‘Lau Pa Sat’ in Tamil can be used to curse people

From ‘STB to correct Lau Pa Sat and tighten translation process’, 7 Nov 2014, article by Chew Hui Min, ST

The Lau Pa Sat sign which was incorrectly translated has been removed and will be corrected, the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said in a statement on Friday. STB also said that it will tighten the process of translating its brown signs, which indicate tourist attractions or landmarks.

“We had notified the operator and they had taken immediate steps to remove the sign and work on correcting the translation,” Ms Ranita Sundramoorthy, director of attractions, dining and retail said in the statement, referring to the erroneous Lau Pa Sat sign.

She added that the board will ensure the new sign is checked by language experts. A photo of the sign, which translated “Sat” as “Sani” or Saturday in Tamil, was being circulated on social networks. The word can have a negative connotation, and can be used to curse people.

Mr Samikannu Sithambaram, president of the Singapore Tamil Teachers’ Union, told The Straits Times on Thursday that the mistake could have come about because the translators thought that “Sat” in Lau Pa Sat was a truncation of “Saturday”.

SAT you, STB

SAT you, STB

Notice that this brown sign has Chinese, Tamil and Japanese on it, but no Malay. Contrast the selection of languages with other tourist attraction ‘brown signs’, such as East Coast Park, which has Malay, Japanese but no Tamil. There are inconsistencies elsewhere. Sri Krishnan Temple has no Malay or Japanese, while Little India has Malay, Chinese, Japanese but not Tamil. The image next to the Lau Pa Sat text doesn’t look like Lau Pa Sat at all, more like the Supreme Court dome. Why didn’t anyone spot this glaring error instead?

According to ST, the Tamil translation for ‘Sat’, or ‘Sani’, is also a reference to ‘Satan’, the only diabolical connection to the Lord of Darkness being that Lau Pa Sat is owned by food court conglomerate Kopitiam. Other Tamil speakers from the ST FB page were quick to clarify that ‘Sani’ refers to the planet ‘Saturn’. This isn’t the first time STB made a mess of their promotional material, summoning the Devil or otherwise. In 2002, the Hungry Ghost Festival was translated in Chinese to ‘HUNGARY Ghost festival’.

I’m not sure if Tamil is notoriously difficult to translate, but getting lost in translation has haunted Tamil linguists for more than a century. In 1940, a slogan on signboards campaigning for people to grow their own vegetables for ‘health and victory’ was read as ‘Unless you grow vegetables we shall lose the war’. Or maybe that was secretly intended to serve as war propaganda to rally Indians into amassing combat rations for our comrades. A Malay song in 1952 titled ‘A yoyo Ramasamy’ riled some Indians because it translated into derogatory lyrics describing labourers who ‘drink toddy and get intoxicated’.  In 1989, a multi-lingual No-smoking sign on a TIBS bus was slammed because it contained a nonsensical Tamil word. You also don’t see Tamil subtitles for English movies on national TV, or hear any of the PMs in the 60-year history of the PAP speak a single full sentence of it during their National Day Rallies. It can be a problem too if you even attempt to anglicise Tamil. Some years back Bread Talk were accused of mocking the race and language by naming one of their creations ‘Naan the Nay’, which probably has the same racial connotations as someone mocking Mandarin with ‘Ching Chong Ching Chong’.

But it’s not just STB who deserves Hell for their laziness in translation. NHB made a more humiliating mistake previously by translating Bras Basah in Chinese to the literal ‘bras’ (undergarments) on their Night Festival website. They soon made a ‘clean breast’ of it and fixed the atrocity. I wonder if STB has a brown sign for Sim Lim Square. Now if that were translated into Satan’s Square because of its reputation of scamming tourists out of their hard earned money and forcing people to get down on their knees and wail to the gods, they wouldn’t be that far off.

Car dealer paid $19,000 in coins smelling of fish

From ‘Customer leaves $19,000 of coins at car dealer’s showroom’, 5 Nov 2014, article by Priscilla Goy, ST

In yet another case of settling scores with loads of coin, a customer left $19,000 of coins at a car dealer’s showroom on Tuesday. Mr Lester Ong Boon Lin, said to be the son of a famous nasi lemak franchise owner, had been ordered by the court a few months ago to pay Exotic Motors the amount, and he did so – in coins which reeked of fish, said a report by Chinese paper Shin Min Daily on Wednesday.

