How Not to Save the Hawker Centres



By Vincent Tan

Edison has often been praised for his determined elimination of myriad possibilities to arrive at his tungsten filament that formed the heart of the first working light bulb. With his example in mind, I will now present a list of things we should not do to revive our hawker culture, in the hope that we can arrive at a practical answer by the process of elimination.

1) Hold gladiator tournaments. This involves hollowing out a central pit in which uncles could battle it out, while spectators watch as they eat their char kway teow. Potential for failure: very high

2) Organise dance competitions. This involves setting up a large stage with light and sound equipment. Loudspeakers and giant screens could broadcast the entertainment throughout the hawker centre. Potential for failure: medium

3) Provide free tissue paper. This is tantamount to giving out “Reserved” table signs to customers. Who doesn’t want that kind of authority? Potential for failure: low

4) Ban all restaurants and gourmet cafes (any food place that charges more than $10 for a dish). Every shop would then be forced to go hawker by default. Potential for failure: super high – possible revolt expected

5) Build a different hawker stall at the end of each HDB level. By combining living space with hawker space, the social function of the hawker center will definitely be ensured. The distribution of cockroaches could then be democratized allowing even people on upper floors to enjoy their presence. Potential for failure: depends on HDB

6) Construct vast camping grounds next to hawker centres. Because campers are among the hungriest people on the planet. Potential for failure: depends on NParks

7) Provide scholarships in Hawker Stall Management, Char’ing Kway Teow or Ingredient Procurement to attract children of hawkers to take on the mantle. Potential for failure: potentially high

8) Turn hawker centres into internet cafes. Who doesn’t love surfing over a cup of teh? Potential for failure: low

9) Put hawker centres on the stock exchange. Public attention will never depart from our hawker centres again, and any vast fortunes or abyssal ruin can be the subject of future hawker centre-forex films (e.g. The Wolf of Wah Lau). Potential for failure: depends on SGX

10) Learn to personally appreciate the value of hawker culture (cheap food, a social space for eating), and patronise them. Sustain this part of Singapore’s landscape by being part of it. Potential for failure: very low

By eliminating all the absurdly impossible solutions, we are at least left with the ones that have a tiny chance of succeeding, keeping this familiar landmark of our neighbourhoods from vanishing like the ice in your kopi bing on a long, hot day.