As many businesses all over Malaysia struggle to cope during this Movement Control Order (MCO) period, one man shared the reality of the hawker industry which seems to have it harder than most
On 29 March, filmmaker Gary Chong took to Facebook to share his conversation with his neighbourhood chicken rice man.
At the time of writing, his post has already been shared over 3,000 times.
"This morning I experienced first hand, a distinct sector of society which has slipped under the radar. Or at least which has brought me to my knees in re-evaluating my role as a citizen in my community," he wrote.
"And that sector is our local neighbourhood coffee shop hawker and gerai makan."
Following MCO rules, the 33-year-old had headed out for a grocery run at 11am yesterday when he noticed that three hawker stalls were open
Wanting to enjoy a good ol' plate of chicken rice, Chong stopped and proceeded to order from the chicken rice seller.
"While going about his usual way of preparation, he (chicken rice seller) started lamenting that his daily sales now are only around RM140 but he has to open the shop from 7am to 11pm," he explained.
Chong discovered that the man has been working 16 hours a day just to make RM100 to RM180 a day.
"He continued that if the business went on for two more weeks like this, he would go out of business."
"His next response shocked me. He begged me to come back and buy from him for dinner... in which he then gave me extra meat in my packets, in the hopes that would seal the deal and I would come back that night"
It was then that Chong realised how small hawkers and gerais are one of the most vulnerable right now.
Chong then asked the uncle a few questions regarding this situation and here is what he discovered:
"1. [The uncle] couldn't go and register himself on an e-commerce site or platform due to him being illiterate and having near-zero technological knowledge."
"2. He had considered house delivery but delivery fees were at a minimum of RM5 so he couldn't afford it and no customer would be willing to pay a jump of 200% just for chicken rice."
"3. He heard from people about the recent Economic Stimulus package and although he qualifies for some of the incentives, many hawkers like him are not willing to contact the IRB due to various reasons because of a checkered past (perhaps certain troubling run-ins with the law) and warranted/unwarranted fear towards the government."
"4. Why did he have to remain open instead of staying home and waiting for this MCO to end? His response was akin to a traditional Malay saying 'kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang makan petang'."
Chong tried to persuade the seller to assist him financially or to at least help him with his technology woes.
However, he explained that the seller kept deflecting and saying that the support he is giving him when he buys the chicken rice is good enough for him.
When he said that, I felt a wave of emotion sweep over me. One not just of guilt, but of shame because of my ignorance.
Chong confessed that while he and his family have been living comfortably by ordering food through delivery services and cooking at home, the chicken rice uncle is waiting and working for 16 hours in hopes of getting just 10 customers a day
He appluaded those who have been supporting their local hawkers, and urged others to follow suit.
"Perhaps it is time to play our roles as citizens of our local communities, where we can show some love to our local hawkers who are stuck with no choice, by helping them through this time of crisis by making it a point to tapau and bungkus from them," he continued in his post.
He suggested steps on how to make this happen:
1. As a family, pick out your regular hawker stall around your neighbourhood.
2. Get your head of the household to swing by and check whether they are open during one of his/her grocery runs.
3. If they are open, drop by, and buy some breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
4. Give them a little bit of encouragement by having some small talk or conversation with them to brighten up their day.
Although it's a small action to tapau, Chong shared that it could be the determining factor of many of these businesses' survival during this time.
"Your single action today, albeit how small your takeaway order might be, will be able to alter the course of destiny for each of these hawkers who are in this period of distress, need us to show our solidarity as Rakyat Malaysia and practise the evergreen and holy virtue of 'Loving Your Neighbour'."