Nick Ang

Street side chats - 10264066

Merry Christmas!

It’s really just Christmas eve as I’m writing this. I’m at a coffee shop, the traditional Singaporean kind from the 1970s, and I’ve just had the most wonderfully spontaneous encounter with a 66 year old Malay gentleman. 

We each sipped our rendition of  teh as we traded thoughts about the past and present, how difficult it is to be Prime Minister, and how expensive the tea was. He had teh o kosong (because he has diabetes and only one kidney, and is generally more health conscious nowadays) and I had a teh tarik. I wonder if he drank teh tarik when he was 26… The year end as it may be, I’m feeling stressed by the responsibilities I’m starting to get from work. Meeting this uncle didn’t help reduce that, but it lightened my mood a bit. We all get to the end of the line some day, and whichever obstacles, opportunities, setbacks and miracles we encounter along the way, they enter and leave our lives eventually. So stressful as work has been over the past two weeks, I’m open hearted and looking around and looking forward. It’s all part of the ride. 

Just when I thought our conversation had ended, a little boy, probably 10 years old at most, showed up and started talking to us. And he was most eloquent! 

Little boy articulated his thoughts about the state of the coffee shop we were in, a small Indian shop called Teh Tarik Time, compared to the much more successful (it had a long line) one next door called Killiney, full of energy as he waved and explained. He even dished out business proposals about how these two shops could collaborate and improve their both their businesses. It was a precious moment, unscripted as my conversation with uncle, and only interrupted when his dad came along and walked him away from us. “I have to go, bye!” were his final words to both of us, awestruck. 

I’m not sure the dad knew what happened there. A 26 year old and 66 year old chatting, happily joined by a 10 year old boy, all having a jolly good talk. Little boy’s dad must have been about 40. I wonder how interesting the conversation would have become if he had joined. 10264066. 

I remember reading someone’s remarks about the importance of pedestrian streets to the functioning of society. The claim was that without these spaces for serendipitous encounters, cities would have no life. I think I agree more than I did before. 

Lesson learned? Always embrace an opportunity to talk with someone when you have the time. Put the phone (and headphones) aside if you can afford to, and get a glimpse into someone else’s life. It’s always fun and almost always heartwarming to know how similar you are to others inside.

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