You’ve read some stories about the non-academic staff and personnel in law school – Remember Auntie Tara, who wakes at 3:50am every morning to travel here for work? Or Suresh Krishnan who is pretty much responsible for the great Briyani we get to enjoy at the Summit today? And just a while back, Mr. P. Rachandran, the Senior Operations Manager of campus security, who urged us to serve the community as lawyers? Today, we share with you parts of our informal conversation-cum-interview with Auntie Saddiah from the NUS Co-op @ BTC:
We walked into the Co-op to see Auntie Saddiah chatting with some students as she scanned the items they brought to the counter. Serving each customer with a smile, there was a comfortable rhythm in the way she worked, as if she was truly enjoying what she was doing. After she had seen to all of them, she sat down and began sharing her story with us.
Danny: Hello, Auntie how’s your health?
Auntie Saddiah: My health is okay, only here and there, only nowadays, the weather. Only early in the morning, the heat. The shop was quite warm this morning even though I changed the temperature to 21, 22. Very hot now so I opened the two doors. Then the professor asked me, Professor Leong, “Why you open the doors?” Nowadays, very hot.
Danny: Then, the other time you said your hand had problems?
Auntie Saddiah: Yes, it’s a nerve thing. Yah that day lah. Nerve triggered. I think now it’s not so bad but need to take care lah. I think I have to use my right hand more. The doctor says it’s due to the X ray, according to him, when he explained to my daughter, “Your mummy work never care for her hands.” It happened before I worked here already, not because of the work here. Maybe also too much work and I never realize before. It’s not very bad. Sometimes you can feel there’s something in the hand, on off… Suddenly it disappears. I think the mind is also saying “don’t care about it lah”. If you care about it too much, when you pamper yourself too much, then you will feel the pain more. But I don’t pamper so that’s why it’s like that. That’s why my daughter says, “Mummy you always do work and never think.” Sometimes it’s because you like to do the job so you don’t stop, last time I never think of taking care of myself. My husband used to like fishes, there’s one fish you put your finger in only, it will bite. It’s a very fierce fish. I don’t know the name. That time I will help my husband to wash [the tank], and take care of the first two children, very happy, do work nobody care about your business. Because that time very young! But now I think I’m coming 50/60 and I’m old.
Ally: Oh how many children do you have, auntie?
Auntie Saddiah: Now I only have two of them who bother me. One son and one daughter who always bother me. “Mummy you better be careful”, that’s my last daughter who’s still studying. My son is married, the first one is married. My first girl is also married. The second one is also married. Total I have four children.
Ally: What about your husband?
Auntie Saddiah: My husband, after he finished working at Exxon Mobile, he worked with IBM for 1 year last year. For now he’s unemployed, he has a ‘farm’, a ‘grape farm’ in Singapore (laughs). I’m joking, ‘anggur‘ is grapes right, in Malaysia we say ‘anggur‘, English is grapes. Right?
(Asks a customer at the counter)
[The customer replies: “Yes, even in India.”]
So my husband has a grape farm in Singapore, do you believe that? No lah ‘anggur‘ means jobless lah! The word is ‘menganggur‘ which means jobless, you add the conjunction there, ‘meng’ then it becomes jobless. So everyday I make fun of him I disturb him, “Today you got your farm, finish? Took care of your grapes?” Actually after he retired, he was working in IBM. He met his one bachelor friend who he worked with once as an expatriate. He (her husband) works with the government now. I don’t know what he is really doing, PCS (Petrochemical Corporation of Singapore Pte Ltd) or something. His job is to monitor the transformers, don’t know what monitoring, something lah, he’s a site engineer now. He is 64 years old, just passed his birthday.
Danny: Oh, that’s quite young right, cause my dad is already 63.
Ally: Yah, my dad is 63 this year..
Auntie Saddiah: Never meet the war what, your parents. Never even see the Japanese occupation. 1950s those people are the first National Service they haven’t seen war lah. That time my mum told me, “That time war time I stay behind the Botanic, so scared.” My mum stays near Bukit Brown there, now she is 80+ or more or less like Lee Kuan Yew like that, maybe LKY is older. That time they heard the siren then they went down to a place that they dug, they made steps they went down, they could hear the sounds of the bombs. Sometimes they just cover with zinc, and they can hear the Japanese walk over it on top. And especially that time the Japanese would catch the young girls, they don’t care as long as young girls, my mother will catch them. They don’t care. My mother say lah, I don’t know whether it’s true or not. “Then you’re lucky you didn’t get married to a Japanese,” I always disturb her. Then their life then was very hard, they ate tapioca. Through her own eyes she saw one place got bombed, and a toddler died. Her experience, 3 years, 4 years, very hard life. But now I think she’s okay lah.
Danny: Auntie, can you maybe tell us a bit more about your family?
Auntie Saddiah: You mean general or all the way from the start!
Danny: Generally lor, up to you!
