Kiasuism: Not just Singaporean

As much as I do not want to dislike certain things or people for the sake of disliking, it’s only human to have prejudices. When I was in Singapore working from ’93-94, I learnt the hard way that a majority of the people there did not really like me, simply because I was Malaysian. Of course, first impressions are always shallow. A few months into my stay, my Singaporean friends had learnt to accept that not all Malaysians were lowly peasants trying to make a living in their country (yes, that’s enough reason for them to “look us down”). As much as they would deny it, Singaporeans are human too.

Another thing that I learnt first-hand was that Singaporeans were innately afraid of losing out, and this ‘trait/curse’ was even proudly marketed as an an adjective that’s inherently Singaporean. For instance, if one were to line-up an hour for free coffee, one would be called kiasu, Hokkien for “scared to lose”, a term synomymous with being Singaporean. What seemed strange to me though, was that from experience, kiasuism wasn’t just Singaporean, even before I found out that they had ‘bragging’ rights to it. Malaysians too, would line up an hour for free coffee – a fact again evidenced this morning at Starbucks KL Plaza.

My hubby, a good sort at heart, thought it a good idea as part of his company’s “Customer Partner Experience” initiative to launch a ‘guerilla’-type marketing exercise here at the heart of Bukit Bintang. The effort was actually to ‘surprise’ unsuspecting Starbucks patrons/Microsoft users (direct or indirect) by offering to pay for their beverages. All the customer needed to do was to reveal, when asked, if (s)he did indeed use Microsoft products (a fact some would no doubt shrug of as another sneaky attempt by the world’s richest corporation to garner favour). Even if they did not, the point was to “make their day” – not something people do a lot of these days, especially to strangers. And to this end, Malaysians demonstrated just how Singaporean they could be.

Some guys from Berjaya from the building came down for their usual coffee, and upon discovering this ‘promotion’, called MOST of their colleagues down from the office, DURING working hours (it was about 11am) and some 45 cups of coffee were given out to about 30 people. Yes, some of them even took two, all these young, nice-looking ladies, clothed in duds that suggested that they COULD afford a RM10 grande, a few aunties of course (and aunties are the high priestesses of kiasuism), a few well-dressed men in ties – and the cleaning lady, who had no idea what Microsoft was. I will upload a photo later on as my hubby has the camera. Yup, caught all these kiasu people on camera, some clutching 2-3 frappuccinos – grande, no less. Some of them actually shirked away, not wanting to have their naked avarice frozen in time.

Seeing this, my hubby, crestfallen and angry at the same time, corrected the situation with the barristas and about 5-6 other Berjaya latecomers who thought they could stroll in leisurely for their free coffees, were firmly turned away. An aunty in red, saw red, and unperturbed, she called her manager down to question why she could not get her coffee free. Upon confirming that it was not a Berjaya Employee Appreciation Day at Starbucks, the two left, quite unhappily.

Suffice to say, this display of basic greed was not only shocking, but frankly a little unnerving. These may be the same people who tsk at the “kampung” behaviour of their rural brethren who tarpow food back from weddings. And yet here they are, in the heart of Malaysian civilisation, behaving as though their lives depended on that free frappuccino.

“Free one wor, you dowan ah?”

The next time YOU decry how afraid of losing out Singaporeans are, remember this day. I just hope noone else took pictures.

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