The sheer cruelty of witnessing the body of a frail, helpless little girl lying in the middle of the streets swamped in a pool of blood should have been more than anyone could bear.
The conspicuous location of her body on the road, the amount of blood on the ground – just any one of these two signs would have prompted a passer-by to rush to her rescue or dial 911.
Not so in this case.
The girl, Yue Yue, is now in hospital and has been declared brain dead after she was run over – twice – by a van and then a lorry in the southern Chinese city, Foshan over the weekend.
According reports, 18 people walked without lifting a hand before, of all people, a kindly 57-year-old female rubbish collector stopped to attend to her broken body.
Yue Yue is only two.
The story and the video has since gone viral. And as I’m writing this, I am just as perplexed and outraged as you are. As one Chinese netizen put it, "This society is seriously ill. Even cats and dogs shouldn't be treated so heartlessly."
But hang on a moment. Before jumping onto the expected anti-China bandwagon and slamming the Chinese, let’s pause for a moment for introspection. Would Singaporeans have done any different?
I struggle to recall a similar life-or-death example in Singapore – and hopefully I will never have to – but two incidents spring to mind.
In October 1995, five bystanders watched while Giordano assistant shop manager Mr Tan Wee Leang, 22, struggled with a robber in broad daylight in Orchard Road. A subsequent survey revealed S’poreans were cautious of becoming involved because the robber could have been armed and dangerous.
Then in April 1998, a girl was beaten and punched in Chinatown for declining two old men’s inappropriate advances. It was peak hour and more than 50 passers-by. But it seemed everyone was too busy to care. Yet others assumed it was a lover’s spat.
After all, from the pervasive societal norms of cutting queues, the ungraciousness experienced in MRT trains daily, to the level of customer service one receives, would it be fair to expect Singaporeans to react any differently? How else can one explain that even basic courtesies such as queuing and saying “Please” and “Thank You” have to be taught by Singa, the Lion and the National Courtesy Campaign.
Too busy to care?
Or do Singaporeans generally suffer from, as CNNGO journalist Alexis Ong cleverly coined, the “Not Giving a Damn (NGD)” syndrome?
She cited a police simulation late last year where the police had set up car bomb scenarios across the island, and all the necessary props such as smoke, ticking noises and gas containers in the passenger seat. One of the locations chosen was Orchard Road. Only a pitiful 4 percent of peak-hour passengers were sufficiently alarmed to dial 999.
Are we too busy and caught up in our own lives that we have lost touch of our own humanity?
Despite all of this, I am hopeful. Yeah you wouldn’t have guessed it from reading until now but I DO think of my fellow Singaporeans as compassionate people.
I myself have witnessed two incidents when Singaporeans selflessly and readily rendered help.
The first was about seven years back where a middle-aged foreign domestic worker had collapsed after apparently having had a stroke. When I came across her, a lady was already calling for an ambulance. Another more recent instance was how business executives on the way home during peak hour stopped to help an elderly woman who had lost her balance and fallen near an MRT station. They not only dialled for the ambulance and notified her next of kin but most offered to wait until she was in safe hands.
And lest you think I am here to judge, let me assure you, I’m not.
I am merely asking all of us, me included, to hold a mirror up and look at our own reflection before casting the proverbial stone on others.
How would you have reacted if you had come across the broken baby girl on the street?
Would you have pretended to look away and walked on?
Would you have been too busy to care?
The writer previously wrote for an array of portals like Youth.SG and The Online Citizen. She now writes at her own blog in her free time.