SINGAPORE, April 19 — For Mr Idris Bachok, an attendant at a petrol kiosk in Johor Baru, the reopening of the Singapore-Malaysia borders earlier this month meant that he gets to be reunited with his old customers from across the Causeway.
“They went ‘Uncle, how are you? Long time no see!’ and hugged me when they saw me. The regular customers recognise me,” said Mr Idris, 64, who has been working there since 2012.
Mr Idris was among some of the Malaysians whom TODAY met in Johor Baru over the long weekend who said that while displays of bad behaviour among visitors from Singapore have recently been making the rounds online, their own observations found that such acts were far and few in between.
"Most of them are like friends already. They come here to pump petrol, buy things from the shops nearby, but they don't create any trouble for us," he said.
Posts about Singapore-registered cars driven recklessly on Malaysian roads, or being filled up with the highly subsidised RON95 petrol reserved for Malaysians, have been drawing online flak since borders reopened on April 1.
And then there was the viral closed-circuit television clip that caught a driver stepping out of his BMW to urinate by the roadside.
These displays of bad behaviour drew the ire of many online users from both sides of the Causeway. Commenting on such behaviour in a column published in Malaysian news outlet The Star, Ms Mergawati Zulfakar said: “It is a sign of their lack of respect for Malaysia and Malaysians when they break our laws.”
Singaporeans in Johor, too, felt embarrassed of such bad behaviours, though they added that interactions with Malaysians have been pleasant nonetheless and no different from since before the pandemic.
‘One out of 10’ try pump-subsidised petrol
When TODAY popped by malls and supermarkets in Johor on the Good Friday public holiday (April 15), what stood out in our observations was how many Singaporean shoppers packed their trolleys to the brim with groceries.
One Singaporean was overheard talking about how they could treat themselves to restaurants and hotel food here, made more affordable than back home due to the currency conversion.
Meanwhile, during the almost two hours spent at various petrol stations, a number of Singapore-registered vehicles were spotted but none of their drivers were seen reaching out for the RON95 pump.
This was in line with what the staff at the stations said, that drivers from Singapore who try to fill their vehicles with the subsidised petrol form a minority.
A cashier at a Petron station located at Jalan Abdul Razak said most of the customers driving Singapore-registered cars know not to pick up the RON95 pump.
Those who seem oblivious to the rule are "not many", he said.
"But when we tell them the subsidised petrol is only for Malaysia vehicles, they're okay," said the cashier who declined to give his name.
“Maybe just one out of 10 drivers try their luck,” said 70-year-old Lim Yok Sam, a petrol station attendant since 2009, while his colleague nodded in agreement.
Most of them would readily comply when a kiosk staff intervened, said Mr Lim, though some would respond with unpleasant words before driving off without filling their tank.
A 47-year-old Malaysian, who wanted to be known only as Mr Mi, said: “Of course we’re happy to welcome our Singaporean friends here. But please don't touch our subsidies, because that’s our rights.”
Yet, for Skudai resident Mohamad Syafiq Zawawi, 32, he felt that the amount of subsidised petrol bought by Singaporeans might be limited anyway, as Singapore vehicles are required to have their tanks three-quarter filled before entering Malaysia.
“Even if they do pump a lot, that means they have been driving around and spending a lot already in Malaysia,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mr Halim Syahiran, a retail manager at a Shell petrol station, pointed to a sign pasted at each pump notifying Singaporean customers that they are not allowed to refuel with RON95 grade petrol.
He said this has helped to keep such cases to a minimum, adding that most of his customers from the south have been very pleasant.
On bad behaviours he has observed among Singaporean visitors, he noted that some Singaporeans tend to drive more recklessly on Malaysian roads.
Out of three Malaysian Grab drivers whom TODAY spoke to, one said that he has seen a small number of such drivers.
The driver, who only wanted to known as Hadnan, said maybe such Singaporeans feel that as Malaysia is a lot bigger geographically compared to back home, it would be harder to catch them flouting traffic regulations.
For Malaysian Grab driver Ahmad Amar Rusli, he suspects that errant behaviours come from a small group, but are receiving widespread attention due to social media. He has not witnessed any such behaviour himself.
“But at least if nothing else, with the power of social media, it prompts authorities to want to do something,” he said.
Malaysian Minister of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Alexander Nanta Linggi announced earlier this month that monitoring and enforcement will be increased, and that petrol companies caught selling subsidised petrol to foreign vehicles can be fined up to RM2 million.
Embarrassed, but not surpised
While such posts paint Singaporeans in a bad light, it did not seem to greatly affect other Singaporeans TODAY met in Malaysia.
“Singaporeans are a kiasu bunch. So when the borders opened and the posts about pumping (subsidised) fuel and other bad behaviours came out, we weren’t surprised,” said Mr Mohd Ikhmal Osman, 28, who was at a Giant supermarket with a group of friends.
On the other hand, Mr Ramlan Abdul Hamid, 64, who has a house in Johor Baru, said that perhaps there may be an explanation for some of the Singaporeans’ embarrassing behaviour.
For example, some Singaporeans might try to top up their vehicle with RON95 petrol in Malaysia simply because they did not want to mix different grades of petrol in their tanks.
“Afterall, they are already saving a lot even if they pump a higher (grade) petrol in Malaysia due to the currency conversion,” he said.
RON95 fuel in Malaysia is capped at RM2.05 (S$0.65), while the higher grade RON97 hovered at around RM3.91 (S$1.24) earlier this month, according to a report by Free Malaysia Today.
By comparison, fuel price tracking site fuelkaki lists 95-octane grade petrol in Singapore at S$2.99 to S$3.05 as of 3pm on Monday (April 18). The price of 98-octane grade petrol ranges from S$3.47 to S$3.54.
Singaporean celebrity chef Shahrizal Salleh, also known by his stage name Chef Bob, cautioned against believing social media posts “wholesale”, citing an example of a video showing a Malaysian resident allegedly prying open a Singapore-registered car at Pandan Market.
A separate video shows that the owner of the car had sought the Malaysian’s assistance as he was locked out of his vehicle.
“These social media users tend to be selective of what they post because they want (the posts) to go viral,” Mr Shahrizal said.
He said that he has already made two trips to Malaysia since the borders opened. So far, his encounters with the locals have been nothing but pleasant.
Asked if he had noticed any difference in the way Malaysians treat their guests from the south due to the viral displays of bad behaviours, he said: “None, none at all. They’ve been really welcoming of us, with open arms.” — TODAY