Being Kiasu — Bad Behaviour Rears Its Ugly Head
Put another way, kiasu means the fear of losing out.
I believe this concept is deeply rooted in the Chinese race, which at roughly 70%, makes up the majority of the population in Singapore. The very word itself derives from two characters in the Chinese language:
Kiasu is the sound of these Chinese characters spoken in dialect, typically Hokkien.
Though it sounds nearly the same in Teochew, the de-facto Chinese dialect in this country is Hokkien. I’m sure of that.
Even our Malay and Indian friends know a bit of this dialect. (And perhaps a handful of “colourful” Hokkien expletives to boot.)
What is Being Kiasu About?
Linking back to what’s discussed in Scott’s book, the premise for kiasu has to do with saving face — a very strong Chinese thing. It’s all about keeping up with the Joneses, looking good with prized possessions and what nots.
That is, not losing out to others.
Predicated on social comparisons, kiasu people are busy keeping an eye on their neighbours, peers and even the more well-to-do. They need to make sure they stay at least on par on essential, shall we say, key performance indicators.
Some Common Examples of Kiasu-ness
For example, a kiasu parent would be mindful of other parents sending their children to enrichment classes after school. If somebody else’s kid is learning to play the piano, the kiasu parent won’t let up on such (an imagined) “competition”.
On the same note, comparing grades of one’s kids with their peers is another favourite activity of kiasu parents. This often results in children having to go for tuition classes just to catch up with other kids (who seem to be scoring higher marks from) attending said classes!
In a way, such competitions are good for the economy. Witness the plethora of early education schools targetted at toddlers and pre-school-going children. Many schools shamelessly use the “Montessori” theme to brand their business so as to appeal to parents sourcing for ideal places of learning.
Never mind that the fees for attending such branded schools are sky high. After all, the exclusivity should be good for their kids, giving them a big academic head start. And anyways, that’s what being kiasu is about — the one-upmanship can be a great source of satisfaction!
Warning! More Kiasu Traits Ahead…
Some parents would relocate their homes nearer to the target schools which they wish to enroll their children in. In our system, proximity to home is a key factor influencing placement of new students in schools. So that house move is done a year or two ahead of the enrollment exercise.
Coupled with this, a few parents will take up voluntary work at their schools of choice. This work is mainly done with the hope of scoring brownie points that may favour the placement of their kids in such chosen schools. Wow, these adults are working harder than they usually would!
The topic of kiasu-ness will not be complete without mentioning the “merits” of double-queuing. If you were joining a line at the supermarket checkout lanes or ATM lobby at a mall, get your kid or partner to join another line. This can improve the chances of being serviced earlier, so the logic goes.
Despicable behaviour aside, this looks like a great formula to beat Murphy’s law on queues, don’t you think? Ah, even being kiasu has a scientific side to it, lol 🙂
Excuse Me, Can I Share This Table?
This is a question I’d made a habit of to ask, whenever I’m looking for a seat and table space at any eating place where tables are meant to be shared. And I’ve taught my younger boy to ask the same question as a matter of good manners and courtesy to others.
When dining alone especially, it can be hard to assure yourself of a seat at a table while you are away at the food order queue. Short of choping, that is.
But if you are out dining with others, have someone in your group sit at the table to earmark seats which your party require. Either buy food on behalf of this person, or relieve him or her as soon as possible when another member returns to the table.
One thing we shouldn’t do is to hog the table when not requiring all the seats. For me, I’d gladly offer remaining seats up to other diners. It’s not too difficult to understand the predicament of walking around carrying a tray of food while looking for a seat.
I’m sure you’ll agree.
Beware Them Table Hoggers!
Speaking of hogging, I recall a recent experience at Bendemeer hawker centre during lunch. There was this woman, sitting alone at a table for six. When asked if there were seats my wife and I could occupy, she claimed that all seats were reserved.
Now, I happened to be at a food stall mere metres away waiting for my turn to order. So I could see if anyone else joined that woman at the table.
Shockingly, after she was done with lunch, the woman simply got up and left! All that while, she was eating alone! A stall holder was seen chatting with her, but no one else came to join her at the table she reserved.
That’s utterly selfish behaviour displayed by that sick woman. Shame on her!
Since I couldn’t leave the queue, the (now) free table was quickly snapped up by other eager diners.
There was another case at Bishan St 14 where a woman said her table was full while she ate alone. We managed to get our seats elsewhere, but were near enough to her table.
Again, an ugly scene played out — a man joined her later to eat, but the two of them took the space of six diners!
Still, Life Goes On…
Enough with being kiasu, I say!
Whatever happened to the graceful society we are trying to build?
With such selfish people like table hoggers in our midst, it can prove to be harder to get there. I can only wish these uncaring people well and hope they won’t have to look into the mirror someday.
Meanwhile, I’ll still hold on to courtesy begetting courtesy 🙂
Anyway, being kiasu, choping tables and hogging seats are all disgusting behaviours. No choice lah, we have to put up with such ugliness from time to time. Why they so liddat, ah?
While kiasu-ness is perhaps the biggest K-word troubling us, there are a few others that plague us too. No, I’m not talking about K-pop or that famous news network spelled with a K instead of C.
Leave a comment if you know any of the other K-words that Singaporeans are fond of using and what these words mean to us. Perhaps I’ll have another rant with these some time down the road. Who knows?