Exotic Motor’s owner Sylvester Tang told the paper: “His lawyer told us that he would come to return the money, and even do it in cash.” After a shop staff member had signed the receipt, one of Mr Ong’s workers used a trolley to deliver a styrofoam box containing the coins. Surveillance cameras at the shop showed the coins being poured out on to the carpeted floor and the worker leaving promptly with the box and trolley.

Mr Tang, known by many as Mr S. T. Tang, 44, said his shop has had a foul smell since Tuesday afternoon and customers have been staying away from his store because of that. The coins were later placed in plastic bags and put in his car boot. He said then that the coins would be returned to Mr Ong’s lawyer.

Mr Ong, 34, told Shin Min he paid in coins to express his strong dissatisfaction with the court’s judgment and the car dealer’s actions. He also said it was not illegal to pay the amount in coins. But according to the Currency Act, coins in denominations of less than 50 cents cannot be used for payments of more than $2. Mr Tang said most of the coins left at the shop were 20-cent coins.

In 2010, this son of a nasi lemak tycoon was sued by MBS for owing the casino more than $240,000.  Ponggol Nasi Lemak were quick to clarify that they had nothing to do with Lester Ong’s troubles with the law, and it was later revealed that Lester’s dad owns Chong Pang Nasi Lemak , which is supposedly rated one of the best in Singapore. I wonder if he had thought of paying back the casino in ‘cash’, which probably amounts to enough coins to fill half the Infinity Pool. Or perhaps he got the idea from Mobile Air’s Jover Chew, who dropped $1k worth of coins on a hapless customer as a refund, and worse, made a grown man beg and cry in public.

According to the Currency Act, it’s forbidden to use only 20 cent coins to pay for a standard plate of chicken rice ($2.50), though there have been cases of stall owners rejecting even 4 x 5 cent coins in combination with a $5 note for a bowl of $5.50 noodles. You may however, pay up to $10 worth of 50 cent coins, and nothing’s stopping you from bringing a sack of $1 dollar coins to buy furniture from Ikea because technically, there’s no limit to what you can do with this denomination. The law is silent, however, on whether you should wipe your stinky money with Dettol before paying, or if it’s socially acceptable to cart your load in a wheelbarrow and dump it all over someone’s floor. It’s a different story, of course, if you’re a king, have barrels-loads of coins to give away, and toss them from your palace balcony to the grateful, fawning peasantry below you.

But what I’m really curious about is HOW exactly people like Jover and Lester, birds of a feather, got their underlings to COUNT and CARRY all these coins for them. $19K, or 95,000 20-cent coins, or 380 KG of coins(assuming roughly 4g per coin), is probably still, well, ‘ikan bilis’ to filthy rich buggers like Lester, and since he’s so certain of his currency laws, maybe every merchant he encounters in future should return him his change in kind, by dumping a pail of coins of varying denominations over his head, because there’s no law against paying in coins or delivering it with the same eloquence as taking a poop in your neighbour’s garden.

It’s a pity that we decommissioned the 1 CENT coin. I want to see the look of his face if someone sends truckloads to his place of residence and floods his porch with it so he can swim in the brown sludge like Scrooge McDuck. Maybe SMRT (Feedback) can help with that.

MBS food court chicken rice stall infested with cockroaches

From ‘NEA to take action against Marina Bay Sands stall for cockroach infestation’, 11 Oct 2014, article in CNA

The National Environment Agency (NEA) will be taking enforcement action against a chicken rice stall at the foodcourt at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) for cockroach infestation.

In a statement on Saturday (Oct 11), NEA said it has found cockroach infestation at the stall in the 1983 – A Taste of Nanyang foodcourt. The foodcourt has voluntarily closed since Tuesday evening (Oct 7) for cleaning and pest control treatment, in the wake of customer complaints and photographs of cockroaches that went viral online.

