In Singapore, where the government has eliminated most risks from life through constant regulation and surveillance, the people themselves still find ways to get into harm’s way. Witness Jonathan Long and his friends.
After apparently spending more time in a nearby Korean restaurant than they should have, since restaurants have been ordered closed at 10:30 pm as a result of the coronavirus, Long, 29, got into his white BMW M4 coupe with four friends – Gary Wong, 29, Eugene Yap, 29, Elvin Tan, 28, and Teo Qi Xiang, 26, and sped through the quiet streets of the Tanjong Pagar district at 5:30 am on February 13, being filmed by friends standing on the street. It was the second day of Chinese New Year and when Long lost control of the BMW at an estimated 220 kilometers per hour, he crashed into a shophouse and the car burst into flames, killing all five in an instant.
Long’s 26-year-old fiance, Raybe Oh Siew Huey, who had been with the friends filming the speed stunt, frantically tried to get him out of the burning car. There was nothing she could do and she was burned over 80 percent of her body. She remains in critical condition in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) battling for her life. Raybe, who acted heroically in her desperate attempt to get Long out of the car, has been lauded as a hero. A former Singapore Airlines flight attendant, she had been working as a care ambassador in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and singing getai, a boisterous live Chinese stage performance held during the Hungry Ghost Festival, usually in August.
The crash has other things to say about Singapore, Asia’s richest city, if not the world’s, one where Ferraris, Maseratis and other supercars are everywhere. Although Long’s M4 wasn’t in that class, it was a high-performance car and according to reports he had it souped up to enhance its performance further. These lethal combinations of fast cars, headstrong twenty-something alfa males, hubris and macho exist in every city in Asia. Often they end in tragedy. Singapore, with its regimented, strait-laced society, is no better at tamping down the hormones, apparently.
“What they did was truly irresponsible and inexcusable, but these were not crazy rich Asian kids,” a source told Asia Sentinel. They were five young professionals who had worked together at a financial advisory firm although one had left to go into business for himself.
The crash has had a galvanizing effect on the tightly buttoned-up Singapore society, with people leaving flowers and other possessions at the site of the crash although the mainstream press, with a customary timidity born of decades under a watchful government eye, failed to do much reporting beyond the horrific details of the crash. The victims’ families are said to be wealthy although not among the super-rich in the city depicted in the 2018 romantic comedy film “Crazy Rich Asians.” But nobody knows because of an absence of serious reporting.
“Some of the rich kids here really do some crazy things,” a senior society figure told Asia Sentinel. “Crazy Rich Asians has more than a grain of truth in it.”
“I have been fascinated that the media, always so polite, have stayed away from most of the background details on the victims and failed to dig into their reputations,” said an American businessman. “Where did they go to school, what kind of families? They are not super rich but seem to be part of the privileged upper middle class.”
None of these details have emerged, although the tragedy has generated outsize emotion across society. For instance, nobody appears to have asked publicly what these friends were doing standing on a narrow street filming a possibly inebriated driver pushing a high-powered car at reckless speed. One of them was Raybe. Was this a party to watch these exploits? Were other young people in other cars doing these same stunts? One of the questions the press didn’t answer is whether the five had been drinking, but the possibility that they had spent hours in a supposedly closed restaurant points to it. Nobody went to the restaurant, which was not far away, and asked the staff what the patrons were doing there, how many of them were hanging out, and if they were drinking. Did they do this often?
With the coronavirus putting an even tighter lid on Singapore society, street racing – more often by motorcycle than car – is an outlet that few people talk about in the crowded city. It has been going on for decades, although, as one source pointed out, the enormous expense of damaging a car in Singapore is compounded by the fact that insurance companies are reluctant to cover the cost of such repairs.
Cars are extremely expensive by government fiat in an effort to keep traffic down in a city that has only 200 km of expressways, 704 km of arterial roads and 576 km of low-to-moderate collector roads on 728 square kilometers of land, much of it added via imported sand from other countries. Any kind of racing in these superfast cars is enormously dangerous, and it often takes place when nobody is likely to be up, but as in any busy city, there is traffic at all hours.
Asked for details including whether drink was involved, a Singapore police spokesman simply emailed a statement saying: “As information related to police investigations are confidential in nature, we are unable to comment further on the incident.”
“This incident has shocked everyone coming as it did on the second day of the New Year the large fatalities and the sheer heroism of the young lady is much talked about. All much to be expected,” said an unnamed former Singapore diplomat. “What is probably surprising is that overall there is greater sympathy for what happened than public anger or questions why the police had not taken action against illegal racing except that the car was going faster and faster and not competing against another one. The fact that anonymous persons have been placing flowers and condolence letters is telling of general feelings. I personally am deeply saddened for the family left behind who have to bury them. Parents should not have to bury their children, the old saying goes.”
Photo credit: Straits Times