I have been on a wheelchair for 24 years, since 1983, I only got to ride the MRT train in 2003, that will let you know that I waited 15 or 16 years before I got to ride the Mass Rapid Transit trains in Singapore. And before that, I have the privilege of riding the trains in London, Melbourne, in Japan and I rode the free buses in Perth. Perth has a bus service call the Central Area Transit buses. There are three different routes, blue, yellow and red, and they are all free for everyone, not just the disabled. The trains are manually operated, and the driver comes down from the bus to flip the ramp for the wheelchair bound to enter. Nobody in the bus complain, the passengers are all patient.
So far Singapore only has wheelchair accessible buses about half a year ago. During the first ten over years, since my accident, there was barely any help for the disabled. The transportation was very expensive. I have to pay a London cab driver $25 per trip, and so a round trip cost about $50 to $60. The Maxi cab will charge $35 per trip, $70 for a round trip. An ambulance will cost $70 for the first ride, and the return trip will cost me $20, so it evens out to $90. I’m not saying that the government is not doing enough, now the government is doing very well it is a little too late for people in my situation. I wasted a lot of money on transport and I do have to pay the maid levy.
Over the past 11 years, since 1996 I paid more than $50000 in maid levy. Can you imagine how much that is for a disabled person? Does the government need this money from me? Do I need this money for myself? Can I say that the government taxes the disabled? Because every wheelchair I buy, every hospital bed I used, every pair of crutches that is sold are all taxed by GST? There is no waiver for anything. To buy a $1500 wheelchair, a standard model, 5% GST is $75. $75 can pay for my grocery for 1 week. The irony is that in other countries like Japan, every four or five years, a disabled person, as long as he produces a doctor’s letter stating the need for a wheelchair, the town council will provide the wheelchair for them no matter what the price is.
(So in Singapore does the government provide financial aid?)
Of course we are under the general population, so the government will say that we are benefiting as citizens under the Economic Restructuring Shares, the Progress Package. But are there any special privileges for the disabled? No. I still have to line up at the polyclinics and queue up for three over hours. You reach the polyclinic at 8 in the morning and leave at about 11.30am. You queue up to take a number, and then you wait for your number to be called, and after you get the appointment done, you go up to wait for the doctor to see you. And when the doctor has seen you, the doctor will ask you to go for your other treatment, like the dressing of the wound or blood check, and you will need to go there to line up. After the treatment, you go back to the same doctor to acknowledge that the checks are done, make arrangement for the next appointment and collect the medication. Then you will have to go down to collect the queue number for the medication prescription and then you go home. By that time, three and a half hours have already gone by.
(How is it different from the other countries?)
I don’t know. I have never been medically treated in another country. But if I were to choose to go to a polyclinic, I must be prepared to spend the whole morning there. If I go to a private doctor, it will be less than half an hour, and it may not be much different in price, so most of the time I prefer to go to a General Practitioner (GP).
(The SBS (Singapore Bus Service) buses are going to take 17 years for all of its buses to be wheelchair-accessible. Do you think 17 years is a bit too long?)
Can I put it that they should have done it 17 years ago? Remember I rode the bus in Japan, I rode the bus in Perth, I rode the bus in London, in other countries before I get to ride in my own country. And now I have to wait 17 years. And the whole mindset of the bus accessibility, being a small voice, the disabled people, we don’t have a big lobby, we cannot convince the ministers that we need this type of transport, previously they would say we need 40 million dollars to retrofit all the buses. But previously we were asking, no need to retrofit all the buses; we can retrofit 1 in 4 buses and the 40 million would have been reduced to 10 million, then we can easily wait for a disabled friendly bus to come along and ride. Because within 4 buses, the waiting time should be less than 45 minutes, because each bus should come in 10 to 15 minutes. So within 45 minutes, a wheelchair accessible bus would come. But they didn’t listen to us of course, so we are still waiting; I am still waiting to ride a bus in Singapore, it doesn’t come along Sengkang, so I am happily using the MRT. If I need to access places that buses and MRT doesn’t go to, I have to use a London cab. There were a lot of times that after I reach the MRT station, I walk about 1 hour’s walk to the destination that I want to go, because there is simply no other option other than to spend the extra money on the London cab.
