Water and Kiasu-ism

In the estate where I live, we are into our third day of a waterless existence. That is to say, we have no mains water. Apparently, the water has not been shut down, but the pressure is so low that no water is coming into tanks – and, therefore, no water is coming out of our taps or into our showers or our toilet cisterns.

To my mind, this is an inconvenience, not a crisis.  For our household, it means that we are not able to shower, turn on the dishwasher, the washing machine or flush our toilets too frequently.  We have plenty of water to drink – courtesy of the supermarkets – and we can use bottled water to wash our hands and dishes when necessary. For certain tasks – like cleaning faces – there are baby wipes. For certain other tasks – like cleaning surfaces – there are household wipes.  For showers, we have gym membership and for washing clothes, we have friends who have water and washing machines.

Don’t get me wrong – I would not like this to be a permanent situation, but we have been told that we will have our water mains back to normal by the weekend. Today, to ease the discomfort of residents, the local council sent out a large water-tanker. This tanker came into the estate and stopped at the junction of the spine road and each cul-de-sac. Initially, we thought the truck would come into the cul-de-sacs, but it soon became clear that this was not going to happen.

After nearly 45 minutes of standing, waiting politely for the tanker to make its way to our junction, some of my neighbours decided to take matters into their own hands and make their way to the tanker instead. For some, it was a matter of practicality – they were wives and mothers who needed to get the dinner on, or they were shift workers who needed to hurry up in order to be at work on time. Others were motivated by the fear that the tanker would be empty by the time it got to our junction.

Looking at my watch, I decided that if I were to get the dinner made and make it to my 6.45pm meeting on time, I, too, needed to get a move on. So I picked up my assortment of bottles and lidded saucepans, and made my way to the tanker.

I was astonished to see the amount of people who had brought their wheelie bins to the tanker to be filled with water. Why? Why on earth would any sane person bring their rubbish bin to be filled with water? I mean, what can you do with water that has been in your bin? Even if it was filtered and boiled (twice!), I wouldn’t drink it, would you? Come to think of it, how would you get water out of a bin that deep? Wouldn’t you be at a serious risk of drowning leaning over trying to scoop it out? And what would you do with your rubbish while your bin was full of water?!  It’s not as if we’ll be without water forever – it’s not even as if the tanker won’t be around again in a day or two to fill our pots and pans and bottles and buckets again.

‘Kiasu’ was the word that came to mind. That’s Hokkien for the concept of  ‘being afraid to lose’. Now, ‘being afraid to lose’ is very different, linguistically and conceptually to ‘wanting to win’.  Kiasuism refers specifically wanting to have something so that you don’t have more than I do – not necessarily because I need it or want it, but because I don’t want to have less than you do.
Kiasuism is a national sport among Chinese Singaporeans. It’s one of their least attractive characteristics.  I really hope it’s not spreading. Kiasuism  would be harder to live with than no water.