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Three Tissue Packets For A Dollar

Since young I have never bought packets from these tissue peddlers. Whenever we were out for a meal at a hawker centre, my parents would always turn them away – making no eye contact and avoiding any conversation – and we did the same when we passed them on the streets. On the contrary there was no hesitation when a volunteer approached with a tin can, which would prompt my mother to dig her coin purse in exchange for a little sticker.

But I never understood why. Perhaps we never needed the tissue packets, though in retrospect one dollar was such a small sum for a good deed. A “good deed”, because oftentimes these sellers are characterised as destitute and “in need” (and elderly), with assumptions that they have fallen on hard times, have been let down by their offspring, or are denied state assistance. Little surprise that they – together with those who toil as cleaners and those who labour in neighbourhoods with cartloads of cardboards – have featured in political narratives rallying against a heartless government which supposedly does little for the disenfranchised.

I asked my friends about this, and the unscientific aggregation of these anecdotes revealed a 50-50 split in the willingness to purchase. These were “karma tissues”, one said, for the aforementioned reasons. For others it was not unlike a regular business transaction, and they were cautious about peddlers who were too “pushy” or appeared “suspicious”. On the other hand, those who were hesitant to pay a dollar were not only apprehensive about the authenticity of these peddlers – some even citing syndicates – but concerned about the utility of their contributions. “That dollar will not solve their underlying problems”, one elaborated.

Perhaps herein lies the power (and diversity) of perception. Whether we purchase these tissue packets depends, it seems: first, how we perceive the peddler (inferring intent through disposition and actions); and second, how we perceive the efficacy of our contribution (if that dollar makes a tangible difference in the life of that peddler, or if policy changes are in order).

Yet the trouble with these perceptions could be that of generalisation, wherein assumptions are made about the needs of these individuals. It is difficult to ascertain the background and motivation of a peddler, and in that split moment before a possible transaction we revert to a perception which – we believe – has served us well. I am not sure if these musings will mark a change in my future interactions, though I will certainly pause, and ponder a little more.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.


7 thoughts on “Three Tissue Packets For A Dollar

  1. What??? I thought there are no poor people in Singapore. So said Minister V. So said Kishore.

    Posted by The | January 29, 2015, 3:02 pm
  2. As someone who always gives $2 to tissue sellers I come across and never accepts the tissues (due to a bit of OCD and the fact they can then have more stock on hand), I read with sadness your parents’ and your friends’ attitudes to these sellers. Why give to “volunteers” rattling a tin can when you also don’t know how much of the money will ultimately benefit whatever cause the funds raised are supposed to support? The volunteers dress better and look cleaner, izzit?

    Also, given that the poor everywhere grows exponentially (take the ST Pocket Money example and you will get what I mean), doesn’t the same principle your friends offer for not giving hold true too when giving to “organised” charity?(“That dollar will not solve their underlying problems”, one elaborated.)?

    Thankfully PM LHL doesn’t think similarly as reflected in his recent FB post and which I quote: Every time I meet Mdm Tan Kam Toh she lifts my spirits. She lives in a one-room flat in Teck Ghee and no longer works. Her adult daughter has special needs and works as a cleaner. She sees me from time to time for help with HDB, Town Council fees, utilities, etc. We always find ways to help her, knowing that she will need to come back again.

    Yes, my $2 won’t solve the problems of the tissue paper sellers. But together with others who give, it will help these down and out survive another tomorrow, until bigger help comes.

    As for syndicates, this sort of “begging” isn’t going to turn anyone into a Li Ka Shing or Ng Teng Fong la.. get your friends to do an experiment and pose as tissue sellers for a month, before making up your mind 🙄

    Posted by auntielucia | January 29, 2015, 6:09 pm
    • “The volunteers dress better and look cleaner, izzit?” – That’s an interesting suggestion actually. Perceptions are very well shaped by appearances too. To what extent would be hard to ascertain, nevertheless.

      “Why give to “volunteers” rattling a tin can when you also don’t know how much of the money will ultimately benefit whatever cause the funds raised are supposed to support?” (and the subsequent point about organised charity) – Scepticism towards charity is healthy. There are calls for more rigorous PMM (performance measurement and management) in charities, beyond the financials. The national charity portal allows donors to track financial performance (and how monies are used). Charities can be, and should be, held more accountable.

      I think it’s quite plausible that those who are sceptical of charity would frown upon these acts as well. Though at the same time many of them might prefer direct contributions as opposed to these financial exchanges. And many of these friends do volunteer too, which is not necessarily premised upon problem-solving too. Definitely not mutually exclusive, I concede.

      Don’t really get the point on the experiment though…

      Jin Yao

      Posted by guanyinmiao | January 29, 2015, 6:41 pm
      • “Don’t really get the point on the experiment though…”

        What I meant is if you and those friends sceptical about the tissue paper sellers’ plight, then go and spend some time being one, or better still as a “syndicate” as alleged. Then you may be able to experience the hardship of going from table to table, stomach empty while the diners eating a banquet at a food court or hawker centre treat you like a pesky fly or sitting in the hot sun for hours on end hoping for some hurrying passer by to notice you. Then you can more convincingly present your case? Become a billionaire selling tissue paper or it’s worse and lower than being a free lance car washer? You tell me!

        Posted by auntielucia | January 29, 2015, 10:08 pm
      • Certainly won’t contest this point on privilege.

        Jin Yao

        Posted by guanyinmiao | January 29, 2015, 10:26 pm
  3. I just buy them. I don’t believe in karma but I respect that they are trying to earn a living without begging. And I usually could do with an extra packet or two of tissue during my lunch. I have definitely bought things with even wider profit margins from more ‘legitimate’ businesses.

    Posted by Benjamin Ho | January 30, 2015, 12:50 pm


  1. Pingback: Top Posts Of 2015 | guanyinmiao's musings - December 30, 2015

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