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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bak Kut Teh Science And Engineering

The other day I was buying bak kut teh ("pork bone tea" according to Wikipedia) for dinner over at Jurong West. The queue was long as I could see a lot of people waiting around the stall looking at the bak kut teh seller. Well I presumed they were waiting for their food instead of looking at him for fun.

Like the people there, I ordered my food and sat. As I waited, I looked around the stall. The stall only had 3 people. Two senior citizens (a lady and a guy) and a young man. The young man was the one cooking while the two senior staff were delivering the food. Hm...maybe it's because it would be dangerous for senior people to handle the hot bak kut teh soup. Maybe that's why the young man was the one doing the cooking. Also, from the look of his muscular hands, it seems that cooking bak kut teh requires a lot of strength.

So where's the science part? You know those rice tanks that stores rice (duh!)? Well, they managed to insulate it with styrofoam. Okay, it may look ordinary, but the thing is that not many hawker stalls around use styrofoam packaging for their rice tanks. Cool huh? That was thermodynamics 101 at work.

Then while I waited, I wondered how they managed to serve to so many people without missing an order or delivering food to the wrong person. Hm...as I observed them, the answer came.

You see, after the young man prepared a bak kut teh set, he would instruct one of the senior staff with such an instruction:

Young Man: This one arh, is for the auntie wearing specs and a checkered shirt sitting at the north-west of here. She's beside a young girl who is also wearing specs.

Cool man! This guy could join some detective squad. With such a description, it's pretty hard to miss the right customer. Further more, there was once I heard one of the senior staff saying this:

Senior staff: I know lah...you think I can't remember is it?

Whoa...even the senior staff could remember. I guess they do not need any Kumon training to do this. Admirable.

After waiting for awhile, my order came. Now here's the engineering part. I ordered two bak kut teh soup and two rice. I looked at the senior man and see how he was going to wrap my order. Is it going to be wrapped in two plastic bags? One plastic bag? Let's see.

He placed the soup container at the center inside the plastic bag. The two rice packets he placed at the sides of the central soup container. The second soup container he placed on top of the first soup container.

Wow...this impressed me. You see, that structure is pretty sound. The two rice packets at the sides act as shock absorbers while the sturdy plastic containers are stacked on top of each other. When he passed the plastic bag to me, I tried to shake the bag. You know how sometimes when you da-bao food and when you shake the plastic bag, the food / soup shakes and spills? Well, not for this one. There's civil engineering at work.

Here's the interesting part. As I walked towards the bus stop, I saw my bus coming so I ran after it. Also, it was a good opportunity for me to test the integrity of the senior uncle's packaging structure. As I ran, I could feel the food (soup and rice) moving about. However, the whole thing moved as a whole instead of individual packets wobbling. It must be those rice packets that act as shock absorbers!

I caught up with the bus and inspected my da-baoed food. There wasn't any spill. Cool! And that was how Science (Thermodynamics) and Engineering (Civil Engineering) was found in a humble bak kut teh stall in Jurong West.

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