When I was young, I lived in a small village in Melaka. Mine was a terrace
house in a row of shophouses. The spirit of neighbourliness was very strong
then. There was no such thing as locking the doors of our houses by day or
The village had a variety of trades to serve the needs of the
was a barber, tailor, coffee shop owner, grocer, baker, electrician, plumber and
so on. All of us were quite poor by today's standards but we got by. However,
one family which could be considered as living a marginal existence was the
Lim family living in the bicycle shop opposite our
Mr Lim, the bicycle mechanic, had a large brood of children - twelve to
be exact. The joke amongst the neighbours was that he was aiming to form a
football team among his children. However, seriously speaking, it was no joke
for him trying to feed his growing children daily.
My mother was a kind-hearted soul. Often, she would remark that his
children were dressed in ragged clothes and looked malnourished. My family
was relatively better off in the village and my father was the headman. My
mother would bring over whatever food we could spare to our neighbours. On
occasions when there was leftover food from village weddings or festivals, my
father would direct me to bring these to Mr Lim. I did not mind visiting the
Lim's bicycle shop as I had an interest in bicycles.
I remember one particular year when times were very hard. The economy
was doing very badly. Even my family had to make do with two meals a day.
Lunch was dispensed with. We stopped the
practice of giving food to Mr
Lim. One day, I noticed my mother looking troubled. She had learned that
the Lim family had not been eating for the past two days. There and then, she
decided to sacrifice a portion of our meals to the family. Despite the protests
from my brothers and sisters that we too were hungry, she kept on doing the
kind act of giving them a portion of our food from then on. Fortunately, the
lean spell did not last long, and the children in our family resumed our three
meals a day again.
I shared a room with my brothers overlooking the bicycle shop. I was
interested in the repair of bicycles and would often stare out of the window
to see Mr Lim hard at work. As time went on, I noticed Mr Lim looking more
cheerful. The number of customers at his shop had increased steadily. Soon, he
was selling many shiny new bicycles.
The eldest son of Mr Lim was the head prefect of our primary school. He
often helped his father in his work. This boy, Tian Beng, was very good with his
hands. He proved very popular with his customers. It was he who expanded
his father's business after he dropped out of school when his father needed his
help in their growing bicycle business. Tian Beng started a motorcycle repairing
service to add on to his father's trade. Business at his shop took off like a
as Japanese bikes were the rage then as they were very useful and popular for
It was at this time that my father's business took a turn for the worse. My
father was a provision shop owner and he trusted many people readily. One day,
his senior assistant ran off with a substantial amount of the shop's earnings.
During that time, my father's health was also deteriorating. We were at our
end, perplexed by the mysterious illness he was suffering from. My father then
sold our family car to pay off the mounting bills.
They say that one good deed deserves another. Mr Lim, our neighbour,
came to learn of our plight. In spite of my father's protests, he stepped in to
help. He stated simply that it was his turn to repay the kindness that my father
had shown to him in the past.
Through his connections, Mr Lim arranged for my father to consult a
famous Chinese physician in Chinatown. Not only was this doctor's diagnosis
of my father's medical condition accurate, he was able to cure my father. My
father's health steadily improved. However, because of my father's lack of
attention to his provision shop, business floundered.
Again Mr Lim became our good Samaritan. He arranged for a loan for
my father's business. When he also learned that my brother and I had stopped
schooling because we could not afford the fees, he would have none of this.
He told us that we should not give up our education as we were among the top
pupils in the school. He then arranged to finance our education as long as we
Suffice it to say that my father's business recovered the next year. My
is now the proud owner of the village mini-market. Mr Lim has expanded his
business too. He now has a car showroom in town. Whenever my parents
meet up with Mr Lim, they would thank him for his past help. He would just
shrug off their thanks and say simply that he was merely repaying a kindness.