(You were saying that you had to wait very long in a polyclinic and the government tax the disabled on the equipment they use but if the government were to implement schemes to help the disabled do you think that the welfare of those who are chronically-ill or the elderly are compromised?)
Well, it’s a matter of viewpoint, everybody thinks for themselves. The visually impaired will say that they have their needs, the spinal cord injured will say that they have their needs, the autistic children will say they have their needs, same for Down’s syndrome; everybody got their cry for help. But my question mark is can the government be more compassionate than they are now. Because they are doing things in a very, I call it, systematic and methodical way. They are afraid to so-called make mistakes. They are afraid to open the floodgates. But there are many ways they can skin a cat. You can have a neutral committee to see whether there are deserving cases. Even if this person has a chronologically-ill family member, is he being treated at the hospital or is he being treated at home? How does the financial status of the person plan out throughout the years? Even if he has a insurance payment of let’s say half a million dollars, I can assure you it will be finished within 10 years. Do you understand that? And if the person continues living for another 10 more years, who is going to take care of him? So to what extent, it’s not a matter of, there will always be that question of how much is enough, when is enough enough. But I’m telling you I have paid 50 thousand dollars in levies as a disabled person taking care of my parents. I’m not a disabled disabled in the sense that I am invalid, staying in a home, or I am a disabled person who is a non-contributor to society. Sherena Low is one of those examples, there are many disabled people that you can say that they are much better than the residents of drug rehab homes, they are much better than those boys home or even criminals inside the prison system. We are contributing members of society. We are not out to ask for a hand-out. It is far beyond that. What we are asking for is, instead of asking for hand-outs, don’t put obstacles in our path, we’re happy already. Do you think it is difficult for a disabled person like me to earn my money?
If you can work, so, nothing is impossible?
Do you have disabled students in your school?
Do you know any other disabled persons besides Sherena and me?
Dr William Tan.
Ok, so far you have seen the ‘elite’ disabled people in Singapore. Have you gone to Cheshire Home? Not yet. Ok, so there is a bit of a wrong stereotype that you all might have. You are looking at the ‘elite’ disabled people, disabled people who are very gung-ho, who work hard, who try their utmost to educate themselves, and try to be a contributing member of society. But there are many disabled who are bedridden, who are dependent on people to take care of them. You can go to Cheshire Home and see them. What I’m asking is that, I’m trying hard to earn my money and trying hard to take care of my parents. I’m not asking for handouts from the government. Far from it. But I would love to have cheaper transport, available transport, I would love not to be taxed so heavily. Right now what I pay for my maid I believe is $195 per month, that is about $2,300 a year. How nice for me to travel to Hong Kong and back for me and my wife?
So, over these years, how have you coped with your expenses?
In the beginning, it was terrible. The first 3 years, it was really terrible. A lot of money was wasted, because of hospital, and medical costs. My parents went to find Chinese physicians, Bomohs, geomancers, charlatans, absolute *******s who try to cheat these types of victims. So we wasted a lot of money in such a situation. But after that, I did try to write to the stat(utory) boards for help, in choosing my flat, in getting a waiver from having a maid, in writing to ask whether there can be a GST for wheelchairs and hospital beds. I think you know by now all these answers have been ‘no’. I go to the HDB, I had to line up like everybody else. And the worst thing is that I don’t work 9 to 5. I can’t work 9 to 5. So I have to do a lot of ad-hoc types of work that I do on my own, so I don’t have a IRA form. So I don’t, so-called, have an income tax form to show the stat boards. So when I went to HDB and said ‘can I buy my own house’, HDB said that you got to pay for the whole house, because I am not entitled to a loan. That was my difficulty. So until as when I was able to provide proof to HDB that I’m able to make the payments for the loan of my flat, then they allowed me to borrow money. So being disabled in Singapore can be quite a harrowing experience.
Do you think the society plays a big part?
