Once, when out of work, I toiled as a labourer and hawked in flea markets. Coming from the corporate world, a former high-flying executive, I was wrecked. But every night, seeing my wife and three babies sleeping peacefully…I could not wait for sunrise.

During the nineties, I commuted very regularly to Jakarta on business. It became almost a second home – rough traffic but wonderful friendly people. I used to visit this major client and parked in the special visitor’s lot.

The first time, an elderly man limped over and proceeded to clean my windshield. I waved him away. He assured me that I do not have to pay for his ‘service’. Right, don’t I know.

Over several visits, I noticed that old man, whom I had by then learnt, was a bankrupted businessman. As soon as a car pulled up, he would hobble over and set to work with his plastic spray bottle and squeegee. It took about five minutes to clean all the glass after which, he would pull up one windshield wiper as a marker.

When the driver returned, he would hurry forward, gently replace the wiper, doff his hat and give a wide grin. Most drivers ignored him but some would toss him a couple of five-hundred Rupiah coins (back then 5000 Rupiah approximated US$1.00).

Not once did he insist on payment but always greeted everyone with his grin. I shook my head as I recollected how window cleaners in other cities would turn belligerent when not tipped.

After a few visits, I started tipping him too.

Thanks to him, I pulled through when my time came to ‘clean windows’.

*********************

49 comments

  1. You deal with real issues Eric.

    I remember when I first went to India and coolies would run to carry my luggage. I wouldn’t let them because I had been brought up to respect people and not use them to do things for me when I could do it myself. To me that would be exploitation. But a senior Indian who I respected gave me a different viewpoint. He said this was the only way coolies could earn for their families and I should not consider giving them luggage to carry was exploitation, but rather it was a help to them.

    As for Singaporeans I don’t consider them to be proud and unfriendly at all. They do take time to warm to Westerners but that has a history as colonialism left a very bad impression. But when they see you do not consider yourself to be superior to them they make good friends for life.

    1. Hello Ian,

      I notice that you’ve been reading my old posts. I truly appreciate this.

      Yes, that coolie episode. Interesting how often our “meaning well” sprouts unexpected results. I suppose the same with my window cleaner – although, I admit initially I was wary of him.

      Singaporeans – I see that you read another comment-exchange here. Like most city dwellers, Singaporeans project a certain image – very similar to those in Hong Kong, Mumbai, New York City and etc. That, coupled with a guest who is away from their comfort zone, and we have potential for misreading the bones.

      You got it right, Ian – treat everyone well and the ice melts.

      Cheers, Eric

    2. Hi Ian & Eric, I realize something as I read the comments here that a reaction may means differently towards some people. Different people have different actions.

      Ian, I understand your viewpoints and experienced it myself. It’s good that the Indian coolies can earn their income for their families. Everyone of us are rendering our service to earn income for our families.

      Eric, I do agree with you that humans have the potential for misreading the bones. Sometimes, I misread my husband’s words and vice versa.

      God bless,
      Yoshiko

  2. this was very touching..life can never be taken for granted..it can lead ppl anywhere..Is it true that people in Indonesia are far more friendly than those in Sg?

    1. I have travelled all over the world since my first trip to USA in 1979 – I found the average Indonesian among some of the friendliest people.

      Singaporeans are very shy (some say proud – perhaps that is more a reflection on themselves) and that makes them come across as unfriendly.

      Even now, whenever I go for my daily walks – I smile at all I see. The Caucasians, Indian Indians and Singapore Malays all return my smile spontaneously. The Chinese and Indian Singaporeans give me a blank look – because, though I am Singaporean, my behaviour makes me so un-Singaporean. But after a couple of times – they catch on and smile back.

