qualitative difference in social behaviour and attitude towards one another, and which was not so culturally or economically different from Singapore that it seems like an alien place.

 

It's how I feel about Japan - it sets a very high standard for courteous behaviour and public-spiritedness but Japanese society is hard to fathom and the social codes are so opaque to outsiders it seems like a world apart.

 

Singaporeans will never be like them, so there's no point studying how they do it.

 

But Taiwan is predominantly Chinese, and much more similar to Singapore.

 

It disproves the point that some people here have made that one reason for the mediocre service in retail shops and restaurants is that Chinese people are not known to be service-oriented, unlike say Thais or Filipinos.

 

Taiwan proves this wrong.

 

But if it was just about service, it wouldn't be such a big issue.

 

A Gallup survey put Singaporeans right at the bottom of 148 countries for lacking emotion and for being the least positive.

 

You could argue with the flawed way the survey was done, as many critics have done, but it still sucks to be bottom of the class.

 

More disconcerting was the finding of the World Giving Index two weeks ago that Singaporeans were one of the least likely people in the world (140th out of 146) to have helped a stranger in the past month.

 

As for giving money to charity, the score wasn't great either - 53rd, and way behind other South-east Asian countries such as Indonesia and Thailand.

 

I couldn't think of a worse dampener to the year-end celebrations.

 

Many reasons have been given for Singapore being so far behind in these softer aspects of our development.

 

Among several: Because we're a fast-paced, competitive economy in a densely populated urban city, people here have less time to be nice to one another. And that we're a society in which just a generation ago, many among our parents came from some of the poorest villages in China and India and who might not have grown out of their peasant habits.

 

But Hong Kong is just as compactly populated with immigrants from a similar background, yet it ranked 19th in the overall index, 95 places ahead of Singapore.

 

America is one of the most competitive economies in the world and was rated fifth.

 

I believe there is a common thread running through societies that do so much better than others in this area.

 

It has to do with having a strong sense of community and identity among the people, that they are in it together and so have to look out for one another.

 

It's like being part of a family, no one needs to be told to do his or her part for the other - it should come naturally because the ties that bind are as strong as Mother Earth.

 

When I asked a colleague who has worked in Taipei what accounts for the behaviour I observed there, she said there were many reasons, one of which was that things became noticeably better as a result of the civic movement during the years leading to the lifting of martial law in 1987.

 

Those were the years of political and social awakening in Taiwan when the people became more involved and participated more actively in the issues that mattered to Taiwan.

 

As a result, they developed a stronger sense of Taiwanese identity.

 

Their politics is often ugly and the economy has been sluggish for some time, but they appear to have made greater strides on the social front.

 

For Singapore, the challenge is greater than in a homogeneous society like Taiwan.

 

It is why all those top-down campaigns to get people to return food trays, stop littering, or move to the back of buses will have only limited success because Singaporeans don't feel strongly enough that they are one community and will look after one another.

 

That's the painful truth and acknowledging it is necessary before progress can be made.

 

Forging those bonds requires action, not words, from as many people as possible doing things for the common good, and not for themselves and their families. That means a much more vibrant civic society, one where Singaporeans truly believe they have an active part to play in shaping the future of this place.

 

The more civic organisations, interest groups, non-governmental organisations, charities and volunteers there are doing their bit in whatever area they are interested in, the greater will be this sense of community and ownership.

 

Conversely, if it's all done by the Government, the weaker the bonds.

 

But it also requires the Government to respect and support the work done by these groups.

 

There's clearly much more at stake than just uncleared food trays.

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