…The 1983 – A Taste of Nanyang food court is located at the South Promenade of The Shoppes at MBS and is run by Koufu. Other branches can be found at Changi Airport Terminal 1, JEM, Republic Polytechnic, ITE Ang Mo Kio and the Nanyang Technological University.

When Facebook user Kovit Ang posted his image of a troop of five roaches ready to attack pieces of fried meat, he did weight-watchers all over the country a huge favour. Now if you find yourself having a ridiculous craving for chicken rice between meals, it helps to recall that horrific photo, feel the surge of bile up your throat, and switch to an apple and a protein bar instead. But before one tars all Food Republics, Kopitiams and Koufus with the same brush, remember that one of the reasons why food courts exist is because people wanted to avoid pests like stray mynahs and, in the case of the recently shut down Ghim Moh Market, rats living in up to 71 burrows.

Not much is mentioned about the significance of ‘1983’ in the Koufu website other than a story that suggests the origin of nasi lemak at Malacca Street. It wasn’t that far from ‘1983’ when Singapore had its very first ‘food court’. Scotts Picnic in Orchard, established in 1985, was supposed to be an ‘upmarket’ hawker centre, where patrons could eat in air-conditioned comfort. A string of food halls with the same dining concept and similarly snazzy titles (Food Paradiz, Food Palace) followed suit, but within 3 years owners were reporting slumps in takings, with complaints that the air-conditioning made oily smells cling to one’s office attire. This despite attempts to install roman columns and chandeliers or employ a live DJ to spin the latest 80’s hits.

The food court idea was meant to be an improvement of the existing hawker centre infrastructure, a culinary ‘renaissance’ so to speak, for the busy office worker in the heart of town. Today, with a near patriotic resurgence of hawker culture, these places have been reviled by food lovers all over, not so much for the hygiene or stubborn oily smells, but because it’s the only place where you’ll get charged $8.50 for chicken rice, cockroach or no cockroach, that tastes mediocre, if not downright terrible. There are exceptions, of course, though seeing a Hokkien Mee seller in a food court wearing a straw hat doesn’t mean the dish is any good.

Food guru Dr Leslie Tay is all too familiar with how the food court subletting system compromises the quality of one’s cooking, himself declaring that he would never visit such a food court if he could help it.  Koufu Sentosa has even found itself listed on Lonely Planet, the nadir of the evolution of the food court from hawker centre upgrade to campy tourist trap. The operator has even masked its hydra arms in various guises, calling its Star Vista branch in Buona Vista ‘Kitchen’, among others including ‘Gallerie’, ‘Rasapura’ and the ultimate, ‘GOURMET PARADISE’. The only thing ‘nostalgic’ about 1983’s Taste of Nanyang after this roach incident is how it suddenly reminds you of the conditions on board the overcrowded boats our migrant forefathers arrived in, like in ‘The Awakening’.

But if you’re a Koufu devotee and still believe that the cockroach incident in an iconic building is an isolated incident simply blown out of proportion, maybe this photo below, snapped at Koufu HDB Hub Toa Payoh circa 2011, will change your mind not just about the franchise, but chicken rice forever.

The menu at Koufu has gone beyond ‘exotic’

Police banning beer bottles from Tekka hawker centre

From ‘Tekka hawker centre stops selling bottled beer’, 5 Oct 2014, article by Kimberly Spykerman, CNA

Stallholders at Tekka hawker centre have stopped selling bottled beer, as highlighted in recent media reports. Only canned beer is available for sale there. But grassroots leaders hope more can be done to enforce this no-bottles move. They have noticed more people thronging Tekka Centre – particularly after restrictions were put in place to curb alcohol consumption in Little India’s public areas.

The police had engaged stall owners in August and September to reduce the risk of glass bottles being used as weapons in fights. It added that all the stall owners whom police spoke to said they will consider doing so for safety reasons.

…Still, the no-bottles initiative has not stopped some from bringing their own into the hawker centre. This has caused some stallholders to worry about their business, since they stopped selling bottled beer on Oct 1. Hawkers whom Channel NewsAsia spoke to said their customers generally prefer bottled beer to canned beer.

