(Honing your observations skills assignment by Cecilia Mahendran.)

It was about eleven o’clock when my daughter and I reached Bedok Food Court. Only a few stalls were open. Consequently, and also because it was still too early for lunch, only a few tables were occupied. The whole food court seemed to be shrouded by a shadow except for the middle, where the sun shone through.

My eight-year-old daughter wanted to eat carrot cake. I scanned the whole line of signboards for the one advertising carrot cake.

“Sorry, no carrot cake,” I told her pointing to the stall’s silver shutter that was still drawn down.

She reluctantly settled for minced meat noodles, which was also what I had chosen. I paid the stallholder after telling him my order and my table number.

Back at my seat, as we were waiting for the food, I noticed a blue poster glued onto our table. I noticed also that there was a blue poster on every table in the food court. The same blue posters, bigger in size, could also be seen on almost all the pillars as well. I took a closer look at the poster on my table and saw that it was a campaign to get customers to return their empty bowls and glasses to the collection stations after their meals. I looked all around to see where this collection station was. Not being very observant by nature, I could not at first spot any. It was after I mentally told myself, “Good, we can just leave our bowls here,” that I noticed the first mobile shelf tucked discreetly behind a pillar. Then I noticed another, then another. Almost all the pillars had one – a metal casing, taller than a tall man, with groves along the insides that enabled food trays to be slotted in.

The stallholder came to our table, carrying two steaming bowls in a brown tray. My daughter wanted bandung with her noodles and I said, “No,it’s too cold. You’ve got a cough.”

After much whining and scolding, we settled for Ribena and I got off my seat again. I went to the drink stall and bought a packet that was displayed out at the counter.

Once back at my seat, I realized that the minced meat noodle seller had taken the food tray back with him. Yikes! How am I supposed to return the empty bowls without any tray? What am I supposed to do now? Am I supposed to go back to the stall for the tray? Or could we just leave the bowls here as originally intended?

I’ll write to the Ministry of Environment when I go home, I resolved silently as my daughter and I tucked into our noodles. How can they put up such posters without making sure the right procedures were in place? All stallholders should be trained to leave behind the trays when they serve food to the customers. This will facilitate customers returning their empty crockery to the collection station.

As I finished my last strand, I knew I had to make a quick decision. Trying not to be too obvious, I looked around for signs of others who may not have obeyed the poster. Most of the collection shelves that I could see contained no trays. But I could also see no table that was left loaded with a pile of dirty crockery. If I were to just walk away, I would be the first recalcitrant. Worse, maybe the only recalcitrant.

In the end, I did not have to decide. An elderly lady, wearing a yellow uniform and pushing a trolley, stopped at my table. She made a gesture with her hand which I understood immediately as a request to clear my table. I gladly nodded and said “Thanks”.

As I walked out of the food court, which was beginning to fill with people, I thought to myself, How can you have a successful campaign in getting people to return their trays to the collection station if you still had cleaners around. I thought again about writing to the Ministry of Environment and decided that I will leave that to another day.