SINGAPORE — The sound of metal pots clinking against ladles juxtaposed with the hissing of boiling water in the pot is a familiar, and somewhat comforting sound, for anyone grabbing a meal at a hawker centre.
STARTED LIVESTREAMING POKEMON CARD HOBBY
I decided to catch Mr Jeremy before the lunchtime crowd and dropped by on a Monday at 9.30am, but even then our chat was constantly interrupted with customers stopping by to order.
Once his livestream started at 11am, he had no time to speak to me, let alone look at his livestream or talk to the audience, as he whipped up bowl after bowl.
Speaking to me once the crowd had thinned out, the former insurance agent said that he got into the business about five years ago with his best friend who wanted to start a hawker stall selling fishball noodles.
However, two years later, he started Shuang Kou Mian on his own with the intention of providing affordable meals for diners.
“I grew up from poverty, and I’ve always hated the idea of wanting to eat something but being unable to afford it,” he said, explaining the rationale for the low price. “You think ‘maybe next time (I’ll be able to afford to eat this)’ but you know that actually ‘next time’ won’t come.”
While he recently had to increase the cost of his noodles due to rising cost of rent and food supplies, the price for a bowl of noodles still starts at S$3.90. If customers wish to purchase a free meal for someone in need, each bowl goes for S$2.50.
Ask what spurred him to start a livestream of himself cooking, and his answer is Pokemon cards.
“I actually wanted to do a food TikTok account but I didn’t know how to start. So I decided on starting off with Pokemon cards first,” he said, adding that opening Pokemon cards was a trend when he started last December.
“It was during my childhood when Pokemon was popular so I went back to the hobby of collecting cards.”
He would livestream himself opening card packs and selling cards. This is also where his username geturhits888 comes from — a “hit” is when a collector gets a rare Pokemon card.
About 20 people would watch his and many would often asking him to stream later into the night.
“I told them that I will be too worn out to work in the day, and they didn’t believe (being an hakwer) is that tiring, so I decided to stream (myself working) and show them,” he said.
“I was very surprised that the first stream attracted so many people, so I decided to continue livestreaming.”
As the views went up, he started streaming less about Pokemon cards and more about his life as a hawker.
TAKEAWAY CONTAINER TURNED PHONE STAND
Mr Jeremy admits he did have concerns about starting the livestream. Mistakes he makes while cooking are magnified as thousands watch him in action.
“I’m cooking for hours non-stop some days and my arm starts to ache. Sometimes I do make mistakes like accidentally dropping a bowl of noodles while tossing,” he said.
“But most viewers laugh in a positive way and no one will say anything nasty.”
As his livestream grew from hundreds to thousands of viewers over the past 10 months, Mr Jeremy has made some changes. This includes buying a mobile phone stand to film himself, rather than using a plastic container meant for takeaways.
Although he makes less than a dollar per stream, he bought a second mobile phone so that he can read comments and engage his audience when he is free.
As many of his viewers are from other countries including the United States and places across Southeast Asia, Mr Jeremy says they are curious about everything.
Questions include something as basic as what fishball noodles are, what fish cake is made from and why he needs four pots of boiling water.
But beyond showing people what hawker food in Singapore looks like, he hopes his stream will make people more understanding and patient with hawkers.
“People may hear how working in food and beverage line is tiring but to actually see how hectic it is… I think people will be more understanding and patient,” he said.
NEW FRIENDS FROM TIKTOK
I’m not the only one that Mr Jeremy has met from his TikTok fame. He has met up with his 20-or-so viewers from his Pokemon card days and is good friends with a viewer from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
She has designed his TikTok profile picture — a bowl of noodles with Pokemon balls as fishballs — and is a moderator for his livestreams.
And some viewers have visited his store to try his fishball noodles, including my editor and I. Mr Jeremy says what brings his customers back is his sambal, which he cooks about every five days.
He has now put his Pokemon cards aside, and hopes to grow his TikTok account as one dedicated to hawker food. While he is still unsure where he’ll go from here in terms of content, Mr Jeremy says he is exploring some ideas.
And similar to how he started his business by giving up his insurance agent career, he said: “Personally if I invest in something I would want to be hands-on and learn everything inside out.”
Orders kept streaming in as we spoke and the occasional ring announcing a new online order sets him rushing to cook up another bowl of noodles.
After speaking to him, I find myself with a deeper appreciation for hawkers like him, who put in so much effort to keep people fed at low prices.
I also find myself craving fishball noodles a lot more when I’m on my laptop.