SINGAPORE: Madam Teo Suan sat in her chair, along a condominium walkway in Thomson lined with tuition centres and cafes, her wares laid out on the ground next to her: A few bunches of bananas, two large papayas, a pineapple, heaps of ginger, and several sticks of tapioca, among others.
As a potential customer - one of her first of the day - approached, her wizened face lit up with a grin.
It was S$7 for the bananas or a mango, S$4.50 for a pineapple, S$11 for a papaya. Others might have bat an eyelid at those prices. But Mitchell Chan bought up everything she had for sale, for S$100.
“I’m so proud of her,” he said. “She’s 97, and still out here. It can be a bit more expensive than Sheng Siong, but that’s not the point.
“The main point is about helping one another, and if I can pay S$100 and she can end her day earlier, why not?”
Mr Chan's visit was prompted by a post he had seen the day before, which had gone viral within hours of its posting on Friday by Facebook user Samuel Lee. The latter had called for people to support the woman he'd spotted selling fruits in the Thomson area.
He described her as “97 years old, weak and fragile”, but still “makes an effort to come out every weekend with a grocery trolley full of fruits and vegetables”.
The post has since received more than 11,000 shares, and comments from users who pledged to drop by and buy her fruits.
And indeed, Mr Chan’s gesture was merely one among many acts of kindness towards Mdm Teo that CNA Insider saw on Saturday. People responded despite Mr Lee noting, in an update to his post, that she was reportedly "well taken care of” and sold fruits simply because she wanted to.
Even after her entire stock sold out within the first half-hour of her setting up shop, people came by to visit, wish her well, or present gifts of cash, drinks and food.
“We don’t only help the poor, right?” wrote Mr Lee in his post. “Shouldn’t we just support the spirit in her and her willingness to be still wanting to earn money by herself at this age?”
“Some say that she sells at a ridiculous price,” he added. “But remember, she won’t force you to buy. She will still give you that sweet smile of hers even if you reject.”
Speaking to CNA Insider, Mr Lee said he was happy to learn that on Friday itself, within two hours of his post, she'd sold all her wares. “I was so glad to see empty boxes beside her, and (Mdm Teo) drinking the cup of coffee I bought for her."
RECONNECTING WITH OLD REGULARS
Mdm Teo was initially reluctant to talk when CNA Insider approached her. But she warmed up, confirming that she was indeed 97 years old, and had been selling fruits in the area for 37 years.
She added that she used to rear pigs and chickens in a kampong, as well as plant sugar cane and bitter gourd.
“It’s fun,” she said in Hokkien, in response to questions about why she was still selling fruits at her age. “It’s very hot at home, and down here, I can sell to people.”
She appeared to be losing her hearing and vision, and had trouble understanding what some of her customers said. She also seemed oblivious to her overnight fame from Mr Lee’s post.
Beyond triggering the generosity of new customers, the post also helped Mdm Teo to reconnect with old regulars.
One of them was Hu Peini, who used to live around the Thomson area, but now lives in Punggol.
“The last time I saw her, she told me she was 91 or 92,” Ms Hu said. “From the photo, it looks like she’s aged a lot.”
The packet of chicken rice and cash gift she handed to Mdm Teo brought an immediate smile to the granny’s face. And her smile grew even wider when she spotted the toddler in Ms Hu’s arms.
Stroking the child's leg with her gnarled hands, she asked him: “Have you eaten? Do you want to have some porridge?”
Mdm Teo revealed that she herself has a big family, with “many kids, many grandchildren, and even seven great-grandchildren.”
Ms Hu said she had previously seen Mdm Teo selling fruits every day, but believes she has since reduced the number of days due to age.
“She used to say that her fruits are from the hills ... we know that she bought it from the supermarket, but it’s okay because we buy it from her willingly.”
THIS IS WHAT SHE WANTS TO DO
One of Mdm Teo’s neighbours, Jane Soh, noted that she has seen Mdm Teo selling her wares at different spots in the Thomson vicinity.
To get to and from her home, she said, Mdm Teo would either take a taxi or walk and ask people to help her with her trolleys. “She wants to be independent,” the neighbour said.
Mdm Teo’s son declined comment when CNA Insider visited her flat.
When asked how she was going home, Mdm Teo said she had turned down an offer from her son to drive her home, preferring instead to walk.
Ms Soh added that sometimes, she would help Mdm Teo carry things up to her flat.
“She lives with her family … she has a big family,” she said. “I think she is quite okay (financially).
“This is really what she wants to do.”