Petaling Jaya (The Nation/ANN) - It is often in times of some mishap that one can catch a glimpse of the real Singaporean character.
Last week, I experienced a little of the phenomenon from Singaporeans I did not know when I was involved in an accident at Changi Airport, and it reinforced my faith in my fellow beings.
For me, it was an important reinforcement of social values that took a bit of a knock recently when someone stole money from a fatally injured victim lying on the road in Singapore, instead of helping her.
Every time something like this happens, it knocks a little wind out of society. The Chinese call it stealing food from a beggar's bowl.
As our city continues its journey towards acquiring greater wealth, people are becoming concerned that the new generation is falling into the British "I'm alright, Jack!" mentality.
This is an individualistic attitude among Britons who regard someone's - or society's - problems as none of their business. The world is fine if they themselves are all right.
I thought I would write about my experience this week because I feel our country has reached a stage where its well-being now depends more on what its citizens do collectively - and less on the government.
In our rat race, we see more acts of uncaring behaviour and poor upbringing every day - young commuters pretending to read just to avoid giving up their seats to senior citizens or pet animals being tortured to death for fun.
Last Saturday, I experienced something that pushed my own pendulum of hope back to the middle, restoring my sense of confidence that Singaporeans, with exceptions, are largely well brought up.
I went to the airport to pick up my wife who had just returned from a trip and fell victim to my own carelessness. It was 7pm on a Saturday, a peak period.
As my domestic helper was pushing a trolley with two heavy bags up an escalator, she prematurely pressed down the handle that released the brake.
It began to roll backwards and toppled sideways, spilling the heavy content.
Fearing it would knock people lower down the escalator, I tried to stop it with my hands and body, forgetting something important - that I was 72 years old and not 27.
My body crumpled under the weight of the trolley and the bags which pinned down my legs, while the moving escalator was continuing to push me upwards.
Immediately, some half a dozen strangers, including airport staff, rushed to help, lifting the bags from me.
Someone shouted: "Stop the escalator!" I felt a hand protecting my head from being pressed against the side of the escalator.
"I have called for an ambulance," shouted a young Chinese man with his wife or girlfriend. Ready hands helped me to a row of chairs.
I heard a voice saying: "It's all right, uncle, don't be afraid. We're here."
My trousers were soaked in blood rather profusely because of a special reason. A heart patient, I had been taking wafarin, a blood-thinning pill to prevent clotting.
Another bystander brought a glass of ice; two cleaning women - a Malay and an Indian - appeared with rolls of paper to press on my wound to stem the bleeding. It was a multi-racial effort.
I later saw the wound. The accident had torn a patch of skin about two by four inches off my left leg. A blood clot of about half a ping-pong ball appeared on my right leg.
To cut the story short, I ended up at Changi's Emergency Room, where doctors surgically taped the wound, a rather painful process.
I am now recovering thanks to this spontaneous multi-racial operation by people I had never met before.
This is a good story which could happen in Singapore or Malaysia or most other countries.
However tough the rat race gets in this over-crowded city, a cry for help still brings out the best in people whatever their race, age or educational level.
When I told this story to a friend, he commented my plight was because it happened in an international airport where the level of civic consciousness is generally higher.
He is probably right. Perhaps in some poorer areas, the level of help might have been less. In some places, Singaporeans are known to simply stare and do nothing to help.
An indication of it I was fortunate enough to experience last week. Statistics also showed that 30% of crimes were solved with the active help of the public.
There were more encouraging signs in recent months.
While colleagues spent their December in Europe or Hong Kong, three environmental engineering students went to Kandy, Sri Lanka, and helped villagers to keep their water clean.And a taxi driver found S$410,000 (RM1.01mil) in gold left in his vehicle by a passenger. He tracked him down and returned the fortune.
Singapore is only 47 years old, one of the newest countries in the world.
Just a couple hundred years ago, our migrant forefathers had arrived as refugees, fighting off others for space and food for themselves - and not too concerned about civic responsibility.
Since then, a new generation of Singaporeans has emerged, better educated and richer, but a bit of the "fighting off others" attitude still prevails.
The bigger problem, I'm told, lies with an "evade-trouble" mentality, which means that when one sees trouble, get out of the way.
If true, it can indicate trouble, especially if it means that if the country is attacked, run.