Converging Economies Diverging People
Every Qing Ming Festival, there would be massive jams on the Causeway. Qing Ming is an important festival that underscores the blood ties between many Singaporeans and their JBian relatives. The land may have been separated, but families remained united, especially on festive occasions.
While someone the authors interviewed still made it a point to go tomb sweeping with her relatives in JB every year, the author noticed that fewer and fewer Singaporeans in the younger generation maintained this relationship with their cousins in JB.
Such concerns cannot be ignored. In terms of politics, economy and social development, the two cities had drifted apart in a very palpable and significant way. While it’s undeniable that traffic between the two cities had only gone up over the years, the authors observed the lack of emotional communication between the two sides. Family reunions gradually gave way to impersonal transactions as Singaporeans made the trip to JB for food, shopping and entertainment without even recognising their relatives.
Cynics like Southern University College lecturer Ren An Huan foresaw that the future of interactions between Singaporeans and JBians would be based not on kinship and friendship but on value for money. Both sides would try to capitalise on each other’s shortcomings. Sadly, when Singaporeans capitalised on JB’s shortcomings, a sense of superiority was bred. JB became viewed as a dirty backwater valued only for its cheapness.
A JBian working in Singapore confessed that she often had to hide her feelings of disgust when her insensitive Singaporean colleagues described JB as a dirty, crime-infested city even though they couldn’t remember the last time they went there. She added that her colleagues often judged a place or looked down on people based on their superficial attributes.
A Singaporean lecturer told the authors that he once brought a group of young people from his church for a visit to JB. Whenever they encountered any price tag, they would exclaim “so cheap” with great drama. When they came out from the toilets, they would in the same dramatic tone, exclaim “so dirty”.
The tendency to stereotype also exists among JBians. Many assume that Singaporeans were arrogant spoiled kids who insisted on speaking English, have a poor command of Mandarin, spoke no Malay, walked around with calculators, ordered food excessively and drove recklessly to show off the performance of their cars. Politicians often helped to widen the rift. The authors were referring to Lee Kuan Yew’s 1997 affidavit for a libel suit in which he said that the Malaysian state of Johor was “notorious for shootings, muggings and carjackings.”
In the Singaporean drama serial 同一片蓝天 (which seemed to hint that the two cities share the same sky) many JBian fans were offended when the protagonist’s girlfriend was robbed in JB and the couple decided to move to Singapore where it’s safer. The theme song for that show was sung by Malaysian singer 阿牛 (陳慶祥).
“This is so typically Singaporean. They want a squeaky clean image and dump all the dirt on others.” said one viewer. An insider in the then Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS) admitted that producers and scriptwriters in Singapore were often encouraged to portray the negative side of other countries to make Singaporeans feel proud of themselves. Tabloids in Singapore often reported extensively on crimes in JB, making the city most unattractive and low class to those from high SES. To make matters worse, many Singaporeans defended such unneighbourly behaviour because they are simply stating facts.
But truth be told, JB residents are almost uniformly envious of Singapore’s economic development. However, the most they can do to hit back at the derision coming from Singaporeans is to mock at Singapore’s farcical Speaker’s Corner. In any argument, they are far more likely to be the victims of arrogant Singaporeans’ derision.