A hawker's big(-hearted) portions for NSmen

He gives extra rice, eggs and chicken free as a form of thanks for their service

Chicken rice without chicken, please.

The strange request was made to hawker Tan Bee Seng by a boy sporting the typical crew cut of new army recruits.

"The boy said, 'Uncle, I want one plate of white rice only.' When I asked him why he didn't want chicken, he said he didn't have enough money," said Mr Tan, recounting the incident from several years ago.

"So I gave him a plate of chicken rice and told him, never mind, come back another day if you have the money."

Mr Tan has been running a chicken rice stall in Bedok Food Centre for the past seven years.

For as long as he can remember, he has been giving army recruits extra portions of rice, chicken and eggs free - all without their asking. He also gives them discounts.

Most of those who benefit are from Bedok Camp, which is opposite the food centre where his stall is.

The 55-year-old has now found himself in the spotlight after an NSman posted about his kind gesture online.

He has created a buzz at the same time that a new committee is looking into ways to better motivate, support and recognise the contributions of national servicemen.

Netizens praised the hawker for his kindheartedness, with several saying they felt touched and more proud to serve their NS as a result.

When The Straits Times visited him last week, he was hard at work chopping chicken.

"I didn't think someone would put it on the Internet. I only knew after the army magazine (Cyberpioneer) came to interview me," he said.

"I've done my national service before, so I know that it's very tiring for them and they don't earn a lot," said the hawker, who calls it his way of thanking those who have given up their time to serve their country.

"It's only a small matter to give them a little more food. It's not a big deal to me."

Mr Tan estimates that he serves about 200 army men a week.

He usually gives discounts of 50 cents or $1 for a plate of chicken rice usually sold for $3 to $4, which he said barely eats into his profits. He makes between $3,000 and $4,000 a month.

"When they thank me, it feels heartwarming," said Mr Tan, who works from 9.30am to 10pm every day without rest as he does not employ any helper.

His wife owns a noodle stall in Clementi. He has a 24-year-old son who has served NS and another son, who is 21, will be enlisting this August.

He said his parents, both hawkers, were both generous people who believed that "if you are good to people, people will be good to you".

Mr Tan has become something of a legend among Bedok Camp recruits. Neighbouring stallholders even tease him when groups of army men descend upon his stall, said Mr Tan. "They'd call out to me and say, your children are here!"

Mr Vikram Suriamurthi, 25, was pleasantly surprised when he heard about Mr Tan, and had checked him out for himself.

"The food is good, and everyone knows army guys are always happy (for more food), so we're really quite grateful for this," said the officer, who was stationed at Bedok Camp last year.

"It isn't often that people are willing to make (less), especially with the rising cost of living. It's a great effort."

Said Mr Jake Lim, 23, who is based in Bedok Camp: "I felt it was very kind of the uncle to provide servicemen with extra food portions and I am very thankful. It is really heartwarming to know there are people out there who recognise our service to the nation."

charyong@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Chan Huan Jun

 

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