The Ride Etiquette is the final-year project of Nanyang Technological University students (from left) Miss Fadzeera Mohamad Fadzully, 22, Miss Lim Woan, 23, Miss Cynthia Soe Thiri Swe, 22, and Miss Atheena Amira Samsuri, 22.
Writer Charlotte Ashton should have just asked when she needed help, say four undergraduates from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication at Nanyang Technological University (NTU).
Miss Atheena Amira Samsuri, 22, says the British woman went overboard when she said Singapore has a massive compassion deficit. “It’s a generalisation of a nation and completely untrue to say Singapore lacks compassion,” she says.
Her conviction stems from the results of social experiments her team conducted last month as part of their final-year project, The Ride Etiquette.
The others on the team are Miss Cynthia Soe Thiri Swe, 22; Miss Lim Woan, 23; and Miss Fadzeera Mohamad Fadzully, 22.
With the help of a pillow and some industrial tape, Miss Atheena posed as a pregnant woman taking the MRT train. To emphasise the “pregnancy” as she boarded the train, she stroked her belly and put her hands at her waist to support the “extra weight”.
Eight out of 10 times, someone offered her a seat within seconds. And she did not need to ask.
An elderly man even got up and offered her the reserved seat, much to the embarrassment of the younger man beside him.
“The younger man looked like he wanted to offer his seat as well, but the older man had already done so. Throughout the rest of the ride, he was very awkward,” says Miss Atheena.
Most of the time, it was the older generation who gave up their seats. In three instances, three people stood up at the same time and offered her their seats.
Their conclusion: Pregnant women don’t need to worry about getting a seat.
What then of the experience of Ms Ashton when she was 10 weeks pregnant?
Worried she was going to faint on the MRT, the British woman “crouched to the floor” with her head in her hands and was “completely ignored, for the full 15 minutes it took to reach my station”.
She shared her experience in a commentary published on the BBC website last week. It sparked discussions and prompted ministers to urge Singaporeans to reflect on what they can do to build a gracious society.
Miss Atheena, who takes public transport daily, says: “I think I know my country better. If you need help, just ask for it. Singaporeans may not look ready to help, but they will help.
“There are many incidents of people not giving up their seats. But there are many more incidents of people giving up their seats, just that no one talks about it.”
She adds that the current trend is to focus on the negative rather than the positive.
That is why their project focuses on rewarding good behaviour rather than shaming those who do not respond.
Miss Soe expected just five out of 10 to offer a seat.
“It’s a face-saving issue. People don’t want to offer help and get rejected,” says Miss Lim, adding that passengers may not have realised Ms Ashton was sick.
“When people don’t know what’s going on, they are less likely to offer help.”
The team created posters. One reads: “It’s not that we don’t care, we just don’t know. Please, tell us if you’re pregnant.”
The other posters feature perpetrators of the team’s top five pet peeves, such as Pole-Dancing Pammy, Wide-Leg Wally and Funky Fred. (See images on facing page.)
Facebook user Sally Goh commented on the team’s Facebook page: “Sometimes I just can’t differentiate a pregnant woman at the early stage of pregnancy from one who is just bigger in size. I’m afraid I’d offend a woman if I give up my seat only to realise that she is not pregnant.”
While it was the older generation who offered their seats, those in their 20s and 30s helped Miss Fadzeera retrieve her belongings in another social experiment.
She entered an MRT train on a weekday afternoon, heavily laden with papers and files. While standing in the middle of a carriage, she “tripped” and let her belongings fall across the floor.
Six out of 10 times, someone helped her to pick them up. But in one instance, two men in their 20s just sat in their seats and giggled at her plight.
In both experiments, commuters who responded positively were given stickers with the slogan “Thanks for not being a &#!$@%”.
The group chose the topic of passenger courtesy because it is “where we want to see the most change”.
“There are a lot of complaints online, and we feel it is a good time to address this problem,” adds Miss Lim.
The posters were displayed at an art exhibition at The Substation last month.
Singapore Kindness Movement director-general William Wan said: “I like the posters. They are funny, creative, nonthreatening and make being kind and gracious fun.”
First published in The New Paper – March 26, 2014