Friday, 18 December 2020

Singapore's hawker culture added to UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage

Hawker Culture Is Singapore’s first Inscription on UNESCO’s Representative List Of The Intangible Cultural Heritage Of Humanity
By Clement Yong, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2020

Singaporean to the core, conjuring up sights and smells instantly recognisable to locals everywhere, the nation's hawker culture has been officially added to the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

In virtual proceedings that took place last night, a 24-member international committee unanimously accepted Singapore's application to have this tradition be internationally recognised.

The process took all of three minutes, after nearly three years of work by the National Heritage Board, the National Environment Agency and the Federation of Merchants' Associations. As Singapore's application fulfilled all criteria, it was decided that there was no need for debate on it at the 15th session of the intergovernmental committee.

The successful nomination means Singapore now has its first item on the intangible cultural heritage list, which currently has more than 460 entries, including yoga in India and Belgian beer.

It is also the country's second entry to any UNESCO list, with the first in 2015 when the Singapore Botanic Gardens was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Mr Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, in a pre-recorded video, told an international audience after the announcement last night: "Singapore's hawker culture is a source of pride for Singapore and all Singaporeans. It reflects our living heritage and multiculturalism, and is an integral part of the daily lives of everyone in Singapore regardless of age, race or background.

"I thank all our hawkers and Singaporeans for their overwhelming support of this nomination... We pledge to do our part to safeguard our intangible cultural heritage."

Having hawker culture on the list commits Singapore to protecting and promoting it. The country has to submit a report every six years to UNESCO, showing the efforts made to safeguard and transmit hawker culture to future generations.

Both President Halimah Yacob and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took to Facebook to thank those involved in the nomination process.

Madam Halimah said hawker culture has shaped Singaporean identity in many ways, and contributed to the diversity of Singapore's multicultural society.

PM Lee said the nomination journey had been a fruitful one. "The biggest thanks must go to the generations of hawkers for nourishing a nation's stomach and spirits. This recognition would not have come without their sweat, toil and dedication to their profession," he said.

The development is timely for the hawker sector here, which has in recent years found it difficult to attract young people to a trade that calls for 16-hour work days in hot, cramped stalls.

The authorities have sought, through traineeship programmes and monetary subsidies, to lower the barriers to entry for young aspiring hawkers. Since 2013, the median age for new entrants has been lowered to 46, although the overall median age for hawkers nationwide remains 59.

Singapore's submission - Hawker Culture In Singapore: Community Dining And Culinary Practices In A Multicultural Urban Context - was made in March last year, although preparations began earlier, in February 2018.

To celebrate the global recognition, the authorities said a three-week SG HawkerFest will be launched on Dec 26.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, activities will mostly take place online, including treasure hunts and quizzes that can be completed and then used to redeem vouchers that can be used at 29 participating hawker centres.

Singapore's UNESCO journey
By Clement Yong, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2020

February 2018

Singapore ratifies the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, as part of the country's first masterplan for the heritage and museum sector. Signing the convention allows Singapore to nominate items to the UNESCO list for intangible cultural heritage and signals the country's commitment to safeguarding its living cultures.

April 2018

The National Heritage Board, together with Singaporeans, generates an intangible cultural heritage inventory of more than 50 items. These are possible nominations to the list, and include getai, pilgrimages to Kusu Island and hawker culture.

August 2018

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announces in his National Day Rally speech that Singapore will be nominating hawker culture to the UNESCO list, calling hawker centres Singapore's "community dining rooms".

March 2019

Singapore submits the nomination documents to UNESCO for consideration. The application includes a form, a 10-minute video and 10 photos depicting hawker culture.

November 2020

A 12-member evaluation body comprising experts on intangible cultural heritage gives glowing reviews of Singapore's application. It recommends that the intergovernmental committee, which will make the final decision, inscribe hawker culture on the list.

December 2020

The intergovernmental committee unanimously accepts the addition of hawker culture in Singapore to the UNESCO list. Singapore will submit a report once every six years to UNESCO to document how it has been ensuring hawker culture's survival.

Singapore hawkers hope inclusion in UNESCO's intangible heritage list will keep sector thriving
By Malavika Menon, The Straits Times, 17 Dec 2020

Singaporeans have hailed the news yesterday that the country's hawker culture has been inscribed on the UNESCO intangible heritage list, with some hawkers hoping it will bring more tourists to their stalls and keep the sector alive and thriving after the pandemic.

The historic moment has been hotly anticipated for nearly three years, and around 10pm yesterday, the news was announced by the intergovernmental committee in charge of the final verdict.

