It has been a rainy Sunday morning here in Singapore. I like the rain and clouds on the Island for whilst it doesn’t exactly cool the place down – the heat is a little less stifling and more bearable.
As is normally the case now, I awakened very early and I took some time just pottering around my tiny apartment cleaning things up and readying myself for the coming working week. I don’t really mind the vacuuming and mopping and wiping down of surfaces – but I have put off the ironing of my shirts until this evening.
I don’t like ironing.
I then rode my bicycle over to Starbucks where I had some toast with vegemite and a couple of double shot vanilla lattes and I caught up on the local news. Reading the Straits Times is entertaining and enlightening and whilst much of the real news is censored – it gives me a snapshot of what is going on.
I read with great interest that the emotional issue regarding Singaporeans has again reared its ugly head and the Government are about to launch another campaign to try to do something about it.
The Singaporean government loves a good campaign.
So do I.
The emotional issue to which I refer relates to findings from research that was conducted last year by Gallup and was published in many newspapers around the world. The Gallup survey found that, ‘only 36% of Singaporeans report feeling positive or negative emotions on a daily basis’. This ranked the Island as ‘the most emotionless society in the world’.
Gallup is not the sound of horses running – that is gallop. Gallup is a market research company founded in the 1930’s in the US by a bloke named George Gallup. George wanted to discover what people thought about a variety of different things and he did this by asking a lot of questions. I very much like the concept as I too also like to talk to people about what they think about things and I ask a lot of questions. Tragically – at least from my perspective – George made a fortune from his questions – but many people just think I am weird.
There is a fine line that separates fortune from folly.
The Gallup report went viral around the world and became a hot topic here in Singapore. Bloomberg published some articles on the Gallup findings - which added to the fire. Bloomberg are not a type of flowering hamburger – they are an American media company that focus on the financial sector. One of the quotes from Bloomberg that I read this morning – whilst sipping on my second coffee – stated that, ‘If you measure Singapore by the traditional indicators, they look like one of the best run countries in the world …. but if you look at everything that makes life worth living, they’re not doing so well’
I looked around Starbucks after I read this and the place was very crowded but there was not a great deal of emotion being expressed. There were few smiles on people’s faces and there was no weeping. I did notice a group of sweaty English tourists who appeared to be moaning about the price of coffee but that was really the only emotion I could notice.
Emotions are who we are. We are formed by what we desire and we are shaped by what we experience.
Si vis amari, ama – if you wish to be loved – love.
The subject matter was of great interest to me and I probed deeper into the publications online. The questions put to people in the Gallup survey included “Did you feel well-rested yesterday?” “Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?” and “Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?”
Everyone around me at Starbucks seemed to be immersed in serious conversations or engrossed in their own little worlds and while I was literally bursting to ask some of them this question set I decided to ride home and go and see my own happiness consultant – the manager of my Building complex – Mr. Tan.
I departed to Starbucks on my bicycle this morning through the rear gate of the complex to avoid the saluting Rajs but I returned through the main front entrance to say hello – and because it is more convenient to access Mr. Tan’s office.
At the security gatehouse I dismounted my bicycle and was greeted by both Rajs. As is always the case, they were beaming and they snapped into immediate and magnificent salutes.
“Good be morning and gidday to you Mr. Peter” one Raj said.
“Gidday morning Mr. Peter” said the other.
“At ease and good morning to you both” I smiled.
I really like these guys and I am delighted that they are adopting the Australian that I am teaching them. The two Rajs are Sikh Indian chaps and they are definitely not emotionless. I always find them to be very happy and cheerful and I enjoy their company very much.
“We have not being seeing you for much longness Mr. Peter have you being undertaking your worldliness of traveling in a manner that is bonzer?” a Raj asked.
“I have Raj” I responded.
“I have just returned from a quick visit to Lahore in Pakistan”
Both Rajs immediately frowned in what I assume was concern. They come from a region that is very close to the Pakistan border and both men served in the Indian army. As I recently described in an article entitled “The French Hooker” – there is a great deal of animosity between Pakistan and India and there is much bombing and shooting of each other.
