Changing positions in small spaces

Oct 19, 2016 09.00PM |

by Bertha Henson

NOW that the chuckling, blaming and finger pointing is over, I’m going to weigh in on the issue of having sex in small spaces.

So we’ve chosen to enlarge and interpret, translate and illustrate Mrs Josephine Teo’s straightforward response on why couples don’t have to wait for a HDB flat before having a child. It’s being looked at from so many angles that we’ve overcrowded the small space.

Then academic Donald Low weighs in, saying he agrees with Mrs Teo but takes issue with her comparison of couples in Singapore and those in the West who don’t seem to have any hang-ups about when or where to have sex.

Said Mrs Teo: “In France, in the UK, in the Nordic countries, man meets woman, tonight they can make a baby already. They love each other. Both of them partly have their own family, so it is a matter of living in yours or living in mine, and they also don’t have to worry about marriage — that comes later.”

Mr Low’s response: “But you cannot bemoan the fact that Singaporean couples aren’t more like the French or Nordics AND at the same time not provide the comprehensive, state-financed welfare services to children and parents. To do so is to engage in cherry-picking: you wish for Singaporeans to behave a bit more like the Europeans, but you refuse to contemplate a Nordic or French welfare state.”

Interesting. But what I found more interesting is how Singapore as a country is trying to overturn or upend some ingrained mindsets in recent years.

This is the chain of life in Singapore: go to school, get a degree, get a job, find a mate, book a flat, marry and move into flat. Then work harder, have a kid, sell the flat after five years, get another flat, maybe have another kid and add a maid and add a car.

Then work harder or change jobs and retire as early as possible, never mind the retirement age.

We’ve succeeded in changing some of the above. For example, we’ve succeeded in making a polytechnic education sexy and desirable.

In fact, we bend over backwards to say it’s better to be skilful than exam smart. Even universities have gotten in on the act of giving degrees in something that is “applied” rather than purely academic. The latest is UniSIM, which will be a full-fledged autonomous university by next year.

We have succeeded somewhat in breaking another link in the chain: get a job. While it was de rigueur that graduates head for well-paying jobs in big companies, now becoming your own boss is quite in vogue. Entrepreneurs are lauded. The trouble is, we seem to be starting cafes, bakeries and ice cream parlours, rather than creating something new and useful.

Now we’re in the throes of breaking another link: that you can work harder and harder and get somewhere. We’re now told this isn’t possible if we don’t keep learning and re-learning. Hence the SkillsFuture programme which subsidised every adult citizen who wants to try his hand at learning something different.

It’s a big push by the G. I doubt there would be many people taking up the programmes if they didn’t have the SkillsFuture credit to use.

What are the other links that need breaking? The “get a car” mindset. So much money is being poured into public transport infrastructure that car owners should think about whether they should take advantage of their own tax dollars and ride the train or bus.

But now with a sharing economy in vogue, rather than going car-lite, people are finding ways to earn money while driving. Don’t you think with Uber and Grab, there are many more cars on the roads these days?

Another link is Mrs Teo’s big bugbear: the “have a flat, then have a child” mentality. It’s actually tied in with another ingrained mindset: to own a place, not rent. Home ownership is such a big deal in Singapore that few consider other options.

Baby boomers would be au fait with having to rent a bedroom or an apartment on getting married. The HDB flat can come later. But increasingly, the lack of a flat has been blamed for our birthing woes, something that even the G acknowledges when it came up with the housing scheme to reduce the waiting time for young couples buying flats for the first time.

The trouble is, the G, like any good government, is used to responding to complaints from citizens. In any case, providing subsidised homes for married couples is in line with its objective of achieving full or near-full ownership. Life is therefore laid up.

The next stage of adulthood is becoming a parent and owning a home – at the same time. It’s like a big bang, not incremental improvements.

Mrs Teo said some nice things about the millennials being adaptable. I hope that like jobs, which come and go quite quickly these days and which can be full-time, part-time, contract or working from home or being your own boss, millennials will realise that bringing up a family doesn’t always have to be along a straight line.

There’s another link in the chain that looks likely to be broken by G fiat: buying subsidised flats and making a windfall on selling them five years later.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong described it as winning a lottery. It’s after all, quite by chance that you land a flat in a much-desired location. And being the gambling nation that we are, we congratulate the winner rather than moan about inequitable outcomes.

The flat becomes an investment, not a home. Attempts to keep the community in place with subsidised upgrading exercises don’t quite work, except to make the place even easier to sell at even higher price. Good luck to the G if it thinks it can break the link without causing a huge outcry. It has become an entitlement, not a privilege.

Looking at the above, it isn’t the economy alone which is being disrupted, but the way we think we should live as a society. Maybe given that we live in such a small space, we can change positions faster.


Featured image by Natassya Diana.

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