Singapore

Cleaner scolded at food court: I’ve let it go already

On most days, Mr Png Lye Heng goes about his daily task without anyone taking notice, clearing tables at the food court at Jem shopping mall.

But last Friday, the cleaner, who is deaf, suddenly found himself in the spotlight after news of him being verbally abused by a patron at the food court went viral online.

The patron was Ms Alice Fong, a 37-year-old executive who was at the food court with her husband, and Mr Png became a victim of her tongue-lashing after he accidentally cleared her tray at her table despite her not wanting it cleared.

But days after the incident, the 64-year-old just wants to avoid the media glare, keep a low profile and move on, especially since Ms Fong has apologised, even though she insisted it wasn't entirely her fault, saying she was sick, and Mr Png had no tag to say he was disabled.

Initially reticent about the brouhaha for fear of more conflict, Mr Png finally relented and told The New Paper: "I'm fine with (the incident). I've let it go already."

Then he broke into a toothy grin.

Through a deaf student versed in sign language, TNP communicated with Mr Png yesterday while he went about clearing bowls and plates. Mr Png, affectionately known as "Ah Heng" to colleagues, said he has been working as a part-time cleaner at the Jem food court for about a year.

Every day, except on Saturdays, he works from morning till 5pm. Then he goes home.

The bachelor lives with his sister and mother.

Misunderstandings like the one he had with Ms Fong last Friday are not new, he conceded.

But he declined to elaborate, shaking his head and waving his hand in between gesturing to TNP that he prefers to keep mum about the misunderstandings.

Mr Png works in an environment where not everyone understands his disability.

RAISED VOICE

As TNP followed him to the back of the food court where dishes are washed, a fellow worker raised his voice at Mr Png, who was blocking the way in the cramped corridor.

He could not hear his colleague and did not budge.

Given the invisibility of disabilities like deafness, some, like Ms Fong, have argued that workers like Mr Png should wear a tag that indicates their disability.

But those who work closely with the disabled pointed out that the tag may become a label that leads to stigma.

Mr Png himself refused to wear a tag that indicates his deafness, said his manager who wanted to be known only as Steven, 51.

The cleaner does not seem to let his disability get in the way of his job.

He walks with a limp, but his gait does not stop him from walking from table to table, clearing bowls and plates in sight.

He may not be able to speak or hear, but he continues to exchange a smile or banter with some of the stall holders, who smile back.

Steven said he was initially worried that Mr Png would be so affected by the incident that he would not return to work.

Patrons have recognised and gestured at the cleaner, he said.

But when Mr Png greeted Steven and proceeded to work on Sunday morning, the cleaning company manager heaved a sigh of relief.

"As long as he doesn't feel hurt... I have no intention to replace him as I feel he's still an innocent party.

"I feel that he's a nice guy. He still does what he's supposed to," said the manager.

He added that while he has heard rumours of Mr Png wanting to quit, the cleaner has never approached him about it.

"If he really wanted to resign, he could have told me. He's a hardworking chap...

"I hope he will stay back and help me," he said.

THE NEW PAPER,YESTERDAY
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