Saturday, January 26, 2008

Metropole Cinema, Kum Wah, Kim Hua 金華

Thanks to the memory jots from Algae and Moon, I decided to run down my little memory lane about Kum Wah (in Cantonese) or Kim Hua (in Hokkien). And in English, Metropole Cinema (you can see a picture of it in LaoKokok's blog).
I vaguely remember wandering around that area when they were building this almost circular building. I was curious, but not as curious as with the fish tanks in the nearby open-air fish-shop. It was still beyond my means to buy fishes from the fish shop, I was still in the primary school then. But I could spend hours watching them. And I would gaze at the building with the pole scaffording.

It was a new cinema in Chinatown! I suppose the first could be Majestic (Dai Hua in Hokkien), and then, Oriental (Tong Hong in Hokkien) at the corner of Kreta Ayer St with New Bridge Rd. If my memories did not fail me, a worker during the building of the Metropole Cinema fell and died. It was hearsay as I was still too young and poor to have access to the newspapers. And soon, there was rumour of ghosts. (^^)

But that did not deter the cinema goers from going to watch great Cantonese movies like "Yi Lai Shang Cheong" (The Buddha Hand - a famous gongfu force then) and Mu Lam Sap Sam Keen (The thirteen swordsmen?).

As we grew older and moved to another part of Chinatown, and getting more immersed in the English speaking world, our world was cinemas like Globe (Great World), Orchard (now the Orchard Cinemaplex), Odean and Cathay.

And without realising it, one day I walked by and saw Metropole Cinema being replaced by Fairfield Methodist Church. At one point in my life, my house was very close to the original Fairfield Methodist Church and Girls' School. Until this day, the uniform of Fairfield Girls' School, now Fairfield School (for boys and girls), has been and is still, I think, unique in colour. I couldn't help thinking if this is Methodist churches' colour. (^^)
When our kids came of age, our natural consideration was to get them to attend the kindergarten in Fairfield Church. Ah, and so, we got the opportunity to sit in what was once a cinema. But this time, it was more of a theatre, and well, a chapel, where we got to see our children performed in their graduation night.

And so, in various ways, for people like us who lived in this part of Chinatown, that building - be it Metropole Cinema or Fairfield Methodist Church - it has a part in our lives. And for some, it's still to come. (^^)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Chinatown prepares to welcome the Year of the Rat

Or should it be the Year of the Mouse, the Mickey Mouse to be more accurate? (^^) Yes, Chinatown is decorated with the likes of Mickey Mouse in welcoming yet another new year. The year of the Rat starts another new cycle, and from what we know about rats - there were plenty in Chinatown - it would be tough to romanticise the rats. And so Mickey Mouse came to the rescue. A friend was wondering aloud, why not Mighty Mouse?

To many Singaporeans, and even Malaysians, visiting Chinatown just before the Chinese New Year seem to be a must. Despite the availability of anything Chinese in all the satellite towns, Chinatown has its special draw. The rows of old shophouses, despite their changing uses, give that aura of the Chinatown that most older Singaporeans would remember. To the young, it might be something different, maybe akin to the Universal Studios. I was jokingly telling my fella Chinatown residents that perhaps we should have some gongfu hustle kind of shows in the midst of the festivities, to add to the touch of the "real" Chinatown. (^^) Imagine someone flying out of the third floor landing onto a basket of, no, not durians. (^^) It would be a delight to the MICE tourists. Ah, there is a mouse connection here.

It is the time when grandpa and grandma would love to bring the kids, especially, the grandchildren to show what they must buy for the Chinese New Year. Alas, this year, the wet market could not return on time. So, a separate trip has to be made to its temporary place at Outram Park. But, there's still the waxed ducks and all kinds of sausages. To the Cantonese, these are some of the prerequisites for Chinese New Year. But wait, this year, there seems to be something missing. At least when I did my last recce, I missed seeing the man sawing the Yunnan Ham!

What's left of the core Chinatown - at the heart where most of the businesses are being held - is probably the ares served by Pagoda St, Temple St, Trengganu St, Smith St and Sago Lane/Rd. The Giao-Keng-Kau (Outside the Gambling Den(?) in Hokkien) is a shade of its past, where the current China St and Nankin St are. The Teochiu Kuay (Teochiu St) is now Central.

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.

Chinese New Year must be noisy and red - have you read or heard about the story of how the word Nian came about? And how fire-crackers were used to frighten the Nian away? It hates Red. And the Chinese congratulate each other "Kiong Hee, Kiong Hee" (in Hokkien and Kong Hee in Cantonese), meaning to congratulate each other for not being eaten by Nian. And so the story went.

What was not so visible in Chinatown these days must be the clothing and shoes. These were the essentials that Mum used to drag us kids, each holding the hand of the other tightly, in the claustophobic crowd (remember we were tiny then) to try out and buy, often the last few days before Chinese New Year. And that is if Pa has brought back the "Huay-Ang" (Bonus). Was it a way to force us to at least do something, apart from being poor? Chinese New Year, to us kids, was the time when we got to wear new cloths! Each having his or her own. The rest of the time would be "hand me downs". And yes, shoes too! That would also be the time when we could have bottled drinks - the bigger and rounder Fraser & Neave Orange and Sarsi. To the adults, again, Orange drink (Kum ma) is a must. To the kids, we would fancy the Cherry, which is red and Sarsi was a sensation.

And so, in a couple of days, Chinese New Year will arrive (7 Feb 08). Until then, shopping will get into a frenzy state, no matter how bad the stock exchange graphs might look. (^^) New Year will bring new luck and prosperity!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Nihon Ryori Ikaga desuka?

A couple of weeks ago, after what seemed like an endless loop or was it getting into a time zone, we arrived at the carpark of Central. Our target, the Waraku Japanese Restaurant. It is a hip place with the younger people.

Entering the restaurant and looking at the young people chatting away and enjoying the traditional and modern Japanese dishes, it reminded me of Japan. This restaurant was no different from any of a similar restaurant in Shibuya, Tokyo or Shinjuku. But what got me thinking was that these days, there are many Japanese eateries all over Singapore, practically at least one in every shopping centre, and probably in every food court too. When I did an informal count in 1989, we could count some 40 Sushi restaurants.

In the old days, let's see, maybe in the 60s, Japanese restaurants were rare. I could always remember the picture of Mount Fuji outside this little Japanese Restaurant along New Bridge Road, somewhere near to Bukit Pasoh. Each time as I walked towards the inner Chinatown (the likes of Smith Street and Trengganu Street), I would pass this little restaurant. I was curious but never dared to go near. One could hardly see what was inside. But I vividly remember this restaurant as Sakura Restaurant. I wonder if the owners have moved their restaurant elsewhere in the 70s. Maybe some of the older folks might know a little more about this restaurant.
My first Sashimi - ah, Maguro as I learnt much later - was indeed in the Japanese Association Restaurant. It was in 1973 or thereabout, my first encounter working with a Japanese engineer, when he invited me and my colleague to a Japanese dinner. Wah, Sukiyaki and Maguro. It was an experience trying to down the raw tuna, and eating cooked beef with raw eggs. Ask my kids now, and they would go for them without a second thought. But of course, it was Papa's fault. (^^)

My only regret was not being able to know a little more about this little Japanese restaurant in Chinatown. Anyone knows?