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As Labour Day draws to a close, we end our week's focus by remembering those who are the most vulnerable in our society – the elderly and the poor, who still have to struggle to make ends meet. We present here again Martyn See’s film, Nation Builders, which was made in 2007 and is rated NC16 by the authorities.
He is on the streets seven to eight hours everyday, starting from 4pm. “Now prices [for cardboards] aren’t that good,” he explains. “And when it rains, I cannot collect them.” Thus he also collects drink cans to supplement his income. He ends his day at 11pm and takes a taxi home. “It costs about fifteen dollars for the trip to and from my house,” he says. We guess that he takes the taxi because he has to bring his trolley along. Our curious eyes spot a bunch of keys hanging from his belt. They’re for locking up his trolley at night, we later learned. He hopes to sell it, because it is rusty and rickety, for four or five dollars and get a new one. It will make pushing it easier, he says. That would be a great help under such scorching conditions during the day.
Turning somewhat sombre, however, Uncle laments that key making is a dying trade in Singapore. The keys produced nowadays with sophisticated technology makes it difficult for traditional key makers to reproduce.
“Some keys are made so delicate and complicated, I can’t produce them with my old machine,” Uncle bellows, adding that “it would also be too expensive to pay for the materials and machines required” if he wanted to keep up with the times.
Uncle Fortune worked as a volunteer in a Thai temple in his younger days. It was there that he learnt the ways of the Buddha from the monks. And evidently, he holds the teachings close to his heart. “Everyone changes as time goes by, so does the world,” he says. “Just live simply.” He still visits the temple about two or three times a week.
In his 30 years as a fortune teller, he has seen people from all walks of life. His customers range from a police officer complaining about his superior at work, to a person dying of cancer.
Mr Loh lost most of his right leg to diabetes. For the past three years, he has been busking at Orchard Road, earning $600 to $800 a month. “There’s no fixed income”, he said. “On good days I get $150, but some days I can only get $30. Life is tough, but what else can I do?”
Before he started busking at Orchard Road, Mr Loh used to perform outside Causeway Point. “I used to play there because it was near my house. Then the SMRT people kept complaining to the police, so I had to move.” Now he commutes from Woodlands to Orchard by long train rides on the MRT.
Bare-footed and shirtless, he stretches out his arm, his hand clutching three packets of tissues, pleading with passersby to buy.
The old man places the coin carefully beside him. He mutters something to himself as he picks up a cigarette lighter. A single strike and a flame emerges. He places the tip of the cigarette to the flame and waits for it to burn. He says something as he lifts the cigarette to his lips.