Chicken rice hawker gives NS recruits extra ingredients, discount to thank them for service
Total Defence Day is next Monday. In the first of a five-part series, NATASHA MEAH (firstname.lastname@example.org) speaks to a hawker who embodies the military aspect of Total Defence.
When chicken rice hawker Tan Bee Seng was serving national service from 1977 to 1979 as a signaller, he received a monthly allowance of just $50.
His father used to sell vegetables in the market and his mother was a housewife.
And because he knows what it's like to grow up poor, Mr Tan has been selling his chicken rice to military recruits at a discounted price.
He has been running his chicken rice and noodles stall at Bedok Food Centre for 10 years.
For several years, he has been giving recruits free additional ingredients in their food order and about a $1 discount as a way of saying thanks for their service to the nation.
Mr Tan, who is the second of four children, never used to ask his parents for money and would get by on his own.
He said: "I didn't want to take from my parents because I knew it wasn't easy to earn money. So after secondary school when I was about 15, I started working in a battery factory where I earned about $300 a month which I saved for rainy days."
During National Service, he hardly booked out from camp to save money on food as meals were provided.
Because the cost of living in Singapore is higher now, he does not want recruits to struggle like he did.
He said: "If they want to add extra ingredients like eggs, char siew or extra chicken, I will charge them less but an extra portion of rice is always free of charge.
"NSmen contribute a lot to Singapore by protecting our country. They are the reason that Singapore is very safe and prosperous today."
Mr Tan insists his good deed doesn't hurt his business.
He said the cost of his ingredients is quite low and he also runs the stall on his own.
"Seeing these men come back to say 'Hello' after their ORD is a great feeling. It's like they appreciate me and what I have done for them," he said.
"It makes up for what little money I lose."
His younger son, 23, recently signed on with the Republic of Singapore Air Force, and this also made him feel more for these men.
Mr Tan, a father of three, was awarded the NS Advocate Award for Individuals at the Total Defence Awardslast year for his exemplary support towards Total Defence, and in particular, National Service (NS).
He had been nominated by an NSman.
Colonel Simon Lim, the Defence Ministry's Director of National Service Affairs, said: "Mr Tan's way of expressing his gratitude is an inspiration not only to the national servicemen, but also an encouragement to others to think about how they too can contribute to the defence and security of Singapore."
Dr William Wan, general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement, added: "Whipping up extra portions of rice and meat may not seem like a big deal, but doing it on a daily basis is an added responsibility...
"Mr Tan is a fine example (of a kind Singaporean) and we are proud of him."