RICE Digest: Singapore Goes Mask Off on Trains and Hawker Food Prices
Top image: Zachary Tang / RICE File Photo.

RICE Digest is our weekly news roundup where we provide level-headed commentary and (hopefully) some fodder for your dinner table conversations.

February 13 is a day not many in Singapore will ever forget. Gone are the days when some of us dread boarding a packed bus during peak hours. It’s not that we’ll see lesser crowds (unfortunately) but it’s the fact that masks are officially off!

How are Singaporeans reacting to this? We find out, along with their reactions to rising hawker food prices and Grab’s response to public perceptions.

Public Transport, Unmasked

Image: Zachary Tang/RICE File Photo.

Quoting the immortal words of Kurt Tay: Oh it’s true! It’s true! It’s real! It’s real!

Singapore has officially changed its disease alert level for COVID-19 to its lowest since 2020. We can now take the public trains and buses sans masks, putting an end to a mustier experience for a lot of us.

But let’s be real: We’re not in a post-COVID era. It’s still around. People are still queueing up for their booster shots, and your colleague could have posted on Slack this morning that they “might have COVID liao”.

Yet, there’s a lot to celebrate. Singapore is not necessarily a cool, breezy country (both in climate and in, uh, social temperament). If we’re ducking from the blazing sun outside post-CNY chill, we might find ourselves squeezing into a train, where the MRT air-conditioning barely suffices for throngs of tired bodies.

We remain a vigilant nation, as CNA reported today—they found most morning commuters still abiding by ye olde rules. Some professed a general sense of social responsibility (great!), while others just need some time to adjust to yet another new normal. Whatever it is, it’s a new dawn for Singapore. Let’s hope things keep moving on up from here.

Hawker Hikes

Image: Zachary Tang / RICE File Photo.

We’re not still living with COVID, we’re adjusting to living with another disease: Inflation. Prices are indeed rising all around, from our daily meals to our electricity bills. We’ve not yet hit a full-blown recession, but we’re not out of the woods just yet.

Amidst all this, what’s been an ongoing gripe amongst Singaporeans? The price of food, of course. The little things add up, whether it’s adding milk to a bowl of fish soup, or syrup to beancurd.

The Straits Times sought to uncover the price hikes—to sniff around and find out if these pricier delights are the result of increased GST, or hawkers simply taking advantage of a precarious economy.

The answer isn’t straightforward and we’ll at least continue to see higher prices for everyday food for the time being. Shrinking food portions are real too, according to a RICE colleague whose hawker mum ran a dessert stall in Tekka Centre. Where all of this leads us to is up in the air.

Some kitchens have been resolute in keeping prices low—like this incredible laksa stall owner—while price increments have been managed individually. One thing’s for sure: Hawkers shouldn’t be the ones bearing the costs of a rocky economic climate.

To Grab a Job

Image: Tin Pei Ling / Facebook

MacPherson MP Tin Pei Ling made headlines over the past few weeks when it was announ– you know what, you already know what we’re talking about.

Well, it was recently decided by tech giant Grab that the politician will remain under their employ. No longer will she be their director of affairs and policy, though. She’s now under a “corporate development” role, which is said to have no bearing on Grab’s public affairs and policy work. Nor will she represent Grab in public policy discussions with government officials.

“My reason for joining Grab holds firm, to support its social mission of creating economic empowerment for everyone, and I look forward to playing my part,” the MP remarks.

So complaining does work, apparently! The alleged conflict of interest riled up enough voices to spark a shift faster than you can tell a Grab driver on the phone “No, I’m on the other side of the road. I’m not sure why your GPS directed you there. You can take a u-turn to come find me. No, sorry, I can’t cross the road! Very sorry!

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