“It is alright Raj – I was in no danger and I do not think I have to go back any time soon”
“May I ask you a couple of quick questions?” I added.
“Most certainly Mr. Peter” a Raj responded.
“Did you feel well-rested yesterday?”
“It was our off day Mr. Peter and we were mosted rested” a Raj replied.
Residents of Singapore refer to their day of non-work as their ‘off day’. I always have a little internal giggle when I hear this as to we Australians an ‘off day’ is a ‘bad day’. It is when unpleasant shit happens and we feel – well off.
“Were you treated with respect all day yesterday Mr. Raj and Mr. Raj?”
This question bizarrely triggered an immediate salute from one of the Rajs and I had to order him to stand at ease. I hate doing this but it is the only way to make them stop.
“We are always being respectful Mr. Peter”
“I know you are Raj – you guys are the most respectful men that I know - but were you treated with respect?”
“The Danelander man has been calling us modderfokkers still Mr. Peter” the other Raj replied.
“But we are being respectfulness of him at all times”
The Danelander man referred to by the Raj is of course my insane Danish neighbour Jens. I have reassured the Rajs that he calls everyone modderfokkers and not to worry too much about it.
“OK – did you two laugh or smile a lot yesterday?”
“We are being smiling many times on our off day Mr. Peter. We were in our temple and are always being smiling there”
“I thought so” I said.
“Thanks Mr. Raj and Mr. Raj. Do you know if Mr. Tan is in his office?”
“He is being there Mr. Peter” replied a Raj.
This did not surprise me. Despite it being Sunday Mr. Tan seems to always be at work. According to the Gallup Poll on Global Emotions, Singapore’s more than five million residents work on average 46.6 hours per week. This is the most for any country on the planet. Despite these long hours – of which I too am a victim – only 2% of the Island’s workforce describe themselves as being ‘engaged by their jobs’. The global average is 11%.
That means on average 89% of the employed people in the world are not engaged with their work.
It is no wonder there are so many wars and conflicts.
“Alright I will pop in and see him then. Thanks very much my friends. I will see you later”
I wheeled my bicycle up the driveway and ignored the departure saluting of the security guards. I presume and hope that once I am out of sight the Rajs eventually cease their salutations.
I parked my bicycle in the foyer of my apartment and I strolled to the Building Manager’s office. The door was closed so I knocked and then I walked straight in. Mr. Tan was sitting reclined in his office chair and he was trimming his nose hair with a small pair of scissors. My sudden entry obviously surprised and alarmed him and he squealed at my unexpected entry as the scissors jerked up into his nasal cavity.
Blood started flowing.
“Jaysus Mr. Tan I am sorry” I said – and I rushed to his side.
“It is alright Mr. Peter” he replied – as he reached around to open his desk drawers where he fumbled about and found a packet of tissues.
It was not all right. Blood was streaming from his right nostril.
This is the second time that I have inadvertently caused – or contributed to an injury to Mr. Tan. We previously head butted each other when Mr. Tan leaned over me whilst I was dozing by the pool. It was a few weeks back and the incident resulted in an injury that caused some minor bruising to my forehead but hospitalized the Building Manager.
It was a most unfortunate and a quite accidental event.
I stood patting Mr. Tan on the shoulder while he remained seated and he wadded his nose with tissues. He wanted to stand but I had to gently restrain him. Patting him was as much as I could do and while I had a compelling desire to say ‘there there’ to him I did not.
“Is everything OK Mr. Peter?” Mr. Tan enquired.
This is a question that he asks often of me. Mr. Tan is a fairly constant worrier and I think that this is an emotion that I most associate him with.
He is an excellent Building Manager.
“Everything is quite OK thank you Mr. Tan. I just thought I would drop by and ask you a couple of questions but they can wait until another time. I am so sorry that I barged in and startled you”
“It is quite all right Mr. Peter please ask me the questions”
Mr. Tan is such a polite and well-mannered man – he really is very endearing.
