As we walked off, I noticed that an old man quickly took our place at our table. Hunched over, he started chomping on the leftover fries that had since turned cold. Our hearts ached.
"Shouldn't we buy him a proper meal?" I asked. But as usual, I was at a loss and half a dozen doubts rushed to mind- How would we approach him? Would the old man accept the offer? Was he of sound mind? Would our offer offend him? What should we buy for him? What do we say to him?
My friend was clearly more decisive. Let's get him chicken rice. She marched over to the stall, and promptly ordered a packet of chicken rice. We then walked over to the man and put the packet of rice on the table and said, "Uncle, qing ni chi fan. Ji fan. Chi bao yi dian." (Rough translation: Uncle, here's chicken rice for you. Have a good meal.) He looked up and smiled at us with an open mouth full of fries.
It took 3 minutes and $3 to put a smile on an old man's face.
This was in a hawker centre a short walk away from my largely gentrified neighbourhood. But people like the old man lived a life a world away from our lives of privillege and comfort. I don't know his story, why he lives that way. A packet of chicken rice will not change his life. But I do know that if each of us does something when we see a need, we can make a world a little less harsh.
I learned a precious lesson on giving that day: The hardest part is getting over myself and choosing not to walk away.