Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What is kiasu?

You will hear this word, kiasu a lot in Singapore. This Hokkien word is so widely accepted that it is included in the Oxford English Dictionary. But what is kiasu? What exactly it means?

Kiasu literally means fear of losing (kia = fear + su = loss). When kiasu man captures a poor soul, the victim becomes rigidly over-cautious and over prepare for even simple things. To some extend it is actually very useful in a highly competitive society like Singapore. But unfortunately it hardly stops there. Kiasu victim wants immediate results without waiting. He needs to be the first one and to get it he/she will behave with pure selfishness and disregard to others. Kiasu in practice usually means being the first or best at the expense of others.

Kiasu is not uniquely Singaporean behaviour. I have been told the story of a student who tore the leaves of library books to study and prevent others to study well back in my university (this student later became the prime minister of my country). But kiasu is particularly common in Singapore. Limited resources must have an effect. You can see kiasu as tissue papers on the food courts. People put them on the tables to reserve them and go and queue for food for sometimes 15 minutes. During this time his tissue paper occupies the space on the table. You can feel it as a disrespect to poor and a ridiculous admiration to rich. You can hear it "buy now or regret deeply when price goes up". But it can get more ugly. Today I saw a kiasu victim, a young lady in Tanah Merah MRT station. She was out and waiting for the train door to open and go into the car. But unlike us, poor losers who were waiting for the train door to open on both sides, she was in front of the door blocking the people who wanted to go out of the car. She went in the car first at the expense of people who were trying to go out and we went second :)

I am a kiasu baby, so why don't you call me!

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