“Price-wise, customers feel canned beer is not worth it compared to bottled beer,” said Maureen Ho, the owner of Little India Hot & Cold Drinks stall. “A can is 500ml, bottle is 640ml. They also feel bottled beer tastes better. For most, when you tell them there’s only canned beer, they get fed up.”

Zero bottles of beer on the wall

Zero bottles of beer on the wall

The jury is still out if bottled beer tastes better than canned beer, with people conducting blind taste tests just to address this very important topic. The canned beverage was designed to make the drink portable, with the Americans generally favouring the aluminium, as exemplified by former WWE superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin’s trademark chug.

Yes you can

No one has done an official survey among Singaporeans about their preference, though the notion that bottled beer tastes nicer for the same brand may be psychological. It’s like comparing Coke in a curvy glass bottle vs boring can. It all comes down to presentation. The former just seems, well, ‘sexier’. For example, I can’t remember the last time I saw a Tiger ad featuring people chugging out of a can. Director Anthony Chen draws lusty stares because he has a Tiger bottle nearby. A woman holding a beer bottle probably draws more stares from men than another grabbing a can. ‘Toasting’ with a couple of cans also doesn’t have the desired effect as the consistent, crystal-clear chink of glass bottles. The beer bottle is sophisticated High Society; slick, smooth, neat. The can belongs in a locker room or in a cooler at a hockey match; rough, messy, sweaty. And you don’t get a bucket of free ice cubes with it.

Restrictions are unlikely to stop here following the prohibitions in Little India, as revellers can jolly well bring their alcohol, and fights, elsewhere as a result of the spillover, short of banning glass bottles ENTIRELY. The bottle ban also takes a toll on the livelihoods of drink-stall hawkers, all because our authorities prefer to take the half-hearted way out rather than try to manage the actual root cause of violence. It also penalises the true connoisseur of bottled beer, who instead of just chilling peacefully watching the world go by like he used to, now has to risk maiming his finger prying open a metal tab and stare at a stumpy cylindrical thing for hours. Curiously, the latest campaign for Tiger is called ‘UNCAGE’, which is the last thing you want to see happen in a place like Tekka hawker centre.

If troublemakers want to rough someone up, the absence of glass bottles is not going to hinder a mob from getting creative with other makeshift weapons. A glass mug to hold your canned beer, for example, can cause some serious damage. Tables, chairs, crockery, choppers can all be wielded if you’ve seen classic bar brawls in Western movies. A stray pair of sturdy chopsticks can make the difference between a gash on the head, or eye/nose impalement. The metal tray return shelf itself can crush some ligaments if you topple it onto someone. Or even trays, for that matter, with edges that you could slam onto someone’s jugular repeatedly. In Tekka market itself, a stallholder once tried to attack co-workers with a 1kg frozen SLAB OF BEEF. Even the alternative of beer cans, especially when UNOPENED, can be used as projectiles, or as a melee weapon itself to bash someone’s face in like how one would attack with a heavy stone. The difference from attacking with glass bottles is that you can still drink from the damned can after brutally bloodying someone’s face with it.

The possibilities in a hawker brawl are endless. The same, sadly, can’t be said of the imagination of the authorities.

Changi Airport food street hawkers not from original stalls

From ‘Airpost’s hawker stalls: Not so famous after all’, 2 Aug 2014, article by Rebecca Lynne Tan, ST

THE week-old food street at Changi Airport, which was touted as offering 13 popular hawker stalls from different corners of the island, is not what it has been made out to be. The Straits Times has found that of the 13 stalls at the 10,800 sq ft Singapore Food Street in Terminal 3’s transit area, seven bear no direct links to the original famous stalls.

Some are new start-ups while others are named after streets or areas well-known for particular dishes, but have no connection to the original brands. For instance, Jalan Tua Kong Minced Pork Noodles at the airport food street is not an offshoot of the famed 132 Meepok in Marine Terrace, which was located in Jalan Tua Kong in the 1990s. It is also not related to Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee in Bedok Road. Instead, it is run by Mr Tan Dee Hond, 33, who told The Straits Times that he had worked at the Lau Lim stall for about two years.

