Sunday, November 02, 2008

The painter and me

A few months ago I looked up the ads in the paper to find a painter.  I wanted to find a painter who would complete the job quickly, with pride and not cut any corners. Someone I could communicate with directly without having to go through a main contractor.

Poh, as he called himself was the quickest to respond. Within an hour of calling him to make an enquiry he turned up at my doorstep with a book of Nippon paint samples. He looked over 60 but he had the lean and leathery appearance of someone who had spent a lot of time working in the sun. He spoke to me with halting English and I tried to respond with halting Chinese. He told me that he had 17 years of experience, that he would complete the job with his brother and that he would start immediately by tomorrow. He would need an upfront payment to buy the paint and he would go buy it now. I was struck by the directness of his approach and gave him the payment. The next day, he turned up with the canisters of paint and started working. I was pleased that i had found someone so reliable. 

The same evening, I turned up to inspect his work. He was shirtless and I was startled to see that he had tattoos over his back. These were not fashionable tattoos but old style Chinese gang tattoos which were crudely rendered and had turned the colour of jade over the passage of time. I wondered what sort of rough past he had but that was irrelevant now - he was working hard for honest pay. I felt an enormous welling of gratitude, offering to go out and get a packet of dinner for him. He must be hungry, working so long? 

He accepted the offer for food, but stopped painting to say "Ms, I am going to ask you something but you can say no. I have a bungalow job in Katong. I need to pay for scaffolding. Can you advance me more?"

It didnt take me long to say yes. I wanted to support his work. I wanted to help him take on more jobs so I skipped down, got charsiew rice and made a withdrawal from the ATM. I gave him the money and he assured me that he would complete my painting job by the weekend. I told him that I was trusting him and he could not run away. He laughed "If i run away with this small piece of money, I would get knocked by a car, my whole family would get knocked by car".

The next day, I couldn't get Poh on the phone. I rang and rang to check on the progress of the job but there was no answer. Finally at the end of the day, I got him and he said that he was busy working "Very sorry Ms." He arranged to meet me on Saturday at the flat. He said he would discuss paint choices.

The rest of this story, it is painful retelling the details. The unanswered phone calls, the hours he made me wait without turning up, my elevated blood pressure. For someone I moved my trust in, beyond that of a stranger and represented whatever I wanted to see, goodness, honesty, a rugged old man struggling to make a living with his hands - he did a runner on me.  

I went on to finish painting the flat with help from Delwa, my mom's condo gardener, a Bengladeshi who turned up when he said he would and never stated what he wanted...he accepted whatever I paid him whenever. It was Delwa basically who restored my faith.

Did i make a police report? No.

I let it go.


Blogger opus2 said...

ugh. i'm sorry that happened to you. at least you could warn all your friends to stay away from a painted named Poh.

7:07 AM  
Anonymous sesame said...

I'm sorry you had to go through those shit because of your kindness. Well, one thing I learned recently is never be too kind. Sometimes, kindness begets nothing!

But hey, I like your attitude. You're cool!

11:24 PM  
Blogger imp said...

oh dear. i guess this sort of stuff happens. and in another way, Delwa 'made' up for it. i suppose it evens out on the karma side?

8:32 AM  
Blogger carrie said...

opus, sesame, imp - yeah it was real disappointing.
The thing about trust, you really never know. Who knows he might have a greater need. Loansharks?

Imp, as u say Delwa was the complete opposite so win some lose some.

3:46 PM  
Blogger carrie said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:46 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

What an idiotic man! Sigh. Did he at least leave the paint for you to finish the job yourself?

3:31 AM  
Blogger carrie said...

Jill,he left some but not enough to complete the job. And i did have to get my hands dirty painting..

7:06 AM  
Anonymous Johnny Malkavian said...

How much was he going to charge you for the whole thing ah? I'm thinking of painting my room myself and just want to know how much I'd be saving.

6:01 AM  

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