Tissue Paper Aunty, Tiong Bahru

Yesterday, I had a day off. This happens when I’m in between assignments. I had finished a video script for a client and I have an assignment with an Indonesian client starting today. When I have a day off, part of it is typically spent alone, quietly observing stories being played out and capturing it with my camera.

Yesterday, I went to Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre for breakfast (chee cheong fan and yam cake). As I was eating, I noticed this lady pictured. She was hunched over, pushing a trolley, stopping at each table.

Initially, I thought she was collecting discarded plastics to sell. But as she came nearer, I noticed that she was selling tissues. Being hunched over, she had difficulty walking. She used the trolley both to hold the tissues for sale as well as a walking aid.

I had nothing much to do that morning (ok, I did have to run some errands but I let that slide). Instead, I decided to spend the next 45 minutes observing this lady and the reaction of her “clients” (the selling price was S$1 for three packets of tissues).

There were five broad categories of “clients”.

  1. Those who ignored her completely. This group didn’t even make eye contact. Typically, they would brush her aside with a hand gesture.
  1. Those who would decline – but with acknowledgement.
  1. Those who would buy.
  1. Those who would buy politely, engaging her pleasantly.
  1. Those who would “buy” without taking the tissue.

Honestly, for those who are in category 1, I felt no anger. I just felt sorry for the Tissue Aunty. I have no idea what those in category 1 were going through themselves so I can’t judge. They may have just been having a really rotten day. Anyway, I can’t judge because of Matthew 7:1.

It’s those in category 4 and 5 that really touched my heart. These were people who genuinely took notice of her. One of the ladies (pictured below) engaged the Tissue Aunty with a lovely smile and bought a set of three tissues. As the Tissue Aunty left, this lady had her eyes on her the whole time, as if looking out for her. This warmed my heart and welled my eyes.

And then this gentleman having breakfast with a lady on a wheelchair. He too, engaged the Tissue Aunty pleasantly and handed her S$2 without taking any tissues.

An observation I made was that those who engaged her in this manner treated her as a fellow human being, not an afterthought or an object that does not concern them. They showed genuine humanity.

In both the above instances, the Tissue Aunty responded with a grateful smile.

It was beautiful to see.

I believe in God. I know each human being, regardless of who they are, in His eyes, have equal and infinite value.

By engaging the Tissue Aunty, these people in category 4 demonstrated that they understood the value of each person. They did not think any highly of themselves.

As for me, after observing her, I ordered a kopi-o gao, sat down along her “flight path” so she would pass by me. I asked her for three packs of tissues and handed her a S$2 note. I motioned to her to keep the change. She said “thank you” in English and gave me a toothy grin (she didn’t have much teeth left).

If you can afford it, spend the S$1 for a pack of three tissues. Do it with eye contact, a smile and a thank you. It’s definitely a win-win scenario. You’ll always have need for tissues and you would have made the Tissue Aunty happy.




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