Food & cleanliness in Singapore

Leftover food lie in a sea of styrofoam plates, like carcasses of a voracious hunt. The aftermath of a massive lunch crowd. Pigeons and crows swoop down with gusto, like scavengers in the wild. The collateral damage? Splatters of what used to be somebody’s lunch: curry, laksa, unknown black gravy. Food wastage. Tipping bowls. Utensils clanking on the floor. Scraps sent flying.

Grease and fumes in thick swirl, bloated by the trapped air under a large terracotta roof.  Even a vigourous December breeze fails to temper.

Then there is the drudgery of clearing what looks like a swathe of garbage in wasteland. In that moment, a hawker centre cleaner’s job is the most uncoveted in the world.


*I wrote this after taking a shortcut walking through a hawker centre one windy Saturday afternoon. It was after lunch. At that time, that shortcut felt like a tramp through wasteland. For those of you who don’t know, a hawker centre is a centre for food stalls, born of public policy to remove hawkers from the Singapore streets and house them under a centralised area back in the 70s-80s: see this paper here. Today, the hawker centre is considered a typically affordable, down-to-earth dine-out place.  Much has been said about “returning one’s tray” and having the facilities for people to do so in these hawker centres. Apparently not enough is being done yet, both by those who lay out the infrastructure, and by those who frequent these hawker centres. Ironically, this is a community that takes so much pride in its cheap delectable eats: just look at the obedient queues at the food stalls and the plethora of food blogs on webspace. The passion for eating just doesn’t quite seem to gel with the respect for food and the facilitation of its consumption which would include cleaning up thereafter.

This morning I rode past the river. The river looks clean only because it has been cleaned up. Something to think about the next time you think Singapore is a clean city.



2 thoughts on “Food & cleanliness in Singapore

  1. Jared Seah


    One day… One day…

    I have hope one day we will have the same level of civic consciousness like the Japs and Scandinavians.

    There was a time 15 years ago when I was so impressed at Taipei when the commuters there queued at the sides of the metro trains and let those inside alight first.

    How I marveled at the Taiwanese when they stood at the side of the escalators to let those in a hurry overtake them.

    Now Singaporeans (most of us anyway) are doing what the Taiwanese are doing, albeit a decade later…

    Maybe it’ll take a decade for our hawker centres, food courts, and fast food outlets to reach the clean state like those in Japan and Scandinavia?

    Hope springs eternal 😉


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s