It’s been three long years
Do ya still want me (still want me)
If I don’t see a ribbon ’round the old oak tree
I’ll stay on the bus
Forget about us
Put the blame on me
If I don’t see a yellow ribbon ’round the old oak tree
This song was based on an actual incident in 1973 where a recently released convict was on the bus home after serving a prison term. He wasn’t quite sure if his wife still wanted him back after three long years. He said in his letter that if she had chosen to move on with her life, he would understand. But if she wanted him back, she should tie a yellow ribbon round the Old Oak Tree as a sign that he should get off the bus and come home.
As, the bus approached his home town, he was so afraid of disappointment that he asked the bus driver to look out for the yellow ribbon for him instead. When they finally saw the Oak Tree, it didn’t just have a single ribbon, the tree was full of yellow ribbons! His wife wanted him to know, without the shadow of a doubt that he had been forgiven and he had a family to come home to!
We all know about the power of forgiveness. How many times have we done something wrong and needed to seek forgiveness from someone? Remember the sense of relief when the person you wronged eventually smiles and accepts your apology?
But here we are talking about a bigger wrong. Someone who has committed a crime against society and has been put in Prison for a period of time. Having paid the price for his transgressions, is he now accepted back into society?
So what does all this have to do with a Wow Wow West? Well, quite a lot really.
Eric Ng (that’s his car on the right), the owner of Wow Wow West wasn’t an quite an ex-convict himself, but he did spend some time at Boys Town when he was younger. He started attending Church after Boy’s Town and began his career in the food and beverage industry working at places like the Raffles Hotel. He still does catering for the Istana (I was told that his honey baked ham was a favourite dish amongst the big wigs there). But he recalls that there was a time in his life when he was not serious about his faith and his family life was not exactly smooth sailing.
Things came to a head one day when his eldest daughter ran away from home. It was at this time of trouble that he realized he really needed to get right with God. He made a deal with God that if his daughter would return home, he would dedicate his life to serving him as a counselor with the halfway house.
Now he employs ex-offenders (fully salaried) who work daily at his Western Food Shop up till 11pm. He then sits down with them and counsels them, sometimes till 2am in the morning. Although most of these men have already turned their backs on their previous lives, it still takes time to work out some of the issues which still haunt them.
It was such a joy to talk to Eric who tells me that though it can be very trying at times to work with the ex-offenders, he feels that his rewards have been bountiful. His whole family now helps out at the stall whenever possible and the business is brisk. His stall is easily one of the busiest at the Food Center, a testament to God’s Blessings, says Eric.
I realise that there are really two styles of Hawker “Western” Food nowadays. The traditional ones have that local flavour as most of them would incorporate Asian ingredients like MSG and soy sauce in their marinade. However, there are those like Wow Wow West whose food taste more “Western” as they use mostly herbs like basil and tarragon and avoid the use of MSG.
The thing that struck me most about the food was the generous amount you get for the price. The first dish we were served was the Fish n Chips which was HUGE for only $5. Seriously, it was the size of a Ping Pong bat and it was thick! The bread crumb crust was also executed well so it was crisp but not oily. Now the only thing is that they use Cream Dory which can sometimes taste a bit muddy. I was impressed with the homemade coleslaw here which is cold and crisp and easily better than KFC’s. The tartare sauce could be a little more tangy and have more pickles, but hey at $5, one should not complain too much. 4/5
The other best selling items here are the Chicken Chop and Pork Chops. Both are seasoned with western herbs which was alright for me. But you know, sometimes I still like the more traditional marinade with the MSG oomph. Again the portions are generous. For $5, you get 2 thick slices of pork loin the size of your hand (lady’s) and a whole Chicken Maryland only costs $4. I like the way the meat is pan fried till there is a nice crust on the outside. 4/5
Value for money, “Western” Style western food with a great story to boot! Their foot long Pork Cheese sausage is just $3 and $5 if you get the set. They sell Beef Steaks here for $5 (did not try). The food is well executed and pretty decent. Definitely one for those looking to satisfy a big appetite for a few bucks!
Update: May 2008
The owner Eric has moved over to ABC brickworks food centre and given the ownership of the original stall at Bukit Merah View to the former inmate that he helped to train. I haven’t got the number of the stall but it is just a few stalls away from the Pao store that I recommended.
Link to Breakthrough Missions Website