He was an old man about 60-70 years old. He carried an umbrella and a little bag and was dressed quite decently in a clean shirt and shorts. When he came to my door (metal gate locked), he said he was going home. I sensed something wrong, but asked him to go ahead. Looking confused, he then went over to my neighbour’s home and told her that he lived there. I kept asking him to go home. He kept insisting that he was home but somehow, strangers were occupying it.
Dementia? Psychosis? I wasn’t sure. I posted the question on Facebook and the general consensus, not surprisingly, was “call the police”. Someone even asked me to Stomp the old man. Well, I did neither and just left him alone till he came to his senses. Well, he didn’t and he continued to bug my neighbour. You might expect the woman from China to do something drastic. Indeed, she did and shocked everybody. She opened her door for the old man, approached him and checked his pockets. She found a card bearing a phone number and called. It was the old man’s daughter who answered. The old man’s address was found. He lived on the next block and had lost his way. She walked him home and I was utterly embarrassed.
Yes, I’ve just witnessed an act of kindness – something which anyone could have done, but I can bet that almost any Singaporean encountering this situation would have called the police. I was ashamed, but would I have dared to do what she did? Why did this lady from China act that way? Was she not aware of the possible danger of opening her door for a person who is obviously of unsound mind? Was she not aware of the legal implications of searching a stranger’s pockets? What if he (or his daughter) claimed that something was lost and accused the kind samaritan of stealing from him? The risks and possibilities are endless. The more you think about it, the more you dare not help. And as we Singaporeans go about ruminating, procrastinating or even calling the police, some foreigner or new citizen had already done the right thing. As our bureaucracies continue to churn out more regulations, ostensibly to make Singapore a better place, the thickening rule book has paradoxically made us less capable of figuring out the right thing to do.
Daocheng Airport 4411m, highest airport in the world
This incident reminds me of another incident I encountered in China. I documented it in my book Western Sichuan With a Kid in Tow. I was in Daocheng and after surviving a 6.3 magnitude earthquake at Kangding, I was not keen on passing through Kangding on my way back to Chengdu, especially when I heard reports of strong aftershocks in the news. So my son and I shared a taxi with Mr Li and his female companion to Daocheng airport. I was hoping to get a ticket for the flight that the couple had booked for that morning. The ticket counter was empty. Someone was supposed to be there, but there was none. I was anxious and frustrated. With my Singaporean upbringing, I could only stand like fool at the unmanned counter. But Mr Li was a Chinaman. When he saw that I had a problem, he started pushing open the doors marked “No Entry” and complained loudly to the folks hiding inside. Instantly, a young lady pulled on a jacket and came out to attend to me. Problem solved – Chinese style. If Mr Li had not bulldozed his way into all the restricted areas at the airport, I would certainly not have been able to take that flight back to Chengdu on that day.
While many of us like to poke evil fun at foreigners for their uncouth ways and devil-may-care attitude, I think we should also understand the kind of environment they’ve been brought up in. Sometimes, you just have to break the rules to get things done. The difference may lie in how harmful or dangerous your actions are. Yes, there are many crooks and selfish people who lie, cheat, conveniently break rules and ignore risks to public safety to benefit themselves, but on the other side of the same coin, these folks are also capable of breaking rules and ignoring risks to help others. By the time we Singaporeans get to the page in our rule book, the foreigners would have already made the judgement call and completed the task.