FOR the past one week, I have been avoiding the hawker centre I usually drop by once or twice a week for my breakfast.
I will probably avoid eating there if I can, until the festive air has blown over by Chap Goh Meh, like I have always done over the years.
In case you are wondering why, it is because the hawker centre and several around the neighbourhood have raised prices. I find this practice rather unpalatable but let me explain why.
In the decades past, during the Chinese New Year period, supplies were scarce. A majority of the workers down the supply chain were Chinese and most of them would be going for their long annual breaks. From farm hands to lorry drivers and dock workers, they would be on long leave.
Even if the suppliers had their stocks, there would be no one to transport the goods to the shops and consumers. During such times, food vendors and restaurant operators had to go the extra mile by sourcing their own supplies. One way of doing this was by paying more for the supplies than they usually would, with the additional costs passed on to their customers.
Those days, most helpers at Chinese restaurants and food stalls were local Chinese who would be taking a long break too . Sometimes they would only return to work by the 10th day or even after Chap Goh Meh.
The only way their bosses could entice them to come back early was by paying overtime and this extra cost, too, was passed on to customers.
Because of the difficulty in getting supplies and manpower shortage, including the fact that not many Chinese eateries remained open during the first few days of the New Year, food prices were raised. Usually it was 50 sen for a plate of food and 10 sen for drinks, but from experience, there were some who had charged me more.
Having celebrated the Lunar New Year in towns small and big, I noticed that not every Chinese eatery operator who opened during the festive period charged high prices. Only those operating in areas with extraordinarily high demand like in tourist belts and where eateries are scarce, would do so, holding customers to ransom.
In those days, customers had very little choice. For many, it was acceptable because of the difficulty of getting supplies or manpower shortage.
These days, both no longer hold true. If wet markets are not open during the Chinese New Year, hypermarkets and supermarket chains usually are.
The question of lack of supplies to justify an unreasonable price increase is without basis. You can even find vegetable and fish on the very first day of Chinese New Year in supermarkets these days.
While it is a case of a free market and eateries are at liberty to price their dishes, consumers should exercise their rights to ensure fair pricing.
You should not pay high prices for food during the Chinese New Year if you can find a fast food joint or a mamak restaurant within smelling distance.
Paying higher prices for food in Chinese eateries is not a festive tradition or a tacit contract, and you should not treat it as such.