The owners of two popular char kway teow stalls at Old Airport Road, Dong Ji and Lao Fu Zi, said they did not open the Old Airport Road Fried Kway Teow & Carrot Cake stall at Terminal 3. Nor is Mr Elvis Tan, 54, who owns East Coast BBQ Seafood at East Coast Lagoon Food Village, behind the airport’s new East Coast Lagoon BBQ Seafood stall.

When asked if naming the stalls after a street or an area famed for a particular dish was a misrepresentation, Select Group’s executive director Jack Tan, 45, said: “If you use the name of the stall, then you’re in trouble, but if you don’t use the name and just use the street, it’s a free-for-all.”

…It is a common practice for hawkers to capitalise on the name of a well-known location-specific dish such as Katong laksa and Jalan Kayu roti prata. But the prevalence of the practice does not make it right, said Mr K.F. Seetoh, 50, street food advocate and founder of street food guide Makansutra.

He said: “The new stall will be living off someone else’s reputation, someone else’s good will. You cannot register a street name and there is no law against it, but it is not right.”

When the ‘food street’ was launched last month, it boasted ‘household hawker names’, yet with a surprising omission of a dish that even Gordon Ramsay swears by; Laksa. Otherwise, it came across to me then as a rather obvious tourist trap and I was skeptical that our hawker heroes would sell out to a place that calls itself a ‘street’ when it’s actually in a building. Changi Airport’s media release was also damningly cringeworthy, describing the assemble as ‘specially curated’ from all over Singapore, as if they sent hawker archaeologists out with a bag of money to hunt down the holy grails of local delights.

If even our locals could be fooled into thinking that the char kuay teow in Terminal 3 is the same as what you get in an old-timey hawker centre, what more foreigners? Location, location, location. One reason why ‘Katong Laksa’ wasn’t in the list could be that food enthusiasts have been doing so much detective work over the years on a brand notorious for its copycats, that it would have hawker geeks up in arms in protest should anyone even have the cheek to ‘borrow’ the Katong name once more. According to Leslie Tay, the real Mccoy, the ‘Janggut’ style, is from an unassuming stall in Telok Kurau. Fans of prata would also appreciate that there’s only one ‘true’ Jalan Kayu stall, the Thasevi one.  Some hawkers continue to exploit the good name of a place that doesn’t even exist anymore, like ‘Blanco Court’ Kway Chap.  Ponggol Nasi Lemak and Punggol Nasi Padang  are also two completely different entities.

In 2010, a relative of the man behind the original Tai Hwa Hill Street ‘Minced Pork Noodles’, or more affectionately known to Singaporeans as bak chor mee, was brought to court for claiming that his own version in Vivocity food court was the original and in the process ‘misleading the public’ with this ‘publicity gimmick’. Since then, we’ve only heard of such name-stealing suits from the big boys in the FnB industry, like Subway trying to take down Subway Niche for example. If anything, ST’s reveal on the Changi Airport Food Street misnomers helps to raise awareness of where the real deal is located, and if you’re a savvy traveller in transit who’s done your fair share of culinary homework, you would skip the wannabes and go for something less pretentious like Ya Kun Kaya Toast. If you’re a Singaporean and you’re willing to travel all the way to Changi Airport to queue up for counterfeit char kuay teow on a weekend instead of going to Old Airport Road hawker centre, then shame, SHAME, on you.

Tourists charged $707 for Alaskan king chilli crab

From ‘One meal equals to one meal’, 11 May 2014, article by Melody Ng, TNP

Seafood meals can be expensive. But a Filipino family on a trip here were stunned when they were hit with a bill for $1,186.20. Just the crab alone cost them $707.

Their meal on April 26 at Forum Seafood Village Restaurant at Boat Quay also included prawns, a fish and a plate of vegetables. Mr Santiago Caaway, 54, said the total bill was more than what the family paid for their flight here and back. The restaurant had been in the news previously after tourists accused it of over-charging. But Forum Seafood spokesman Thomas Tham said the restaurant clearly states its prices and patrons know how much the dishes cost.

