I currently live in a rented HDB apartment in Yishun. Soaring rentals forced my wife and I to move out of the (slightly-decrepit) condominium apartment that we had lived in for 2 years since moving to Singapore.
Despite the occasional sense of regret about the lack of facilities at your doorstep (swimming pools, gymnasium etc.), my wife and I settled in fairly quickly into the new HDB flat. We both agreed that atleast one thing was common between our old apartment and the new place – neighbors who stayed at the head-nodding stage when we passed by each other in the corridor.
That all changed this past Sunday evening. At around 4 PM, a series of knocks and insistent doorbells rings bring me to the door – to find 2 policemen standing outside, eyeing me suspiciously. They inform me that they have received complaints about a clothes-stand outside the apartment “blocking the corridor”. I apologize and tell them I will move it closer to the corridor walls. The policeman shuffles his feet and says something about “That’s upto you sir but… “. When I push him about what I should do – he says “Actually, they are saying because of your clothes-stand, they cannot open the windows in their apartment”.
I blank for a few seconds here – They? They who? And then suddenly it dawns – my neighbors! My head-nodding, never-disturbing, back-stabbing sons of bitches neighbors had gone to the police! Apparently, we were getting in the way of their million-dollar view of the identical windows of the HDB apartment block next-door. So instead of coming over, knocking on our door and asking us to remove the offending pieces of clothing – they got the Singapore police to their dirty work for them.
Just when the confusion and shock had passed and anger was beginning to set in, I see that one of the neighbors was talking to the police – “Why are you talking to them? He is a tenant! Call the landlord! Ask him for the landlord’s number!”. The anger disappeared and fear gripped me. It’s an open secret that most HDB flats rented out are not legally allowed to do so – hence the phenomenon of the “locked room“. My neighbor knew this and by trying to drag the dubious legality of my rental agreement into this, had just upped the stakes. I either acquiesced or faced scrutiny from 2 or even 3 other government departments.
I man-handled the offending clothes-stand into the apartment, then handed over my identity card to the police-officer for his records.
As I closed the apartment door, a bitter taste flooded my mouth – the acrid taste of racism. Sure, all of us have had chinese folks (typically ladies between the ages of 25 and oh, 100) remain standing on the MRT than sit next to us or even stand up and dash to the opposite side when a seat became available. We have heard the stories of cab-drivers refusing to stop for Indians waiting near popular watering-holes, as we don’t tip like the rich ang-mohs do. But these were stories of strangers – surely people who knew us, who saw us everyday could look past our skin colour?
I now know better – the chinese in Singapore, rather than have their sensibilities offended by having to talk to the “native” can get the Singapore police to do it for them. Even better, it appears the Singapore police have nothing better to do than resolve complaints of underwear fouling someone’s feng-shui.
The final bonus? I now have a police record for the first time in my life – Woo fucking hoo.