'I tried not to break down in front of my parents': Man, 31, quits job as sailor after cancer diagnosis, now runs mookata stall

'I tried not to break down in front of my parents': Man, 31, quits job as sailor after cancer diagnosis, now runs mookata stall
PHOTO: AsiaOne, Yak Kin Mookata

2022 was a turning point for Chua Wei Hao, currently the partner of food joint Yak Kin Mookata.

Back then, he was a seafarer and had no clue that his future would end up with him working late nights in the food industry.

But a health scare in the middle of 2022 meant that Wei Hao had to rethink his life and career path.

What began as an episode of high fever soon turned into a lymphoma diagnosis.

According to National University Cancer Institute Singapore, lymphoma is a type of cancer that starts in infection-fighting white blood cells which are part of the body's immune system.

It is often found in people aged 60 or older.

Wei Hao was 29 when he was diagnosed with lymphoma.

How it all unravelled

Wei Hao told AsiaOne that his diagnosis was not a straightforward one as he initially experienced a week of high fever and cold sweats at night.

The following week, he began to notice bruises appearing on his body.

A trip to the A&E did little to help as doctors passed it off as either a "normal" fever or dengue fever.

But Wei Hao ended up being admitted to National University Hospital as the medical professionals began running more tests, from blood tests to a skin biopsy.

He braced himself for the worst.

"I noticed something was weird. They [the doctors] knew something wasn't right, I could feel it," he said.

It was only at the one-month mark of being hospitalised did his worst fears materialise.

When the doctors broke the news of his cancer diagnosis, Wei Hao recalled not wanting to be overly emotional.

"I tried not to break down in front of my parents," the 31-year-old confessed.

He clearly remembered his parents requesting for their son to be transferred to a different hospital, in hopes that it was a false diagnosis.

Unfortunately, there was no running away from the truth. 

Another crushing blow was that there is no recovering from lymphoma.

The prescribed medication, prednisolene and cyclosporine, can only "suppress the cancer cells from spreading".

Out at sea

Because of his health condition, Wei Hao's career as a seafarer was in jeopardy.

Medical professionals recommended that, as a precaution, it might be best for him to quit the job. 

But this was a tough decision to make. Wei Hao had invested time and money, going through courses at Wavelink Maritime Institute (WMI), to be a seafarer.

Furthermore, it was a fulfilling job that he enjoyed, and the decent wages didn't hurt either.

Wei Hao revealed that a captain's pay can go up to US$10,000 (S$13,300) a month.

Ultimately though, he did heed the doctors' advice. 

"One thing [I miss] is the sunrise. Getting the best views of the sea, and sometimes, I could even see whales and sea lions," he said, remembering his most treasured moments out at sea.

Having let go of this profession, Wei Hao needed to find a different path.

And much like his choice to become a seafarer, his decision to join the food and beverage sector was one out of left field, too.

From regular customer to business partner

Tucked along Neil Road, opposite a popular American fast-food chain outlet, sits Yak Kin Mookata.

Wei Hao was previously a regular at their Bencoolen outlet and jumped at the opportunity to become a business partner when it came up.

He now runs the Neil Road branch and has spent $40,000 setting up the stall.

Given that it's currently a one-man show, Wei Hao's daily routine can seem rather gruelling.

Work starts at 1.30pm and for the next hour, he'll source for ingredients before making his way to the stall.

Prep work begins immediately as he aims to start operations at 5pm sharp before taking in the last order at 2am.

"At 3am, I start doing a bit of paperwork," Wei Hao said, citing examples such as his daily sales report.

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While that might come across as a tad bit overwhelming, he feels that being a seafarer has given him the mental capacity to tackle the challenges of running a mookata stall.

For one, working odd hours is expected when on board a ship so there's no need for Wei Hao to acclimatise there.

When asked to name the toughest challenge in running Yak Kin Mookata, he mentioned stocktaking.

Wei Hao explained that meats have to be marinated for "at least one day" before it is served to customers, so this requires him to be diligent and constantly on the ball. 

Mookata lovers would appreciate that this dining experience is built on variety and personalisation.

Thus, having a vast amount of ingredients on the ready is extremely important for any mookata stall.

Thankfully for Wei Hao, his time as a seafarer has instilled a sense of self-discipline, which helps him run Yak Kin Mookata at an optimal level.

During the time spent with him, Wei Hao comes across as a realist and seems to understand that mookata can be seen as a saturated market.

But underneath the humble outlook is a man who is also confident of what he is serving.

Everyone will have their preferences, but all Wei Hao asks is for people to try his mookata.

"Come in, take a look at my menu and I let you be the judge," he mentioned.

As for his health condition, he has no plans to have it hamper his running of the business.

To those in a similar situation as him, Wei Hao's advice is short and simple.

"Don't hold grudges, relax and be happy."

While you're at it, why not enjoy some mookata with friends and family?

Address: 120 Neil Road, Singapore 088855
Opening hours: 5pm to 3am daily

ALSO READ: 'Crazy prices': Consumers irked by businesses raising prices ahead of GST hike

amierul@asiaone.com

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