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Linette Heng
Thursday, Jun 19, 2014

Singapore

Old and home alone: Happily active

The New Paper | Linette Heng | Thursday, Jun 19, 2014

Her home is squeaky clean and equipped with two television sets and a karaoke system to keep her entertained.

All these in a one-room North Bridge Road rental flat.

Madam Cheng Siew Hong, 78, has been living alone in this 355 sq ft unit for more than 20 years after her co-tenant, who was a former colleague, died.

She said in Mandarin: "I've always been independent and lived alone. Besides, I have an active lifestyle - I volunteer at church and learn singing."

But she is careful with her money. She survives on $400 a month from her savings and pays $33 a month in rent. She is also careful not to fall and hurt herself.

The plight of elderly living alone came under the spotlight recently.

On June 8, an 82-year-old man had his arm stuck in a drainpipe and had to wait 12 hours for help to arrive.

Madam Cheng, who is divorced and relies on her own savings to survive, likes living alone but said a housemate would be helpful to share the cost.

For now, she has enough money for herself and rarely accepts handouts from her four children.

She said: "I became a mother when I was 15 and I left the family when I was 37. My children have their own lives.

"My oldest son is in his 60s, but he is still working to support his children. How can I ask him to support me?"

STOPPED WORKING

Madam Cheng used to sell wanton noodles at a Jalan Besar stall but had to leave the business five years ago after rental costs doubled.

Although she is no longer working, she does not spend all her time at home.

She goes down to Peace Connect, a voluntary organisation which runs a senior's activity centre on the ground floor of her block, three times a day.

She only heads back to her flat for meals, which she cooks on her own.

She said: "Sometimes I walk to the nearby market, but it is dangerous because the floor is slippery."

As she is suffering from gout, her legs are weak and give her many problems.

But this does not stop her from cleaning her flat every day. Her home is spotless and smells of disinfectant.

Madam Cheng said: "I use Dettol to mop the floor. Some of my neighbours don't bother, or can't clean up.

"There is a saying, there's no 'good' person living around here. It just means that everyone here is not physically well.

"Everyone is old or sick."

linheng@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 17, 2014.
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