Today many families buy their fresh food from supermarkets. In the 60’s we got our meat, fish and vegetables from Hum Min who lived in the village at the back of our estate. Each morning he’d push his 3-wheel cart along the estate selling not only fresh meat but also some preserved foodstuffs like tan chye or chye poh. Everything you purchased was wrapped in old newspaper. My mother loved to haggle with Hum Min over his prices. It was a friendly “battle” between vendor and customer each day. Hum Min also operated on a credit system – all transactions were noted in a small notebook and payments were made at the end of the month.
Early one morning Hum Min was robbed by 2 knife-wielding men on his way to the market to buy fresh supplies. He suffered some cuts on his hand – I can’t remember how serious his injury was. After this incident Hum Min “retired”. It was a sad end to many years of service to our estate. However Hum Min still had his shop in the village. Occasionally my mother would send me on errands to buy sugar, msg (bee cheng) or salt from his village store.
Hum Min’s business was taken over by another villager. The new vendor drove a van around the estate with his fresh supplies, stopping at street corners for his morning trade. You could say that this was progress in the high tech direction – from pushing a 3-wheel cart to driving a van. I still miss Hum Min and his push cart. As a kid I particularly enjoyed it when he bent over to push the door of the cart open, to bring out more food stuffs. The inside of his cart always held some mysterious connotations for me. I’d strain my eyes to peer into the dark interior, to see what treasures were in store.
We had other street vendors touring the estate too. The knife and scissors sharpener who’d call out loudly “Chin char koh ah boh kar tay” as he pushed his bicycle along. The cockle shell (chee hum) man with a big basket on his bicycle, who walked bare footed in spite of the hot bitumen road. The ice cream and lollies van, the otak man with his nonya cakes. Otak is grilled fish in coconut leaf. There was also an Indian who carried his cakes (e.g. pakoras) and spicy nuts on a circular tray balanced on his head. At night the mee goreng, satay and chestnut (kow luck) vendors paid us regular visits. The satay man lived in Old Upper Thomson Road. The mee goreng seller parked his cart on the street and knocked his wok with the frying spade to signal his presence. I always enjoyed watching them cook. In the early 60’s we even had a “fish and chips” van that toured the estate. This business was run by a family in Jalan Rukam. It didn’t last long though. It was probably geared towards the British servicemen and their families in the estate.
Related post: Itinerant food vendors of yesteryears
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