Wherein I Encounter My Monster Milo-Server

Due to my (work-induced) early-morning habits, I find myself going down to the coffee shop below my flat for breakfast most mornings.

And every morning, without fail, as I enter the coffee shop, this person stares at me. He is that person who is supposed to take your order for coffee (in my case iced-milo), but of all the coffee shops I frequent this one’s is the freakiest. For one thing, he stands a head taller than me, and is big. Big like frankenstein. I can’t include a picture of him, unfortunately, as I don’t have the guts to take one. Suffice to say he is of the variety of person whom, when thought of with regards to being born, brings to mind square pegs and round holes.

uhhh… you want ice milo?

His dull (and soulless!) glare settles upon me as soon as I approach, and only after my egg pratas arrive at my table and I have wilted considerably from suffering under his gaze does he stomp his way over to take my beverage order. I think it takes a while for the gears in his brain to start working fast enough to process the information that I am a drink-desiring person, not some torch-wielding villager.

Asking him for my order directly doesn’t seem to work either. Going up to him and (bravely) proclaiming my order results in having to stand there for a minute as his brows furrow in confusion, before an “uhhh… Ok” lurches out of his lips hesitantly. These days I just sit back and writhe in my chair – I figure as long as I have to look at his furrowed brow I might as well pretend to watch the news (coffee shop has a TV) while I’m at it.

I wouldn’t usually make fun of mentally-disadvantaged people thus if he wasn’t quite so… hulking and the situation didn’t feel as if all it needed for a comedic touch was his banging my head to the accompaniment of “bong bong” sound effects. (Note that I’M the one being victimised in my imagination! Me! Not the poor intellectually-disabled!! Poor Me! Me!)

Today, I tabao-ed my breakfast, being in something of a rush. To my surprise, he approached me as I stood in front of the bee hoon stall and, in a great show of effort, asked me:

“uhhh… Iced Milo, right?”

I was almost floored by this initiative and proof of memory capacity. It was a first! And yet, I said:

“No, today no need.”

Looks like I was the stupid one.

I was almost sure I would be floored for not taking a drink this morning when his brow started furrowing, vaguely resembling window blinds (though his let in precious little light). A pained expression broke out after a while and his mouth half-opened, though no words came out. The auntie at the bee hoon stall continued to pack my bee hoon noodle-by-noodle as we stood there, the thing and I, locked in a deadly game of wits (being that he had none, and was considering playing ball with mine). When the bee hoon auntie finally finished her exquisite packaging of my order using gold-inlaid silk and damask, I grabbed it and fled, the thing still standing in the same position and staring at the blank spot where I had been.

As I ascended the elevator I almost wept from relief. As I ate my bee hoon I almost cried from the wonder of being alive. As I threw it away (preparation time is no indicator of food quality) I almost sobbed at the realization that I would have to go back again tomorrow.

Let’s hope memory capacity is limited.

Note to readers: Above story may be grossly exaggerated for dramatic effect – for a more neutral look…

Letter to The Straits Times Editor

THE government has raised the issue of the importance of good customer service to boost Singapore’s economy, setting up a committee and initiatives to push for excellent service quality. However, I feel that these are not sufficient for diffusing the benefits to the heartlands of Singapore.

I frequent a nearby coffee house for breakfast regularly, and am subjected to horrible customer service every time. The person who is supposed to take my order for beverages is silent and morose, and not only does not display the Greet-Smile-Thank formula, but also looks unhappy that I am ordering anything from him. As a result, I almost always feel unwelcome in what should be a relaxed heartland outlet.

Once, as I did not want to order a drink, the same server stood beside me in a threatening manner, as if to embarrass me into purchasing a beverage. This made me rather uncomfortable and did not make me want to return to the shop after.

If service excellence cannot penetrate to the heartlands, how can we expect our children and future generations to be saturated in service excellence? If even a formulaic performance of the GST cannot be achieved at common eating places, how can we expect our children to grow up to form a gracious society?

By Boh Dai Jih

(laugh all you like, but I think this rather reflects the quality of our forum letters)

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