Monday, May 30, 2011

Unsung Heroes

At first glance, you are presented with a snapshot of Singapore, neatly encapsulated into a glossy Kodak photograph. Certain phrases leap to your mind as you gaze from afar- emerging Asian city running as if on clockwork, seemingly self sufficient. Gleaming skyscrapers, polished to a shine. First world city, buzzing metropolis, accolades aplenty.

But what often goes unnoticed are the unembellished close ups of the heartlands, of the people engaged in the humblest of occupations. These scenes play out quietly like a series of vignettes.

Spare him a cursory glance, and you will see the man behind the wheel. But as seconds pass, his face slides quickly out of the fraying hem of your consciousness, elusive as a dream, so that he remains invisible. Faceless. Only the EZ-link cards beep a shrill greeting, as oblivious commuters file past him indifferently, their ears stuffed up with tiny wires, eyes fixated on tiny screens. Like a modern-day harbinger of journeys, he ferries them to their destinations. Their fates lie entirely within his control.

Amid the lunchtime frenzy at the hawker centre, no one pays attention to the misshapen back of a woman. No one witnesses her liver-spotted hands betray a slight tremor. Stiffly, painstakingly, she shuffles about, picking up stranger after stranger. The future stretches out bleakly before her, and she catches a glimpse of an endless terrain of oil-spattered tables, strewn haphazardly with the remains of leftovers and fish bones. Like intertwined lovers, the dirty cutlery lie partially drowned in bowls of soup. Her days will be defined by the mop moving unhurriedly back and forth on the floors caked eternally with grime. An imperceptible sigh escapes from her lips. The sound lingers, momentarily suspended in the air.

Every single day, the masked, gloved army of trash collectors advance into the various housing estates. Like a peace offering, they heave bloated black bags into the truck's cavernous jaws, all the while suffused in the noxious stench of garbage.

Our foreign counterparts, taking on the jobs that we so love to shun. All over the island, they are loading cargo into containers, building our future homes, shaping the physical landscape, toiling on the sun-drenched earth. And the entire time, we are sitting in our shiny towers, air conditioners blasting in full force. From a high vantage point, it is deceptively easy to disregard their contributions, to deem ourselves as superior. We regard them warily, some of us not even bothering to disguise the resentment. Muttering darkly among ourselves, we are seized with the irrational fear of being pushed out of our homes, of our country being overrun by these new inhabitants. We are so obsessed with distancing ourselves, when already, their imprints are everywhere.

Perhaps one day this picture-perfect image of Singapore and the unvarnished reality will finally align.


Greg said...

You have an amazing blog.

EM said...

Thank you:) I'm really encouraged by that