Standing in the bathroom looking at myself in the mirror, an image suddenly hits me. I don’t know why but it’s in front of the mirror, looking lost in thought at my reflection, when I get ideas. I am thinking of this photo that has been hunting me since I’ve seen it a couple of days ago and the memory of an old Chinese woman trying to sell tissue paper at the pavement next to the zebra crossing overrun by tourists and locals in Bugis, my favourite district in Singapore, appears vividly in my mind. Even more clearly the reactions of the crowd of people passing her, either ignoring her or shaking their heads instead of saying “no thanks”, scurrying quickly and slightly disgusted past her, treating her like an unwanted nuisance on their busy way to an unknown destination. I came across people like her various times and my companions and I never acted differently. I also never spent a second thought on her. Until I saw the above mentioned photo.
In my childish ignorance, I’ve never realized that she’s part of the people who have been forgotten by the advancing elite and the government that doesn’t really care about the weak. Singapore is emerging and getting to the top thanks to hard-working and intelligent people the government supports but those who can’t keep up are left behind and have to see for themselves. They live in one of the most expensive cities in the world and have to make a living selling tissue papers all day long.
Thinking of it makes my mouth go dry and my eyes turn wet. I know I can’t make a real difference. I’m not a politician. But that doesn’t mean I should let things go on like that. I don’t want to walk past another woman, ignoring her desperate tries to earn some money, again. Never again. I know there are plenty of people struggling with poverty and violence everywhere in the world (also in Germany/Switzerland, yes), but I’ve always had this weird connection with Singapore so the fate of the people there touches me.
I’m going to be different from the unconcerned tourist or indifferent local. Yes, I’m an idealist, but I want to show them that I care. That they haven’t been totally forgotten. I visited a German friend last autumn, a fellow Third Culture Kid, and he buys some food for the homeless beggar next to the shopping center each time he goes there. He does it as if it was the most natural thing in the world and that really impressed me. I still remember how the face of the man lightened up. Because he cared and showed it.
Now I’m thinking of ways how I can do something the next time I’m in Singapore. My little advantage is that I can speak some Chinese even though I look like a foreigner to Singaporeans. So I could talk to her. I could ask her if I could get her favourite meal for her, invite her to eat something with me, or just go to the next hawker centre with her, get her something and leave. (Note: I write “she/her” but I mean whoever I’ll come across doing what that woman was doing) I don’t know. I don’t want to be offensive or arrogant. I don’t want to act heroic and like a saint. I know I’m not. I just want to make a tiny change, even if it lasts just for a short while. Maybe buying some packets of tissue paper is the best thing I can do.
Dear reader, what do you think? Any ideas? I’m kinda helpless so any suggestions (and criticisms about my naiveté) are welcome!