01 July 2007

Ways Of Making A Living (1)

Yesterday late afternoon, I saw a woman in the vicinity of Geylang. (It's NOT what you're thinking. Take your mind out of the gutter, will you?)

The woman I saw was about 80-year-old. She was rummaging through the rubbish bin behind her in Lorong 37 Geylang. She was taking out the neatly tied-up trash bags from the bin. She laid them on the floor and then untied them one by one. It seemed like she was looking for something. (Hmm... could she have lost one of her contact lenses? Nah, silly me, it can't possibly be that, can it?)

At first, I thought that she was looking for some old but still useful stuff that she could re-sell at Sungei Road for some money. Oh man, how wrong I was!

I took a glance at the shop which generated the rubbish. It was a coffeeshop that sold Teochew porridge. At that moment, a coffeeshop worker came out and deposited yet another trash bag into the bin. Then horror struck me! I realised that the old lady was probably looking for some food to satisfy her hunger, the most basic human need. (You certainly don't need renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow to tell you that, do you?)

To the old lady, any discarded food would do. However, I figure that Maslow would probably have listed her hierarchy of needs preference as follows:

(1) Surplus food which could not be sold;

(2) Leftovers of customers who ordered too much food; and

(3) Food that has gone bad (and unfit for human consumption).

I could not bear to see what the old lady's "choice" of dinner was. (I am aware that my use of the word "choice" here is insensitive and maybe even cruel because the old lady really had no choice at all in such dire circumstances.) It was indeed a very sad and depressing sight. I quickly took the above photo and hurriedly continued with my life. I was rushing home to pick up my wife and then together, go and pick up my younger son who was attending badminton lesson at Tao Nan School. In my haste, I have forgotten to give the woman a little money to buy a decent meal. Damn, I should have done that! Now my conscience is pricking me.

I wonder if this old lady got any social assistance from the authorities. If not, why not? Maybe the authorities didn't know she existed? Now that I have a photo of how she looks like and where she hangs around, hopefully the authorities could locate her more easily and render her some assistance. One more thing - did the old lady know that she could have claimed the GST Offset Package? Damn, I should have asked her myself!

So no matter what the official statistics say, there are still people in Singapore who live way below the poverty line - people who fall between the cracks. I believe that most of these people are old and unemployed. Unlike the old lady, some of them may even be too sick to go out to rummage through rubbish bins. Hence, the old lady may still be luckier than some other people.

Finally, I hope that no one will waste food after reading this article. It is also a timely reminder for us to spend our money wisely and save early for our retirement.


Anonymous said...

you had time to take a picture but not offer her assistance?

Victor said...

Anonymous (BTW is that my conscience speaking?) - I've explained that I was in a hurry and now I do feel some guilt about not offering her a little assistance. I will certainly do so the next time I bump into her or anyone like her for that matter.

Having said that, there are a minority of these old people who would refuse any form of assistance, probably because of their pride. However, most of them will accept help gracefully and gratefully. (For another example that I've come across, please see the last para of this article.

tigerfish said...

So sad...
Though we read news everyday about S'pore's flourishing economy, there is still(always) a group of unforgotten few who are hungry and even homeless. I think it happens everywhere, over the world.

I better shop less and save up! :O

fr said...

She may not be looking for food.

I think the shop doesn't throw the leftover food into the bins.

Besides giving cash, I think you can buy food for her also as she may not want to use the money to buy food.

There could hardship cases in the midst of our communities. I think we need people knowing such cases to inform the authorities.

Victor said...

Tigerfish - Yes, we not only need to open our eyes to them, we also need to open our hearts to them.

At almost every meal at the more popular food centres, one would encounter accompanied blind people selling $1-for-3 packets of tissue paper. I don't think that everyone of them qualifies as true hardship cases though.

Victor said...

Frannxis - Yes, I should have spoken to her to find out more about her situation first. Some people may be insulted if you give them money which they didn't ask for.

stanley said...

It is so sad to see poor elderly folks rummaging for something valuable to sell so that they can buy food. Some resort to looking for empty drink cans which can be sold for two dollars a kilo or cardboard boxes. Why can't our goverment take care of them. We live in Singapore which is supposed to be the first world.

etel said...

finally managed to leave a comment after using firefox ot access ur blog.

did you read my blog entry here?