      There is hope 🙂

    1. Well my dear buddy Jane,
      First, let me congratulate you for winning this nomination. I am not surprised that fellow bloggers continue to shower you with awards – your posts say it all 🙂
      …and then you spoil me with your luv. Thank you for selecting my post thus.
      Luv and hugz, Eric

  3. This reminds me of the story – “This Too Shall Pass” written by Jacqueline O Rodgers. The story is of a king who had recently lost his canine companion and was searching for way to be happy. He invited all of the greatest minds to him – but for all their clamoring, banter, and wit – none could give a satisfactory or consistent answer. It took a shoe shine man from his kingdom to teach him what he needed to know. 🙂 I don’t want to ruin the story… and will try to find an online version of it.

  4. Eric, thank you for reminding us here, very effectively, of the ups and downs in our lives. Thank you for bringing the point gently but firmly that “what goes around comes around.” So wonderful how you changed toward that bankrupt businessman washing windshields. I KNOW you were more than glad when your own turn came. Thank you especially for the opening paragraph where you ended looking forward to sunrise and another day of work on behalf of your family!

    1. Dear Granbee,

      I always relish your visit and words. You are so lovely…I wish I could reach out and receive a hug from you.

      I have encountered healthy people who refuse to work…waiting for that ideal job. How can they do that…do they not look into the eyes of their loved ones. It is so sad, really.

      Peace and luv, Eric

  5. In the city where i live on the west coast of Canada, we have problems with these window cleaners. They appear at intersections, walking around asking drivers to clean their windows. The police will ask them to move along if they see the window washers. I like that this man you describe is patient and kind. He also keeps us humble as we realize that while flying high in the business world can be great it is really your character that matters.

    1. Dear Christy,

      I’ve experienced the same problem with window cleaners in some Asian cities and it is worse…the police are in cahoots and take a cut! What a contrast with that old Indonesian – a true businessman who invested his efforts, allowed the customer the freedom of choice and collected his returns.

      Humility is a fragile plant we need to nurture throughout our lives, I reckon.

      Peace, Eric

  6. If we are lucky we have our ‘clean windows’ times and in those moments we find ourselves and the true meaning of humanity..to help ourselves we need to help others and I have observed a rising tide of ‘entitlement’ and watched how people react when I have told them what I am doing during my ‘clean windows’ times…never be too proud hey lovely Eric, you certainly aren’t and your advice to the chap asking for a raise was spot on…love and hugs to you x

    1. Dear Jane,

      You are right about the true meaning of humanity. Many forget that once we reach the peak…it is all downhill…

      I can imagine how people react when you say ‘pull up your straps’

      The more we clean windows – the brighter the day looks…for us! (that is just me trying to be witty 🙂 )

      Luv and hugz,
      Eric

  7. Dear Eric
    In Europe, thanks to its social system, we rarely see scenes like the one you described. What we do see more and more are beggars, mostly coming from Eastern European countries, but there is a strange twist to that.
    Where your businessman rendered you a service (I saw similar things happening in Mexico, thought there most of them were children), they only ask you for money, Often this happens on the parking lot of a supermarket. When Jen, says her father would bring home homeless guys for a warm meal, he would find a tough customers here.
    Lately a man, came up to me with his young son, saying they were very hungry and wanted money to buy some food. (The man, who only spoke, very badly, French , looked rather well fed, a little overweight even),. I proposed we go inside the supermarket, so that he could buy all the food he wanted, and I told him I would pay the bill. However, he declined my offer, saying he wanted only money. I refused to give him some. He just left cursing me.
    I may be a bad person, you may even despise me for that, but I really wanted to help him, making sure he got what he said he wanted.
    Love and hugs

    Steph xx

    1. Dearest Steph,

      You are not a bad person for refusing that man the money. Let us not mistaken charity and stupidity.

      In Singapore and Australia I have turned away men who approached me for money. Like you, I had offered to treat them to meals and groceries (canned food/drinks/bread/butter – the works – stuff that you don’t need to cook, in case these guys live under a bridge). Invariably, ALL turned me down. They did not spew vulgarities as I would have given them a knuckle sandwich.

