Tuesday 15 September 2020

A Surprise Visit from a Very Old Friend

A Surprise Visit From A Very Old Friend

I was utterly shocked on Saturday when my 83-year old friend came to visit. He's almost blind and requires torchlight to move around at night. 

Thankfully, he caught a cab and not ride the mrt as he usually does when he was "working" at the kpt where I would usually sit, read and scratch my balls (not in that order). 🤣

"Working" because he used to "pao jiang-hu" (weather the world) with the boss of Koufu who, at the moment, still pays him a salary even though this old friend no longer works as the "tou shou" (coffee brewing head) at his kpt. It was all because of his failing eyesight. This was already a few years back. 

But up till last year, my old friend, Ah Goh, felt bad for taking an empty salary and he would still make his way to the kpt to start his late-night shift. I was mightily impressed with his work ethic, and even more so when he said he fainted a couple of times on his way there from the nearby Semb mrt station.

That was how I got curious about him. He used to rest a while below my block before continuing his way. Before, I had seen him at Toa Payoh and wondered why a kpt guy in TP would work so far in Semb.

When at the kpt, he would usually sit by himself, clear  the tables, read his newspaper, or take a nap. Come 5.30 am he would leave.

That's some dedication for a man who's old, almost blind and best of all, did not need to be there!

Anyone would be curious as to why. 📷

In our talk yesterday, he again stressed that honesty and dedication to a job were key. In the past, when the Koufu boss called on him to do something, he would always get it done even if it was setting up a nasi lemak biz to supply  his boss' clientele in River Valley.  (Back then it was as happening  a nightspot as today.)

One suspects this guy would still be at his post even when bombs fall. He said the Koufu boss was a good man and he would do anything for him.

This old man grew up in Jalan Cheng Hwa (Bukit Panjang). His parents were well known in the area as jiang-hu medicine people. His mom was an eye "specialist" whilst his father was a mat-on- the-floor snake oil/snake wine medicine man. Ah Goh must have had an interesting childhood. He grew up poor and his education up till P5 was interrupted by the war.

At 15 his father found work for him at a nearby kpt emptying spittoons - for that he was paid $30 a month. He said he hated that start. Who wouldn't? As a kid I had to empty my dad's urinal pot each morning. An odorous task hated by my mom also. In the end, my dad had to give up that habit. 

It was around that age that Ah Goh met the then Boys Town director Bro Vincent (also Founder) who was trying to get him to enrol into his trade school and also to go there to learn English at night. Ah Goh remembers him well because Bro Vincent spoke to him in English; Goh was mightily impressed. Bro Vincent, like most of the BT priests then, they were all Canadian French.  

I attended the sec sch in Boys Town some decade and a half later  and led many parades on Founders Day with Bro Vincent standing on the dias as VVIP. He's a well loved man. Ah Goh also remembers Bros Emmanuel and Roger, the latter whom loved to go around taking pictures. I met Bro Roger some years back when preparing an anniversary dinner. Yes, Boys Town owed Bro Roger many of the old pictures of place when it was founded and built. In fact. many of the giant trees you see standing in BT were indeed planted by Bro Roger himself in the 50s. It's awe-inspiring just standing next to them.

So, unwittingly, a slow old man sitting below my block has a connection with me. Looking at him, people will generally assume he has dementia or something. His movements were slow and seemingly forgetful. He was anything but. His movements were deliberate due to poor eyesight.

In the past I would chat with him whenever I was at the kpt. He was quiet but seemed a nice fellow. And I was always worried if some of the more nefarious characters there might take advantage of these old folks, like one time selling them placenta longevity pills that cost $500 a 30-pill bottle. These pills don't work and make one very heaty, Ah Goh told me. He was wise to just try a sample.

(There's a current trend of post-natal women collecting their own placenta to make pills - believing it would help replenish body estrogen levels. (Making your own is cheaper than buying off the shelf ones which are very expensive and usually made from deer. Placenta pills are not difficult to make if you have an air-dryer. But do note that you can suffer from anxiety or depression or worse, vagina bleeding. It is better to just take regular supplements!)

At one time Ah Goh was always dropping his pen. The reason was a hole in his pocket. An easy fix, so I went home (which was nearby), got out my thread and needle and helped him sew it up. Haha, it was the first time I ever sewed anything with a person in it. In primary school we all learnt to sew, embroider, knit, crochet, etc.  - it was indeed a very unusual but rich experience!

On another occasion, it was just helping him to get a proper elderly phone or bright torch. Or getting him a proper carry-all bag. Small little gestures that made me wonder how come his kids never did all those things for him. Buying a bloody Nokia phone  with screen lock that he couldn't even get past. Really ter nao (pig brain) and also WTF.

That night I met his three daughters at the door. Again wtf. Aren't daughters supposed to know better?

I could understand perhaps Goh was a good provider but not a great father, prefering to run around jiang-hu then hang about at home.

He's now deaf in one ear and can only hear partial in the other.  He needs eye drops daily to see. His eyes are clear so likely the problem is with his retina, the sensing cones hardening and becoming useless. Docs have told him we will go completely blind in three years. Just the thought of that must be terrifying!

Ah Goh regrets not seeking consultation early. Now, in dim places, he needs bright torchlight to feel his way - why I was so damn surprised to get his call on Saturday. I was really gobsmacked. 📷

We finished our catch-up in the kpt at 10:15 that night. Naturally  he was curious as to what changes had taken place at the kpt since he left. I then sent him home by cab back to Bishan. The Malay driver gave me a big discount as he said I was doing a good deed. I said I was just doing what I could. 📷

It was as much an education talking to Ah Goh as it was for me helping him out. Old people are time capsules and since my time volunteering at the Singapore Memory Project (now defunct), I find I enjoy talking to them . Their recall of the past is just like time travel to me. Many a times, I learn very surprising things.

At the door when I was explaining to Ah Goh's daughters how I came to be bringing their father home. They let slip that they didn't even know that their grandparents were from Jalan Cheng Hwa. I think I need to go visit Ah Goh and educate these kids... And "wake up their idea." KNS.

- the end

Ah Goh (Hoo Sin) - half blind but still made his way from Bishan to visit me. I'm humbled.

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