I have no problems with society. 99 out of a 100 Singaporeans are very nice. But that means 1% of the population, 40 thousand ugly Singaporeans get on my nerves.
If the government were to implement a new scheme, a GST waiver for all disabled…
I don’t think it will ever happen.
…then the public will make a lot of noise. Do you think that the government is under pressure.
You see, as I said, there are many ways to get things done. The government don’t need to say that all wheelchairs will get GST waivered. What they can do is, certain standard models will be waived. Entry level models la. Certain standard models. So that those people who choose to buy $14,000 wheelchairs, they have to pay GST la. But the man in the street who needs a $500 wheelchair for their ah-ma or ah-kong, they should not be forced to pay $50 for the GST for this wheelchair. Do you get what I mean?
There is no, er, MediShield stuff…
We are not entitled.
My accident happened in 1983. MediShield wasn’t even in existence. I didn’t even have the Dependent People’s Scheme. DPS, I don’t know whether you have heard of that. It is a term insurance by CPF, they will deduct $30 from your CPF account and if there is any accident or if there is anything the family will get $33,000 spread out over 3 years. That wasn’t even in place. Chose a wrong time to become disabled la. Now, disabled people who have their accidents, they will get a lot more help and a lot more support than my time. So I am still a bit grouchy about what I went through. But it is a matter of whether the government wants to do it or not. The government is wealthy enough, they can do a lot of one-off things. But since about 1997 or 1998, 8 or 9 years ago, after writing to HDB, after writing to Labour Ministry, the former, now it is called MOM. So I give up, I give up on asking the government for help. I really give up. My attitude is ‘靠人不如靠自己啊’ (better to rely on yourself than on others).
Now, to what extent can you use your MediShield?
I don’t have any money in the CPF. When my accident happened, I was entitled to take everything out. And I have no contributions to the CPF because I am not employed.
So what about the disabled on the wheelchair, and if they are hospitalized can they use their…
I’m not too sure about that. What I know is that I can use MediSave on my brothers, on my wife, but whether I am entitled to MediShield, I do not know. But as I said, my attitude is that I will not go around begging anyone and will not go around asking anyone. I will try my best to do according to what society demands of me, it’s a game and you have to play according to the rules. I cannot scream and shout when nobody is there to help me. That is why after 24 years, I have gone through a lot, I have done telephone calls to get orders for Chinese New Year goodies, I have done bridal make up, one introduction I get a $30 to $40 ang-pow. That’s how I started 20 years ago. I started to do music, I started to design things, I produce albums, music albums, I sing, I perform, and I’m an artist. Were you all there during my talk? So I do a lot more things. I just confirmed that there is a secondary school who will be doing my play during the Singapore Youth Festival. When is the Singapore Youth Festival ar? March or April. Ah, April. So I have just confirmed and talked with 3 or 4 of your friends plus a teacher, we are doing a book for end-of-the-year. So even as a disabled person, I’m pretty busy. I get interviewed. Recently I was on Channelnewsasia, I came on Lianhe Zaobao, I’ve been in every newspaper in Singapore, been on every channel in Singapore, including satellite television. That is part of my job la. I do painting also. Have a look at this painting. These are all my rough sketches.
Family, how has family support helped you?
Family support is very important. My parents, especially my mum. My mum was the one who took the brunt of the first few years, taking care of me. My accident happened in ’83, she took care of me for all of 13 years, until 1996. That means it took me 13 years for me to afford to have a maid.
[Referring to image] This one not finished yet ar, this one still got 2 more layers of touching up to do, far from nice ar. So at least cloud look like cloud mountain look like mountain tree look like tree. Last time I painted prawns and my friend say grasshoppers.
That one was quite good, the one you did in 10 minutes.
So it goes to show that with enough practice, discipline and hard work, you can do a lot of things. So I give talks to other disabled people, sometimes they pay, other times they don’t pay. This is part of my lifestyle now, I’m improving myself, I’m reading more books on public speaking, and once my play gets staged I can come and sell the play rights, and once the book comes out I can become an author, I’m already a composer with the Composers and Author’s Society of Singapore, I’m a songwriter, lyricist, performer, an artist.