Hawker trainee Lim Min Jie, 34, said the inscription would put Singapore's hawker culture on the world food map.

"Once the Covid-19 pandemic has passed, people are going to start travelling and through this inscription, more might visit Singapore to discover our hawker culture. It will definitely benefit us in the long run."

Mr Lim said experienced hawkers have taught him new skills and he now better understands the relevant practices.

"The hawker culture is not alien to me as I have seen hawkers in my family cooking since I was young. My mentors helped me understand how to address such aspects as supply, finance and manpower," he added.

A two-minute video that was aired after the announcement featured hawkers and patrons speaking about what hawker culture meant to them.

Ms Karney Ngai, chairman of Yuhua Village Market and Food Centre, said: "Hawker centres are more than just an eating space. They are community dining rooms where Singaporeans from all walks of life come together."

Another hawker named Mrs Sheikh, who runs O'Braim Express at Our Tampines Hub Hawker Centre, said: "As a young hawker who is passionate about hawker culture, I hope this UNESCO recognition inspires others to join me in carrying on this important part of Singapore's cultural heritage."

Dr Jack Lee, president of the Singapore Heritage Society and a member of the nomination committee, said the inscription highlights the value of the hawker trade in Singapore.

"Although hawker culture is something we may take for granted, the inscription helps us recognise that hawker culture in Singapore is valuable and worthy of recognition.

"I'm hoping this will spur people to think about joining the industry and consider its sustainability in the future," he added.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun, who regularly references local food in his social media posts on the state of the economy, said the recognition could help in branding and monetisation efforts for hawkers.

While hawker culture can be advertised in a global context as a unique aspect of Singapore, he said, it was important to consider how locals could play their part in boosting the sector amid a pandemic.

He added: "Hawker culture has gained traction even prior to this recognition, and it is important to consider how this can be a viable career alternative and locals can appreciate paying for it as an intangible cultural asset."

Singaporeans cheer UNESCO recognition for hawker culture
They say inscription on cultural heritage list is a national feat, overdue and well-deserved
By Clement Yong, The Straits Times, 18 Dec 2020

Getting Singapore's hawker culture on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was a national feat, and was overdue and well-deserved, said Singaporeans The Straits Times spoke to yesterday, a day after the nomination was accepted by the world body's inter-governmental committee.

Singaporeans spoke of hawker centres' unique atmosphere and food diversity. "I have spent almost every day of my last 10 years eating at hawker centres," said Ms Kelly Ng, who is in her 50s.

The former IT worker noted the stalls she loves at the Ghim Moh Food Centre - the chicken rice stall in the corner and the fried chicken seller in the first row. She said that all her years of eating at hawker centres have given her an "exquisite palate".

Her claim is not unusual in Singapore, which prides itself on its reputation as a foodie nation.

The hawker culture inscription is Singapore's first on the list.

Grab driver Jeffrey Chua, 60, said food at hawker centres tastes better than what is served at other food and beverage outlets.

"Hawkers cook it themselves and prepare the ingredients themselves, unlike (what is) cooked at central kitchens and distributed everywhere," he said.

Ms Kidd Teo, 44, said hawker centres' uniqueness lies in the ambience, with no fine dining restrictions. "You can sweat, order a beer and the people here are easy-going," she said.

During a walk to thank hawkers at the Ghim Moh Food Centre yesterday, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu emphasised that the cultural milestone has relevance to all Singaporeans, whatever their profession.

She said it gives "a very young country... something to anchor our national identity with".

"(Hawker centres) didn't close throughout the pandemic and provided very essential food, nourishment and also a bit of a social anchoring for Singaporeans," she said. "I think this inscription is a call for all Singaporeans to step forward, to help us promote, sustain this culture.

"They can do so by recommending good food to one another (and) to their friends abroad. They can also help us keep the place clean after they have used the place because we do want this place to be one we are proud of."

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, who had spoken in a pre-recorded video to the international community on Wednesday night after Singapore achieved the recognition, said that hawker culture should never be taken for granted.

"Hawker culture is so much more than just about the food. It tells us a bit about the history, the heritage of the food... It is also a gathering point for people from all walks of life," he said. "I think that is something we should cherish. It is a very beautiful symbol of what we are as a country."

Mr Ronak Robert, 24, agreed. The civil servant is confident Singaporeans will still brave the heat and rain for hawker food, even as more buildings become air-conditioned. "More than an overseas body recognising our hawkers, I hope us Singaporeans can have a renewed sense of appreciation for the craft of our hawkers," he said.


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