Archive | November 2014

The New Face of Ghim Moh Market

At the Ghim Moh hawker centre on a Wednesday morning.

At the Ghim Moh hawker centre on a Wednesday morning.

Ever since I moved to this neighbourhood, I’ve felt its heart to be the Ghim Moh wet market and hawker centre. The pulse of life in this estate seems to run strong between the different food and dry good stalls, and at the same time there was a quaint charm about it that gave character to this part of Ghim Moh. I was dismayed to learn that the old market would have to close for renovation for around a year, but a temporary market has sprung up to house the hawkers and stallholders, and more importantly to cater to the needs of residents looking for soul food.

Gone were the pale blue tables with browned edges, to be replaced by new orange plastic ones plastered with slogans. The size of the hawker centre had also decreased, causing the cooked food stalls to bristle out next to each other against the small lanes. Whereas before there were sprawling avenues between the stalls, now walking through the hawker centre on a crowded morning feels stifling as human traffic clogs up the new narrow thoroughfares. Some of the hawkers had also chosen not to sell their food during this period, causing the market to be short of some of its best hawker food. Fortunately this won’t be a permanent state of affairs and some things haven’t changed–the presence of the humorous vegetable seller firing off rapid calculations in Hokkien as he counts his earnings, the steadfast assistant at the prawn mee (noodles) stall greeting passers-by with his serene smile, and the colourful diversity of dry goods stalls selling everything from seafood to clothing to paper money and goods used for Chinese ancestral worship rites.

I have only visited the temporary market once since it commenced operations a little while ago. The image of the old market with its rustic elegance is still imprinted on my heart, so it still feels a little unreal for me that it’s going to be given a facelift and moulded into something completely different. Though most of its familiar faces will still be around by the time the new market is ready, I can’t help but feel there’s already been part of it that has been irreparably changed.

Sembawang Hills Food Centre

I live nowhere near Sembawang, so after a visit to a friend’s house I decided to take a bus down the street and check out the area with a vague destination in my mind. I’ve always adored the bustle and colour to be found at hawker centres, especially around lunch time when they’re filled with the crush and noise of people arriving for good food. The atmosphere of the food centre at Sembawang Hills was significantly different, though, when I arrived on a wet Wednesday late afternoon. The lights were dimmed and many of the stalls had already closed for the day, making the building appear like a crouching creature waiting moodily for the rain to stop. Nevertheless I braved the rain to go in for some shelter and find out what lies in this corner of the island.

Before I begin touching on the company I found on my brief foray here, I must explain that because many of our conversations had to be translated from Mandarin and reformatted slightly to fit in with the narrative structure of this blog, as well as the fact that I didn’t record any of them, I might not be able to reflect the comments of the people I met with complete accuracy. Nonetheless I have tried to convey their dialogue as true as I can to what they meant to say.

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Sin Heng Coffeeshop

Madam Tan: “Many of the stalls are already closed because it’s raining and no one wants to come here. On days when it’s not raining we get a lot of people coming for lunch, but around now many of the other hawkers are resting for the day. I’m going to close at the same time I do everyday.

My mother started this shop many years ago and I took over her. Now she’s eighty years old and cannot work. My kids are grown up and working, so is my husband. I’m planning to work as long as I can. I like this job. It gives me something to do, and I also have friends here. Yes, regular customers too. Regular customers are to expected from any job. When you work, the most important thing is to have respect. So I respect all my customers.

Working all the time is very tiring, so I have off days on Saturday and during the three-month renovation I’m planning to go for holiday in China–maybe Shanghai.”

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Friendly Mr Saw agreed to let me take his photograph.

Lai Heng Fried Kway Teow

Mrs Saw (not in picture): “We’ve run this shop for seventeen years. His father was working at Lakeview, then he moved to Shunfu and we came here. I began working here because of him, and as I worked I grew to like the job, so now I enjoy it. I’m planning to retire one day, and when we do we’ll just close the shop. Besides this one we have many shops around Singapore managed by his workers. Our relatives are all also in the business.

We have three children–one in Secondary Three, one in Secondary Two and one in Primary Four. My eldest is very clever–we got a letter saying he qualified for a bursary. During the renovation period we’re planning on bringing our kids out to play–maybe Legoland Malaysia?”

