The Summit has undergone a seismic change. When you once attacked that fried chicken drumstick to the dramatic symphony of faint classical music playing in the background, you now devour mee-pok to a familiar melody that happens to be in your iTunes playlist. With fruit juice and a wide variety of fruits readily available (if you have the patience to queue), you are finally able to meet your daily recommended intake of two servings of fruit and vegetables while in school. The canteen vendors now wear a bright green polo-tee emblazoned with a logo of The Summit. And then you notice them: the two fresh-faced young ladies, seemingly anomalous additions to the familiar faces behind the counter.
You observe them. You’re curious. The quintessential canteen vendor is a chatty, jolly woman in her mid-forties–someone you call auntie when you order your kopi-peng siu dai. A typical law student would not reasonably expect to see a bright-eyed lady from his age-group handing over a pack of tuna sandwich from behind the cash register. Questions and speculations abound.
It is past eight on a Friday night when the lights in The Summit go off. Operations ceases for the day. Vivien apologizes for “taking so long” as she approaches our table. Soon after, Cheryl joins us, offering complimentary fruit juices as bribery for us to go easy on them. We laud them for their commendable attempt. The two ladies have agreed to be interviewed, but right now, one can sense a slight tinge of oh-dear-what-did-we-get-ourselves-into as they both settle into the seats opposite us, ready to answer our questions.
For starters, Vivien takes your orders at the Western stall, while Cheryl occasionally prepares your apple-yakult juice. We have to ask what was on everyone’s mind: what are two ladies in their mid-twenties doing here in The Summit, donning aprons and dishing out food?
Vivien, 24, says simply: “I like working in a kitchen!” She had graduated with a degree in psychology, and had first worked as a teacher at a special education school for children with learning needs. She shares with us that her next job was at the environmental office at NUS, before her present stint at The Summit.
Cheryl explains that she and her parents, as the main operators of The Summit, are responsible for its general affairs. Although only at the tender age of 23, Cheryl is no novice when it comes to work and business. After graduating from polytechnic, she worked as a real estate agent for a few years before hitting the books once again. Currently, she is pursuing not just a degree in Business at Singapore Management University, but also her dreams of managing an F&B business. “We took up the [business management of] The Summit because I am interested in doing business–the “zi char” business in particular. However, there was no good lobang until this. I jumped at the opportunity of operating The Summit. I roped in Vivien because we have been good friends since our Poly days!”
When asked about her plans for The Summit, Cheryl begins to talk business. “Our aim,” she says confidently, speaking in a manner not unlike a mooter presenting her case, “was to provide quality yet affordable food. That is why we are particular with our vendors like Adam Road Fishball Noodles. I believe such a change has already been implemented.” However, she is not looking to rest on her laurels, and acknowledges that more can be done. “We are potentially looking to bring in other good vendors because I have received feedback that the food quality can be improved. I think this is something we have to constantly consider.”
Cheryl becomes serious when she shares with us her plans for the future. “The Summit is like our baby; it is here that we want to hone our management experience and skills, with a view to expanding our business to other places such as schools and institutions. “ Clearly passionate about her business venture, she demonstrates shrewd business acumen when we ask them about their favourite items on the menu. As Vivien pauses to ponder, Cheryl whispers: tell them your most expensive item. Under undue influence, Vivien proceeds to announce that she likes the grilled fish best.
She then quips, “But seriously, I like my Tuna Melt!”
The two share with us their daily routine. Vivien starts to prepare her ingredients at about 7 in the morning, with the first customer coming in soon after. The time she closes her stall depends on the customer volume, although it is typically around 7.30pm. Cheryl is usually around unless she has lessons; “I usually help out with whatever I can around here like manning the cashier, blending the juices and clearing the trays, but I’m mostly busy managing the place and closing the accounts at the end of the day.”
Fairly acquainted, the interrogation starts. We try to pry beyond The Summit: “Traffic light status?”
There is an awkward pause.
“Vivien,” begins Cheryl cheekily, “is evergreen like The Summit polo tee.” Almost immediately, Vivien retorts, “And Cheryl is greener than evergreen!”
