Will Singaporeans Eat Pagpag?

Everynight just about midnight, thousands of Filipinos scavenge municipal and various thrash collection sites to pick chicken pieces left over by diners. They literally pick from garbage bins and bags. The sources are food courts and restaurants, particularly fast food chains like Jollybee, McDonalds, KFC etc. These pickers haul their collection home where it is sorted. Chicken bones always have a sliver of meat left on them. Bones without meat are disposed. Those with meat are sold to vendors who operate ramshackle food stalls outside their abode. The vendors thoroughly wash the pieces to get rid of dirt and smell. The messy chicken pieces are deep-fried and cooked in the style of calderata with lots of tomato sauce and whatever codiments. Some housewives buy the washed chicken to cook it themselves.

Filiinos call this dish pagpag. Customers are neighborhood families or workers who can only afford this dish sold at a fraction of the cost of a proper fresh meal. There has been no reported deaths from consumption of pagpag. Folks say it is actually delicious. These are people who cannot afford a proper meal at Jollybee, the cheapest of the fast food chains. 30% of Filipinos live below poverty line, many live on a single meal a day. Things are so bad that pagpag customers often come with their own home-cooked ‘kanin’ (cooked rice) just to save a few pesos.

It is a crying shame for the government and the world to allow people to fall to this level of indignity of consuming repurposed or recycled food.

In 2020, Zurich and New York had a per capita income of US$80,000, London had US$50,000 and Singapore had US$65,000. So congratulations, the government has taken the Lion City to amongst the top riches city in the world.

Whilst the government has planned and worked their brains out, paying the best amongst them astronomical salaries, to make it to the class of richest cities, it failed miserably on the flip side. Singapore is now the most expensive city in the world.

What is the impact and ramification for Singapore as the cost of living defies the law of gravity.

First and foremost, gentrification, occurs. Services, investments, infrastructure and real estate development flow with the wealth, changing urban landscape and services. The unwary does not see the creeping changes, thinking it’s just modernisation. There is the overflow of traffic at the special VIP Terminal for private-owned and chartered flights at Changi Airport. The answer is a Seletar Airport dedicated to these private jets. Transformation of whole streets take place to align entertainment and food to the well heeled, witness places like Arab Street, Christia Ong’s Dempsey Road, Holland Road, many streets in China town, etc. Buildings around MRT stations give way to posh private condominiums.

A housing crisis is inevitable. Singapore in fact seems on the verge, if not already, at the beginning of a housing crisis. The government insists housing remains affordable by parading subsidies and country comparatives. Indeed, some country comparatives has Singapore at number 1 in housing affordability. But cross-country comparatives are always fraught with parameters unexplained. In this case, two ugly thumbs stick out - the numerator and denominator in computing the affordability index are stacked in Singapore's favour. First, the numerator. Singapore ‘affordable’ houses are all lesser of 99 year leases which has a lower pressure on costs. Second, ‘mean family income’, the denominator, is tricky because Singapore family units often have dual or more family nucleus which reports a much higher mean income. Unlike other cities with housing crisis, the poorest of the poor can somehow find shelter somewhere, even moving into city slums or move to the villages. The tightly controlled Singapore offers no refuge other than to depend on the government. No doubt the HDB has a cheap rental scheme for families caught in such a situation if they qualify the strict criteria. However, in a housing crisis, demand will far outstrip supply.

Small retail shopkeepers are left by the wayside and big store operators proliferate with brands like Fairprice, Giant, Prime, Mustafa. Shengsiong, Cold Storage, etc. The neighborhood hole-in-the wall ‘mama’ or Indian convenience shops have been wiped out long ago, replaced by 711 and Cheers brands. Many small OMO, or one-man-operated food stalls, will be wiped out, to be replaced by those that can operate with a central kitchen and multiple outlets. Many economy food stalls are in fact already operating in this manner.

There will be miniaturisation of product offerings, particularly in food items. Instead of 6 in a package, it will be sold individually, coffee sachets will be smaller in size, mini-hamburgers, anyone? This is an economic fact of life. When I went to Philippines decades ago, I was surprised to see many mini products but quickly understood the reason. Miniaturisation disadvantages the poor. It lowers the price of product offering, but increases unit costs to consumers.

The rising cost of living accentuated by higher rates in services and GST, are hitting the lower income group hard. These folks put the blame squarely on the government's inability to reign in prices and see the arrogance in the doubling down on rate increases. Whilst the angst of the poor is directed at the government, the rich and upper income, especially the young and better educated professionals whose livelihood has not yet been threatened by CECA, see these as whinings and politics of envy. An infamous 2006 social media quote says it all. Remember “..get out of my elite uncaring face”? It is already evident on the ground but the ruling party is unable to see. There is a class divide between the rich and upper middle class who feels differently from the poor. These different sentiments will lead to social strains in time. How will it manifest? For one, disinterest and unmotivated national servicemen leading to quality issues. Civil disobedience. Emigration.

The government spends billions of dollars to attract businesses to relocate to Singapore. Surely one and sundry are well acquainted with the singalong mantra of low taxes, business-friendly government, law and order, good infrastructure, educated workforce, gateway to Asean and China, etc. But at the end of day, cost of operation matters. Being the most expensive city in the world has its consequences. Corporations will relocate out of Singapore if the government fails to reign in cost.

