By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
I was at my favourite mee goreng (fried noodles) stall along Jalan Yang Kalsom recently and, as I always do, ordered a plate of mee goreng. And as a form of goodwill I placed an order for a packet of mee rebus, packed the usual way. I have been patronising the stall since 1988 when I was posted to Ipoh upon assuming command of the Ranger battalion at Camp Syed Putra.
A huge fan of wok-fired mee goreng and mee rebus (the Mamak variety), I had, until then, been frequenting a particular stall at Padang Browne in Penang to have my fix. This came to a halt when my wife introduced me to Ibrahim, the owner of Cathay Mee Stall, at the kopitiam opposite the Jalan Yang Kalsom traffic lights. Ibrahim bowled me over and I have been his numero uno fan ever since.
Today, Ibrahim’s son has taken over the running of the stall from his ailing father. Business is unusually brisk. The stall opens at noon and closes at around 8pm when everything on the shelves is sold. If you come around lunchtime don’t dream of getting your mee goreng on time. A heavy-set lady assistant, who doubles as a cook, will politely tell you to wait if you insist on your plate of mee goreng at double-quick time. “Sorry Pak Cik, mee goreng kena tunggu satu jam. Mee rebus dan rojak okay” (Sorry, uncle. You’ve to wait an hour for mee goreng but mee rebus and rojak okay).
Niceties aside, the objective of my introduction to fried noodles is to highlight the escalating cost of living and how it has impacted Malaysians in a big way. Reality has a way of hitting you squarely in the face when you least expect.
The bill for my late afternoon lunch came to RM11. That was the cost of two plates for noodles, one eaten on the spot and the other ta-pau (packed). Back in 1988 a plate cost only RM1.50 now it is RM5.50. Coughing out RM11 may not mean anything to some but to a daily-rated labourer or a lowly-paid clerk, down on his luck, the amount is considered astronomical. He or she may skip eating Mamak mee altogether. Even the popular Maggi instant noodles now costs RM1 a packet from its erstwhile price of 30 sen. Things are definitely not cheap anymore.
Let’s take Ibrahim’s mee goreng for example. It cost RM4.80 a plate in December 2016 but it is RM5.50 today, an increase of 70 sen barely four months into the New Year. You may think it is ridiculous but it is the same scenario at all food courts in the city. Cost of cooked food has gone up by at least 20 per cent, across the board.
And what contributes to this imbalance? There are a number of reasons. The oft-quoted ones by stall or restaurant owners are: the imposition of GST (Goods and Services Tax), depreciating value of the ringgit, business too competitive and prices of ingredients have spiralled out of control. Some have even pinned the blame on an insensitive government which is more biased towards corporations and big businesses while ignoring the plight of the ordinary folks in the streets.
The weekly adjustment in petrol prices is not making things any easier. Since the new pricing system took effect on Thursday, March 30, prices of goods and services are going up in tandem with the price change. This caused many to question the methodology used in determining the price adjustment. When crude oil price is heading south, petrol and diesel prices are going up. There is something wrong with the pricing mechanism.
Price change is not confined to food alone. My other favourite stop is the DIY (Do It Yourself) shop on the way to my house. I stopped by the shop recently to buy an LED bulb. It cost me RM14 a piece. A week later I stopped by the same shop and bought a similar bulb. It cost me RM15.50 this time around. I asked why the sudden change and the answer I got was a dead ringer, “The bulb is an imported item.” How is one going to know whether the item he or she buys is imported or made locally? Unless you ask. And how many of us bother to question the seller’s wisdom other than to swallow everything – hook, line and sinker.
A recent survey by a media agency ascertained the declining value of our battered ringgit vis-à-vis the Singapore dollar. Fifty Singapore Dollar (S$50) spent at a Johore Baru supermarket got the buyer some 17 household items while Fifty Malaysian Ringgit (RM50) spent at the same supermarket got the buyer only nine items. Says plenty about the worth of our ringgit.
By Fathol Zaman Bukhari