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.