29 July 2008

Escalator and other paralyses

Singaporeans stand still rather than walk on travellators. Nor do they clear trays from self service restaurants. We also have a low birth rate. Might there be something in common with all these? Full essay.


AL said...

Correct observation! Many Singaporean not just refuse to move forward or do anything to better themselves, they even prevent or discourage other to do so.

Coming to think of it, our government/civil servants are very much the same too! All this scholars sitting on cushy auto-pilot chairs getting million dollars salary! Only do something when the LEEs give a new orders, or when thing really screw up, like our baby policy!

All like parrots, only know how to echo on what the LEEs said!

Jason said...

Perhaps the larger point is correct, but two of your examples may be faulty.

* when it comes to clearing dishes yourselves, cleaniness is an issue - many will not want to touch trays that have spills on them.

* Americans have a higher birth rate largely because of their poorer hispanic and African American minorities having very high birth rates. Many other rich countries have problems with low birth rates, so it may not be charitable to attribute this to Singaporeans wanting to be served.

AL said...

I certainly won't agree with Jason!

Point No.1
I don't think many diners really dirty their table like a junk yard. And don't they all have tissue paper to book their table? More like an excuse to me!

Point No.2
There is kind of racist tone in that remark! By your analogy, poor Chinese, Malay and Indian in Singapore should have more children, yet they don't.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with your views this time. Taking the escalator standing or walking habits and implying it shows a broader social ill is too far fetch. Though it may be true that the ill exist but there are too many reasons why a person move or stand in the escalator. A person choose to stand on a escalator while not blocking the way and the author called him lazy? Where's the freedom to choose whether you walk or run?

The symptom of blocking the escalator path is another issue.


Robert L said...

Dear YB

I'll be short and sharp.

I agree with your article.

We should wonder what the schools are teaching the kids. Do the schools (good grief!) tell our kids that it's safer to keep still on the escalators and walkalators?

Anonymous said...

Clap-clap-calp great article connecting the escalator bahaviour to the law society... some points to add:

The society, I found it most telling how a ST article tried to defend their stance against the Bar report and titled:


Hahaha. When asked! That was the VERY point of the report, daeh.

This general attitude of Singaporeans to do what one is "supposed to do" (like standing on an escalator) and by inference then NOT to do anything else is striking, and I have not observed this attitude anywhere else in this severity. Interestingly, working with many Malaysian national Chinese, I must say that those are MUCH better at taking things in their own hands, amazingly better. How come?

One more interesting recent issue is the next go green campaign called "sustainable singapore" that even has a www (see below). Again, we have to be told waht to do and have a campaign.. on cycling which s one of the issues adressed: I enquired repeatedly with NP and URA officials on having more cycling lanes, why park connectors can not be cycled on (like the new one "southern RIdges") etc etc - and I read some parliament reports on this issue... the STANDARD response: "in Singapore cannot cycle, too hot, sweating. Thats why noone cycles!"

Hello, I said always "what if you had no roads for cars, then noone would drive cars right?"

Now I suddenly read this:

"Traditionally, cycling is a form of leisure or sporting activity. Increasingly, cycling is becoming popular as a form of commute, especially for short trips. Under the IMCSD, the Commute Issue Group (IG) will look into how we can link people between their homes to major transport nodes (e.g., MRT stations) as a form of intra-town travel. The IG will also cover the provision of bicycle parking facilities near MRT stations, as well as allowing the use of foldable bicycles on our public transport network."


Now, the top ficals will tell everyone what to do, and then suddenly somehting will happen.. sad it cannot happen genuinly, botom-up way much earlier in this country.

I also dont agree with Jason on the US birth rate, yes the immigrants have many children but the "white" Americans" have also many children A) because they are very value-conservative B) hence the family is valued very highly, and C) they are much more religious than eg Europeans.


Jonathan Wong said...

I certainly agree with your broader point about Singaporeans "waiting to be served", but like Jason and Rob above, I don't think all your examples apply.

I always clear my own tray at fast food restaurants, since I was brought up in Taiwan and that is the practice there. However, I love to stand on escalators and travellators because I enjoy my little bits of time during the day where I can just stand there and relax yet I am still moving towards my objective.

