Malaysian Hawker Struggles To Keep Stall Open During Lockdown, Netizen Urges Support For Local Businesses

Malaysia has been under lockdown for nearly 2 weeks, since 18 Mar. This means only heads of households can go out for grocery runs and other essential errands.

Most Malaysians seem to have been coping reasonably well, as many stocked up on supplies before the Movement Control Order (MCO) came into effect.

However, one Malaysian who was out on a grocery run realised that an important segment of society had unfortunately “slipped under the radar”.

Disturbed by the struggle he witnessed, he took to Facebook to share about it.

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Hawker only earns S$46 daily during lockdown

The netizen shared that he noticed a few stalls at his favourite local coffeeshop were open as he drove past.

As he was craving chicken rice, he decided to pay the chicken rice stall a visit.

Image for illustration purposes only
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He ordered 3 packets of chicken rice, and listened to the hawker’s lament about poor sales.

Apparently, business has been so bad that the hawker had to open his stall from 7am to 11pm just to scrape together about RM140 (S$46) a day.

With such poor business, he would go bust in a matter of 2 weeks, the hawker told the netizen.

Hawker’s request “shocked” him

It was clear that the hawker was deeply concerned for his livelihood, but what he did next “shocked” his customer and certainly left a lasting impression on him.

The netizen wrote:

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.

This made him realise that small business owners, especially coffeeshops stalls and hawkers, had been hit especially hard by the MCO.

Many struggles to overcome

The netizen was troubled by the hawker’s desperation for him to come back for dinner, and chatted to the stall owner to find out more about his struggle.

It turns out that it wasn’t just the lack of customers visiting the stall that was causing him such great difficulty. His issues were much more complex.

First of all, the hawker wasn’t able to register to do his business online, as he was illiterate and had “near-zero technological knowledge”.

A picture of the hawker’s chicken rice stall
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House deliveries didn’t seem to be a solution either, as he couldn’t afford the delivery fees and customers probably wouldn’t be willing to pay more than double the original price for the chicken rice.

Even though he technically qualifies for some government relief, he admitted to having a “checkered past” and was afraid to contact the authorities to register.

The netizen didn’t understand why this hawker couldn’t just stay home and wait out this period of MCO, but realised why when he replied: “Kais pagi makan pagi, kais petang, makan petang.”

That’s a traditional Malay saying basically meaning that he was living from hand to mouth.

Recognising one’s privilege

He tried to offer the hawker help with his technological difficulties, and even financially, but the hawker refused, saying his patronage was enough.

He wrote:

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.

He realised that while he and his family had been comfortably isolated with food delivery services at their disposal, others in society like this hawker weren’t as lucky.

The hawker kept his stall open for 16 hours a day, waiting for 10 customers just so he could scrape by with RM140, while others — like the netizen — relied on GrabFood and Food Panda to bring food to the comfort and safety of their home.

The netizen ended up returning to the chicken rice stall to buy dinner, and even “slipped him an extra big note into his money tray”.

Support your local hawker more during the lockdown

Now more aware of the struggle of hawkers during MCO, the netizen called on others to support them through it:

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 “Tarpao” and “Bungkus” from them, besides also saying a prayer for them, because once this MCO ends, it would be a sad day for our community when we have to start having conversations as to whatever happened to our favourite chicken rice hawker stall down the street.

He suggested having the household heads — or those appointed and allowed to do the grocery shopping — stop by hawkers and pick up meals from them a couple of times a day if they’re open.

Besides that, he urged netizens to say a prayer for the struggling hawkers, and even just chat with them to brighten up their day with a little conversation and companionship.

A shame to let hawkers struggle

Hawkers are definitive of Malaysia’s identity, much like in Singapore. Many of us have fond memories of our favourite hawker stalls and foods, and it would definitely be a shame — or even an injustice — to let these hawkers suffer through these times unsupported.

Unfortunately, we Singaporeans aren’t able to do much for the hawkers in Malaysia now, but this serves as another reminder to keep the marginalised or overlooked in society in mind during tough times like these.

This pandemic is going to plague us for much longer, and we’ll only get through it in one piece by supporting each other.

Featured image adapted from Facebook and Burpple