In the noon, before our lunch and while the New Creation Church is planning how to build their SGD $500 million church building cum cultural centre, I was following Steven and his colleagues to investigate a family that had applied for the government-aid. And this is an account of what I experienced.
There were Joreen, Steven, Steven’s colleague, an active social worker, and me, the ‘busy-body’. The house is located just at the back of a commercial park. In fact, it’s just at the other side of the alleyway of one of those stretches of shophouses.
The house is a ‘rumah setinggan’ (Malay: houses that are built illegally on common land). Before the entrance of the house, there is a wide drain separating it from the narrow alley of the highly commercialised centre of Bukit Mertajam town. Glancing at the house at one side and then the busy shophouses on the other, one gets the sense that the drain is not a mere duct for sewerage purposes. One is reminded of the terrifying and hollowing “chasm” spoken in the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16.19-31.
The only way to cross over the drain is through a rugged steep wooden bridge. The first step that I laid on the bridge was not a real step. I was merely tipping my toes, checking whether is the wood stable for one to walk on it; like someone tipping their toes on the water to see if it’s too cold to jump in.
For one who is not trained in carpentry, like myself, toe tipping is not exactly helpful in determining the rigidity of the wood. So I know that if I really want to cross over, I would need some other sources of energy, push, encouragement, or, one may say, temporal delusion to walk me over.
Seeing everyone having no problem going through the bridge is almost obligating. Hence, I brought myself over, having faith that if the bridge able to fetch the weight of Steven and others who are fatter than me, then I don’t see any problem I’ll break the bridge.
Upon entering the house, I was surprise to find that everyone took off their shoes and placed them at the door. I did the same out of conformance. Till now I still can’t see any difference if none of us took of our shoes.
A widow and her son occupy the house. When we went in, the widow revealed to us her tragic story. It appears that after her husband has passed away, there is no constant income being brought into the family. She worked as a traditional masseur previously but has stopped working due to sicknesses like diabetes, asthma, and frail arms.
Before long she wept in front of all of us, begging and crying for relief from her current condition. She also told us that she has asked the previous MCA’s State Assembly Man, Lau Chek Tuan, for help but he effortlessly gave her empty promises. He told her that he will send people to go to take a look at her place but none of his people appear.
It is only until recently, when her son sought help from Steven’s colleague, that the current state government took notice of her case. Since then her son’s education fee has been taken care of through an education loan. Meanwhile Steven and his colleagues are currently looking out for a few possible relief plans to present to the widow and her son for them to choose.
Joreen & Steven's report. They've uploaded many pictures of the rumah setinggan.