Recently in June, an incident portraying the obnoxious attitude of a woman who berated a deaf and mute cleaner at the Jem food court for clearing her food even though she repeatedly told him not to, as well as the manager who tried to explain the cleaner’s disabilities. This fiasco was entirely recorded in a video that was uploaded on Facebook, causing an uproar amongst netizens. The cleaner, Mr Png Lye Heng, 64, mentioned in an interview that he was “slightly hurt” by the scolding, but had forgiven the woman, Ms Fong. Although Mr Png said he enjoyed working at the food court and did not find it difficult to work there, he wanted to leave his job after the incident.
Although this incident shed negative light on Singaporeans’ intolerant attitude towards those with disabilities, it also brought out the kindhearted generosity of others, such as Mr Ang, an SME (small and medium-sized enterprises) owner, who is interested in hiring him to work at one of the two ramen shops he runs if he proves to be a good fit as it would be his first time hiring an employee with disabilities. Another also expressed his interest in hiring Mr Png as a steward or cleaner at his chain of Thai restaurants. In addition, Singaporeans have also been spotted at the food court handing Mr Png gifts such as supermarket vouchers.
Personally, I feel that one valuable lesson from this incident is that one should not be quick to make assumptions, nor raise one’s temper. In Ms Fong’s scenario, it would have paid to be observant in Mr Png’s lack of reaction towards her, and attempted hand gesturing or just letting the incident go, instead of raising her voice and berating him, causing a commotion that disrupted everyone’s dining experience, and drawing unnecessary attention to herself. Although it was also due to an oversight on the management and Mr Png’s side as he did not wear a badge to make his disability more obvious to others, it still gave a poor reflection of Ms Fong’s character due to the commotion she created about the incident.
However, what chills my heart the most is how nobody stood up for Mr Png while he was being berated, or even when the manager tried to resolve the conflict. The overwhelming majority of bystanders merely looking on and commenting on Ms Fong’s behaviour online via social media platforms, to the extreme of tracking down her personal particulars such as her job and address, makes me feel disheartened. What is the point of harassing her by sending spiteful letters to her mailbox and tracking down her employer? Nonetheless, the question remains: why did everyone take a bystander stand, instead of protecting Mr Png from the verbal abuse he was being hurled?
Chloe Kho (2P)