Auntie Saddiah: I have an elder sister, my second and I have a brother. Three brothers after me, two sisters after, and after that, two brothers. I think I place more important responsibilities on my mum, the rest of my siblings. But I have one brother who is very attentive to my mum. In Islam, we say he takes responsibility as a son. I have one brother who is very family-oriented, and has his own family. He has two children and works in Singapore Airlines. He’s served there for very long, coming to nearly 40 years. He is my fourth brother. He is very responsible and he has kids, and always listens even when my mother calls him to disturb him. I told her, you always pretend to cry cry, so sad. Then my brother kalang kabot, come to my house. You like to pretend, one day I’m going to tell my brother, you don’t listen. This lady is a hypocrite, cry cry.
Danny: ‘Cause she knows that he will come lah?
Auntie Saddiah: Yeah, my mother always does that. My brother is a very responsible guy, and has two children. For myself, I like to entertain the whole family if I can afford it. But I can’t. After 5 years, I had my first girl. I wasn’t always working like this. I like design, I was from an international designing school in London but I didn’t qualify for a full certificate. I got a partial diploma and end up like that. I have to carry on my life with my daughter. The first daughter, I sent her for piano class because my husband had to work overseas all the time. He was always out stationed in the Middle East then on and on until I had my son, who was working with SIA. But now, he is working with his brother-in-law in inland oil rig servicing. My third one is doing water research – NEA combined with Keppel-Seghers with PUB. My son is doing water processing in a chemical plant near the Clementi Area, near PUB. But this PUB hired Keppel-Seghers to do some of the stuff they send to Dubai. My last girl is supposed to be in the hospital but she just left because it was too stressful.
Danny: This is the one studying finance, is it?
Auntie Saddiah: Yes. She resigned from her job. Actually, she graduated from Nanyang Poly so she joined as a nurse. After the three year bond, she became a senior staff member. And she got promoted and she told me that in the hospital there are many red eyes. They are jealous. Some of the other Malay girls said how come ah? You’ve only working for a few years. Why sister promote you so fast? Then my daughter say, don’t know. So her last day was on Hari Raya. Surgeons, sisters threw a private party for her and she got so many gifts. She told me, mummy, one surgeon is a Valentine’s man. I asked her why. She said one surgeon came down with roses and chocolates, so all her colleagues asked, “Surgeon, today is Valentine’s day? Why you give Marina chocolate and roses? Today is her last day, not Valentines’ Day.” His face so shy.
Danny: Why, he like her, is it? (laughs)
Auntie Saddiah: (playfully) I don’t know. Then she left and did not work for a few days. Now, she’s being employed as an international school nurse, so very relaxed. She does this part time and still goes to school. Not too stressful. She works office hours from 830 to 5, but after that she goes to school. But a bit rushed. In school, it’s not so bad.
Danny: Then she’s finishing her degree already?
Ally: Last year?
Auntie Saddiah: Next year is her last year.
Danny: So she’s our age around there? 21?
Auntie Saddiah: She’s 1991 [Editor’s Note: Not her age.]
Danny: Oh, so my age lah, 23.
Auntie Saddiah: Oh, your age ah? You are what month?
Auntie Saddiah: You are Virgo. She’s January 25th. 23, turning 24 next year.
Ally: Aquarius? Is that Aquarius?
Auntie Saddiah: Aquarius or Capricorn. [Editor’s Note: It’s Aquarius.] Yours is September 12, so yours is after my husband’s birthday. My husband is on the 10th. So after I had my second child, I was still quite busy. Then I decided to stop work after I got my first one and I found that never mind lah, [my husband] goes overseas and earns money. So he sometimes comes back, sometimes goes there. So I enjoy my life with my little girl, send her for piano class. I also sat inside the class in Yamaha Music School. After that, we go ya ya, we go makan, we went to the cafe because that time is like a big shot. Because I don’t follow my husband but I earn allowance from UK. So they didn’t pay me in Singapore but I am entitled because I don’t stay in Middle East. I was entitled for 30 pounds for a month. I was gaining about 32,000 for that period of time. It was a lot better right? But I was very stupid lah, I don’t know how to make use of money, not wise enough and I don’t know how to switch to business, I don’t know how to switch to property. That time young, you know? 25,26 What you think I enjoy? Wear nice, wear dress, go out, go see show, never think. That’s bad about me. Now my husband met his old friend, a Chinese who ask him to work for the government, who has a landed property. You see? How good? So both of us never think of the future. When he was in the Middle East, he was offered the chance to stay in Bedford, London. He asked me but I said, no la, I got my father, my mother, I got my sister, I don’t want to follow. So I come back to Singapore. I was very stupid. I should have stayed there. Now, I should be in England. I lost the opportunity. That’s why my girl said, mummy, why you don’t have brains? That’s why lah, now I got brains. That time I don’t have brain.
Danny: Auntie, can you tell us about your work here? How do you find it?
