Every evening at around 5.30pm, the same uncle unlocks a table latched to a nearby tree, pulls up a beach umbrella together with a few red plastic chairs and proceeds to unload a minimal number of magazines, fortune related pamphlets and quick pick TOTO tickets for sale.
Business is often not brisk initially as he awaits his staple of income to arrive in the form the nightly tabloid, Shin Min daily (新明日报) and Lianhe WanBao (联合早报), and that’s when his regular customers hanging at the nearby coffeeshop come out slowly, making light conversations before doing their daily routine of checking out the TOTO or 4-D results.
Unlike the charismatic image of newspaper sellers in the early 20th century, these roadside newspaper sellers do not tout their wares and often respond only when approached. They do however make an effort to hand the papers over to any passing vehicle if the driver is in a rush.
Surprisingly there are still a good number of them around town if one bothers to pay attention, whether it’s at an MRT station, hawker centre or just beside a bus stop (in other words, ideal high-traffic places with the right target market).
To many, these roadside newspaper sellers have become obsolete, with home newspaper deliveries, convenience stores, newsstands and of course the internet making news that much more accessible.
Yet there is a certain allure in the stories that these sellers must know about as they watch the world go as a literal bystander. From the jogger that runs past at exactly 7.45pm on Mondays, to the helper ta-pauing back dinner nightly, or that friendly taxi driver heading for his shift-change, it may be interesting to know what these newspaper sellers make of the lives of the people who most probably do not take notice of them.
These roadside newspaper vendors may not be the most skilled craft of tradesman out there, but they have withstood the test of time and technology, and still remain relevant even if it’s to a small sector of our community.