Gong Cha queues reflect the wonders of capitalism
This past weekend saw the return of bubble tea chain Gong Cha at their new store at Singpost Centre at Paya Lebar. And what a scene we witnessed, as scores of Singaporeans queued up as early as the night before just to get a taste of their favourite bubble tea.
Such queues are not exactly uncommon in a country where Singaporeans are known to be kiasu and rather consumeristic. Just a while ago, similar queues formed for the release of the iPhone X at the Apple Store. Singaporeans love their food and their gadgets, we get that.
But understandably, some may choose to roll their eyes at what looks like superficial frivolity. I’ve had a couple individuals comment to me the past few days about how when it comes to issues of greater importance, Singaporeans are rather muted and passive, but are “number 1” when it comes to queuing for bubble tea.
Indeed, the online journalist Kirsten Han expressed a similar sentiment in a Facebook post:
Put that way, it does seem as if capitalism promotes such superficial consumer behaviour, and distracts Singaporeans away from weightier matters. But I would like to use this opportunity to suggest another perspective: that these long queues we saw the past weekend are a great sign. They reflect the wonders of the capitalist, free market economic system that we enjoy, and that has enriched much of humanity the past few centuries.
When we roll our eyes at the Singaporeans queuing for the latest bubble tea, we should ask: what is the alternative? In socialist societies, long queues are present too, but for a very different purpose. Take the following picture depicting life in Romania about 40 years ago under communism, where ordinary people queued up for bread. Today, they queue up for Apple products. Capitalism turns luxuries into necessities while socialism turns necessities into luxuries.
So whenever we try to make a mockery of Singaporeans queuing for Gong Cha bubble tea as unfortunate pawns of the capitalist system, we should remember the many millions of people living in less economically free societies who would swap queues. We should think of the scores of people who in this 21st century still live under socialist regimes and experience serious shortages and food rations.
This above picture is from Venezuela, and reflects the severe shortages of food and basic necessities ordinary people experience. The BBC article in 2015 “The surreal world of Venezuela’s queues”, dives into how such goods are heavily regulated by the government. When free market forces are shunted, people have to queue up for food.
Queues tell us a lot about the virtues or vices of the economic system we find ourselves in. I like to say that in socialism, you queue up for bread, and under capitalism, bread (or in Singapore’s case, Gong Cha) queues up for you.
So I’m not perturbed whenever I see long snaking queues forming in Singapore. In fact, I get overwhelmed by a deep sense of gratitude that I happen to be born in a country where I GET TO have the luxury of time and resources to spend an entire night just to indulge in a consumer fad. I feel the joy of living under capitalism and hope that the less fortunate under socialism can join me too.
Don’t get too comfortable sitting in your first world living room and pontificating on your first world computer about how Singaporeans have become soulless cogs in the capitalist system. Venezuelans, North Koreans, Cubans would gladly switch places with you as they desire the materialism of capitalism. Check your privilege.