The routine of a housewife is that once a week, she goes to the market. I consider myself a lucky housewife in that my husband will usually join me for breakfast on my market day. Whether it’s because of my company, or the food, has yet to be seen.
A few years ago, I was introduced to the wonders of Tekka Market in Little India. It’s relatively clean, and its offerings would make any home cook salivate in anticipation of new culinary experiments. But that’s not why I’m gushing about Tekka Market today.
You see, Tekka Market is also a slice of Singapore, and perhaps, all humanity. There is an old Ah Pek, who runs a stall called “Ah Pek”, who is probably in his 80s and ploughing himself across the market every day in his wheelchair to sell soybean products and noodles. His stall is very small, tucked away behind more aggressive sellers, but I often go out of my way to visit him. His wife, slightly younger than him, used to be the strong one. These days, she too is on a wheelchair.
The little bits they’ve shared with me – they have daughters who are now married and have their own families to care for. My first reaction is often sympathy for Ah Pek and his wife, who should be resting in their old age. These days, I find myself being amazed at their strength, to come to work every day to do something a lot of people would look down on, even though it’s an honest, hard day’s work. It must be doing wonders for their soul – their aging bodies are lean and they smile easily, not like many octogenarians who scowl and prod their canes at the world.
I might have written about another stall owner, the handsome seafood guy who has 7 children. He once chided me for only having two, saying that rich people who have few or no children are actually poor, because in their old age, they’ll have no one to eat with. A few of his sons work with him, and one rarely sees them fighting. As their hands pass various fresh fish to be cleaned and weighed, one can’t help but to notice their quiet cooperation – movements that seem mechanical yet intuitive, like a series of processes on an assembly line, but better. I often wonder what they’re like at home, the superficial observations of a stranger are often wrong, but I’d like to think that if there’s no screaming at work, there shouldn’t be screaming at home.
Today, I ended my errands at the vegetable stall. Visitors to Tekka Market are often surprised by the music blaring from this stall, located near the side entrance to the market. Today, a Latin American crooner was filling the air with sad tales of lost love and service was a bit slow today as the Tai Tais with their iPhones and maids slowly went through their shopping list for the weekend dinner parties. I patiently sifted through their offerings my herbs, the usual bunch of kailan and various leaves for Saturday’s lunch. I caught a whiff of mint just as the crooner was wailing something I couldn’t understand (it’s nice to listen to music in a foreign language – love lost sounds pretty much the same…) and I realized, in this little patch of green in this cold, and what people call uncaring, metropolis called Singapore, I found a little wrinkle in time – where all it took was some greens to soothe my eyes, the scent of mint and coriander to tickle my nose, the sound of heartbreak to fill my ears, for this symphony of simplicity to fill my soul.