      One of my lads asked me for a raise and gave me a sob story. He wanted $200.00 more a month, four times the norm. I offered him $150.00 if he was willing to cut down on smoking – from 40 sticks to 20 a day over a period of 4 months. He declined and I showed him the door with a $50.00 raise – yes, I am a heartless fat-cat executive! Curse me! I have a bucket full of such real life experiences – I can bore you to death.

      Luv and hugz,
      Eric

      1. Dear Eric
        You were quite right with that smoking employee. He should have been thankful that he was getting extra money to stop (partly) this bad habit. You’re not heartless; you care about (the health of) your people. Congratulations!
        Love and hugs
        Steph ( non-smoker) xxx

  8. It’s not easy to acknowledge you are down and willing to re-start, pride especially gets in the way. But yet there are some whom I’ve met that after extending a hand to them to pick up the pieces, very quickly they revert to their previous hey-days and finds it demeaning to start from the bottom. Hope this very touching experience you shared will be an awakening call to some, an inspiration to others and relate to those who have experienced same. Thank you.

  9. What a wonderful story. There’s an episode from a classic sitcom, “The Honeymooners” in which Ralph Kramden finds a suitcase of money and is temporary wealthy – before discovering the money is counterfeit. Ralph is a bus driver and his friend Ed is a sewer worker – and Ed is concerned that with his new found wealth Ralph will no longer want to associate with him.

    Ralph says, “If there’s one thing I know, it’s be nice to the people you meet on the way up – because you’re going to meet the same people on the way down.”

  10. Being an engineer, I am sure you know the stories of Nikola Tesla, this brilliant man digging ditches in NYC when he was broke and could not find work. In that ditch he made friend with the man who eventually introduced him to George Westinghouse. Some would call it the dark night of the soul, some would say it is simply life showing us the way. There is too much of a sense of entitlement in the world today. Even my own children I sometime think I have not gotten the message across to them that work, any work, may be all you can get. Anyone who has read Victor Fankel’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” should know this. Thank you for sharing this story.

    1. Dear Peter,

      I’m afraid I’m not familiar with Nikola Tesla but of course, know about Westinghouse…and a wonderful door opener that!

      I am not one to make promises but did promise this to my wife:

      If needs be, I will drop to my hands and knees to scrub shit off a toilet floor to earn money – to keep my family clothed, fed and housed. I will be a glass wall that protects them from the buffeting of want. Why ‘glass wall’ you ask – because, my ego is fragile, I confess, making it so much tougher. Glass wall – so my children can watch and learn about humility, the seriousness of marriage and family.

      I praise and thank the Lord that I haven’t had to go that far…and hope that I never have to…my wall is glass.

      Peace, Eric
      (P/s: From what I perceive, my three children do not exhibit any pride or arrogance – one day I might share a story about this)

  11. Eric, this is beautiful. So simple and so touching. My dad would bring home homeless guys all the time for a warm meal and a bed for the night. His family lost everything in Germany just before WW I and he was brought up knowing what it means to lose it all and need to rely on the kindness of strangers. he paid it forward before there was such a thing. I loved that about him and HOPE I am modeling that for my son. I think in so many ways there is no greater lesson a parent can give a child.

    Jesus comes to mind Yes? “whatever you do for the least…”

    so true.

    You are not just an amazing writer but a man with Heart.

    Peace, Jen

    1. My dear dear Jen,

      I am getting to know you better and better…and love what I uncover. Your Dad is such a bright soul and you are so blessed.

      So very true and perfect, these pearls from Him – “…whatever you do for the least…” We all know this but as my post of yesterday said, many chose not to remember and even fewer act.

      I think with you for a Mom, your son will be a fine man and do alright 🙂

      I write from my heart…is there any other way, I wonder.

      Peace be upon you,
      Eric

  12. This is truly heartwarming. It is so easy to overlook the less fortunate around us… The strength of those who have gone before us does make our own dark times less difficult! – Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you for your thoughts and words.

      I come across many out-of-work people but very few willing to lower their expectations. They are quick to point fingers. Pride is one of the greatest stumbling blocks in our life and relationships – I reckon.

      Peace, Eric

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