Tissue seller faces 'greedy, able-bodied' competitors
IT IS 10.30pm. Mohamad Isa Saat, 63, hobbles along Bedok Road and approaches a group of diners at a popular Halal restaurant.
He stops and leans on one of his crutches, with one hand holding four packets of tissue paper.
"Uncle, aunty, you want tissue paper?" he asks politely.
The diners glance at him and immediately notice that he is disabled, without his right leg. One gives him $1 for the tissue packets.
Mr Isa calls out well wishes to the buyer: "May your wishes come true and God bless you." He then hobbles to the next table.
He is part of a small group here - one of the few people who have a licence issued by the National Environment Agency to sell tissue paper (see other report).
The conditions of the licence say that he must sell from a single spot, but Mr Isa goes around the eateries at Bedok.
He says he has an "okay" to do so, but will not say from whom.
Mr Isa was persuaded to let The New Paper (TNP) shadow him for a day after this reporter explained that the paper is trying to understand the lives of tissue paper peddlers in Singapore.
Mr Isa is grateful for the licence, which he received only a few months ago.
He has been selling tissue packets for about two years, after losing his right leg in a car accident in 2009.
He remembers only that a car crashed into the taxi he was riding in.
A SIMPLE LIFE
He subsequently lost his job, and says he had to turn to selling tissue paper for a living.
No one would hire him after he lost his leg, he claims.
He lives apart from his family - he is divorced and his two children have their own families to look after.
Home for the past four years has been a rental flat which he shares with a flatmate. He lives simply and goes to the nearby hawker centres for food.
He even skips his meals sometimes.
Mr Isa says ruefully: "When I told my family I might start selling tissue, they were so shocked and asked if I had other options."
It was difficult in the beginning. He wore a cap pulled down low over his head so that no one would recognise him.
"I felt very embarrassed and scared that people who recognise me will find out that I'm selling tissue. But now I'm okay, because the people here (Bedok) make me feel welcome."
Mr Isa says he makes a good living, selling three packets for a dollar.
He gets his supply of tissue packets from ABC Bargain Centre near Bedok Interchange at $4.90 for 72 Beautex tissue packets.
He claims he once made $8,000 in a month. But he has no way of proving this.
When TNP watched him from afar one night last week, 10 people bought tissues from him in an hour.
Five gave him $2, four gave him a dollar and one gave him $10. But he cannot go on for hours without rest.
Although he works from 6.30pm to past midnight "every day", he was nowhere to be found on subsequent nights.
When TNP tailed him for the day, he told the paper he was concerned about preserving his livelihood. There is more competition from other sellers these days.
There is a middle-aged woman who also sells tissue in his area. He grumbled that a man with no fingers sometimes accompanies her to gain more sympathy.
Mr Isa says: "Maybe after seeing my state, she decided to bring him in."
Regular customers and shopkeepers in the area have also witnessed the competition between the tissue peddlers.
Lalit Kumar, a 30-year-old senior manager of a restaurant there, says that usually there are three or four tissue peddlers in the area.
He said: "Abang (Malay for brother, referring to Mr Isa) is the nicest and he doesn't force people to buy his tissues, unlike a woman who always disturbs the customers and blocks the way."
Mr Isa has to also compete with foreigners.
He says they are from Vietnam and China. "Some of them are very greedy, they not only sell at Bedok, but also go all over Singapore."
He finds it hard because not only are these able-bodied folks quicker than him, but they also may be selling for the wrong reasons.
Mr Isa heard from a regular customer that these foreign tissue sellers are actually on holiday to visit their children who are working here.
Shaking his head, he says he can only hope that they will stop and give needy people here a chance.
Mr Isa hopes to one day save enough to go on the haj pilgrimage.
Before he started selling tissue, he had very little savings because most of the money was used for medical bills.
He also had no savings in his Central Provident Fund account.
Despite his struggles, Mr Isa said: "I'm very happy and glad that I'm still alive."
THE NEW PAPER
Additional reporting by Hariz Baharudin