“If you don’t clear your mess, there will be no second date”

So there’s this girl who traded in her school books to don a cleaner’s gloves, rag and apron for a day.

We met up with Cheng Kaiting to talk about why she did what she did.

“I thought it would be fun to experience first hand what the cleaners are doing” she said, “I just wanted to get to know about their lives”.

She was attached to seasoned cleaner Mdm. Song (in the video) and learned the ropes quickly through her. Mdm Song is a single mother with two daughters and the job provides her with a means to support her family.

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The difficult part of the job is not just merely in the clearing up of filthy leftovers from patrons. Kaiting had to remember which of the colour coded plates belonged to which stall, which ones needed Halal treatment and the proper management of cleaning chemicals.

“Before I embarked on this, i thought cleaners just did a lot of cleaning and standing around. Now I realise, when you’re thick in action – theres no time to stand around at all!” she said.

So are we a clean, or cleaned society? I asked Kaiting.

“I think we’re a cleaned society” she said, “..but it’s not a good or bad thing, it’s just an observation”.

But why do we continue to be? Is it so bad to pick up after ourselves?

“Yes, there are some people who say that if we clean up after ourselves, cleaners would have no job. But hey, they get their pay no matter what!” she said. “And at the very least, we can pack away all our bones, tissue and other messy stuff so that the cleaner has an easier time right?”

What if you go out with a guy on a date…and you realise he doesn’t clear his own mess?

“Well, I’ll clean it up for him and tell him that there will be no second date”, she said with a smirk.

So we’re a cleaned society, but then with Singapore at such high unemployment rates, is the answer to this more foreign workers? I shared the statistics of our employment situation with her. Singapore is at 98% employment… considered full employment by economic standards. With foreign workforce being tightened, employers have great difficulty trying to hire – there are very few people locally that want to do this job.

hawker centre cleaner

No organization can tell people whether or not they should work, or what line of work they should do. If they want to do the work of a cleaner (be it by circumstance, or willingly), I think the very least we could do is to make the job easier and safer. With salaries that pay better.

If we could help the worker clean 10 tables for the same time to clean 1, then we should – so that he/she can rest earlier.

That is the whole reason why the labour movement, led by the NTUC is putting pressure on the government to provide productivity grants and to increase their salaries via a Progressive Wage Model.

“I agree that we should help make their lives easier” said Kaiting. “It won’t take a lot of effort and people don’t clear their mess because of a “boh chap” culture. If everyone has the habit of returning trays, those who don’t would be given ‘the stare’”.

Kaiting is talking about a “social immune system”, when we shame/reward each other for keeping habits acceptable to Singaporeans. We’re far from that ideal of course, just visit any hawker centre. Many people still think that “I pay for my meal, why should I clear my table”?

I hope the day would come where we’re more aware of our environment and taking pride to keep it clean.


Note: Kaiting keeps a blog and you can read it at http://kaitinghearts.blogspot.sg







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