Based on real events
Grandpa Wong entered the convenience store and exhaled a great breath of comfort as the air-conditioning cooled the sweat of his body. He knew it was a temporary escape from Hong Kong’s blazing summer heat; though he tried to prolong each movement to extend his time at this haven he frequented, he would have to go back out to work. Grandpa Wong limped to the refrigerators at the far end of the shop, greeted with an even cooler gale of air as he pulled out a glass bottle of soybean milk. He went to the cashier to pay what’s due but not before closing the fridge door.
“Same thing again, Grandpa?”
“Yes, yes,” he replied with a chuckle. “It reminds me of the older days.” Grandpa Wong regarded the young, healthy, able-bodied cashier with much envy but he hid it all with his smile. The old man chuckled, as he’d be lucky to muster up enough breath to lift the stack of magazines that just came in, where the energetic cashier, albeit apathetic to his work, lazily reached over to place the stacks over the counter. Grandpa Wong’s current form made anyone look giant but it was compensated with the most fervent determination and drive—the kind that is not readily seen with the new generation nowadays. He knew what he wanted to do, and he would work hard for it. How he wished he could have this cashier’s body now. Grandpa gestured for the glass bottle cap to be pried open, said his thanks, and returned back out to work.
Grandpa Wong parted the crowd to make way for his large trolley. The people split for the old man and converged back into a mass behind him. Grandpa Wong paid no attention to the annoyed, busy, and pitying audience. He shared the pedestrian walk with other senior citizens labouring past with what their bodies allowed them to do, yet as each party worked to move around each other, none of them would be registered as a passing thought to the pedestrians. It all felt so tight, small, and unnecessarily busy. Everyone and everything competed for space. But unfortunately, it was not just space:
“—Move out of the way, stupid kids!”
“—Bloody children always using their phones…”
“—Watch where you’re going, old man!”
The elderly shouted loud to be heard through traffic, conversations, and earphones. Grandpa Wong was not one to shout but he, like everyone else, was a victim to the endless noise. Alongside the piercing sounds were bright, garish, even unsightly visual stimuli that fought for your attention such as moving screens, large televisions, posters plastered on other posters.
There was not one single space that did not show an advertisement displaying the latest hit or the hottest trend. It was as if every second there was something new and everything that came before that second was now obsolete. Time moved fast for new ideas and objects that everyone vied for. Time would not stop and slow down for those who could not keep up. It seemed as though it was only a few years ago when Grandpa Wong suffered his injury and was no longer fit for his delivery services. It seemed even more recent that his son had just become a father. It seemed like a blink of an eye ago that his grandson no longer liked playing with his own grandfather with his plastic toys and was now glued to the electronic screen like everyone else. Playthings and imagination to be replaced with gadgets and monitors. Precious, expensive commodities only to be so quickly replaced and forgotten. Grandpa Wong now collected these commodities on his large trolley to sell to a buyer, hoping to make some small money for these used goods. He had been working hard for his goal, saving up enough money to buy the latest touchscreen phone. That way, his grandson would notice him again, as the loving grandfather, not a relic of the past like his limp or the plastic toys that served so much fun, or the many other senior citizens of burdening society.
Grandpa Wong had agreed with the used-goods collector to meet up at an old neighbourhood. He sat down by the trolley, tugging on his shirt to create some wind to cool himself down. ‘Just a few more jobs,’ he thought to himself. He was almost there. The familiar van turned the corner and stopped. The collector exited from the van and made his way to the back to open the back door.
“Grandpa! No way—you carried that by yourself?”
Both acknowledged that the sight of the trolley was intimidating. Several box televisions and speakers placed precariously atop each other, loosely bound by tough string and laboured through the city by a very old man.
“It’s okay… I’m stronger than I look.”
The collector withdrew himself from his chuckle.
“I’m sorry, grandpa. No one buys these box TVs anymore… and for the speakers I can only give you thirty dollars.”
The collector took out his wallet and pulled out a crumpled twenty-note and a ten-note which Grandpa received with much gratitude. The collector arched his eyebrow, noting the old, but thick wallet Grandpa had, filled with what must be hundreds of twenty- and ten-notes. He said nothing, packed everything into his van, and slammed the back door down.
