Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Eating for Free

By James Ooi

Sitting down at my favorite hawker stall in Jalan Alor this morning, I was just about to tuck into my bowl of dry curry chicken noodles. The skinny guy sitting in front of me got up abruptly and just sprinted out of the shop.

Suddenly the lady noodle seller Ah Sim screamed and another guy selling snacks outside the shop started running and shouting in Chinese, "Hoi! Hoi! Kannineh! Pok Kai!!!"

Loosely translated that literally means "Hey! Hey! Fuck! Damn!!!"

Pandemonium broke out. In the ensuing chase, some tables got upturned and some plates fell to the floor and broke with a noisy piercing clatter. A minor scuffle ensued as the pursuer managed to catch up with the non-paying fugitive. Then the hawker guy sat on the fugitive's shoulder to keep him still and immobilize the bugger.

The other lady hawkers came and started batting him with brooms, ladles and kicking the shit out of him. I am sure it wasn't pleasant for that poor chap who was being bashed for eating and running off without paying.

Still I couldn't help but find it so funny.


I remember those days when I was a student and I didn't have much money to eat. I often thought of like eating and not paying. But somehow I never did that. It was not because I am a good person. It's just that from my early childhood my parents have instilled in me the idea of asking for something and paying for it.

And nobody ever asks for free food unless it's from their relatives or their own parents.

So what did I do when I had no money? I just didn't eat and just accompanied my pals and watched them eat and drink. Most times, they would offer me free food anyway. So it wasn't that bad.

About 30 years ago in Petaling Jaya, there was this supermarket called 'Thrifty' and at that time it was probably one of the few supermarkets in town. I used to collect card pictures of birds and animals that were free gifts coming with the condensed milk cans that my parents bought monthly.

As an eight-year-old kid, playing with these cards was a lot of fun. My brother and I would have endless hours just playing with them and we would often fight over them. Yeah, over nothing but plain old colored cards with pictures of animals. Silly huh.

So at the supermarket we would see these cans of condensed milk and the playing cards attached as free gifts. And the thing was it was so tempting to just reach out and take the cards. The more I thought about it, the more desirous I became to snatch a few. In the end, my brother and started stuffing our tiny pockets with these cards.

Two tiny would-be robbers. One aged eight and the other aged six.

We tore off the playing cards from the cans and stuffed our pockets with them until we would hardly fit another card in. We thought we had got away with it. Happily we ran off to find our parents.

But it was not to be.

Suddenly this huge gigantic security guard, a Sikh guy who appeared to be like a huge gorilla to us boomed loudly, "Stop!!!" We stopped dead in our tracks. At our age, a full-grown adult is so damn bloody huge and a hairy adult is also very scary.

We thought it was lucky that our parents were around. We thought we were safe but instead we got a terrible scolding and were caned until our legs bore red-caned marks on our calves. It was a lesson in honesty and perhaps that's why we never felt like stealing anything for that matter from that day onwards.

It was like if we didn't have money for it, then we'd forego it.


It was chaotic. People were rolling around in the street on this bright early morning. Struggling, thrashing and screaming. You can probably imagine the chaos.

There was a fight going on and the 'thief' was severely outnumbered by one man and five old women. A mass and tangle of hands legs and arms waving about wildly. It seemed to me that the hawkers especially the old ladies took perverse pleasure in pinching and kicking and touching the young man all over. If I saw it right, this old lady even grabbed at the guy's crotch. For what reason I just could not imagine.

Possibly she hasn't had sex for years I guessed after looking at her age and haggard looks. And this was the moment that she can finally touch some poor bastard's cock without fear of retribution. Thinking about it. What's the problem with paying for three-ringgit worth of noodles? Don't have the money, just wash plates lah. For God's sake man!!

I think getting your privates molested by some horny old hawker is much more dehumanizing than just washing plates or getting told off for not having money to pay for food.

It really doesn't pay to abscond after eating a meal and not pay. If you have to choose, then abscond from a pretty hawker. That way when she beats you, you can scuffle with her and cop a free caress or cuddle rather than get some old lady having her horrid way with you.

But that's just my point of view lah.