Conversation With A 90-Years Old Man in Woodlands

By Tan Too Yong

Yesterday, I met a 90 year-old man who struggled to walk with a walker.

Soon got to know that he spends everyday at a Foodcourt in Woodlands. He reaches there at about 9 am and would sit there to pass his time till about 6 pm in the evening when he goes home – spending about 8 to 9 hours each day at the Koufu Foodcourt.

I inquired why he did that. He told that he had to do that because there was no one home as his other family members are all away at work. He would just be staring at 4 walls otherwise. His spouse has passed on …

At the Foodcourt, he sometimes chats with people. Otherwise, he would occupy himself by reading the newspapers page to page, till it is time to go home again in the evening. He would take meals at the Food Court too, and has his bag of medicines and water bottle strapped to his walker. He wondered aloud to me how long more he could do that because he was getting increasingly immobile …

On further chatting, I learned that he was also a Teochew and that his wife was from Batu Pahat, Jalan Abu Bakar … We then switched to conversing in Teochew – which brightened him up. He laughed when I spoke Teochew as he remarked that my Teochew was “Puar Thang Sai” (which literally translates as “half a bucket of faeces”) – which is a Teochew idiom meaning imperfect or imperfection at something. I laughed along ….

Felt so sad for him that in his twilight years, life has become so empty … He has 5 children – all married but all busy at work. His eldest son is already over 65 years old. He also has grand and great grand children. I do not know who he lives with because our conversation did not get that far. One of his sons was adopted because the person he took the child from could not afford to have so many children due to poverty. This was a common practice during our parents era ….

As he left me, he wished me well and I returned his well wishes. He cuts a forlorn figure as I saw him shuffling away on his walker, one small step at a time, as he trudged and inched slowly towards his block of flats. Yet I had great admiration for his sense of independence …. At least he is willing to get out of the house despite difficulties in moving.. It’s always better to have social interactions…

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