Blog To Express

A blogosphere learning experience to express with blog

My Photo
Name:
Location: Singapore, Singapore

A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Jul 12, 2012

Ways Done in the Past - Breakfast at Chinatown

Tai Tong Restaurant at Chinatown, Singapore in 1980
I remember breakfast at Tai Tong Restaurant located in the heart of Chinatown in Singapore in the 1960s.

It was a very rare breakfast treat my father gave me one day when I was 8 or 9 years old during my primary school holiday.  He brought me to Tai Tong Restaurant for "dim sum" with him before we went to Kheng Seng Chan, an import & export shop at Telok Ayer Road where he worked as a Chinese book-keeper. I woke up an early morning and dressed neatly with shoes (not clogs which I used to wear at Bukit Ho Swee at home).

I loved going to the shop with my father and played with the abacus he used, and played with the rubber-stamps and the stamp-pads like toys there.  The old-fashioned telephone in the shop was something new to me because there was no telephone at home.

My father was strict and did not allow me to roam around the shop.  He gave me pieces of recycled paper  to write with pencil and  I pretended to imitate as my father was working.

My father's workplace wasn't like the present day air-conditioned office with ergonomic interior designs and comfortable office furnitures. In the olden days, the shop was more like a warehouse in the shop front. There was a single ceiling fan in the shop, no-frill or decorative stuff at the workplace.

My father had a simple wooden table and a chair.  The rubber-stamps were used to "chop" on delivery orders, invoices or bills. My father was an abacus expert and I believe he could calculate faster than an electronic calculator.  I  did not learn how to use abacus because the  battery-operated calculators were available in for use in Singapore schools later.  My father learnt the art and skills of abacus in China before he migrated to Singapore in the 1930s.

As a import and export wholesale business dealing with native agricultural edible products of dried chillie, rice, corns, all kinds of beans.  The company employed a few "coolies" and owned one or two lorries.

I had observed how each lorry-load of many sacks from the ships, which I was told were imported from Indonesia in nearby islands.  The import and export business was dealing as commission agents for various suppliers. As middle-men, the company would transport the goods by lorries later to smaller towns like Muar, Johore or Malacca in East Malaysia.

When the workers brought sacks of these products from the harbour to the shop, the workers had to carry the heavy sacks on their shoulders and store them in the shop. These goods would then be delivered  to the customers at markets or shops according to individual orders a few days later.

As the only book-keeper in the shop to keep accounts, write letters in Chinese and all the clerical duties for multi-tasking work in the shop.  When the sacks of goods were weighed on a giant scale, every item had to be recorded for book-keeping.  With heavy orders for business, my father was busy and had very little time to rest at the workplace.  He would go to work early before sunrise and return home at sunset daily except on Sunday once a week.

I watched as my father worked the ways done in the past for delivery of goods from the shop.  The "coolies" were tough and rugged young men, working under the hot sun and sometimes bare-bodied and perspired as they worked to carry their heavy loads to earn a living.  I respect the "coolies" and tribute to them like the "samsui" women for their contribution in building up Singapore in the early days.

My father was very friendly with the "coolies" and they often chatted in Hokkien as they worked, offered them coffee or invited them to have lunch together in the shop.  Most of the colleagues were my father's "mahjong kaki" friends on Sundays at my home.

In those days, my father and the workers had meals in the shop. An elderly woman who once cooked delicious home-cooked food for everyone in the shop. The shop proprietor had meals with everyone on the same table without discrimination of social status.  It was like a family under one roof..

As I blog in the wee hours of the morning to retrieve my childhood memories on a day at at Telok Ayer Road to watch my father worked over 50 years ago, it was like retrieving some old home movies with scenes captured in the eyes of my mind getting aged but can still remember with joy.   I  am travellling on a time-machine backwards five decades ago.  It would be impossible for anyone an experience to imagine with details other than myself... with which I know I could blog only with words to describe with memories vividly.

Please join me to listen to this beautiful song, "The Windmills of Your Mind" by my favorite singer Nana Mouskouri...before I blog on to Chinatown for breakfast from my mind.



Long ago before MacDonald, the world's largest chain of hamburger fast food restaurant  reached our shore
on 27 October 1979. McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in Singapore, and served up the highest worldwide volume of hamburgers sold in a single day.

Singaporeans love breaking worldwide records in competitions as a demonstration of our Singaporean  patriotism.  Not so much as a "superiority complex" to overcome the unkind remark of our country size as "a little red dot" on the map or as a "phee sai" (small hard bit of mucus in the nose which some describe it as "nose digging"). It doesn't matter if these sick jokes about the size of our country are used too frequently by people with "quarantined brains".

