Katong Plaza cobbler told to leave

Mr Ng Ah Bah, 70, is a well-known figure at Katong Plaza.

The cobbler was featured in The New Paper last year after taking his wheelchair-bound wife to work as he could not bear to leave her at home alone.

One year on, things have changed for Mr Ng and his wife, Madam Yap Guek Neo, 67.

She is now in a nursing home in Tampines after a second stroke in April last year.

Mr Ng is also being evicted from Katong Plaza, where he had plied his trade on a pushcart stall at a sheltered passageway for the last 11 years.

He was given a month's notice by the building management to leave after an incident at his stall on Oct 26.

At around 10pm, a drunk man claiming to be his friend was found sleeping behind the pushcart.

When asked to leave, he became violent towards the building control officer and challenged him to a fight, said the building management chairman, Mr Steven Tng.

Katong Plaza has retail units in the lower floors and apartments in the higher floors.

Mr Tng, 60, who lives in Katong Plaza and has been chairman since 2008, said: "The cobbler denied knowing the drunk man. But CCTV footage showed the man visiting the cobbler every day these few months.

"If they aren't friends, why does the man visit him every day?"


Mr Tng said police officers who went there told him it was "not advisable to rent out the (area under the sheltered walkway)" as this would attract people to hang around there at night.

"The cobbler has been here for over 10 years and we've given him many chances. We've always closed one eye when he smoked in the non-smoking area and even when he left leftovers on the floor that attracted pests," he said.

"But the incident over the drunk man was the last straw."

Mr Tng also said he had let Mr Ng stay for so long because he sympathised with him, and asking him to leave was for the "safety of residents and staff".

Mr Ng told TNP in Mandarin yesterday: "I've been here for so long. What will I do now? I don't know where to go, but I'll take it one step at a time. I have to adapt."

He said he earns about $1,300 but $1,000 goes towards his wife's medical bills and nursing home.

He also rents out a room in his three-room HDB flat in MacPherson Link for $600 a month. His $300 monthly rent for the Katong Plaza spot is paid by an anonymous donor who came forward last year after reading about his story.

Mr Ng, who was with a group of friends at his stall yesterday, told TNP that he had recognised the drunk man as a customer but had only seen him twice.

But when TNP said that one of his friends there had been identified by the building management as the drunk, Mr Ng admitted to knowing him.

Asked why he had lied, he said: "I didn't want to get anyone in trouble. But it happened when I wasn't around. I'm innocent."

The friend, Mr Mike Lim, 52, said it was normal for him to lie down in public areas after drinking too much.

"That night I remember a police officer taking down my particulars and nothing else. When I woke up, I was at home," said the former delivery driver, who is currently jobless.

He still visits Mr Ng almost daily even after the incident.

Four retail tenants in the building said Mr Ng keeps to himself and does not disturb anyone.

Miss Ng Vee Vee, 52, an assistant at a tailor's shop in the basement, said: "We don't really talk to him, just 'hi' and 'bye'. We also take our shoes to him to repair. It's sad that he is being asked to go."

Asked if the situation would have been different if Mr Ng had admitted to knowing the drunk, Mr Tng said: "If Mr Ng had apologised the next day and said he would ask his friend to stay away, maybe it would have changed things. But he denied knowing the man and the man still comes every day.

"People say I'm cruel to him. Of course, it's not nice to ask him to leave. But we've done so much to help him, even lowering his rent. It's time for him to move on."

This article was first published on November 14, 2015.
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