Is this my Singapore?


Last week from Mon to Fri, I took my meal break at Joo Koon MRT Station with my colleague Train Officer ‘Anak Abu’. We were supposed to travel back to Jurong Crew Station for our one hour meal break after ‘stepping out’ from our trains at Joo Koon station. We would have to travel back to Joo Koon from Jurong station to intercept our trains after taking our meal break.

To save time, we brought along our food and took our meal at Joo Koon station staff rest room. We had one and half hour to enjoy our meal relaxing there.

Train Officer ‘Anak Abu’ brought his home cooked food whereas I bought mine from the coffee shop when I reported for work. There is no coffee shop at Joo Koon station. It’s like a deserted ghost town there.

Since TO Anak Abu brought his meal from home, usually he had more than enough. He would share some of his home-cooked food with me. I can’t share mine with him cuz Muslims don’t consume non-halal Chinese cooked food. In return, I bought him a can drink or 3 in 1 coffee sachet. It’s a win win situation for us.

The routine is always the same. We would heat up our food separately in the micro ovens. The company supplied two micro ovens in every station for staff. For Muslim and non Muslim food.

After our dinner, I would just relax reading ‘Today’ in the staff room and sometimes chit chat with the station staff also taking their rest and meal there. TO Anak Abu would proceed quietly to the ‘prayer corner’ to have his evening prayer. There is a ‘prayer corner’ in every station. As Singaporeans, we got along quite well.

For the one week of interactions, I learnt from TO Anak Abu that he had bought a 4S brand new HDB flat at Blk 221A Bedok Central on the 16th floor more than one year ago at $368,000. It’s only 87 sq m. The smallest 4 room flat.

My parents’ 4A model at Pasir Ris bought from HDB in 1994 is 105 sq m. So much bigger and it cost $101,000 then. That was 18 years ago.

Train Officer Anak Abu kept complaining that he had to use up all his monthly CPF contributions to service his 25 yrs housing loan after paying for his medisave. There is no saving in his CPF account even if he retires unless his current stagnant pay of $1,850 increases. He is one grade below me. He has reached his maximum pay ceiling.

That’s not all. I also learnt from him that another recently married Malay colleague Train Officer ‘Zaidi Blond’ wanted to buy a HDB flat in the same block cuz there are few left over unsold units due to some unknown reasons. They like to get their flats around Bedok area cuz it’s near to our working place at Tanah Merah MRT station.

That colleague could not afford it due to insufficient CPF for the 20% downpayment. You see for the same 4S flat in the same block but at the second floor, the price has shot up to $436,000! Within one and half years, the same flat on second floor (TO Anak Abu’s flat is on 16th floor) has increased by $68,000 just like that! He had to give up. He had to try his luck in Sengkang or maybe get a three room flat instead.

Now the interesting question is why the price of the same flat at second floor instead of sixteen floor has gone up so high by $68,000? The costs of the flats should be the same cuz they were built at the same time. Why is it so?

Imagine if another Singaporean couple (only citizens can buy direct from HDB) were to buy that flat and later found out the huge price difference, how would they feel? How would you feel if you happen to be that couple? Bitter? Angry? Cheated?

The truth hurts. You will surely feel cheated and bitter over this $436,000 4S flat purchased as a first timer direct from the HDB. Will you support this government since you are so bitter and sore? I doubt so. I’m just speaking the truth as a Singaporean with feelings.

With a stagnant pay of an average of $2,000 over a month and having to service the housing loan for 25 yrs of your working life, do you still have any more cash for retirement?

The above living example is a stark reality on this 700 sq km where we belong, where space costs a premium. Space in the air in this case (not landed property) and space on the road with COEs breaking $100,000! We also fight for space in the trains and buses etc.


Is it due to the extra two million of immigrants on this little rock of 700 sq km we call home that resulted in the lack of space? Or is it due to inflation? If in a year, the same flat on a much lower floor shot up by an extra of $68,000, can you imagine what would happen in three to five years’ time? I shudder to ponder over the consequence nightmare. We are only talking about few years later.

I then tried to pacify TO Anak Abu by telling him that in five years’ time, he is allowed to sell off his flat and he would make a huge profit! He retorted that he still got to buy another sky high rocket price flat. He got no place to go and still need a flat to live in. He says unless we are like Train Officer Tin where he bought his 4 room flat in the open market many years ago so cheap. When he retires to Sabah, he could sell it off and reap tons of money whereas we got no choice but stay put here. We will live and die here. This is our country and this is our home.

Train Officer Tin is a PR refusing to take up citizenship. He has it all plan out for his retirement. He already bought land and built a huge freehold house in Sabah. In another few years time – in fact any time from now if he feels like it – he could just cash out his CPF and sell off his flat to return to his hometown. He will bring his family back to Sabah. He could easily bring back to Sabah more than RM1,000,000! Sale of his 4 room flat plus all his CPF savings.

There are many PRs like Train Officer Tin. Some are from Sarawak, Sabah and Johore Bahru. Those that live in JB commute daily to work here. With OT and allowances converted to RM, it’s easily more than RM6,000 per month. Only professionals earn that kind of pay there.


Usually those PR Train Officers are very hard working. They work round the clock treating our 700 sq km little rock as a gold mine. The incentives are strong cuz they can always buy more land and houses back home. As citizens of this 700 sq km ‘gold mine’, we can’t even afford to buy a government subsidized flat as in TO Zaidi Blond’s case! We are different from those PRs.

If their performance is tip top and got a good appraisal from their supervisors, they could even hit more than RM15,000 year end 13th mth pay plus 3 months of bonuses! They really love Singapore and they heap praises on our government. Why not? No reason for them not to.

They are the greatest beneficiaries of this unique Dual Economic System where they work hard to earn their money here and spend it in their own country of origin. Their roots are still in their country of origin. Their parents, friends and relatives network is still intact back in their villages. Whereas, we do not have that.

Those PRs need not waste two years of their life serving NS. They need not go back for yearly two weeks of in-camp reservist training until 40 yrs old. When we go back for our reservist training, they cover our jobs by doing OT to earn extra income. That is a fact.

Benefits wise, they are no different from citizens. They got everything like medical care, resale flats or even education for their children. It’s just that they pay a little extra than us. They pity us cuz our CPF is locked up by this regime. Their CPF is not locked up. I could go on and on. It only pains my heart and make me cry in tears. I have been talking about Malaysian PRs. What about India, China or Philippines PRs?

Those were some of the issues Train Officer Anak Abu and myself discussed throughout the one week of meal break time at Joo Koon station. The fact is we envy those PRs in our midst. How we wish to change places with those PRs and become beneficiaries of this spectacular unique Dual Economic System! An oasis for PRs at the expense of indigenous citizens.

We are not proud to be Singaporeans. We curse our fate as citizens of this country. How to have an inclusive society when there is no morale? How to fight and win a war when citizens are dishearten and feel cheated?

I feel much closer and at ease with Train Officers like Anak Abu even though those PRs are Chinese. We are Singaporeans. We grew up together sharing the same ideals in schools and living environment and even been through NS together. We had stories of NS days to share and relate.

We know where we stand as citizens of this country. In the meantime, there is nothing much we could do. Life still got to go on and trains must move. We only wish that our children will have a better future than us. We do not want our children to end up like us short-changed and losing out to those PRs!


PS: Reproduced from this post for easy reading instead of retrieving it from the archive.

“The opinions expressed here are my own and do not reflect the official policies, practices or opinions of SMRT or any organisation with which I may be affiliated.”