First World economy, Third World graces

I read Ms Koh Wee Leng's letter ("MRT stations no place for eateries"; Oct 6) on the subway in Tokyo while two men were eating on the train.

Having finished, they tucked their food wrappers into a plastic bag they had for disposing of their rubbish responsibly.

However, while I was having my dinner at a hawker centre in Singapore - where there were prominent signs reminding diners to return their dining ware - there were empty plates and used cutlery left on many tables, left behind by diners of all ages.

I even witnessed parents telling their children who were preparing to return their trays to leave them be as it is "not their job".

It was extremely disheartening to witness such anti-social behaviour displayed by Singaporeans and parents inculcating bad values.

Schools, even at the tertiary level, have made it compulsory for students and staff to return their trays, but parents are undoing this lesson.

While Singapore may be a First World economy, we are still sadly lacking a sense of civic-mindedness.

We often criticise foreigners here for bringing with them their undesirable behaviour, but have we stopped and taken a hard look at ourselves?

In a country where rubbish bins are found everywhere and we are served by an army of largely migrant cleaners, people are still littering.

Japan drastically reduced its number of public rubbish bins after a terrorist attack in 1995, and while the Japanese may complain about the inconvenience, they will still dutifully take along their own plastic bags and dispose of them in the appropriate recycling bins that they come across.

We complain about having draconian measures such as fines to discourage anti-social acts, but they seem to be the only way to keep such behaviour in check.

Unless we show that we have the civic-mindedness to do what is best for society, rather than what is convenient for ourselves, I am afraid that we will remain a Third World nation despite our boasts of success in other areas.

Alan Lee Kiat-Leng