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Khoon’s Katong Laksa & Seafood Soup

Though the lady at the stall declined to let me take her photograph–a pity since she had the sweetest smile–she later offered me a free bowl of laksa! What a generous woman. When I flashed her a thumbs-up for her cooking she even pointed cheekily to the little sign that said ‘好吃’ (Mandarin for ‘tasty) at the storefront.

“We have worked here for twelve years, but there are others who have worked for much longer! The lady selling popiah had been here long before we came; she’s been working for thirty-five years. And the man selling chestnut water has been working for more than twenty years, since he was small! My husband used to be a contractor, but later he decided to switch jobs. Ten years ago we were at the temporary premises when they were renovating this place. Now on rainy days we don’t get many people because there is no sheltered carpark so it’s inconvenient to walk here.

I’m going to work as long as I’m fit. I like this job; the hawkers here are very close to each other.”

I also met a friendly couple sitting next to me when I was digging into my laksa:

Raja and Mala (both declined to be photographed)

Raja: “I’ve been coming here for ten years. I don’t come all the time–maybe at least once a week. We live at Woodlands, and usually I come here after picking my wife up from work at Marymount Convent. I eat from this laksa stall often and buy coconut water from the next stall. I don’t just like Chinese food–I love it! Other places in Singapore that serve good Chinese food would have to be Old Airport Road, Tanglin Halt and Nam Kee Road. You know Teochew muay (rice porridge)? The one at Kee Nam is very good. Tanglin Halt has also got good chicken rice. My wife is a primary school teacher. We have one son; nine this year.”

Mala: “I’m bilingual! I teach Tamil, English and Art. I don’t find the kids annoying; as long as you have the passion for teaching it doesn’t matter. I was the form teacher of a graduating class two years ago. You don’t get bored seeing the students graduate every year, as a teacher since you have the passion, but I think for students it’s different because they feel like they’re going through the same thing.”

Little Visitors

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These tiny birds have given me days of viewing pleasure by busying about the garden, and I don’t think any description of the nature here would be complete without mentioning these little fellows.

Meet the sunbirds. The individuals I had seen most frequently are (I presume, for I’m not too knowledgable about local wildlife) olive-backed sunbirds, the most common on the island. Every time I spy a brown flash going by my window, or catch their distinctive chirruping cries, I’d creep up–none too quickly, lest I scare them off–to the windowpanes and press my nose against the glass just to watch them. They usually flock to the torch ginger grove along the side of the yard to refuel from the pale pink blossoms, or sometimes they will perch for a breather on the metal wires from which the aerophytes are suspended, and even at rest they never seem to stop moving as they bob their heads and preen and jerk their wings. Occassionally there’ll be a male astride the top of the wire fence above the garden wall, puffing out his glossy deep blue chest to stake his claim to the turf. There are days where I even see several of them together, hopping playfully between branches on the tree at the back of the house or having a silent tussle over their rights to the land.

I find it interesting even how in the muggy drowsy heat that envelops this island at mid-day they are still active, flitting from flower to flower with gusto in their insatiable quest for nectar. They even construct their pendulous nests in the most conspicuous of locations–I had seen a couple suspended from ceiling lights and potted plants next to my school’s board room. I’d been told it was because they like being near human habitation, which I feel is remarkable seeing how they might be putting themselves in harm’s way from some people who would cut their nests away without a second thought. These birds have a lot of pluck, and it’s easy to see why they have managed to adapt so easily to the altered landscapes in Singapore’s urban jungle.

One day I’d love to see a couple make their homes where I stay, but until then I’ll continue to snatch moments from entertainment by seeing them add their colours to the garden and play out the brief drama of their lives.

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Here It Begins

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What lies out there?

There were days when I’d be feeling especially thoughtful when out walking in my mother’s garden. Some days, I’d think, maybe we need to step outside the rush of life and our thoughts to take the time to appreciate the little things around us–almost like listening to a flower closely enough to hear it sing, I reckoned.

Potential cheesiness aside, this is why I decided to name my blog the way I did. This blog is going to be part of my personal quest to be able to explore the world around me and get in touch with all it’s made up of. I’ll be writing about the people, animals, things, places and events that I feel capture different facets–and a different part of the essence–of this little red dot I live on.

I doubt I’ll have the ability to be able to provide enough to cater to the reading pleasure of those out there who have come by this blog, but nevertheless I hope whatever I write about will be able to convey to you, dear readers, some of the spirit of this Singapore I call home.