By Maureen Koh
This space is about space. Precious space.
Whether at coffee shops or food centres, most of the 40 heartlanders randomly approached last week perceive this "little red dot" to be shrinking.
Honey, to sum up popular perception, who shrank my flat?
No one, maintained National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan on Wednesday; HDB flat sizes have indeed not shrunk in recent years.
Technically, you can't argue with Mr Khaw. A four-room flat, for instance, has remained at 90 sq m since the mid-90s, reported The Straits Times.
Tell that to Mr David Soon and he stops cutting the slabs of pork at his stall.
The 60-year-old takes a minute to digest the details, then says in Teochew: "Ah yes. Maybe." Before he can continue, his customer butts into the conversation and adds chirpily in a mix of Mandarin and Teochew: "You must understand, times have changed. It's that simple."
Madam Tan Ah Ching, 67, a housewife, reckons it's because most Singaporeans who are eligible to buy flats - those in their 30s - grew up in HDB units that seemed bigger.
That was so of her second son, 30, and his fiancee, who are scouting around for a five-room HDB flat.
Madam Tan, who has six children, says: "We used to live in a four-room HDB flat with my in-laws and no one complained about it being too cramped."
Mr Soon agrees. He and his wife, along with their four children and his mother used to live in a three-room HDB flat at Upper Boon Keng Road.
Says the pork seller: "My mother and my two older children shared one room, while the younger two shared the room with my wife and me."
So while the physical space, or floor area, has remained the same, perceptions need time to adjust. Space - even beyond the confines of a flat - is a much coveted luxury, it seems. Our other poll of 50 people clearly indicates that.
Forty-three of them say that Singapore is getting overcrowded. (See poll below.) Mr Gunalan Thayalam, 54, a property agent, holds this view.
He maintains: "It's especially if we're talking about density, which is the number of people per square metre in Singapore.
"Statistics show that the country is getting more crowded... more and more people are coming in, and the density is (increasing).
"With the same pieces of land, the population has almost tripled... (even) the malls are always crowded, whether it's on weekdays or weekends."
But isn't it how individuals perceive space that is part of the problem? And doesn't that change with the standard of living?
Most Singapore families are getting smaller now, with couples generally having two or at most three children.
If they live in a four-room flat, each child usually has a room of his or her own. So yes, they'd be accustomed to the "extra" space.
Take my old home. My three younger siblings and I used to live in a two-room HDB flat in Geylang Square.
When we were children, we could all bunk in together with our parents in one bedroom.
We took turns to sleep on their queen-size bed.
When it wasn't our turn, it meant sharing one thin, single-sized mattress on the bedroom floor.
When we got older (and bigger), our "baby brother" - he's the youngest - got the bed.
The three sisters had to share two mattresses in the living room.
We didn't have a study table each. The main table that doubled as a shelf was our dining table. It was also our study table.
Yet, we moved around comfortably and didn't complain. Space was what our minds made it out to be. Fortunately, by the time I was 12, we had upgraded to a four-room flat.
My husband, who also has three siblings, was not as lucky. He lived in a two-room HDB flat in Outram Park with his family and his maternal grandmother until he was married.
We live in an executive apartment that is big, all 149sq m of it. It has four rooms if you include the study room, a living room and a dining room. And the kitchen can hardly accommodate five of anyone built like me.
I can still recall when we first returned home after our wedding to my parents-in-law's home; we felt suddenly claustrophobic. It was utterly odd.
But compare any of our homes or even the shopping malls to those in Hong Kong, and we should appreciate that we don't face the same squeeze.
A good friend, who has been following the week's reports, sent me this message: "Singaporeans should come here (Hong Kong) to live for a while. It's only then that they'd know what being cramped is really like.
"I can offer a bed for free for a week."
This article was first published in The New Paper.