75-year-old cleaner: I work because I have no choice

Last night, I couldn’t help but notice an elderly lady, half my height, frail and fragile, dragging her weak body across the food-court to clear the plates on the table. I thought to myself, she’s got to be at least 70 years old!

Out of curiosity, I approached her and asked – “Aunty, how are you? You’re looking strong! How old are you this year?”. “75″, she replied. With this conversation starter (which would probably get me rejected by any other lady), I uncovered her story…

Mdm Feng is 75 this year and lives with her 72 year old sister who suffers from speech disability. In their Toa Payoh flat, these two ladies make barely enough to cover their food, transport and medical bills each month.

At 75 years old, Mdm Feng works from 5pm-10pm everyday, drawing a salary of $5 an hour. $700 a month.

“Why do you still have to work at this age?”, I asked.

“I have to continue to work while my body allows me to, or else, when my body fails me, who can I turn to for help?”, she responded.

Unfortunately, Mdm Feng is single and has a mute sister as her only kin. She needs to work; she has to work. At 75, frail and weak, I wonder how long her runway will extend before the grave calls. Does she literally have to work to her grave?

A social safety net. Welfare support. Buzzwords? This isn’t an issue about politics or power, but what and how we want to collectively define our society and measure our performance beyond dollars and cents. How can we strive for greater equality? How can we provide greater support to a entire class in need? I agree that extreme state welfare may breed laziness, but surely there is room to diligently increase support in the right areas?

This introduces a moral dilemma – what is a right area? I don’t have an answer, but we need to collectively define the future of this society, and I hope we’ll be at a place where a 75 year old will no longer have to work to her grave in order to live. The irony of it all.

The marks of a first-world society – what does it mean to you?

Source: Terence Yeo’s Facebook

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