SINGAPORE – The blur of faces and the clatter of utensils. The unbearable heat mixed with the smell of sweat and oil. Chicken Rice, Roti Prata, Nasi Lemak. Familiar dishes and memories that many Singaporeans hold close to their hearts.
It would break the hearts of many, but we have to face the music and address the truth: this vibrant and spectacular culture is dying.
Hawker centres have long played a pivotal role in the building of Singapore’s identity, equal to that of an item of substantial value in the hearts of Singaporeans. It is an accurate representation of the local lifestyle, upholding a great historical significance and is one of the country’s unique qualities. The rising trend of dying hawker culture is an unprecedented issue that needs to be dealt with immediately, to which the delegates of the National Heritage Board (NHB) agreed on.
The delegates discussed the importance of preserving this culture, and the consequences that may arise if this culture dies out completely. Job opportunities would go down the drain and low-income citizens would suffer the loss of an important food source as they are unable to afford the costs of expensive food today. They also mentioned the importance of hawker culture in reflecting Singapore’s multi-cultural society and maintaining racial harmony – where Malay and Chinese stalls can work side by side.
Factors that led to this problem consisted of issues that arose in the rapid growth of society in this century and age. With the effects of globalization reaching Singapore’s shores, the pressure of academic success and occupational prestige is at an all-time high and the stigma of hawkers being a “no-skill job” is popular amongst the people of today. Not many aspire to become hawkers, which is a mindset that even parents have fallen victim to. As such, they force their children to aim for more prestigious goals. Stigma also stirs the fear of adventuring into this profession amongst the younger generation. A common misconception is how the hawker profession is “laborious”. In addition, Singaporeans would rather opt for more expensive establishments, and find the lack of profit incentive unattractive.
Advancements of society has been proven to be the root cause of the above issues – job prospects are better and living environments are more desirable.
Relating to the hawkers themselves, with aging population evident in the country, hawkers are rather old. There is therefore a decrease in productivity. Ridiculously high rent is also proving to be a very big issue as well; some stalls can even cost thousands of dollars – a strain against the mere hundreds of dollars most of these hawkers earn.
One of the delegates expressed that it is in the NHB’s best interest to preserve this integral part of Singaporean identity and its legacy. Suggestions were raised on how to tackle this growing problem, with most surrounding the same idea.
Productivity must be improved, and in order to attract able-bodied young generations, the NHB talked about focusing on vibrancy and sustainability of the hawker culture to appeal to them. The importance of maintaining and growing of the culture was also stressed, as Singapore is a multi-cultural society and should gain understanding of other cultural backgrounds. It is also important to remove the stigma that lies behind the hawker profession so as to reduce the close-minded thoughts of the people of today.
Dr Seuss once said, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” We can only hope and pray that this does not happen to Singapore and its colorful hawker culture.