By Clara Chai (22A01D) and Phang Duncan (22A13B)
Hectic, unfamiliar, intense… such were the emotions that Mr Chew and Mdm Lee carried in their hearts on their first day at RI over a decade ago. Since then, they’ve had their fair share of ups and downs, but as they doled out their final bowl of wonton mee on 27th August 2021, Mr Chew admitted that the experience has been ‘a very happy one’.
The news of their stall’s closure was met with a mixture of dismay and surprise from students. Most students were taken aback. A few, like Hiren Koban from 22S06H, found the unexpected shutdown ‘quite sad.’
However, the decision was not a spur-of-the-moment one. Due to health issues and the financial impact of Covid-19, the couple decided to retire and enjoy the remainder of their years. Mr Chew candidly shared that he’s thankful to have lived to the ripe age of 70, and he feels that it’s time for them to take things slow. By now, they are more than satisfied with what they’ve accomplished with their humble stall.
It’s rather surprising then, that their choice of careers as canteen vendors had been forced upon them by pure circumstance. Previously, they were co-workers at a factory for 30 years before being laid off. Their love for wonton mee eventually led them down the path of selling it.
Initially, business was tough. Having little to no clue as to how to run a stall, Mdm Lee turned to her aunt, a wonton mee hawker, for guidance. Armed with a ‘secret recipe’, they went from selling 10 bowls of wonton mee a day to almost 300 bowls daily. Mr Chew also reminisced about the short burst of popularity that their braised ribs noodles enjoyed about three to four years ago: “We sold nearly 10 kilos of ribs a day back then. But the students’ tastes and preferences change every year — these days it’s no longer as popular.”
However, their wonton noodles have remained the unbeatable customer-favourite. As Li Jia Yue from 22S06U, an avid fan of the stall, described, “Their noodles are really tasty — light, not too salty yet flavourful. ”
The couple admitted that they’ll miss RI and their old canteen vendor friends. Nonetheless, they intend to spend their golden years actively doing the things they love. Mr Chew plans to further his knowledge — he wants to learn basic first-aid and fortune-telling to take better care of his family, both physically and spiritually. Mdm Lee, on the other hand, hopes to start a small baking business. Her mooncakes, New Year goodies, and birthday cakes are popular among friends and family. “I can make dumplings, nian gao, and ang ku kueh also,” Mdm Lee shared excitedly. “I even get some orders for my baked goods during festive seasons.”
Looking back, the couple agrees that the past decade has been a fulfilling one for them. “We are very down-to-earth and simple people,” said Mr Chew. “We have no regrets — seeing the students content with our food is enough for us.”
Thank you Mr Chew and Mdm Lee for the decade spent feeding hungry Rafflesians with your delicious wonton mee. All the best for your future endeavours, and enjoy your retirement!
A previous version of this article misspelt an interviewee’s name. We apologise for the error.