By Kimberly Spykerman
THEY are a common sight in crowded hawker centres: a pack of tissues plonked down at an empty spot which practically screams 'Find another seat!'
But a group of undergraduates is on the warpath to wipe out this informal reservation system.
Last Saturday, seven students doled out 1,000 packets of tissue paper in the Chinatown Complex food centre. They were scrawled with the words: 'This seat is not taken, it's yours!'
The students are hoping to encourage patrons to tell others that the seat is occupied, rather than have diners face the tissues.
'We chose to target this aspect of social behaviour because our surveys showed it's a bugbear for a lot of people. Many gripe about the issue but no one takes an active stand,' said team member, 21-year- old V.Kumar.
The Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM), which aims to encourage Singaporeans to be more gracious through simple acts of kindness, has thrown its weight behind the group, named the Tissue Parody.
What started out as a classroom project has now become a full- fledged cause.
The group plans to push the initiative into eateries in the Central Business District, where the tissue reservations, known as 'chope-ing', are rife.
But it was not all smooth-sailing for the freshmen at the Singapore Management University.
The group approached at least three food centres before getting the go-ahead from the one at Chinatown Complex, which is run by the Jalan Besar Town Council.
Mr Kumar said his group was not against reserving seats at food centres. Rather, they wanted to encourage people to find a more gracious method.
The SKM paid for 10,000 tissue packets and loaned out its mascot, Singa the courtesy lion, last week.
'We want to help them because it's obvious that they're passionate and committed to long-term change,' a spokesman said. 'What they're trying to do is not something that can be achieved overnight.'
Last Saturday, the students put tissue packs on empty tables at the Chinatown food centre, located in Smith Street.
Diners, for the most part, welcomed the effort.
Mr Chan Cher Hua, a 30-year- old sales engineer, was glad to see the group being proactive about such a cause. He said: 'It just seems nicer to leave a person at the table rather than a tissue packet. It's about having the right social etiquette.'
The mass distribution of tissue packets piqued the curiosity of the lunch-time crowd.
Mr Wong Ah Chye, 62, chairman of the food centre, also lauded the students. 'It's for the good of the public. People get frustrated when they come to a food centre and the seats are all reserved by tissue packets. Hopefully, this will encourage people to be more thoughtful about others.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Nov 10, 2008.