Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A Trip to the Barber

Last Sunday, I took a walk to People's Park Centre basement, to my old Barber shop. You see, the new one at People's Park Complex was no more there. Businesses seem to come and go so fast these days. So, after two flings with the new barbers, I went back to the old.

It was the last Sunday before the Chinese New Year. As with Chinese traditions, the guys should go for their haircut before the New Year. So, as if it was a calling from within I joined the crowd. Gone are the days when if you have long hair you might be served last. (^^)

The barber chairs were all occupied. All the barbers were busy. Outside, on the benches were two guys - in their fifties, I think - with the towel all wrapped up on their heads. Ah, having a cold "perm". Another three were having their hair swept backwards, like the Rock-n-Roll dancers in Harajuku, Japan on a Sunday afternoon. Yes, they were having their hair tinted black.

The barbers of the old have their business evolved too, providing "perming" as well as dying. Digging of the ears is now a thing of the past. The electric shavers (or rather hair cutters) have replaced the traditional mechanical ones. Razor blades for shaving are now fitted with use and throw blades. AIDS have changed the ways shaving tools are used.

This barber shop - called Good World - has been around for quite a while. It is the modern barber shop of the old, but not of the new generation type. No, no lady barbers. An interesting thing about this barber shop is that the barbers all speak Hock Chew (Fuzhou) - I think. With the customers, they speak Hokkien or Mandarin. It was a surprise to me when I went this Sunday and a guy (new face) greeted and conversed with me in English. Changing Times. (^^)

Nothing like going to the same old place, doze off and have one's hair trimmed, amidst the chatters in Hock Chew, the comparisons of 4-D results and even some tall tales from some customers to the barbers. (^^)

Friday, January 20, 2006

A Good Soul Deserves Another

Last night, as I was picking up my mail from my mailbox on the groundfloor, there was a funeral wake. It was normal and I did not pay much attention until one lady, whom we met often in the lift, told me that the person died alone.

This man who had just passed away lived alone in the "senior citizen flat" along Upper Cross St. From what I understand from the people at the Wake, he was under social welfare. Inspite of all the hardship, he helped to deliver food and things to the other elderly people in the block, the people who are not able to move easily. He was an important connector in this community of elderly people.

He died alone without any relatives (at least at the Wake, no one was aware). The neighbours in the "community" took it upon themselves (with some volunteers like this lady and her husband who are living in my block, which across from that block) to give him a decent burial. They even arranged for Buddhist funeral rituals to be conducted.

At the Wake, the elderly neighbours who could walk were there to help out, such as folding the necessary joss-papers and burning candles/joss sticks. They tried collecting "white gold" (contributions to a funeral is known as white gold in Chinese) from the community. There was one donor who happened to be at the block to give ang-pows away to the senior citizen (these are the low profile philanthropists), who upon hearing of this case, gave S$1000 contribution. The community spirit is still alive.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Temple Facing The Sea 福德祠望海大伯公

It was said that way before Raffles arrived in Singapore in 1819, at this place where Palmer Road is now at, there was a thriving community. This could have been a thriving port, called Tanjong Malan, now known as Tanjong Pagar (Pagar meaning Kelongs or building on stilts in the sea used for trapping fish). And thus, it was only natural for the Chinese to first offer thanks to their Deities upon coming on shore. In this little place was a Chinese Temple dedicated to Da Bo Gong 大伯公 (more popularly known as Tua Pek Kong in Hokkien, and Fu Tat Chi (Fu De Ce) 福德祠 to the Cantonese and Hakka). As the temple was facing the sea (then), it was then known as the Da Bo Gong Temple facing the sea 福德祠望海大伯公.

This temple is probably the only "practising" Hakka temple in Singapore. For its more than a hundred and eighty years (considering 1819 as the starting point), this temple must have seen much. How its view of the sea was now blocked by containers when it could have been sending lapping waves on its steps. The bustling port activities. The different people living together - an early cosmopolitan town. There was also a famous kramat just across from the temple.

But much of the described scenes are oral history. What was it really like? Thanks to the Ying Fo Fui Kun (a HakkaClan) which administers the temple and NUS, an archaeological team has started doing some digs around the temple to understand better what life was like then. I hope that the dig will reveal more about life around the temple and the location then.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Chinatown Cat

Thanks to the encouragement of cat_aunty I am sharing a pix or two of this Chinatown Cat. One wonders since when did the cats come to Singapore (^^). But for longtime residents of Chinatown, they must have seen generations after generations of these free and easy cats. These cats are fiercely independent but are tame enough to take up your offer of food.

And if they like you, well, they will declare that you are their property. How? By brushing their bodies against your legs. Oh, they love a scratch on their head and would sit perfectly still, a little purr here and there, as you scratch its head.

On this crowded and noisy night in Chinatown as it lighted up for the Chinese New Year shopping, this cat was contented to have its dinner on a newspaper, thanks to its sponsor. Despite the movement of the people and the rain, it just ate on. What would its life be in Chinatown. (^^)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Chinatown Lights Up

Officially speaking, that is. It was "ren-shan-ren-hai" (people mountain people sea) from People's Park Complex to Sago Lane. It was almost like the old days when there were only shoppers and the stalls. Last night, the crowd was created in part, with the show and the small walking space for the people who flocked to Chinatown to watch, amongst many things fireworks.

There were more onlookers than shoppers, but certainly some would be "hooked" to buy something they fancied. The show by the Sichuan Operatic Troupe at the open stage next to the Chinatown Food Centre/Market must be the crowd stealer, with its modern dance and the ever interesting mask-changing performance.

For the crowd lined along the barricades, the highlight must be the dragon, lions and stilt walkers. The crowd, especially, the children just love to touch the fur of the lions. One young kid was so entranced by the giant (on stilt) that he allowed him to carry him.

Yes, Chinese New Year preparations for the household are underway. Chinatown will relive its old days, albeit a little differently.

Chinese New Year Shopping

Chinese New Year is probably one of the number of Chinese festivities where cooking traditional Chinese food is important. And so, shopping for traditional Chinese cooking ingredients is one of the main activities in the weeks before Chinese New Year. For this year, Chinese New Year falls on the 29th January, 2006.

Many shops in Chinatown are already stocking all the goodies, from ingredients for food dishes to desserts to tidbits (traditional Chinese sweets and bites like melon seeds and ground nuts) to the all important fruit, the Mandarin Orange.

At Upper Cross St, there is this shop, Ming Tai [Ming Da] that sells all kinds of traditional Chinese cooking ingredients, from various grades of dried scallops to wax duck and sausages. It also dispenses Chinese herbs - for medicine as well as for tonic soups. And for those who wants to prepare special dishes like "Buddha Jumps Over the Wall", you can also find most of the ingredients here.

The shopowners speak English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien and probably more languages and dialects.

[Note: Disclaimer, I have no commercial interests in this shop (^^)]