Our first few visits to her back in the year 2001, when we started our outreach project to befriend elderly staying alone in one room HDB flats, were unsuccessful.
Fortunately on our third visit (I think, and I must admit that I am starting to forget little details like this. The reason why I started documenting my life… haha), we found her about to enter her house, managed to talk to her and arranged for our next visit.
When we arrived the next time, we saw that her door was opened but chained to leave a small gap just enough for her to see us. Looking into the unit, we saw her seating on a chair about 2 meters away, holding on to a hammer and staring towards the gap looking out at us. Her face brightens up and smiles when she saw us. Thanks to our years of watching Cantonese drama series on SBC, we were able survive the one hour plus visit and know more about her. Her life as a Samsui woman when she came to Singapore, her pride of the red hat she still keep, her bad experience of being robbed at home, the reason for holding on to the hammer and chaining up her door.
Following our first visit, we make it a point to be on time, yes, on time and not earlier for our visits. We tried to be earlier initially, only to discover that she sat herself on that chair even earlier so that she will not miss us. With her hearing lost, she is worried that she can't hear us when we knock on her door.
What I like about her is her attitude towards life and her ever lasting laughter. In our attempt to assure her that it easy for us to reach her block, my friend told her we travel by car. What’s next surprised us when she laughs and told us she is better off with 2 cars! By the word car, she meant the old rusty trolleys that she uses to support herself. One is chained next to the lift and the other kept in her house as spare. She prefers that as against a walking stick or walking frame because she looks fitter and younger, she joked. Besides, she can also use it to collect old newspapers and carton boxes along the way when she walks to sell her second-hand goods in Chinatown.
Being lonely plus the asthma, cataract, high blood pressure, frequent aching and falls, we would expect her to be sad and depressed. But no, not once did we saw her without her sweet smile, including the time when we send her to SGH A&E for emergency treatment due to her asthma attack. She never seeks help from the government and chooses to support herself thought her earnings selling the second-hand goods, old newspapers and carton boxes. She always insisted in making those delicious "kok zai" (peanuts dumping) every Chinese New Years and forced us to take it home. Her way of saying thank you to us for visiting her, bringing her for her hospital visits and reading her letters.
I had stopped visiting her when works get busy in 2006. Whenever I am near Chinatown, I will always remember her sweet smile and the delicious "kok zai". However, I do not have the courage to visit her as I fear that she may had forgotten me and I may be giving her the false hope that I will start visiting her regularly again.
Hope she is getting on fine and still have that sweet smile on her face.