So today, let’s have a look at the humble hawker center. A place where the hungry go to feed, where the bored go for coffees and chats. The poor man’s Starbucks, the rich man’s thrify house and every hungry man’s heaven. Before we continue, i need to get all the obvious descriptive puns out of my system, so here we go:
The hawker center is where…
- is served a melting pot of cultures,
- a place where Singaporean society brews,
- a steaming piece of Singapore is dished out,
- the aroma of kiasuism is thickest,
- hot gossip is exchanged over hot coffee,
*shiver* ok, finally got that out.
I’ve travelled a little yes, but all over the world, I cannot find a place that is as endearing as our hawker centre. A place where I can be myself, smell bad, wear dishevelled hair (when I had hair) and give not a shit about manners. A place where you’d be rather out of place in a pressed shirt and shining shoes. A place Hokkien and Malay will get you heard and where English has no voice.
Have you ever paid attention to its inhabitants though? If you thought the hawker centres and kopitiams are dominions of the aunty aunty types, you’re wrong.
Here are five characters that you could study the next time you hang around waiting for your food to cook.
The grumbling uncles
“KNN this f*ck*ng zheng hu everyday raise bills raise taxes, everyday squeeze money, this zheng hu i tell you ah KN2BCB, always only know how to make life difficult”. Yup – the uncles. Usually middle to elderly aged, almost always at the smoking zones. Some carry their Marlboros slid under their t-shirts at the shoulder. They talk/complain loudly, nothing in the world is right for them and they smoke and drink like they won’t outlive their CPF.
So you think that illegal bookies don’t exist? I’ll bet my most colourful underwear with you that you’ll find one as easily as you can find a chap cai peng stall. Illegal betting is alive and very well and business booms especially during periods of election. You’ll find them hanging around watching games at giant flat screen TVs, cheering together with the punters and shamelessly teasing the skirt hems on the tiger beer girls.
No piece of society is complete without the obligatory drunk. The drunk appears in various incarnations, depending on the volume of alcohol consumed and the mood of the day, he could be a loud talking, song singing mumbling wreck or slumped over the table stewing in the brew he can’t finish.
When not terrorising motorists on the expressway, the taxi driver will quite likely be exchanging exaggerated tales of highway drama over sliced toast and coffee. Conversations will quite likely be sprinkled with delightful words such as “ERP”, “COE” and “si lang zheng hu”.
Everyonce in a while, you’ll come across this one. Perfume stronger than the aroma of sambal, a dress that probably costs the equivalent of a thousand bowls of wanton mee and an aura more desireable than a basket of prawn paste chicken wings. Completely out of place, she sits and dines on a delicate dish (usually noodles) while completely aware that every pair of male eyes is trained upon her char siew baos.
There’s more to it of course. Even hawkers themselves have a character of their own. Sometimes if we take the time and observe, there’s a lot about our environment we take for granted, but is perhaps so essentially Singapore!