Sunday, April 7, 2013

The story of uncles and aunties who clear your plates in food courts

Ever wondered what's the story of every auntie/uncle who clears your leftovers in the food center?

Auntie Ah Zhu (Let's call her Auntie AZ) came to my table at Food Republic, Vivocity , repeatedly wanting to clear my plates I was still working on. By the 3rd time she came over, I realised it was because she wanted to wrap up her work (11pm at that time). She then noticed Josie fiddling with her notepad (kakao notepad giveaway from at an earlier event #startupasia), and remarked, "that's a beautiful notebook" (in mandarin). I then asked if she wanted one too, and offered mine. She gleefully accepted it like a proud owner, telling us the notepad would be useful for her to take down any new telephone numbers. I teased playfully, "Auntie, you sure it isn't for 4D or lottery numbers?"

Auntie AZ surprised us all with her reply, "I am going blind in a year due to diabetes, and I needed a big notepad with my failing eyesight". Obviously confused, I asked why she was working out late and doing such heavy chores, instead of resting at home and taking care of her body. Auntie AZ then explained that none of her 3 working and married children are supporting her financially (the occasional $100 bucks every now and then could barely help), and she wanted to save enough so she would be able to care for herself when she would be blind. Her husband is simply too lazy and aloof to depend on, while she felt that she wasn't a good enough mum when her kids were younger to justify caring for her. (e.g. not paying for their school fees during their polytechnic days, and not being attentive)

DAFUQ? Exactly what came up in my mind instantly! I reminded Auntie AZ she had endured 9 months (making it a total of almost 30 months) of harboring them in the belly, and not forgetting 3 painful deliveries. No matter how nasty a mum she had been, her kids can never escape she giving birth to them. Her guilt as a not-fantastic-mum was at best silly and naive; Mums are the most amazing people in the world. They can wipe the entire angry bird series and unlock level 100+ in candy crush, other than cooking the most delicious cuisines money can't buy. The only guilt she should feel is her love for sugar, which she giggled in a child-like manner, "i just can't avoid sweet things!". I can't imagine for a single moment how not 1, but all 3 kids can heartlessly ignore a diabetic mum patient who also endured extremely long hours at work putting them through their younger lives. Semi-luckily for Auntie AZ, one of her daughter-in-law was ensuring her husband connects to her occasionally.

Her pay of $1,300 monthly for working 6 days/week and 12 hours daily, after deducting CPF contributions, is hardly enough to sustain her treatments and living expenses. She also lamented that her legs were hurting from pushing the trolley and dragging the pail full of plates. In a slip of tongue, she revealed her suicidal tendencies, but kept positive at the thoughts/sights of her beloved grandkids. Under her breath, Auntie AZ murmured, "they are really cute..." (now I know why my candycrusher mum kept hurrying me for kids and not being so concerned about who the partner is).

But what is truly disappointing, as concluded by my friends Nicole LimJosie Lai,Abhinav Vinay ChandranAzmie Øregano who were with me, is the fact Auntie AZ is not alone. There are many similar, if not more unfortunate, old folks who are fighting to survive each day, collecting cans/papers and cleaning tables, with irresponsible, negligent children who have selfishly decided to cut off ties. I have met this 60+ year old eldery with swollen legs who collects newspapers/ cardboxes along Keong Saik road. She was looking for leftover food in the bins when I was leaving for home. Someone beat me to offering to buy her dinner - I then tried to help carry her load (which is easily 10kg) and walk her home, but she was very egoistic and refused my help - she was happy to just have a chat, and I supposed that's all I could do.

I am typing this at 5am on a Sat morning so I will not forget any details (even after 2 drinks), and not waste a single second moment I got home. I would like to appeal for any advice on government support Auntie AZ can seek, and if anyone can help her. I have her home contact number which I will gladly give you if you PM me, all I asked of is to be tactful when you speak to her. Let her know you are referred to by "Wen Bo or 文博", (my chinese name) whom she met in the food court on Friday night with a bunch of friends, so she knows the context.

If you are pretty helpless like the keyboard warrior me who isn't familiar with the government support, you could start clearing your own plates and dishes, and make the lives of Auntie AZ and her colleagues much easier in future. The very least you can do is not to mess things up your table too. If you have any friends who have such selfish mentalities like her kids, educate them.

And hey, don't forget to thank our cleaner heroes, and maybe engage in a conversation. Being a listening ear is effortless and goes a long way. Finally, the cliche "SHARE IF YOU CARE" applies here :)

p.s. photo from TNP. just for illustration purpose

Frankly speaking, everytime I see uncles or aunties clearing the plates at foodcourts, I always thank them politely....... I dont know....I just feel sorry for them. On the other hand, I cant help thinking why didnt they do a proper retirement planning when they're much healthier and able to earn more previously? The sadder thing is....I usually see more elderly walking around slowly with bended backs than cheerful, robust elderly doing such jobs. The more cheerful ones are mostly working in NTUC or driving a cabby, if you care to notice. Though....I do believe no one will be willing to do a more strenuous job on their failing age unless they dont have a choice.

And seriously....if Auntie AZ has insurance coverage.....she wont have to worry that much if her eyes really go blind because of her diabetic condition. FYI, in the past, coverage is accepted for diabetic patients but not anymore. Why? Because obviously the risk for complications are too high. Nobody can be sure if they can stay healthy all the way so the only way is to get yourself covered as early as you can. Responsible parents will get for their children the moment they're born as they're (usually) the healthiest at birth. For me, no kids(/yet). However, I also buy critical illness plan for my mum to transfer the risk of unforeseen circumstances, and god bless, if all are well, the monies will be for her retirement. My mum is not a spendthrift nor a gambler. Just that.....sometimes, if you don trust your parents with too much cash, like, if you're afraid they get conned especially if they trust people very easily, OR they easily give money out to less deserving people...........then this is a good way of making sure they have money if *touch wood* they ever grow sick OR eventually retired. I'm just saying..................

By the way, having a Will is also very important. It will make sure your estate is distributed according to your wishes.

As for the unfilial kids, people like this do exists. However, sometimes I feel it's the parents who have over-pampered them or did not do a good job in teaching them filial and piety values. Morally and emotionally speaking, every kid bears the responsibility of taking care of their parents when they grow old. But I prefer to think that one shouldnt depend on their kids for their retirement. If one day I have kids, I will take care of them, educate them, nurture them until they're fit to survive on their own. Of course, caring for them etc for as long as they allow me to. But, I will not depend on them nor expect them to live with me, this one old hag, unless of course they love to have me around to take care of their kids or something. Kids, will grow up, to have their own families, commitment, financial responsibilities etc.

Like they say, 靠人不如靠自己.
And I say, 靠自己不如靠保险.

If I feel or know I probably dont have enough means to support myself if *touch wood* one day I grow blind, handicapped, contracted cancer and simply lost any ability to earn, I simply make sure I have enough savings or someone is there to pay for my living expenses. Of course, my husband definitely cant run away from this responsibility. But, how can I bear to exhaust all his hard-earned monies and lifelong savings on me? When he has done absolutely nothing wrong other than staying beside me.

I know only insurance can solve all this problems. They're much more reliable than our government and our children. Think about it~

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