Stall is gone but she visits site every day

Madam Haw, who started 493 Fishball Noodles with her husband in 2006, is worried that what little savings the family has will be wiped out soon. She will be attending the job fair for affected stallholders on Thursday.
Madam Haw, who started 493 Fishball Noodles with her husband in 2006, is worried that what little savings the family has will be wiped out soon. She will be attending the job fair for affected stallholders on Thursday.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Almost every day for the last decade, Madam Haw Mui Eng, has woken at about 5am to travel by bus to the coffee shop at Block 493, where she sold up to 500 bowls of fishball noodles until the afternoon.

When the 47-year-old started 493 Fishball Noodles with her husband in 2006, she wanted to make use of the skills she picked up as a hawker assistant to provide for her two sons, now aged 21 and 23.

But over the years, she forged close friendships with other stallholders at the building, where she worked for close to nine hours every day, except for two rest days a month.

Although her stall was destroyed in the fire, Madam Haw continues to wake up at the same hour to return to the site each day.

"I'm used to waking up early already. It's my habit," she said in Mandarin. "I know the stall is now completely gone but I will go down to take a look at it, even if it's just to stand behind the hoardings. Everything was burned down in an instant. My heart is broken."

About 12 years ago, she began honing her cooking skills while working at a canteen stall at Choa Chu Kang camp for eight months.

 

As the menu varied each day, she learnt to cook a range of local fare, including laksa and fried beehoon.

Later, she decided to venture into her own business selling fishball noodles at a coffee shop near her home. Business was slow, so she decided to cut her losses and shut down after six months. But soon after, she accepted an offer to run a stall at Block 493.

"This was the only trade that I knew, so I didn't have the courage to try other jobs," she said, adding that it took her about eight years to "perfect the skills of making a tasty bowl of noodles".

Now, she spends her time chatting with the shopkeepers or residents in the area, or running a few errands before heading home to care for her family.

Her 60-year-old husband used to serve customers at the stall, before taking a break about a month ago after a cataract operation.

Her older son is currently studying at the Institute of Technical Education College Central, while the younger one is studying at the Lasalle College of the Arts.

With the family living from hand to mouth, she is worried what little savings that they have will be wiped out soon.

"I still find it hard to sleep at night. I wonder: 'Will my kids have enough pocket money for school?"

After the blaze, she received $500 in immediate relief funds. She has also applied for government assistance for three months.

Last week, Lasalle offered to refund her son's semester fees of $2,700 to ease the family's financial burden. The school has waived its fees for the next semester.

Though she is keen to start selling fishball noodles again, she is unsure if she can afford the $10,000 or more it will cost to do so in the near future. Instead, she will look for suitable job options at an employment fair to be held on Thursday for affected stallholders.

Looking through the pictures of stallholders she had previously snapped with her mobile phone, she said: "We have become like family over the years and now we may have to go our separate paths. I'm not sure I can let go yet. It's a pity."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 23, 2016, with the headline 'Stall is gone but she visits site every day'. Print Edition | Subscribe