A Chinatown Market By Day


Despite their transient nature, festive bazaars of any sort can always be distinguished every year by their unconscious regularity. There are the same stands of pussy willows, dyed in all sorts of colours, sitting behind pots of spiral-shaped bamboo coils and cut peach and plum tree branches. There is the same roasted-chestnut vendor standing before his glass-panelled roaster, sending the faint aroma of coffee wafting through the crowd. There are the same intricate red paper cuttings of auspicious Chinese characters, the same fabric plushies of zodiac animals, the same snaking queues for sweetmeats (better known by its Hokkien name bak kwa).

And then there are the details that you notice only after having regularly set foot along the same streets at the same time of year. Along Sago Street this afternoon, I witnessed the vendors kick into high gear at an unexpected visit. “The health department is here,” one old woman hollered, as men bustled out from behind their storefronts to take down the rope that they had used to extend the roof shelters over their stalls. I saw a woman peek out from under a massive blue tarp that had been pulled down from the eaves, iPhone pressed to ear as she kept watch down the street. I’d also begun noticing the gaggles of teenage students on school excursions traipsing behind teachers and tour guides. “I’m going to scare him to death,” one boy chuckled mischievously in Mandarin as he waved a wooden snake in a plastic bag. And then there were the tour groups: American, Taiwanese, Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, standing out with their orderly clustering compared to the stream of local pedestrians who thread down the busy lanes with a single-minded focus.

It never gets old to me. Chinese New Year has always been one of the most special times of the year to me. Even as a young adult, I always find a certain childish glee in surveying rows of deep brown niangao at the Tai Chong Kok bakery, or going to the same Indonesian bamboo cake vendor year after year to enjoy the fluffy white rice flour tubes stuffed with warm palm sugar and buried in sweet coconut flakes and orange sugar. Like what Christmas does to many in other corners of the world, the colours and music and lively bustle that Chinese New Year brings to Singapore always excites me. And the riotous energy (and, sometimes, idiosyncrasies) of the Chinatown bazaars never fails to remind me of that.





One of the many stalls selling Taiwanese fruit jellies. I’ve noticed that many of them seem to be manned by vigorous-looking young men.


The fire truck that had earlier caused a commotion among the vendors.


A selection of dried fruit slices, often given out as candy at festive tables.



A stall selling ‘bird’s nest water’, an iced drink made with fragments of the nest of edible-nest swiftlets. Bird’s nest is widely consumed as a tonic among the Chinese community.



The stall from which we get our favourite Indonesian bamboo cakes.



Rows of niangao at Tai Chong Kok’s Chinatown premises. As the words for ‘sticky’ (referring to the cake’s texture, being made of glutinous rice) and ‘year’ are homophones in Chinese, these cakes are eaten during the New Year to represent a wish for a fortunate year ahead.


12 thoughts on “A Chinatown Market By Day

  1. you are soo prolific :0

    On Fri, Jan 20, 2017 at 10:09 PM, Hear The Flowers Sing wrote:

    > Moony posted: ” Despite their transient nature, festive bazaars of any > sort can always be distinguished every year by their unconscious > regularity. There are the same stands of pussy willows, dyed in all sorts > of colours, sitting behind pots of spiral-shaped bamboo coi” >


  2. Reblogged this on Traveling Matters to us and commented:
    You know we started this attempt to share more about our own “backyard” that is the little red dot…and we had been mulling how we can present the “ethnic enclaves” we have. Try we have and we had not come to post one – yet. What can be better than to acknowledge that someone else does it better than you if you found wonderful content right?

    So without ado, we reblog this post by Moony. Btw there are lots of posts in her blog about real life in our country. Not the fancy Marina Bay, Orchard road etc….actual people living actual lives.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. It is an anomaly isn’t it? What seems obviously new to the visitor is “same old” to the local. Then, the real rewards are granted to those who take the time to notice all the details, and everything becomes new again. I very much enjoyed experiencing the market through your keen observations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I definitely agree with your statement, actually. Even if you don’t have the opportunity to travel abroad, seeing your surroundings in a new light can make all the difference.

      Liked by 1 person

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