The Social role of wet markets

I’m from Gen Y, but I like wet markets over supermarkets.

For one, the ingredients available at wet markets are fresher. Wet markets are also comparatively warmer. I’m not just referring to the insanely cold temperatures in the frozen food department, although that does play a role in making me dislike supermarket shopping, but the fact that the people at the wet markets are warmer.

The wet market is akin to a social congregation point for residents in the neighbourhood. Everyone who goes to the wet market regularly knows the names, or at least the faces of the stall holders. The stall holders too, know their regular customers, and even if they don’t know their patrons’ names, they address them affectionately by “Uncle”, “Big sister” and the likes. The stall holders are also willing to haggle amicably, or throw in some extra freebies. Wet markets have the personal touch that supermarkets don’t. Try that at the supermarket and you’ll probably receive some unfriendly stares.

Admittedly, I’m a typical HDB flat dweller who hardly chats with my neighbours. But it is at the wet market that I pick up bits and pieces about them. So-and-so is getting married, such-and-such sold his flat for so much… these are the types of conversations that can be overheard during the wait for the butcher to chop the pork or the fishmonger to scale the fish. (No, it’s not eavesdropping if they talk so loudly.) You don’t experience this in the supermarket, where everyone just has their backs against others while they browse the shelves.

The wet market holds so many stories about the residents that it is little wonder that even Members of Parliament (MPs) visit the market regularly to speak with the stall holders and patrons. It is here at the wet market where the MPs get a true reflection of the ground sentiments, where residents may candidly express their views in the comfort of ‘home ground’ surrounded by fellow residents, where they can get in touch with the older folks who do not have access to fancy social networking tools. One resident who wants to be known as Mr Tan lamented that he worked the nightshift and was unable to attend his MP Mr Wong Kan Seng’s Meet-the-People’s sessions. Such regular market visits allows Mr Tan to share his feedback and concerns with Mr Wong.

The Bishan-Toa Payoh MPs made their rounds again recently on 25 March 2012, whereby Mr Hri Kumar, Mrs Josephine Teo, Dr Ng Eng Hen and Mr Zainudin Nordin visited the market at Blk 282 Bishan St 23. They remained there for a whole three hours from 8am to 11am, touring the market, hawker centre and food stalls, and chatting with the residents and stall owners.

Because wet markets play such a crucial role in encouraging personal connections and interactions between our fellow neighbours and citizens, many are understandably worried that the wet markets will eventually be phased out by supermarkets. Supermarkets do provide more options for working adults who simply cannot make time to go grocery shopping in the mornings. But they will co-exist peacefully with wet markets, just like how television and radio do. Both are important sources of food, and they each provide a different shopping experience, enjoyed by those on different sides of the fence. Even celebrity cooking shows by Mediacorp feature the artistes shopping at wet markets for ingredients and not supermarkets. After all, cheerful banter with stall holders makes for good TV.

Even as more supermarkets are made available in Singapore, wet markets will continue to be in demand. The real challenge now is finding people who are willing to take over the ropes from the stall holders.


Tips for a pleasant market visit:

If you can’t bear the stink, dab some medicated oil near your nostrils, and bring some along with you.

Wear non-slip shoes. The floor can be wet and slippery, especially near the sea food section.

Wear light clothes that you don’t mind getting dirtied.

Wear a smile. You might get some bargains or gossip fodder.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine


Stretching your dollar for food

Food inflation – it niggles our wallets every time we go grocery shopping. Dining out makes a bigger dent on our budget as pricier ingredients means more expensive meals. One can hardly remember how long ago it was when $3 at the hawker centre could get you a full meal including drinks.

Increasing costs of food is a global phenomenon, and unlike economic recession, it may be set to stay. Extreme weather conditions and pollution affect crop outputs. Rising oil prices spells increased costs in operating machinery used for farming purposes. More natural disasters due to climate changes can wipe out an entire year’s harvest, and in more extreme cases, lead to permanent damage of fertile grounds. Many of these causes are irreversible in the short term.

Some countries may take to limiting exports of food, thus further driving up our costs of living. Russia raised the alarm in 2011 when the government banned the export of wheat to protect the nation’s supply. More countries may follow in their footsteps and practice food protectionism, which could also include implementing heavy taxes on exports. Singapore, which imports majority of our food supplies, will be hard-hit.

On our part, a small country like Singapore can only go with the flow of world-wide inflation. But while we can’t prevent increasing living costs, what we can do is to eat smart, and spend smart. Apart from the obvious methods of taking advantage of sales and discount coupons, here are five additional tips to make food more affordable:

Eat at home

A fail-proof method that never gets old. Food courts, fast food places, restaurants and cafés charge you for service, air-conditioning and ambience. A lot of delicious and nutritious food outside can otherwise be replicated at home with some improvisation and substitution. Can’t cook? Fortunately, many young people these days are in the same boat. Food manufacturers embraced this trend and there are now plenty of pre-made foods in the market, including sauces, frozen food, even entire meals that simply need to be popped into the microwave.

Quoting Mum’s disdain towards Big M’s ‘overpriced nuggets’, “I can make a lot more nuggets for the same price by frying a packet of frozen nuggets from the supermarket.”

Don’t eat or cook more than what you need

It is a common observation in almost any eating place in Singapore that few diners leave their tables with clean plates. At home, our ever-concerned mum cooks extra food for fear that we would not have enough to eat, while the over-zealous host shouts down the guests’ protests to serve up an over-large meal.

