The Bao Man

Over coffee with an associate, he shared with me the story of a mutual acquaintance, M.

M was his primary school classmate. At a recent class gathering, everyone was catching up after years of absence. One by one, they introduced themselves. Oh, I work in a fund now, said one. I’m a lawyer, said another. Someone else arrived, in a big, fancy car; banker dude. Then they turned to look at M, who shrugged and said, “Oh, I boh tak chek one. I sell baos” (I am not educated. I see steamed Chinese buns).

There was an awkward silence, to be sure, and people started to tactfully change the subject. But then M shared his story.

His family was rich. I vaguely remember him, at events in school which his mom sponsored, because yes, they were that wealthy. When he went to secondary school, his chauffeur dropped him off and picked him up after.

Then one day, when he was in junior college, M received a call. It was his father. I need you to come home immediately, he said, quit school and come home now. I will explain later. So M went home, perturbed and confused.

His father shoved a letter into M’s hand, sign it, he commanded. It was a letter declaring that he, M, was voluntarily pulling out of school because his parents were now bankrupt. They each owed the bank millions and millions of money. Now, the details of what happened are unclear, at least to me, but senior M was shuffled off to jail.

M was left to fend for his family. He took on all kinds of odd jobs. He went to China, invested in fake branded bags and peddled them. He got caught. He became a bookie. He got caught again. After many such starts and stops, M decided to go to cooking school. With the skills he learnt, he opened up a bao shop, selling buns.

Today, he owns four bao shops across Singapore, each shop easily netting him profits that eclipses anything that his other high flying classmates make. Sometimes, when the bug bites, he buys a one-way air ticket to wherever exotic destination catches his fancy, where he wanders around until he gets lost (and then pays someone to guide him back).

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