Auntie Saddiah: You know how I ended up here? When my daughter got married 9 years ago, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry. I love to work in the health line. But because married cross-culture, and I hardly see my son-in-law and my daughter on weekends when they are off. But I talked to my manager, Mr Yong, and told him I wanted to withdraw. He asked why? It’s good that you’re in charge here. But I said no la, my daughter got married and I hardly see them since I finish work very late. So I changed to part-time but they put me on weekends also. Then I got no chance on the weekdays right? That’s it la. I resigned straightaway then my daughter said okay la, don’t work. But I do business. Even when I worked part-time, I did business. I have a cafe and I have a fashion shop, very small one. If you know the Golden Landmark, the Village Hotel? Near the ICA? But time doesn’t permit me because of heavy rental, very expensive. I withdrew in 2011.
Danny: Then after that you came here , after 2011?
Auntie Saddiah: Yes. 2011 I came here, 2010 I went to Mecca. I do business but I will come to collect money. I had workers and I was very happy. My business was going up up up. But then suddenly, shut down because of higher rental.
Danny: So you like it here?
Auntie Saddiah: I like. So when I went to Mecca and talked to God and said I think I need a job because i found it so boring after I came back from Mecca. I followed my daughter on holiday, go here, go there, until my money all gone. I don’t know how come then I called this Co-op. They asked if I had experience and to come for an interview at the Science Faculty? So I went there and told the manager that I don’t like responsibility that requires me to crack my head. I just want a simple job to occupy my time because I like to meet people. They said, okay okay we will call you. Then I am here. They sent me here. I told her to give me 3 months. If I was not capable of these law books, I wanted to go off and resign. After the 3 month appraisal, she said hey I like the way you work. So that’s it, I am here.
Danny: So you started here ah, not at Kent Ridge side?
Auntie Saddiah: I started at Kent Ridge. Two weeks there. Then after CNY, I came here after Lisa, the Malay girl, left. I was here alone for one week, dangling. Nobody helped me as though I had my throat tied up. I was so worried. The first guy who came in was Prof Tey Tsun Hang and Hans Tjio. I did not know Tey Tsun Hang and his book was on the shelf. This is the very funny part to me. He asked how the green and yellow book is getting on. I said, quite slow. (laughs)
Danny: You didn’t know it was him? (laughs)
Auntie Saddiah: (laughs) I didn’t know. Then he asked if many people bought it. I said, yes have but only selected students. I don’t know why but maybe some students may take this trust remedies. I did not know much because I was new. He said never mind, don’t worry, just turn the book around. I did and EH! Prof, it’s you. I was so shy. He said, never mind, never mind. That time, he was not limping, he walked so nicely. 2011.
Danny: Okay Auntie, we have to go for class already, sorry. Maybe on a last note, do you have any advice for the students here?
Auntie Saddiah: The students here make me laugh sometimes, enjoy. And they are so friendly. Most of the students here are friendly compared to what I hear.
Ally: From other faculties?
Auntie Saddiah: Because I was from Science, when I joined in, they told me that doctors and lawyers, and some parents, are very proud. So I said no, I find that it’s okay for me. Or maybe I just don’t care. Whoever you are, whether you are young or old. For the growing up, the coming generation, I think you still have time to go forward. Don’t think about having families first, put that behind.
Ally: Just focus?
Auntie Saddiah: Focus.
Danny: For now, just study hard ah?
Auntie Saddiah: Actually for studying, it’s not that you must emphasize and no time for relaxation, you must mix around. Mixers are good. If you think you want to meet all very rich people, I want to meet some very poor people, no cannot like that. My son mixes with old men with motorcycles, ex-convicts. I asked him why. He said he wants to know about their experiences. The old men said inside [prison] very good, no need to do work but sometimes you kena punched.
Ally: Auntie before we go, can we take a photo first?
Auntie Saddiah: Photo ah? How to take photo with no touch-up? (laughs)
We thoroughly enjoyed talking to the very candid and motherly Auntie Saddiah, and we hope you’ve been blessed by the story of her life and her important work at the NUS Co-op @ BTC. The next time you see her, just stay a little longer to have a short chat with her! It might just take the monotony out of your day as it does for hers .
Through Dialawgues, we hope to show that caring for our neighbours is simply befriending them and showing kindness in our normal relationships and the rhythms of daily life. Get to know those who serve us in school, talk to the ladies serving you at the student counter, greet the uncles and aunties selling you a cup of coffee as you would your seniors, strike up small talk with the aunties as they roll their carts through the 3rd floor corridors, ask the Co-op auntie about her life. We promise you, they have much to tell, and they do want to be our friends — if only we’d stop and listen. Let’s learn to bless the people we live alongside, with our time and care, just as the ones who’ve gone before us bless us still, daily.
PS: if you’d like to contribute/share the life stories of any of our staff on campus, please contact one of us below! (Ally on Facebook or Danny @ 92394160)