Kopi kia gave me winning 4-D numbers

A 'kopi kia', or drinks runner, collecting drinks to serve to customers at a coffee shop in Toa Payoh Lorong 1. A typical drinks stall in a coffee shop hires at least two 'runners'.

SINGAPORE - The strongest impression of a kopi kia (coffee boy) - or rather, kopi chek (uncle) - I know is that of Mr Lim Tai Heng, who has since retired from serving coffee cups.

The 58-year-old grandfather of three is happily growing fruit trees and playing chess in Muar, Malaysia, when his grandchildren are at school.

Mr Lim chuckles at this columnist's envy of his easy life during a phone call to his home this week.

"Life's good now, lah," he concedes. "But do you know I still can smell freshly-brewed coffee in my sleep until now?"

Not surprising, since he started out as a kopi kia when he was 13.

He has lost count of the number of coffee cups he has washed in the kitchens of the various coffee shops, or put on table after table, until he finally called it a day in 2010.

He is not surprised to learn we may have to bid "goodbye to kopi kia in coffee shops", according to a report in The Straits Times last week.

Two coffee shop associations which together represent more than half of the 1,300 outlets here - victims of the manpower shortage - are studying the suggestion of doing away with the kopi kia and going self-service at kopitiams instead.

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