About family support, what about those who don’t have families? Do you think the welfare groups in Singapore, are the services adequate?
I find that the situation is too variable, too dynamic to talk. Because different people have different family circumstances, But of course if you are a very difficult person in the beginning to start with, I don’t think you will get much support from your family. So who you are as a person will account for how much support you get. I have met disabled people who are as grumpy as Grumpy in Snow White and the 7 Dwarves. They complain all the time, they are pessimistic, they are really a pain in the neck and every part of the body. But then when they come up to me and they say ‘why got so many people help you and nobody help me’, I say ‘look at your face la’. I have said before, once you are motivated, you are happy, you are cheerful, more people will like to help you, because they like to invest in something that have some reasonable opportunity to have returns. Touchwood, if any of your classmates in RI gets into a difficult situation, the whole school will gather around and help, I hope. But let’s say a gangster is involved in a gang fight and then he gets hit until he becomes paralyzed on a wheelchair, the type of support he’s going to get is going to be different, very different from your classmate. First of all, this gangster was most likely disowned by his family already. He is a gangster, he has more enemies than friends.
Back to the bus thing, so in overseas what is the capacity, how many wheelchairs can the bus accommodate?
Ok, they are ranged from 2 to 4.
Because, from what I know, for the SBS wheelchair accessible buses, they can only accommodate 1 wheelchair.
Which means that if there are a few wheelchair users lining up they have to take turns to go up.
And although it is stated in the SBS website that bus drivers are encouraged, no, they hope that people can be understanding and wait a little more while the bus driver comes down to help, there are still people who complain about time wastage. So, are these people detrimental to our society?
The bus driver or the disabled person?
The people who grumble about the time wastage. Are these passengers totally in the wrong?
They have their gripes. I can understand from their point of view. But my retort is that ‘do I have another choice’? Do I have another option? It’s like people rushing with me into the lift. They’re walking, can they take the stairs? Yes. Can they take the escalator? Yes. But they choose to rush with me into the lift.
So among us there are still some Singaporeans who think about themselves first?
Um, I won’t say they think about themselves, some of them don’t even think. Full stop. They only realize after the disabled person waiting outside the door, looking in, the lift is full and they can’t get in. You all went to the IT fair?
Do you think a disabled person on a wheelchair can survive down there?
But of course you see pregnant woman there, you see parents carrying small babies, it is their choice la. But the moment I entered the hall I got like headache. Whoa, because everybody is blasting their loudspeakers as loud as possible. Did anybody think about, well, fair competition? If your product is good, people will buy. But it is who shouts the loudest. Is this the type of society we are going into? Yes. We are only behind Hong Kong and Japan la. Japan is much faster, Hong Kong is even faster than Singapore, and Singapore is catching up. We are developing that type of society where time is such a precious commodity. Competitiveness, we need to be number 1 all the time, we need to rush here rush there. Some of the words used come out from life experience la. Like I say Singapore is a ‘moneytocracy’. If we say meritocracy, yes, I agree with that too, but ‘moneytocracy’ seems to be a bit more bigger word than meritocracy. He with the more money wins. But those with no money have to rush for trade fairs like this kind to pick up some freebies la.
So can I say that people of the past are more or less ignorant of the problem because they don’t understand much and that the people from the modern times now, they don’t think because they are so competitive?
How should I put it? Singapore has got a lot of parks. Parks, gardens and all that. If you happen to go to the seaside, you see who are those people who bother to do such activities. It’s a very cheap activity, you buy a tent, have a barbeque, have some fun and all that. But the attitude is different from last time. I would say the Malay community as a whole still practices like whole family go to the beachside and have time together and relax. But Singaporeans are less inclined to such activities. We are too work-based, we are very work-based, very monetarily minded, getting things done the fastest, the most efficient. Not necessarily the most effective, mind you. But the most efficient. Then my problem is that the government is being too careful when they choose to be kind. Many people, through the last 2 decades, have fallen through the cracks. People have committed suicide. Do they need to, I don’t know. But if you know about the statistics involved, our suicide figures are comparable to other developed cities. Not just the elderly, unemployed who kill themselves, but young people, studying, exams, also kill themselves. To the point where even the Army, sergeants who try to be good, overdo it until a good soldier is killed in the prime of his life. Why the sergeant want to punish the guy until he dies? What happened to the heart? It becomes a job specification. This is my job, I am doing this, I am not dealing with a human being anymore, I am dealing with a statistic. When you put the schools into all the ranking and all that, what do the principals and the teachers feel? They’re stressed. It becomes statistics.
