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Ultimate Hawker Fest: The Gracious Can-Do Singaporean Spirit!

Video by Rolleyes: www.rolleyes.com.sg

I really think that we Singaporeans don’t give ourselves enough credit. There is so much talk about our society needing to be more gracious but I want to tell you that my whole experience organizing this hawker fest has made me appreciate just how gracious and generous Singaporeans really are!

Those of you who were at the Ultimate Hawker Fest would know that the highlight of the event was the torrential rain instead of the impressive opening ceremony that we had planned! The crowds started streaming in just before five o’clock and by about 5.30pm, the cobblestone streets outside of Millenia Walk was chock full of foodies! At around 6pm, the rains started to fall and everyone had to scramble! The rain was so heavy that some of the stalls reported blackouts and their appliances stopped working!

But you know, minor disasters like these are what bring out the best in people! I have to salute all our hawkers who persisted in serving their dishes despite the downpour. Mimi from D’bun told me that her four guys where all drenched, yet they were all laughing away like kids playing in the rain! At one stage, Astons lost all power and the NEA was almost going to shut down the whole event. But everything got sorted out and everyone, including all the customers cheered!

I am particularly impressed by the fact that most of people who came were so patient! Even though the place was packed and some stalls had queues of 50 persons or more, the queues remain orderly and everyone seemed to be in a festive mood! This is testament to the social graces of our Singaporean society.

My sister-in-law was in the queue for Hokkien Mee and was about four persons from the front when the rain started to pour. Everyone quickly tried to squeeze under the tents and she whipped out her umbrella. She was just directly under the edge of the tent and as you can imagine, the water was gushing off the tents onto her umbrella. Unbeknownst to her, the water was flowing down her umbrella onto someone’s back! Then she heard someone cry out: “Ordinarily, I would be very angry, but aiyah, today its for charity lah!” Then he handed his handphone to my niece who was hiding under the tent and ask her to take a photo of his drenched back! The guy behind him who was standing in the rain then said, “At least you only get it on the back! I am totally drenched! Look at me!!” And everyone had a really good laugh over the whole thing!”

The rain was particularly challenging for our event organizer, SPOC as well as Stewards Solutions who were handling all the hawker appliances. As you can imagine, there were many blackouts and the hawkers were all calling for help. But I must commend them for their professionalism in handling everything! By about 8pm, the rain stopped and everything started rolling again smoothly. Jack and Rai came on and really helped to put everyone into a festive mood. People were looking out for each other and offering to share their tables. I must make special commendation to all the Millenia Walk restaurants for allowing people to use the table and chairs outside of their restaurants after the rain!

My daughter’s friends where there and they were all sitting on the ground in Millenia Walk itself and the family were having a great time! They said they never ever thought they would have the opportunity to have a picnic in Millenia Walk! For the kids, this was something they had never done before!

Our Guest-of-Honour, Minister Tan Chuan Jin was equally gracious in accommodating to our constant change of plans! Eventually he had to forgo his speech but made his rounds in the drizzle to congratulate all the hawkers who have been working so hard to make the event possible! A little bit of rain was but a minor inconvenience to the former guardsman who insisted that he wanted everything to be as casual as possible. He even took the opportunity to get his hands dirty and learnt how to make Kueh Tutu! (They didn’t sell that particular Kueh. The Tan family will preserve it as a memoir of the occasion!)

By around 9.30pm, the crowds started to wane and I managed to catch up with some of the people who were still eating. There was a group of young fans who executed their grand strategy which had their friends waiting in different queues for their food. They were all smiles and kept telling me how great everything was despite the rain. Some even told me that even though the rain made things a little more uncomfortable, it actually turned out the be more fun and memorable!

Now, I am old enough to know that many of these people are just very nice and very gracious in telling me this. Most of them know that this is a charity event which many people have worked hard to put together so they offer their encouragement and kind words! Just look at what our facebook fans said:

Mary Teo said: I agree the rain made it even more memorable. How often do you get to see people sitting on the floor in atas Millenia Walk, enjoying hawker food off paper plates and bowls?! A big Thank You to Dr, organizers, helpers, sponsors and of course all the legendary chefs! Really hope this will become an annual event…

Lim Puay Kian: I only got to eat the Durian Chendol and Fried Kway Tiao. Awesome! Was queing the Poh Piah till the rain drenched me completely. I was so near to buy the Poh Piah! Sigh!!!! People around me was nice. we kept laughing. those before and after me tried very hard to use their umbrella to shelter me. The rain just too heavy that I give up!…. aiya..

