Thursday, April 29, 2010

Catching Bus is no fun

A few Saturdays ago, I took a bus (I have not taken one in months) and had a great view sitting on the upper deck and watching the streets as if I were a tourist. A tourist indeed, I was.

I could not help reminiscing the days when everyday was a struggle chasing after the bus. It was in my secondary school days when I had only 30 cents to 50 cents to take me to school, had my recess and back. Bus fare was inexpensive (when we look back) at 5 cents on way. But catching that bus was not easy. 7am in the morning was too late.

Each morning, it was a prayer hoping that the bus would stop at the bus stop just near to the end of Bukit Pasoh Rd with New Bridge Road. There was only one bus, No.4 (Hock Lee Bus). Almost inevitably, it would not stop. So, our best bet then was that the traffic light went red at the New Bridge Road/Cantonment Road junction. It would have been already jammed back, but getting to school on time was important. Or it would be detention class. And so, lugged with a heavy bag that seemed to fly, a few of us would be dashing to the slowing bus, oblivious to the other cars coming along. And then, it would be Tarzan and the Bus as we clung for life as the bus did it right angle turn. The bus conductor would be shouting away but no body mind. Often, one might hear him shouting "Ou Way Wu Kiu Arh?" (Are the ghosts at the back?), trying to get the passengers to move to the back so that we poor souls could get a better foothold.

With the rushing wind brushing against our face as the bus moved, it was quite thrilling. We were too young (maybe) and too worried about going to school on time to worry about the dangers. Years later when I saw such scenes in India, I could realise the dangers, but it was also nostalgic at the same time. (^^)

Those were the days when there would be Bus Inspectors who would appear (out of no where) to check out if we had bought enough fare. There were many tricks for those who did not, especially when they were sitting. They would pretend to be sleeping. Some might not have even bought the tickets! It was a skill for the Bus Inspector to be able to squeeze through the crowded bus to check the tickets. And as soon as he was done, he would glide off the bus as the bus came to a stop. Wow, he looked cool sliding off the bus. And of course, many a times, we did the same too since we were just standing by the bus steps.

There were days when I thought I would tighten my stomach and catch the bus a different way. In this case, I would cross to the opposite side of the road to catch the bus to the terminus as North Canal Road. There was the infamous smelly public toilet there that I wondered how the bus workers could tolerate. But then, that was probably the only public convenience there. Catching a bus to the terminus would cost be 5 cents and following it back to school, which was now twice the distance would mean 10 cents.

There were better days when my uncle would be working in the afternoon shift at the then Singapore Harbour Board (one of the prerequisites of Harbour Board workers was that he must be able to ride a bicycle because he has to go from wharf to wharf to carry the bales of rubber sheets or sacks of rice or flour. And so, with a lot of dented shins and knees, I would brave the same rushing bus to cycle to school at Kim Seng Road. Closes brushes came by the dozens each week, but it was a less stressful way to go to school.

Ah, those were the days my friend.

PS: Anyone has a photo of the Hock Lee Bus ticket to share?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sri Mariamman Temple Consecration Ceremony on 11 Apr 2010

I managed to walk past the Sri Mariamman Temple tonight, after the consecration. I could hear the prayers still going on. There was still a large crowd of devotees inside the temple.

The lights at the temple shows the beautifully repainted temple, back to its original splendour.

Chinatown boasts of two old places of worship, and Sri Mariamman is one of them.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Die & Dye

Long ago, at this corner of Kreta Ayer Rd and New Bridge Road, facing the Oriental Theatre across Kreta Ayer Rd, was a small shop. It's specialty was to dye any clothing to black.

It was a time when black was not the fashionable dress or clothing as most Asians, if not, Chinese, considered it as one of mourning. Indeed this was the shop that dyed clothing of any colour to black for those in mourning.

