Our Appalling Hawker Centers

Delicious and cheaply-priced food cooked immediately after you’ve placed your order, and thousands of choices. Where to find them? In food courts or food centers or coffee shops, of course!

The food centers used to be called “hawker” centers because they were originally built to house food sellers who hawked their food all over the place.

Now, there are food courts, food centers and coffee shops everywhere and the stall holders are subject to regular medical examinations and their eateries inspected for cleanliness. Some are even listed in Michelin guides.

One could have a tasty and satisfying meal for a couple of dollars at these establishments. I eat at these places a lot, as do most Singaporeans and people living here.

What I find unappetizing are two things:

  1. The state of the toilets. In Sarawak, one could literally eat off the floors of the toilets in their food courts, food centers and coffee shops, but here, the toilets are beyond appalling. When I think of one of those food handlers using these toilets and then preparing my meal, I feel nauseous.
  2. The way tables are cleaned: usually an elderly cleaner uses the same rag to wipe something like 200 tables. Imagine the state of that rag! He or she usually pushes a trolley (with a trough) around to collect used plates, cutlery and utensils. Attached to the trolley is also a bin which he/she uses to pour leftover food into. Someone should tell the cleaner NOT to stop right in front of me, and while I’m still eating, start to pour leftover food from other tables into that bin. It’s like a cocktail of smelly swill being concocted right in front of my eyes. Please, I don’t need to see that! I can only say that the visual and olfactorical assault on my senses are enough to make me stop eating.

I also notice that while all those smart people in charge are constantly reminding us to clear the table ourselves by returning our plates, cutlery, tray etc to the “tray station” it is often impossible because while I’m eating the cleaner will come and snatch the tray away with utmost enthusiasm. This despite the Return-Your-Tray initiative launched by the powers that be. You tell me, how do I return my tray when it has already been taken away from me?

Also, most cleaners have a nasty habit of making a din when they collect the used plates and bowls, etc. I wonder how many they have smashed in the process? “Collect” is hardly the word, most times they are dumped unceremoniously and noisily into the trough on the trolley.

The authorities often talk about educating the public, and launching campaigns of all kinds to do so. I believe that is important indeed because many of our behaviors are still caveman-like and primitive. You can take a man out of his kampung but you can’t take the kampung out of the man, blah, blah, blah. (Have you seen the way some people eat? It’s common to see retards spitting food fragments like bones all over, dumping used tissues into cups, bowls or plates once they’ve finished eating and all kinds of other disgusting behavior. Neanderthals behave better, to be honest.) The unpleasant truth is that most Singaporeans lack civic-consciousness though I’m quite sure in their own homes, they would not urinate and crap all over the toilet floor or not flush the toilet. My son once saw a pile of shit in a urinal. I wonder how it is physically and anatomically possible at all for someone to defecate into a urinal? Must be a gymnast or a contortionist with sphincter muscles that could no longer hold his feces.

Yes, education is important, but extremely strict enforcement may be the way to go. See someone peeing on the floor? Cut off his dick! Clean toilets will appear overnight, I guarantee you!

People in charge, do your job!

But jokes aside, hygiene and cleanliness is a collective, societal problem and is multi-faceted: it has to do with our upbringing, our culture, and what we accept as “norms.” Each of us must “own” this problem and fix it, not relying on some enforcer with a big stick. (If our own home is in a mess, we sort stuff out, not wait for someone sent by the authorities to beat us into shape, right?) And it’s really not that difficult to start. How bout beginning by mentally always be prepared to personally ensure that each of us actually do something to leave our table (yes, urinal too) clean and hygienic for the next user? This way, cleaners become “supervisors” instead of servants cleaning up after us.

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