A new TikTok video has got Singaporeans fired up – but not in a good way.

The video in question is of a woman sitting on a baby dinosaur exhibit and it started making rounds on social media last week.

The baby dinosaur display is one of more than 20 different prehistoric creatures at Changi Jurassic Mile, which opened on Oct 11. The attraction is Singapore’s largest permanent outdoor display of life-sized dinosaurs. It is part of a 3.5km-long cycling and jogging path connecting Changi Airport to East Coast Park.

My family and I had been looking forward to visiting the exhibit ever since we heard about it in July. My cousins and I even kept each other updated on its opening date via WhatsApp, as we know how much our young children love dinosaurs.

But barely a week after its official opening, one particular hatchling is already missing five of its teeth.

Speaking to The Straits Times, a spokesman for Changi Airport Group (CAG), which commissioned the dinosaur display, said the exhibit has sustained some damage, and will be temporarily removed for repair work.

The spokesman also said that cautionary signs will also be added along the one-kilometre walk to remind visitors not to climb on the exhibits.

A sign of our times?

Changi Jurassic Mile Signs
Image source: M Syazanna

In 1999, Singaporean entrepreneur and founder of Creative Technologies, Sim Wong Hoo, coined the term No U-Turn Syndrome (also known as NUTS), to describe the social behaviour of Singaporeans – specifically having a mindset of looking for permission from a higher authority before doing something.

He used an analogy, comparing the traffic rules in Singapore to those overseas, to describe the phenomenon.

In his book Chaotic Thoughts from the Old Millennium, he wrote:

“In the US, when there is no sign on the road, it means that you can make a U-turn. When the authorities do not want people to make U-turns, they will put up signs to tell you not to make U-turns.

“In Singapore, it is the reverse. When there is no sign on the road, you are not allowed to make U-turns. When the authorities allow you to make U-turns, then they will put up signs to give you that right. The two different systems serve the same purpose – to better manage the traffic. They may look quite similar, just coming from different directions, but the social repercussion is significant.”

NUTS was also taken as a criticism of the rigid Singapore education system, where students are taught from a young age to obey instructions in an unquestioning manner, in a society where grades and paper certification are emphasised at the expense of some life skills.

To be fair, this criticism was levelled at Singapore society more than 20 years ago, and we have made much progress since then. Both in the education system where Minister Lawrence Wong acknowledged the importance of both technical know-how and soft skills, and our own national mindset.

More Singaporeans have also started to push the boundaries and break barriers with youth entrepreneurship on the rise. With an abundance of public resources and grants now compared to Sim’s time, Singapore has grown a more supportive ecosystem to launch new start-ups.

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Nevertheless, NUTS still resonates… kiasu-ism and kiasi-ism has been built into our DNA and I would argue that it is the necessary outcome of a society that has been brought up on the fear of doing the wrong thing, or doing a thing wrong.

While we are admittedly less kiasu nowadays, I won’t be surprised if I see a long queue for the new Apple iPhone 12 when it releases in three days, even with safe distancing measures in place.

The problem about having signs to tell us what is or is not permissible is that we start to believe that we need signs to teach us what to do. Or worse, in the absence of signs, we regress to some selfish state of anarchy.

So in the case of the baby dinosaur – since there were no signs to tell the public how to handle the displays, did it also mean that there were no rules?

No signs? Common sense and decency should apply

Changi Jurassic Mile
Image source: M Syazanna

When we find a stranger’s wallet, most of us know to return it to its owner or to the nearest police station. We are also prepared to stop and help when we witness a road traffic accident. Some of us will also go out of our way to ensure that a lost child finds his way home or gets to school in time for an important exam.

In these situations, there are no signs and no one to tell us what to do, yet we do it out of the kindness of our hearts. For some, there is also a moral obligation to help someone in distress.

Similarly, we should feel equally obliged to respect public property such as the exhibits at Changi Jurassic Mile, as it is to be enjoyed by many people of all ages. We should not be so self-centred to think that what we do to public property does not affect others.

When I was being brought up, my mum always told me to treat public property as if it were my own. Whenever we went to the library, she would tell me to be gentle with the books as many of them had pages that were worn and tattered back then.

These days, most library books are in much better condition, but the act of being gentle to them still applies. I always tell my children to wash their hands before touching those books so that they do not leave their grubby marks all over them. I have come across children’s library books that have food stains and sometimes, possibly some child’s dried snot! It is utterly disgusting.

This mindset should cover all aspects of life in Singapore. Ask yourself: Would you litter in your living room, leave your dishes on your table after dinner, or fail to flush after using your toilet?

Dinosaur Graffiti
Image source: Shutterstock / Leonard Zhukovsky

Singapore has strict laws on vandalism, and has punished foreigners in the past for offences such as spraying graffiti on a train.

I also remember when ‘Sticker Lady’ Samantha Lo was arrested eight years ago for stencilling “My Grandfather Road” on several roads and pasting stickers on traffic light buttons with witty social commentary such as “Press Once Can Already” and “Press to Stop Time”. She was sentenced to 240 hours of community service.

It was wrong for Sticker Lady to break the law; however, it was all in the name of art.

This is a stark contrast to rocking back and forth on a dinosaur for a couple of views and likes on TikTok (while the video did go viral, many netizens have slammed her behaviour).

It unnerves me that we live in a world where going viral or being “insta-famous” is more important than one’s safety, and in this case, taking care of public property. Has technology taken over our lives that we forget all basic common sense?

It’s a pity.

It’s a pity the display was damaged in less than a week.

It’s a pity my children could not get a chance to get up close to the only exhibit that was not fenced up at Changi Jurassic Mile.

It’s a pity that this is a reason why Singaporeans cannot have nice things.

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Top Image: M Syazanna