Newsletter (09) Those You Let in Your Home

I have a confession to make.

I am a Tom Clancy fan.

If you are unfamiliar with his works, he is known for writing military-related fiction. In other words, his books will involve people beating each other, shooting at each other or blowing each other up with increasing levels of explosive power. The rest of the book will be about giving the heroes good reason to do all these nasty things to the bad guys.

I know, this makes me sound like a totally Neanderthal guy, sitting and staring blankly at the walls of my cave and saying “Oog hungry! Oog want eat now! Now!” while pounding on my chest!

Anyway, what struck me recently was a plot detail from his book Patriot Games. The bad guys were going to attack the good guys at the home of the hero. So they arranged for a power failure at the home and got past all the security details by dressing up as the repairmen from the electrical company. What they were counting on was the fact that people usually let down their guard when they are around the hired help, the machine-people.

This is a very common tendency in Singapore. We tend to divide people into three categories:

  • People-people: those we acknowledge as people. We have a relationship with them, they are our friends, family, colleagues, church (or temple or mosque) associates and so on.
  • Machine-people: they are there to do things for us, to serve us. We don’t acknowledge that they are people like us, with real feelings, a family and their own struggles, dreams and hopes. People in this category include people at the fast food counter, maids, cleaners at the HDB estates, airport counter staff and repairmen.
  • Non-people: those we don’t want to acknowledge at all. These include the chronically drunk, the mentally disturbed and the poor and homeless. I read in passing that the ninja of ancient Japan could easily infiltrate enemy territory by disguising themselves as non-people, because many are revulsed by them and would rather ignore them totally (thus rendering the ninja effectively invisible).

Some things don’t change, do they?

For us in Singapore, we encounter what I call the machine-people often. Sometimes we even give them entry into our homes to repair our plumbing, our air-cons or to do renovation work. When we let them into our homes, how often do we stop to consider if that is safe?

The two dangers I see are:

  1. We are rude and offensive to them because we choose not to respect them. That can provoke violent retaliation from them. Some people think they can be verbally violent with repairmen or service staff, and forget that they may react with physical violence.  And odds are that they are better at physical violence than we are…
  2. We are unaware, not paying careful attention to any signs that they may be planning violent crime against us. This lack of alertness on our part means we are in deep trouble if those people deliberately enter our homes with violence planned.

Some time back I was talking with some teachers about the personality traits criminals tend to share. One of them mentioned “That sounds like around 40% of my class.” Soon after that I had the opportunity to actually interact with such students. It was very disturbing, because:

  • They showed a defiant, rebellious attitude towards authority (teachers, parents and, possibly later on, the police).
  • They were totally addicted to immediate gratification. For them there was no such thing as waiting until after class before they got on Facebook or Counterstrike. They would get on it even as the teacher was teaching, and regardless of how much work they were supposed to do in class at that time. This also means they usually had poor impulse control, they would do what they feel like doing with little (or no) regard for the consequences.
  • They truly believed they were entitled to their behavior. Woe betide any teacher who tries to stop them from their Counterstrike games! They had no compunctions about mocking and provoking teachers and authority figures who try to rein in their behavior. One of my friends, a school teacher with a genuine heart for kids and the gentlest soul I ever met, was so provoked by such kids that he actually laid hands on them and as a result had to leave the teaching profession. A career ruined just because of such kids.
  • Group Dynamics – they would egg each other on to see who could provoke the teachers more, or come up with meaner pranks to play on their better-behaved classmates. Sometimes they would ‘prey’ on each other too, with mean pranks, racist insults and physical violence, and as a result you can never really be sure when any of the students will suddenly lose his temper and go violent.

And here’s the part that worries me: how can you be sure that the repairman or renovation contractor you allow into your house is not like one of those kids I described above? The honest fact is, you can’t. As I said earlier, people tend to make two big mistakes with those they consider machine-people, provoking them or letting down their guard. So:

  1. Don’t provoke them. If their service is bad or they make a mistake, speak to them assertively but not aggressively. “This is lousy work, I insist on speaking to your supervisor about this” is assertive, “You’re an idiot! You’d better watch out or I’ll…” is aggressive. Don’t be surprised if they react to verbal violence with physical violence. They may go to jail for it later, but the damage is already done.
  2. Don’t let your guard down. Watch for all the signs of impending trouble, like unusual eye contact, moving into a dangerous range (as I showed in the talks), suspicious behavior such as unexplained nervousness and all that. Basically trust your intuition and don’t try to prove how brave you are by staying in a situation you suspect is going bad.

I know of some husbands who do not leave their wives alone at home to deal with any visiting repairmen. They would make sure there are friends, neighbors or relatives present at home with their wives. Let’s face it, having your mother-in-law around may not be able to prevent an attack by determined criminals, but it will add one more layer of complication, one more thing that might go wrong for the criminals. And if that comes on top of a number of other security measures (such as basic alertness) the criminals may just decide to look for easier victims instead.

Yes, I know I sound paranoid. There are many honest, hardworking people around in Singapore, even amongst those we see as machine people. But we lose nothing by making basic common sense a lifestyle and habit. As I said before in the last newsletter, we should not wait for problems to arise before we start taking smart precautions. Make them a habit now, teach them to our friends and children, and become the sort of people criminals ignore because we would be too much hard work to handle!


Quick announcement: because of some difficulty in finding a good venue for group classes, I will not be conducting any group classes for this period of time. I am still available, however, for the Crime Prevention Talks and for one-on-one lessons and coaching.

So if you are interested in booking me for coaching or for the talks, email me at and I will get back to you with more info. Thanks!


About Junjie
Musician, Martial Artist and father of two boys. Rambler, thinker and compulsive teacher.

3 Responses to Newsletter (09) Those You Let in Your Home

  1. eastpaw says:

    Reintroduce corporal punishment in schools. Seriously.

    • Junjie says:

      Oh yeah! We de-fanged our teachers ages ago, and we are paying the price for it with the next generation…

      • eastpaw says:

        Yeah. Asshole teachers will still get away with bullying students by picking on easy targets, so “de-fanging” teachers (nice term, lol) essentially only lets bad students run wild.

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