Hawker food is a necessary component of every Singaporean’s life. The cheap and delicious fare has kept our country going for generations. However, prices have been slowly increasing. $2.50 to $3 to $4, these tiny price hikes have not gone unnoticed.
Yet, we should not complain. we often take our hawkers’ immense effort for granted. It takes a lot of work and waking up early to prepare that steaming-hot bowl of food.
Li Ruifang is a third-generation hawker, young blood in a profession where the median age is 59.
In the Facebook post, Li gripes about Singaporeans who don’t mind splurging on expensive goods like cars and holidays, whilst complaining that her $4 bowl of prawn noodles is expensive. That’s a perfectly sound argument.
I have a family to feed.
I have to pay 5 employees ( including myself)
I’m not here to do charity.
Li, in her Facebook rant
Food cost are rising.
Water/electrical bills are rising.
Conservancy charges has increased from $150 to $210 over this 4 years that I’m at Tekka.
So my point is, please appreciate hawkers more.
Please don’t take [advantage] of us.
She brings up a valid point, that apart from the high costs of running the stall, she also has to pay her employees and scrape a living for herself.
In a article by Channel NewsAsia, it was revealed that she has to wake up and start preparing food at 2.30 am. It takes 2.5 hours of cooking and preparation before the stall is ready to start selling. From start to finish, she works 15 hours a day.
Long, tiring hours. Which takes out a significant chunk of the time she can spend with her family, including her two-year-old daughter.
These are the personal sacrifices that hawkers make to keep both our bellies and wallets full and happy.
Being a hawker is becoming even more difficult than it was before.
The danger of our amazing hawker culture dying is an entirely plausible and looming prospect, because few young people are around to carry on the practice. It’s long hours on your feet, no aircon, no prestige, relatively low pay. Most youngsters, being educated, would logically choose to work in an air-conditioned room at a well-paying firm.
And the problem is only getting worse because it is only getting harder to be a hawker, with costs rising immensely but the pressure to keep prices low remains. Recently, two young hawkers had to close shop because it was too difficult to keep the stall going; they took home less than $1000 a month.
Social enterprise hawker centres were introduced by the government to help protect Singapore hawker culture, but many problems have some to light. For instance, high miscellaneous costs can set hawkers back by a lot.
According to Gay Yu Ting and Alex Ho (the duo who had to unfortunately close down their Chinatown complex stall), they found it too expensive.
They were quoted close to S$4,000 in monthly costs which include S$1,600 for rent. The rest were for conservancy charges, table cleaning and dishwashing fees, rental of a cashless payment system as well as a concept and marketing fee. That’s not even including ingredients cost and salary.
“There are too many unnecessary costs. The S$4,000 doesn’t even include utilities, food costs and our salaries. How many bowls do we have to sell to even reach the break-even point,”Mr Ho, in an interview with CNA.
Imagine- if a bowl of rice or noodles was $3, how many bowls would a hawker have to sell to cover costs? Beyond that, how can they make a comfortable living?
Imagine. It is 2050, and the hawker centres are empty.
It’s the high costs that make going into the hawker business so risky and difficult. If hawker culture dies in one to two generations, you can’t really blame the younger generation for making the smart decision to earn more money in a comfortable setting.
Those who are sacrificing so much to be hawkers get little support as we often take them for granted. (Never thought about how difficult it is for them? You’re probably taking hawkers and hawker food for granted, then). The fact stands that being a hawker is not an attractive job. So if we really want that UNESCO bid, perhaps Singapore should consider (a) forking over just an extra dollar or fifty cents for each bowl, or (b) improving the sustainability the hawker business model (which is the better long-term solution).