There is no escape for those hard-pressed by the high cost of living. Unlike those living in London. New York or Zurich who can relocate to the suburbs or countryside, or a less expensive city, Singaporeans are stuck on the tiny island. A densely populated city with no pressure release valve, something has to crack. It starts with a loss of civility on social media, which is already evident, extending into the physical sphere, physical altercations will increase, frustrations will turn to hostilities towards foreign workers, general deterioration in mental health, and even an increase in suicide cases. Social unrest is a given. This of course has political consequences, sooner or later.

In the worst case scenario, well organised and efficient municipal services ensure Singaporeans will not even have access to pag pag when driven to that God-forsaken situation.


Patrick Low

* Article first appeared on Down The Rabbit Hole.



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11 Responses to “Will Singaporeans Eat Pagpag?”

  • Blinded by stats:

    “In 2020, Zurich and New York had a per capita income of US$80,000, London had US$50,000 and Singapore had US$65,000. So congratulations, the government has taken the Lion City to amongst the top riches city in the world.”

    Don’t be so stupid. What % of Singaporeans have income of S$100,000?

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  • rice:

    Honestly,i find it rather nauseating hearing our ministers talk about Happy Ageing and whatnot.

    First,what is the G doing for the elderly needy sgs ?
    Not much.
    When taking out OUR ACCUMULATED RESERVES for the Covid Resilience/Solidarity budget,MANY NEEDY ELDERLY SGS RECEIVED A MEAGRE $600 when PER CAPITA GRANT was like $23.5K.
    That was simply not right.

    We ought to give more help to our elderly nation-builders who worked hard to build Sg for MUCH LOWER WAGES than even current migrant FOREIGN WORKERS get.
    With CONtinuous escalating COL,MANY ELDERLY SGS have all but depleted their life savings and many among them are singles.

    It is past overdue that the G has not rendered more help to our elderly sgs.
    More policies should be put in place to take care of our elderly citizens the way tbe gahmen take so good care of their OWN RETIREMENT LIKE HIGH PAYCHECKS AND PENSION$

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  • Racky:

    How bout nothing comes here.

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  • I recalled that it is an offense to be a beggar or vagabond in Sinkieland, so even if there are desperate poor starving on the island, also cannot go like Philli to hunt for leftovers or they will be locked up.

    So the lightning will say, where got the poor? lol

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  • 2Daft2Live:

    An infamous 2006 social media quote says it all. Remember “..get out of my elite uncaring face”?

    Reminds me of the hypocrisy and double standards practised by the daft ones whom I presume, learned it from their masters, the MIW.

    “Everyone’s trynna survive in these hard times. If you have an issue, bring it up with the relevant authorities. It doesn’t cost a single penny to be empathetic to others.”

    “Geez, have some compassion man. Is this the best way to resolve this? I don’t think so.”

    “Give others a road to walk mah. Karma will come back to you. Take a few less orders maybe will benefit someone’s whole family. Simple logic you also don’t understand”

    I am constantly amazed that the daft ones got so much compassion for foreigners and they are always so law-abiding. But don’t seems to have much compassion for their fellow countrymen struggling at the bottom though. BTW, the law only acted after the news broke out of foreigners working as illegal food delivery riders. Why hah? I thought the law automatic will take care of the daft ones?

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  • rice:

    Tiny Sg is over “crowd-out” at this juncture as the STRAINS on our infra-structures from public spaces to hospitals to transport clearly show,which rational sg can sincerely deny?

    Look,Hamas fighting for BIGGER “LIVING SPACE” for their people even when GAZA STRIP is just slightly under 2/3 the size of SG while its population density is half that of SG?

    So,the POLICY-MAKER$ think we can absorb a FEW MORE MILLION FOREIGNERS/FTs?
    Quality of life(Standard of Living) already compromised by HIGH COST OF LIVING and OVER-CROWDING and people blame “SUPPLY CHAIN ISSUES” to cover up the socio-economic consequences their policies and policy practices bring about?

    Only daft sinkies behave so sheepishly.
    Some probably believe KEE CHIU that they can produce cotton?

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  • Just Saying:

    Sounds like Gaza leh.

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  • With the rapid increase in the COL, selling pagpag may soon be a very profitable busness, I think temasick should setup a company to corner the market. Also, it is also ENV friendly as no fooed are thrown away causing wastage.

    What do you think?

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  • No pity:

    Let all PAP voters eat pagpag – pappap eat pagpag

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  • 2 years time:

    Perhaps in 2 years time,

    Tray return counter/ services more

    Then hawker stall.

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  • Pagpag? Luxurious alternative?:

    According to Lao Lee, the red dot natural environment could sustain, at the most, two hundred thousand people. Technology has to be employed for any thing beyond that.

    Now, there are @ six million inhabitants eating, drinking, sleeping, making babies and sometimes fighting in coffee shops in the red dot.

    The number of people is 30 times above the natural sustainable limit and technology has been heavily employed to make it possible.

    The prime ingredient in ensuring the functioning of the technology employed is energy but the red dot depends totally on import for its energy needs.

    If one day the red dot is no longer able to secure any energy supply, eating pagpag would be a luxurious alternative!

    The overwhelming majority would have nothing, even tree bark and green grass would not be sufficient to go around for everyone inhabiting the island!

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