Thu, Oct 30, 2008
She lives on $1 a day

A dollar a day, that is how 83-year-old Wen Liu Fang has survived for the past ten years or more.

She told Lianhe Wanbao that she came to Singapore from China 61 years ago, and worked as an amah (domestic helper) for 30 years. Amahs or majie then had to take a vow of celibacy, and she has remained single till now. About 10 years ago, she had to retire from her job as a cleaner due to arthritis.

With no family in Singapore, Wen Liu Fang and her friends rented a one-room apartment in Chinatown and they do their own household chores including the laundry, sweeping the floor, cooking and boiling water.

She has to wash her clothes by hand as they have no washing machine.

On weekdays, breakfast, lunch and dinner are at the Kreta Ayer Seniors Activity Centre located at Banda Street, Chinatown where they provide seniors in the area with three meals for $1 a day. During weekends, she does her own cooking.

"When I cook, I will usually have simple fare like fish cake, vegetables and potatoes." She told Wanbao in Cantonese.

She seldom eats out, "A cup of coffee at a coffee shop costs 80 cents - I can make eight cups of coffee at home for that amount!"

She does not want welfare

While some may feel sympathy for her, Mdm Wen has a cheerful and resilient attitude to life, and maintains that she does not want to rely on others.

With her savings that she accumulated through years of hard work, she pays her monthly rent ($26), public utility bills (about $30 a month) and medical costs.

Even though she qualifies for social welfare, Mdm Wen insists on living on her own savings. She says she will ask for help only when she does not have enough for food and shelter.

"One dollar a day is enough." she says "I can survive as long as I am fed and clothed."

Making do creatively

When reporters visited her flat, they saw that her bed frame had no mattress - the bed planks were covered with a thin cotton cloth; while her "pillow" was a thick Chinese almanac wrapped in a towel.

She cheerfully said that she had back pain, and it was more comfortable to sleep on the hard planks than on a soft mattress. As for the pillow, the towel was easier to wash than a pillow and pillow case.

She also props up her bed with wooden blocks so that she can store her belongings under the bed in lieu of a proper cabinet.

Wanbao reporters wondered whether her "innovations" were bourne out of necessity.

She walks to see her doctor

To save on transport costs, Mdm Wen walks to Singapore General Hospital whenever she has a doctor's appointment. At her age, and with her arthritis, the going can be slow, but she insists that even taking the bus is a luxury.

"When I get tired I will stop and rest. Taking the bus there and back costs at least a dollar, I will try to save whenever I can."

She cannot remember the last time she took a taxi.

"I have taken a taxi before, but fares kept increasing, so I stopped. I can't remember how long ago that was."


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