Wednesday, December 09, 2015

What Satay Bee-hoon can tell you about your financial future.

As I am still in a holiday mood, I'm just going to write an article about my life in general. 

The past couple of days have been unusually stressful. As I have only 3 weeks of holidays, I decided to rush through my computer gaming and ended up solving Legacy of the Void in 4 sittings at Casual mode. Playing games at the same intensity in law school is not particularly fun but I think that game wrapped up the entire Starcraft storyline quite well and I'm not too sure whether a Starcraft III would even be possible after this. 

Today, I finally completed the game but I am too too mentally tapped out to play anything else so I decided to get into some really serious instant gratification in the form of retail therapy - I went ahead and bought an Apple Pencil and Apple Keyboard from a friend who was willing to give it up at the same price as the Apple store. I guess this was a win-win deal, as I really don't want to pay a ridiculous amount on Carousell but really want to start doing some early semester 4 preparation this week with my ipad instead of my usual Macbook Air. 

After reeling the psychic damage of seeing my young and fabulous classmates leave the country to travel to places like Japan has forced my hand into erecting a psychological defence of my own. I, too, have to go to my happy place after my exams.The main event for me after my papers is taking my family to Beauty World which led to the idea for this article. Beauty world has strong nostalgic appeal for us kids who studied along Bukit Timah road in the 80s and 90s. 

Beauty World is going to see a resurgence of traffic due to the new Downtown Line but currently exists in a time capsule. Most of the stores I visited when I was a secondary school student are still there. I bought a Fallout 2 game for $5 from Beauty World Bookstore and found every excuse to buy some cheap toys from Grassland Book Store. 

One of things I ate there was Satay Bee-Hoon and I was very glad that it was able to capture the old taste of what Satay Bee Hoon should be. The modern interpretation of Satay Bee Hoon is too vile for me. It generally tastes like boiled rice noodles suspended in peanut sauce. At the Beauty World Food Centre, you can still find really good Satay Bee Hoon and herbal Mutton Soup for decent prices.

But what do we really mean by decent prices ? 

A satay bee hoon costs about $4 these days and the mutton soup with mixed organs costs about $8. ( Do note that this is still a hawker centre and not a food court. )

As a REIT investor, I can imagine what landlords who own the strata title units have been thinking these few years. With the downtown line bringing in more customers in the future, rents should have been on the upward climb of late, we can't even blame the hawkers for charging these prices. Instead, I believe that our food culture should be preserved and I see that in the future the labor costs of preparing the food will take centerstage with food like Satay Bee-Hoon seeing a price escalation beyond the rate of inflation in Singapore. 

Perhaps in the future, I speculate that the food landscape would be like this :

The low-end economy will continue to be serviced by economic rice, beehoon, Indian prata and thosai. Hawkers from China would be required to provide a valuable service for lower income groups so we can expect to continue to get Sze Chuan food at affordable prices. Its necessary to have this tier for every worker in the country. The new normal for food is going to be bleak and largely based on what foreign migrants bring to the table.

However, I expect food like Laksa, Satay Bee Hoon, Char Kway Teow, Oyster Omelette, and Sambal Fish to gradually push upwards in pricing to be on par with 'Melbourne' hipster food ( Which in my opinion is hilariously bland and uncreative ). Local food of this category are "kung fu" based, quite "leh-cheh" to prepare and genuine talent is required to cook up a good dish. On balance, as we Singaporeans are patriots when it comes to food, we have to be prepared to pay more so that these masters can aspire to a better lifestyle. Let's stop expecting hawkers to subsidise us and we should be willing to let them become millionaires too.

What this means is that our financial future would be different from our present even after accounting for inflation, if we wish to maintain a consistent allocation of our finances to food, we should expect a drop in quality. Otherwise, we could be looking at spending more.  

There are staples which we can order on a regular basis like economic rice and prata which would more or less continue to be affordable but a real treat like Satay Bee Hoon or Herbal Mutton Soup would be priced out of reach of a regular meal-goer as we expect to eat food like this as often as we visit the hipster cafes. I also expect a future where more people find it cheaper to prepare meals at home. 

As of now, I will be spending more time at the Bukit Timah shopping belt this holidays. It would only be a matter of time before the big developers will find a way to buy up the strata titled properties and the Beauty World of today would one day become yet another heartland mall with the standard Uniqlo, G2000,Cold Storage and Challenger outlets found in all the Heartland shopping centres. 

And that is what we call progress.


  1. Very good observations and I fully agree with you!

  2. i am waiting for Capland to come buy the empty plot (where the old beauty world was eons ago) to build a new mall.

  3. I have fond memories of this area too, but alas, I fear you are right and it's going to become a bigger version of rail mall...

  4. Indeed, the usual mix of retail stores within almost standardised look and feel malls make life so unexciting.

  5. I think for now, we should just all enjoy the Bukit Timah malls in their current state.

    I bet that if the developer buys up land, it would be Beauty World Itself as the MRT exit leads straight to it.

    The shop owners should be happy people moving forward.