And I would reckon that most people don't participate in civic political discussion because the boundaries of what is OK to talk about and what is not is too vague. Most people are in not in a position to risk personal catastrophe by accidentally crossing the invisible boundary.

So the escalator paralysis may just be a lifestyle choice (although courtesy should dictate that one step to one side as to not obstruct those that do want to walk).

The tray clearing may be a cultural or a social caste thing (which merits an entire essay altogether).

And the lack of political participation is due to the inherent uncertainty and risk of participation (which you have written about before).

Flan said...

On your example of clearing trays in food courts and fast food restaurants.

I tried clearing my own tray once and was told off by a middle-aged auntie cleaner.

"Don't spoil the market! We will be out of a job if everyone clears their own trays!"

AL said...

Really? That's must be one brilliant auntie!

I always clear my tray too, and all I got is a smile and a big thank you from cleaner auntie!

So I assume you are now one of those who left their tray around, right?

Anonymous said...

to al who disagreed with jason

were you referring to singapore? can't believe anyone would say diners here don't really dirty their tables! why don't you try clearing tables at a hawker centre or coffee shop for one day? besides the filth at the tables, what about the bins for unfinished food? honestly, i don't want to look at those bins after i've just had my fishball noodles or economical rice. SO STOP SAYING WE SHOULD CLEAR OUR TRAYS AT HAWKER CENTRES.

Weiye said...

I am more inclined to agree with Rob's point that your hypothesis linking the escalator-using habits to greater social ills seems a little too laborious.

And although I'm not certain if schools do teach students to keep still on the escalators, we do have announcements in NEL stations asking people to hold on to the handrail when using it (you can’t really hold on to it 100% of the time you’re on the escalator if you’re climbing). I personally believe it's rather dangerous if we have people running up and down the escalators. Likewise, walking does present more dangers than keeping still in comparison.

Besides, we are already among the world's fastest walkers. So why can't we allow a 59 seconds break for ourselves? Take the time to smell the rose. Unfortunately, taking breaks (even on escalators/ travellators) is not a very Singaporean doing.

Instead of chastising these people for resting, I'll ask them to go ahead. They earn it.

AL said...

Why are you so upset for?

Alex Au article is talking about clearing tray for their own use instead of waiting for the cleaner to come around! He was referring to FOOD COURT and FAST FOOD RESTAURANT!

Not talking about HAWKER CENTRE! Hawker centre got cleaner, and no one ask you to smell the trash!

You certainly won't have to do it if you don't want to.

AL said...

I could see there are many people here try to explain their brand of social behavior! Can't say it's ANTI right, since many are doing it?

You can take your 59 second break at the escalator or travellator, but don't prevent other for moving forward! If you have a shopping cart, it will stuck to the travellator anyway! Or is it why parents are encouraging their children to run up and down the travellator?

Imagine you just need to cut a few people to get to your MRT but because they refuse to move and you miss the train. How would you feel?

I certainly don't believe Singaporean is the fastest walker in the world! Even if they are, most of the time is aimless! They just want to be in front! You should see how Japanese running up and down in their subway station, many without escalator! Most have to walk like 15 to 20 minutes to their apartment. Most Singaporean still rely on feeder bus service, even for 1 stop! Fastest walker?

Many times, I found people cut and only to slow down in front of me - regardless of walking or driving! The typical Kiasu Syndrome! They just want to be first!

But first for what?

Anonymous said...

In Germany, you get paid 50 euro cents I think, cannot recall the exact amount now, for returning your beer bottles to pubs. I know this as a fact as a group of NUS interns came to my company and related to me about their "revenue earning" ventures while on a study exchange program in Germany. What they did was to collect other drinkers' beer bottles scattered around the city's shopping belt where the majority of pubs were located. They received good pocket money from pub owners.

Maybe food courts & fast food restaurants in Spore could initiate return trays & get refund of x cents or dollar for your efforts! Though I think one dollar would see most folks do it for sure!

Anonymous said...

The problem with western observers is that they like to impose their norms of social and ethical behaviour on the rest of the world. Things are right only by their standards.

