Another Reason to Love the People of Singapore

The coronoavirus has become a global news story, and each country is giving advice to its citizens as to how to best deal with the coronavirus.

The most agreed upon preventive measure seems to be frequent hand washing.

Another preventive measure, but not as universally accepted, is the use of facial masks.

In Singapore, the government has issued a statement that a mask only needs to be worn if you are ill so that you do not spread whatever is affecting you. Otherwise, there is little, if any, benefit to be gained from wearing a mask.

However, such advice has not stopped the frenzy surrounding the purchase of face masks.

We have not been able to find any facial masks at any of the places we have tried. When one of the local stores announced that they would be receiving a shipment later that day, a long, long line (or queue, as they call it here) began forming well before the masks were scheduled to arrive. The picture above shows one such line.

As you might imagine, the masks sold out quickly, and there were not enough for everyone in line.

We did not join the line, since we did not feel a mask was of immediate concern since we were not feeling ill. However, even though we felt fine, I must admit that having a mask for each of us would give us one less thing to worry about. In addition, since we have some upcoming travel plans, we would all feel better if we had a mask, especially while in confined places like an airplane or other highly trafficked areas.

As usually happens in such “panics” some people have tried to take advantage of the situation and started charging exorbitant prices for the masks. In addition, I would think a natural response in such a situation is that once you had some masks, you would guard them with your life, and would only share them if necessary, with family and close friends.

Fortunately, that has not been the attitude of a few people we have gotten to know in Singapore.

This past Friday we took a trip with the students to Malaysia. In an abundance of caution, the program leader had bought several face masks prior to the shortage, and she has been willing to share those maks with the students and with me and my family. Despite the advice about masks, I did feel protected wearing the mask around Malaysia.

But that was not the end of the kindness showed to us by Singaporeans regarding masks.

Earlier today I had sent a text message to one of the property managers where we are living about a minor issue with our apartment. I also asked him where we could pick up masks, since I had read about how the government had started a distribution system for many households in Singapore. When he stopped by to take care of our first issue, he also asked us if we were having trouble getting masks. When we answered affirmatively, he took four face masks out of his backpack and gave them to us. These were from his personal collection.

The final incident occurred a couple of hours later when I entered my classroom building. I have gotten to know the woman who works at the front desk a little bit, and she always has a warm welcome when we see each other. When I stopped by her desk today to say hello, I mentioned that we were traveling to Bangkok this weekend. She assured us that we would be fine, but offered the basic advice noted above, regarding hand-washing and masks. When I said we were having trouble getting masks, she walked over to her purse and took a couple out to give to me. I tried to protest, but she insisted, saying they were extra ones that she had.

I came away from all of these encounters impressed with how unselfish people were with something that was in critical demand, and potentially life-saving.

These three people are what one might call familiar strangers, people whom you know from seeing them on a frequent basis, but you have little interaction with them.

So for them to offer my family and I some of their masks was incredibly moving.

Like many other things I’ve noticed here, such behavior may simply be part of the culture, or it could be that I just happen to know three wonderful people.

Either way, we are grateful for their generosity, and they have taught me a lesson in kindness that I hope becomes a natural part of my behavior moving forward.

By the way, the line shown above is not nearly as bad as the one that formed in Hong King to buy some masks.

31 thoughts on “Another Reason to Love the People of Singapore

  1. Though I’ve never been to that part of the world, I’m guessing that your experiences with these individuals are more a reflection of the culture than having the good fortune of meeting some kind folks.

    I often found that the parents of my non-native English students were often some of the most respectful people I encountered as a teacher. It seemed not only were they respectful to me, but I often found that this attitude transferred to their children. When education is treated with great importance within a culture, it’s not surprising that their children were often some of my best students.


  2. These stories are heartwarming, thank you for sharing them! What should bring concern to our hearts is that such basic acts of kindness are so rare that they deserve this special attention. Shouldn’t that be the norm?


    1. I agree that it should be the norm, but it seems that we’ve gotten further from such a norm in recent years. I’m hoping things will change for the better, soon.


  3. Holy cow Jim! Here in Toronto the city is sold out of masks too. It’s a crisis I tell ya! I heard Amazon was sold out too! I gave up looking for masks in all our big box places sold out everywhere. As we are planning on leaving soon for our winter getaway I was in a panic for masks for the airplane. I too was grateful for my tiny little independent pharmacist who had held back one box of masks for people who were actually sick and for those traveling, and he sold 4 to me for $1.75 a piece! Supply and demand! Crazy I tell ya. Just one thing I’d also like to add: many news reports say that you don’t need to wear a mask if you aren’t sick – other than airplanes. But I disagree. This virus can start symptomless in its incubation stage, while people aren’t yet feeling sick they can still pass on germs if they are. Take heed! 🙂


    1. how kind of your pharmacist – shows the power of getting to know and support local small business owners. I’m glad you were able to get some masks! And thanks for the advice about wearing the mask – I had not thought about it from that perspective – makes perfect sense. We will be wearing them!


  4. Do the masks have some filtration system? We have been issued a warning in our business that there will be a world wide shortage and prices will increase. We sell specialised masks for use in industrial settings. These would be the most effective but might still not contain the virus which spreads by hand more rapidly. Remember to wipe after touching anything used in public, especially ATM’s etc.


    1. the masks we have are just basic surgical masks which really don’t do much from a filtration standpoint. I think they are mostly used to stop people who are sick from spreading their germs. Thanks for the advice on wiping, but even hand sanitizer if tough/impossible to find!


  5. I would agree that some of the generosity and kindness you have been afforded is steeped in a much more respectful culture, as a whole. But some of it is a reflection on you. The respect, generosity, compassion and genuine caring you receive is a reflection of what you give. I think it may be simply that people are choosing to treat you the way you are treating them. This may be a clear case of karma! Stay safe, be well, and enjoy your family!


    1. thank you, Brad. I hope some of what you say about me is true, but there is no mistaking how kind the people here have been. It happened again today. We got lost trying to find a mall (Google Maps couldn’t even help us). An older Asian woman saw that classic confused look on my face and asked if we needed help. We said we did, and then she proceeded to walk with us for five minutes to where we were going, which was in the exact opposite direction of where she had been heading.


  6. Your experience in Singapore is enhanced by seeing how an unfamiliar country and culture treats others during a crisis. Maybe the best thing about a mask is people can’t touch their mouths which is how many germs enter the body. My two cents is that the way you and your family have been treated during this crisis is due to an understanding of right and wrong. Americans don’t care much about right and wrong anymore. I agree with the prior comment that the good treatment you have received is also related to how you have treated the people you have met in Singapore.


  7. What a sweet experience in the middle of a crisis. ❤ My family lives in the Philippines to be honest I'm super worry about this virus 😦


  8. Carl Schmitt once wrote that in a time of “crisis”, democracies will leave their kindness and hospitality at the door and suspend their constitutional niceties because they believe drastic measures are needed. While unfortunately, specifically in the west, that’s true – this post has definitely defied that opinion. Thank you.


    1. Thank you for your comment. I don’t know who Carl Schmitt is, but I would disagree with him and say that in times of a crisis that is when people rally around and support each other. I think of events like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and Superstorm Sandy. While there were isolated incidents of people taking advantage of others, I think for the most part people were at their best during such disasters.


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