lonely old people -- where do they come from?
Chua Mui Hoong
These two women knew nothing
about plans to renew Toa Payoh, or of plans
to redevelop neighbouring blocks and build
new ones on the same site.
They sat at one
table in the void deck of Block 146, Toa
Payoh Lorong 2 -- companionably, but not
speaking to each other.
They live in
one-room rented flats, old folks whom society
has passed by.
Madam Ong is 84,
with one arm in a sling and has rheumy eyes
that cannot see clearly.
She limps, the
result of a fall several years ago.
Her flat is
spotless, furnished with discarded furniture.
She has a small television set, an electric
fan that does not work, a dressing table, a
chest of drawers, a dining table and a few
chairs. Strips of linoleum line the floor.
This is a woman who
has spent the better part of her life
cleaning other people's homes, and now has
only hers to keep in order.
She said she had a
son, who died at 30 several years ago, and a
daughter who has stopped caring for her.
She is dependent on
no one in particular and hence on everyone.
Her neighbour, whose
life is full of small disappointments, said
Madam Ong received free food from hawkers and
herself, Madam Tan, is 76, living in the
rented flat with her younger son, an
unmarried odd-job worker in his 50s. She
wears a gold ring and a gold bracelet.
She is fortunate --
she has four children. Three are married,
however, and have their families to care for.
Madam Tan asked me
wistfully how much I earn, where I live, how
old my parents are, and who lives with them.
I told her how glad
I am that my old parents are well taken care
It was sobering to
realise that it has been only an odd turn of
fate that granted my parents security and
comfort in their old age, leaving others like
Madam Tan to face an uncertain future.
All it would take
are two deaths or three, and my parents, too,
would be destitute.
You see them in
estates all over this prosperous island.
Those left behind by
the fast pace of progress, those with the
ill-fortune to survive their children or who
simply never married and have no children to
care for them.
I have seen old men
and women in estates from Bedok, Ang Mo Kio,
Holland, Toa Payoh and Chinatown, many of
them bent over with age and perhaps pain,
pushing solitary trolleys and collecting
discarded cardboard boxes to sell. I often
wonder how they cope.
I am sure that when
they were young and strong, some with
children growing up around them, most never
imagined they would be in such a destitute
state in old age.
Of course, there are
others who live tranquil lives, surrounded by
children and grandchildren.
Next to the rental
blocks are four blocks of three-room flats
that house old folks who lead different
I met a Teochew
woman whose flat was the focal point of her
six children's varied lives.
The day I called at
her place, three daughters, including one who
had returned from her Paris home, and three
grandchildren were there.
One daughter lived
in Bishan, and was willing to exchange her
flat in what some call the Tanglin of the HDB
estates for one in the same Toa Payoh
neighbourhood -- just to be closer to her
In another flat,
three young children ran around and swung on
A son and a daughter
Then there is Mr
Ang, a retired clerk, who lives in a flat
with his wife and daughter. There were two TV
sets in their flat, both showing stocks
listings, new kitchen cabinets and toilets,
and teak furniture that has lasted more than
Mr Ang keeps busy,
strolling around the estate, pedalling his
stationary exercise bicycle, keeping up with
the news and information and using computer
programs to analyse the stock market.
I would like to age
But if disease
cripples me and death robs me of those who
care -- who knows? I may well end up like
Madam Ong, a discarded old woman living in a
room full of other people's discards.
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