I was seated at the Starbucks outlet at Kota Kinabalu’s airport when it happened. A boy was screaming. The sound was coming from the travelator. I got up from my seat but saw nothing. Seconds later, people on the aisle were shouting for help. A 3-year-old China boy had fallen down on his back and apparently, his shirt was caught between two moving parts of the travelator. The emergency stop button was hit. The travelator stopped moving. The boy was still screaming.
“Knife! Knife!” cried a German youth as he ran towards the Starbucks counter. The staff there quickly handed him a knife. He rushed to the boy and cut open his shirt. It was no use. Along with his shirt, a chunk of the boy’s skin was caught in the travelator.
The German youth cried out to the men in uniform. They walked leisurely towards the site of the accident.
“Hurry up, it’s an emergency!” he yelled.
Only then did they start running. When they saw the boy, they were horrified and quickly reported the incident through their walkie talkies. Nobody seemed to have the tools to dismantle the parts. No technicians on duty. With only hammer and screwdriver, the airport security folks (who obviously didn’t have any SOPs for such incidents) started knocking out the parts biting into the boy’s back. It was a very crude move. When they only managed to dent and distort the parts after some 15 minutes of knocking, the boy’s grandpa suggested turning the travelator back on in reverse. It might free the boy or it could make things worse. Nobody was willing to take the risk.
By then, a thick, suffocating crowd had gathered around the site of the accident. Women in uniform tried to disperse the crowd. Nobody listened until the German youth shouted again.
“What’s wrong with you people!” he cried out. The crowd instantly thinned out and those not involved went off to mind their own businesses.
Meanwhile, the men took turns to knock out the metal plate. The knocking went on for 30 mins and the boy was finally freed. Everyone was relieved.
The German youth was on the same flight to Singapore as I was. He was apparently a backpacker and I was seated next to his girlfriend near the emergency exit. After the incident, I wondered (with some trepidation) what the quick-thinking, civic-minded German youth would think of the predictable way that Singapore society would react in the event of an accident like that which happened at the airport in KK. Yes, predictable.
Fast forward 1 week. At 1pm 2 June 2016, 12-year-old P6 student Ashvin Gunasegaran witnessed an accident. According to the press, he saw that a black car and a white car had collided at the junction of Yishun Avenue 2 and Yishun Ring Road. He ran towards the junction to check on the victims. Ashvin did not do anything at first because he thought that adults, who arrived soon after them, would help the victims. No one went forward. Some of them were even using their mobile phones to take photos and videos of the accident scene!
Yes, that doesn’t surprise me at all. This is one area where we certainly beat the folks at KK where none of the busybodies in the crowd took any pictures of videos. Well-known for our conservatism, our “respect” for authority and our tough stance against adultery and various “sex offences”, the folks witnessing the accident whipped out their phones to capture and share the sensational footage on social media. Frankly, I wish the German youth at KK airport could be there to shout at them, but here’s another prediction: he won’t survive very long if he keeps shouting at the kiasu, kiasi and gian png people around here. He would no doubt be seen as a troublemaker who stands in the way of consuming and wealth-generating Singapore.
Ashvin, who goes to a neighbourhood school and was attending remedial classes to boot (not your typical model student from an elite school), decided that he had to do something about it. He didn’t manage to save the pregnant woman who was stuck in her car as he did not have the necessary tools and skill, but he showed concern while others were capturing social media content to boost their own popularity from a safe distance.
Deservedly, Ashvin received commendation from the SCDF for his heroic act, but the thousands of Facebook shares notwithstanding, I’m very sure that the millions of kiasu, kiasi, gian png, covered walkway dependent Singaporeans out there don’t really want their children to emulate him. Politics aside, I’m quite certain that very few parents would want their kids to emulate war heroes like Dr Lim Bo Seng and Lieutenant Adnan Saidi. For starters, we wouldn’t even speak out if fellow citizens are being unfairly treated by the authorities. Do we really honour heroes, or is Ashvin’s commendation merely a token of political correctness?
Make no mistake, our behaviour during elections, our behaviour when goodies are announced, our behaviour at accident sites and our behaviour during times of crisis are all related. As I visualise the mangled travelator at KK airport, I know what would come to the mind of a Singaporean contemplating a rescue by hacking out a part of the mean machine.
“Spoil already who pay?”
© Chan Joon Yee