I took a walk around Punggol yesterday to find out more about what people think, what they have to say and enjoy a piece of heartland life on a weekday afternoon.
Having read and heard so much about the 4 corner fight at Punggol East, my curiosity was piqued and I wanted to know who the voters of Punggol East are. So I hopped on a train and found myself at Rivervale Mall.
It was lunch time and the smell of fish noodles was calling. In the queue, a Chinese Singaporean couple in their 40s stood behind me and I overheard them fighting a decision between fried fish or sliced fish. “Fried is nice, but I scared oily!” Said the woman, “Yah, but the sliced one more healthy, we’ve always been having that why change”? replied her husband.
As I sat down with my lunch, an elderly uncle in his 70s approached me to clear the mess at table next to me. So I asked in Mandarin if he was a resident and he said yes. I continued to ask about the by-election this coming Saturday and he responded in surprise that “it’s so soon!” He then lifted up his Foodfare uniform into his shirt pocket underneath and took out his polling card and asked me where his polling station was. I read his card and noted that he lives in block 183C and that he should poll at a pavilion at block 183, which I thought was really convenient. He thanked me and went off to continue his chores. So here’s another face of a Punggol East voter, elderly, illiterate and working.
At the same time I wonder why Foodfare has not implemented tray return in its foodcourt. And seeing a few elderly cleaners around I thought just as well, Foodfare doesn’t seem to have a lack of local cleaners so might as well let these elderly citizens work so they continue to have a source of income and purpose in life. I also hope that working for them is a choice and that they will go home to children and grandchildren. Then I thought about Dr. Koh Poh Koon who still lives with his parents in a 5 room HDB flat and it’ll be nice if Singaporeans still hold on to the values of filial piety.
After lunch, I crossed the road, parents and guardians were waiting outside Rivervale Primary school and I can see stay at home mums, grandparents and foreign domestic workers gathered in different groups waiting for the kids. It does look like a typical neighbourhood in Singapore.
I spoke with a man (who looked like he was in his 60s), “I’m waiting my nephew!” he proudly told me. “This is a good school, I live rather near…only an LRT stop away”. He shared that the condition of the estates was good – well kept, safe, no crime. Transportation was accessible and generally he had no complaints. I asked him if he was working, “I’m retired already loh”, he expressed with a hearty laugh. “It’s up to you youngsters to go and ‘ping’ (fight) the market ha, ha”. Our conversation turned then turned towards the elections. He gave a sigh and said, “Such a shame, he (Michael Palmer) was a very intelligent man, very good with people. But it’s the usual, now everyone (the parties and politicians) are all out and promising us everything. No election, we don’t see you.” He then said that he understands the problems that the government is facing, “I can’t expect things to be convenient just for me, it’s hard to make decisions for so many people – I will vote based on ability rather than just fleeting promises”.
At the heart of the heartlands
I continued to venture towards blocks 152. A gentle breeze blew and some grannies were sitting down enjoying the afternoon. This must be a prime area as it’s near the mall and barely 100m from the LRT station. So I sat down and continued my observation.
Then I see an elderly gentleman walking from the bus-stop and he was carrying a small NUH bag and had a tube running out of his nose as well as a device attached to his throat. I approached him and asked “Uncle, do you live around here?” He nodded his head and I continued “Can you share with me how living in Punggol East can be improved.” He nodded his head again and beckoned me to sit down, then he took my pen and paper and he started to write.
He wrote his name and I shall refer to him as Mr. Gan, he is 72 years old and just shifted to Punggol East from Hougang. He is receiving treatment for Larynx Cancer at NUH. I asked if medical fees are affordable and he nodded and wrote “Medisave/Medifund” and I asked if travelling from Punggol East to NUH is easy and he wrote LRT-MRT-Central Line and I figured the journey would take about one hour. Then he started to write “You see, my wife is an Indonesian Christian and she has been here for about 7 years. I also have a young daughter in school. I have applied 6/7 time for her PR. But not approved. Daughter is a Singaporean 7 years old. How can you help?”