Results orientated. It becomes an end, there is no journey. It’s destination-minded.
So can it be concluded that society now is more ‘hardware’ than ‘heartware’?
Correct, correct. And if you want to put a source of blame, I would still put it on the government. The terrible thing is that I cannot say that they are wrong. Because it is a cutthroat competition. Like what Lee Hsien Loong said that usually when the major changes are introduced one at a time at different years at different Budgets, but now they introduce 5 or 6 major changes within 1 budget. Because we are trying to stay ahead of India, trying to stay ahead of China, trying to stay ahead, stay ahead, stay ahead. So I would say it is the people’s own individual choice whether you want to go along with the government.
So how do you compare the people here and the people in, say, Australia, London…
Ok, let me tell you the… Have you all been to Australia?
Ok, the moment I landed in Australia, the whole mood of the place changes. And I mean you land at the airport, it’s a different feel. People move slightly slower, they are more relaxed. When you get to the city it is even better. My taxi driver came in his shorts and shoes without socks and a t-shirt. And he greets me ‘G’day mate! Take your time, no worries’. It’s part of their culture. It makes you feel comfortable. He’s telling you ‘there’s no rush, there’s no rush, it’s ok’, there is no rush. He is able to wait for you. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, it doesn’t matter. They believe in the quality of life.
In Singapore, the person would start the meter.
When I want to cross the road in a European country, and in Australia, the cars stop for me. Nobody honks. That means they take their time, they stop, nobody honks, they wait for me to cross. It’s not just one lane, it’s 4 lanes of cars, all stop. In Singapore if I try to cross like that the cars would all try to arrow and try to hit me. Especially taxi drivers will try to honk me down.
You mean not at traffic lights…
Ah, non traffic junctions. The whole mindset, the whole attitude is different. In Australia they stop work at 5 o’clock. So they have time to go, they drive 2 to 3 hours to their relatives, their loved ones to visit for the weekend. They make time. So in Singapore it’s like my friend have a new house, ask me to go to her house for housewarming, it took me about one over year before I reached the house, already burnt down, because of housewarming. When I’m free she’s not free, when she’s free I’m not free. And then we try to get a target date, it’s so difficult. We may have telephone, we may have email, we may have fax, we may have SMS, but we just can’t get a fixed date for me to go to her house. I don’t know. My friend called me say ‘we must go out for makan’. And then about 4 or 5 months pass and then he remembered ‘hey, aren’t we supposed to go out for a meal?’ I say ‘yah, that was 5 months ago you told me that’. Hahaha. And the 5 months just –pst- went by like that. Because we are busy, doing what?
Yeah, the main thing is earning money, improving yourself, trying to get ahead of the competition, you are trying to do better than who you are, it is a moving target, you know? It doesn’t stay still. So what do we do about this? So for myself, I have chosen to do more effective work. That means I don’t want to slog 9 to 5. I do work that leverages on my knowledge, that has residual income. If I can use other people’s money to do my work and earn money, why not? So OPM, that is another term for you all. Have you heard about all these? The government is high productivity, value-added, all these terms la. So how do you add value? Something for you all to think la. David Gan charges $380 per haircut. But your neighbourhood one charges $10. What is the difference? Can it make you more handsome? You are paying for the premium, for the brand. So you prefer to be David Gan than the neighbourhood barber? So how do you become David Gan?
You get a name for yourself.
