Monday, September 10, 2007

Yan Kit Swimming Pool

Yesterday, I had a short opportunity to walk up memory lane.

I saw the Kim Lan Hng (Jin Lan Yuan) that was all that is left of the place where once stood temples, one being the Jin Lan Miao (which is now at Kim Tian Road). Across the road is the only temple that is still standing, the Phor Tor Jee, an interesting syncretic temple that must have seen much of the transformation of this corner known to the local residents as the "Chye Chi Ya", meaning market. In the old days, to reach the temple from "Tua Beh Lor" (big horse road or Tanjong Pagar Rd), one had to wade through the often wet and dirty street up Narcisus St where the wet market once stood.

That was the place where I accompanied my Mum marketing. I learnt how to select a piece of sting-ray by smelling (you know why?), got the cheapest offer, such as cockle shells at 5 cents a kati or the chicken hearts that were frozen (and often frown by the well off) - only to learn that they are high in cholesterol! Ah, chicken hearts fried with thinly sliced ginger and a touch of sesame oil was sedap (delicious). During festive days, we would be selecting the most alive chicken to buy to bring back and fatten it up for the actual day.

I was to take over the marketing when my Mum went to work to bring in extra income. For S$10 a week, I was to market and cook for a family of 8 people. But I digress as this would be a long story on how I started cooking at the ripe old age of 10! (^^)

Ah, the Yan Kit Swimming Pool brought back memories when with a neighbour, we would sneak off for a swim. If my memories hold, the entrance was like 30 cents and because Mum would not allow us to swim (the fear of us kids drowning), we would keep the swimming trunks at our neighbour's place.
It was also a time when apart of the fear of drowning, we had to contend with territorial wars of the local gangsters or secret societies. Of course, staying in Term Tiam Hung (Alley of Pawn Shops - although I remembered only seeing one) helps since we were the residents, but then, there were so many gangs operating there. "Li chi to si mi?" (what do you play?) a small boy would accost us in the swimming pool, expecting us to give the password, the two-digit number of the local gang/secret society. It was dangerous to try to give a number. We would say, "Gua bo chi toh" (I don't play) and try to look behind him, as often, there would be some bigger guys waiting. (^^)

Apart from such occasional encounters, we enjoyed our childhood in this neighbourhood with a swimming pool that was so near, and probably one of the very few in the 1960s.

When I tried peeking into the pool, I saw big recesses .. what were the pools were now dry. While Farrer Park Swimming Pool had reinvented itself, Yan Kit Swimming Pool did not seem to go that way. I could remember the three pools, the biggest being nearest to the entrance, often used for water polo and diving. The middle pool was probably the most congested, since it ranged from about 4 feet to 6 feet. And the further end was the wading pool, where we started, learning to swim on our own. From time to time, we would be adventurous enough to venture into the second pool. And when we tried to go at it in the first pool, the ever attentive life guard would blow his whistle and got us out of the pool.

At times, when we were lucky to have that extra 5 cents or 10 cents, after a swim, we would go to the small canteen to enjoy a piece of chye-tau-kueh (Chinese deepfried radish cake) coated with plenty of chilli sauce. Often, we would share between three persons, the neighbour and my younger brother. Happy, with skin and hair smelling of the chlorinated water, we would stroll back home.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Chinatown prepares for Mid-Autumn Festival

We are still in the midst of the popularly known as "Hungry Ghost Festival", more appropriately known as Zhong Yuan Jie 中元节, but this does not prevent the shops and traditional Chinese pastry shops from preparing for the Mid-Autumn Festival, Zhong Qiu Jie 中秋节.

While in the past, the streets of Chinatown, the part which is the focal point of shoppers - Gu Chia Chwee in Hokkien or Gnau Chei Shui in Cantonese or better known to the younger folks as Niu Che Shui 牛车水 - would be lined with paper lanterns of all shapes, colour and sizes, hanging from above, with the assortments of moon cakes laid on the tables as days got nearer towards the 15th of the 8th Lunar Month, these days, celebrations take on a grander scale.

Props and pillars were almost in place, to prepare for the banners and lightings, transforming Chinatown (mainly along New Bridge Rd and Eu Tong Sen St) into a fairy land at night. We await to see what's in store from the creative designers for a Chinatown in Mid-Autumn.

While the newer restaurants and hotels started work through their outlets, pamphlets and credit cards, offering all kinds of moon cake, very active in their marketing, the lao jiao pai (the old signage) Chinese pastry shops like Dai Tong (Da Tong 大同) and Dai Zhong Kok (Da Zhong Guo 大中国) continued with their preparations, almost quietly. They know and most of us oldies know, when the time comes, we would still want to have that piece of good 'ol mooncake that we are used to. The older men and womenfolk would still be queuing up to buy their share.

A quick run of a part of Chinatown got me the pictures here to share with you. Ah, there's quite an assortment of different moon cakes and cakes for the occasion, and each dialect group has its own specialty.