This Story is translated from the book by Mr. Choo Choong Yin’s Book on Ipoh and its stories, written in Chinese.
The year was 1986. There was a coffeeshop in the village of Bukit Merah where there was a popular stall that was selling ‘economy’ rice (a common meal for lunch in Ipoh). The stall was manned by the proprietor himself with aid of a helper.
One hot afternoon, just after the busy lunch hour, most of the customers in the shop had left and it was rather quiet. A shabbily-dressed, middle-aged man arrived on an old bicycle. He parked his bicycle in front, walked into the shop and softly told the proprietor, “I’d like to have 7 packets of plain rice for take-away.”
The proprietor then asked him, “Would you like to have other dishes to go with the rice?”
The middle-aged men answered, “No, just put some gravy and soy sauce on the rice and will do.”
The stall proprietor studied the scruffy-looking men for a while, felt a bit strange and thought to himself, “Just plain rice for lunch? This guy must be really poor to be unable to afford anything more.” He wrapped up all the 7 packets of rice, put them neatly into a large plastic bag, gave it to the man and said, “ That’s RM3.50, please.” But upon receiving the bag, the man quickly rushed off. He got on his bicycle and sped off without a word.
The proprietor told his helper, “I’ll be out for while, you please look after the stall for me”.
He quickly hopped on his motorbike, which was parked beside the shop and tailed the man who fled on the bicycle. The middle-aged man did not realize that he was being followed. A short while later, after a few turnings, the man, arrived at his house, a dilapidated wooden shack. He parked his bicycle, went into the house and shut the door and windows.
The stall proprietor arrived shortly afterwards and looked around outside the house. At the back portion, he was able to peek through some gaps in the wooden wall and saw what was inside. The middle-aged man opened up all the 7 packets of rice surrounded by six hungry-looking children. They must have been starving as the meal was quickly devoured in a short while.
The proprietor then went to knock on the front door. Not suspecting anything amiss and thinking that it was his neighbour calling, the middle aged man went to open the door. He was shocked on seeing the stall proprietor standing in front of him and looked terribly guilty.
The proprietor gave him a pat on his shoulders and said, “Don’t worry, I am not here to ask you for the money for the food which has not been paid. I could have caught up with you earlier on my motorbike and confronted you but I didn’t. I don’t understand why, if you had wanted to cheat me, why didn’t you ask for other dishes to go with the rice?”
The middle aged man sighed, tears welled up on his eyes. He said,” I worked in the tin mine for more than 20 years. The tin prices slumped, the tin mine had to close down and I’ve been retrenched recently. My employer only paid me half a month in compensation. After paying for the house rent, electricity and water, I had no money left. And my wife has left me with the kids. The kids have been without food for the whole day. Out of desperation, I did what I had done to you. I am truly sorry.” The stall proprietor was moved by the circumstances the middle-aged man was in and offered to help. “I’ll give you a month to go elsewhere to look for a job. I will provide your children with two meals a day. You can get your eldest daughter to pick up the meals from my stall everyday. When you get your salary later, you can come back to repay me. What do you think? The middle-aged man was overjoyed and was very thankful to the restaurant owner indeed.
The above was said to be a true story which happened in Bukit Merah. Words spread around, all the residents came to know about it and it became the talk of the village.
Remember: The year 1986 was the pits of the recession the 80’s . The tin mining industry in Kinta Valley slumped in the early 80’s causing a lot of people to be out of job. The economy was very bad. Paycuts and retrenchments were the norm. That was also the period where there was massive exodus of young people who went overseas to seek employment, not only from Bukit Merah but also from several smaller towns around Ipoh.
Today we are in recession again. Will you be prepared to help your neighbour, of whatever race, creed or religion if he needs it?