IN FOCUS: This 32-year-old went from teacher to hawker, and wants to continue a family

But the switch doesn’t mean that he regrets going into teaching. Mr Sim said he would do it all over again, if given a second chance.

“The people I met, the experience I had, the friendship, the bonds that I built with my students and things like that, it is something really I dare say you can’t find many other jobs,” he explained.

“So I think that’s where teaching is really, really impactful.”


A trade which was sometimes under-appreciated over the past decades, Singapore’s hawker culture was added to the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2020.

However, hawkers continue to face numerous challenges including manpower pressures and rising food, rental and electricity costs.

Given such factors, it is more challenging being a hawker now than it has ever been, believes food writer Annette Tan. An added complication is the plethora of dining options which Singaporeans now have, she added. 

“To be in the food business in any capacity, you need to have passion. There’s no other reason why anybody goes into food, it is such a difficult business to be in,” added Ms Tan.

And despite various programmes in place to encourage the uptake of the trade, according to the National Environment Agency (NEA), the median age of hawkers is 60 years old.

However, chairman of the Federation of Merchants’ Associations Singapore’s (FMAS) hawker division Anthony Low believes that more young hawkers are now more willing to enter the trade as compared to when he made the switch two decades ago.

Mr Low left the Singapore Armed Forces 23 years ago to run his father’s ngoh hiang stall. He was 29 then, and no one else would take up the mantle then.

He believes that the inclusion of Singapore’s hawker culture into the UNESCO listing has helped to raise the profile of and highlight the contribution of hawkers.

“Now at least people recognise our effort and give us the respect,” he said. “It is not a dying trade.”

While there are youngsters who start their businesses from scratch, those who take on the mantle of a family business as a “truly rare breed”, author of bestselling cookbook Wet Market to Table Pamelia Chia told CNA.

“I have not met many people who come from a line of hawkers, a lot of the young ones that I’ve come across are starting their own businesses from scratch instead of inheriting them,” said Ms Chia, who is also the founder of Singapore Noodles, a newsletter with the mission of keeping Singapore’s food heritage alive.

“When you actually have have folks who truly understand the craft, who have clearly shown that they have taken the time to learn things from their parents, or from fellow hawkers, then I think it’s very encouraging for the hawker scene.”

At the same time, if nobody takes over these family businesses, or are wanting to learn the trade, it can pose a “huge issue” for Singapore’s hawker culture, she added.

“Like everything in life, the hawker centres have to evolve, and Singaporeans have to be willing to accept this evolution,” added Ms Tan.  “The hawker centre will always be a part of our lives … but the food that the hawker centre is serving will be different.”

The career switch meant that Mr Sim had to take a pay cut, and he also had other concerns such as whether the work would take too much time away from his family. 

“I had a lot of family support, from my parents especially and my wife. We managed to find ways to mitigate some of these challenges,” he added.

The job is by no means easy. It can be physically demanding and involves long hours, Mr Sim added. During peak seasons, work begins at 6am and ends at about 10pm.

“It is like (a) 14,15 hours kind of thing … You’re standing most of the time. So I say the biggest struggle is actually physical,” he said.

“(My parents) are both in their 60s. They do things so fast, so quickly, because they have a system. They are basically like machines … when I work with them, I am struggling to keep up with them sometimes.”

Working with family does come with challenges, he admitted.

“There will definitely be disagreements, but I think we’ve worked out a system. Sometimes to agree to disagree, sometimes to know who is the most experienced, who is the best person to make a decision,” said Mr Sim.

“Sometimes (there is) stress to keep up orders, but … mental health-wise, I think it’s definitely better than before when I was a teacher.”

There is also a need to cope with rising costs, and added to this is the perception among a minority that hawker food must remain cheap regardless.

“I feel that this can be discouraging for hawkers. Some hawkers really, really use the best ingredients which are not cheap, and they really try their very best to ensure that their food quality is good,” said Mr Sim.

“There are still a lot of people out there who are very understanding … Most of the people they will tell you say: ‘It’s okay, we understand that your price has to increase, costs are going up. As you continue to sell good food’.”

What’s been an added benefit is that Mr Sim is not starting from scratch. After all, he has been helping out at the stall for most of his life.

“It is not ground zero,” he explained.

“I’ve always had a taste for pastries. So when I went overseas, I will go for pastries, different pastries shops. I like to try, I like to eat, I also have this very particular taste for pastries, and in a way (certain) standards. So when I make certain things that it’s not up to my own standards, I rather throw it.”

This article was originally published by a . Read the Original article here. .