Mm. Remember, William Hung already made USD 1 million. Is he very talented? No, he makes people laugh. That is his premium. People look at him, don’t have to do anything they start laughing already. And he has made 1 million US dollars. How many of us can say that? So you got to find your niche. Why somebody can charge 4 bucks for his bowl of laksa and still people line up? And somebody else sell at $2 and nobody buys? So I have to go along that line. When I tell you about leverage, music and art are very good leveraging work. I do a painting like this, you can sell for four, five hundred dollars. I have sold this for $1,300, this watercolour of this size. But if I use this painting to print into 10,000 Christmas cards, and sell each card at $1, that is a gross income of $10,000. Printing cost, maybe about 10 cents per card? I earn $9,000. As opposed to $1,000 for the painting. Leverage, residual income. That is how Michael Jackson can make his billions. So I do art, I do music, I do motivational speaking. According to one book called ‘One Minute Millionaire’, the 4 ways that people can make money is through the Internet, through eBay and all that stuff and through business, traditional way, but 90% of businesses fail, through stock and shares, and through property. So I’m looking towards this direction to see what I can do. If I choose to be like those people in the BizLink or SPD, where they send an ambulance to come and fetch me, I go there every morning, they tell me to package, put 4 integrated circuits in a plastic bag, and then staple it. Then I earn 0.1 cent, and then if I do 10 I earn 1 cent, If I do a hundred I earn 10 cents, If I do a thousand I earn $1. So they get paid $500, $600, $150 goes to the transport, they spend about $200 in their meals, for the whole month they may be left with about $100 to bring back. This is called a disabled person working with a disabled mind la. I see those old folks doing the cleaning tables at the hawker centre, they earn $600, I thought their experience should be worth more than that. They can find other things to do.
Can we say that most of them are like that?
Unfortunately, we are not very financially savvy, Singaporeans, we are not very up-to-date in terms of building up our potential. For my own mother, she doesn’t need to work because of me. But I told her, if you ever want to earn extra money, do knitting. Do it in the comfort of your house, and it is premium, value-added money. To buy the balls of yarn and then you knit into a muffler, and then you can sell for top dollar. 3 or 4 times the price of the yarn. She can make very good otah. 1 tray sell for $35 or $40. I am not interested in the 1 stick 25 cent thing. 1 tray.
Do you think all these opportunities are available for…
…many of them don’t know how to see or source for all these.
That is the problem. Not only don’t know. Laziness is a problem, and a defeatist attitude is also a problem. When I tell people
‘you can do art’,
they would reply
‘you talented la, I not talented’.
Then I say,
‘are you hardworking?’
Usually they are not. Most people are very lazy. They like to be lazy. I asked disabled people,
‘what do you do at home?’
‘I watch Da Chang Jin’
Or, ‘I watch drama serial’.
‘Then can you spend the time watching drama serial to improve your English?’
Then when I say I do painting,
‘how do I start har, what do I do har?’
Buy the materials, start painting.
‘Then, nobody to teach me.’
Go community centre, and go enroll in the basic elementary course, go to library borrow books, go to exhibitions, just look at artworks.
‘Huh, no la you come and teach me la’
Everybody wants to be spoon-fed.
I said, ‘I’m on wheelchair, my transport cost very high. I’m here to demonstrate that “can be done”, not here to lead you by the hand. You go out and find out yourself.’
Which is what I did. A lot of them don’t know a lot of things because firstly they don’t read. Ask them to watch news and documentaries they bored. They prefer drama serial, that after watching over 100 drama serial you can’t remember a single one of them. But they will tell me,
‘last episode, must go and watch’.
Last episode, 最后大结局, then I ask them,
‘3 months later do you remember the 大结局 what happened or not’
They look at me blank. They watch a hundred over drama serials, can they remember? And then my mum is one case in point. She will watch the same drama serial repeated. Then she would tell me
‘aiyah, 7 years ago watch ar forget already so now watch again lor’.
Isn’t it a waste of time, a waste of brain? So people like to enjoy laziness la. There are so many things in life that is so arguable, my mum would say
‘I’m so old already, what is there to learn?’
