Four friends decided to pry themselves off high-priced bar stools in Marina Bay to “slum it” in a Little India coffeeshop – before the no-alcohol ban kicks in over the weekend.
Frank D’light: An American expatriate banker
Lim Tau Keh : Local construction magnate
Paragswamy Khannakena: Strategic consultant, resident in Singapore
Chin Jiak Eng: Some time civil society activist.
Frank: Can’t think why we haven’t been here before. Beats the prices in town. You reckon they sell champagne here?
Tau Keh: Eh, Frank. Coffeeshop. No champagne. Just Tiger, Heineken and Carlsberg. With ice. Where’s Khannakena?
Jiak Eng: He went to the mama shop to get some Kingfisher or something. Said good Indian beer; can knock you out quickly. Think he misses home.
Tau Keh: How come you didn’t follow him? Scared ah? Don’t be. See that red van over there? Full of riot police….Up there got new CCTV. And that next table? All plain-clothes policemen. Have faith in the Home team!
Frank: So, this really is a police state eh? Guess all those international reports are right. You guys really take the fun out of things. My chaps back home were all wondering what’s happening in Singapore and whether they should take up jobs here. I told them to come on over! It’s getting exciting here! And nothing will happen where they’re gonna put up. Not in Bukit Timah.
Khannakena (huffing and puffing with armloads of beer): Like any cosmopolitan, global and capitalist city-state, those shopkeepers have put up the price. A can costs $5 now, not $3.50. So much demand and they getting rid of supply. Pure economics. It makes the globe go round.
Frank (looking around): What’s this? A penile colony? Where are the girls?
Jiak Eng: This is Little India, not Geylang. Tomorrow, I take you there. But seriously, these foreign workers are very pitiful. Abused by employers. No place to hang out. Sleeping with bed bugs…
Tau Keh: Eh, don’t exaggerate. I treat my workers very well. Nice dorm. Good food catered. Buses to take them on excursions. Sometimes I forget to pay them. But they never complain.
Jiak Eng: What’s the name of your company again? I go report to MOM. Or better still, I tell Alex Au. Or M Ravi. Or that Vincent Whatshisname…
(The two Singaporeans eyeball each other over the beers. Frank is delighted. Khannakena is staring into his beer, trying to read the future in the froth.)
Jiak Eng (blinks first): Okay, okay. We’re Singaporeans. We don’t fight. Not the Singapore way. Put the bottle down. Dangerous things.
Khannakena: It’s the normal condition in any developed nation, Tensions will arise because of differing socio-economic conditions. A sense of alienation. A feeling of dis-enfranchisement. But I still say we can fit 8m people in Singapore.
Tau Keh: You mad or what? Already can hardly move through Race Course Road… I’m worried about my Merc getting scratched. See that group over there looking at my car? I paid $120,000 COE for that. Hope the cops are watching my car.
Khannakena (not listening): I postulate that such dislocations are endemic in any society that claims to be developed and civilised. The Government’s moves to restore law and order are to be commended but it does not guarantee that there will be future conflagarations. Singapore should study Dubai which manages its huge foreign population with aplomb.
Jiak Eng: Ya…just house them on some offshore island right? Take away their rights as human beings right? Take away their alcohol. Restrict their movements. Run police checks.What sort of civilised society is that?
Frank (smirking): Hey, you guys can’t crow about Singapore being a safe haven now. Even your bank account statements can be stolen. I’m really raking it in now…StanChart’s clients are moving over to my bank. I’m minting money. By the way, I was told the netizens are going nuts. They won’t have anything against me right? I’m a western foreign talent but Khannakena…
Jiak Eng: Ignore those unhappy people on the Net. The right thing to do now is to tackle the root causes of the riot. It’s not just about law and order, it’s not just about alcohol. It’s about how we treat the less well-off, the distribution of incomes in society, the manifest discrimination against the poor and down-trodden, including those people who labour 12 hours in the hot sun for so little pay…It’s about…
Tau Keh: Stop it already la, Jiak Eng… I pay my workers more, you pay more for your house. You didn’t read about the URA Masterplan ah? More construction. More workers needed. More business for me. Don’t come destroy my rice bowl. And by the way, I’m paying for drinks tonight.
(Silence. All four deep in thought. Their reverie was interrupted by the kopi kia who warns Khannakena about consuming beer that wasn’t bought on the premises. Because they are law-abiding people, they pay and leave. Tau Keh’s Merc has been towed away because it was parked in a No Parking Zone. They tried to flag down a bus…and almost got run over. This, however, will not deter the intrepid foursome from checking out Geylang tomorrow night.)