By: Tan Tee Seng
Last evening, after listening to the budget broadcast, I went to have an early dinner at the coffee shop near my place. As the dinner crowd has not come in, I had an opportunity to strike up a short conversation with Bo Huat (in his late sixties), who runs my favourite wanton noodle stall with his wife from 7 am to 3 pm and his son and daughter in law take over from them till 11 pm.
Me: Today your duty huh? Where is your son?
Bo Huat: He is late today, he has to attend to some family matters.
Me: It is a long day. You must be here since 7 am.
Bo Huat: What to do! Need to sustain the stall. Everything expensive now. With two shifts we are just getting by. I pay $5,000 a month and was told that it would increase with water bill going up. The first 75 plates of my wanton noodle (at $3) go to keep the stall. Two families have to survive on this space, you know.
Me: (surveying the space of about 80 sq ft) Wow! that is $750 per square feet per year.
Bo Huat: Is okay if the ministers come here to eat and I can sell each plate as XO wanton noodle for $15, but for most of my customers here, 30 cents would be difficult. I can only give you two slices less of the “char siew”.
Me: eh don’t like that leh, I am a regular here. And I just heard that in this year budget, the government is going to help small businesses.
Bo Huat: Help your head! We are bottom of the pyramid, government don’t see this as business, we are only visible when the election comes around. Everyday talk about productivity, I can only be productive if I can survive ah! The most important outcome for me is whether we are able to increase our income. Now all my productivity is suck by the rent.
I wanted to go into the details of some of the schemes that government said would help but a new customer come along and interrupted the conversation. Maybe I will come back after I finished my noodle and before he decided to take away another wanton to increase his productivity.