S M Ong: Is the Anti-Chope Movement a lost cause?
I have never been a guest of honour. Have you?
I imagine it must be pretty cool. People suck up to you. They want to take pictures with you. You get free food.
Where's the downside?
That was probably what Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu thought when she was the guest of honour at the Kindness Carnival on May 25.
After all, it was organised by the Singapore Kindness Movement. What could be controversial about kindness, right?
At the carnival in East Coast Park that day, new so-called Ground-Up Movements were "inducted" by the Singapore Kindness Movement.
As the guest of honour, Ms Fu took pictures with members of the Ground-Up Movements as well as many other people at the carnival.
That was last month.
Last week, people were making rather unkind comments online about Ms Fu for supposedly "endorsing" one of those Ground-Up Movements just because she took pictures with members of that movement.
That movement is the Anti-Chope Movement.
And let me tell you, people hate it, calling it "inconsiderate", "thoughtless", "pretentious", "counter-productive", "useless", "silly", "self-righteous", "ridiculous" and "dumbest possible movement".
If a movement could be cyberbullied, this would be it.
The Anti-Chope Movement was started last year by Ms Katelin Teo, the associate general secretary of partnerships at the Singapore Kindness Movement.
Sharing her origin story on Facebook, she wrote: "What started out as a pet peeve, I have decided to take action and make a difference in hope to change social behavior, dissuading 'chope-rs' from 'chope-ing'...
"Seats at hawker centres, food courts, coffee shops, cafes and fast food restaurants are meant to be FREE-SEATING, free-for-all, it is a first-come-first get a seat (butt seated) basis."
To argue its case, the Anti-Chope Movement posted this scenario on its Facebook page: "It's lunchtime, it's the peak lunch hour at the food court, hordes of hungry humans and you're carrying your tray of hot food... you see an empty seat you make your way there only to find it being 'choped'... by tissue packs, lanyards, namecards, keys, water bottle, umbrella, newspaper... You thought it was a public and shared space!"
Ironically, many arguing for choping used the same scenario of someone carrying a tray of hot food - except to them, choping is the solution, not the problem.
Most of the comments on the Anti-Chope Movement Facebook page are anti-Anti-Chope Movement.
Example: "Trying to understand the reason for labelling the behaviour ungracious. What is the basis for the assertion that tables at kopitiams are 'first come first seated (BUTT SEATED)' (emphasis added)? What's so special about butts?"
Ask Sir Mix-a-Lot.
PRACTICAL OR PLAIN RUDE?
I suspect the movement is partly a consequence of the April 2017 Straits Times article, "Singapore's food centre chope culture: Is it practical or plain rude?", prompted by letters from readers "asking for something to be done about the 'choping' of seats at hawker centres".
ST reported: "The practice, they said, has led to quarrels and created scenarios where elderly patrons carrying trays of food are deprived of a seat.
"Others argued that tourists who have been brushed away by locals defending their reserved seats come away with a tarnished image of Singaporeans, although the Singapore Tourism Board said it has not received any feedback about this."
The Singapore Kindness Movement general secretary himself, Dr William Wan, sort of sidestepped the issue by saying: "While there is nothing to stop people from sitting at tables waiting for their food to come, they should, in the spirit of give-and-take and empathy, offer their seats to those with food in hand."
Does that mean he's pro- or anti-chope? Who knows? Perhaps he is too kind to take a stand.
The Anti-Chope Movement doesn't help its own cause by distributing cards with the "obnoxious" message, "Doing it for years doesn't make it right."
Well, it doesn't make it wrong either. If I'm a choper, that's not going to change my mind about choping.
As one Facebook commenter put it: "I would expect an associate secretary-general of the Singapore Kindness Movement to be less self-entitled and privileged to be printing passive-aggressive card that target the wrong issue.
"What's more worrying is that this exercise of self-entitlement that is the Anti-Chope Movement has received endorsements by senior ministers like Grace Fu."
And all the minister did was take a few pictures with people at the Kindness Carnival.
I hope the free food was worth it.