Archive for August, 2010

Cleaning up after yourself

Monday, August 16th, 2010

I just went to lunch at a subway near my house and was treated to a sad, sad display of laziness.

Let me start by saying that this particular form of laziness is a pet peeve of mine, which I bitch about way too much to my friends. So maybe if I rant about it here I can stop nagging about it to them. At this point I should say I’m going to pick on Singaporeans and while the laziness that I am going to describe is in no way unique to Singaporeans, I live here, it’s where I observe it on a daily basis so I pick on them. Also I think it’s part of a bigger issue in their society and so they are predisposed to this particular laziness.

To set the scene: when I arrived at the Subway there was one other customer in line ordering, one customer seated at a table by herself and one table occupied by a group of three. The other 15 tables were empty (yes I counted). An additional, very important piece of information is that the customer sitting alone was not eating; she was obviously with the customer ordering in front of me and the table she was sitting at was covered in the trash of the previous customer(s) who sat there — cups, napkins and sub wrappers. Another empty table was also similarly covered. Why was a customer sitting at the dirty table when there were so many? Because both dirty tables were bench seats, which are cushined, also the other occupied table was a bench seat, people would rather sit at a dirty table then sit at the hard seats. It should be noted that the trash bin was less than three steps from the either of these seats. This is the laziness I want to rand about; the seeming inability of a vast number of people to cleanup after themselves.

Now here is how it played out. The customer ordering in front of me finished ordering and joined their companion at the trashy table. The two of them pushed the trash to the side and ate their sub, drank their drinks and enjoyed their cookies. Then they got up and left.

That’s it. Now my Singaporean friends might not find anything wrong with this scenario, except perhaps that the customers pushed the existing trash aside rather than moving it to an unoccupied table near at hand which is the common practice here. To be fair they most likely would not even notice what happened and if it was pointed out they might say, yes they should just throw the trash away. It’s so common that people don’t notice.

What’s wrong with this from my foreign — American’ ang moh — point of view is that subway is a fast-food restaurant, where customers are expected to deposit their trash in the provided trash bins which have “thank you” inscribed on them. That way the table is clear of debris when the next customer needs a place to sit, thus facilitating the quick turn over that enables the restaurant to provide it’s goods at high volume and a low price.

Why Singaporeans don’t fulfil this social contract has, I think, a logical source: hawker centers. Long ago in a less prosperous Singapore the government corralled all the street food vendors into centralized food centers with seating, restrooms, lighting and such. Even today most of the food served in Singapore is served by hawkers in such government food centers or in their more commercialized private offspring the “coffee shop” or kopitiam as they are often called by locals. And, to be honest, the best food mostly comes from these hawker centers. It must also be said that for the most part hawker center meals are cheaper than fast-food.

Since hawker centers and coffee shops are composed of a collection of individual stalls selling food the government or coffee shop owner provides the cleaning staff who collect and return the various plates, cups, utensils and other things customers eat off of; dispose of trash and leftovers; and clean the tables.

Hawker centers were so successful that the behavior that is acceptable in them has become the common denominator; not cleaning up after oneself is simply accepted at any eating establishment — even at places, such as the Ikea restaurant and some coffee shops where there are large signs screaming at customers to return their trays to specific locations. And let’s not talk about other hawker center behaviour like piling up all your shrimp shells that you spit out or the bones from your chicken or fish onto the table that you then leave for someone else to cleanup or that it is perfectly acceptable to not provide napkins or hand towels (consider yourself extremely lucky if you find a bathroom in Singapore that keeps towels in stock, the dispenser is there just to trick non-locals.)

All of this is of course not really a problem or much of a bother to locals. It’s just me, it’s a pet peeve, but this is my personal soapbox so I’ll rant if it damn well want to.

My problem with this is that people have become so used to not cleaning up after themselves through this hawker center mentality (and add in the fact that many cannot even clean up after themselves at home because they have a personal house slave — but that’s a separate, though related, rant) that they are passing this laziness on to their kids wholesale. Maybe my mom grew up too poor or my dad too southern or maybe it was the Boy Scouts hammering home their slogan of leaving a place in better condition than you found it, but I think that cleaning up after oneself is a core part of being a responsible productive member of the human race, and a trait of utmost importance to pass on to ones children to equip them for success in the wider world. We had a name for people who’s parents never taught them this or who had maids their whole life: spoiled brats. Spoiled as in the Singlish definition: broken.

YOG Fireworks

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Fireworks over Marina Bay for the opening of the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore. There are a few more photos in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games opening ceremony, Singapore, August 2010 photoset on Flickr [].

No calls please

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

We’re moving, in other words, toward a fascinating cultural transition: the death of the telephone call. This shift is particularly stark among the young. Some college students I know go days without talking into their smartphones at all.

Clive Thompson, in The Death of the Phone Call [], from Wired August 2010 []

Yep, that would be me. I loath the phone, always have. The only times I have ever gotten into calling someone is the infatuation stage of new relationships (which were few and far between for me, and think you very much I’m married now,) during which I fell asleep way to many times with the phone off the hook, thankfully this was mostly before cell phones or after I moved to a place which had unlimited calling plans, otherwise I’d still be paying off that debt along with the whole going to college debt.

But really, I average less than one call a day and regularly go three or four days without a call. My iPhone’s call list currently looks like this:

C****** L**
14:10 (today)
J***** L**
S******** P****
C****** L**
C****** L** (3)
C****** L**
N** S**** (2)
C****** L**
N** S**** (1)

Looking at that you’d assume I have no friends. And while I have few friends, few is greater than zero. I usually communicate via SMS. I count 8 people who I’ve messaged with in the past three days and close to 60 messages.

Message come naturally for several reasons: first; as mentioned I don’t like the phone, second; and most likely related — I’m a geek, and third; I was in college during the late `90’s and early `00’s in the US.

The dates are important because they coincide with a few monumental events:

  • Free (useful) internet on college campuses
  • Everyone had a desktop in college (at least in the technical/science fields, laptops where just coming into their own)
  • ICQ and AOL IM clients were new and exciting
  • Only drug dealers and business people had cell/mobile phones in the US

All this added up to a lot of people like me who had a computer in their dorm rooms, running ICQ or AOL all the time with an always on, free, internet connection. It was like a personal secretary while you where in class or at ciao or there was a sock on the door handle and you could not get it — yea I was always on the outside looking at the sock… at least at my own dorm room :-) You’d get back from class (and into your dorm) to find these little, often out-of-context or hours old, messages from all kinds of people and, importantly, you could choose to respond or not as you wished.

IM served as both a real-time communication mechanism and a message taking system. You could safely ignore it if you were studying (or leeching off Napster or gaming or browsing Pr0n!) and these little love notes would be waiting to fill your emotional void or provide that elusive answer to the take home exam when you were ready for them.

Anyway, all of this experience with both real-time and asynchronous communication over IM in college proved a good training ground for SMS. I moved to Europe in 2001 and landed smack dab in the middle of the SMS revolution. And being a poor college student I was a pre-paid customer (such thing didn’t even exist in the US till long after I returned) so when I went to London I used very, very… very, little voice. It cost as much to say hello on a voice call as it did to have an entire conversation on SMS! I got so used to using text to communicate with people that when I got back to the US and joined a company working in SMS interoperability I was one of only two people in the company who had ever sent an SMS before starting there (the other guy was German so he had a head start at it.)

So, yea, I’m a thirty-something and I don’t talk on the phone.


Monday, August 2nd, 2010