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Saturday, August 10, 2013

The burning issue of social mobility

The poor boy, the clueless grandma in red, helpful on-lookers and the traumatised young couple.
Our dinner on Saturday night started on an ordinary note, as we found a seat at the crowded Bedok Central Food Centre and started filling our tummies with ordinary fare - curry chicken noodles, carrot cake, ju kueh and sugar cane drink.  Unknowingly, things were going to change and it was not a pleasant experience.

Half way through the meal, we heard a short cry from a nearby table which got everyone's attention.  The cry belonged to a 4 year old boy and an old lady (presumably his grandma) was trying to take off his T-shirt.  Apparently, a young couple was holding a bowl of hot soup and the lady accidentally spilled it on the boy's back.  The boy sobbed as his mother and relatives spoke to the young couple who were trying to explain how the accident happened.  The grandmother was by now wiping the boy dry and checking how far down the spill went.  Frankly speaking, the boy's family did not look like the educated sort.  They were clueless and didn't look worried about the injuries of the boy.

An alert Mummy Cher exclaimed why they were not doing anything to soothe the boy's skin and so I decided to approach the commotion and told the mother that she should immediately apply cold running water or icy water on the boy.  There was another man who gave the same advice.  A hawker with a booming voice then told the mother that they should apply dark soy sauce and forget about the cold running water.  While I thought the remedy was unorthodox to say the least, the hawker did sound confident about it (and hawkers are more likely to suffer from burns afterall?) so I returned to my seat and carried on with our meal.  The boy was also not crying already and his skin did not look red.

Shockingly, another hawker then went over and offered medicated oil to the boy's grandma.  And worse, the mother did not object as the grandma rubbed the medicated oil all over the boy's back!  It didn't take long for medicated oil to take effect on the poor boy's sensitive, scalded skin and he started screaming in pain.  This time round, the boy's family finally listened to us and somebody brought an icy pack of water to apply on him.  Unfortunately, the boy's back was by now fiery red and blistering.

At this time, one of the family members (perhaps the aunt) was also speaking to the young couple with a few 'helpful' on-lookers.  They were telling them that they should either pay a sum of money or they will call the police.  I was shocked to hear that!  Firstly, they should be sending the poor boy to the hospital as soon as possible and not trying to bully the couple.  Secondly, the hawker who offered the medicated oil perhaps had an even bigger blame for the poor boy's misery!

The lady was visibly shaken with tears welling up and the boyfriend was trying hard to remain civil.

I just had to speak up for the young couple, so I told the relative that it was wrong to threaten them and the hawker should take the blame too.  A 'helpful' on-looker countered that the hawker was merely trying to help.  Huh?!?!  Got into a small argument with the witch hunters before I left my phone number with the young couple and told them that I would be their witness if it ever got to the police.

That dinner episode left a bitter after taste and it was truly painful.  From the pain that the poor boy felt, to the pain knowing that he would probably be disadvantaged in life due to his ignorant parents/family.  There is only so much strangers like us could do for the poor boy.

The feel good stories we hear, especially when NDP is around the corner, often mask the deep rooted problems of our society.  Just like in the Hunger Games movie, I can only hope that the odds of social mobility would be ever in the boy's favour.


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