Singapore Day: Let’s cut OSU some slack

Singapore Day ERP

Reminding us what we love about Singapore

Singapore Day is an event organised by the Overseas Singaporean Unit (OSU) that gets rotated around major cities every year. It was held in Sydney, Australia last Saturday.

A Caucasian man was turned away at this Singaporeans-only event and subsequently decided to complain to his local radio station that it was “racist” that he and his father weren’t allowed in. He also claimed that the park, where the event was held, is public space and there were no indications that non-Singaporeans were not allowed on the advertisements.

We can only surmise that in his zest to enjoy the Singaporean food that he claimed to love (helps that it was free), he forgot to check the event website that did state that it was indeed Singaporean-only, and that he should be blaming the park management for allowing external organisations to hire a public space for exclusive events.

One wonders if he would bring up sexism or ageism on events which are women-only or seniors-only.

A valid complaint from this man was that the organisers were letting in Asian-looking visitors without verification, but checked on him because he is white and then turned him away. Bad crowd management, no doubt, but I can understand the predicament OSU faces in such events.

I speak from personal experience, having been to similar events organised by OSU. In fact, I went to the same Singapore Day event held in London back in 2009.

If you have been to such events, you will know there are a lot of non-Singaporeans turning up, sometimes entirely in groups of their own. For Singapore Day, it’s easy to see why because there is free food on offer, even if you have to queue at least half an hour at each stall to get one serving per person of delicious Singaporean cuisine. You see, queuing for free food is not just something Singaporeans love to do (though perhaps only Singaporeans would queue to get ripped off at overhyped restaurants).

And this is not some average free food we are talking about, but brand-name hawkers that OSU flew over specially to pamper overseas Singaporeans. To be honest, you could already get most of the Singaporean dishes easily in London (except Old Chang Kee curry puffs!) but it was a nice thought anyway. Even Jack Neo and Mark Lee were there to entertain.

Singapore Day Queue

Reminding us our favourite activity back home

The problem the organisers face is that many attendees won’t bother registering in advance so there’s no indication what the turnout will be. Therefore when the day starts at the event, they will normally let everyone in. As the day progresses, they realise that there are too many people and the best way to manage will be to start turning away non-Singaporeans. But because there are way too many visitors coming in drones, they start checking on those who are more likely to be foreigners based on their looks.

You could call it profiling, but I will put it down to poor crowd management. It’s a little harsh to fault them too much when they come with good intentions (and even better food). Let’s not forget they aren’t particular about letting in foreigners until capacity is reached, so please don’t say they are xenophobic or racist just because some visitors had a bad experience.

I understand that someone wrote to The Real Singapore saying that “there were no PRCs, India Indians, Bangla or Pinoys to annoy us” at the event. But this is a separate comment by an individual so we shouldn’t mix up the issue.

Non-Singaporeans gate-crashing events outside Singapore organised by OSU and its sister unit Contact Singapore (CS) are common enough. Some months back, I went to an event held jointly by CS and a local headhunter firm for London-based Singaporeans seeking jobs back in Singapore. It was a small event with less than 20 attendees where CS updated us on what’s going on in Singapore and the recruiters advised on relocation and the job market at home.

Inevitably, there were non-Singaporeans who completely ignored the fact that this was a Singaporeans-only event and took the chance to get contacts and find out more about landing a job in Singapore. Apparently, they had all heard such good things about Singapore and were eager to get a piece of the action. No issue with that, but they had simply picked the wrong event to do so. I must admit I was a little irked but obviously didn’t express it when I spoke to a Malaysian and an European (can’t remember which country). Understandably, the CS people were either too polite to turn them away at the door, or didn’t mind because it was a small group.

Some Singaporeans have been quick to criticise OSU, saying it shouldn’t be drawing a distinction between Singaporeans and foreigners. All I can say is rest assured there are other government agencies tasked with reaching out to foreigners but the job of OSU and CS is specifically to connect with overseas Singaporeans and woo them back home. They are doing a great job by the way, so let’s cut them so slack.