I love mee pok. There are few dishes as satisfying or as filling, and a dash of extra pork lard crisps never hurts.
But the noodle dish always reminds me of the story of the Mee Pok Man.
When we first started living in Bishan in 1986, the estate was still very young and there was only one coffeeshop. There weren’t many stalls in this kopitiam and the most prominent one was the mee pok stall and its red utensils.
Fronted by a moustachioed man in his 30s, the stall was ridiculously popular. I would sit there and wait nearly 20 min for my noodles to arrive. Or I would stand and wait for my plastic packet (which I would always love to clean out with the wooden chopsticks)
It never bothered me much though, because the noodles were always so spicy and springy to the bite.
But one day, Mr Mee Pok stopped cooking, and his younger brother took over. The latter’s noodles was inferior and the meatballs didn’t taste the same.
One day, the younger guy stopped cooking too. The stall shut down after about 5 years in operation.
Several years later, my mum told me that she had asked the younger brother what had happened to them.
He said, “My brother smoked a lot, and he got a stroke. Every time I cook the mee pok, I feel like crying, so I just had to stop cooking.”
Fast forward to 2002. I was at the National Stadium shooting the TNP Big Walk (if I remember correctly) and there was a group of disabled people at one side of the stadium.
As I took their picture, I noticed someone in the group staring hard at me.
He was crippled, his speech was slurred, and his shoulders bore the weight of his agony, but I had found Mr Mee Pok once again.
He said, “I know you. You used to buy noodles from me. You’ve grown up already I see.”
I was so happy to see him again, but the joy was dismantled by the obvious suffering he had gone through in the past decade. His wife gave me a weak smile, and I made some small talk.
Then it was on with our lives once again.