stripped bare

The Shop Wth An Identity Crisis

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Recently, I’ve been helping out at J‘s mother’s friend’s friend’s shop. It all seems innocuous until you hear that this little shop is located at Pagoda Street Chinatown. And it’s not so much a shop as a dingy little makeshift stall. Yes, snobbish little high class me as an uneducated, dressy Ah Lian shouting her wares at wrinkly old men and rude old women.

No la, it’s not that bad. I wasn’t so high class and I’m not very uneducated.

When we asked the owner’s daughter for the name of the shop, she said it was F—–. But when I saw the signboard, it said F——. And when I looked beyond the dust in the shop, a not-so-artistic grafitti design on the threshold said F——–. Rather than blame them for their undecisiveness, I just shook my head at the fact that they were Taiwanese and aren’t so nitty gritty about their spelling/pronounciation.

One of the reasons why I quit my job and went back to studying was that I sort of gave up on humanity and civilisation. Facing ridiculous demands and rude ‘Nouveau Riche’ was not what I wanted as a career. 4 years out of the system and I was ready to give it all a chance. Until I helped out at the shop, that is.

What I learnt while helping out at *F.


  1. To each his own. Outwardly, your neighbours seem helpful and nice. But all they are interested in is to take advantage of your respect and invade the space on your alloted stall. Just because we’re new and do not want to sow discord with the other tenants, they push their wares into our space when they think we’re not looking.
  2. Show me yours but I won’t show you mine. The neighbours always ask J how much she has made and innocent little J happily shouts her makings to those around her. Fine if you wanna do a little comparison, but when I asked J how much the others made, she said she didn’t ask.
  3. Men are such CheeKohs whether they’re from SG, China, M’sia, India or America. It’s not as if I was dressed sexily (ok maybe my everyday dressing is a bit sexy). Nonetheless, they just stand outside the shop, pretend to look around the shop, but their eyes always end up on me. After walking up and down Pagoda Street several times I realised that I was the only young and nubile thing in the vicinity.
  4. The Poor like to act rich. They strut into the shop, look down at you snobbishly, because you know, you work in a shop so you’re automatically uneducated and hard up for their money, and then play you for a fool. They say they want this, this and this, but will only buy if you give it to them at 50% of the original price. And then they stand there haggling for 10 minutes. Rudely. Then they leave without buying anything.
  5. The Rich like to act poor. You can smell their affluence miles away (in this case, from Mosque Street). They walk curiously into the shop, because you know, they’re used to aircon and perfume, not heat and eau de mothballs. They then lift up whatever they want and say “I’ll take these”. Just as you’re passing them the plastic bag full of things, they stop as if suddenly recalling something, then ask shyly, “Can you give it to me at a lower price?”
  6. Women like to be fashion stylists. We sell mostly menwear. But the ones who make the decisions are usually the mothers/wives/girlfriends/sisters. The men usually (refer to item 3).
  7. Metrosexuals? Pui! They shun the pink shirts like poison but get all bitchy about the quality of the shirts and complain about whether they will look fat in the shirts. Huh! Men.
  8. Some people are just stupid. Would you bring your new-borns, together with their aging grandparents on wheelchairs, to a street full of people, smoke and sweat, just so that you could manouveur your way around with a baby pram and cause the poor baby hyperventilation? And injure fellow shoppers?
  9. Working there gives you kidney stones. The nearest toilet is the one at the old kopitiam that only foreign tourists find quaint. The next one is at the MRT station, which is at the other side of the street. If you’ve been to Pagoda Street, especially during this CNY period, you’ll know that it takes half an hour to body surf from one end to the other. For all you know, by the time you reach the MRT station your bladder would have burst, or it would be empty because you just peed all over the crowd as the young kids elbowed their way around to find their parents.
  10. Oh the generation gap. The oldies are less fussy about what they wear. From outside, they see the design they like and so they come in for a look. Just simple cajoling from us, and they grab 2 tops. The young ones consider for 5 minutes before coming into the shop, looking through every single hanger, then ask for colours and sizes that are obviously unavailable, then walk out empty handed.

Bar the above, it can be quite fun. On weekdays, when it’s not that tough, you make new friends with the other tenants and sometimes, your customers. Also the freedom of manning your own shop makes you feel inspired to start one up on your own. You also get to meet famous people like Xiaxue and her good friend Eileen.

*Name has been deleted to protect the identity of the shopowners and the helpers.

Written by smudgi3

January 15, 2005, Saturday at 23:59

Posted in Uncategorized

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