Jason: The Gloved Hero
It was a Wednesday morning.
I arrived at the seated tables inside Yusof Ishak House late. He is already patiently seated at one of the tables near the LiHo stall, waiting for my arrival right after completing his breakfast shift.
Meet Jason. The main man of our dining hall, he’s always steadfast in ensuring we get our food, doing quality checks, managing the other staff, and on top of all that, serving our food to us one by one, manually in the humid, damp, claustrophobic space behind the serving area.
He may look tired, nonchalant, or just plain bored when scooping your Olive Pilaf Rice, or even apathetic.
But don’t be fooled. He’s observant as hell, and quick with words.
My decision to interview him was based on my previous interactions with our black-clad barista (he makes our coffee in the morning), who seemed to remember what I ate, what I didn’t eat, my “no-gravy” request, and even people I often ate with.
This piqued my interest. Thus the interview. At the same time, maybe among all this, we can find appreciation for our dining hall director.
[Most of the conversation took place in Chinese.. On Jason’s part.
My part was a jumble of English, and E8-standard Chinese]
What’s your name?
Ah, out of curiosity, what is the company you guys work for?
新鸿运. (He types it down so that I can understand. I still did not understand)
Where do you stay?
Clementi.. Or West Coast. Somewhere in between.. It’s nearby.
Where are you originally from?
Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur.
How old are you this year?
So you were born in 1990?
Oh ok. I thought you looked younger
Do you have siblings? How many?
Yes I do. 4.
Ooh wow. Do you have a girlfriend?
Nice. Is she from Singapore?
No. She’s Malaysian.
What do you think of Singaporean girls?
Normal lor.. Sporty.
Who takes the most food normally?
For dinner or breakfast?
The… (describes in Chinese incoherently. Gestures to something high. I realise he is referring to Kaiyuan). The mainland Chinese people also eat a lot.
How about at breakfast?
Girls eat a lot at breakfast for some reason. Sometimes I see them take photos of their food.
………………….. Which RF is the friendliest?
Ivan, Matthew, Xin Ting are very friendly.
Dr. Ng is not friendly?
He doesn’t eat the dining hall food often.. (laughs) But he is quite friendly, yes.
If you could study something, what would it be?
Marketing.. Since I did Culinary Arts in school.
What do you do in between breakfast and dinner time? Since it’s quite long.. I don’t suppose you go home?
Usually I rest, some Fridays I meet friends.
What do you all do behind the scenes?
Chop vegetables, prepare the meals. I wake up at 4:30am every morning from Monday to Saturday, steam some items, roast some, for all four halls (Raffles, KR, I forgot the other two; doesn’t matter). Sometimes I have to manage the stewardess staff working with me. 李龙 (English: Li-Long) is there too (the other guy in black behind the counter), we have to make sure everything is ready before the mealtimes.
Who do you deal with on a daily basis? What are the encounters like?
Sometimes, students ask me to recommend which food item is better. Some students will ask for numbers on their phones on the spot and we have to wait, but it’s ok. Nicole’s assistant from the hall admin office is very friendly. She always comes to talk to me. Some students complain to the hall admin that food samples are not displayed.. A lot of people complain about the udon. And about the sink area and tables being very dirty. They can just tell us because it’s our duty to handle these things – when they go to hall admin office to complain it complicates the problem.
This or That
Pepsi or Coke?
Coffee or tea?
SG or MY?
Fried noodles or chicken rice?
Beer or whiskey?
10 fun friends or 2 good friends?
2 good friends.
Haze or hot ass sun?
Hot ass sun.
Serving breakfast or serving dinner?
McDonald’s or Burger King?
Sports girls or dancer girls?
Basketball or football?
Sleeping or eating?
At the end of the interview, I insisted on buying him LiHo for his time and company.
He was equally insistent on his refusal (and LiHo was closed anyway lol) and had to leave soon to start his shift at Raffles Hall.
We often label someone a hero when they succeed publicly, before our eyes or when we are at least privy to the knowledge that they commit to a large deed or grandiose gestures. Indeed, our CAP 5.0 friends are heroes in their own rights, or our friends who buy their own cars with every cent earned all by themselves.
That Wednesday, I imagined waking up at 4:30am every morning, six or seven days a week for an indefinite period of time, working the full day and sleeping within an hour of reaching home. In that imagination, I died twice.
That Wednesday, Jason was my hero.