20/10/11 I sent this email to the Straits Times editor:
It has been a long, tiring day: squashed in the Tube train first thing in the morning, research at university, department seminar, more library research, long journey home, prepared evening meal, back to school where son played a concert, prepared evening meal (again), supervised homework, etc. and then "Institutionalise hawker courses" on Straits Times online.
It woke me up!
Does the headline writer mean courses to institutionalize hawkers (ie how to put hawkers in an institution, usually implying they have committed a crime or needed to be institutionalized due to mental illness)?
Or does he/she mean running courses for hawkers so that they could become better (or betterer), more hygienic in practice, smarter in marketing, or more polite to customers, multi-lingual, etc?
In other words make them more professional?
When I finally got round to reading the letter I realized that the writer was, amongst other thoughts, calling for the Institute of Technical Education to run courses for hawkers, which I thought was a very good suggestion.
However the word "institutionalize" (I spell it with a "z") cannot be used in this context just because the name of an "Institute" has been invoked.
[The emphasis was added for this post.]
"Institutionalized" (usually in the past tense) means it has become identified with a certain act (ie normalized) or that a person has been incarcerated (ie put into an institution). Eg "institutionalized racism", so-and-so has been declared mentally unfit and needs to be "institionalized" for his own good.
Sure, we have the Raffles Institution, but one certainly does not refer to any of their alumni as being "institutionalized".
I doubt very much that Singaporeans would appreciate being locked up just so to get a licence to run a hawker stall.
An alternative headline?
I'm too tired to think of any.
Surprise, surprise, nochet got reply.
Please, Straits Times, teach our chewren well.
The original letter here:
Institutionalise hawker coursesMANY hawkers had no formal education when I grew up and yet, succeeded through sheer perseverance and hard work ('Who will operate stalls at new hawker centres?' by Mr Alvin Tan; Tuesday).
Many also grew wealthy. I believe there are still many citizens who are willing to be hawkers, judging from the number of those who work in retail assistant jobs and the food and beverage sector. The owner of casual dining chain Paradise Inn started out as a cook in a small coffee shop in an industrial estate in Defu Lane.
I patronise a stall selling cuttlefish kang kong at Bedok Hawker Centre opposite Bedok Camp. Its owner, Mr Peter, still runs the business handed down by his father since the 1950s.
The Institute of Technical Education or community clubs should consider starting a course for food stall operators.
I am confident the take-up rate will be overwhelming as there are now more young entrepreneurs keen to venture into the food business after seeing others succeed.
The humble hawker stall is a good starting point.