Commentary

Save the hawkers, save our heritage

Save the hawkers, save our heritage
Photo: Ernest Chua
Published: 4:02 AM, July 26, 2013
Updated: 10:00 PM, July 26, 2013
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The hawker trade is at risk of dying out and must be saved, so say the Government and bloggers. Hawkers are part of our precious national heritage, they say, and we have to take action to preserve it. I hope it does not mean pickled and on display in a museum, or as a tourist gimmick, like the trishaw.

We want hawkers to be part of the Singaporean way of life for generations to come. This is the true preservation of a heritage — vicariously grafted onto our daily lives.

Still, hawker woes have been in the headlines recently, including the passing of two hawker icons, Mr Thomas Ng Ba Eng of Eng’s Noodle House and Mr Andrew Lim Seng Ann of Ye Lai Xiang Cheng Tng. There is much concern about whether the next generation will take over their parents’ famous hawker stalls.

Succession is not the only risk: Traditional businesses are getting crowded out of commercial spaces as well. The Tong Ah coffee shop had to vacate its iconic premises on Keong Saik Road when the building was sold to a cash-rich international buyer. Kopitiams are sold for millions of dollars to corporations. Residents of Tiong Bahru and Katong, among other areas, lament traditional kopitiams making way for upmarket food and beverage outlets.

The risks are clear, but what to do about them is less so. The Government has a plan to build 10 new hawker centres in as many years, and has mooted ideas such as hawker schools and social enterprises as part of this objective.

But fostering a healthy hawker environment is more than building hawker centres. We can do more.

IMPROVE PIPELINE, PUSH INCENTIVES

Classes began this year for the first official hawker training programme, subsidised by the Government and run by two organisations. But there are untapped resources for future hawkers: Apprentices and employees as well as those who are sick of their current professions and who find some joy in the hawker’s craft.

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