Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Today's entry is in recognition of the Toilet Uncle who keeps the public toilet next to our NTUC Fairprice open. He also accumulates used cardboard boxes and sometimes currently-being-used cardboard boxes, and roots through garbage bins for recyclable stuff to sell to supplement his income. You could say he's one of the catfish in our pond.

Smokes too much, drinks too much Guinness and many a night stares out at the world through a haze of mild intoxication. White-haired (though not always looking elderly), skinny, and walks with a limp and in possession of erratic interpersonal skills. A friendly enough fellow with a lot of angst kept mostly under control. Mostly.

We are quite wary of him because his behaviour can be quite unpredictable. When we walk down his corridor we don't know if he's going to wave and smile, or pretend to threaten our dog, or pretend to be terrified of her (or pretend that he's pretending), or complain about his life with statements that make us feel guilty about ours.

Uncle: Hello! Chi4 bao3 le4 mei2 you3? (Usual greeting in Mandarin)
Us: Hello! Chi4 bao3 le4! (Usual cheery rejoinder)
Uncle: Wo2 zhen3 tian1 hai2 mei2 chi1... ("Well, I haven't eaten all day...")
Us: Oh...! >blink, blink<

We just don't know how to respond after that. If we knew it was a one-time thing we wouldn't mind helping him out with a meal, but we know that we are going to see him every day so are we meant to invite him to dinner with us night after night? Being sympathetic can lead to such an undesirably complex relationship.

Anyway, I mention him today because after tomorrow he will be replaced by someone whom, he says, did him out of his job. Today he was clear, lucid even and he wasn't pretending. Despite everything, he's become a part of our daily routine and we are sorry to see him go.

We've managed to keep our relationship as minimally simple up to now. For that, he deserves a place in my memory (no, it's not like he's going to die or what!), so here's to our Toilet Uncle! Cheers!

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