I was walking along Ang Mo Kio Central tonight, when out of the corner of my eye I spotted an old uncle standing blankly next to a bin. I’m not sure what prompted me to approach him but he had a strange despairingly look. It was a look I was not familiar with.
“Is everything okay?’’, I asked him in mandarin. He seemed quite surprised by my question and said he was okay, but just a little hungry. He then immediately asked if I could spare him some money for food.
Instinctively all my alarm bells went ringing. This has to be a scam and I’m not about to be your victim. I’m not going to fall for your little pity ploy. So I said sure, let’s go to a nearby coffee-shop and I’ll buy you some food. He seemed relieved by that suggestion.
Upon getting a seat, and at his request we ordered a bowl of fishball soup and some iced milo. We started to talk. Uncle is 83 this year and he has a wife at home that he cares for, however she isn’t with him as it is inconvenient for her to leave the house. His son, in his fifties, gets by earning $1000 a month, which is insufficient to support the family. And therefore, to avoid being a burden, he resorts to asking for meals and money from the public when they get hungry.
And then suddenly, I was overcome with shame. Here I was, an able bodied working adult, earning a decent salary and never having to worry where my next meal was going to come from, yet here I was, worried that an old man was about to swindle me of a couple of dollars. Uncle said that the people who were most willing to help were usually the youngsters because they were the least suspicious. And it taught me an important lesson today.
It seems that we have become a nation of detached, distrusting strangers. As we grow older and as many of us enter the corporate world, we grow increasingly disillusioned of the world and its devices. We learn to look after our own interests first. We become cautious, skeptical and apprehensive. We forget to take care of one another. Perhaps if we learn to care for one another a little more and choose to see the good in people, then maybe, just maybe we can make the world a slightly better place for those who need it most.
A short while later, i left him with some money and went on my way. It was probably the most meaningful amount of money I’ve spent in a long long time. Sometimes we forget how blessed we truly are.