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The goodness of ordinary folk

Publication Date : 27-08-2014


On Friday, I experienced true beauty in a place that could be considered as dirty and ugly: the wet market of Petaling Jaya Old Town.

I had taken my 80-year-old mum for her session at the acupuncture centre in the early morning and since the centre was very near the market, she wanted to go there to buy fresh noodles. I didn’t want to as I dread wet markets but she insisted.

It wasn’t possible to park near the noodle stall so we had to walk a short distance.

Halfway, mum turned pale and started to sway. She was hit by a severe dizzy spell. I wrapped my arms around her and struggled to keep us both on our feet.

Suddenly there was an extra pair of hands supporting her and helping me guide her to a nearby lamppost for support.

I turned to see a young man, his face full of concern.

I looked around for a chair or stool for her to sit, but all I could see were slimy baskets and grubby boxes.

I was getting frantic because mum looked like she was about to faint.

Then a middle-aged man came running from the market, lugging a large blue plastic container. It was wet and probably used to transport fish. He turned it over and told the young man to grab some newspapers to line the top.

I heaved a sigh of relief as I sat mum down on the makeshift bench safely to rest.

I thanked both men profusely and they left. All thoughts of buying noodles had vanished and I just wanted to get her home safely

“But the stall is just there in the front,” she protested. Nothing was going to prevent her from getting her four packets of wantan mee and three more of kway teow (flat noodles). “I’ll wait for you here.”

Luckily, I found the stall easily, bought the stuff and hurried back.

By then, mum, who feeling better, was chatting with yet another young man. He was the fish monger, his plastic apron flecked with scales. He recognised mum as a regular customer and was giving her a lecture.

“Auntie, you should not come to the market any more. Dangerous, you can fall down,” he told her earnestly and offered to get her a drink which she declined.

I was amused and touched that he was willing to lose a customer out of concern for her health and safety.

When we got back to the car, mum told me with a laugh that the fish monger always tried to dissuade her from buying in bulk because he didn’t like it that his fish wouldn’t be fresh by the time she cooked it.

“And he often totals the bill wrongly so that I overpay. But when I tell him on the next visit, he will always take my word and give me an extra fish.”

I laughed too. And I thought how wonderful. I detest wet markets and it is normally the maid or my obli­ging son who will accompany mum to the market.

But look what I had been missing out: developing friendships with people who see their customers as people and even individuals.

That is something that doesn’t happen at the supermarket where everything, including the service, is impersonal, cut-and-dried.

This episode made me rethink my aversion to wet markets – mum swears by their freshness and cheaper prices – and I’m mulling over taking over my mum’s place as the Auntie and her network of fish, ve­getable, noodle, etc, suppliers.

But I celebrate the fact that in such a busy, chaotic place, there are people with good hearts who will aid someone in need, regardless of race or religion.

That Friday, I kept seeing good people everywhere: the acupuncture centre where the staff treated their many patients cheerfully and at a nominal fee; the hospital where the doctor came in during his sabbatical just so he could attend to my dad and answer my numerous questions patiently.

I even appreciated the scolding I got from the nurse who told me to keep to the appointment time and then gave my dad a warm, friendly smile.

I know there are good people across our nation. But why am I always pleasantly surprised by any first-hand experience?

I think it’s because I have been poisoned by those who have pro­blems with living in a multiracial country.

Their poison is, unfortunately, the worst kind because it is a long, slow drip and after a while, it seeps in without you even realising it. It’s insidiously toxic because it blinds you with cynicism and doubt about others.

But Friday, on a day when the nation showed it could put aside differences and mourn together to start the healing process, I realised I too need healing of my own – one that purges my cynicism – so that I can start seeing again the beauty, the goodness and the kindness in my fellow countrymen and women. Happy Merdeka, everyone.


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