I wish u had went up to help her :(

etel said...

btw, i was surprised that you mentioned the maslow hierachy too. I mentioned it in my blog entry. great minds think alike? hohoho

Victor said...

Stanley - My sentiments, exactly. Though it is depressing, I am writing a series on how poor people make a living in Singapore. (That explains the "1" in the title of this post.) Hopefully, we will see more people receiving social welfare and less people making a living out on the streets.

Victor said...

Etel - A warm welcome back. Of course I have read that touching article of yours. But I also studied about Maslow Hierarchy Of Needs in some courses before. I mentioned it in my article because the idea just flowed along when I was writing it. Not copyrighted material, right? Kekeke.

Yes, yes, I promise that I will remember to help such people the next time, instead of just taking their photo for my blog. (So selfish and unfeeling of me, hor?)

But wait, there's something positive that I noticed about the photo. I think the woman looks very healthy for her age, am I right? If I try to bend over like her, I think I will feel giddy.

Laokokok said...

Victor don't feel bad about missing out a good deed. Sometimes it's the thought and not the action that counts.

BTW, tissue now is $1.20 for 3 packets hoh. Price increased leow hehe.

Victor said...

Laokokok - Alamak, really ah? Must really complain to the COPS (Committee Of Profiteering, Singapore) liao. GST increased by only 2% and everything else increased by 20% or more. Even charity also must increase ah? That's ridiculous!

I also vented my frustration in my article here.

fr said...

Vic, don't feel bad and also don't worry about the old dame. On second thought, I guess she is not in a dire state.

I believe whatever scheme we have there will still be people making a living out on the streets. Some know of the schemes but don't come forward - inconvenience (must show IC, interview, show proofs, sign forms, etc), or they just don't want to.

I have also come across people (not blind ones) selling tissue papers. I have also bought from them before. But then if you see these too often, I think you may have some doubts - they can't find other jobs, or this their part-time job...?

Even those with a blind person, you many also wonder...I am not heartless. These are just some thought that passed through my mind.

Victor said...

Fr - I agree with what you've said. About those people accompanying the blind to sell tissue paper, they look alright to me so why can't they do more productive work instead? Some people believe that there may be syndicates "at work" here. Some months ago, it was featured on TV programme "Frontline" that there was this boy of no more than 10-year-old who sold tissue paper alone in Chinatown. After that he would pass his earnings to a couple in a backlane. So there may be some truth in that belief.

Also, with the one-too-many recent scandals in our local charity organisations, I think people are more careful, if not sceptical about donating their money now.

Cool Insider said...

I see a lot of such old folks at Chinatown and People's Park where my in laws live. Often, my father in law, who is such a generous angel, would give them money or food to eat. Unfortunately, there are so many of them that it wouldn't be possible to help them all. Besides, my in laws aren't that well to do.

Personally, I find that taking action isn't as easy as it sounds not because one is stingy, but more of awkwardness. In a social situation like the above, how does one give without attracting stares or unwarranted attention? However, that is a bad excuse.

I know that one day, I am going to get out of the rat race and do what is right to heal some of the world's hurts. However, now is not the time... yet.

Victor said...

Cool Insider - You so cleverly captured the essence of my post with that comment.

I think some of these old people do get social welfare handouts from the Government. However, with the high cost of living in Singapore today, the small amount of less than S$300/month/person is definitely insufficient even for simple subsistence.

You are right that one person can only do so much to help.

etel said...

Today, I buy another 3 packets from the auntie when I saw her. Still $1 ley, not $1.20. kekekekeeke

Victor said...

Well done, keep it up, Etel. :)

Lam Chun See said...

I don't think she is looking for food. Probably looking for drinks can. I saw one man do that at Bedok Reservoir car park recently. He had a bicycle and a huge plastic bag.

Victor said...

Chun See - You may be right but I didn't see her carrying a bag of cans. I will watch her longer the next time to solve this mystery.

Lam Chun See said...

Next time you should make friends and buy her a lunch.

Victor said...

Chun See - Don't want. So scared that she might think I have an ulterior motive.