S M Ong: Trust me, people shouting at you can make you return your tray
Dear National Environment Agency,
It was one of the most humiliating experiences in my life.
And I wrote Phua Chu Kang The Movie, so I am familiar with public humiliation.
I was having lunch at a staff cafeteria that I had never been to before.
This was a number of years ago, so I do not recall exactly where it was and why I was there even though I was not a staff member.
What I do remember is after finishing my meal, as I started to walk away from my table, I was startled when the cafeteria suddenly erupted with angry shouting.
It was alarming how quickly the previously civilised office workers calmly eating their food turned unhinged and rabid.
What was even scarier was realising that their feral rage was directed at me. They looked like they were about to rip me to shreds.
What did I do?
Eventually, I figured out from the angry shouting that my fellow diners were extremely upset at me for leaving my tray of dirty dishes on the table.
I looked around and saw signs reminding people to return their trays, which I hadn't noticed before. I felt like such an idiot.
I swiftly picked up my tray and searched for where I could return it.
The shouting finally died down and my fellow diners let me live.
How was I to know that returning trays was part of the workplace culture there?
Talk about peer pressure. I wonder how many noobs were similarly traumatised into compliance like I was.
Yes, there were signs, but in most places where I have eaten, the signs are ignored and no one cares.
And that is probably why you announced last Friday that you are making it mandatory for diners in hawker centres to return their trays and clear their table litter from June 1, with the threat of fines of up to $2,000 for repeat offenders.
NO DINING OUT
Wait, but on Friday, it was also announced that from yesterday, dining out is banned until June 13 because of the surge of Covid-19 cases in the community.
So as much as we would love to return our trays and clean our table litter after eating in the hawker centre from June 1, unfortunately, we won't even be allowed to eat in any hawker centre from June 1 to 13.
This throwback to tighter Covid-19 restrictions must have caught you by surprise. Like Bennifer, it is a sequel or reboot no one asked for.
I get it. The Government is a huge place. It happens.
All I am asking for is this.
You announced that there will be a grace period of three months from June 1 for people to adjust to this new return-your-tray rule. You will start enforcement only from Sept 1.
But since we will be permitted to start eating at hawker centres again only from June 14 (fingers crossed), can you also start enforcement from Sept 14 so that we get the full three months of the grace period?
Don't you wish Miss Universe Singapore had "Return your tray" written on her national costume instead of "Stop Asian hate"?
It is really too bad you have to resort to fines to force people to return their trays.
If only angry shouting could work nationwide.
Or can it?