And it was no ordinary crab that the Caaway family ordered. They had chilli Alaskan king crab, which other restaurants and seafood suppliers say is expensive. Was Mr Caaway aware that he was getting the Alaskan king crab instead of the more common and cheaper mud crab?

Mr Caaway claimed his family did not know there were different types of crab on the menu but said they wanted it cooked in chilli gravy. “We heard that Singapore is known for its chilli crab, so we thought we must have this,” said Mr Caaway, who has since returned to the Philippines.

The Alaskan king crab rip off aside, Caaway paid a remainder of almost $480 for ‘prawns, fish and vegetables’. They may not have heard of the Newton Tiger Prawn saga back in 2009, when a group of Americans were charged $239 for EIGHT tiger prawns at the iconic hawker centre. NEA ordered Tanglin Best BBQ Seafood to shut down for 3 months after STB relayed the complaint. Not sure if the prawns the Caaways ordered were of the tiger variety, but it was fortunate that they didn’t order the lobster, which was priced at $348 for 1.6kg in 2011, incidentally the target of an expat’s complaint. For the price of 1 Alaskan king crab, the Caaways could have had 6 servings of Sin Huat Crab Bee Hoon instead.

A case of following bad advice dished out by their hotel concierge, the Caaways could have avoided getting fleeced by Forum if they had read TripAdvisor’s reviews of the place, where hopping mad patrons reported the following prices and called the place a blatant tourist trap, with little being said about the actual quality of the food. Wonder if anyone told them about this other thing we have called ‘zi char’. Not in STB’s brochures or website, I suppose.

Fish – $115
Broccoli – $27
Asparagus – $20
Fried rice – $18
BBQ King prawn – $23. Each.
A ‘tofu dish’ – $30
Plain rice – $1.50

Philippine media also reported that a STB director had apologised personally to Caaway and made sure that they were ‘properly remunerated’ since this arose from a case of miscommunication between patron and staff. Despite the online flak, calls for boycott, and demands for closure, this place is still in business, just like how tourist traps remain viable in any other country. Rival Boat Quay restaurant Fuqing Marina Bay Seafood also has a reputation for charging ridiculous prices, with STB having to deal with a similar PR fallout after an American complained about his $210 crab a few years back. No wonder expats have rated us the most expensive city in the world.

It takes a savvy or experienced traveler to avoid such scams, and I’m not sure if we’re spoiling visitors by giving them partial refunds if they aren’t very streetwise when it comes to identifying potential daylight robbery. You can imagine other ‘crabby’ tourists exploiting STB’s niceness by claiming that they were ripped off by a seafood restaurant and expect compensation. In 1986, an exasperated Briton called it the ‘Singapore Rip’, after having to pay $30 for chilli crab at Punggol Point. These days, that’s the price you pay for a BBQ Prawnzilla. Buyer beware, especially if the menu reads ‘Seasonal prices’ and the staff spotted you entering the premises with your DSLR hung conspicuously around your neck. Not all foreigner complaints are valid of course. In 2001, one K. Will whined about paying TWO DOLLARS for one prawn at a East Coast seafood restaurant. Pretty average in those days if you ask me, unless he was talking about belacan-sized prawns instead.

A holiday gone terribly wrong for the Caaways, and such a shame and irony that it takes a national dish sampled in a wrong place to put all the efforts spent on a recent STB promo ad to utter waste.  Singapore always has a surprise for you indeed.

Tissue paper sellers paying a $120 licence fee

From ‘Tissue paper peddlers are unlicensed hawkers, says NEA’, 17 April 2014, article in CNA

Mobile peddlers selling packets of tissue paper on the streets are unlicensed hawkers, said the National Environment Agency (NEA) in response to a letter posted on a website that these peddlers are charged a S$120 licence fee. “Although technically in breach of the laws against itinerant hawking, those peddlers who are needy are referred to the relevant agencies by the NEA for appropriate assistance,” the agency said on its Facebook page on Tuesday.

In a letter posted on the socio-political website The Real Singapore, the writer had questioned the need for street hawkers to pay S$120 to get a licence following his encounter with a visually-impaired man who sells tissue paper for extra income.

