Monday, December 14, 2009

Singaporean children can be really ill-mannered

Last weekend I went on an amazing fishing trip to a Kelong off of Sibu island, Malaysia. The premise of the trip was this: we traveled 5 hours by bus from Singapore to a jetty in Sibu, and then took a 45 minute ferry to a football-field sized platform constructed 3 km away from the nearest island (Sibu island). We then spent the next 36 hours living on the platform and fishing for hundreds of small fish called Kunin, while eating extremely fresh seafood prepared by local chefs on the platform. It was one of the most amazing weekends of my life.

For more pictures, see

I went on this trip with several other staff members from my school, Ngee Ann Poly. This was my first chance to interact with some of my colleagues in an informal atmosphere, and many of them had also brought their families along with them. I learned more about their children than I ever wanted to know from this trip.

At the first meal that we all sat down to together, I was at a table with fellow PiAer Dan, two colleagues, and four children aged 8-11. The entire meal, I basically sat there aghast as the children virtually claimed the best and most of anything set out on the table for us to eat, with absolutely no regards for the presence of anyone else at the table. One child in particular kept saying, "Let me have the best piece of fish Daddy! I deserve the best and I don't care about anyone else, especially these Ang Mors!" (Ang Mor is a derogatory term for a caucasian, it translates literally as "Red Hair" and is an obvious reference to the lighter complexion of Westerners.) But the most shocking part of this interchange was that there was no semblance of discipline or lecturing from the parents - they kept succumbing to their children's every whim, fueling their selfish and inconsiderate behavior.

Part of the basis for this self-centered behavior in the young children, I believe, stems from the social framework of the Singaporean household. It is considered the norm here to have a maid in the house (and unfortunately, these maids are always Filipino, Indonesian, or Burmese, giving these three nationalities a greatly diminished stature in Singaporean society. There are countless shops in every mall advertising the "pureness" of their maids' heritage, as these groups are virtually locked into only this role in society.) Therefore, children grow up with the mindset that there will always be someone to wait on them and perform menial tasks for them.

Over the course of the whole weekend, I saw numerous examples of these young children's selfish behavior: from the child that watched cartoons on the lone TV until 2am on full blast, while 150 other people were trying to sleep, to the child who exclaimed upon entering the speedboat "Daddy we need to have someone dry off our seats for us so we can sit!" to the boy who disobeyed his father's request to not eat more than 2 pieces of a 10 piece chicken meal for 8 people... he proceeded to eat 4 pieces, as I sat and watched and received no chicken. And yet, there was no discipline or scolding from the parents at any point during the weekend. It was unreal.

The weirdest part, though, is that my students, only 5-6 years older (17-18 years of age), are some of the most well-behaved and considerate young adults I have met. They thank me after every class I hold with them and after every quiz or exam I administer, and they often walk/run fifty feet out of their way just to come up to me to exclaim "Hi Mr. Zoller!" and run away. So somewhere between these two age groups, an enormous metamorphosis must take place. I just don't know what instigates it, because I certainly haven't seen the directions coming from the parents or household system.

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