He bid farewell and drove away. Grandpa Wong noted his hungry stomach but ignored his want to eat. He could not spare any money to eat outside and could only count on the leftovers at home. In a few minutes, the sky would be completely dark and any person would make their way back home for dinner. But there was always still time for one more job. ‘So tired…’
Just then, his mobile phone, ancient by today’s standards, rang. Someone must have read his roughly hand-written ad about his service and wanted something gone. He flipped his phone open and listened. It was in this neighbourhood and the family wanted an old refrigerator gone.
There was no elevator in the old building so he left his trolley down by the street and walked up the stairs to the third floor. Back in the day, this would have been brand new and Grandpa Wong would have been excited to live in such luxury. His limp did not make the journey upwards easy with the many broken steps.
Grandpa Wong rapped on the doorbell and a moment later a man opened to answer him.
“Oh good, we’re just about to start dinner. Come in.”
Grandpa Wong battled to resist the smells of the food and instead planned on how to move the enormous refrigerator. Just next to it was the much slimmer, shorter, but more advanced replacement.
“We don’t want it. You can take it away.”
The man helped Grandpa Wong to move the refrigerator out of the door. The man then turned to call the children out for dinner. Still within sight, Grandpa Wong could see the children saunter their way out of their rooms, eyes and hands still attached to their electronic screens. As they sat, they never left their virtual world.
“I have to help set dinner. Thank you so much for taking this fridge away.”
Grandpa Wong only nodded as he was greeted by the door once more.
Out of sight, out of mind.
He turned to take in the challenge he had to endure. Turning back, he tried to hug the fridge and reach the back but realized there was no way to grip it that way. He could only pull on the fridge door that would keep opening. He pulled the fridge right to the edge of the staircase as he set his feet as firm as he could against the stairs’ steps. Once he tilted the fridge over, all the weight would come crashing down and he had to conjure all his strength to stop from falling. Step by every aggravating step, he slowed the fridge’s flight down as he dragged the heavy machine down. It was loud as the weight would come crashing down on the tiled steps.
He nearly slipped on a broken step but his slipper caught the corner of the broken piece and he held on.
He finally made it down the first flight of stairs, but there were still two-and-a-half flights to go. Grandpa Wong dragged and dragged, knowing that it would all be worth it. The condition this appliance was in would surely inherit him a lot of money—anyone could still use a cheap, old fridge. He just had to make sure it would not break as he brought it down. He pushed bags and bins of rubbish to make way. After this flight, he would be on the second floor and be almost there.
He repeated his strategy again. He dragged the fridge just over the edge and he braced his feet on the steps to prepare for the fridge’s weight. He pulled it ever so slowly to get ready when his limped leg gave way on a broken step and, just like every old and broken appliance, he fell straight towards the bins and bags of rubbish below. He rolled and bumped on each step and his old body took in every shock of pain and damage.
He was in so much pain. Tired and hungry in body, but driven and strong in mind, he fought the anguish as much as he could. Grandpa Wong rubbed his hands on his leg to try and soothe his limped leg’s pain. Just then, an eerie creaking sound was heard.
He looked up to see the large refrigerator still on the top of the staircase. The tiled step it was on broke on the weight. The fridge—this hulking, unstoppable mass of metal—tipped forward, falling towards the bottom of the staircase. Grandpa Wong tried to scream, but the fridge rolling down the stairs was much, much louder.
This story was based on a true story my mother read many years ago when we still lived in Jordan, a very old part of Hong Kong where many elderly people like Grandpa Wong lived. Despite the Urban Renewal programmes to develop and modernize the environment, there will always be relics of the past in the presence of the previous generations that still walk among us. In our busy lives, some of us have become apathetic to their existence, despite our family love and respect for our own—and even then, perhaps not. Nothing can stop the march of time and its influence effects ravages on us all. It’s fair and unfair.
Technology and culture as well develop so quickly; it’s insane. It’s foolish to think that we’ve plateaued and things aren’t changing as fast as they did back then. We’re simply unaware of it. It’s as unavoidable as time itself. It is just unfortunate that some cannot keep up, lost in an insane world. Sometimes all it takes is a helping hand and the presence of mind to acknowledge that at one point in our life, we did not know how to ask a question, how to read, or even how to use a spoon. One day, inevitably, we will be old and confused too.
Edited by: Gordon Lo