A couple of days ago, as my wife and I went into the lift, we met this friendly old man, who lived a couple of floors down. His greeting to us was "Li Jia Ba Buay 你吃饱没？" in Hokkien, which is "have you eaten enough" (ba in Hokkien is full). I suppose this has been the greetings between Chinese in Singapore for a long time. Even in China too.
It was some 20 years ago, when even in China, the greetings have started to change from "Li Jia Ba Buay" 你吃饱没？ to "Li Jia Ho Buay"你吃好没？, meaning "have you eaten?". In Mandarin, it would be Ni Chi Bao Le Ma 你吃饱了吗 to Ni Chi Hao Le Ma 你吃好了吗? In our exchange of notes between friends in China and Singapore, we agreed that perhaps times had changed and it was time to use the latter greetings.
In the old days, hunger would probably be the constant in many of the lives of Chinese. It is also true in old Singapore. For the elderly, who are probably in their seventies now, their greetings would have already been ingrained in them.
And so, in Chinatown, it could be greetings in Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese or any Chinese dialects, such greetings would still be the same. Listen for the key words the next time you come across such a greeting. Of course, in the morning, it would be Gao Zha (in Hokkien or Teochew) and Jo San (in Cantonese).
Ths same old man who greeted us on this morning, he has been collecting the discarded cardboards (from boxes) and read newspapers to sell as part of his income. While it could have been his means of income and survival, unknown to him and to many, he helps to recycle many materials which would have found their way to the garbage dump or incinerator, long before the word green become vogue. He must be in his 70s now, a tad older, slimmer and less steady, but he carried on his work.
There was another friendly old man in the block whom I used to meet, almost on the daily basis some 10 years ago, if my memory does not fade. He worked hard collecting the cardboard boxes, flattened them and pushed in his little push card to sell. He worked hard so as to help his son go to school, university right to his PhD, I was told.
Unknown to many, he is amongst many of the builders of modern Singapore, pushing relentlessly on themselves so that their children could have a brighter future. And collectively, the nation - Singapore. They might be illiterate, but they are educated (through operas, through story-tellers, through radios and TV) and they are very focussed on their vision and mission. A better tomorrow for their children, and their children's children.
We must remember the "source of the water from which we drink from" as the saying goes. Yin Shui Si Yuan 饮水思源