Singapore’s Class Divide

Have you watched Channel News Asia’s latest ‘Regardless of Class’?

The show attempts to discuss social class differences and how Singaporeans classify one another with the end product being – class is a huge divide between society.  This, on top of Language, Race and Religion.

Watching the show, I was able to connect at a very personal with pretty much, almost everyone on the show; from the LOW SOCIAL CLASS to the HIGH SOCIAL CLASS. But before you begin to draw conclusions on me, I’d like to point you towards why I feel family upbringing is important to address this socio-economic class issue.

  • Based on the interview conducted with young children in the documentary, it is parents who paint the world for the child. Therefore, what parents say and how parents choose to react/respond/act to what happens around them will affect their child’s perception.

    And this is beyond just classification of individuals into socio-economic status, but more importantly in how the child chooses to interact with someone of a different language, race and/or religion.

That’s probably like a huge DUH, but more often than not, parents are the ones to be blamed for how children grow up to be.

Malays have a saying, “Melentur buluh dari rebungnya” in its’ literal translation means ‘To curve a bamboo, start from its shoot’. It’s meaning – the shaping of an adult begins from the time when he/she is still a child.

Now, back to the documentary.

Having had the opportunity to hang around high social class individuals whenever I attend events, one of the things I tend to notice when I engage in a conversation with them is the flow of questions follows as such:

– “What do you do for a living?”
– “What did you study in school?”
– “Which university did you study at?”
– “Which JC did you study at?”
– “Which secondary school did you study at?”
– “Do you drive?”

These questions seem to be the norm of conversation and I don’t blame them because as humans, we naturally want to form a connection with another person and so, we try to find commonalities with each other.

And it’s not just in Singapore that I’ve encountered such a line of questioning, even overseas when I’m visiting my parents or on holiday visiting friends.

So here’s the thing, social class is not a determinant of how a person is like, as a person. Social class is, for me, simply about how God dealt our cards in life.

So, how can we eradicate or minimize the gap between the classes?

I can only think of – SHARED EXPERIENCES and ATTITUDE.

What do I mean?

When I watched the documentary and it talked about cleaners and security guards. I could immediately connect with both occupations having worked as a cleaner when I was younger and being somewhat chatty, I tend to enjoy having chats with the first person whom I would usually come across whenever I have to enter a building.

That’s right, the SECURITY GUARD!

And yes, not all security guards were once security guards.

I’ve spoken to quite a number and they all have reasons for why they chose to be security guard.  I’ve met one security guard who chose to be a security guard because it was 5 minutes away from home which saves him transportation cost and he used to be a flight steward for 25 years.

And what about cleaners?

My next door neighbour was an estate cleaner (before Town Councils began hiring foreigners en masse). I grew up in his house, playing with his grandson and I often saw how hard he had to work being an old man. But he enjoyed his job and always had a smile on his face.

That experience taught me not to litter on the ground because someone’s family member was doing the cleaning. So, I learnt how to care for the environment through that experience.

And what about my own experience as a cleaner?

Well, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I took time to talk to people I met to learn about their job while I was doing mine. For me, it was a lot about understanding what I had to do for them to make sure their job could be done easier.

I still enjoy talking to cleaners.

It could be as simple as just asking whether or not they’ve had their meals or what time they knock off from work. These things make their day. It makes them feel human.

The show also interviewed students from different streams and how it was challenging to interact with one another.

This was an issue on the show that I found it hard to understand because when I was a student, regardless of our streams, we were all hanging out almost always together. Exp, NA or NT, we were all playing soccer together and committing mischief together. And to a lot of peoples’ surprise, the express students in my school were almost as naughty or even naughtier than the NA or NT students!

The popular students in my sec sch were the gang members and since my exp classmates were gang members, they were popular for that. Not for how smart they were, but simply because they were ‘cooler’ as a gang member. These days, it seems that having branded good is a pre-requisite for being ‘cool’ rather than the personality and vibe that a person has.

Nonetheless, I never saw the divide growing up.

Up till today, I don’t feel the divide in class. Maybe because my friends who are more well to do than I am tend to share what they have in excess to ensure we can all enjoy the experience together.

But surely, it is just me. It was how I was raised and how I chose to live my life and live my experiences. And maybe, that’s why I often get mistaken to be a graduate or someone who is rich (money) but I’m neither, I’m just a guy who’s happily living life to the fullest within my means.

And no, I don’t come from a rich family either.

Born in a rental flat, grew up in a 3-room flat.

One thing I do agree about the show, luck COULD BE a determinant and that’s a HUGE COULD BE. Being connected to the right people is just as important too, this I would agree. Hence, networking opportunities are important. Even if you consider yourself to be from the low social class, there would be networking opportunities available.

As simple as participating in events in the community or attending courses or joining a group for a health activity.

So for me, the roadmap towards social mobility from LOW SOCIAL CLASS to HIGH SOCIAL CLASS is a stroke of luck, ample networking opportunities and of course, having good health. When you don’t have to spend on staying healthy, you can focus on working hard consistently without falling ill, saving up, spending within your means and wait for the right opportunity or luck to come knocking your way to send you up the ladder towards a different social class.

A change of health condition and luck could similarly send someone from a high social class down to low social class.

But what’s most important above it all, a positive attitude and a good outlook on and in life and having good manners. Having those things is true high social class and if you don’t have it, chances are, you’ll pass it down to your kids and no matter how wealthy you are, you’re just not classy.

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