It was a regular sunny Saturday afternoon. I drifted rather uneventfully to a cramped motor parts shop in Alexandra Village (Singapore) to look for replacement wiper-blades for my Honda CRV. Not exactly something I look forward to, but one that can blow out of proportion by the upcoming annual vehicle inspection for all cars older than 3 years. Based on a scenario that my Mandarin and dialects were undependable to ensure I leave with the right thing, I removed one of the blades to take with me as the sample to match. I remember thinking that it was the smart thing to do since the folks in these shops were unlikely to have the capability of knowing all about makes and models — “first gen”? “pre 2001″? etc. What happened next caught me entirely flat footed.
The “towkay” (boss) of the shop took a quick look at the blade that I confidently presented to him, nodded, and sternly asked me for the other blade. Still in a confident posture and tone, I questioned the need to. He slowly lowered his chin, raised his eyes to glare at me over the brim of his oversized reading glasses, and said firmly (in Hokkien) that they are not always of the same length. I felt my intelligence challenged.
Surely all wiper blades come as identical pairs, I thought to myself. They always had been, and there was absolutely no reason in my mind why they would be otherwise. The save-the-planet in me thought that the world might even be a better place if all wiper blades for all cars were identically mass produced. Less material wastage. And, no time wasting too in hunting and arguing about blade sizes…
Whilst I was still affixed there with my ‘high’ thoughts, the “boss” went into an even higher level of attack that I never saw coming. He gave me, and several of his workers who had by then gathered around, a long lecture on globalisation. He spoke (in Hokkien, still) with gusto of why we can no longer continue with old assumptions, such as lengths and types of wiper blades, where they were made, distributed (globally), and sold (online). He concluded by saying business is no longer the same and we all must be prepared for change. A deep silence followed.
I wisely decided not to up the ante, and made the longish back-track in the hot sun to fetch the other wiper blade. I grudgingly removed what looked like a pretty identical piece to the other I left with the “boss”, feeling it was a waste of time and hoped to be vindicated. When I handed it to him, he proceeded to hold up a blade in each of his out-stretched hands, and, with some drama, brought the two together side-by-side. And, boy, was he right! The outer blade was actually more than two inches longer! I humbly conceded defeat and complimented his commitment to keep up with change.
Every time I reflect on this incident, I am reminded of the person in the encounter, and not so much the particulars of the case, such as the difference in lengths of the wiper blades. What kind of a person lives on the edge of change?