Jimmy Teng spends his birthday giving out ice cream to happy customers

For most people, birthdays are a time for receiving gifts. But for one man in Singapore, it’s the exact opposite.

Meet ‘Uncle Jimmy’, the ice cream seller who gives out 1,000 free treats each year on his birthday.

Every weekday, the 72-year-old drives his motorcycle to the same spot he’s been working at for the past 15 years, sets up his stall and waits for customers to trickle in.

But 22 March – his birthday – is a little different.

On that day a long queue of customers forms in front of his stall, all hoping to get their hands on the free ice cream he gives out.

This year, he ran out within hours.

This photo showing Mr Teng giving out free ice cream spread widely on social media

“By 5pm everything was sold out,” Jimmy Teng told the BBC. “Some people came after that and there was no more available so I told them to come back the next day, I’ll give it to them for free as a replacement.”

Ice cream vendors, also affectionately known as ‘ice cream uncles’, were once a common sight in Singapore when street-food culture was more prevalent.

Typically run by elderly Singaporean men, only a handful of these mobile vendors now remain in the dying trade.

Every weekday, Mr Teng sets up his mobile stall in front of a train station in Singapore

Birthday treats

It all started on his 70th birthday when Mr Teng decided to give out 700 free ice creams to mark the occasion.

“Everyone in Singapore is so stressed. I thought to myself, life is short. Now that I have the chance, I might as well give ice cream to people to make them happy,” Mr Teng said.

Instead of ice cream cones, vendors in Singapore sell ice cream wafers, blocks of ice cream that are sandwiched between two pieces of wafer. Bread is also sometimes used in place of wafers.

In Singapore instead of cones, a slab of ice-cream is sandwiched between two pieces of wafer

The free ice cream was quickly snapped up and by the end of the day, Mr Teng had given away close to 900 treats.

He decided to make free ice cream a birthday tradition, and to increase the limit to 1,000 ice creams to meet the demand.

While each ice cream only costs $1 Singapore dollar (£0.54; $0.76) his generosity adds up to quite a hefty sum.

When asked if he was making a loss by giving away free ice cream, he said: “I don’t think of it that way. As long as people are happy, that’s OK.”

Mr Teng says his personal favourite flavour is sweetcorn, ironically because “it’s not too sweet”

Not surprisingly, Uncle Jimmy has his fair share of fans.

He posts regularly on Facebook – where he has more than 7,000 followers – after some local students helped set up his page.

“I attended an event at NUS (National University of Singapore) and some students said they would help me set up a Facebook page,” he said. “My children taught me how to use it and now I update it by myself.”
Despite his sunny demeanour, the businessman has had difficult times in recent years.
“My wife passed away three years ago, before that I had to work to pay her hospitalisation bills,” he said. “After she passed I wanted to give up my business, but after three months I found myself coming out and selling ice cream again.”

He proudly said he works from 1-6pm every weekday in Singapore’s Lavender area.

“I’ve been here for 15 years. My daughter keeps telling me ‘Pa, just stop working’, but I want to do it for as long as I can,” he said.

“Some people look at me and ask why I’m not at home resting, but if I don’t come out I’ll be in the house alone… that’s even more boring.”

And how long does he plan on giving out free ice cream?

“I’ll give [them] out every birthday, as long as I live,” he says, before cracking into a grin. “I feel happy here.”

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