THERE is such a thing as learning how to smile. I was told this by a girl at the front desk in a hotel in Singapore, 25 years ago.
Whenever I didn’t feel like staying for another night in Kuala Lumpur after a long-winded meeting in the capital, I would make a stopover in Singapore for a day – among other reasons, an excuse to read as many newspapers as possible.
Only at the Passenger Lounge at the Singapore Airport could you read almost all the newspapers and magazines printed outside Malaysia.
One day, at a hotel in the city state where I checked in, the front desk staff were all smiling.
I had checked in at this hotel in the past, but had had no such unusually pleasant welcome until then.
When checking out the following day, I complimented the young lady on the general air of friendliness around the place. She told me that every staff member at the front desk of this hotel must undergo a short course in public etiquette, following advice from the Tourism Board.
Certain standard international norms were recommended for front-line workers to observe.
For instance, smile and give a polite nod, say distinctly ‘thank you’ when you receive the payment for the room. Say ‘have a safe journey home, Sir” when the customer is leaving the hotel for the airport.
And smile once more, it’s an order!
At that time, Singapore was devising a strategy to attract more tourists to the city state. The tourism industry, popularly known as the industry without chimneys, was one of the main sources of foreign exchange earnings for the republic.
Those smiles at counters and hotel lobbies may just have played a part in the success of this industry there!
Back in Kuching
At the counter of a government-owned hospital in Kuching, I overheard a nurse telling off a patient for some reason. I fully understood that the nurse had been dealing with so many patients that day, and this particular patient was not following the correct registration procedure.
He was not young – maybe he did not understand all the rules properly, but as far as the nurse was concerned, his mistake was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
In the same building, at a different department, another patient was standing for some time before he was attended to. Apparently, this was the first time that he had registered with the department.
He was not familiar with the procedure. The officer was typing on his computer, fully engrossed with whatever was on the screen. He had no time to even look at the sick man’s face – no chance of a smile here.
A new patient must be forgiven for not putting the registration card in the correct basket if there were two baskets of different colours. The poor chap was being careful not to put his card in the wrong place.
It should be for the officer at the front desk to politely direct the newcomer to place his card correctly. I too had to tell the old boy what to do: to put his card first in the blue basket, before I put mine.
I was feeling somewhat miffed at the demeanour of this particular civil servant.
You cannot expect a smile from a civil servant because he is not a hotel front worker, is that it?
But he is serving the government of the day, and the patients in a hospital are his ‘tourists’.
As a matter of fact, those people, however ignorant they are of procedures, pay the civil servants’ wages through their taxes!
During the past decade, I have been going to government offices for many reasons. I have found that public etiquette among certain government officers manning the front desk is lacking. Did they not undergo an in-service training course in which they talk on manners and etiquette? This was a must for all interns of the civil service during my days, long time ago.
The General Orders should include a specific order to smile!
In one Land Office where I lodged a document for registration, the girls were chatting away in voices that could be heard by any hard-of-hearing old man with the cheapest hearing aid.
They were too engrossed in their conversation to attend to the public.
No one was in charge of office discipline at that particular instance.
Last month, I read about the congestion at the Accident and Emergency Department in Sarawak General Hospital in Kuching. Too many patients sought consultation and treatment at one place at one time.
One of my relatives, a government pensioner, was there; she was complaining that she had to wait for about four hours before she could see the doctor.
There was tension in the air – it seemed that no one had the time to smile.
Smile would have been contagious!
I told her that she should have gone to one of the government polyclinics instead of the SGH. There are several in and around Kuching – near the Mental Hospital at Kota Santosa, at Petra Jaya, at Pending Road, at Pusat Jantung (the Heart Centre in Samarahan).
In addition, there was Klinik Malaysia at Bintawa and at Stutong Baru. Are they still there?
Kuching’s population has increased, and people put their trust in the ability of the medical department to look after them.
A doctor working at the General Hospital may be a graduate of any prestigious university in the world. It is not the building that matters, but the quality of service – the competent doctors make all the difference.
The ‘Bomohs’ and the ‘Sinseh’ are still around, but for major surgery, I certainly prefer a qualified surgeon!
The facilities available at the government hospital are paid by you and me. They are worth the taxpayers’ money.
Let us hope that the next national budget would include proposals for more medical and health facilities to be built in Kuching, and in any town that needs the facilities.
And greet each patient with a smile! Like my doctor did to me, the other day.