Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Conversation: Singapore at 51

"Do you know the meaning behind our Singapore Flag?"

"You think I bo tak cheh issit? Of course I know lah!

"So you know the Red is for brotherhood, the White is for purity, the crescent moon is for a young nation, and the 5 stars represents the qualities in the pledge: Justice, Equality, Peace, Progress, and Democracy?"

"Wah liao! where you get your education? In my days, we were taught Red is for Sambal, White is for Coconut milk - two very important ingredient in Singapore food. The moon is in the shape of a "C" and the 5 stars are for the "5 Cs" - Career, Cash, Credit Card, Condo, and Country Club Membership!"

"Er... nobody talks about the '5Cs' anymore."

"I know! Sad right?"

"I think it is good that Singaporeans don't obsess over the 5 Cs anymore."

"Later I heard that Singaporeans aim for 5 figure salary, 4 wheels, 3 bedrooms, 2 children, and 1 wife... at a time."

"That didn't really catch on."

"I know! I thought it would replace the 5Cs, so I try to remember that, but never had a chance to use it. Until today."

"Well, what do you think Singaporeans should aspire to at Singapore's 51st Birthday?"

"I have learned that as one gets older, nobody cares what an old man thinks. Especially in Singapore. People are trying to live tomorrow. Who has time to care about today, don't even talk about yesterday, and yesterday's people. So not for me to say what Singaporeans should want. It is their lives, their future. They can decide for themselves, what they want out of it."

"So... you won't wish that people would respect their elders more, or make space for them in today's Singapore."

"Aiyoh! Please lah. I don't need sympathy, or for people to "make space" for me. They call the older folks, "pioneer generation". If there is anything to be proud of, that is something to be proud of. And if the younger generation also realise that they also can be pioneers today, then that would be something. The crescent moon on our flag is for a young nation. At 51, we are still a young nation. What happens at 100? Or 200? Or 500? If we last that long? Do we change our flag?"

"I don't know... I don't think we would."

"Correct! We are a young nation if we think like a young nation. If we continue to be pioneers, whether we try new jobs, or we take up old jobs. I read that there are more young people taking up hawker stalls, being hawkers. That gives me hope that our hawker culture will continue with the young people. They would be the new pioneers."

"But you also heard about the Vending Machine Kopitiam right? And while there are more young hawkers, I don't think the numbers are very large. There are about 20,000 hawkers. Many of them are very old - over 60. If these hawkers are going to retire over 20 years, evenly distributed, that would be 1000 experienced hawkers retiring each year. And we would need 1000 new hawkers to take over or at least close to 1000, if we don't want the hawker culture to die. Are we getting 1000 young people entering the hawker trade each year? I seriously doubt it."

"Don't say until liddat lah. If hawkers die out, I will be very sad. "

"So would you wish more Singaporeans take up hawkering so that our hawker culture will live on?"

"Do you know any hawkers or not? And I don't mean, you order from them so regularly that they know what you like. I mean, do YOU know THEM - their family, their lives, their problems, their dreams? I think that most hawkers are being taken advantage of."

"By their customers?"

"Partly, but mostly by the Government!"

"Is this one of your conspiracy theories?"

"You listen first lah! Hawker food is one of the ways Singaporeans can afford to live the way they do. Cheap hawker food means that even though food ingredients increase price, hawkers absorb the price increase (as much as they can), and hawker prices do not go up for people. So inflation is low. BUT, this is because the Hawkers are absorbing the costs increase. And the govt can report that inflation in Singapore is low. Hawkers have to work long hours. Sure some are very successful, but most are not very rich. They work hard, they raise their children, but they are not well off. But their customers are. We pay very little for very good food. Our Michelin Star hawker is still selling his chicken for maybe $3. Other Michelin Star Restaurants are charging 10, 20 times or more. Singapore can have Michelin Star dinner for less than $5? We dem lucky man!"

"But you don't want more young Singaporeans to take up hawkering?"

"If they want to, they should. But it is a difficult life, it is a lot of sacrifice, and I don't expect a lot of Singaporeans will choose it. I won't wish it on anyone. "

"So what would you wish for Singaporeans, on Singapore's 51st birthday?"

"I would like to wish them to have the Pioneering spirit, to always be a young nation, young at heart, young in mind, young in the way we approach problems. I would wish them the energy to try and fail and try again. I would wish them the willingness to try and be willing to fail."

"That is something that Singaporeans cannot afford very much of - failure."

"Yes. It is liddat, lor. But we should make failure survivable, less jialat. Otherwise, we grow old when few Singaporeans are willing to take risks. Then we have to change the crescent moon to a full moon."

Giving Singaporeans something they have not been able to afford.

Cheap hawker food and why that is not sustainable.

From: Will you pay more for Hawker food?
"If the main reason people become hawkers is to help their families, and that trend is declining as education and corresponding opportunities for better jobs are increasing, where will the next generation of hawkers come from? "

But all the solutions ignore the most important factor for success: who wants to be a hawker?]

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