Life is a little different during this pandemic outbreak. I was concerned for my father’s health and safety as he was determined to run his food business during this period. I wasn’t sure if my father, who had been running his prata stall for over 30 years, would be able to adapt to the new circuit breaker measures.
While helping out at my father’s stall, I noticed how challenging the life of a hawker is, especially during this pandemic outbreak. Donning masks, reminding customers to maintain safe distance, and “checking in and out” using QR codes were the new norm for my father.
Flipping pratas with the mask on was taxing, especially when he was fasting during Ramadan. He paused frequently to catch his breath and to adjust his mask. This frustrated him as he is a fast-paced worker who is very particular about cleanliness. The masks were also a communication barrier between him and his customers, which led to some misinterpretation of the orders.
Moreover, he felt pressured by the long queue that would extend up to the entrance of the opposite market during peak hours, due to safe distancing. Customers, including the elderly and pregnant women, couldn’t sit while waiting for their food as all the seats were blocked off. Enduring chronic knee pain for many years, my father understood his customers’ misery and felt bad for them. He pushed himself further to speed up and tried his best to cope.
It wasn’t all negative though. Fortunately, the business wasn’t affected much as the crowd kept coming. Also, as dine-in wasn’t allowed during the circuit breaker and phase 1, my father had minimal utensils to wash. He came home earlier and managed to get more rest. However, now that it’s Phase 2 and dining-in is allowed, it is more tiring for him as there are more utensils to wash. Nonetheless, he is delighted to see most of his elderly regular customers returning to eat his prata. He always says that he missed the satisfaction of seeing his customers eat his pratas during the circuit breaker and phase 1. This was partly why he refused to engage food delivery services when he was encouraged to do so by the National Environmental Agency (NEA). He didn’t want to disappoint his customers who queued for his prata. Increasing the number of prata dough to cater to online orders was not in his options either, as age is catching up. I asked him about his retirement plan recently. “I will go with the flow and work as long as I can,” he said, while rubbing medicated ointment on his knees.
COVID-19, though you took away our comfort and ruined our plans to celebrate Hari Raya with my relatives and friends, thank you for not ruining my father’s business. You showed me how passion and determination to do something can help us overcome the challenges that arise along the way through my father. You made us appreciate the little things that we have overlooked on a daily basis. I learnt that in life, instead of complaining about the situation, we should cooperate with one another and act with mutual respect and a forward-looking mindset. Though this has been a tough phase for hawkers like my father, it has been an honour serving our customers during this pandemic outbreak.