Christmas in Chinatown

The other day, my wife and I went to Chinatown for dinner and a little walk. She had wanted to get some more inspiration for our wedding and I just wanted to get some dinner. So we went down to the good old hawker centre just off Pagoda Street, and we realised a little trend in Chinese small business trading.

We chose a table right in front of a dessert stall, presumably run by a rotund little middle-aged lady dressed like a silverfish with a weight problem. She had thinning, light brown hair tied into a ponytail, silver spectacles encrusted on the sides with glimmering plastic diamonds, silver tights (oh my god), a similarly glimmering plastic diamond bracelet, and yet another glimmering plastic diamond encrusted clam-shell phone hanging around her neck.

As we sat down, Tinkerbell Upsized came up to us and asked if we wanted to have any dessert. Looking at her stall signboard, and getting vaguely interested in the peanut paste they had, I told her we would order later, to which she replied, “All right, but order from us, here OK?”, all territorial-like.

Later, when I came back from buying my food, my wife, who had ordered a Coke form this woman’s stall through a stall worker, told me Big Fat Silver Bullet came up to her and questioned her over her drink, saying, “We have Coke here too!” When my wife annoyingly clarified this Coke was actually from this woman’s stall, the woman then tried to make amends by making small talk with her, something I have learned (and am still learning) over the years never to do with my wife.

Come on, gimme a break, Madam Swarovski with the big silver thighs. I actually wanted that peanut paste until I heard your story. You’re wearing so much glittering plastic diamonds, one would wonder how anyone could see the signboard with all that light in their eyes. For that matter, you really shouldn’t dress like your Silver Jubilee White Christmas in June; one would think you earn more than enough to warrant anyone’s patronage.

But such is life in Chinatown. I reflected to my wife this may well be the business culture here, because Blingbutt isn’t the only person we came across that was so greedy for customers to the point of making ridiculous requirements such as “you sit here, you must buy from me”. All along Pagoda Street, tailors, Chinese fan-sellers, tourist shop salespeople, and dare I say even the customers in many instances, are all less-than-subtle when it comes to attracting customers, offering deals, forcing sales and showing their displeasure when things do not go their way. It’s a small business, for crying out loud! Passer-by traffic is so high in Chinatown on a Sunday afternoon, just get over it and head on to the next sale already!

In any aspect of life, even when distracted with the smaller details, one should never forget the bigger picture. And whilst keeping sight of the bigger picture, don’t ever forget to manage the details well either. Oh yeah, and don’t lay crap on the people you serve too.

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