Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Sunday, November 30, 2008
Saturday, October 18, 2008
And it did on 17 Oct 08 which in the Chinese lunar calendar is 19th of the 9th Lunar Month. Without fail, its faithful fans turned up to watch the performance. It is one of those Hokkien operatic performances that is getter rare these days.
While most of the younger people might enjoy these performances with the aid of the Chinese lyrics being shown, the older ones apparently didn't need them.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
There were two stalls lined up side by side at Carpenter St. Like many hawkers of yesteryears, these stalls just appeared when the sun set. They sold the same things, fish - pomfret (chiew heu) and Ikan Batang (tabang heu or heu-kao in Teochew). They had their loyal clients. Both sides had their tables always occupied.
For whatever reason, I always had dinner by the stall that was nearer to South Bridge Road. It was almost like my orders had been carved on stone (they don't have PCs in those days). I would always have my bowl of Heu Kao (must have been 70 cents I think) with a plate of duck meat cooked in soya sauce (I have been going around to look for this dish and have never found the same one again). There are other extras such as fish roe. Now earning much, I stuck to my standard pair.
The fish was always fresh. Although the pomfret is the more expensive fish, I preferred the batang heu (Ikan Batang) with its coarse and yet still oily meat. Cooked in teochew style, there was always a piece of the dried fish or two (known as ti-porh) that added the flavour.
Teochew fish porridge or broth (I think the Japanese Zosui might be the nearer description) is not like the Cantonese porridge (jok in Cantonese) or Muay in Teochew (Beh in Hokkien). When one orders the fish porridge, the chef would put his pot on the gas-stove, using a big scoop, he would take one scoopful of the "arm" (the cooked rice water) and put into the pot, and another scoop of cooked rice. When the rice in the water comes to a boil, he then throws in the slices of the fish and let it boil for a few times. And with the ti-porh and other condiments, it is ready for eating. Probably less than 5 minutes' work, or even less. Dipping the freshly cooked fish into a small saucer of light soya-sauce with cut chilli, it was sedap (delicious).
With the stalls having one or two of the pressured kerosene lamps and depending on the street lights, we sat and ate, enjoying the warm night air. People from all walks of life dropped by, probably for supper, unlike me. Towkays in Mercedes dropped by with their girlfriends (I think) or even their "barbers". There were two (maybe only ones in town) barber shops manned by ladies nearby and was a hot favourite with the Towkays. Some could be passerbys and yet some who went pat-tho (dating in Cantonese) who might ended up here for makan (food) before going home.
Alas, such a wonderful place was just too good to be true and soon, the stalls were no longer to be found. And I have lost a good place that saved me from gastric problems. Fish porridge or Heu Muay will never be the same again.
Friday, October 03, 2008
I was there partly because Arul Ramiah was going to dance. (^^)
It was an evening of the community of devotees of the Sri Mariamman Temple. One could feel the energies and atmosphere sitting on the canvas covered ground with a small stage placed at the corner of the temple courtyard.
Indian Classical Dance and the temple have a very strong symbiotic relationship and I could sense the story and devotions by the dancers as they depicted stories of the Hindu deities. Alas, my lack of understanding of the Tamil language deprived me of a deeper understanding of the dance with the songs being sung. But still, the hand gesture, the eye movements and the movements of the body did give much for visual and audio appreciation.
The final performance must be, for me, the grand finale as Arul Ramiah performed a series of dances, some with two lovely girls who had undergone just six weeks of intensive training in Indian Classical Dance! What a typical cosmopolitan Singapore in display as Arul's Chinese friend did the introduction and two Dutch girls dancing with her!
The opening dance to the Shiva Chant was, to me, the most powerful with the song, music and movement synchronised to tell a story.
Monday, September 29, 2008
On 1 Oct 08, at 9pm, there will be a Classical Indian Dance by Arul Ramiah and two lovely Dutch girls.
Come and enjoy Indian Classical Dances in the oldest Hindu Temple right in the heart of Chinatown!
Thursday, September 04, 2008
But to the youngsters of today, the world is their town. And so, in this Mid-Autumn night, the students of the Singapore Management University brought in the Brazilian Samba! It will bring smiles to the grannies' faces as they watch how their children have gone to know the world better.
It certainly reminded some of the days when they or their ancestors arrived on this shore where everything was new to them. Some got to learn about the local Malay culture and took to joget!
But Brazil was too far an imagination for them. Well, until now ..
Arts and skills were required to be able perform the puppet shows, where one uses one's hands to move the multiple strings of the puppets, making the necessary gesture while singing or making dialogues.
