Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Growing up poor

It's not easy being a woman in the working world. I never have it easy.

I came from a poor family. My parents are both illiterate. We lived with my grandmother in an attap house until I was 7, then we moved to a one-room rental flat In Toa Payoh Lorong 1A, near Philips factory. My Dad was a crane driver and my Mom was a washerwoman. She would bring the 3 of us with her to different houses in the morning to wash clothes. This went on until I was in Primary 3.

I was able to help my Mom out at age 9. I was taught to cook, go marketing, clean the house and do the laundry. (Today this would be considered child abuse.) My Mom then went to work at Yaohan supermarket as a trainee cook, deep-frying the popular crispy chicken wings. Her salary was less than S$320 a month.

My brothers and I used to go to her workplace because we would get free scraps of food. Her colleagues would sometimes gave us those 'damaged' items. Burnt or overcooked food. It was a feast to us because we used to have porridge at home.

We looked enviously at the happy children eating Japanese food and snacks. We could only stare and swallowed our saliva because we didn't have money. Have you ever look longing at others gulping down their food?

The luxurious things in Orchard Road captivated me then. I told my parents I would study hard, get a good job, so as to be able to shop in Orchard Road. How silly I was then!

Because Mom was deep-frying chicken wings all day long, her hands got scalded very often by the hot boiling oil. Later the condition of her injuries got worse. Her wounds were infected and didn't heal. She had to be hospitalised for a skin problem and she was fired from her job. My Mom had to endure months of pain and suffering. Every time the nurse came to change her dressing, she would cry. The nurse had to scrape off all the dead skin before applying antiseptic and medication. Till this day, my Mom's two hands are covered with scars.

My Mom's injuries caused more financial hardship to my Dad. He had to work two jobs. Both our parents were not at home most of the time, I being the eldest had to take up the responsiblity of taking care of my 2 younger brothers and look after the house.

My grandma gave Dad some money to pay for my Mom's hospitalisation charges and this caused much unhappiness amongst my Dad's siblings. My uncles and aunt looked down on us and we were always cast aside during family gatherings. As a young child, I could feel the open hostility towards us.


  1. feel so sad reading this post... and you certainly made it thru to where you are now... happy for you :)

  2. How dare an Uncle look at a child like that! Everyone in this life is just one blessing or curse away from a change in status.

  3. My parents went through something similar although they owned their own business and had to work 7 days a week. Thank you for telling us your story.

  4. Oh man... A really touching post. But it's great that you have parents who love you and your siblings so much.


  5. Not too bad what. Got fridge, got TV. Some more got balcony. Like studio apartment liddat. :P

  6. Hi pinkie!
    Just treat it like a tale and don't feel sad for me. I made it through.

  7. I'm not going to feel bad about this because well... Most people growing up in a situation like that would be thinking they have no hope for improvement... But it seems like you worked it out for the better eh?.. This is the first time I have viewed your blog and from what I can see your a great mind as well as a great individual.

    Take care - Seanzy

  8. Right, SA.
    There are many things then that a young child like me cannot get answers. What is the matter with these people? Why can't we treat each other with respect and dignity? Why is there always a class distintcion?

  9. Now I am being reminded of the good old days staying at Bukit Merah. A good 10minutes walk away from Tiong Bahru market for the fishballs. Cramped, but certainly happier than now.

    Sidenote: I'll add a link to your blog in mine. You have a lot of good experiences that ought to be shared.

  10. Hi Amie!
    Yes, my parents really love us and did many things for us.

  11. Ya, Victor.
    Shouldn't be classified as poor, right.

    We have a black and white TV that needed some banging before the images came on. The small second-hand fridge is a 'gift' from a neighbour who gave it to us when they moved to a bigger flat. Damn, why didn't anyone thought of giving us an air-con? Even an electric fan would be good.

    Oh ya, that's how ALL civil servants view the poor. Until today? Jeezus............

  12. Hi Seanzy,
    Thanks for stopping by and it's nice to have you.

    Thanks for leaving a comment.

    I worked my way and survived through such poor circumstances. I hope those who face such situations would find courage to carry on living. Don't EVER give up hope. Don't take the easy way out.

    My family did it without any handouts or financial help from our government. With our pairs of hands, we worked towards a better living. It took longer but the ride was worth it!

  13. Hi endoh taiki.
    Thanks for linking me.

    I try not to think about the past. It brings me a lot of pain. My wish is that my son will not have to go through it. But I guess having walked through the dark valley and fell flat on my face lots of time, do make me a tougher person who is ready to face any battle along the way.

  14. I feel you there... coz my dad's an outcasted orphan. Will check back in for new posts again. Take care.

  15. Oh I see. Now that you have explained, I can feel the sadness. Civil servants are not completely heartless.

  16. Talking of 'silly' ambitions - I wanted to treat myself to Pepsi everyday!

  17. Thank you for sharing your story here. I think there are a lot I can learn from your life experiences.

  18. Chun See
    You still having CNY mood hor? Hehehehe....

    My dad was a forklift driver and my mum, too, used to be a washerwoman. But I don't think we kids, my siblings and I, grew up as sensible as you. Really. Which put me to shame somewhat....