The first thing that Madam Saleha asked me after I salam her (that Malay ritual where you kiss the hands of your elders) is if I wanted to order some Thai food on Grab. She insisted on the cash-on-delivery option, wanting to pay for the pineapple fried rice, mango salad, minced beef with basil, and other items that amounted to nearly $80.
Too late. Her granddaughter refused to let the 79-year-old retiree dole out a single cent and had already tapped the order button with the payment charged to her card. It’s a pretty standard scene that plays out among Malay families: the younger kin refusing to let their elders pay when it comes to meals.
“Hehe, thank you!” the septuagenarian eventually relented, settling back into her armchair, holding a wad of $50 notes in her hand—the cash that her granddaughter just gave as a monthly allowance. Filial piety and all that jazz.
Saleha isn’t her real name though; she requested to keep her identity anonymous. What I can tell you is that she and her husband have been together for 60 years. I can tell you that they both live with their daughter, son-in-law, four grandchildren, domestic helper, and a bunch of cats in a capacious HDB apartment in Pasir Ris.
l can also tell you that the cupboard where she stores her baju butterfly is the same place where she has $12,000 in cash squirrelled away. That’s about a thousand times more than what she had in her bank account when she got married at 19 years of age.
“I wanted to climb out of that situation,” she recalled about the days with little to her name, pledging to hustle hard to build a family.