The NEA said that, at present, only 11 street hawkers under its Street Hawking Scheme are licensed to sell tissue paper in town council areas. Under the scheme, which started in 2000, those who meet the eligibility criteria pay a nominal fee of S$120 a year, or S$10 a month, to peddle their wares at fixed locations without having to pay rent.

In response to TODAY’s queries, the NEA said unlicensed peddlers selling tissue paper at coffee shops and hawker centres will be warned to stop selling their wares….”If they ignore the warning, the NEA will take enforcement action against them, just as it does for other illegal hawkers,” it added.

‘Enforcement action’ against what the law describes as ‘itinerant hawkers’ entails a fine not exceeding $5000, or up to $10,000/imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months for repeat offenders. On surface, this appears to be a major ‘compassion deficit‘ on the part of NEA to anyone who’s ever encountered a blind tissue peddler led by a relative walking around hawker centres, or the lady in a wheelchair who sings ‘Tissue paper One Dollar’ around MRT stations. I wonder if she’s also required to apply for an Public Entertainment licence.

Tissue paper ‘hawker’ Edwin Koh, 43, makes about $30 to $40 over the weekend, charging $1 for 3 packets. Rejected by his family, he sleeps in the playground after getting thrown out of a shelter for smoking. 75 year old Chia Chong Hock is reported to be the ONLY licensed tissue vendor in Singapore, earning his keep at Tiong Bahru MRT wearing a Santa hat, his makeshift ‘stall’ decorated with cherry blossoms and a Singapore flag. Even with all the props and decor, he still makes $20 to $30 a day. A Madam Rani who used to hang around the junction at Orchard Road facing Heeren (and someone I personally encountered) was reported to earn only $14 a day even for a busy district. Most of us spend that same amount in a single meal without even thinking about poverty lines. There are exceptions of course, foul-tempered peddlers who curse at you for rejecting their sale, or pushy ones who stuff tissue packs in your face as you’re eating bak chor mee.

While the cost of everything else seems to be going up these days, it’s a sobering thought that these Singaporeans are still keeping their tissue prices at 3 for $1,  especially since there is a constant demand for the goods, being used to reserve tables and all. Without the milk of kindness by strangers giving beyond the selling price of tissue paper, I wonder how these folks even survive. Some ugly Singaporean customers however, have even been known to compare prices (5 for $1 vs 4 for $1) between peddlers and haggle. If you take a closer look at some of the brands of tissue hawked, you’ll find a popular one called ‘Beautex’, with a tagline that reads, rather ironically, CHOICES FOR BETTER LIVES.

To be fair, the government hasn’t completely turned a blind eye to their plight. Amy Khor calls tissue peddling a ‘ very uncertain livelihood’ and that such elderly folks should be referred to the MCYS and CDCs for financial assistance. Then again, there are ministers like Wong Kan Seng who in 1987 slammed a group of blind tissue sellers for ‘acting like beggars’, his Ministry even accusing members of the ‘Progressive Society of the Blind‘ of duping the public with claims that proceeds were going into building a music school. It would be temporary blindness of the officers under his charge that led to the escape of a very famous fugitive 10 years later.

Still, I question how the statutes define ‘itinerant hawker’ (any person who, with or without a vehicle, goes from place to place or from house to house carrying for sale or exposing for SALE OF FOODS OR GOODS of any kind) and why selling tissue paper is subject to NEA’s regulations. If the NEA clamps down on people selling curry puffs or otak-otak, I doubt anyone would complain, since you could get sick from consuming their wares without proper sanitary controls. How does the need to control something as benign as tissue paper fall under the Environmental Public Health Act? Does tissue paper give you lip salmonella? Has anyone been hospitalised from severe allergic reactions after wiping their faces with tissue paper? If you use tissue to chope tables at food centres, do they leak toxic fumes all over the place? Does tissue paper turn your pimples into 3rd degree burns?

Since the rise of tissue peddling in the early 2000’s, NEA have not relented on their stand against illegal hawking, with a spokesperson in 2004 deriding the hardship as ‘disguised begging’. Tell that to the Santa Claus uncle, NEA.

 

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