Diana Goh: Yesterday I was walking around Chinatown with my godsister, and we happened to walk through a back-lane alley behind shophouses at Mohamed Ali Lane where this unkempt old lady was selling second-hand goods and other things that she picked up from the garbage chute nearby.
She was calling out to the few people who walked by. She asked if we would like to buy any of her products at only $1. She is someone who would insist on giving you exact change and say she can't accept money if she didn't work for it.
This elderly lady is almost fully deaf (we had to shout into her ears, or exaggerate our lip movements as she reads our lips to understand what we are saying). Both her eyes are swollen, the joints in her toes swell in red reflecting symptoms of severe rheumatoid athritis (关节炎). The joints are all so badly inflamed that she couldn't move around much at all.
She told us that if not for her heavy trolley, she would not be able to get up from the ground. She was dressed in pants which seem soiled and wet. The old lady build a stack of newspapers and clothings to make a small little 'seat' for herself. Flies and ants were swarming around her.
We chatted with her and asked her whether she had children, and she replied that she prefers to sell things or do cardboard collection to earn a living. She does not wish to burden her children as all of them have their own families and houses.
The old lady did not elaborate, but her eyes seem to well up in tears a little when speaking about her children. Yet she is still fiercely independent, explaining that she did not want to ask anyone for help. Due to her rheumatoid athritis, she has difficulting walking and pushing the trolley here and back home.
She told us that she stays at Block 533 Upper Cross Street. Her place is about a 5 minute walk from the back-lane where she is. But she told us that every day she would come out at 4pm but take an hour to reach here. That is because she has to push the heavy trolley of all her things to and fro and she walks very slowly due to all the pain in her joints, both arms and legs.
I also wish to share that the love parents have for their children is so true, so unconditional and boundless. Even when this old lady struggles with her everyday living, her medical expenses, and the huge variety of medications that she told us she is on, she continues to earn her own living and fend for herself. She is contented and I can tell from the way she speaks about them that she loves them. Let's honor our parents, be thankful for for their existence and respect their actual role as givers of life in the sequence of human existence.
Among the things the old lady sold, we went to choose the heaviest of all so that it would be easier for her to push her trolley home. We bought 5 small bottles of liquid soap from her, the contents of which were already leaking out everywhere. We gave her $50 and she said it's not nice, adding on that we worked hard for it like her and that the money did not come by easy. But we insisted she kept it. She thanked us profusely and said this is going to help her so much.
You can do your part by simply walking by and getting some of her things on sale. If you give her money without getting anything she won't accept it. But you know other than your purchase, she is a chatty old lady who seems to enjoy the company of people. She is probably lonely. We spent some time chatting with her and she seemed so happy about it.
There are indeed many others in the same plight as her, falling out of the safety nets in our society. But as in education and the story of the starfish we all know, it matters that we do the little we can to impact these lives one at a time. Please share this note and let's spread the awareness everyone. Thank you.