“No really Mr. Tan they can wait until another time”
I was quite concerned at the amount of blood that was coming from the Building Manager’s nose.
“Should we take you to the doctor?” I asked.
“It is fine thank you Mr. Peter – I have just nicked the inside of my nose”
He had now stuffed a rolled tissue up his nostril and it was impeding his voice. Had I not been so concerned it may well have been a comical sight.
“Please ask me your question Mr. Peter” Mr. Tan repeated.
“Have the painters been disturbing your peace? Is Mr. Jens again drunk by the pool? Are there more cockroaches in your apartment?” he asked with no small degree of anxiety.
These were all very relevant questions from Mr. Tan and are a testament to his proficiency as a Building Manager. There are painters currently at the complex. They are painting the outside of the building but they have not disturbed me in any way - primarily because I have been away. I also did find Jens collapsed in a drunken state by the pool the other morning and I once sighted a random cockroach in my apartment. The drunken and unconscious Jens is a common sight and is rarely a problem for me – and even though I do not like cockroaches – I have only ever seen one. However I raised the matter at the Owners and Tenants Committee – and fumigation of all common areas has already been completed.
“No I have no problems at all with the Painters, Jens or cockroaches Mr. Tan, I was merely interested in your opinion on a survey of the emotions of Singaporeans that I have just read about. But it really can wait until another time”
“Emotions Mr. Peter?”
“Emotions Mr. Tan” I repeated.
“What are your questions Mr. Peter?”
The blood flow seemed to have subsided a bit now.
“Please take a seat Mr. Peter”
He gestured to a chair on the opposite side of his desk and I stopped patting him on the shoulder and sat down.
“Well Mr. Tan I am curious to know a couple of things from your perspective. First off did you feel well-rested yesterday?”
There was a bit of a pause of deliberation.
“No I am not well rested Mr. Peter. The painting is causing many problems with the residents and for me”
“I am sorry to hear that Mr. Tan – how about respect then? Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?”
There was another pause.
“Mostly not I am afraid Mr. Peter. Some residents have complained about the painters and Mr. Jens swore at me many times yesterday”
“I am again sorry to hear that Mr. Tan but we both know that Jens is a crazy fucker and he swears at everybody. You must not take it personally nor take him seriously. I think it is a Danish thing”
Mr. Tan nodded a grave affirmation and he replaced the blood soaked tissue wad with another. The bleeding had seemed to diminish and I was quite disgusted by the sight but given I was the root cause I pushed away my revulsion.
“ Do you recall if you smiled or laughed a lot yesterday Mr. Tan?”
There was a much longer deliberative pause this time and I could see the Building Manager mentally running through his yesterday.
“No I did not Mr. Peter” he eventually replied.
I suspected that would be his answer. In my now long association with Mr. Tan I cannot recall him smiling much – or if ever.
He is a very serious dude.
We chatted for a while about some mundane things and I hung around until the nosebleed abated.
I then bid Mr. Tan a fond farewell and I shook his clammy little hand and apologized once again for startling him whilst he had scissors up his nose.
I have now returned to the sanctuary of my apartment to think about all this and to write it all down.
It has triggered some reflection and introspection.
I feel relief that there is no hatred in my life and gratitude at the many fortunes that have fallen my way. I feel great pride in my children and I feel unfathomable joy in witnessing the adults that they have become. There is remorse of course for many things that cannot be undone – but we all have that.
Vonnegut wrote, “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are ‘what might have been’”
Nice one Kurt.
The world is a lesser place without you.
I guess the overriding emotion though is love. Boundless and unconditional love for my family and the closest of my friends – and this is the one thing that over washes all other emotions.
It is the main thing.
It is the everything.
I am not really sure how I feel about this entire emotion thing – but I do feel quite emotionally drained now and the dread of ironing is still upon me.
I think I will have a nap.