'Cardboard auntie', 86, killed by bus while son is having coffee
Madam Zheng Yuan Ying, 86, was a familiar face in the Marsiling Lane area.
But few knew her name. To some, she was "auntie" while others called her 'Ah Um' (auntie in Hokkien).
Madam Zheng was especially known to the staff of a discount shop, ABC Bargain Centre, who would keep pieces of cardboard for her.
Her 65-year-old son, Mr Soon Yi Quan, was at a coffee shop next to ABC yesterday morning when he heard that a "cardboard auntie" had been killed after being knocked down by a private bus on Marsiling Lane in Woodlands.
He said in Mandarin: "My friend told me that a woman with a trolley was trapped under a bus. When I rushed there, I realised it was my mother."
Like clockwork each day, mother and son would leave their flat in Block 206, Marsiling Lane, at around 7am.
She would go on her rounds to collect cardboard while Mr Soon would wait for her at the coffee shop.
She would return to ABC, which opens at 9am, to pick up the cardboard its staff would keep aside for her. If she needed help with the heavier loads, Mr Soon would step in.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said the elderly woman was pronounced dead by paramedics at the scene.
Her body had to be retrieved from the rear of the bus using an air bag and a hydraulic jack, an SCDF spokesman said.
Her damaged trolley and a stack of cardboard were stuck under the front of the bus.
The bus driver was arrested for causing death through a negligent act, the police said. Investigations are ongoing.
Roughly 50m away from the accident scene at Block 18, a Goshen Departmental Store employee, who wanted to be known only Ms Chin, said she had heard a car honking loudly at about 8.30am.
She said in Malay: "There was no screeching or loud crashing sound. Just a horn. A car driver who saw the auntie get hit had honked at the bus driver to stop."
At ABC, a Filipina employee, who gave her name only as Ms Esther, was saddened by Madam Zheng's tragic death.
The senior citizen would go there in the morning and afternoon to collect cardboard discarded by the shop. She spoke to the staff in English.
Ms Esther, who was in tears, told The New Paper: "We didn't know her name but to us she was our auntie.
"A few of us hurried to the accident site because we couldn't believe she had been killed.
"Tomorrow will not be same without her."
Madam Zheng, a kitchen helper until her retirement three years ago, was heading to a cardboard collection point a few hundred metres away when the accident happened, said eyewitnesses who knew her.
Some of her friends were standing across the road from where she was killed when TNP was at the scene of the accident.
One of them, Madam Tong Chuan, 80, said in Malay: "My heart was shattered when I was told 'your friend is dead' by a resident. She was a strong woman who insisted on working."
Mr Soon, who is jobless, said his mother started collecting cardboard as a way to "kill time".
He said: "My mother earned less than $10 a day. I told her to stop doing this, but she wanted to kill time and make some extra pocket money."
Madam Tong said she had also tried to discourage Madam Zheng from working too hard.
"Why work for a few dollars?" she said. "It's not worth it. Yet, there are at least 10 elderly women in this estate who choose to make a living this way."
To Madam Tan Siew Lian, 73, it is still a way to earn some money.
At about 11am yesterday, she was seen pushing a trolley filled with cardboard and a bag of empty cans across the road near where Madam Zheng's body lay under a blue tent.
She said: "She was very protective of her cardboard and would scold you if you go near it.
"The most an elderly person can make doing this is about $12 a day. It's back-breaking work and my shoulders are always aching."
The Marsiling Lane area has many shops and across it is an industrial estate.
Residents said some of these places are happy to hand over their discarded cardboard to the "cardboard aunties".
The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said yesterday that needy families and individuals who need financial and social help may approach the nearest MSF social service office.
Or they can call the 24-hour ComCare Call hotline at 1800-222-000 for assistance.