Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Acts of Kindness

TWO weeks into the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), I am surprised that my wantan mee seller had not increased his prices. A bowl of wantan mee with several pieces of barbecued meat and a small bowl of soup with wantans, are still priced RM4 at his stall in my neighbourhood in Setapak.
Earlier this year, when I spoke to the noodle seller about the GST and how prices would be increased, he said he would try to absorb the costs as he best could. He has kept his promise.
It must have been a tough decision, I thought, since every stall owner in that small coffeeshop they were operating in had raised their prices due to GST.
Even the coffeeshop owner has raised his prices twice — once just after Chinese New Year and now, after the GST’s implementation. A small cup of milk tea now costs RM1.60, instead of RM1.20 last December. A cup of Nescafe now costs RM2.10. It used to be RM1.50. I am not sure these will remain till year’s end.
I have known this noodle seller from afar since his mother’s time. She had been selling wantan mee at the wet market nearby then. I had also known her to be a kind and generous lady. At the time, the current noodle seller was only a teenager who helped his mother at the stall.
Back then, his mother charged RM1.50 for a bowl of noodles. It was the cheapest in the area during the 1990s, I think. I recalled having asked her if she could make enough to cover her daily expenses with what she had earned. She replied that if she was frugal, she probably could.
“Sometimes when doing business, it should not be for profits alone,” she had told me.
“One must also be guided by one’s conscience.” She then added that she could not raise her prices any higher because most of her customers comprised the poor who were also trying to make ends meet.
Apparently this woman’s charitable nature had also been inherited by this son who had been selling noodles for over two decades now. Whenever I am at his noodle stall, I feel thankful that there are people like him.
I am sure those whose purse strings had to be tightened in these difficult times are also just as grateful for that bowl of noodles at old prices.
It would be very simplistic to reason that he is keeping prices low as a means to attract more customers. But having observed him deal with his customers over the years, I sensed a deeper conviction — of his concern for the welfare of others.
It would be very tempting to raise prices when everyone had raised theirs, I’m sure.
He reminded me of a food deliverer at the college where my daughters were studying years ago in Pahang.
Although the college had a canteen, the canteen operators sold dishes that were mostly spicy and meaty.
Some of the students who were not accustomed to spicy food, and a few were vegetarians, sometimes had to go for days on bread. As the nearest town was about 15km away and there were no public transport out, these students had very little choice.
However, this food deliverer, I learnt, would take orders from the students by phone and ride his motorcycle all the way to deliver the meals each evening.
For a packed meal priced at only RM3.50, his presence was god-sent to the students. I doubt the man’s 15km journey was worth it if he less than 10 orders, but on numerous occasions, I was told, he delivered even if it was less.
At a chance meeting, I once asked if the profit he made from his trips was worth his time and fuel. He replied that if he did not do it, the students would face hardship or the possibility of even go hungry.
“If they have good food,” he had said, “they can study better and their parents will worry less.”
Sometimes, in the haste in pursuing our daily needs, we miss noticing the simple acts of kindness that often make life little bearable for others.
When we do come across one— if scepticism did not cloud our judgement first — the rare opportunity warms our hearts and remind us of how easy it is to be charitable.
We do not need to be exceedingly wealthy nor be endowed with a position of power. Sometimes, by just doing what little we can to benefit those around us also counts as an act of philanthropy.

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