In the old days, when someone in the family died, all were expected to wear black. For some, like the children of the deceased, wearing back might be expected for a longer period of time. Mourning period could last (or is expected to last) for 3 years. It is unlikely that anyone had black clothing in those days. And so, if there was such a bereavement in the family, getting some clothing to be dyed black was one of the priorities.

It could well be the beginning of the fast service that one expects of any funeral activities today. In those days, one could expect to get the black clothing, perhaps in two days after sending in.

And so, in this little hut, there seemed to be constant activity as clothing was sent in to dye to black. The proximity of Sago Lane (known to the Chinese as Sei Yan Kai - dead people street) could be a reason for the brisk business.

These days, black is a fashion. So, there could be ample supplies at home. If not, the nearest shopping centres could yield abundant black clothing, in various styles and design.

We have yet to see the mourners coming with black lipsticks or eye shadows (^^). Makeup was a no-no then, when in mourning. Nor watching wayangs or movies. But with TV these days, no one observes such rules.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Qing Ming Festival 清明节

5 April is Qing Ming Day, 104 days from Winter Solstice (read more on wikipedia). In Singapore, this is one month that all Chinese remember their ancestors. With changing times, different people will remember their departed in various ways. Some would go to the temples where they place the tablets of their ancestors and pay their respects. There are still many who would go to the cemeteries where their departed relatives are buried. For those who were cremated, the descendants and relatives might go to the government, temple or even private company run columbaria where the ash niches are kept.

Traditionally, for the Taoists, they would bring along the favourite food of their departed (in this case, mainly for their departed parents or grandparents, or in some cases, siblings or children) to offer to them. In the old days, extend families would organise to get a lorry (truck) to load all the necessary praying paraphernalia and food for each departed relative and to go from tomb to tomb. Traffic jam, during the weekends, would not be in the city, but in the cemeteries.

I remember those days when my late maternal grandma would organise such trips. For us kids, it was fun. First we got to sit in a lorry (the type with wooden structures) and get to meet all the aunties, uncles and cousins. And there would be plenty of food to eat, after the offerings. We would be going to different places in Bukit Brown area (the wider area known as Kopi Sua - Coffee Hill to us. It is said that once, there was an attempt to plant coffee here) and Peck Shan Ting (in Cantonese, what is Bishan now). My mum's late adopted father was buried without any tombstone during the Japanese occupation, and in each Qing Ming she would have to depend on the landmarks, such as trees or other tombstones to locate this small mound.

And a few times, I followed by late Mother-in-law to the Qing Ming outing with the Zhong Shan Association (a dialect group from Zhong Shan in GuangDong). They have one area in Peck Shan Ting where all the Zhong Shan people were buried and there was one common one of the Association. Here, the members paid respect to the common ancestors of the Zhong Shan people. The fellow members would sponsor many roast pigs and after the prayers, we would be sitting in groups to have a picnic with freshly cut roast pork with buns. The best roast pork to me!

There are some Chinese customs in that for the long dead, offerings of respect could be made within 10 days from Qing Ming (known as Cheng Beng in Hokkien) Day, before and after. For those who just passed away, there seems to be some particular rules about the day for prayer.

Apart from the 7th Month (known as the Hungry Ghost Festival to many), Qing Ming is another month where the Joss-shops are very busy offering praying paraphernalia of many kind. The focus now is on the people who have departed. In the past, it could be simple papers with printings of clothings. With modernization, creativity and innovations, the paper offerings have evolved. There are almost real paper models of shirts, blouse, samfoo, and shoes of all kinds. This year, I spotted bras or could they be bikinis? For the more technically inclined, there are handphones, computers and these days, notebooks. I-phone lookalikes could be on its way. With I-Phone applications, well, maybe, there could be less burning. (^^)

For those who have enjoyed life, there are cans of beer and stout and now, cognac and wine.

In Chinatown, there are two shops which probably have been doing such a business for a long time. One is at Banda St and the other at Smith Street. They are also favourite haunts of tourists, led by the tour guides to show them about life after life for Singapore Chinese.