Singapore's hawkers celebrated in new book

Mr DaShow (far left) and Mr Orca with Madam Chua at her stall in Tekka Centre. She retired last year after a fall. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Mr DaShow (far left) and Mr Orca with Madam Chua at her stall in Tekka Centre. She retired last year after a fall. -- ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Kneading and shaping dough is second nature to Madam Chua Chay Cheng. The 92-year-old hawker, after all, sold traditional Teochew snacks for more than 40 years.

After her husband, a cook, died in 1971, she became a hawker to support her eight children, who were between seven and 15 then.

Her story of resilience is celebrated by Mr Sinma DaShow, 39, in the last chapter of his book, Not For Sale: Singapore's Remaining Heritage Street Food Vendors, which focuses on 10 women hawkers. The book's launch is part of this year's Singapore HeritageFest.

Partially funded by the National Heritage Board, the book, which includes black-and-white photographs, took 21/2 years to produce. Co-authored by Singapore-based photographer Jim Orca, 39, it is being sold for $88 on website

"There are tonnes of values that we can pick up from our older generation of hawkers, including perseverance and resourcefulness," said Mr DaShow, whose father was also a hawker.

Madam Chua has sold hundreds of thousands of delicacies such as ang ku kueh, soon kueh, rice kueh and yam kueh. She worked nine-hour shifts, seven days a week, and made little profit. Life, she said, was tough.

"But I had very young children to support, so it was necessary for me to work hard and put my heart into what I did to make ends meet," she said in Teochew.

She retired last year after a fall.

Three of her children who have been helping her at the family's Yan Seng Traditional Teochew Kueh stall in Tekka Centre will continue the business.

Mr DaShow said the duo embarked on the project because the "hawker scene is at its crossroads". He explained that many old-time hawkers are retiring and with few of their children willing to take over, there was an urgent need to document their stories.

The book starts on a sombre note, looking at hawkers without heirs. The subsequent two chapters feature interesting hawker characters, and narrate their encounters and romances. The fourth is a tribute to second-generation hawkers, while the final one features female "superhero" hawkers who have slogged in the trade for 40 years or more.

Mr DaShow, who is also the founder of local cooking school California Sushi Academy, said: "Each photo represents a lifetime of work, sacrifice and dedication to their trade. Their stories are part of Singapore's shared narrative, which many readers will be able to relate to."