At the time of discharge from Khoo Teck Puat Hospital on Friday, my mother asked the doctor, “When can I go back to work?”. The doctor asked my sister Hannah in English, “What is she working as?”. “She’s the General Manager of the Cleaning Dept.” Hannah replied. She told me. It happened before I arrived. All of us had a good laugh.
My mother is a resilient, happy-go-lucky person. She would say she uses a big pen to write on the floor like an artist. The big pen is mop, she worked as a cleaner. My siblings and I have mother’s way of seeing life in a lighthearted way. We too find humour and joy in life even though sometimes it is not kind to us.
My brother drove his wife, my mother, my sister and I to go back to mother’s workplace to collect her personal stuff. Along the way, several young men in the lift greeted my mother “Auntie”. Mother seems to be well-liked. Today should be her last work day. She didn’t tell anyone.
In Singapore, citizens do not enjoy privilege of having government taking care of us. Filial piety is still a very Chinese thing. However, such values are gradually eroded. More and more old people are in nursing homes, being forgotten by their family members. Some in old folk’s home.
There was once I was at the cobbler’s stall to mend my shoes (the one under the big umbrella next to Raffles Place MRT station entrance). A tourist from China asked the cobbler why he needs to work at such an old age. The China tourist thought Singapore government will give retirement income to every old people, Singapore is a place “full of gold on the ground” she said in Mandarin, meaning easy to earn money in Singapore. What a misperception. The retirement income is CPF, that’s the people’s money, not from the government, I said. To say it’s easy to earn money in Singapore, the country has good job opportunity but we face fierce competition too. I answered for the old cobbler uncle while he busied at work. In chinese saying, “hand stop, mouth stop”. It means once you stop work, you will have no means to feed yourself.
In fact, CPF is an important element for every Singaporean. There is a component called Medisave, to help members pay for their healthcare cost. We also buy insurance using our CPF savings. Singapore government also encourages old people to work by giving workfare bonus. As long as one reaches beyond 55 continues working, government will give a certain sum of money from a few hundreds to around $2,000 base on the house type one lives. We called it means testing.
To some people, it could be unthinkable why Singapore functions this way, why there are so many old people working at low-paying jobs. While some are happy and proud to stay employed, most are worried about high cost of healthcare and living as the life expectancy has increased over decades.
Mother had settled down at my house. I talked to my domestic helper, briefed her about the changes which are going to be permanent, food, etc. Some inconvenience expected in the transition period. Respect one’s privacy, establish clear boundaries in responsibility is what everyone in the family needs awareness. I also explain to my siblings and the plan to rent out mother’s flat so she can collect rental income. Seeing the figure growing in the bank passbook gave mother comfort. To make her stop working and stop worrying, I think this is the best arrangement I could think of.
Seeing differences as positive, interesting, enriching and how to maneuver around sensitive boundary issues is important in that sense.