“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” ”• Marcel Proust
Johor Bahru, the capital city of Johor in Southern Malaysia, is a place that is culturally synonymous with Singapore, and familiar with Singaporeans. A considerable number of folks in Johor Bahru work on our island, for the practical reason that salaries for equivalent jobs here are much higher than those at home (due to the strong Singapore dollar).
Johor Bahru is also home to Auntie Tera. Auntie Tera has a penchant for teaching. She spent her younger days with some energetic, little rascals running around in a hometown kindergarten, sharing life and love with her precocious little ones. She loved her work. Yet as good ol’ Carragher announced his retirement from pro football, age promptly caught up with Auntie Tera too. The kids are quite the handful, and she can no longer keep up with their unending mischief.
Fast forwarding years later… The time is 4am, it isn’t time to snooze the alarm but time to get up for work. Auntie Tera heads off towards 469G Bukit Timah Road in a bus out of Johor, past the Second Link, through the sleeping Singaporean city. She’ll earn her keep to support her family; she looks forward to bringing her aged mother out for another shopping trip the coming weekend to remedy her daily boredom at home.
Last Tuesday, the Staff Appreciation Tea took place approximately a year after its pioneering effort in 2012. Students and non-academic staff of the school (more affectionately known as “Aunties and Uncles”) chatted over hot tea, cupcakes and siew mai in the Summit.
Busy law kids walk through the Summit to grab that hot Milo or cream cheese buns during class break all the time; the 3-hour seminars are a herculean survival task. Lunches at the Summit are the norm (on a basis far too regular for the picky few); sometimes the Canopy’s just too far away or the Adam Road food trip burns much precious mugging time. The Aunties and Uncles walk in and out of the Summit daily too, but they almost never eat where we fellowship. Auntie Tera and her friends are in the practice of having meals in their ‘headquarters’ just beside the gym and the toilet. Its cozy, its homey, and they’re in good company there.
Tuesday afternoon certainly painted an unfamiliar picture of the Summit: the cleaners decked out in their green and yellow uniforms, sat down amongst students, hanging out over semi-awkward conversations and afternoon tea. To the amusement of the staff, our students wrestled with their long-lost mother tongues as they shared their lives and laughs with the staff. Just like that, strangers became friends.
It was heartwarming to see their faces light up as we gave them ‘Thank You’ cards, intricately adorned with puffy stickers of cute animals. Our greatest blessing is not that we accommodated them, but that we were able to remind these Aunties and Uncles that they are not forgotten for their easily forgettable work.
Perhaps we have much to learn from our elders. Auntie Tera doesn’t lament her early waking hours or comparatively (to the average Singaporean) lower wages. She’s rather cool with this stable and decent job. Auntie Tera doesn’t grudgingly bemoan her long overtime hours or menial work. She takes joy that her wages enable her to take care of her mother, shop with her, and attend Catholic mass with her every non-working Sunday.
As you rush along the hallways for classes, be thankful for the clean classrooms you get to study in. As you head towards the library to start on the daunting list of readings, pause and remember that you’re immeasurably blessed with perpetually clean Angsana study rooms. As you bump into the faithful Malay uncle or auntie who keep the Block B toilets spanking clean (and they really are, aren’t they!), don’t forget a simple selamat pagi (good morning).
“In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer
While it is absolutely easy to get caught up in the bubble that is law school (or worse, ourselves!), we should remember that a simple smile from us can make a world of difference to them — it reminds them that they are our friends. Give thanks my friends, as these silent but ever present custodians of our school do, for the simplest of blessings.
Article contributed by Danny Chua (Year 1) and Liting Zhang (Year 1)
Photography contributed by Mark Foo (Year 4)