Honour the humble

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Promoting a culture of honour for the well-being of Singapore from the ground up — that is the aim of the newly-launched non-profit organisation called Honour (Singapore).

I am going to approach it from a different point of view about Singapore. I shall introduce you to people who live here, who may or may not be Singaporean, but who live in our space and therefore fill at least part of our day here. They contribute to the well-being of Singapore and thus need to be recognised.

Let me begin with a young man and four young women from China, who work in the coffee shop in my block. It is a humble place but without them, life would not be the same for people like me. It is, after all, the café for most of us who live in the neighbourhood, and a very clean café at that. They would be run off their feet but for the assistance from two older women who are Singaporeans and live close by. The five young Chinese expats share a flat above the coffeeshop. One of them helps with a noodle stall in the coffeeshop.

None of the servers use a pad/pencil but none would forget any order of beverage or noodle either. It isn’t a big coffeeshop, so orders are yelled out to the young man who prepares the beverages. When he wants to take a break from pouring hot cups of coffee from the copper urn, he clears the tables!

The hierarchy has it that the two older Singapore helpers clear the beverage utensils but not the plates, which go into designated pails which are then washed by the respective stall holders during a lull in orders. No wonder it’s a job few will take up: it’s hard work. But the young people from China always have a smile on their faces.

Singapore for them is a step in the right direction for their future. But unfortunately for them, their future is not certain. The young man’s two-year work permit is up for renewal soon and with the pressure to give jobs first to Singaporeans (whether they want the jobs or not) he thinks his chances for an extension are slim. The women, who keep the tables spick and span, unlike “dirty Singaporean workers” according to local customers have only been here for less than a year. Moreover, the menial task of clearing the tables was too strenuous for the older Singaporean men who used to do it.

I hope they get their permits renewed. They have a role to play here, improving the quality of lives for a small group of Singaporeans, and surely, that should matter too, shouldn’t it?

As ambassador at large Chan Heng Chee pointed out recently: “Identity is also organically reshaped by the way people interact and live.” The way these five China expats interact and live with us is evident they should be recognised and allowed to stay. Let’s start here and show we care.