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!


nessie said...

I love the images! And the stock market analogy.

Moon said...

Yes I was in Chinatown last saturday late evening..

It was not the same like what it used to be 20 years ago.

During that time, about two weeks before the actual Spring festival, rows of street hawkers occupied the streets selling all kinds of Chinese New year titbits and accessories stayed up all night and the stalls were never closed. Bright orange lights, and jam packed with people.

I know, and I remember.. because my late grandma used to have a stall in Chinatown selling cloth all year round. But just two weeks before the festival, she will stop selling cloth but sell all kinds of goodies and candies, melon seeds and many other food stuff. My father will go down every night to help her tend the stall so she could go home to sleep for the night. This was what it was until she received a notice from the govt that street hawkers were no longer allowed to sell on the streets but she was offered a shop unit in Chinatown complex (the one that is still under renovation).

I wonder why the renovation took so long to complete.. I miss going there. Most of the food stalls from the second storey of the complex, is now moved to the temporary food site next to Outram Mrt.. there is a ikan bilis yong tau fu beehoon soup stall that is quite famous there.

chinatownboy said...

Oh yes, two weeks ago, when I went to the Outram temporary market to have my favourite vegetarian beehoon, I saw a long queue for the ikan bilis (anchovies) yong tau fu.

Wah, you should share with us more about the stories of how your grandma managed the store. I have a friend whose parents also have a clothing stall that was later shifted into the Chinatown Complex. And my late mother-in-law used to have a cloth shop at the old peoples park. It was shifted there after the fire in the old old Peoples' Park market.