The puppets grew bigger, and bigger, and bigger. And at the Mid Autumn lightup, the biggest moving puppets took part. They too are telling stories of Chinese culture. But how many knew?
Monday, September 01, 2008
But on this night, that was almost history, and the young brought joys and news aspirations while looking back at the days when, maybe, their grannies or even great-grannies had irked out a living here.
Ah, the nostalgic days ....
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
But here by the Pearl's Hill, a rather modern looking school building, although it has a long and interesting history with some proiment people coming from this school (see my earlier blog) , has become a hotel!
Would anyone have guessed that once upon a time, children ran up and down this first multi-storey school? Ah, many fathers and mothers would be telling their children about their days in this school, when they pass by or come to this hotel.
An interesting name, Re! In Chinese it is Re Li .. and this Re - pronounced as Swee in Hokkien -could it be part of the Chin Swee Road that runs by it?
Saturday, July 19, 2008
It was fun to watch Mum doing the scrubbing or just using the hands to rub the clothings off the groves of this "suay-sa-pang" (Washing Cloth Wood as literally translated from Hokkien), resulting in plenty of soap lather. From time to time, Mum would dip her hands into a pail of water to splash a little on the drying clothes as the water ran off. Often, Mum would sit on a small stool (ah, some of you might have seeen hawkers selling from real small stools to tall ones, as they walked from house to house), which gave her a good leverage.
As we grew bigger and Mum had to go and work to supplement income - talking about dual income families, but with more kids than these days - we had to take over the duties. Amongst brothers and sister, we divided our chores, washing clothes and preparing meals.
Using the bar soap (versus the detergent of today) and the scrubbing board, we tried to make the clothings as clean as possible. In a less than clean environment in those days, I think, the clothings were dirtier than these days. Sweat (yes, on aircond!), dirt and possibly after days of wearing the same clothing agan and again (no, not like one per outing these days), it was a challenge. White shirts just cannot stay white! So, we use the "lam-chi" by putting the powder into a pail of water to make it blue and then putting the white shirts in them to give a light bluish hue. And to make the shirt lasts longer and probably less likely to get wrinkle, we put the shirts into a pail of starch before handing them in the sun.
The final part is to iron the shirts with a charcoal iron. Ah, but that's another story. Ah, someone has decided finally to part with the scrubbing board.
Monday, July 14, 2008
On closer look, I saw that he had only one leg. I couldn't help thinking if he couldn't have a better gadget to help him? Like an artificial limb? Was it a case of ignorance?
Which brought me to another case where there is this old lady (maybe in her 60s) who uses a stool to walk to buy food from the coffeeshop. Her back was bent and apparently she could not stand straight. The only way to help her maintain her balanace was to put her hands on the stool and walk, each step at a time.
There must be something that we could do for our older folks, who have contributed much to what Singapore is today? We still have a fair number of older people who are illiterate and could only speak dialects.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
An European couple crossing the road with me was also tickled and asked the guy for permission to take a photo.
But no, this is not a gimmick. It was a serious matter. Some gas leakages were detected and there was a gang of workers looking for the source. In the meanwhile, the public was warned not to smoke, lest there be fireworks ahead of the next celebration in Chinatown. (^^)
Monday, April 14, 2008
Each day as I passed this sign which was strategically placed at the corner of Blk.34 along Upper Cross St, I could not help wondering and trying to jot my memory what it was like in my young days. Not matter how, this part of the memory seemed to be hidden deep in the vault.
But I could remember the night-soil station, somewhere around here. I am trying to pinpoint its exact spot. I could only remember vividly once visiting a schoolmate's (I could not even be sure) home (which is a residence block for the night soil carrier). Was it smelly? The sight of the "36 door lorry" could have conjured up the smell. (^^) It was tough work for the night soil carriers as they have to transport them from many houses in Chinatown which were still using the bucket system (visit the Chinatown Heritage Museum to see one real one, though not used) to the specially designed night soil carrier (in this case the truck). At this station, the carriers were washed cleaned and parked away for yet another day. The night soil clearing process seemed to be carried out in the morning.
As time and tide wait for no man, the night soil carrier also waited for no man. One could find a quick replacement while one was in the progress of one's most important function. (^^) I wonder if there is still any of these night soil carrier alive. Could well be.
