Normally on Tuesdays I stop to have breakfast at my favourite joint, Al Azhar on Cheong Chin Nam Road. I love the fact that it is laid back and most unassuming in its ambience. I sit there listening to the sound of the radio in Malay - the news, talk shows and music. Fans on the ceiling blowing this way and that. The eclectic crowd. Excellent service - prompt and alert. Al Azhar offers a diverse array of food although from what I have observed, the Indian food seems really popular. My personal favourites are the dosa, mee goreng and roti prata. "Cheap and best" is a phrase I often heard while living in Chennai. Al Azhar is just that. My usual breakfast of roti prata and teh halia comes to all of $3.50.
Flashback to Tuesday August 9th...
I observe my usual ritual. Being National Day, it is a bit crowded with many people dressed in red. A lady walks towards me and asks if I am alone. Could she sit opposite me? Of course, I say. Inspired by her plate of mee siam that arrives almost immediately, I decide to order the same. We start chatting. And chatting. Before we know it, two hours have passed. By the end of it, we both feel we have known each other for years. She refuses to let me pay for my meal. Does this ever happen? In Singapore?
I walk home telling myself that It was just one of those random acts.
Flashback to Tuesday August 23rd...
I am early for a meeting at Raffles City. I walk into Costa Coffee and wait patiently to place my order for a Cappuccino. Finally it is almost my turn. Most unexpectedly, a young man standing in front of me turns around and starts to speak to me, a warm smile on his face. People here generally don't interact with one another, is my immediate thought. "Would you like to have a free coffee?" he asks. Why wouldn't I, I think to myself. "Why do you ask?" He goes on to explain that being a frequent Costa customer, he receives a coupon for every 6th cup of coffee that he buys. "Sometimes, when I see someone nice, I like giving it away". He hands it to me saying, "Have a wonderful day!" I am stumped.
Is this for real? Not one, but two Tuesdays within the same month. Maybe I look like a monk or is it the needy expression on my face? That evening, I enter the lift in my apartment block, dressed in a simple black and white kurta, a pair of jeans and a bright red shawl around my neck. A couple is in the lift and as I enter, the lady has a smile on her face and says to me, "You look absolutely beautiful." Yet another stranger and by now, I am floating.
Last evening... Tuesday August 30th
I get into a cab and think to myself, "oh no, this looks like a grumpy driver". Five minutes into the drive, he decides to surprise me with a little joke that we both laugh at. He then goes on to share his reminiscences of the area we were headed to - Upper Bukit Timah. He points out to me the condos that now stand on past kampungs and temples. We both excitedly remember the Green Spot bottle that used to stand high. And the Yeo Hiap Seng building nearby. "Now Singapore is all about money", he laments as I alight.
He is right. So much has changed. And yet, the simple acts of strangers on two Tuesdays in August have revealed to me that somewhere in this very busy capitalist city state, goodness and kindness are still embedded.
PS: My Tuesdays normally end with the kind of ice cream that takes me right back to my school days. At the end of the day, Uncle would be there on Emerald Hill Road ready to offer us three free biscuits each, whether we bought an ice cream that day or not. It became a habit - running up to him each evening and saying, "Uncle, three biscuits please!"
I have to confess that I felt kind of disappointed when this ice cream man wasn't there outside Sembawang station one Tuesday this August.