November, it didn’t matter since we had no seasons – it is the same weather in June as in November, it was end of school year and primary school and a major stage in school life. That year, at 1.48m, where my line of sight was the silver table top of a catering kitchen, I stated earning money.
It was a Chinese kitchen that catered for birthday parties, weddings and other celebrations. I was assigned to the dessert section that made little cakes and pastries. I discovered that my hands could make a perfect 30g skin and a 20g filling with a tight fist. I would spend my days making little balls of pastry skin and fillings and would not even need to weigh them. Rice balls were detestable, they wouldn’t stick together and I would have to use both hands to hold them tight into a ball. Other times, I would be asked to wash vegetables or run errands. I worked like everyone else, 8 – 6 with a little lunch break in between.
I did not realize that I was the only kid in the place, working among women in their 40s. If they had pitied me or wondered why a kid would be working amongst them, they didn’t show it. I was treated as an equal, reprimanded for mistakes and rewarded for good work. That was perhaps a kindness and f they had assigned me work I could manage, they didn’t show it. At least, I didn’t have to feel awkward in that place. It was kinder than in school. They saved me treats to bring home from time to time.
I worked there for every school holidays until I was 15, a legal age to work. Each year, they raised my salary and I was happy to go to work. I knew it helped in paying for school fees and expenses and most of all, I didn’t feel guilty asking my mum for pocket money. In fact, I felt independent. That year, I found a sense of power and strength, pride that I was worthy of something. I had paid for my place on earth with my childhood without knowing – a deed that would take years to undo.
There is a reason for a minimum age to work. It is to protect the young and their innocence. I do not regret my experience and the freedom it bought. I am who I am today from these experiences. But no child should experience it. This freedom came with a price that was more pricy than the labour. The pride in standing on my own meant no one stood with me. I had fought with my own fists. God forbids I lose them. At age 12, I was 30 and now at 30s, I can no longer be 12 and had a bunch of half baked social skills I never learnt.