Whilst you have the right to charge up or down the escalators, others have the right to catch their breath so long as they stand to one side. I have never ever encountered anyone not giving way when I say "excuse me". But like the uncle, I may also react negatively if someone tells me to step to one side in a curt tone bordering on an order. If you want something, say it nicely not in a tone that rubs people the wrong way. You can bet your bottom dollar that when you uttered the word "bullshit" the uncle would have cursed you under his breath with "asshole".

Oh yes, without being branded as racist, the poorer and therefore the lest educated population whether here or in the States do procreate more. It's all in the statistics.

Most people in Singapore are reasonably well off and comfortable despite the inescapable problems of human existence so where is there the need for clamoring for the so called "freedom of expression"? Inertia to political activism? Most certainly not. Again, you have the right to protest all you want. Others too have the right to a quiet and orderly life free from political and by extension economic instability. The difference between the Chinese Malaysians and the local Chinese's perceived inertia is that for the former they are living in a glaringly unjust economic society so some form of activism must be the result.If they are as well fed and comfortable as Singapore chinese, you would hardly hear a whimper of protest.

This debate about clearing the tables in public eating places is as ridiculously funny as it is unreasonable. Food court operators and coffee shops are the most lucrative businesses and like all businesses, they now have difficulty in recruiting people to clear the tables even. Why? because they want to pay the least salary. So some bright sparks came up with the "brilliant" idea of starting a movement to get the less intellectually endowed of our population to clear their own trays! My rejoinder to this ploy of theirs?


Anonymous said...

Once again, the Eastern/Western thing! I wonder why you even write in English! Isn't that VERY WESTERN?

If you BULLSHIT don't believe in "freedom of expression", "political activism", or "Kaipoism", and prefer to live a comfortable cushy live like most Singaporean, then what the BULLSHIT are you writing here?

Practice your "freedom of expression", I guess!

Anonymous said...

One again, people like Mr. Bullshit is trying to explain their brand of behavior! We are not talk about charging up and down the escalator here!

In fact, there are many signs on MRT escalators reminding people to stand on the left side of escalator (unlike the Western way of right side!) Did anyone even bother?

Aren't you imposing too? If you are not interest in those list of things you mentioned, don't discourage other for doing so!

Shouldn't even bother with what people say here!

Anonymous said...

Did we smell some rat here?

Someone try to discourage people from speaking out, who sound like he/she have a comfortable life and couldn't bother with the "Freedom" thingy, and suddenly care for those with low IQ being exploit?


Saint Splattergut said...

For the people who like to stand on escalators, that's PERFECTLY FINE. Your argument that people who want to move should respect your view is VOIDED, RAPED and PWNED by one thing most people would no doubt know about... stay on the left dammit. Right is for walking.

Anonymous said...


I see the quality of the comments in your blog is going to the dogs!

Apparently, you have deactivated moderation of blog comments?

The last few comments seems and sounds like stuff the aunties and uncles clear from the tables in a food court!

Weiye said...

Just to clarify my own points. I don't see a strong correlation between standing still on escalators and other social inertias. I do agree, however, that these other social inertias do exist to certain degree.

While I agree with people keeping still, I do not agree with people blocking the way. Giving them (people who blocked the way) the benefit of doubt, I feel that we should overcome our own inertia and ask them politely to give way. After all, keeping left is not universally recognized (Taiwanese keep to their right).

And what's the debate about East versus West anyway? As long as the idea is made in good faith, I don't see why we can't just discuss its merits/ demerits.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Hey people, let's apply some intelligence, shall we?

The issue isn't whether passengers should stand or walk on escalators. The very use of the word "should" sounds too illiberal to me.

Of course people are free to stand or walk. And if they stand, it's only basic consideration that they stand to one side.

The point is really this: Featherstone observed - and few of us who move around Singapore would dispute the validity of his observation - that a high percentage (96 percent) of Singaporeans stand.

My experience of other cities is that while the majority stand, it isn't as high as 96 percent.

It is that very high percentage that begs analysis.

And with that, I shall reactivate comment moderation!

