Steal here, steal there, but who’s making lunch?
by Daniel Yap
We must steal other people’s lunches to be competitive, says PM Lee. The world is a dark, hungry place with no scruples. But the phrase started me thinking: where does lunch come from? Is there a lunch shortage? Are some people having five lunches while others have none?
ON LABOUR Day, I went down to my local market and ordered myself a nice bowl of bak chor mee, found myself a table and sat down. I thought: well, a nice cold drink would hit the spot, so off I went to the drink stall. When I got back, someone had stolen my lunch.
It was the guy from the nearby rental block who was a familiar sight around the neighbourhood. He always seemed hungry, hanging around the food centre asking for a free kopi or a bite to eat. Often, the hawkers would be generous and feed him for free. Today, it seemed, he had decided it was my turn to bless his soul.
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Stunned and somewhat offended, I looked over to the next table, where the obese neighbour from Block 5 was stuffing his face with his third helping of Nasi Lemak Set G (tambah everything). Our eyes met, as he drooled a few fragrant grains from his overfull mouth, but he quickly turned away to stare at his food, as if to say “not my problem”. Clearly the problem was mine.
“Eh hello, that’s my lunch.”
“Yes, and now it’s mine! Good, right?” the hungry man mumbled as he fumbled with my chopsticks (ok, not my chopsticks: the stall’s, but he TOUCHED them – desecration).
“Hey, you cannot just anyhow steal people’s lunch, you know?”
“You left it here, mah! Anyway, you see that guy there, he went to buy drinks – go eat his Hokkien mee.”
“But I wanted bak chor mee for lunch!”
“Lunch is scarce, bro, going to be come more scarce. Unemployment going up. You got to learn to compromise.”
“You stole my lunch! I paid for it!”
“Okay lah, I play fair. If I stand up, you can steal it back.”
I was on the verge of attacking him with a Chinese soup spoon when the bak chor mee uncle piped up. “Eh, young man, you give him eat, ok? Uncle make another one for you. Up-sai to big bowl some more.”
“But uncle, how can he like that?”
“Every day he come here, every day somebody give him food. You see everybody eating here, they think there is only one lunch for them. But when you are the one making the food, you know behind still got a lot of lunch left. Is not jiro-sum game one.”
I paused, stunned.
“You see, I am entrepreneur one. As long as end of the day I make money, it’s okay. I can come out how many bowls of bak chor mee, never mind. But if you start fighting in front of my stall then I got no business to do. Maybe you fight for your lunch and you win, you eat, but in the end nobody else get to eat my bak chor mee; next door the roast duck also cannot sell.”
He pushed a massive bowl of noodles into my hands. “Eat, eat! Not everyday I give you eat, but I tell you, lunch is got a lot one.”
I think it must be nice to be him. He can eat his own lunch. As many bowls as he wants. But can man live by bak chor mee alone?
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