Monday, June 23, 2014

Pulau Ubin

Pulau Ubin is now probably the only rustic place left in Singapore. Even then, in terms of what I have seen and experienced walking in Ubin, the present state is a far cry from then. The romantic in me loves the old times, but then, for many, it might not be an ideal place in terms of comfort.

Why Ubin is mentioned here? In my last trip to Ubin for the Tua Pek Kong temple celebration on Vesak Day this year, I had a memory jot. Oh, when was the first time I have been to this island? I have been to Ubin rambling around trying to explore different areas at the perils of dogs. I have been there bird watching with the Bird Group of Nature Society of Singapore. And later, on butterfly watching trips too. And yes, then, came the Civil Service chalets by the jetty, where I could stay over a few nights with my family and friends, experiencing the island atmosphere.

Between my first visit and my next visit, there must have been a gap of some 2 decades. I still have some hazy memories of my first trip. Like a faded video in play, I could not remember the details.

I guess I must have been about 5 or 6 years old or so when my old neighbour, whom we called Ah Po (meaning Grand-Auntie in Hokkien), offered to bring me on a trip to sua-teng (up the hill) and in particular to a sio-toh (small island). In those days, we were all tenants in this pre-war houses at Craig Road "ruled" by a very strict bibik (Peranakan lady. Lights would go off at 11pm sharp and so will the main door be shut. I could remember two huge portraits of her ancestors, dressed in what I now know as Qing robes, looking equally strictly on us kids.

And so, off I went with her, first to her friend's place somewhere in Changi Road. I could only remember as another pre-war house, dark and smelly and we went upstairs. From there, we took a bus again to Changi Point. And then with a boat to Ubin.

I could only recall going into this village house that seemed to be vast. Walking in from the jetty, I remembered seeing the entire place by the sea that seemed to have bunds making them into prawn/crab ponds. And yes, there were ducks and chickens and many fruit trees. Being a kid, I was oblivious to the old friends catching up, but looking around me in awe.

What must have been the highlight of the visit must have been the bee hoon soup with freshly slaughtered chicken. I was told later that this was sua-teng hospitality. When a guest arrives, they would \catch a chicken, slaughter it, and have them cooked to serve the guest. That must have been the best meal of my life until then. Remember, in those days, we were poor (and so were many). Chicken was only bought for occasions such as Chinese New Year, 7th Month prayer and maybe prayers to the ancestors - especially to the parents and grandparents who have passed away not too long ago, on their death date (the Hokkien calls it "cho-kee").

I must have been one of the few kids in Tua Po (greater Chinatown) who have been so far as Pulau Ubin.

Interestingly, I learnt from my Mum that this Ah Po is from the Kee clan which has quite a number of Kee families at Craig Rd and there was also a Kee Clan Association. Years later, I was once helping a university student who was doing research into temple events who said that his family was from Craig Rd. I was not too interested in heritage then. Now I am wondering how I could reach out to them to record the history of Craig Rd, aka Turn-Tiam-Hung (the Pawnshop Alley). While Ah Po's children live in the same house as us (29 Craig Rd), she actually lived in a small hut in the premise of Botan House (now the Chinatown Plaza) at the corner of Neil Rd and Craig Rd.

For those interested in Pulau Ubin, there is a group dedicated to sharing about Pulau Ubin: