Tissue Paper Uncle

There’s a tissue paper uncle at the hawker centre nearby who I regularly buy tissue from. He used to sell them in bunches of four with a rubber band tied around them, and he used to write four numbers on each bunch – if you were interested in getting lucky with them. At the time I thought this was a clever idea – you can see some effort being put into the ‘work’ he was doing.

He doesn’t do this anymore. It’s now the regular tissue packets, no quirky details.

Last night, as I bent down to get tissue from him there was a man telling him, “Uncle, don’t do stupid things, uncle. Cannot.” I passed him the $2 and took one packet for myself and walked away slowly. Clif and I looked back and saw that he motioned slitting his wrists and realised what the guy meant.

We sat in the car, a little horrified, and made our way home. It’s easy to go home, it won’t be hard to sleep soundly. It was difficult to forget though. It was difficult not to think about the very few people who would mourn for him and how little dignity he would die with.

Today, we went down again. There were three of us and we squatted and chatted with the uncle. I couldn’t understand everything he said, my Hokkien isn’t very good.

His name is Lok Soon Cheong, and he’s a little over 70. He’s from Ipoh and has no family around, and because he moved around so much when he was younger, he’s a PR in Singapore. He has to make rent every month of $300 so though his legs sometimes can’t take it, he’s at the hawker centre every night and sometimes he meets kind people who offer him a dollar or two and maybe ten. While he sometimes walks around to peddle his tissue paper, he now usually sits down with them laid out on the ground.

He’s grateful for the kind folk at the hawker centre, and there are some days he’s offered food by the hawkers. He is sometimes embarrassed to accept their offers, but he knows it’s a show of concern and care for him.

Suffered a stroke and some other illnesses, he’s been in and out of Tan Tock Seng Hospital several times. The ambulance comes for him regularly but he can’t afford to stay in the hospital for too long, and they usually have too many patients anyway so sometimes he’s only admitted for two days before he leaves. He tells us that he is embarrassed of his physical condition, he can’t control his slight drool.

He doesn’t make it for his appointments with the doctor because it’s too far of a journey for him to make. Even if he could afford the Ezlink, the tedious walk to the hospital from the MRT makes it impossible for him, and the wait is unbearably long.

No nursing home will take him. Other than the fact that he can’t afford it, he’s also not disabled or bedridden.

He doesn’t write 4D numbers on the tissue packets anymore. I learnt that he got scolded for them, some people felt he was encouraging others to gamble.

Why am I sharing this? I’m not sure what my next steps are and would appreciate anyone who has prior experience. In the meantime, I’ll reach out to Comcare, St Vincent De Paul, Caritas Singapore, Acts29, and Catholic Welfare to see what the options are.

(Also just want to add that I think imposing a license on tissue paper peddlers is daylight robbery for these people.)

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