Thursday, March 31, 2011

A walk in Chinatown

After a morning errand today, I decided to have breakfast in Chinatown, on the way back. Instead of walking beeline home from Outram MRT Station, I started my zigzag tour of Chinatown. Maybe, the next time, I will make my walk live via ustream. (^^)

Walking through the walkway (I wondered if I could still call it the five-foot-way, a British specification?) of Pearl Centre, I saw changes since my last walk. That was months away. It is not often that I took a day off and having the luxury of a relaxed morning. More foodstalls were added, mainly of the northern Chinese cuisine. From the look of these stalls and other stalls in other parts of Chinatown, there must be many northerners in Singapore these days. Interestingly, I was introduced to northern Chinese food when I first went to Japan, some 35 years ago, and now, I am introduced to more (perhaps more authentic?) northern Chinese food in our very Chinatown, an apt place.

Looking at the "ugly" newer buildings dwarfing the older ones like the Kong Chow Wui Koon, it gave me a sense of weeds overgrowing the ancient plants. I crossed the road to Kreta Ayer Rd. I marveled at the Hindu Temple with its colourful sculptures. Set against the giant Pinnacle (where part of my childhood was in the two block of the old HDB flats with the Police Cantonment flats), it was picturesque. Would need a good photographer to capture it in perspective.

Ah, and there were the Cannonball trees. I first got to know them in the Botanic Gardens. And then, they lined up Cross St after the demise of the rows of shophouses. It was a delight to me and my kids (younger then) as we drove along Cross St on the way home. I stopped to capture some of its flowers against the hot sun shining down on it. I often wondered how the plants could take the fiery sun, and provide us the cool shades.

Crossing Keong Saik St, once renowned for its red light district activities, and Kreta Ayer Rd (ah, the Malay name for Bullockcartwater), I walked on the walkway of the point-block HDB flat. On the wall were murals depicting the Singapore that we strived for. The scenes of early day Bullockcart and the multi-religious Singapore. Mindful of that, I climbed up the stairs of the next HDB flat, my shortcut to the Chinatown Food Centre. As I turned around the corner of the second storey, at the corner of my eye, I saw a man writing on his blank paper book with a brush. I took a second look to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing. How many people could write in Chinese using a brush these days? It was a great scene looking from outside. A missed opportunity to capture the picture.

An the next door was the Aquarium shop, where in my early days, I used to come here to replenish all the needs for my tiny aquarium at home. I remembered the days when I had to travel often, and months away in one stretch, that I had to enlist the help of my late father to help to "fish-sit". Each time when I returned, I thought I saw new "faces" in my aquarium. The heavy responsibilities of a "fish-sitter" (^^). I decided I should give up this hobby.

It was 11am. Many of the stalls in Chinatown FC were working hard getting all their food ready. At the soya-sauce stall, the Q was already 15 people deep! Inexpensive and delicious, there is always a Q until everything is sold out.

I walked along the rest of the empty row of tables - the transformation would come when the clock hits one - and found no Q at my favourite Vegetarian Beehoon Stall. An old man beat me to the Q. A little stooped, with a ear-plug to his ear (I guessed it must be a ear guide), he stood. The stallholder (I am still wondering if he is local or mainland Chinese as his Mandarin had a China accent) asked him in Mandarin if he was going to have his usual Beehoon. He nodded and replied in Cantonese, "Mei Fan". We sat by the same table, simply because it is the nearest. I noticed that he was given a red plate and I a polystyrene one. Hmm. And his plate seemed fuller than mine. I am not complaining but just wondering. He looked like a regular customer. For me, since the past 10 years, I have been getting to eat the beehoon (I always declare that this is the world's best beehoon to me, because of its style of cooking) through proxies, my wife or my domestic help would be buying them home. In fact my domestic help must have been more familiar with the stallholders in Chinatown FC and wetmarket than I am.

Yes, my wife and I used to come to this vegetarian beehoon stall for breakfast on the way to work. And when the kids came, we brought them along, starting with a few strands till now, a plate or two! We have outlasted most of the workers in this stall. Only the owner remains the same. (^^)

Had my fill, with four tah-pau (takeaway), I began my journey home. I thought I should take a more straightforward way home. And so across the overhead bridge, I went and on through the People's Park Complex.

As I entered the cool interior of People's Park Complex - probably Singapore's first big shopping mall (I could remember wandering the corridors gawking at the empty shops when it was first built) - I saw that the people were ready, waiting for customers. Plucking of eyebrows is now a big thing. Done to the full view of the passer-bys, the places were usually filled up when I walk through on weekends days and nights.

Crossing the open space between People's Park Complex (now filled with all kinds of foodstalls near to the open space) and People's Park (we call the old People's Park that used to house the shops selling cloth, resettled after the old people's park fire) as well as the former Majestic Theatre and OG, I walked into the corridor of the People's Park Food Centre (the descendant of the once-upon-a-time-in-the-1950s open air food park). Toh Kee appeared in front of me with rows of freshly grilled ducks. Flashes of the old days appeared, the days when a friend and I would try to save from our school allowance (which was hardly anything given that we had enough for bus fare and not enough for recess), and when we hit 30 cents, we would came here to get our favourite Loh-Mai-Kai (glutinous rice with chicken). Glad to know that it is still around.

Around the corner, almost home, I walked under the HDB flat where the 24-hour coffeeshop is and the row of shops. Ah, Ming Tai, the shop that sells the traditional Chinese herbs and dried stuff that makes wonderful soup - especially of the double-boiled kind. From father to son, the management of this shop evolved. And the little babies that cried and played in the shop, taken care of by the staff in the shop in between business, they have already traded their prams and strollers for bikes. Want to have a good bowl of birdnest but you have no time to prepare and cook? Ming Tai can prepare, cook and have it ready for you! That's the kind of service we get in the neighbourhood. Of course in small Singapore, anyone can order and bring home to enjoy.

It was a long walk, despite the short distance. Good for the muscles through the walking, and for the braincells as I raked them to look up the past.


Abao said...

you should make it into a infomative of sorts :)

Abao said...

you should make it into a infomative of sorts :)

chinatownboy said...

Thanks for your good suggestion. Will think about that. (^^)