A Confused Old Man Of Pagoda Street

In 1960’s  our shop, Chop Wah On was still located at No. 67, Pagoda Street. Across the street, was a small cigarette and titbit stall run by an old man ( Uncle Seng/成伯) whose family lived on  the upper floors of one of  shophouses. It was his valiant attempt to  contribute  towards the family’s meagre income. With age, little education and poor health, the old man was often very confused and suffered from brain fog . For example, if a customer was to pay with a $10/= note to buy a packet of cigarettes or some thing else, it was beyond Uncle Seng’s ability to know what was the correct change to give out. He had to shout for his daughter-in-law Ah Lin/亚连 who would normally be busy washing  clothes for people, rush helter-skelter down stairs to the stall to help with giving out the correct change.

At the time, it was quite common for coffee shop to sell hot water to the neighbours for 10- 20cts a mug as many living in the crowded shophouses, often cannot boil their own hot water in the shared kitchen. Some used it for bathing and some for making starch to either starch their clothes or to stick things together.

One day the Ah Lin  bought a small  tin of Butterfly brand almond powder  from Hong Kong ,to make almond pudding as a special treat for her Uncle Seng  to celebrate his birthday and also to alleviate a cough he was having.  She scooped a few spoonful  of almond powder into a bowl, added some water and told her father-in-law to go buy some hot water from the neighbourhood coffee shop and then  eat up the pudding. The old man relished it as it was a rare treat for him, given their financial circumstances.

The next day, the Ah Lin  brought down a bowl containing some corn starch in water and  told her Uncle Seng  to  buy some hot water from the coffee shop. After adding the hot water to the bowl of corn starch, the old man ate up the starch mistaking it for another bowl of almond pudding. He told Ah Lin “ Kah -So Ah Lin, (Daughter-in-law) today you forgot to add sugar. Not so nice. Yesterday’s was better. Next time don’t forget to add sugar”.

Ah Lin shook her head in exasperation with tears welling in her eyes when she realised her father-in-law in his confused state of mind mistook the bowl of corn starch for almond pudding.  She blamed herself for not making it clear to her father-in-law. Fortunately, nothing was wrong with him after taking the bowl of corn starch.

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