Mauryn Long: Rain was like “Showers of Blessings”… Though soaked wet while Queing; food was really good! Sadly didn’t get a chance to try the Lobster Laksa & the Cha Kway Teow! Byron’s brioche w/ Strawberry Champagne Jam is really nice glad I tapao’ed. Yawns… Goodnite to all who did well – God Blessed!

Jaslyn Hng: Food was nice! Surprisingly, even in the rain and the crowds, hawkers still provided good service!! Well done!! Good good good!!!

When we started organizing this event back in July, both Daniel and I started with the idea of maybe a few hundred people gathering to experience a Charity food event with a difference. Never in our wildest dream could we have envisage the crowds that turned up last night! Being a charity event, we were working on a shoestring budget and the event would not have been possible without Esther from Millenia Walk coming on board to share our vision of creating a festival for Singaporeans to come together to experience Singaporean cuisine at its very best. It would have been cancelled just 6 weeks ago if our friends from Stewards Solution, SPOC and Nanyang Inc did not step forward and graciously donated their services to Charity! Barely two and a half weeks ago, we still did not have a major sponsor for our ingredients, then Angliss came to the rescue and undertook to provide all the stuff that we needed that haven’t yet been sponsored!

Many of you have inquired about the lack of wet weather contingencies. Well, our original plan was to close the whole of the carpark area and erect huge tents that would cover the whole breadth of the car park. However, less than two weeks before the event, we were told by the authorities that we needed to provide fire engine access, and so we managed only to tent up half the street and have pop up tentages should the rain come. Given the short timeline, it was either that or cancel the whole event.

We also had a lot of trouble trying to forecast how many people were going to turn up. This is the first year we were doing this and it was really hard to gauge the public interest in the event. As a result we told our hawkers to prepare 500 portions each and calculated the amount of money that would generate and printed the coupons accordingly. Some hawkers were initially quite pessimistic about the amount and only wanted to prepare 300 portions because they cannot see how they would be able to sell that much over a period of 5 hours. Ticket sales had been slow and up till the day before the event, we had only sold half the tickets. So even on the eve of the event, the organizing committee were wondering if we should scale back on the amount of food! I am sure glad we didn’t!

I am really thankful to all our media friends who have helped us spread the word about the event. The Straits Times, Business Times, Shin Min Bao, Zhao Bao, 938live, 8 Days, iweekly, hungrygowhere, InSing, Nuffnang and many more have done such a great job spreading the word which resulted in the huge turn out on Saturday! To everyone who had shared, liked, linked, emailed or simply told your friends about the event, thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Thanks to Rolleyes for producing the video of the event for us! They did the wonderful video at the top of this post FOC! Do check out their website www.rolleyes.com.sg for more food related videos! If you are a restauranteur looking to produce a video of your restaurant which can be used for advertising through social media, please give them a call. They specialize in this! Rolleyes have done two videos for me and I have found them to be very professional and prompt with their work.

I know that there are many many more people I have to thank. Please accept my apologies if I have not mentioned you here. I am very grateful for your contribution, its just that I am very disorganized!

This project has been a journey of faith for both me and Daniel. We have had to pray very hard and trust God each step of the way. We are amazed that His timing is impeccable and is never early nor late. Doors open just before we fall off the ledge and there was barely room for error. It was rather stressful at times and we both had our faith tested and stretched. At the end of it all, we need to keep reminding ourselves that the reason we embarked on this mad project was to raise money to fund the work of Touch Community Services. God is concerned about the poor and the needy and it is our previlege to be His hands and feet in this project. I just feel a little embarrassed sometimes that we both had so much fun doing it!

Big sigh of relief now that it is over. I like how John Lui’s article summed up the whole event with Gunalan’s quote:

“If people came here to feel what it was like to eat outside in the old days, they got it!”

Until the next Ulimate Hawker Fest, remember to eat well and Never Waste Your Calories on Yucky Food!

Read the ST Post Event Coverage: Gourmet Street Food a Hit!

The Ultimate Hawker Fest was made possible with the partnership of the following main sponsors: