Tuesday, December 22, 2009
In those days, a wet market is a natural evolution where the sellers congregated and the buyers converged. Chances are it might be a few streets or lanes. Those were the days when anyone could get a cart and hawk. It was a day to earn a living than staying unemployed.
In my pre-primary school days, I lived in this downtown place called Turn-Tiam-Hung, meaning Pawnshop lane in Hokkien. I was and still puzzled as I could only count, at best two pawnshops. But the official road name is Craig Rd. Nearer towards Tanjong Pagar Rd, there was a lane. This lane marked the entrance to the wet market from Craig Rd side. It was connected to Narcis St at the other end of the lane.
A trip to the wet market was going to end up with black feet upon return. The thin "Japanese flipflops" were no help. Some ladies were better prepared by using on the clogs - these clogs could be seen in the kitchens of the then houses of many households, and then relegated to the bathrooms in the HDB flats and probably are moving towards extinction.
My task then was to help by carrying the market basket. Talk about the "green" days. No, there were hardly any plastic or paper bags. Besides most things were going to be wet. There were so many kind of market baskets, some soft and some hard made from cane. Some ladies would hang the baskets on their lower arm to carry. Most of the Chinese ladies in those days wore samfoos (two piece dress) to market.
Walking into the lane, there was a noodle stall selling prawn noodles and lor-mee (if I remember correctly) on my left. I was always eyeing this stall for a bowl of noodles, but it was a luxury. So, it was so near yet so far. Moving into the lane, there were the usual stalls, and there were the occasional stalls that appeared once in a while. Most of the stallholders knew the people doing the marketing there. It was the nearest for those living in that vicinity. The next one will be the bigger one at Smith St/Trengganu St enclave.
"Any pork today," the butcher would call out to my mum in Hokkien. "Hor guy chia bak, ka chia eh hor," my mum would ask the butcher. (Give me the lean meat, leaner ones) The butcher would try to get mum to buy more. "How about the liver, it is good and fresh. Ah, the hoon-chng (powdered intestines) is good." It depends on how much money Mum had in her tiny wallet. (^^)
It was not just meat alone that she had to buy. There was fish to buy. Ah, I learnt how to select the sliced sting-ray. "Smell it," instructed mum, "see if there's any urine smell." Apparently, if the fishmonger cuts the fish wrongly, the smell from the innards would permeate into the meat. I never really tried to find out. Ah, sting-ray fried with kiam-chye (salted vegetable) was and is still my favourite. Here, the leafy part of the kiam chye is better.
With a small budget, we had to get the cheapest and freshest fish. I think that's where the "Chi ka Pi" (fresh and chip) came from. (^^) Ikan Kambong, Ikan Selar and Ikan Kuning were amongst the cheapest. I kati of Ikan Kuning was 30 cents. Ah the cockles were even cheaper, 5 cents per kati.
Chicken seemed to be rather expensive and most were sold live. One could ask for it to be slaughtered and defeathered. Before big days like the Chinese New Year, mum would buy one or two chickens, and one duck, to bring back home, live, fatten them before slaughtering them on New Year eve. So, chickens were luxury then, only to be eaten during big days such as New Year, Hungry Ghost Festivals, and Anniversaries of the Death of ancestors. As children, we looked forward to these days, oblivious to the fact that Mum might be worrying where to get the extra money to buy them. Living in a multi-household house did not help because the kids were going to see what their neighbours ate.
So, instead of chicken, we would be looking for the frozen chicken hearts shipped from Australia. They were cheap and when fried with sesami oil, ginger and dark soya sauce, would make a good meal. Ah, I know where I got my cholesterol. (^^)
The cooked seafood was another source of relatively cheap food. The fish were apparently caught, put on trays and steamed before being brought to the market to be sold. We called them "Sic Hi" (cooked fish). The steamed tiny sotongs (squids) were a delight and so were the boiled prawns (that were much smaller than they are these days).
Marketing in those days was based on what's available. Mum never had any shopping list. She could not write and so, it was all committed to memory if she needed to buy anything specific like soya sauce. For fresh food, it was what was available and cheap. (^^)
When I was in Primary 6, I started going to the same wet market to buy and cook. Mum had to go and work to bring in additional income. Costs were increasing. The familiar faces in the market helped in that they would not overcharge me. There was no fixed price and unless one could read the Chinese weighing scale, one would not know if one was overcharged. There were many horror stories about how one could manipulate the scale.
I love to visit wet market, even if I am not buying anything. The range of things on sale is just big, and sometimes, exotic. I also do this when I go overseas. Wet markets are a lure for me.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
To us neighbours, we will missed seeing him at the lift landing, where he would stand there to take a smoke. There are many elderly folks in my block of flats who were resettled from the Teochew part of Chinatown during the days of rapid urban renewal, in the late 70s. Ah, they were quite young then.
To the neighbours who moved from their old neighbourhood, it was still "kampung spirit" when they moved to this vertical village. It is not like running down the street but up or down the stairs. To the others, like me, who moved in from elsewhere, it took a while, perhaps, a long while to get to know the neighbours.
We did not really communicate with the neighbourhood in the block for years (save the immediate neighbours), till when the children came. Ah, according to a BBC survey, to be able to talk with strangers, the easiest way is to walk a dog. I suppose in our neighbourhood, a baby would open up communications. I too would always tease the baby in the lift, and without fail, the mother or grandma would coach it to call "Uncle". The neighbours in the lift would comment how big my kids have grown .. and soon, we smile and greet and make small talk.
Death to the Chinese is a little different because not all would want to get involved unless necessarily, probably from their beliefs. But for those who know the family or the deceased, paying the last respect is something that one would want to do. And so, we went to "chor yeah" (Cantonese for sitting in the night, meaning attending a funeral wake) to pay our respect to the deceased and to lend moral support to the wife and son. The neighbours were also there, and it was an opportune time to sit and chat as well.
Through death, perhaps, the community bond was strengthened, a little, as we expressed our concerns and support to the bereaved family.
Sunday, November 22, 2009
When I arrived at 1pm, almost all the spread of wonderful Hakka food were taken up. As the fest started at 10am, one can expect the delicious dishes prepared by various member organisations and members of the Guild to be taken up. I could only ogle at the posters showing the delicious dishes.
I got what is second best, a cookbook that was also produced by the Guild, with a simple title, Hakka Cook Book. Published in Chinese and English, the 120-page book has many Hakka dishes, some better known and others, perhaps, only known to the Hakkas. Many of the dishes have accompanying narrations about the dish, be it its origin or who it is for, like ladies in confinement.
According to the book, of some 3.3 million Hakkas in South East Asia, Singapore has 200,000. And its Hakka food stands out in the local Chinese cuisines. Many would have heard or tasted the famous Abacus Beads, amongst many famous dishes, we well as the Lei Cha, mistakenly translated as Thunder Tea rice. (^^)
There will also be a Hakka Night on 14 & 15 Dec 09, with performers from MeiZhou, China.
Saturday, November 07, 2009
Nanyin is an ancient music, from the days of Tang Dynasty. It has been preserved through the daily lives of the Minnan people, mainly in the Quanzhou 泉州 are of Fujian, where at the end of the day, members of the villages could gather together and burst into a medley of Nanyin songs. In Quanzhou city these days, one could still see performances in the park or in the tea houses. Nanyin has just been recognised as one of the UNESCO Intangible Heritage.
In Singapore there are two associations where members gather to learn, play and enjoy the Nanyin. They are at the Bukit Pasoh Rd neighbourhood. Siong Leng is one of them.
On this night of performance at Thian Hock Keng, Siong Leng took a new approach in bringing the audience on a journey of story telling illustrated with a Li Yuan Opera and Nanyin Songs as we saw how the maid prevented Tan Sa 陈三 (Cheng San) from leaving, trying to convince him that Gor Niu's 五娘 (Wu Niang) heart was really with him. And then we were told that Tan Sa and Gor Niu tried to elope but was caught just as they approached Quanzhou and brought before the magistrate. The maid, again, tried to plead the case (all through Nanyin songs), but alas, she failed. As Gor Niu made her journey to her destination of punishment (in some foresaken place), she sang of the wonderful days.
Once again, Thian Hock Keng, illuminated with the lights, songs and beautiful Southern Sounds, stood as memory of the early migrants to Singapore. A pillar to modern Singapore that only this grand old dame would know but the sounds and sights will tell.
Now, we wait till 2M19 next year - 3 Apr 2010.
Guan Yin's three days of celebration, from Leon Comber's book: Through the Bamboo Window
Tan Sa Gor Niu is a popular opera to the Hokkiens & Teochews where it tells the story of a Hokkien man and a Teochew lady falling in love, quite ahead of its times
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Nanyin can be loosely translated as the "Souther Sounds". This ancient music, dating some thousand years old, has recently been recognised as the UNESCO Intangible Heritage. The current main area in China where Nanyin is still very popular is in Quanzhou, Fujian, China. It used to be a typical musical part in the daily lives of the people there. At the end of the day, the farmer and his friends could be singing Nanyin songs. In the park of Quanzhou city centre, one could listen and watch Nanyin performance.
Admission is free and from past years' experience, the courtyard is usually quickly filled up by fans of Nanyin, Come and experience the ancient sounds. It would be good to be there by 7.30pm to get a place.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Perhaps there was a shortage of restaurants? or was it the economic crunch? Regardless, Wedding lunches are becoming the trend these days.
In the old days, the bride could only wear the wedding gown once, and that is on her Wedding Day. But modernity has taken over, and it must have been since two decades ago when the couple would go for glamour photography. From a few places in Singapore, the photography sessions start to go overseas. Kind of pre-honeymoon trips. In our days, it was simple. We had two friends who became our official photographers taking pictures from the beginning of the day to the end of the wedding dinner. Photography sessions used to be a few popular garden spots. Mine was the Toa Payoh Garden.
But of course, some traditions will remain. Nothing is complete with the serving of tea to the elders. It was the moment of recognition of the marriage of the couple. Official civil marriages do not seem to count, except for the application for an HDB flat or for less than pleasant matters. Customary marriage was the event that most families must have. There are always somethings in the newlywed's bedroom that must have. There are still grannies and aunties to fuss over the hundred and one small things to look into. Customs vary from dialect group to dialect group, from village to village (in China). Red for most Chinese, and maybe pink for the Teochews? The Hokkien would have a complete bathroom set with spitoon as well.
And where would they look for the traditional things that are associated with weddings? Ah, hidden in one corner of Chinatown complex are a few shops, nestled together, selling all the traditional wedding paraphernalia.
For those who want to look for bridal gowns and glamour photography, just a couple of minutes' walk to Tanjong Pagar Road, there is a row of shops specialising in modern wedding gowns. The Cantonese "kua" seems to be hidden somewhere behind as the brides opt for plunging necklines for their wedding dinner's second dress.
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Tonight, the cool weather added a touch to the light-up of Chinatown to start off the Mid-Autumn Festival. In a tropical city like ours in Singapore, we just have to add that extra imaginary effort to appreciate the cool crisp autumn air better. Unlike the old days when we had to imagine from our textbooks about autumn what it really is, these days, many kids are lucky enough to have gone outside Singapore to experience autumn.
Ask any older person about moon cakes, and chances are what came to mind could be Dai Zhong Kok 大中国 (Da Zhong Guo), Dai Tong 大同 (Da Tong), Nam Tong 南同 (Nan Tong) and more. Long queues could be seen outside Dai Zhong Kok as each patiently wait in the sweltering sun for their turn to buy the moon-cake, with single egg yolk or double egg-yolk. In the old days, one could even catch a glimpse of how the shop people prepare the ling-yong (lotus paste). For us kids the, it was the piggy in the traditional baskets that we looked forward to. For the eligible, it was time to impress on the potential in-laws with a box or two.
These days, moon cakes are big items as corporate gifts as vendors present to their clients. Big hotel names on glittering boxes contain moon cakes are making their round, from Shenton Way to Ayer Rajah. Ah, I miss the innovative canned moon cakes which I used to send to my friends in other other parts of the world, where moon cakes meant different things to them.
Talk about Zhong Qiu Jie 中秋节 (Mid-Autumn Festival), one will think of Chang Er and yes, the rabbit ... and history or legends come alive as grandpa tells a story. These days, well try the wikipedia or google. (^^) It was a time when something nice and delicious has to be had, moon cakes - the typical lotus paste in a soft crust. And there's the pomelo (In the old days, they seemed to only appear during this time. Of course these days, they are around almost all year round. Ipoh Lor-Yau was reputed to be the best), ling-kok (water-caltrop) and Chinese tea. To the southern Chinese, it would have been Ti Kuan Yim (Hokkien for Tie Guan Yin) or Luk Poh/Poh Li (Cantonese). These days, there are such a wide spread of different Chinese tea varieties.
This evening, the thousands who flocked from all over Singapore to Chinatown saw Mid Autumn Festival performance with a fusion between the traditional and the new. It was a performance of the young, who through performance will remember Mid Autumn Festival and their contributions towards keeping this tradition alive. Stories depicted in the modern form. Modern dances added to the gaiety of the event. Cameras of all shapes and sizes, professionals to the phone-cameras, they blocked the views, but many would be happy to bring back a piece of the action. Some would find their way to facebook and youtube. Others would have already been transmitted via MMS through the phones to their relatives and friends. I wonder if any did a 3G video-phone call to share the excitement with their grannies who could be at home. (^^) Next year, maybe, we could put it on blogtv.com or better still another site of our (Singapore) own with the next generation broadband network in place.
From now till the 15th of the 8th Moon, there will be many events in Chinatown.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
But often too, one might not be lucky enough to view as it was. Sometimes, one might not be able to see one from the other. Ah, but there might be help. Historian painter, Marcus Lim, decided on go on his prowl to catch what might be ordinary yet go unnoticed, often by the local residents or citizens. It is with delight that I discovered Marcus's seemingly few easy strokes that bring to live what Chinatown was and still is.
Chinatown means different things to different people. The residents of Chinatown will hate and love it, at different times of their lives. We often recall with nostalgia the old scenes, smell and rubbish all, yet we might not want to relive through that part. Yet, we are not willing to let go. To the people living outside Chinatown, it is a fun place to go, see, do one's things and go home. To the visitors, tourists, they go and capture what they see, often with cameras and perhaps with the contents of their wallets. Interestingly, most of the scenes of yesteryears could be somewhere in someone's home far far away.
Likewise, most of these beautiful paintings might be in someone's home somewhere far away. But of course, these days, many Singaporeans would also want a piece of the memory at home. Lest it is no longer there.
Marcus has painted many of these scenes of Chinatown and Little India, each unique from his inspiration. You could contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org to know more about his paintings. Visit his website at marcuslim.com.
ack: pictures from Marcus Lim
Thursday, September 03, 2009
In this tentage, there is this unique "paper statue" of Da Bo Gong (known as Dai Pak Kong to the Cantonese), Cheng Huang (Seng Wong in Cantonese) and his assistant (as I was told). And there was also another Deity related to wealth (whom I was told to be San Ye Bo).
There was also a corner where paper tablets dedicated to the departed ones were placed by participating members. Two of the departed ones had their name written in English. One even has a photo pasted onto it.
As in any modern day Zhong Yuan Jie, it might be considered incomplete without getai. And so, here, there were two nights of getai that had overflowing crowds.
Special thanks to Chinatown Business Association for inviting me to witness this wonderful heritage event.
Friday, August 28, 2009
If you don't and want to know more, note these two dates
- Saturday 29 Aug 09 @ 7pm
- Sunday 30 Aug 09 @ 7pm
at a tentage next to Spring St, off South Bridge Road (going into Neil Rd), Chinatown, made possible with Sinema Mobile
I just came back from a sneak preview. We wanted the 'operator' to continue with the show as we were just warming up. It is primarily in English.
Bring along your children who will learn a thing or two about the Chinese culture. Bring along your Grandpa and Grandma who will be able to share more details with you, and perhaps, later with us? (^^)
There will be a "Meet the Director" session after the movie, where you can get to know more about how this movie was made.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
A traditional festival from China, from popular beliefs, the Hungry Ghost Festival is one where literally all hell breaks lose as the gates of hell will open to let out the 'hungry ghosts' to earth during the seventh lunar month, usually between August and September. To appease the wandering spirits the Chinese will offer prayers to the deceased, burn joss sticks, paper money and offer food. There will even be entertainment for the spirits during the festival. It is common to see street wayang (Chinese Opera) or getai (mini concerts) performances being held during this period. Generally held at night, it is believed that these loud affairs attract and entertain the spirits. After the celebrations are over, the ghosts will return back to where they come from after a month of 'merry-making'.
The Chinatown Business Association is also arranging for a movie entitled "A Month of Hungry Ghost" produced by Ms Genevieve Woo and directed by Mr. Tony Kern on 29 Aug 09 and 30 Aug 09. This will be held at the GeTai stage.
On both evenings, the programme is:
7.30pm: Viewing of the Hungry Ghost Exhibition
8.00pm: Screening of the Movie
9.30pm: Meet the Director
The Chinatown Business Association is also organising a guided tour on two days, 31 Aug and 1 Sept, to unravel the mysteries behind this "bizarre" festival.
Chinatown Hungry Ghost Festival Tour
31 Aug 09 (Mon) & 1 Sept 09 (Tue)
6.30 pm – 10pm
This is an in-depth guided tour of the Hungry Ghost Festival in Chinatown where one could get to:
: Watch the rituals
: Learn about the practices
: Experience a 7th month auction
: Catch the 'Ge Tai' in action
Tour itinerary on 31 August (Mon), Price at $30
- Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum
- Hungry Ghost Festival Site
- Prayer Walk
- Dinner at Food Street
- Ge Tai
Tour itinerary on 1 September (Tues), Price at $50
- Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum
- Hungry Ghost Festival Site
- Funeral Paraphernalia
- Ge Tai
- Dinner at Festival Site & Viewing of Auction
Minimum - 1 pax
Maximum - 50 pax
How to Book?
Contact the Chinatown Business Association (Jennifer or Jonel)
- Tel: 63720478
- Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Book by: 26 Aug 09
In conjunction with the Singapore Tourist Board's 2009 reasons to enjoy Singapore promotion, if you can give a password when booking, you get a 50% discount off the ticket price! Watch out for more tips if you cannot find the password. Like Newspaper ad on 20 Aug 2009 (^^)
Main entrance of Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (facing South Bridge Road).
Registration opens at 5.30pm and closes at 6.15pm.
Ack: Pictures from Chinatown Business Association
Saturday, July 18, 2009
With a new whitewash, this quiet building stood along Neil Road, directly facing Everton Road at the T-junction. Once upon a time, this hall must have been resonating with the giggling, singing and even shouting of the kids as they responded to their teachers' questions or encouragement. During its hey days, St. Matthew Kindergarten, probably one of the better known kindergartens of that time, was popular with the residents of Chinatown.
Although it was situated on the "outskirt" of Chinatown, it was not too far away. Known to the Cantonese as Seng Mah Tai, I assumed that it must have been a school for those who could afford. My family could not afford and by the time I knew about the kindergarten, I was already in primary school.
I had one opportunity to visit the kindergarten during its open house and I was already in Primary one. I was already out of place as I joined the kids in doing colouring. That was in 1960.
