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Amid winds of change, unlikely pair's friendship is a constant

Tucked away from the hustle of Little India, an electric-fan repairman and a migrant construction worker sit together to share about their lives over a cup of coffee on a balmy Sunday afternoon.
Mr Chou sells and repairs fans, charging from $15 to $40, mainly to migrant workers and the poor. Mr S.M. Kwok, 54, who lives nearby in North Bridge Road, has been taking fans to Mr Chou for fixing since the latter was a street hawker at the Sungei R
In a quiet corner of Little India, an electric-fan repairman and a construction worker chat over coffee every Sunday afternoon. What started as a bicycle sale has evolved into a steadfast friendship. For seven years now, Mr Lotif Sikder, 45, who is from Bangladesh, has travelled from Kaki Bukit to visit Mr Peter Chou, 74, every Sunday. Mr Chou also repairs other household appliances and bicycles in the back alley of a rental shophouse in Upper Weld Road. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY
Mr Chou sells and repairs fans, charging from $15 to $40, mainly to migrant workers and the poor. Mr S.M. Kwok, 54, who lives nearby in North Bridge Road, has been taking fans to Mr Chou for fixing since the latter was a street hawker at the Sungei R
Mr Chou sells and repairs fans, charging from $15 to $40, mainly to migrant workers and the poor. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY
Mr Chou sells and repairs fans, charging from $15 to $40, mainly to migrant workers and the poor. Mr S.M. Kwok, 54, who lives nearby in North Bridge Road, has been taking fans to Mr Chou for fixing since the latter was a street hawker at the Sungei R
Mr S.M. Kwok, 54, who lives nearby in North Bridge Road, has been taking fans to Mr Chou for fixing since the latter was a street hawker at the Sungei Road Flea Market. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY
Mr Chou sells and repairs fans, charging from $15 to $40, mainly to migrant workers and the poor. Mr S.M. Kwok, 54, who lives nearby in North Bridge Road, has been taking fans to Mr Chou for fixing since the latter was a street hawker at the Sungei R
In his box of tools and spare parts is a screwdriver that Mr Chou fashioned from a fan capacitor component (above). ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY
Mr Chou sells and repairs fans, charging from $15 to $40, mainly to migrant workers and the poor. Mr S.M. Kwok, 54, who lives nearby in North Bridge Road, has been taking fans to Mr Chou for fixing since the latter was a street hawker at the Sungei R
In his box of tools and spare parts (above) is a screwdriver that Mr Chou fashioned from a fan capacitor component. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY
Mr Chou sells and repairs fans, charging from $15 to $40, mainly to migrant workers and the poor. Mr S.M. Kwok, 54, who lives nearby in North Bridge Road, has been taking fans to Mr Chou for fixing since the latter was a street hawker at the Sungei R
Across the street from Mr Chou's stall is Goodwill Cafe, which is a hang-out area for migrant workers to gather for a cup of tea. Many of them would stop by his stall to buy electric fans, or repair their bicycles or electrical appliances. ST PHOTO: SHINTARO TAY

There is no end to the hustle and bustle in Little India, but electric-fan repairman Peter Chou still finds the time to shoot the breeze with Bangladeshi construction worker Lotif Sikder.

The duo have become firm friends since Mr Chou sold a bicycle to Mr Lotif and now enjoy a chat and coffee on Sunday afternoons despite a 30-year age gap. "When talking about life, I feel happy I can talk about everything freely," says Mr Lotif, 45. "My heart is happy, that's why I come here. I like him."

For seven years, Mr Lotif has been faithfully coming from Kaki Bukit to visit Mr Chou, 74, every Sunday.

They first met when Mr Chou was a street hawker at the Sungei Road Flea Market. Mr Chou retired as a retail salesman about 20 years ago.

After stints at temporary night markets, the father of three adult children pitched up in Sungei Road to find a way to stay active.

Mr Chou noticed that fans were easy to source as people were always throwing them away, so he began tinkering with them and slowly perfected his skills. He found a spot in the back alley of a rental shophouse in Upper Weld Road where he sells and repairs fans, charging from $15 to $40, mainly to migrant workers and the poor. He also repairs other household appliances and bicycles.

He says: "I don't want to stay at home watching TV or go down to the coffee shop to sit down and waste my time doing nothing."

Mr Chou's stall has become something of a beacon in the Little India community. As the day progresses, he is greeted by migrant workers who sit around his shop while on their way to do grocery shopping or simply to meet up with friends.

 

"Nowadays, in Singapore, there are new buildings and modern areas. But in Little India, there are old buildings and you can still find different kinds of trade," he says. "Little India is a special place."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2019, with the headline 'Amid winds of change, unlikely pair's friendship is a constant'. Print Edition | Subscribe