An Unexpected Gift


That’s me, obviously just out of bed, grabbing on to the vegetables wrapped in my morning paper (which I had yet to read).

Blessings come to us at unexpected moments.

This morning, while walking towards the roti prata shop at Jalan Kayu for breakfast, I saw an old uncle* tending to his garden plot along the road outside his terrace house.

As land is a scare commodity on our tiny island of 580 square km and 5.3 million people (oh my god), those who own landed homes tend to be well-off especially if they have bought the home in the last 10 years. Many are beautiful showpieces that seem to pop out of a lifestyle magazine.

Mini banana trees that bear fruit despite being only 5 feet tall.

So I find the landed homes along Jalan Kayu interesting because they are different. Almost every home has a garden. These are not gardens from a Martha Stewart magazine. They are totally unpretencious – many are make-shift roadside plots of banana trees, curry leaves, tapioca leaves (a vegetable which can be stir-fried) and the occasional sunflower.

These impromptu gardens make each of the $2 million houses look a little umkempt. But I love them all the more. These homes have owners who understood the goodness of the earth.

I asked uncle what he planted.

“Tapioca leaves,” he said. “And I am going to give you some!”

What a harvest!

Uncle said that aunties who passed by often asked if they could buy some from him, but he always gave the vegetables to them.

“I do gardening to work up a sweat,” said uncle. “I have nothing to do as my children are all grown up.”

So this bundle of organic green blessing from the earth descended on me this morning. Which I carried to the roti prata store and then back home. I felt light on my feet. And it was not just because of the free vegetables.

It was mainly the experience of generosity from a stranger.

Uncle had shown me that it is not the expensive things that matter. That some things in life cannot be priced, but they have tremendous value.

This was the dish we cooked for our dinner. Tapioca or cassava leaves, stir-fried with onion, garlic, chilli and sesame oil.

*In Singapore, “uncle” or “auntie” are respectful, affectionate terms used to address anyone much older than you – the shopkeeper, the cleaner, any stranger – and of course your blood relatives too.

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