S'porean's account of apathy in S'pore highlights sad state of affairs

How did we all become like this?

Jeanette Tan | April 27, 2017, 03:42 PM

There is never a right time to bring this up, but time and time again, even if anecdotally, we find this happening.

A person gets into an accident, falls down, or is in distress. People at the scene observe events as they unfold with rapt attention, sometimes whipping out a phone to take photos or video. Someone's seriously injured? Take photo or video and post on Facebook to "raise awareness". Two people are fighting? Better stay out of it.

But when it really counts, all of a sudden it's inconvenient, "I don't want publicity" and "I didn't see anything".

A tragic account along these lines was shared by one Perry Tan on Facebook:

His story: his then-70-year-old father was hit by a bus whose driver beat a red light in the wee hours of the morning at a pedestrian crossing. His father had the right of way.

He came away with a fractured skull and several broken ribs. Tan's father didn't survive the accident, even though he made it to the hospital.


Here's where it gets sad

Now, it might initially seem sad that only one person, an ang moh lady who was on the bus, went up to him to attend to him. Others probably called the police and an ambulance, but she was the only one accompanying him until paramedics arrived.

But that isn't what's truly disappointing about Tan's story — what really is is that when Tan and his siblings approached people who said they witnessed the accident and saw what happened, they refused to help them seek justice.

"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 emphasised 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."

Nonetheless, in the end, police established it was the elderly Malaysian bus driver's fault for beating the red light and crashing into Tan's late father.

But for reasons unknown to Tan, and unexplained by the police, the driver jumped bail and went back to retire and pass away peacefully in Malaysia. The bus company involved paid a "meagre" compensation to Tan's family, accompanied by an apology.

"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 manufactured clumsy excuses."

Others came forward with more stories

In the wake of Tan's post came others with their own experiences of Singaporean apathy.

One Robin Low, for instance, related how he got into a bike accident along the side of a road, and was ignored by hundreds of motorists — including a police van that stopped, asked if he was okay, and moved off after he didn't respond:

And another lady, Claire Leow, who shared her story of being ignored in comments to Tan's post:

Screenshot from Perry Tan's Facebook post


So how did we get to this point?

Some have volunteered their opinion of how we ended up here, like economist and public intellectual Donald Low:


and former banker and now-public commentator Chris Kuan:


Now, perhaps that's not all of us. But for one person who sticks their neck out to help, there are another 100 who will not.

Now how did we end up here, and how, then, do we get ourselves out of this cesspool of apathy?


Top photo by Neo Chee Wei / Getty Images

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