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Jobs 101: Hawker

At 23 years old, he is already an experienced hawker. Terence Chee shows us what it is like to be in this unique career.

Angela Low
Angela Low

Published: 16 October 2013, 3:38 PM

 

TERENCE CHEE

In the corner of a hawker centre at Serangoon North Avenue 1 stands a stall named, “Xiao Di (Little brother) Fried Prawn Noodle”. The stall’s owner is 23-year-old Terence Chee, who looked like an unlikely hawker – until he began cooking.

WHO: Terence Chee, 23
OCCUPATION: Hawker
STUDIED: Bowen Secondary School (Dropped out at secondary two)

 
Tell us more about yourself.

I started selling fried prawn noodles at my stall in March 2012. I play basketball on days when I end work earlier. Besides that, I go food hunting, KTV and watch movies.

How and why did you become a hawker?

I was doing door-to-door from 2002 to 2004, and direct sales from 2004 to 2005. I decided to try working as a hawker in 2005 when I got tired of the sales line.

The older generation – the hawkers I used to work with – was very generous towards me, passing their skills and trade secrets to me, hoping that I’ll make a mark for myself in this line someday.

My first choice was western food, but there was already a western food stall at the location. So, prawn noodles, which I have been doing for the bulk of the last six years, became the natural second choice.

 

Terence cooks the first few plates of prawn noodles for the day.

 

Describe a typical day at work.

My day starts at about 7.30am when I leave for the market to collect my ingredients. I will be at the stall by 8am to process the ingredients and boil the stock. I prepare the food daily, such as fry the lard, cut the pork belly and shell the prawns.

The preparation will usually be done by about 10.40am, so I will have a little time to eat before 11am, when I start business. I usually close the stall at about 8pm, or a little earlier if the ingredients run out.

My mum helps out full-time at the stall. My relatives (mainly my uncle) and friends help out part-time when I need extra hands.

 

Setting the dish with prawns and other ingredients.

 

How long have you been in the business, and how has this industry changed through the years?

I’ve been in this business for about eight years since my days as a cashier and apprentice. The industry has changed a lot with the entry of big players and their chain operations.

Even though food standards are not as good, the bigger players are able to work with cheaper labour and higher efficiency. The sad part of this is that most of the smaller players in the market choose to cut corners to match the pricing competition instead of uphold food standards.

 

Terence throws in the noodles after frying the eggs.

 

Looks like a whole lot of mouth-watering goodness.

 

With an experienced hand, he whips up something delicious.

 

Though the noodles were covered, their fragrance was overwhelming.

 

The finished product! Anyone feeling hungry already?

 

What are some challenges you face on the job?

The challenge lies in striking a balance between the rising cost and the profit margin. There is also a need to understand raw ingredients well, as there are a lot of factors that can affect their quality.

It’s so often that I overhear people discussing if they should eat at my stall since it’s a kid cooking, but that’s not really a problem. Usually, I would just walk pass them with the food for them to see and smell.

What motivates you in your work?

Most people view the long hours, and the hot and oily kitchen as a turn off. I actually like the long hours, as it is a chance to save a little more money.

Any advice for youths considering a job as a hawker?

Be prepared for hardship; nothing good comes easy. Your first mentor will play a decisive role in your future. Find one who is serious and dedicated to his craft, and you will learn more than just food.

Educational requirements: None.

Qualities needed: Keen eyes to learn, commitment to the job and dedication to the standard of your craft.
Working hours: An average of 12 hours per day, six days per week.
Salary range: It ranges from $1,200 to $1,600 for apprentices, and $1,800 to $2,400 for cooks or stall owners.
Career prospects/advancements/specialisations: You can improve your craft and move to bigger operations.

 

 

 


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