Five years ago I packed my bags, waved goodbye to Jarkata and moved to Singapore for college. By the campus was Burlington Square. In there was a famous fish noodles stall. Day in and out, long queues snaked from the stall. Why? It's famous and it tastes good.
In Jarkata, we tend not to queue. It's a waste of time. We do queue, but not as orderly. At a famous street food stall, people come from every direction. Whoever gets the attention of the seller wins their time. In Singapore, people are willing to spend their time queueing to get something that is really good – to trade their time for it. For ten Singaporeans willing to queue, there are five or four Indonesians willing to do the same.
Here, people are obsessed with being orderly. Even with the urban landscape – the streets are so neat. And people tend to naturally want to queue. It's what is right, staying in order. Like when you view these photographs, you can clearly see that the crowds are orderly. It's the sum of many parts – people naturally belong to a queue. Everyone falls into place spontaneously. It's as if it's in their nature to know how to queue and form a very nice queue.
By a very nice queue, the lines are straight and they are not haphazard. There's an unspoken code – to not disrupt other hawkers' business or block their stall fronts. I'm always impressed that the queues are actually nice and pleasant.
The queueing in itself is not a problem since everyone is waiting around quietly. The wider issue is the culture of, the pressing need to always win and be first. Waiting patiently in the queue is, perhaps, a form of passive-aggressiveness. People want to get the first dibs on things – food, clothes, iPhones, technology, concert tickets, flight boarding amongst others. They want to get it first. It points at the culture of competitiveness.
Yet, what is the value of time spent queueing?
We either make daily choices or life-changing choices. These, like queueing for food, are daily choices. Take, for example, I was queueing for Hokkien Mee the other day. It was a 30-minute wait. If someone is buying that almost every day in the week, he will be spending three hours in queue per week. The time spent, you can do something else. If he queues for it only once in a while, there is nothing wrong with that. The thing is, you can settle for second best in life.
It boils down to the fear of losing out, the fear of being second to others.
Now that I've been living here for six years, the Singaporean culture has changed me. Previously, when I encountered things like that I will naturally avoid it. But now when I see a long queue, I tend to think the food is good. And I will join in. Now I queue nicely. That's something I've learnt from Singapore – how to queue nicely.
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