In an extremely touching video circulating online, a girl can be seen offering an angpow to an elderly tissue seller, who insists that the girl give the angpow to someone else or take the tissue he is selling in return.
Published online by Facebook user Soon Yong Koh, the video shows a tissue seller at a hawker centre standing near a table that is occupied by a girl. The girl is busy taking some money from her bag and the tissue seller appears disconcerted as he proffers a few packets of tissue towards her while he watches what the girl is doing.
When the girl puts the money she is holding into an angpow, the tissue seller waves his hand as though he doesn’t want the gift and tries to walk away. The girl gets up from her seat and follows him. She gently places the red packet in the elderly man’s shirt pocket.
The tissue seller removes the angpow from his pocket and gestures to others in the hawker centre, seemingly asking the girl to give the gift to someone else. The girl declines and seems to tell the senior to keep the angpow before walking back to her seat.
The tissue seller follows the girl back to her table and insists that she at least take some of the tissue packets he is selling and places some of the tissue packets on her table. The kind girl insists that she doesn’t want the tissue packets and hands the tissue packets back to the man.
Soon Yong Koh described the heartwarming encounter as such: “A very touching moment. We see them most of the time when we ate in hawker center. The girl gave angpow to the man. The man initially rejected and wanted to give it to someone else but finally accepted it but insisted that the girl take the tissue paper. The girl explained that he did it because he respect the elderly”
Watch the video here:
According to an NUS blog, tissue sellers may have been forced to take to the trade to survive since it could pay theoretically better than “washing bowls, which only pays $5 every hour,” depending on the amount of tissue packets the person is able to sell in a day.
Singaporeans have reported turning to selling tissue paper after losing their jobs or after suffering life-altering circumstances like disabilities.
One tissue seller, 66-year-old Mr Isa Saat, told the New Paper in 2015 that he was forced to turn to selling tissue after losing his right leg in a car accident and after losing his job. The elderly man, who is sometimes forced to skip meals to survive, shared:
“When I told my family I might start selling tissue, they were so shocked and asked if I had other options. I felt very embarrassed and scared that people who recognise me will find out that I’m selling tissue.”
These elderly Singaporeans who are forced to ply tissue paper to make a living in their old age also deal with competition from able-bodied foreigners.
Mr Isa revealed: “Some of them are very greedy, they not only sell at Bedok, they go all over Singapore to sell.” TNP further reported that Mr Isa finds this difficult “because not only are these able-bodied folks quicker than him, they may be selling for the wrong reasons.” The publication added:
“Mr Isa heard from a regular customer that these foreign tissue sellers are actually on holiday to visit their children who are working here. Shaking his head, he says he can only hope that they will stop and give needy people here a chance.”
The National Environment Agency (NEA) has a licensing mechanism in place for tissue paper sellers, called the Street Hawking Scheme. The scheme give tissue sellers an annual license for a $120 fee, allowing them to sell their items at fixed locations.
The licensing scheme, however, restricts sellers from selling their goods at places outside these fixed locations, like void decks or near MRT stations. These restrictions, which may have a significant impact on the earnings of the tissue sellers, cause many to avoid applying for a license and sell tissue paper illegally instead.
According to the NEA, half of the illegal street hawkers they rounded up in the first half of 2015 were foreigners. According to TNP: “Able-bodied women from China, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam were seen selling tissue paper at food centres and coffee shops in Geylang Serai, other parts of Geylang and Chinatown.”
Over the years, Singaporeans have asked the authorities to do more to help elderly tissue sellers. Asking for assistance or grants from the Government or social welfare organisations for needy senior citizens, Singaporeans have urged the authorities to help the elderly live a dignified life in their old age.