How can I help? Hmmm….
I am not sure how I can help so my first response was, “Go to your MP.”
He smiled and wrote back, “6/7 times, my appeal was through an MP.”
And I know numerous applications for foreign spouses to be granted Singapore PR or citizenship has been denied in recent years as foreigners had married our citizens for the coveted Singapore citizenship or PR and then files for separation or divorce. So, if we were the Minister of Home Affairs, what would we do?
I thanked him, and told him there’s nothing that I can do but would report this in my story and see if any readers would take up his case and help him in his appeal.
Then I continued my quest to know more about residents of Punggol East and was declined by a few other people, for a while, I felt like a pesky reporter.
Finally, a Singaporean Chinese man in his 60s agreed to a chit chat and he told me that the PAP government has done a good job these last 40 years or so, they have built a stable country and economy that allowed many Singaporeans to build lives and homes. Then he continued to say that the biggest issue today is cost of living. Mr. Hoong, born in 1943 had witnessed and benefitted from CPF and HDB. He said he purchased his flat HDB flat in Ang Mo Kio for S$18,000 and sold it 10 years ago and used the proceeds to buy his current 5-room flat at block 152 for S$200,000.
Having enjoyed “2 bites of the cherry”, he recently declined to sell his flat for S$500,000 as he thought about the affordability of housing today. He says the best thing the PAP government has given to Singaporeans is CPF and HDB, and that his concerns today are rising cost of living as well as Healthcare costs. Well, Mr. Hoong should be assured to know that Mr. Gan Kim Yong has spoken at a clan event a few days before this article was published and assured senior citizens that the Government would always ensure health care would be affordable for them.
I chanced upon another woman reading newspapers at a playground. She expressed great interest in discussing the elections. “Did you see the Worker’s Party rally last night? So exciting, so many people!” Ms. Quah told us about how the SDA and the Reform Party should not have interfered in the by-elections. “It would have been so interesting to see the Worker’s Party fight it out with the PAP!”, she said as if describing a football match. “This place doesn’t have enough hawker centres, transportation is not accessible and there are so many foreigners living amongst us, we need more people in Parliament to get the government to do things our way!” I thanked her for her opinions and bid her a good afternoon.
The last person I interviewed is a lady with an 8 year old son, Madam Lee and appears to be in her early 40s. She was walking her son home when she chose to sit next to me giving me a big smile. So I asked if she’s a resident, she panted as she spoke and told me she lives at Block 183D and apologized for her panting as she suffers from breathlessness. She said there’s no public transport from Rivervale Primary school where her son is in P2 to her home, and her illness does not allow her to walk long distances without resting, so she’ll take breaks along the way.
When we spoke about the elections, she says she has to go all the way to Rivervale Primary School to cast her vote, which I thought was strange. Remembering the old man who lives at Block 183C, he would cast his vote at Block 183 Pavilion Block and she’s just at the next block. She nodded her head and said she called the Elections Department and they said she has to produce a medical certificate and she can vote next month.
..and as d-day looms…
Listening to the residents, the various government agencies seem to need to do better in terms of customer service. I don’t think this is the “fault of the PAP”, but that our Civil Service should really improve staff mindset. I’ve experienced LTA and IRAS in recent years, and I do think their service is commendable.
Madam Lee also shared with me that her son was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and was put in a mainstream school as the queues to the special needs school is long and their family cannot afford the fees. Her husband is the sole-breadwinner, and their medical expense is about S$1000 per month. For this she has 2 requests to her MP, to allow the family to use their medisave for their son’s medical treatment and for every school to have a Special Needs Class as well as a Special Needs Officer assigned. This will allow children to be schooled near their home, and at least have some time with mainstream children from the neighbourhood.
Reading the daily newspapers, I can see that these needs and concerns are being addressed and it does take time and trust in our government for things to iron out.
Is time on PAP’s side?
Is there another political party which is ready to govern and can govern better than the PAP?
This is a question for Singaporeans, and for this week, for Punggol East residents to decide.