S'pore has come a long way in being gracious: PM

Cases of bad behaviour do crop up, but much progress has been made, he says

Dancers from the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Arts and Cultural Troupe performing at the opening of the SCCC yesterday.
Dancers from the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Arts and Cultural Troupe performing at the opening of the SCCC yesterday. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

A video on social media showing a young couple shoving an old man at a hawker centre was highlighted by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

He said he was relieved the deplorable behaviour outraged Singaporeans.

"It could have been worse: Singaporeans might have regarded such behaviour as normal," he noted.

"After all, in many countries, if you don't jostle to get to the front of the queue, you will simply be elbowed aside. And if you put your tissue paper to 'chope' a table, it'll just be swept away."

He cited these actions and practices when speaking on how Singapore wants to be a gracious society, not just a First World economy.

He made the point at the opening of the $110 million Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre (SCCC).

While Singapore has made progress on being gracious, cases of Singaporeans behaving badly do come up from time to time, he said, citing the hawker-centre incident.

The viral video shows a woman dressed in white shouting at the elderly man, before her male companion shoves him from behind.

The 76-year-old, holding a tray of food, had asked her if he could share a table with her at a Toa Payoh hawker centre. The 46-year-old man and 39-year-old woman have been arrested for causing public nuisance, after reports were made alleging that they used offensive language and force against him.

Mr Lee noted that jostling is common in many countries.

It was not too long ago when Singaporeans did the same, "as those of you my age would remember", added Mr Lee, who is 65.

Singapore has come a long way, he said. Today, it is a modern, developed society that still remains rooted in its Asian cultures.

"This sense of rootedness gives us a sense of identity and confidence," he added.

Mr Lee also pointed out that the Government has a role to play in developing a country's culture.

"It can encourage gracious behaviour, foster positive social norms, and recognise cultural achievements and support the arts through facilities like the National Gallery and Esplanade, as well as back the activities of arts and cultural groups," he said.

He called on the SCCC to make the Chinese arts and cultural scene accessible to all races and appeal to all ages.

The centre, sited next to the Singapore Conference Hall, includes a 530-seat auditorium, a multi-purpose hall, a recital studio and a sprawling roof terrace garden.

Its chairman Chua Thian Poh said that since January, it has hosted over 50 events, including concerts and lectures, and reached out to nearly 30,000 people.

The centre also wants to work with schools and arts and cultural groups on initiatives to foster greater appreciation of Singapore's unique Chinese culture.

It has entered into a partnership with Singapore Press Holdings' Chinese Media Group for Lianhe Zaobao to organise at least 12 cultural events a year at the centre as well.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 20, 2017, with the headline S'pore has come a long way in being gracious: PM. Subscribe