Indonesian joined curry puff syndicate to support wife, kids back home

Every day, he tries his best to entice crowds at MRT station underpasses to buy his curry puffs.

He has to evade authorities, as the Batam native is selling food without a licence.

He has been doing it for the past three weeks in order to support his wife and three children, aged 14, nine and seven.

Says Mr Darling, as he prefers to be known: "I'm doing this so that I have the chance to make money for my family. I don't know what else I can do."

When we found him last week and persuaded him to talk about his situation, he revealed his luck had just run out.

Auxiliary police officers had spotted Mr Darling and issued him a notice to attend court for contravening the Environmental Public Health Act.

He will face a fine of up to $5,000 and jail time if he defaults on the payment.

If he does not appear in court, an arrest warrant may be issued against him.

But this Batam native is only a "runner" in a wider syndicate, which lures people like him from Indonesian cities.

Mr Darling first became aware of the curry puff trade in March, after he lost his job as a minibus driver due to poor economic conditions in Batam.

A man he calls "Boss" had spread the word that they stand to make one to two million rupiah a day (S$100 to S$200) by selling curry puffs here.

The man arranged for him to travel to Singapore under a social visit pass and to stay in a two-room flat with around 10 other Indonesians, all of whom are also unlicensed sellers like him, claims Mr Darling.

It is not known if the flat is licensed to house the sellers.

"It's comfortable enough. I sleep on a double-decker bed and I share the room with six others.

"Like me, they are poor people too, from Medan, Java and Batam," he claims.

Attempts to make him explain more or to reveal more about Boss made Mr Darling anxious.

He declined to give us Boss' mobile number, except to say that he pays Boss $16 a day for the accommodation, inclusive of two daily meals.

He also pays him upfront for the curry puffs. Usually, he asks for 500 - at $20 per 100 curry puffs.

Starting the day with a deficit means Mr Darling has to work very hard to sell his puffs. Three curry puffs go for $1, out of which he makes 40 cents.

If he can sell all 500 puffs, he will make a "grand" profit... of $66 - well short of the one million rupiah a day he thought he could earn.

Rarely does he sell all. He says he dumps unsold puffs by the end of the day.

Nonetheless, he says he is thankful for whatever he can make.

His day starts at 4am, sorting through thousands of newly made curry puffs with the other "runners".

He takes his share of 500 curry puffs and puts them into a cardboard box.


In the late afternoon, he heads out to the various MRT stations and hawks them for as long as he can manage. There is no break. He needs to earn every cent he can.

He says he doesn't know how they are made or what goes into them.

The week before, 40-year-old Indonesian Robiah Lia Caniago was convicted after being caught selling her curry puffs without a licence.She was jailed for five days as she could not pay her $3,000 fine.

But when The New Paper on Sunday spoke to Mr Darling, he was unaware of Robiah's case and does not understand how he could be facing the same situation as her.

Says Mr Darling: "I am willing to take the risk for the sake of my family."

Runners like him are most vulnerable. He does not know of the higher workings of the syndicate, but only that he needs the money.

"I hope the authorities leave us alone. This business is actually helping a lot of poor people who depend on it to survive.

"It's not like we are dealing drugs."

This article was first published on June 08, 2015.
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