'I hope it makes them a little happier': Durian seller offers free meals to Malaysians, taxi drivers in Singapore
Louis Lee distributed a few hundred packets of nasi lemak and chicken rice for Malaysians based in Singapore as well as cabbies from his stall at Owen Road.
SINGAPORE: With the durian season hitting a peak over the last couple of weeks, Louis Lee feels grateful for the bounty of fruits he gets to sell.
The 31-year-old Malaysian, who owns and operates a durian stall at Owen Road, has seen a spike in business and profits amid a bumper crop of the thorny fruit coming in from Johor and Pahang.
Contented with the additional income, he decided to help groups of people whose lives have been adversely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with CNA at his shop on Tuesday (Jun 29), Lee said he was counting his lucky stars because in spite of the pandemic, he still earned a good living.
“I think it's important for me to give back to those who are struggling. It’s a small gesture - just a free meal, nothing much,” said Lee.
Over the weekend of Jun 19 and 20, Lee distributed a total of 250 packets of nasi lemak to his fellow Malaysians who are based in Singapore. The following Saturday, he distributed 100 packets of Hainanese chicken rice to taxi drivers.
He announced his intentions on Facebook for those keen to collect the food from his stall and the gesture was warmly received.
“All the food was snapped up. People came forward to collect amid their busy schedules and I’m thankful for this,” added Lee.
When asked why he chose to distribute free meals to these particular groups of people, Lee said that for the former, he could empathise with the hardships they face as most of them are living far away from close family members.
Many of them are also not earning a lot, and have to be frugal in order to pay for rent and meals, Lee said.
“I can empathise with the difficulties they face. It's not easy living away from your loved ones and having to work hard every day. I was poor before, so I know what it feels like,” said Lee.
A SMALL GESTURE
Lee opened his shop, Louis Durian and Fruits, in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He had been working as a stall assistant for various durian shops in the previous seven years, and opening his own outlet was a dream come true.
“I realised that when Singapore entered the circuit breaker (in 2020), sales for durians were boosted. Many people still craved durian, and they made purchases online. The online durian business boomed and I wanted to take advantage of that,” said Lee.
His wife and two young children live in their hometown Muar. Lee considered himself fortunate as he managed to visit them once in 2020 in spite of COVID-19 border closures.
He had travelled back through the Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) scheme, which allows work permit holders like him to head home after working in Singapore for 90 consecutive days.
Lee noted that as a result of the tightening of regulations recently, many Malaysians could not afford to travel home as they would need to fork out their own fees for a 14-day quarantine both in Singapore and in Malaysia.
“I don’t think going home now is viable for many of them. I feel their pain, and while giving a free meal is just a small gesture, I hope it makes them a little happier in these trying times,” said Lee.
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Lee said he bought the food from a hawker friend who specialises in halal nasi lemak, and he distributed the rice together with packet drinks.
“Some of them (Malaysians) came alone, while others came in groups. Some of them also wanted to take some packets back for their flatmates, I said yes please, give them to your friends,” he said.
“I managed to speak to some of them and we talked about home and how much we miss it, but what to do? We now live in a pandemic world,” he added.
How did Lee verify if those who came were indeed Malaysians?
“I did not check their passports or anything like that. Usually from the way they speak Mandarin or Bahasa, we can sort of tell,” said Lee.
The response was equally good for the free chicken rice he offered a week later to taxi drivers working in Singapore, regardless of their nationality.
All 100 packets were collected within five hours, he said.
READ: COVID-19 curbs to be eased in 5 Malaysian states as they move to phase 2 of national recovery plan
"HIS KINDNESS REMINDED ME OF HOME"
Among the Malaysians who came to his stall to collect nasi lemak was Mohd Amin Fauzi, a 28-year-old who works for a manufacturing company in Yishun.
When contacted via Facebook, Mohd Amin told CNA that he appreciated Lee’s gesture.
“I was on my way home from shift and I decided to drop by after seeing the Facebook post,” said Mohd Amin.
“I was surprised because it was a big pack of nasi lemak, complete with rice, egg, anchovies, sambal and even fried fish,” he added.
“His kindness reminded me of home, how we Malaysians are willing to help one another in spite of any difficulties we face,” he said.
Lee told CNA that he hoped to conduct more of such distributions if his income permits.
“All things considered, it has been a great year for me. I am able to better take care of my wife and children, and recently help some people and put a smile on their faces,” said Lee.
“It’s a joy to share whatever little I have with others,” he added.