Undeterred, we ask what they think of guys in Law School. Both fall silent to the croaks of crickets in the night. Cheryl volunteers her opinion: generally, the guys here give a better first impression than those from the main campus and the profile is actually quite similar to that of SMU. Agreeing, Vivien adds that she finds it easier to talk to the guys here because they converse in English. “There are definitely less ‘ah bengs’ here. Plus, the guys carry themselves better than those from Kent Ridge.”
Somewhere out there, a glimmer of hope kindles in some male NUS Law Student.
“Moving on,” we proceed, “what is your most interesting experience working at The Summit thus far? For example, has any guy hit on you?” The two are engaged in a friendly banter, and their camaraderie is evident when Cheryl betrays Vivien to let slip about the “egg mayo guy”. Defenceless, Vivien narrates her encounter.
Vivien: There was this mature student who used to buy egg mayo sandwich from me every day. One day, my sister, who was manning the stall, asked him if he really liked the sandwich or was it because I was good looking. From that day onwards, he never came back.
Vivien turns towards Cheryl. It is now time for revenge.
Cheryl: I…I don’t really have any interesting experience here.
Q: Is it because you don’t spend as much time at The Summit…Or are you lying?
Vivien nudges Cheryl.
Cheryl: Which one…. (Her voice trails off.)
Q: There is more than one?!
Vivien: (To Cheryl) That guy lah.
Cheryl: He is just a friend!
Vivien: Still juicy what
Cheryl: (Defeated) Okay fine.
Cheryl admits, “There have been several occasions where guys have asked me for their numbers and sometimes it’s not nice to reject them because I may possibly be seeing them every day. They text me but sometimes I don’t reply them… it all starts with a normal conversation asking me stuff like if I’m a part-time worker or I’m a student. Sometimes when I am in the mood or when I have time, I will chat with them but when I’m not, I usually kill the conversation with ‘I’m a part time worker’. They then continue asking me for my name… and eventually my number. There was one guy who invited me to a party too. Some even offer to help me with my schoolwork and all sorts of funny things.”
We raise our eyebrows, interest piqued. Cheryl quickly offers a justification: “I think it’s because we’re younger so people are interested in chatting with us. Everybody has an impression that hawkers are old aunties and uncles!”
Vivien gleefully announces, “I’m too busy running in and out of the kitchen so nobody bothers asking me for my number!”
We then turn to the frivolous philosophical issues to see how our two lovely ladies pit against the Miss Universe contestants.
Q: If you could be an animal, what would you be?
Vivien: I would be my dog Poppy; he’s a Maltese and a Shih Tzu cross-breed. He’s cute and he’s pampered
Cheryl: (Looking very serious) I guess…I behave like a monkey? But I don’t even want to be a monkey! (Pauses, still very deep in thought) I think the inner me would want to be a panda and just sit in a corner and eat my bamboo.
Q: Being a woman is better than being a man because…?
There was a pregnant pause. (No pun intended.)
Q: Don’t tell me you two prefer being…guys?
Cheryl: This might be a bold assumption, but I think that women are better than men because we can multitask better. Also, I’m not sure which part of their body they think with, but women seem to do it better!
Vivien: We women think with our brains and with our hearts. Men think with…whatever makes them think! (Laughs cheekily)
Our conversation soon comes to an end. As we head back towards Block B, we ask Vivien and Cheryl where they are heading. Their answer: home, to rest. Tomorrow is Saturday, yet another day of work at The Summit.
The next time you scale The Summit for sustenance, say hi to Vivien and Cheryl. As you tuck into your delicious grilled fish and sip on refreshing strawberry-soursop juice, take a moment to appreciate the efforts of these two ladies. Cheryl and Vivien are two motivated young adults who are willing to take risks and work hard to reach their goals. They have taken the road less travelled– breaking stereotypes, as well as a few hearts, along the way. To you, The Summit may be a place for meals. For them, The Summit is a stepping stone towards their dreams. May The Summit reach greater heights!
Article contributed by: Jolene Ng (Law 2)
Photography by: Joyce Ng (Law 2)
*Special thanks to Vivien and Cheryl for agreeing to be featured, and credits to Timon Chiong (Law 2) for helping out with the interview.