I applaud the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee for coming up with some fresh ideas to reinvent our hawker centres as was reported in The Straits Times “Hawker centres to get new look and roles” (Saturday, February 4, 2017).
Among the ideas that will be implemented are (a) The centralized dishwashing service, (b) a good mix of food, (c) incorporating events and activities (d) child-friendly spaces (e) free WIFI and (f) stalls that where aspiring hawkers can try their hands at the trade.
Singapore is a food paradise and tourists just can’t resist many of our local food dishes like chicken rice, laksa, char kway teow, chilli and black pepper crabs, roti prata, mee rebus, lontong and nasi padang, just to name a few of the sumptuous meals that our hawkers painstakingly prepare.
Revitalized hawker centres have to be a cozy, with no discomfort and yet be a lively place which will entice family and friends to bond closely. It has to be a treasure trove of cheap and good food, a place to have meaningful interactions with our friends/colleagues/family members along the way. To put it simply – A throwback to the good ole’ days of the early years in Singapore in which the kampung spirit came alive.
INSTALLATION OF WIFI NOT A GOOD IDEA
Over reliance on technology has extended to our homes, schools and while taking public transport. The dinner table that was once the stronghold of family discussions has now been invaded by the mobile devices which saturate society.
This is why I give the thumbs down to the proposal to install WIFI at the hawker centres. The whole purpose of having meals at hawker centres is for our families and friends to have proper communication. How can parents relate to their kids properly when they are so entrenched in checking out their messages on Facebook, WhatsApp or SMSes? This can be viewed as rudeness and being disrespectful to the person/s who want to have a friendly discussion.
BIRDS INVASION UNHEALTHY
Another concern I have of the hawker centres are the pigeons and crows landing on tables to pick food causing much annoyance to diners. This is unhealthy and you have to keep on ducking to avoid the birds banging onto you. This is a common problem at the hawker centres at block 628 in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5, at the coffee shop at Upper Thompson Road and the food centre at Sembawang – 3 places I frequent for some of my meals. I am sure other hawker centres face the same issue.
To help eradicate this nuisance, it may be necessary to place bird scarers at the food centres. A bird scarer is any one of a number devices designed to scare birds, usually employed by farmers to dissuade birds from eating planted arable crops. One of the oldest designs of bird scarer is the scarecrow.
While the move to include activities and entertainment at hawker centres will liven up the atmosphere, there should not be an overkill as the primary focus at these makan places is for people to spend a quiet and cosy time together without too many distractions.
To this end, I suggest that such activities could be confined to the first Friday of the month and on a given Saturday or Sunday. If diners are keen to have this as part of their outing, they have a choice as to when they want to have a meal at the hawker centre.
It would be good if famous culinary experts like K F Seetoh of Makansutra fame and Violet Onn could be invited to do a cooking demo.
PROMOTE THE ARTS WITH A MINI GALLERY
We need to actively promote the arts and the reading culture so why not consider allowing books, handicrafts and other locally produced artworks like pottery to be sold at the hawker centres? A mini art gallery can be included in the design so that after or before a meal, diners can have the opportunity to support our local talent and at the same time bond with them.
ALLOW HAWKERS TO SHARE THEIR STALLS
Being a hawker is no easy task. It is back-breaking work as it is physically demanding and too long hours at the job can see the health of hawkers take a beating. We need to take their welfare into consideration.
Many of our taxi drivers share the hiring of cabs. So instead of working the full 12-hour shift, a large number of them have a partner so that they don’t get overworked. Some will do the day shift from 7am to 4pm and the night shift will be covered by another driver.
This scheme could be extended to our hawkers where the National Environment Agency allows two persons to rent a stall. In some hawker centres, like the ones at Shunfu and in Sembawang food centred, a large number of them only operate up to 2 or 3pm as it is exhausting.
If hawkers are allowed to share their stalls, their health can be better managed and diners can have more places to eat and bond. This will also help to keep the trade alive for years to come.
RAYMOND ANTHONY FERNANDO