Happy in Singapore, until the day she needed help

A man on the right gives up his seat in a crowded train for a pregnant lady (centre in blue) at Jurong East MRT station on the evening of March 15, 2014.

In her commentary, Does Singapore deserve its "miserable" tag?, the BBC's Charlotte Ashton said she and her husband were happy here at first and could not understand why Singaporeans had been dubbed the least positive people on Earth in a survey. Then she got pregnant, and her view changed, as she describes in this extract.

One morning, the nausea finally got the better of me just as I had stepped onto a packed train. Worried I was going to faint, I crouched to the floor, holding my head in my hands. And so I remained, completely ignored, for the full 15 minutes it took to reach my station. Nobody offered me a seat or asked me if I was okay.

For the first time Singapore had made me feel unhappy. I had been vulnerable - completely reliant on the kindness of strangers. Singaporeans, I felt, had let me down.

As I sat recovering on the platform, I wondered if this was part of the story behind those Gallup poll results. By this time, a follow-up to the original survey had been published and according to the figures, Singapore had apparently cheered up quite a lot. But all I could see was a massive compassion deficit. Or were my fellow passengers that day just unusually uncaring?

"Oh no, I am not surprised at all," said a Singaporean friend later that day. "My sister is seven months pregnant and she fell down a packed escalator the other day and had to crawl to the nearest railing to heave herself up. Nobody helped."

Another Singaporean friend was equally unsurprised. "I slipped down a drain last year and cut my leg," she said. "It was bleeding badly but nobody stopped to help. Perhaps they were all in a rush."

Our friend Marcus offered deeper analysis over brunch in a trendy retro cafe. That is not his real name by the way. "We are programmed to think only about ourselves," he exclaimed. "The only thing that matters is money - helping people is not important."

Marcus is Chinese Singaporean but was educated in Canada. After five years back home, he is desperate to leave again, because, he says, Singapore makes him unhappy too. "In Canada, people were helpful and friendly and they respect each other regardless of whether you are a manager or a bus driver.

"The problem here is that we measure everything in dollar bills - personal identity, self-respect, happiness, your sense of worth - it is all linked to how much money you have. But only the top few per cent earn serious cash - so everyone else feels worthless and apathetic."

...Happily, my morning sickness has passed, but despite becoming visibly pregnant, it is still rare for anyone to offer me a seat on the packed commuter train without my having to ask first.

I do not know if I would have had a better time in London, but in the Singaporean rat race, you are certainly on your own. An unhappy conclusion, I am afraid, from misery city.

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