Anonymous said...

also on the issue of "transport", LTA just decided to encourage bicycle use in the future, so let's congratulate ourselves for raising the issue almost 6 months ago
18 February 2008
Safety on trial

Do Singaporeans care enough about public safety? Why have we not provided paths for bicycles, separate from pedestrians? Full essay.

posted by Yawning Bread Sampler @ 00:23

At 18 February, 2008 01:17 , Anonymous said...
currently usage of bicycle as means of commute transport is low - hardly anyone ride bicycle to school or to work

assuming that LTA wants to encourage people to do this, it need to provide not just bike paths between HDB blocks and town centres/MRT stations/local schools, but also secure bike parking facilities at both ends, including HDB void decks to save people the trouble of taking bikes upstairs; it is a more complex issue than just bike paths...


Anonymous said...

these westerners with liberal ideas! Who are they to criticise SGian traits? is this mark from canada trying to do us in?! is a conspiracy!

hehehe ;)

recruit ong

Anonymous said...

Hey YB you didnt mention the campaign-craziness in SIngapore, usually we try to fix things with eiher throwing money around, or camapigning.. henceforth, I wait for a

Then, we will see:


After which we will hopefully have:



Anonymous said...


You mentioned that the point is with the high percent of people standing compared to other cities, I think you should take into consideration the purpose of the area at which the escalator is built in.

Compared 2 escalators, one situated in City Hall, prime working area, another situated in IMM, prime shopping area, do you think there will be a difference?

Featherstone also failed to discuss the implications of time. Do you think there's would a difference if he surveyed the area at peak hour?

Even if you hypothetically assume 2 different cities with the same conditions, it would be good to see some statistics rather than basing on experience.

With so many variables, how is it possible to imply that it signifies sny social trend?


Anonymous said...

I think people are taking Escalator Paralysis far too seriously; the ST article was a humorous piece, from a foreigner making fun of a small issue that happens to irritate him; ST publishes it because Singaporeans like to know about how foreigners view them - I doubt ST would publish the same piece if it was written by a local guy from outside SPH - without deeper motives as far as I can see

if the purpose of escalators/travellators is to save people from climbing up or down stairs, then it is entirely logical that people do =not= do any climbing while they are on them; it is more meaningful to ask why the 3% who do climb should be in such a hurry; whether people should put away dishes etc after eating at food court is a situational one; if the place provides adequate staff to do this and tables are quickly cleared to let new patrons use them, then there is no reason why customers have to do it - you dont do this in restaurants, nor fetch your own food/drinks, because that is what restaurant staff are supposed to do; I dont see any need to make sociological issues out of them (but here again, if the original ST author, from NTU, is in the behavioural sciences, then it is entirely appropriate for him to make sociological issues of them - just doing his job)

the unwillingness to speak out, or produce babies, or support legalization of homosexuality, ..., are entirely different issues; I doubt Alex actually believes that if you make people walk on elevators and clear their own dishes at hawker centres, they would also become more politically and socially active...


phoebette said...

Hi Alex,

A great article, as usual. But just wanted to comment on the travellator vs walkalator issue. I'm Singaporean, and it is true that travellator is the term more commonly used here. But I've also heard walkalator being used before. It's probably one of those things like "lift" vs "elevator".

Thus, it is a little unfair of you to say that "the correct ter, would be 'travellators'". I mean, I would hate it if someone came up to me and said "stop calling it the lift, it is the elevator". True, perhaps one term is used more commonly that the other depending on where you are, but that doesn't make the less common term incorrect, just different. =)

snugpug said...

I think Featherstone has made some observations that cut down to the Singaporean core, although he did it in a most humourous way. Which you have put in a nutshell: that Singaporeans wait to be served.

But I think in extrapolating his point about walkalators/travelators to escalators -- although I do feel your pain when you're "trapped" on them -- is taking it one step too far. People who get on escalators *do not* expect to walk up. Or they would have taken the stairs in the first place.

I usually take the stairs -- they're almost always empty and inviting while the crowd bottlenecks at the escalators.

I'm sure there's another extrapolation there, Singaporeans follow the crowd, don't take alternative route etc. But that's another story.

yuen said...

now what's wrong with following the crowd? think of all those people over the world queuing up for hours, even days, to get the iPhone? they even put up with all the activation troubles; why? almost all of them already have phones and PDAs and can easily wait for a few weeks even months; they were there because they knew others would be there...