Ultimately, excess food means increased expenditure, increased wastage, and in some cases, a doctor’s bill, a result of stuffing oneself to the brim or eating left-overs for days to avoid wasting food.

Start slow, only order or prepare as much food as you and your family really needs. Singapore is a food paradise. You can always get more food from just about anywhere if the first round didn’t really hit the spot.

Plan what to buy, and stick with it

If you don’t know what to buy, you end up buying everything that catches your eye for various reasons. Find out what’s short in the kitchen, and prepare a shopping list of things you need to buy and their quantities. Purchase only items from the list to avoid impulse buys which of course, includes snacks.

Check expiry dates

Sales tactics and discounts often tempt us to buy multiples of the same products. Bulk-buying is fine if you will use the product often. However, don’t forget to check when the item expires, otherwise, you end up wasting money by having to throw expired food away, or paying the doctor’s consultation fee for food poisoning.

On the other hand, some supermarkets like Cold Storage are known to mark down prices of food as their expiry dates draw near. Such food may not be the freshest, but are still safe to eat and do not taste much different in their optimum state. You could get some good deals without compromising health.

Shop on a Full Stomach

Have you ever watched a food commercial or programme when you’re not particularly full and went “I want that now!” at some finger-licking image? It’s the same with shopping on a dissatisfied stomach. When you are hungry, or have space for more food, and you’re in a supermarket filled with shelves of food, complete with mouth-watering images on the packaging, you will feel the urge to fill your cart with food items, never mind whether you need them. Do your grocery-shopping after your meal. You can work off some calories too.

Food is a basic necessity and daily costs can build up to quite a significant amount. However, a little prudence and effort can help to minimize this huge expenditure.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine


Adult children… they may still give their parents problems

Seeing their children step into adulthood, building their careers and starting their own families is a joy for many parents and grandparents. Certainly, many would take delight in waxing lyrical to their relatives and friends about their children’s achievements, taking pride that they have done their duty to give their best in laying the foundation in the early years.

However, increasingly with changes in our social environment, we are beginning to hear uncomplimentary stories of children who abuse their parents, scrimp on their parents while they spend extravagantly on their own, or worse, get into debts and ask their parents to bail them out. There were a number of cases where sadly, aged parents have to take their children to Court to seek monthly maintenance. Issues like these are not uncommon to our society. They are happening everywhere, in US, Europe and Asia.

What went wrong? Where’s the love and blood ties between parents and children? As parents, we have always wanted to give the best for our children, to the best of our abilities. But somewhere, somehow, this is not always reciprocated.  Most of us can recall some time in our childhood when Mom and Dad would say lovingly, and at times with a gentle hand stroking our heads, words to the effect, “When you grow up, you have to be caring, kind, honest, polite, respectful, and considerate. Don’t forget Mummy and Daddy.”

Unfortunately, no matter how well parents try to raise their children, there will be some, even among the sweetest ones, who will change when they become adults.  They become inconsiderate human beings not only to others but also to their parents. Just how then do you deal with your inconsiderate adult children?

Stay calm and cool

It’s easier said than done, but as parents, you need to stay clam and cool down before you speak to your child. Recognise that your child has grown up and is now an adult. Even if your child is raising his/her voice, don’t follow suit. Remember, fighting fire with fire will not solve the problem. Tell him/her that you will discuss with them when everyone is not emotional.

When you do get a chance to calm the situation and have a discussion, do let your child know how you feel.  Tell him/her that you don’t appreciate the inconsiderate actions.  Share with him/her how these actions are affecting you and possibly others around you, including your spouse.

Offer help

Find out if he/she has a problem. Sometimes, your child may act out of character because of personal problems that they are going through.  Perhaps it’s financial difficulties, health issues or their social relationships that caused them to behave as such. Find out if anything is bothering them.  Offer help, if you can, without making them too dependent on you.

Learn to say no

A pitfall to avoid is to allow your children to force you to do anything against your will.

Do set boundaries so that they don’t run to you for every little thing. Let them know what kind of support you can offer and how far you are willing to go. I have heard stories of adult children asking parents to fix their medical appointments, pay their road tax or traffic fines when they could have done it on their own.

As parents, if you do something for your children, do it only because you want to, not because you are coerced to do so. Doing everything for them will only weaken them at the expense of yourselves. Explain your reasons for turning them down in a rationale manner, and they will certainly come to appreciate your intentions, instead of blame you.

There are things that you can do or give to them which they will appreciate, such as helping them raise their kids, doing special chores for them, or buying their favourite dish for dinner.

Keep the bond aglow

Even after your adult children have moved out, keep in touch with them to maintain your bond. Physical distance should not keep you emotionally detached from them.

Tap on technology like sms and email to communicate with them regularly without being intrusive. Make it a point to give them a call or have a webcam chat with them at least once a week. After all, an exchange of written text can never beat hearing your loved one’s voice or seeing his/her face. Some adventurous and technology-savvy parents have even taken to social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with their children.

But being able to meet in person is still the best way to keep a relationship strong. Do invite your children over or meet them for a meal on occasion.

Most parents will agree that parenting is one of the hardest, if not, the most difficult job. While we are a major influence in their physical and emotional development, the relationship they form with others, i.e. their circle of friends, significant other, colleagues, or business associates when they go out into the world can greatly alter their character.

Should you find yourself having to deal with inconsiderate adult children, you are certainly not alone. Patience, love and open communication can go a long way in keeping the bond aglow.

– This article first appeared in a lifestyle magazine