I tell her, Moses started to lead the people of Egypt only when he was 80. The Colonel Sanders, only started touting his KFC when he was 65 years old. The owner of Chinese Emporium, he lost everything when he was 60 years old. Bankrupt. Then within 5 or 6 years he got everything back, he got more than a few million back. So it is not the age thing, it is whether you want to do it or not. I am severely paralyzed from chest downwards, I have no finger movement. So if you compare me to a severely disabled I am under that category of severely disabled persons. What do I have? I have a mouth. I can talk. My English is good, and I read a lot. Enid Blyton books also can, read. I read the newspaper, I know about law situations, I know a lot of things happening in this world, Singapore and all that. People don’t even bother to do. Then they ask me, how do you know? I say, read. They go and buy a HDB flat they kena ketok by the agent. The agent over-quoted by another 10, 20 percent, that is about $20,000. And they do not know. I ask my friend, did you bother to go and find out what are the HDB prices online or not. ‘Huh, have meh? Huh, have ar?’ ‘Ya, it’s been there for the last how many years’. They don’t find out, and then they get cheated. Timeshare companies, they never find out. If you have a lack of knowledge and then you are full of greed, waiting to be conned. Hahaha.
Do you think this is unique to Singapore?
Well, I am still so intrigued, how come we still have a few people falling for the Nigerian scam, even though it has been splashed all over the newspapers, but there will still be that few who will get conned, and then I don’t know whether to laugh or to pity them. To me, give them a good slap la, if it is too good to be true, you know it is not true. I choose to be truthful as much as I possibly can, to be honest, to be a person of integrity, so that if anything happens to me, I know I got friends who are there. So interesting. When my accident happened or even right now, if I am in any problems, I have more than 10 friends who would give me $10,000 on the spot, no problem. But the gambler who goes around gambling and then wants to go around borrowing money, nobody will lend him a single dollar. Do you get the concept? So a disabled person standing, he himself is very important. Right now I am very happy, the government is already coming out with wheelchair-accessible buses, the MRT stations are accessible except for Buona Vista, until the Biopolis comes out.
The only thing I am not too happy with is GST for the things I have to pay, I have to cut down . But I still feel the pain where I have to pay GST for my wheelchair, or for my medical stuff and my hospital bed. Hospital bed can be $2,000, so 7% is $140 for a normal 3-crank bed. Crank up the head, crank up the leg, and crank up the height of the bed. That is a very basic hospital bed. $140, that is a lot of money. Another thing I want to argue about is $110 for the TV license. It is not necessary. TV is earning tons of money through its advertisements. There is no need for a TV license. But they chose a good way for the government to keep on collecting money la. Just like the levy la. 140,000 maids in Singapore, you times another $195, how much is that?
Talking about people again, how do you compare the society of other countries with Singapore?
Cannot compare one.
What about the physical environment?
Physical. It’s getting better. It’s getting better.
What about other countries?
Ok, I would say Japan is very good, London is also very good, Perth is the best, Perth I really enjoyed myself. I was able to take the trains to Fremantle. Australia overall is very vibrant. I have not been to the US yet. I went there when Singapore wasn’t too good. Singapore only recently, the last one over year, then suddenly a lot of things change.
The MRT only became accessible 3 years ago, 4 years ago. The buses only started running 6 months ago. And then when Lee Hsien Loong announced that all the housing estates will become accessible, then they start doing all the ramps only recently. The ramps in front of my house here are less than 1 month old, 3 weeks old in fact. So things are getting better. How much better, I dare not hope for too much la. Because as I said I gave up begging or asking the government for help 8 or 9 years ago already.
But definitely, things are getting better. But as you pointed out it is not because of the disabled, it is because of the ageing population. I was hoping that maybe one minister would become paralyzed and be on a wheelchair but that didn’t happen. People who drive cars don’t take public transport on a daily basis. They will never really understand the daily grind that… they don’t wait 3-and-a-half hours at polyclinics. They don’t get bullied by nurses who scream at you. The nurses would scream at my mum, thinking that she is an old lady, illiterate. So I have to go up there and then say,
‘you want to keep your job or not?’
Singaporeans. They want to bully you, they think they can, they will.
