“Thank you”, I said again a little louder in Mandarin.

She didn’t hear me the first time round. This time, the middle-aged lady who was clearing my table turned towards me and smiled. This scenario was all too familiar. You see, for over the past 2 weeks, I was in her position. I am working as a cleaner cum drink stall assistant.

Each morning, I report to work at 8am sharp. By then, the breakfast crowd has already started to stream in and the first task of the day usually involves me washing the porcelain coffee cups that are by now slowly accumulating at the sink. I remember rising and soaping the cups on my first day at work only to be chided by the aunties for being inefficient. Two weeks into the job, I’ve gotten the hang of washing the cups efficiently yet effectively.

My responsibilites also extend to making sure that the tables are quickly cleared and readied for the next diner. I think that one thing that I had to accept in this job is to overcome any fear of getting yourself dirty. From bones to wet wads of tissue to cigarette butts, the fast paced environment simply does not allow you to choose what you want to clear. Oftentimes, I find my hands constantly soaked in Mee Rebus gravy or grasping a piece of chicken that was spat out. It definitely isn’t the most glamorous of jobs.

For me, the toughest part of my job probably comes from my role as a drink stall assistant. From the common Iced Milo to the more complex Teh O Siew Dai Po Bing and even the rather unorthodox Kopi Milo, I am in-charge of taking the orders, collecting the money, giving the change and sometimes even making some of the simpler drinks myself. At any one time, I find myself having to divide my attention between 3 separate tasks and as expected, drink spillage and burnt toast have been common ever since I joined. Thankfully, the aunties have been really encouraging or rather tolerating my performance.

Working as a cleaner/drink stall assistant really made me realise just how important appreciation is. Like how a car requires fuel to run, I believe that appreciation acts as our fuel. Clearing tables and washing dishes, the job does get quite mundane at times. However, when I hear a simple “thank you” or even see a smile, it almost feels like my spirit is given a boost. Sadly, appreciation is still sometimes hard to come by and I admit, sometimes even I fail to acknowledge the humble men and women who do such acts of service. Now, having been in both the position of the one who clears the table and the one who asked for his table to be cleared, I understand that a simple acknowledgment can go a long way.

Sometimes when we go to hawker centres, we complain that the cleaners are slow to attend to you or that they do not do a good job cleaning your table. But if we put ourselves in their position – working in a humid environment for hours on end doing a job that is dirty and that no one acknowledges, we wouldn’t be the best cleaners ourselves, would we? While we cannot change the environment and the nature of the job, we can still do one thing. Appreciate. Think about it. If we were to just say a simple word of thanks or just take sometime to ask if the uncle or aunty has eaten, I think that it will have an influence on their job performance as well. If diners at every table that they clean thank them for their hard work, I’m sure that they will begin to take pride in their work and have the desire to put in more effort into the job.

Beyond the cleaners who ensure that you can eat on a clean table, I believe that there are many jobs that often go unnoticed and will thrive on appreciation. From the security personnel at your school, to the bus driver that sends you to work each morning to the construction workers who make our majestic buildings possible. It is time that they get the appreciation that they rightly deserve.

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