Why I’m Quitting

I get asked all the time why I don’t operate at more markets or do more events and festivals. This is the first time I’m speaking about this in public. My online videos, TV appearances and travel are not so much exercises in vanity as they were a conscious decision made 2 ½ years ago to recalibrate my brand away from physical food production and towards the digital sphere.

This is the reason why I’ve been scaling back – 

Ever since Noah was discharged from the ICU over 2 years ago, I’ve brought him with me to all my markets and festivals. And from Day 1, I have been subjected to attempts to have him removed from these settings. Sometimes it’s members of the public expressing their disapproval, other times it is market organisers outright banning him (eg. at Hyde Park Night Noodle Markets last year).

I like to think of this as a clash of cultures. A large segment of the Australian public feels strongly about the separation of work and family. They think I’m shortchanging Noah by bringing him along to work.

They think I should be spending quality time with him at home, or paying a nanny $25 per hour to look after him offsite. Sometimes the issue of workplace safety is brought up as the reason, even though Noah is not kept within the confines of my stall where the cooking is done, but rather in a portable cot outside its perimeter.

The organisers of Orange Grove Farmers’ Market have ALWAYS been supportive of Noah’s presence at this event and for that, I will forever be grateful.

This is the reason, in fact, why OGM is one of only 2 markets at which I still operate. Unfortunately when I posted about my imminent withdrawal from OGM yesterday, there was some backlash against the organisers from well-meaning supporters of my business; I need to clarify the problem is not with OGM’s management and I will continue to support the market long after I leave.

I received a phonecall yesterday – a heads-up, if you will, that a member of the public has been attempting to rally support to have Noah removed from OGM over the last month.

They’ve not approached me about it – I don’t know who they are – but rather the stallholders (some of whom I consider friends) around me. Apparently they’ve gained some traction and their next step is to lodge an official complaint. I’m guessing that Child Protection Services will be notified about my activities.

For this reason, I’ve decided to quit OGM after fourteen years of trading at this market. If this were a one-off I would probably have resisted, but as mentioned above, this is a process of attrition that has been taking place over the last 2.5 years since Noah left the hospital.

Remember the FB photo of the little Filipino kid who was doing his homework by the light of the McDonald’s next to his mom’s hawker stall? I think the Australian public sees Noah that way, and feels he should be removed from such hardship. Contrary to some of the online outrage that Noah is being discriminated against because of his disability, I think this person thinks they’re looking out for him BECAUSE of it. I don’t really know I guess; like I said, they’ve never approached me about it.

You know what’s ironic about the situation? The Filipino kid’s reality isn’t far removed at all from my own upbringing back in the day in Malaysia – my parents started out as street food vendors and we grew up around the family business.

For the record my family is made up of high-achieving, productive members of society who bear no scars from having had to hang out with mom and dad at work 7 days a week. Some of our best dinner table stories revolve around our Odeon cinema canteen (dad’s stall) exploits.

Noah’s favourite day of the week is Saturday at OGM.

Often when I pull up at the market he starts giggling with delight as he realises where we are. He loves interacting with the customers. He loves walking around the market.

My staff and I take turns to break up his day with visits to the miniature ponies and the jumping castle and to say hello to the other stallholders.

Baby Noah is going to miss OGM.

My biggest concern now is for my staff and how I can replace their income through a different gig that does not bring us under this scrutiny.

As for me, after 14 years of 4am starts, I’m kind  of looking forward to sleeping in on Saturdays.

Baby Noah at the markets

Baby Noah at the markets

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Read more…

SBS News (July 2015) Interview: Mother quits market stall after complaints about son with Down Syndrome.

Daily Life (July 2015) Interview: When the urge to ‘protect’ a child is really a judgement.

The Daily Telegraph (July 2015) Interview: Chef and mum quits Orange Grove Markets after complaints about her Down syndrome son.

Daily Mail Australia (July 2015) Interview: ‘The stall was his favourite day of the week’: Single mum devastated as she is forced to close down her market stall because people complained about her Down’s syndrome son who she takes to work with her.

The Huffington Post (July 2015) Kunden beschwerten sich über den Sohn einer Imbiss-Mitarbeiterin, weil sie seinen Anblick nicht ertragen konnten.

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