What I would ask for: can the treetops trail be made accessible. I went to the treetops trail in Melbourne. Why can’t I access my own country’s treetops trail? I went right to the edge of the cliff. That is the better mindset right. At least now I know Sungei Buloh, and Changi Point. They are making it accessible. But it is still not convenient, to say la. But some of our own buildings, we can’t do anything about it. The MRT stations, as one minister may have said, they may have to build more lifts at he MRTs. Because a lot of MRT stations have only one single miserable lift.
Yeah, most of the above-ground stations have only one lift at one exit.
Yes, so a lot of times I have to heed the wrong direction of where I am going to get out of the station, because that is the only lift that is there. So I have to double back to get up to street level. But the worst is Sengkang, which has a single lift that serves 4 floors. Platform, concourse, 2nd floor and LRT. So I find myself often having to wait for the second ride or the third ride. I shared with you all at the talk right? Take the escalator whenever you all can. But I see students, healthy, young students, taking the lift, when they can easily take the escalator. Be a good citizen, take the escalator. People who use prams and the elderly folks I have no arguments. But you would notice that a lot of couples carry their child and the pram is used as a interim supermarket trolley. That defeats the whole purpose right? Do you think it defeats the whole purpose? You carry the baby, why you push the tram for? Use the escalator la, why you take up one more space? I have no choice, I have absolutely no choice. I have to use the lift. I can’t use the escalator.
When my British friend came to Singapore, and he visited me in Sengkang, he just came out with all his vulgar words. He’s walking, not on a wheelchair, he was born without hands. So when he saw all the people rushing to the lift he cursed and swore. He said, ‘in Britain, we would be screaming at them’. So you tell me, how do we change the mindset of the people? Can the government squeeze us less tight? Singapore is doing very well as a country. But it is also paying a very high price, emotionally, in humane terms. We are materially very well-off. Financially very stable. We are technologically far ahead, we are in such a well-controlled environment.
When I talked to the HDB secretary, I said,
‘I know you can’t make a decision, let me speak to your supervisor’.
I tell you all what happened. I bought this house. Every HDB flat has a threshold to the bathroom. This threshold is about 8cm to 10cm. It is terrible for me, because I have to sit on a bathing chair, to go into the bathroom, to bath. So this threshold is in my way. I had to lift up my bathing chair over the threshold, and one time out of how many times, there is going to be a fall. So I wrote to HDB saying
‘I’d like to remove this bathroom threshold’.
I got one bathroom in the kitchen, one bathroom in the master room. I am an architectural student. So I know that the threshold can be removed within 2 hours; just knock-knock-knock-knock, hack off already, done. How much does it cost to remove it? Less than $30 hacking off. What HDB said to my disabled friends was ‘you cannot remove it, that is part of the HDB rule’. So my friends had to make a wooden ramp, to go up that 10 cm, and to have another wooden ramp, to go down the ramp again. Do you know how much smaller the bathroom becomes? So I wrote to the HDB, saying that I need to remove it. And I decided that I would remove it whether or not I give permission. But they got a secretary to call me.
‘But you cannot remove.’
I say, why.
‘Because it is our policy’.
Why? So I told her, I am an architectural student. Tell your boss, structural manager, projects manager, coordinator, that I will write to the Forum page to tell the whole Singapore that HDB engineers are dumbos, who can say that a threshold cannot be removed. No brains. It is so stupid, for me to have to ask permission, for me to remove something that is endangering my life. They are treasuring a piece of concrete over a Singaporean’s life. But this is what disabled persons have to go through. I believe I am the first disabled person who have done it. Would you all like to see it?
Ah, I can show you all now, so that you all have an idea.
[Goes to bathroom, comes back]
So I have learnt to be very aggressive la, I don’t have a choice. So I learn to scold people, when they talk nonsense to me.
There is the possibility that the disabled are asking for too much. There is always the possibility, because what the disabled wants is never enough. But I don’t want to take that road. I want to be self-sufficient. I will never be independent, but I will be inter-dependent. I work very well with my wife and my maid. My mum helps. I am somebody who cannot even comb his own hair, cannot even switch on the light, but I am able to earn my income, and make myself viable, through education, through knowledge, through art.