Sunday Oct 18, 2015
"Can I buy you a cup of Ya Kun coffee?" I asked this sunburnt 76-year-old cardboard woman busily sorting out and flattening the cardboard boxes and piling them on the trolley. Cropped white haired, slim and be-spectacled, like one of those kindly grandmas we all love, she pushed her trolley past Ya Kun Cafe Toa Payoh Hub. That was where I just had my $4.80 breakfast of coffee, 2 bread spread with kay but without butter and two half-boiled eggs. I came to clinic early at 8 am to check on the 3-month-old kitten that had an operation and she was OK and decided to buy my Straits Times and drink Ya Kun coffee to keep me awake.
The haze blown by the strong winds from the forest fires in Sumatra had shrouded the sky, making it grey and the sun invisible.
"Give me the money," she replied. I handed her a $10.00 note.
"Just $2.00 will do," she said she had coffee.
"Why do you need to work at your age?" I asked when she said she was 76 years old.
"I need the money," she was forthright.
"Don't your children support you?"
"My only son has not worked and even pester me for money!" she spied a Burger King employee carting a few cardboard boxes to the bin and left to intercept him. He gave her the cardboard boxes.
"How old is your son?" I asked her.
"He is 30 years old, but now he is working as a seaman. It is better for me that he is not at home (as he often asks her for money)."
At this age, it was tiring for her to wheel the trolley loaded with cardboard boxes to Toa Payoh Lorong 8 where the karang guni man will buy her goods more than once daily, she told me. The time taken would be over an hour. A full trolley of cardboard boxes may give her $3.00.
She appeared fit and had no dementia as she conversed with me in Cantonese and English,. She could approach her Member of Parliament for some monthly assistance of around $200, but she had not done so. Perhaps she could work at Changi Airport to gather the trolleys if she was acceptable at 76 years of age.
Nowadays, there is a trend that a group of young Singaporean couples do not want children. Other than the increased stress and financial costs, some adult children have no respect for their parents and cannot support the aged parents. Some even migrate to Australia and other countries.
Perhaps, this group is wise as they could have savings in their old age.