I am sure, many of the Chinatown residents (kids then), when they pass this now quiet building, they must have good memories of their childhood days. They would probably be telling their grandchildren about their days as tiny tots. Most, if not all, would be been in the baby-boomer generation.
Thursday, July 09, 2009
Monday, July 06, 2009
I took a walk through People's Park Complex last weekend, and to my surprise, the place was crowded, very crowded. There was a bigger variety of mainland Chinese there. Many were tough, brown and brawn, speaking in numerous dialects and possible Mandarin in heavy accents. I gather that they must be in the construction industry here. Singapore has seen a surge in Chinese construction contractors in the local building industry. People's Park Complex now has many Remittance Centres allowing the mainland Chinese to send back money to their home, just as Lucky Plaza is to the Filipinos. The lonely POSB ATM at one end saw a constant long queue as the workers waited patiently for their turn to withdraw money, probably to hop down a few steps to the remittance centre. Hmm, under IN2015, perhaps, they could do it at one place with the remittance centre working with POSB for direct transfer. Just a thought. It could be a nightmare for the IT security.
By the entrance to the Overseas Emporium - once upon a time, this Chinese emporium is one of many where all local Chinese flocked to get cheap Chinese goods, and unknown to many, the English editions on Socialism and Commission, good enough to get one to sleep - was a crowd looking at two topless young men showing no pain as they had their back drilled (tattooed).
People's Park has seen a resurgence of crowds and hopefully customers.
I could remember long long ago when the People's Park Complex was probably the biggest departmental store in Singapore. That must be in the late 60s. I remembered joining the curious crowds walking through the empty corridors in the newly finished complex. The place smell new.
There was an "open air" coffeehouse where I first brought my German visitors to for their breakfast. That was another story on culture shock .. just how the eggs are to be prepared and coffee without sugar. That was in 1978.
People's Park continued to evolve. Being small shops selling almost identical ware, it was tough business. Restaurants came and went. I remember having vegetarian dinner at the Kingsland Restaurant at one corner of the complex. The luggage shops seem to be able to sustain their lives there. Then the shops selling the "smelly" medicated oil, said to be good for treatment of the muscles came in. The place "stinks" probably chasing away the non Asian foreigners. But it must have added to the flavour of the Asianness there.
Recently, a sex shop opened. That opens up a new dimension to this multi-faceted complex. The People's Park Complex continues to evolve.
Wednesday, July 01, 2009
Saturday, June 06, 2009
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
I could not remember much as I did not go through that lane often. Not one that any mother would want her kid to along to. The old folks were also "pantang" (a Malay word share with the Peranakans, that is akin to superstitious and yet not really because it is a belief) about going there, unless very necessary, not to mention allowing their kids to go. Chinese have their astrologies read or consulted at the beginning of each year and will know if they should be involved in "white" matters, meaning death. So, if they are not to attend to white matters, then, only when it happens to a close relative, they might not attend any funeral wake. These days, with modernity, less are being "pantang".
I remembered going to the funeral wake at Sago Lane only twice. Once was a colleague who died in a bus accident. Just walking into the shophouse to pay respect caused me to have goosebumps. Another time was that of a relative of my in-law.
Most of the funeral ceremonies here were carried out according to the Cantonese tradition, and I guessed that most of the deceased having their final rites here must be Cantonese too.
I chanced upon this video clip (ack: MichaelRogge) showing a little of the Sago Lane activities and for those who have not witnessed one, this is an interesting eye-opener. For those pantang ones, don't click.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Question for you, "Which street was the first street of Singapore?"
There were old pictures of Chinatown in the old days, and certainly worth buying for keepsakes as well as for friends. They are frame-ready. I was told that these photos were collected and produced from England. So, for the old Singapore and old Chinatown buffs, this is worth looking at (no commercial interests on my part).
How nice it would be to sit down, have a few cuppas of good oolong 乌龙, poh-lei 保利 or the current trend of pu-erh 普洱, and watching a Cantonese opera. Tai Lui Fa 帝女花 came to mind. (^^)