Saturday, February 27, 2016

Farewell to yet another kopi tiam ...

It takes us a while to discover a place where we would feel comfortable enough to decide that that would be our "watering hole". A place to sit, have a cuppa, and watch the world goes by. And yes, the occasional (or even often) chance meeting of friends, neighbours or "comrades in crime", people of all kinds whom we would meet.

Identifying such a place takes take, adopting it takes even a longer time. More often than not, it is always an introduction and recommendation. A little far away from the maddening crowd would be ideal. And then, how about the boss and his/her staff. Would they be flexible enough to accept the idiosyncrasies of people like us? 

If we were to take time to find, adapt and adopt, imagine the challenges of anyone who wants to start a small kopi tiam from scratch. A franchise only helps that much to kick start. The rest is up to the owner. And so, it took Good Morning Nanyang Cafe at Pagoda St some 4 years to build up the business, where other than tourists or the occasional visitor from out of town, every face was a familiar face. The boss becomes the conduit to share messages and telling friends of friends if they had been to the cafe lately or only minutes ago. The traditional and certainly better way than the facebook alerting you of a friend nearby.

We thought we have found our ideal place where we could go and have a cuppa kopi (great kopi he makes), relax and enjoy the crowd. Observing how the tourists looked at the pictures hung from the project "Picturing Chinatown" which became a topic of discussion. Locals too. I loved to share with the out of state friends about project Chinatown. Here was a good start. 

That 4 years quickly came to an end on 26 Feb 2016. Regulars who knew came to have their last cuppa and wished the boss the best of luck in his search for the next space. A space that would be challenging to find where a watering hole could be established. A place where relationships are built and grown, a common sharing of the bigger space around it. No, the money spinners are going to make more money, oblivious to the more lofty hopes and ambitions. A sad moment as a staff bade the boss farewell, thanking him for taking care of her in the past 4 hours. How many grateful and loyal staff can you find? How many great bosses can you find. Working in a kopi tiam needs long hours and the ability to interact with different customers, old and new, flexible and demanding, and in this case, from different cultures which need gentle introduction and education. To enjoy the wonderful Nanyang kopi, uniquely in Nanyang, and yes, the half boiled eggs that you thought the Chinese would know? Nanyang ones again? :)

Come Monday, many more regulars might came in for a shock if they have had not heard about it. Many young and old Thai tourists would be disappointed as this seemingly hard to find kopi tiam was featured in their guide books.

Accepting the rush of the tides, rising or ebbing, we could only sat there till the official closing time, and still reluctant to leave. But the time had come, and with heavy hearts and great memories of the past, we bade the good folks of Good Morning Nanyang Cafe at Pagoda St goodbye and hoping to see them again. Would there be a re-incarnation? Only time will tell.

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Monkey has arrived on 4 Feb 2016 at 1756H

And so it is said. When it comes to the Chinese New Year, there is always the confusion when the new Chinese zodiac takes over. Mostly, the old folks will take the first day of the Chinese New Year as the beginning of the new Chinese zodiac.

An interesting situation appears when one declares that he or she, his or her child is born in the year of a particular zodiac. In some years, the Chinese Lunar New Year comes ahead of Li Chun 立春, one of the 24 solar terms (following the solar calendar, akin to the Gregorian calendar, plus or minus one day I was told), it could be a Lunar New Year of the same old zodiac, until 4 (or 5) February. Imagine if one wants to avoid a Tiger baby :). On other years, Li Chun could be ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year, as it is like this year. And so, what if a baby is born today? Goat or Monkey? But does it matter? :) These days, there are many baby born through caesarian.

And so, as we learn more about our Chinese culture and heritage, we get more confused. There will be confusion before clarify.

Anyway, the Monkey has arrived. Other than the pig, probably the Monkey stands tall (don't talk about the Dragon) in the Chinese story based on the Journey to the West. What better way to welcome the new year than revisiting the Journey to the West. And so, the Chinatown Chinese New Year lightup came with the theme of Journey to the West. A story that probably almost every Chinese would know, in one way of the other. In the old days, it was the Chinese comics. And there was the classic, not to mention the countless movies on different parts of the Journey to the West. And there are animations, which have lasting memories on the kids. Leave to the adults to debate on the stories behind the story.

And with the traditional local Chinese folk belief, they will celebrate the birthday of the Monkey God, respectfully known as the Great Sage or Da Sheng 大圣, on the 15th or 16th day of the First Lunar Month. From big temples dedicated to the Great Sage to small shrines, there will be celebrations. One of the oldest, if not the oldest Monkey God temple, must be the Qi Tian Gong 齐天宮 in Eng Hoon Street, Tiong Bahru. It has an interesting history with delightful stories shared by the son of the first spirit medium of this temple, See Qi Tian Gong story.

The other old temple dedicated to the Great Sage must be the Bao An Gong 保安宮 (Poh Ann Keng), originally from a shophouse along Peck Seah Street. It was one of the few important temples in that there was also a spirit medium, and the temple serves as a one-stop place of consultation for the folks who lived in and around Tanjong Pagar as well as anywhere else in Singapore. The early devotees of the Great Sage consisted of a big population of Peranakans. You can see house altars dedicated to the Monkey God with a unique inverted bulb-shape tube. I am wondering if this tube was specially built for the Monkey God.

For the traditional businesses, what better ways to generate new products come each Chinese New Year. These days, when toys are at affordable prices, or most people can afford them, stuff toys of monkeys of various shapes and sizes appear. Some of them defy identification of any living species. Probably like the Monkey God, would anyone know of his association with any species? Maybe. :)

Each year, we welcome a new year with hope and enthusiasm. The new grandparents hope to see grandchildren. Their children might not be enthusiastic but might be changing their minds. But for sure, they might not hit the replacement rate. Where there's hopes, there's possibilities.