Everyday, a man rides in on a motorcycle to my void deck and stops in the middle. He then sounds a horn several times and before long, streams of eager aunties and the heartland like pile up around a large box mounted behind his motorcycle, waving their money at him, dying for their fix.
No, this is not some dope dealer or neighbourhood pirated DVD seller. He is, however, doing something that in the eyes of the Singapore law, is equally illegal. He is an unlicensed hawker and his food of choice is the quintessential Singapore creation – Rojak.
As far back as I can remember (and I’ve been living in this estate since I was 17, which makes it 14 years, which makes me … how old? Forget it) Mr. Illegal Rojak Man has always been peddling his stickily sweet creations under my block, managing to avoid the law for who knows how long as well.
On afternoons when I would come home from short days in school, I bought many a packet from him. I loved the whole DIY nature of his rojak. Basically, the ingredients would be would be stored compactly in the box on the back of his bike, which, when opened, formed a makeshift preparation table. On this table would be a ceramic mixing bowl in which he mixed in the sweet sauce, peanuts and everything else. And his secret ingredient would be stored in a non-descript plastic jar. It was some murky water that he mixed in with every serving of rojak. Many a customer has speculated as to the contents of this water and among the conclusions are limejuice, lemonade and even lemongrass water.
I shudder to think what it actually is.
Anyway, enough about his rojak. Let’s talk about the man who we shall call Mr. Rojak.
This guy is an asshole in every sense of the word.
I know people always talk about old people from their past and especially street hawkers that they’ve known for years and whose food they grew up on and they talk about them in affectionate and oftentimes enduring tones; for Mr. Rojak, that kind of talk is for the birds.
This dude is mean, surly and generally pissed off all of the time.
When I first met him, he barked at me when I couldn’t decide on what I wanted to add into my rojak. Subsequent visits comprised of him yelling at me because I was too specific and “difficult” with my orders, giving me grief for giving him money that was too old and sometimes, ignoring my orders with a vengeance. Now, lest you start thinking that this behaviour is exclusively reserved for me, I have seen him dish out this same crap to other customers as well, so you can be assured that it’s not me – it’s him.
In fact, it was with great risk that I took these pictures of him. If he ever found out about these pictures or, worse still, this blog entry about him, I have no doubt that he would run me over with his motorcycle and baste my lifeless body in sweet sauce for the birds to pick out of the concrete.
I believe that would put a huge smile on his craggy face. Sadist.
But then again, it’s been 14 years and everytime I’m at the void deck and he’s there, I have to buy a packet of rojak from him. Someone once told me that the higher powers that be are fair. If that’s the case, his flair for making rojak more than makes up for his being an asshole about everything else. The trappings of culinary genius? I guess so.
So next time you’re around Serangoon North Avenue 1 and you hear a motorcycle, a horn and a snarl, stop by for a while, swallow your pride and buy a bag from him. It’s sweet, it’s savoury, it’s rich, full-bodied, full-textured and Uniquely Singaporean (STB don’t sue me).
It’s Rude Rojak and I love it.