For more than 20 years, Mdm Quek Keow Tee, 66, would wake up at 2.45am, preparing herself for a busy day ahead at the Mei Ling Market & Food Centre, where she ran a popular breakfast stall with her husband, Mr Ong.
“We would reach our stall before 4am and start preparing our food items for the day,” Mdm Quek shares. “We only pack up at around 3 to 4pm in the afternoon, when we are done with cleaning and preparing ingredients for the next day.”
Having forged friendships with fellow stall-owners and regular customers, Mdm Quek hopes to return to manning the hawker stall eventually.
Twelve-hour days were common for the couple, who have been married for 48 years. It was a fortuitous turn of events that brought Mdm Quek to the F&B scene. “I was working in a shipping company over 20 years ago, and they were going through a period of redundancy,” she explains. “I decided to leave and join my husband in managing the stall, as it was difficult for him to find reliable workers too.”
Simple Joys in Life
An affable and candid lady, Mdm Quek openly admits that cooking is not something she is particularly interested in. “But my husband loves cooking,” she says of Mr Ong, whose signature dishes include mee siam and steamed pumpkin and yam cakes.
Steamed cakes were part of the staple lineup at the couple’s stall.
The couple’s daily routine came to a halt several months ago, when Mr Ong’s condition started deteriorating. He had been diagnosed with cancer about five years ago, and was finding it increasingly difficult to manage the long hours of being a hawker.
Mdm Quek and Mr Ong on a family vacation in Hokkaido, before the pandemic hit.
With just short months left, Mr Ong simply wanted to spend the remaining time in the comfort of home. Each morning, Mdm Quek faithfully heads out to buy his favourite dishes for breakfast and attends to his needs throughout the day. “He’s quite picky about food, so sometimes I have to travel a bit further to get what he wants,” she shares.
Mdm Quek’s dedication is not lost on HCA Nurse Manager Liew Tse Pei, who visits the Ong household at least once a week to check on Mr Ong’s condition. “Mr Ong’s nursing care needs have increased over the recent months, but Mdm Quek patiently manages all of the caregiving duties, like managing his confusion at night and administering injections,” she says. “It is always heartwarming whenever I hear her share about how she decided to become a hawker together with her husband, trying out new recipes together.
Mdm Quek was just 19 years old when she married Mr Ong, who is her former classmate’s brother. “One day, he asked me out for a meal when I was at my classmate’s place – that’s how I fell into the trap,” she laughs.
The young couple loved exploring different local attractions together.
The young lovebirds would go on their self-organised local tours to different attractions, like the now-defunct Gay World Amusement Park and Changi Beach Park for barbecues.
The Ong family, on a vacation back in 1987.
After the couple got married in 1975, they went on to have three sons. “My husband was a workaholic, but we always made time to go out together as a family, in search of good food,” she says.
Perhaps what moved Mdm Quek the most was her husband’s unwavering acceptance of her family. “My parents were getting on in age, and he readily welcomed them to move in with us,” she says. “It takes a big heart.”
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