Singapore is a haven for rich people only, as the saying goes. The poor, well, they are pretty much on their own, like Mr Ong. He’s the sole breadwinner in his family, drawing a monthly salary of S$1300. Harsh? Wait till you hear this…he has seven mouths to feed!
Mr Ong is 49 this year. His parents are close to 80. Add on his three children and wife, and you just wonder how he survived all these! He works in an economical rice stall, his work hours start from 7am, and end close to 9pm. That S$1300, when divided, comes up to S$260 per person. Just the basic necessities, such as food, can go up to S$800 per month!
They scrimp and save on food. Even clothes, uniforms in particular, are donated by their relatives. They might try all their best to put aside money, but a visit to the doctor will set them back dearly. Mr Ong recalled that when one of his children was down with high fever, the taxi costs and normal hospital fees could run up to hundreds of dollars! Faced with no other option, he will then try to borrow money from his close friends.
His mum, 73, used to be a cleaner and chipped in to help with the household expenses. Her monthly salary, at most, came up to S$1000. But she was forced to stop work when her husband suffered from heart disease, diabetes, etc. She needed to accompany him on regular hospital visits. It eventually took a toll on her and she quitted.
13 years ago, Mr Ong promised his wife that they will have their own place to call home. But this still remains a dream. 7 people in a three-room flat. How do they find the space? The old parents have the master bedroom for themselves, while Mr Ong and his family have to make do with the other room. His kids are 16, 12 and 4. Privacy will be an issue when they grow older. That is something Mr Ong has taken note of as he has already applied for a two-room flat nearby. Once he gets it, his parents will be able to rent out a room and reduce the pressure on him.
Some people often asked him, why not find a better job?
Mr Ong said he’s 49 now, and dropped out of Sec 2 with no qualifications. This current job might pay less than his previous job (S$1800), but it covers his meals, and is not far away from his home. He saves on transport costs too. The Singapore government helps with subsidies for the low-income group, and will often render help for people who want to upgrade their jobs skills. However, Mr Ong knows no English, and has no basic computer skills. On a fortunate note, his children receive assistance from the Ministry of Education.
When asked about the plans for his children’s future, he gave a shrug. He said that every day, after work, he’s too exhausted. The biggest fear is losing his job in this economy slump.
Rather than upgrading his job skills, he prefers to find another part-time job. Take care of the present, not worry about the future…that’s his current motto.
The only thing he can do right now is to keep nagging at his children to study hard – and get a better job. As for him…he can only take one step at a time…life hasn’t been kind to him, the only way is to grit teeth and keep on going…