Dad's great helpers

Dad's great helpers

To Mr Sulaiman Abu, his daughter who has been helping him run his nasi lemak stall for three years is just an apprentice.

"It took me seven or eight years to consider myself professional," says Mr Sulaiman, 52, who is one of the Hawker Master Trainers in a pilot programme launched last month to preserve Singapore's hawker heritage.

His only daughter, Ms Siti Aisyah, 24, a polytechnic graduate in nursing, does not mind being called an apprentice, saying she has much to learn.

She says of her father's 15-year-old D'Authentic Nasi Lemak stall at the Marine Parade Central hawker centre: "This is another type of school. Apart from learning to cook, I also learn how to handle my emotions when facing difficult customers, who want things 'cheaper, cheaper'."

Apart from her, one of her three brothers,

Mr Muhammad Syukri Sulaiman, 23, is also keen to take over their parents' stall.

Brother and sister work alongside their mother Noraini Sinwin, 48, and father every day and do everything from cooking to cleaning.

The siblings, who are are not married, live with their parents and two other brothers - technician Muhammad Firdaus Sulaiman, 26, and St Stephen's School pupil Muhammad Salman Sulaiman, 12 - in their parents' three-room HDB flat in Lorong Lew Lian.

Who calls the shots at the stall?

Madam Noraini: I manage the stall, marinate and fry the chicken wings, and check which items need topping up. Sometimes Sulaiman says, "No need to top up yet." I just say, "okay" but do what I think is necessary.

Mr Sulaiman: She's a good manager. It's good to have my wife as my partner.

Aisyah: It's normal for a husband and wife to have disagreements. But when I see an argument starting between my parents, I walk away. I don't like to see negative things.

Madam Noraini: There's more bonding between my husband and me when the children are at the stall. We argue less.

Mr Sulaiman: Parents shouldn't show their unhappiness with each other to their kids.

Madam Noraini: They may do the same in their family.

What are your children's strengths in running the stall and what areas need improving?

Madam Noraini: Both of them can cook, but Aisyah needs to improve on her vegetables, which are sometimes undercooked. She usually serves customers.

Syukri tends to want customers to be decisive when ordering. If not, he may get impatient and glare at them. So he serves customers only when there's a queue. Otherwise, he mostly cooks and cleans.

Are you happy that your children show interest in taking over the stall?

Mr Sulaiman: I'm happy they will one day take over my legacy.

Madam Noraini: I'm very happy. They reduce my burden. We can pack up by 4pm after cleaning up, instead of at 6pm when it was just my husband and me running the stall.

How will Aisyah and Syukri share the stall when they take over?

Mr Sulaiman: Let's train them first and see where they want to move the stall or stay here when the lease expires in 2017. They may also be married by then, so decisions will involve their spouses.

Aisyah, what are your earliest memories of your father?

Aisyah: He was the invisible man.

Mr Sulaiman: I was helping at my mother's stall in Tanglin Halt, selling everything from mee siam to goreng pisang. I worked from 5pm to 5am for 17 years before we started our own stall in Pasir Panjang and Bedok before settling here. When Aisyah woke up in the morning, I was in bed.

Aisyah: There was a lack of communication. I missed having a dad growing up.

Mr Sulaiman: My children are closer to my wife. I had limited time with them.

Madam Noraini: We didn't have much time at all to go out. Most of our days off were spent at home.

Who is stricter: mum or dad?

Mr Sulaiman: I am stricter. I expect them to have daily prayers at home, wake up on time and go for English and mathematics tuition classes, which they all had.

Aisyah: Once, when I was around six, dad locked me in the storeroom in our HDB flat, which was then in Yishun. He said, "Don't come out until you realise your mistake."

Mr Sulaiman: I cannot recall this episode.

Aisyah: Another time, three of us were made to stay in the toilet. He said, "Stay there until you tell me your mistake." I'd rather be in the storeroom than the toilet, which was smelly. The storeroom was dark but it had our toys.

Why the big age gap between the older three children and your youngest child?

Madam Noraini: I don't know. God gives, we accept. It wasn't planned.

How has your parenting style changed from the time your first three children were younger?

Salman: I feel lucky that my parents are less strict now, especially my father. I don't get sent to a corner.

Madam Noriani: I suppose our parenting style changed with him because of the big age gap between him and us. We're probably mellower now than before.

What is your view on caning?

Mr Sulaiman: I remember caning my eldest son once, when he was around two or three years old when he wandered off to the Yishun police station five minutes away from our home.

Madam Noraini: Caning leaves a bad impression of the parent on the child. I reasoned with them whenever their father scolded them.

Mr Sulaiman: I stopped caning after that incident because I realised that a child recalls the caning as a very harsh memory. It's better to explain if they have done something wrong.

If the parent-child roles were reversed, what would you do differently?

Mr Sulaiman: If I were Aisyah, I wouldn't do anything differently because I'm helping my father continue his legacy.

Madam Noraini: I am proud of her coming here to help us but if I were her, I'd take up another job because a hawker's life is hard.

Aisyah: If I were my parents, I'd have family day every weekend.

That's the time I can find out what's going on in my kids' lives, and when I can sense that they know that I love them because, otherwise, I'm too busy to show it or say it to them.

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