Breakfast in Chinatown on a narrow backlane in 1960s
At one of the backlanes in Chinatown in the 1960s,  I  remember my mother brought me to 豆腐街 (Tou Fu Jie) in Chinatown for the first time I had eaten the best "chee cheong fun".  The peddler hawker provided no proper chairs and tables and the customers sat on low wooden stools.  Intitially my mother, who was tall, found it uncomfortable to sit this way.  Somehow, my mother and I followed the way other customers "when in Rome, do as the Romans do".   Each plate of "chee cheong fun" at 10 cents per plate and very tasty and "shiok". Great memories on a little street in Singapore to remember Chinatown.


 1996 - 豆腐街 - 主题曲 ( Tofu Street ) Dou Fu Jie [TCS Drama Theme Song] 

Breakfast with our feathered friends in the coffee shop, not the bird park
 

The Tai Tong Restaurant where my father and I had breakfast at Chinatown.was located at 39 Smith Street, at the junction of New Bridge Road, the main thoroughfare with heavy traffic, and Smith Street, a side road.

The restaurant has old-school architecture with high ceilings and window shutters. It was near a busy street where lorries were parked conveniently outside the shop. The customers could get a good view of passersby at outside tables at the five-footway. (Photo below).


The adjoining shops were crowded in the morning for "dim sum" for breakfast, seated on wooden chairs and marble table-tops.

The scene in the shop brings back nostalgic memories of the smell, the sound and the atmosphere in Chinatown not found elsewhere in Singapore in those days.

We heard the cacophony of the noisy place...the elderly uncles shouting out the orders in Cantonese,  the customers' payment to the counter in "business codes" only the cashiers would understand.  I learnt that the amount of days of the week.  "Pai yat" on Monday for $1, "pai yih" on Tuesday for $2, "pai saam" on Wednesday for $3, "pai sei" on Thursday for $4, "pai ngh" on Friday for $5, "pai luhk" for Saturday for $6 and "lei pai" and on Sunday for $6.  I did not learn more from the business training school though.

No written orders were used and it was like a "shout fest" in the shop.  The workers were always busy having fun because a noisy place would bring more business and luck and prosperity for the restaurant.

All the workers were wearing singlets and pyjamas...looking like they had just awoke and went to work comfortably and casually.   Forget about dress codes or styles for dining at the restaurant and just enjoy the meals in Chinatown, ways done in the past.  There was a spittoon below every table for the customers to use. (The photo of spittoon below the table as shown in another coffee shop).

 
The selective old photo credit of National Archives of Singapore (NAS) and thanks and acknowledgement to share on this blog.


Enjoy "yum cha" for breakfast at Tai Tong  Restaurant


Labels:

4 Comments:

Blogger Victor said...

Thanks for bringing back the memories, James. I remember visiting such coffeeshops in the 1960s for "Yum Zhou Char" (literally "drink early tea") but I cannot remember if it was Tai Tong.

August 27, 2016 at 1:30 PM  
Blogger Hui Hwang Sim said...

Hi James, I enjoyed your reminiscence thoroughly especially about the assistants in stripy pajama bottoms and singlets ( Double Swan or Peony Brand). I cant understand Cantonese either. I went there once about a decade ago, with my good friend who is a cantonese. The dim sum items were huge in size if i remember correctly. The pictures here seem to show only men patronising Tai Thong. Is it because only men could afford to enjoy dimsum while the poor wives slogged on at home? I never had the privilege of eating dimsum because my father was not making much. I cant remember eating dimsum at all when i was young. I dont know there are tai bao and xiao bau. You were so privileged then. I think my friend ordered a tray of siew mai and harkau. Those assistants really are legendary. Those pj pants my father used to wear at home. It has a drawstring. I remember Catherine Lim writing about such pants in her collection of short stories called Little Ironies. I cant repeat the contents here because its a little embarrassing.

August 27, 2016 at 8:25 PM  
Blogger Hui Hwang Sim said...

Hi James, I enjoyed your reminiscence thoroughly especially about the assistants in stripy pajama bottoms and singlet ( Double Swan or Peony Brand). I cant understand Cantonese either. I went there once about a decade ago, with my good friend who is a cantonese. The dim sum items were huge in size if i remember correctly. The pictures here seem to show only men patronising Tai Thong. Is it because only men could afford to enjoy dimsum while the poor wives slogged on at home? I never had the privilege of eating dimsum because my father was not making much. I cant remember eating dimsum at all when i was young. I dont know there are tai bao and xiao bau. You were so privileged then. I think my friend ordered a tray of siew mai and harkau. Those assistants really are legendary. Those pj pants my father used to wear at home. It has a drawstring. I remember Catherine Lim writing about such pants in her collection of short stories called Little Ironies. I cant repeat the contents here because its a little embarrassing.

August 27, 2016 at 8:27 PM  
Blogger JamesE Lutz said...

Awesome furnitures. They are very beautiful to look at as well as high quality I think. office cubicles miami

August 31, 2016 at 3:03 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home