“In this life do whatever you can. So that when you leave, you don’t have to look back.”- Sandy Poon
The original hawkers and market stall holders were mostly immigrants willing to work hard to make a better life for their kids. Some children of those original entrepreneurs carried on the family business. But by the third generation, almost none have. It’s been said that the third generation is afraid of hard work. Yet it is exactly this kind of hard work that their parents and grand-parents toiled for them to avoid.
But there are exceptions. And when you meet a young person ready to roll up her sleeves, who still has the hungry attitude of her immigrant roots, she stands out.
Sandy is part of a new generation of hawkers but her attitude to hard work is definitely old school: do whatever you can to pursue your dreams.
Her grandfather was a chef of Teochew cuisine in China. But when he moved to Singapore he became a butcher and eventually so did his 5 children.
As the eldest grandchild, her grandfather wanted her to carry on the family business. But Sandy had other dreams – dreams that would take years to realise: she wanted to be a chef.
Before packing up to study cooking in Australia, she spent over a decade working as a tour guide. She was 36 when she finally left Singapore with only had a bit of savings to start on her journey.
She studied 3 years in Melbourne all the while working to pay for her school fees. But when she returned she found she didn’t like working in the local kitchens, “Sometimes they cut corners – like throwing in a cube of Bovril instead of making soup stock from scratch. I felt I wasn’t using everything I was taught about authentic western cuisine. It seemed like such a waste. So I set up my own place.”
A year ago, supportive friends lent her the money to start an Italian stall in Serangoon Gardens. At first she was a one-woman show working 16 hour days. Eventually she hired a single staff to help with serving, prep and washing up. “This let me do more business.”
A hawker’s life is no easy job and even with the help, her days are long. But she believes in hard work and is happy to be pursuing her dream.
Perhaps the only regret is that her grandfather, who had so inspired her, died a few years ago, before he could see that she had indeed achieved her dreams.
Stall #1, Serangoon Gardens Food Centre