The owner was seated deep inside the shop, chatting with her old crony, and couldn't care two hoots what's happening outside. Browse as long as you like -- no one will bother you. My kind of shop.
Yesterday, I lunched at an old shopping centre, Bukit Timah Plaza. The Muslim food at B1 is my favourite. I also liked the Chinese "point-point" stall at the lowest basement, but it is so popular that you won't find seats there at peak lunch time. One of my favourite stalls is the one selling household items on B1 -- from floor mats, towels, bed sheets, brooms, mops, crockery to pyjamas. The clothes shop near the Muslim food stall is also good for bargains -- tank tops from $10 to $13. I will never miss the pet shop on B2. Rabbits seem to be a favourite pet -- because the turnover is always very good. Each time I visited, there are different rabbits.
Lunch hour at Maxwell Road
Anyway, I was talking about lunch time. Those days, my lunch was a boiled egg I brought from home. But occasionally, I would follow my former school mate, Margaret (she came from a rich family) to lunch. She was also a temp there, but on the 2nd floor. I was on the 5th floor. She would take me to this Hakka (she's a Hakka) yong taufu stall at Cross Street.
Lunch hour at Orchard Road
I knew Mr Lee as a very kind man -- although he looked a bit stern, with big eyes and a formidable moustache. His hair was jet black, neatly combed back (rather like Mr Tony Tan's). Everyday, he would offer to tabao lunch and would ask me what I like. I would tell him "just an apple". He would always ask, "Are you sure? I buy you chicken rice, ok?" When I insisted on apple, he always brought me the reddest and sweetest of apples.
I will always remember him for his kindness. He would give me "job expansion" thinking I was bored sitting at the studio reception the whole day. Once, he asked me whether I would like to do stocks. Maths was my worst subject, but I didn't have the heart to turn him down. So I helped with stock checking. But the storekeeper was a political woman who didn't like me around. Mr Lee detected the chemistry between me and her wasn't quite right and asked me to help with sales instead. He told me to come up to the sales department anytime I like, if there wasn't anything happening at the studio. I translated it to mean "Come up and have some fun if you are bored downstairs...."
I had a great time at sales. Business was pretty good. Tourists trooped in all times of the day. The register rang non-stop. But alas, I didn't quite get the knack of clanging those registers. Sometimes, Mr Lee's mother would also come down to the department store and her presence could be felt -- even many cash registers away where I was trying furiously to give the right change to customers.
I think Mr Lee subsequently also agreed that my maths wasn't so great. To continue alleviating my boredom, he sometimes sent me to deliver films to Tanglin Shopping Centre where they had a photo shop. I certainly enjoyed those "outings".
It was with some sadness that I had to tell Mr Lee that I had a job offer as a reporter with The Citizen. He looked at me with his huge eyes (which I would like to think, showed a bit of disappointment) and said, "So you like to write? Hmmm, if you find you don't like writing after all, you are welcome to come back."
When I was a reporter, I persuaded my editor to let me interview Mr Lee as I knew he owns a rare, antique Hasselblad. It was my excuse for seeing Mr Lee again. Mr Lee agreed to be interviewed -- after much persuasion.
I wonder how he is now... I certainly hope he is well -- and kept his trademark moustache. I understand he was a self-made man who made a name for himself taking photographs and then expanding to own a chain of photo shops all over Singapore.
Mr Lee, thanks so much for your kindness.