5 Minutes With...Lao Wong

"5 Minutes With" is a new series featuring the everyday people with stories we never bother getting to know. Exploring Singapore's social fabric to understand its people better, the series will feature anyone from fruit sellers, cleaners, housewives to immigrants.

Lao Wong is a frequent face at the fruit stand in my neighbourhood. A gruff and straightforward man, I've never stopped to talk to him or bothered to find out his name. Today as I approached him to ask if he would like to have a conversation, he seemed to have a hard time expressing himself at times. Having stopped school at 5 years old to help his parents out with selling fruits, he's never thought of doing anything else. Now 74, he has 3 children and holds the opinion that he is now too old to have dreams or to try anything new. Our 5 minute conversation was entirely in Chinese so here is the rough translation below. 

Rachel: What do you do everyday?
Lao Wong: I don't do much.  Everyday I wake up, eat and help others sell fruits like durians. 

Rachel: Oh, so do you have a business selling fruits?
Lao Wong: No, I just help man the fruit stand here for the store inside. 

Rachel: What did you do when you were younger? Like when you were in your 20's?
Lao Wong: I've always sold fruits. Starting from the age of 10, I've always sold fruits. That's just it really, there's nothing much to say besides that. 

Rachel: How about your education?
Lao Wong: Studying? I've not studied since I was 5 years old to help my parents out. Since then, I've just been working selling fruits. 

Rachel: Are you happy then? 
Lao Wong: Happy? How am I supposed to be happy when I'm poor? There's nothing to be happy about.

Rachel: There's always something to be happy about. Do you have any children?
Lao Wong: Of course. I have 3 children. The youngest is already 30 years old, they're all working now and taking care of their families. 

Lao Wong: Everything is so expensive in Singapore these days...it's too hard to live and to have a good life. Look at me, I'm so old but I still have to work cause of that! I'm in my 70's and I still have to work...
Rachel: Yes, it's hard on those who can't keep up...

long pause

Rachel: Have you travelled overseas before? 
Lao Wong: Just once. I've been to China. I visited Guangzhou, Qingzhou, those places...nothing interesting about my life...

Rachel: Hmmm...did you have any dreams when you were younger? 
Lao Wong: Dreams? I've never had the chance to dream of anything. Since I left school at 5 years old and my parents had no money, how was a 5 year old supposed to have the capacity to dream? There's nothing, I never had any dreams and I'm too old now to dream of a different life. You're young, you can still dream but I'm old...I can't.

Rachel: It's never too late to have dreams. How about Singapore? Do you like it or...?
Lao Wong: I neither like nor dislike Singapore. It's just as it is. I've never had an opportunity to think about living in other countries. As long as I get by, that's enough.

Lao Wong: I'm already so old. In a few years time, I'm going to die. What's there to do in this old age? What can I do? I'm useless.
Rachel: Don't say that, you're not useless. 

Lao Wong: All I do everyday is sleep, eat, sleep, eat, sleep, eat...there's nothing to do...do a little work here and I go home again.
Rachel: Do you do anything in your free time?  

Lao Wong: Free? When do I ever have free time? I just walk, I guess. I walk around the estate and go home after. Watch some TV and that's it. What is there to do? There's nothing to do. I don't know how to do anything, how am I supposed to do it? (chuckles to himself) I've never had the chance to use my brain. As long as I can get by, I'm fine. Best not to think too much anyway or I'll go siao (crazy in Singlish)

we both laugh

Rachel: Okay. Thank you, Lao Wong. See you around then.
Lao Wong: See you.




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