Who you calling miserable?

SINGAPORE - I'm going to say what everyone else is thinking.

We've got to stop beating ourselves up every time an ang moh makes a comment about Singapore that is less than flattering.

A single BBC magazine column, written by an expatriate writer, has generated the kind of nationwide hysteria usually reserved for the last Hello Kitty doll. We were called a miserable city - by one person - and we just went nuts.

We grew mullets, threw on ripped jeans, dropped to our knees and cried: "We're not worthy! We're not worthy!"

It was an island-wide Wayne's World convention, but instead of bowing at the feet of Alice Cooper, we collapsed in bitter self-loathing. All because one pregnant woman didn't get a seat on the MRT.

The letters, the editorials, the TV phone-ins, the horror, the horror - it was apocalypse now. We got whips out and beat ourselves with a frenzy that usually costs a bit extra in Geylang.

We're selfish, we cried. We're miserable! We're rude! We wrestle pregnant women to the ground on MRT trains and bounce up and down on their bellies! We're animals! We use too many exclamation marks!

And again, just to reiterate, this latest round of collective self-flagellation was triggered because one pregnant woman didn't get a seat on the train.

I'll return to this uniquely Singaporean obsession with harshly abusing ourselves in a moment, but let's consider the politically incorrect point that everyone has been secretly pondering.

Pregnant women on buses and trains are a minefield. If the minefield was any more dangerous, it would have Angelina Jolie campaigning for its removal at the United Nations.

I was once on an East-West train bound for Boon Lay when I gave my seat up for a pregnant woman.

I tapped her on the shoulder, she turned around and I died a thousand deaths.

She wasn't pregnant.

There's no way back from such a social faux pas, no silver lining, no escape clause, no way to redeem the situation.

I considered saying: "Hi, I'm just randomly picking strangers to give my seat to and today is your lucky day! I picked you. So have my seat and buy 4-D later. Maybe you'll win big and buy something special for that unborn baby of yours ... Damn, I've done it again."

Yes, I'm being facetious because according to the BBC columnist, she was pregnant and in obvious distress. Her public discomfort was unacceptable.

But I do tyre of our tendency to bring out the rusty sledgehammer to massacre the odd fly. Our social compassion is a work in progress. Tolerance is not always a virtue in a big city. We can do better. Most of us know that.

But kind souls give up their seats for my young daughter at least 80 per cent of the time on trains and buses.

What's more, many of the wonderful students from the schools around my estate also offer me an extra seat so that I can sit beside her.

At first, I thought I was pregnant.

Just to make the students feel better, I rub my belly repeatedly and crave weird foods.

Even aunties stand up to allow my little girl to sit down - and then my damn daughter insists on sitting on my lap, which suggests to the casual commuter that I've bundled a 75-year-old woman out of her seat using my kid as a Trojan horse.

(If the Government fancies another population campaign, I've already got the slogan: Have a baby - guilty people always give you a seat on the bus.)

My public transport experiences have been mostly positive.

There is a retiree - Origami Man - who regularly travels up and down Marine Parade Road on different buses, making paper animals and birds for children. He's made the same heron for my daughter three times (a lovely man, but he might want to expand his repertoire a bit).

He's only one guy on a bus. Should we now have a national debate about Singapore being the world's kindest city? Public transport can be frustrating. There must be sardines shaking their heads at our packed buses and saying: "No, thanks. I'll wait for the next one."

But we snuggle up to the nearest armpit and simply get on with it.

And we do give up seats for others most of the time. So let's not be too hard on ourselves.

As for me, I will continue to give up my seat for pregnant women.

But I'm going to need to see an ultrasound scan first.

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