Tourism websites will tell you that it is a wonderful place to visit with its exciting nightlife, delectable multicultural cuisine and breathtaking skyline, and it evidently is, as the number of tourists we see on the streets never seem to dwindle.
Often, on my travels, one thing that seems to slip off people’s tongues when I tell them that I’m from Singapore is that the city is “really clean, and you can never find any rubbish on the streets.”
While no one can say that there is absolutely no rubbish to be found, it is easy to see that it is a pretty clean country and there are always people around to clean up after us. I call them “The Invisible People”.
“The Invisible People” hold a thankless job. We see them at fast food chains, where most of us leave behind our leftovers with smeared condiments and dirty tissues and by the time they come to pick up after us, we are long gone.
We see them on the streets sweeping up fallen leaves and cigarette butts, and we walk swiftly by them. We see them at public toilets, wiping up the nasty mess that we made. We then wash up at the sink, then proceed to flick the water from our hands onto the floors that they have just mopped. We see them, but we don’t see them. I have been guilty of that too.
I was at the Science Centre the other day and had to make a trip to the ladies. On the way out I saw an “Invisible Lady” lugging a bag of trash out the door. What caught my eye that day was her slight limp, so I helped her with the door and asked if she needed help. She waved me off with a smile, saying that it was her job.
Madam Lee Yu Qin, 60, had recently started working at the Science Centre as a cleaner with a monthly pay of $1100. Her take home pay is about $800. She lives alone. She previously worked at Sim Lim Square with a starting pay of $650 and when she quit ten years later, her last paycheck was a grand total of $1000.
Madam Lee’s supervisor had given her time off to recover from her leg surgery, and when she returned 58 days later, he said that he would have to pay her a new employee’s salary as she had been gone for so long. Knowing she would not win, she left.
On a separate occasion, I was coming up an escalator at the shopping mall 313 while stuffing my face with a piping hot curry puff, when I saw a $5 bill stuck at the end of the escalator.
There was an “Invisible Man” clearing out trash from the bins nearby and as there was no way I could think of to find the money’s owner, I instinctively picked up the note and said, “Uncle, I found $5! For you!” and promptly handed it to him.
Mr Tay, 73, lives alone in his son’s flat in Choa Chu Kang. His son works in Shanghai and gives him a monthly allowance but Mr Tay still wanted to find something to do. He had a hard time finding a job at his age, and always got told at interviews to wait for their call. The calls never came. His perseverance paid off when his friend told him about the job at 313. He started out with $1200 and then got a pay rise and earns $1300 now. He says his bosses are good to him and that they raised his pay without him asking.
I asked if his job was tough and he shakes his head and says proudly, “6 days a week, 8 hours a day, rain or shine, public holiday or not, I am here!”
Then he wrinkles his nose and says that sometimes his supervisor likes to tell him how to do things and he doesn’t like it because everyone has their own way of doing things. But, he adds, we all have our job to do and its only right that we be responsible for what we do.
At that moment, a teenage girl walks up to him and immediately he stretches his arm out to collect her empty cup to dispose of. She thanks him and he offers her a little smile.
It was truly an eye opener to get a some insight, even if only a little bit, into the lives of “The Invisible People”. They do the jobs that nobody wants to do, to keep Singapore clean and green, and they do it with pride in their hearts.