The other evening, when we were walking near the Esplanade Theaters by the Bay here in Singapore, Akank and I stopped for something to eat. I wanted her to try the Thai coconut ice cream, a scoop of coconut flavored sorbet served in one half of a tender coconut shell, to be eaten along with the young coconut jelly. I had tried it once before and had loved it. They also offer a chilled glass of tender coconut water to go. It was a humid evening and anything cold and thirst quenching seemed like a great snack idea.
As we sat by the Bay enjoying the crystals in the sorbet, I noticed a man looking in the general direction of where we sat. In the twilight, it seemed like he was looking directly at us. He sat there surrounded by two huge plastic bags filled with cans and plastic bottles. It was obvious that he was a trash collector. He looked about 75 years old not a day younger. He had no footwear on, wore a shirt that was a few sizes bigger for his frame and he was absentmindedly munching on something. My gaze kept going back to the man. I felt unsettled as I looked at him, savoring the cold sorbet with the plastic spoon in my mouth. I wondered if he longed for a taste of the cold ice- cream. Instinctively, I walked back to the kiosk to buy another shell of ice cream.
I offered the ice cream topped with crushed peanuts to the old man and said, “Uncle,this is for you”. With a toothless grin that reached his ears, without speaking a word, he waved both his hands and refused the offer. I deemed it important to clarify that it was a fresh cup and not the one I was eating. I even showed him the half eaten sorbet in my other hand, but he was absolutely sure that he wanted nothing to do with it, fresh or otherwise. I imagined that maybe the ice cream was way too cold for him and for some strange old man reason he was refusing it. I gingerly balanced both the fresh shell and what was left of my melting sorbet and offered him the chilled coconut water to drink. He waved me away with renewed vigor and pulled out a brown liquid from inside an enormous plastic bag and indicated that he had something to drink. I was flabbergasted.
I gave up when I realized that I expected him to accept the ice cream just because I felt charitable, but it had back fired. The fresh sorbet began to melt too.
Before I made the decision to buy the ice cream, I had my daughter’s buy-in and support. Otherwise you can imagine what else I would have had to deal with! She however refused the second helping of ice-cream. At 16, she has better control over her needs and wants related to food than I do. I pondered for a minute if I should eat the refused ice cream and then realized that it will end up being a costly mistake to my weight maintenance goals. I visualized my coach’s disapproving looks and decided that I was going to march ahead to look for someone more deserving. I had to pass by the old man, who flashed me another toothless grin and waved to me as though wishing me luck.
I shortly found a 20 year old Bangladeshi construction worker who was dragging his feet after work towards the pickup truck that would take him home. Unlike the old man, the young man gladly took the ice- cream from me and sat down to finish it. I made small talk with him as he ate and found out that he had been here less than two months. I hoped that he believed that he is in a good place, hard construction work notwithstanding, that sometimes strangers you come across in a new country, can be nice.