SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching, has condemned the behaviour of a woman who criticised a supermarket worker for not being able to speak in English in a lengthy social media post. Mdm Ho suggested that the customer’s words and actions were a form of bullying.
The Temasek Trust chairperson said: “Being Singaporean is more than just a birthright or a passport. Being Singaporean is to know that we must make a living through making friends all over the world. Being Singaporean means to carry ourselves with discipline, respect and humility. Brash bravado, and boastful bullying, have no place in the Singapore soul.”
The PM’s wife was reacting to a viral video, which captured TikTok influencer Datin Amy Tashiana confronting an employee at the FairPrice outlet at City Square Mall for butchering her fish order due to an alleged inability to understand English.
Amy said that the incident took place last Tuesday (21 Mar) when she wanted to buy some fresh seafood and encountered a Chinese employee who was unable to comprehend what she was ordering. The employee, whom Amy claims is a Chinese national, only spoke in Mandarin.
Amy had instructed the employee to descale and clean the fish and also remove the fins. However, due to the language barrier, the staff cut the fish in a manner that displeased Amy.
In the almost nine-minute video entitled “Foreign worker (China) NTUC City Square,” Amy was arguing with the fish cutter in Mandarin about how she could not know English. The supermarket worker said she was learning English, but Amy was insistent about reporting her to the management.
Amy then approached a team leader and asked how customers can be expected to deal with staff that do not know how to communicate in English at all. The team leader said the staff could understand “simple” terms in English and suggested the issue might be due to miscommunication.
Amy remained upset with how the fish she ordered was cut, but the team leader resolved the issue by offering a new set of fish cut according to her preferences at no extra charge.
As the team leader accompanied her to the seafood booth, Amy could be heard referring to Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh’s suggestion in Parliament that English tests could be made mandatory for new citizens.
She said, “Pritam Singh, you are right, man. You are absolutely right. They need to go and learn English first before they come to work here, OK. Already the payment, the pay S-Pass S$4,500 and they cannot talk English.”
At one point, Amy told the team leader: “You want to employ me, or not? I can cut the fish better than her…Ah, nevermind, I talk to the government tomorrow. Employ me, put me there, the same salary and take her out, I cut the fish like a flower.”
Amy told The Independent Singapore: “With all prices increased everywhere and got such service, especially in NTUC, so I had decided to publish the video.”
The video quickly went viral online, with Fairprice later promising to conduct an investigation into the issue and send the employee for training.
While the labour movement-linked supermarket chain acknowledged that Amy could have had a better shopping experience, it also urged customers to treat their employees with respect and courtesy.”
The video, which has since been removed from TikTok and YouTube, has divided public opinion.
Some have asserted that Amy was right to say that customer-facing staff should have a basic understanding of English as Singapore is a proudly multi-racial society, and minorities could feel discriminated against if they cannot be understood in a common language.
Others have said that how Amy handled the issue could have been better.
The PM’s wife firmly falls into the latter group. Amy’s handling of the situation has not sat well with Mdm Ho, who made her displeasure known loud and clear on her Facebook page this week.
Mdm Ho initially shared an article covering the video on Sunday morning (27 Mar), with just two words: “Disgraceful behaviour.” She was most likely referring to Amy.
It soon became clear that the incident riled the PM’s wife more than she initially let on. She edited her post almost 24 hours later with a lengthier statement on why Amy was wrong to respond to the supermarket worker in the way she did.
Removing the words “disgraceful behaviour,” Mdm Ho asserted that those who do not speak the language we share should not be shamed. She said: “The strength of a Singaporean is our open-mindedness to accept all creeds, colours and cultures as equals.
“We don’t throw away our history just bcos we didn’t like parts of it. We don’t destroy statues in a fit of political correctedness. We accept we are not a perfect people, and we recognise that we have much to learn from others from all over the world.
“Walk around Marina Bay to enjoy the breeze and hear the laughter and chatter of friends and families in all languages. And imagine that would be how Singapore sounded in the old days, with all manners of Chinese, Indian Persian, Arabic, as well as regional traders from around us, and Europeans from afar, all doing business, making a living, and some making a home here over time.”