The Block 32 (HDB People's Park) was built to house the stall holders after the fire at the old People's Park. The cloth sellers occupied the second storey. Until recently (even though many still manage today), many still went to find the cloth they like and then buy them to sew the clothes themselves or send to a tailor. It was often an adventure trying to buy cloth from these cloth shops. Franca Lingua is Cantonese, normally. While the shopkeeper might try his or her best Cantonese to persuade you to buy, he or she could turn to the other extreme of the colourful spectrum of colourful Cantonese to chide you for not buying. It could be heard for miles! (^^) Ah, the opening price could be sky high and one need to have the skills to bargain to a reasonable price, sometimes depending on the mood of the shopkeeper. If you are the first customer, God forbid, if you walk away without buying. Storms and thunder were sure to follow. These shopkeepers have this belief that the first sale must be successful, and they would go real low to achieve that. Imagine what happens if you are just a frivolous buyer?
I had the good fortune of sitting in a shop to watch - alas I was a poor seller, I could not put up a hard and good bargain, giving all the tall stories. (^^) But looking from inside the shop, I realised that these poor shopkeepers were often dumped with a set of say, five different colours of one patterned cloth - that's the wholesaler's offer. Of five rolls of cloth, one would be lucky if two of them sell well. I often wonder how stupid (^^) the designers could be in printing colours that the customers don't want. But then, one taste could be another's distaste. And so, to make a small profit and to cover the loss of the other possible three rolls, the shopkeeper has to try to offer at very high prices. Watch them talk and calculate at the same time. No, the schools do not teach one how to do mental sums while talking with the customers.
Some poor shopkeepers maintained a frugal life of simple food and selling not too expensive, and thanks to the low rents offered by HDB (for those affected by the fire), they could live a reasonably spartan yet comfortable life. But like in any society, these people saw how their neighbouring shops innovated by offering new wares and actually increased their income many folds. Like in any kampung (village) here, new tenants came in, paying sky high rents, and yet could still make money. And so, today if you walk through the refurbished HDB People's Park, you would see a few of such shops, manned by the second or third generation of the original stallholders of the old People's Park.
Block 34, I saw it grew as I walked home from work each evening. But somehow, I could not recall how the place looked like before this new flat was built. The two schools behind had seen its share of history. From two schools, it became one and then it was gone. A government agency took over and then left. In the foreign worker and student boom, it became a hostel. And that school left these two buildings to a mult-storey building just around the Pearl's Hill. It had seen its better days and, was gone. Thanks to the hotel squeeze, it is now a hotel!
It must have been in 1969 to early 70s when these flats along Upper Cross St were completed. Unknown to me, these flats would change the lives of many in the following years. It was to be for the relocation of the residents of Chinatown (in the Chin Chew and Upper Chin Chew St - known as Tau Foo Kai (Tofu St) consisting of mainly Cantonese and the residents of the Teochew enclave along where else, but Teochew St and there about.
Blk. 34, being 3-room flats, along with the other 1-room flats, saw the city kampongs (village) transformed from horizontal ones to vertical ones. Intra-flat traffic was high as relatives and neighbours were at different floors of the flats. Many of the residents knew each other. Instead of sitting by the five foot way each evening and chatting with neighbours, the corridors along these flats were narrow and it required a little more effort for gathering. Some older men gathered at the coffeeshop.
Over time, as some resident families expanded, they moved out. Some moved out, making a tidy sum of money, thanks to the climbing property market. Others moved in. Intra-floor traffic lessened. Strangers became more common. Children grew up and married out. For the new residents, interestingly, for them, in the lift, at best it was just a smile as a kind of recognition. Barring a nasty neighbour, one's neighbourly relationship could be only two doors away, each side. Ah, but when a baby arrives in that family, things changed. The smiles became greetings, often focussing on the baby. "Ooh, how has he grown!" Mothers were the fastest in getting to know each other and exchanging notes. From baby food it would progress to childcare centre, on to kindergarten and yes, the complicated process of getting into the school of their desire. The fathers, more often than not, smiled and maybe said "Hi".
Unlike the old kampong days, be it along a street in the city, most of the neighbourhood in the flat are not conducive for the kids to play with each other. In some neighbourhood, the playgrounds help. But given the "in-security" of flat dwellers, most parents do not allow their children to go outdoors on their own. And so, developing into a village in the flat is still a challenge.
The flats around this triangle have been around for some 30 years. These days seem to see the diminishing number of the early residents. The traditional Teochew funeral wakes, complete with traditional rituals, seem to be a regular affair. And so, one by one, the older residents bid their old neighbours goodbye. For some who were left behind in this flat while their descendants have moved elsewhere, it meant one "kaki" (friend) less for their old comrades.
