Monday, August 3, 2009

It's tough being a hawker

I THINK one of the toughest ways to eke out a living is to be a hawker.
Although it is nice to be able to say that you are your own boss, the truth is often not as rosy.

Those who have tried to be a hawker will agree with me that your standard nine-to-five job is a heaven compared to it.

I got my first taste of hawking when I was about 9 years old when my maternal grandmother got me to sell “hoo chnea”, which is a salad of kembong fish flakes, cucumber slivers, beansprouts and beancurd served with spicy chilli gravy.

I went door-to-door in Kuala Terengganu town twice with a basketful of only 10 packets to sell, but only succeeded in selling one. A distant relative who I did not recognise at that time took pity on me and bought a packet when she saw me passing by her house a second time with my basket of unsold fish salad.

I went home and promptly complained to my grandmother about my failure to sell all the fish salad.

“Good, now we can have that for lunch,” she said, and added: “Now that you have learned how difficult it is to earn money, you will know how to save.

“Anyone who has tried hawking will tell you that even trying to figure out what to sell is tough, let alone where to sell it, and how to go about selling it legally so that you do not run foul of the authorities.

Even if you have figured it all out, your business may still not last if other things don’t fall into place. 

You can try all the tricks your marketing guru has taught you.

A good location, identifying a potential market segment, selling what everybody needs, and all the other tips recommended by the various textbooks, but if the weather turns against you, you are dead.

Hawkers selling drinks can tell you a lot about how the weather can play havoc with your business. Tubs of drinks which would finish in a jiffy during hot weather would go down the drain if it rains.

Likewise, those who sell fried stuff will see fewer customers during hot spells or in the wake of some health campaigns calling for people to eat less fried food.
Sometimes, rumours can also do just as much damage.
Remember the “lou shee fun” incident which made it to the papers in the 1980s? News that some children had died after eating contaminated noodles caused several hawkers to close shop.

Many others who sold only the popular breakfast were forced to look for alternatives after the scare drove customers away for months.

According to a hawker friend who sells rice in Sentul, being a hawker is a lesson in hard work, patience and humility.

You work long hours, keep going even if the business was slow, and learn to accept compliments and complaints in your stride and treat them with equal respect if you wish to put food on your table.

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