But life moves on, with influx of new residents. Life in the upper floors differ from the rapid stream of people moving along the five foot way on the ground floor.
Friday, March 28, 2008
These are the dates that Nan Yin fans have always been watching out for. And they never fail to turn up. It is enlightening to see that while the old familiar faces were there (average age is 60 ?), there are more and more younger faces being seen in the audience. Siong Leng itself has successfully rejuvenated with more young performers. A good sign for this age old (since Tang Dynasty) Chinese Southern Sounds (music).
For many of the elders, it was a nostalgic moment bringing them back to the old days when such music could be heard from street performers to street wayangs (operas) to the late night programme from Rediffusion (cable radio). It would have brought them back to their jia-xiang (home village) from where they left to brave the new world, eventually settling down in Singapore.
For the older folks, they might view the above rendition with nostalgia as they sang the song of Tng Sua Ah Pek 唐山阿伯 (Tang Shan Ah Bo).
Friday, February 01, 2008
Taking the opportunity to find out what's new, especially in the makan (food) goodies and the flowers, I went on my prowl. I was too early, then, for the makan goodies. But they certainly got me on my memory trail of the days when neighbours and relatives would be making their own kueh-kueh (cakes) and sharing them, or selling them. One would start keeping the used tins, like the big Milo tins (a favourite) and the plastic containers too.
While the nyonyas (the Peranakans) fancied more complicated kueh2, the others, depending on the dialect groups, might opt for their own. I think the Cantonese loved to make kok-jai (a mini curry puff lookalike with grounded peanuts and sugar inside). One of the more popular ones could be the "love letters". I still wonder if anyone had inserted love-letters in these thin crust. In the old days, I remember watching, and well helping out in making these thin pancake-like crust-like kueh. In Hokkien, I think it is called kuey-nern-gern (meaning rolled eggs). One spreaded a thin layer of flour dough onto the circular plated and then closing it with a similar plate, it is placed on a charcoal fire. It gets cooked easily and with a flip, it is done. The tricky part is using your hands to roll them when they are hot and still soft.
As kids we love to put these rolled love-letters as if they were cigars.
These days, less and less people are indulging in the making of these kueh-kueh. And there are dozens of them available in the market. Definitely cheaper that what one would have spent in making them. But maybe, they lack the loving touch.
For those who can afford, especially those in business, getting potted plants with fruits and flowers are a must. Each year, the florists try to bring in more varieties. If there is anything that links the Chinese of Singapore to that of China, the plants could well be one of the links. Pussy willows are only endemic to China. The plum-blossoms - the plum blooms in late winter - are amongst one of the popular ones. One puts them in a giant vase and watch the flowers bloom and possibly the leaves sprouting. And that's it. There are also the narcissus - shui xian - that the Chinese have a way of carving the bulbs to make them bloom earlier, especially in the hot climate in Singapore.
The kumquat - kumkat or kajai in Cantonese - is an all time favourite with businesses and temples. Possibly because of the word "kum" which is synonymous with Gold in Cantonese. There was one belief that if one wants to have a baby boy, one should steal a kumquat fruit from someone's plant. But in modern day Singapore, it could well be an offence! (^^)
To many Cantonese at home, they would start early, probably a month or so before the Chinese New Year, to buy a few chi-ku 慈姑 (in Cantonese for arrowhead) and plant them in a shallow bowl of water and pebbles. Anyone knows its significance? Chi-ku is a favourite bulb cooked in soups by the Cantonese.
Probably all Chinese would hang the red banner across the main front of the house. More religiously so in doing it were the Peranakans. But with flats these days, it is getting rare and the red banners could be shrunk to just cover the doorway. In the old days, it would be red banners, red clothings, yes, red packets, and plenty of red in the fire-crackers. Red date tea was also served. So, you can imagine the "old fashion" elders seeing red when they saw the kids wearing black!
Saturday, January 26, 2008
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
In this small area, the vendors compete for their business, some for the tourists and the rest for the locals. At this time, those who are preparing for the Chinese New Year. Flowers and fruits - the very important Mandarin Oranges - Kum in Cantonese, with similar sound as Gold, are beginning to appear. Tidbits to keep the mouths of visitors to the homes busy are in full display - red and black melon seeds, groundnuts, mua-chee (mochi or dafuku in Japanese) and all sorts of sweets. Chinese New Year songs - in Mandarin and in Hokkien - blare from the loudspeakers beckoning the shoppers to get some home.