Blog To Express

A blogosphere learning experience to express with blog

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Location: Singapore, Singapore

A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Feb 27, 2013

188 Hugh Low Street Book

Good News! My blogger friend "Ipohgal" has published her new book "188 Hugh Street".

At her request, I am pleased to post her book introduction on this blog.

More information and details to place order her book is available here.


It all started two years ago when Commander Ian Anderson from Ipohworld's World invited me to contribute some stories to "Ipoh, My Home Town," a book on growing up in Ipoh. I sent in five stories. All were accepted and published.

The responses I received from his readers were simply awe-inspiring.

This in turn gave me the idea to compile the rest of my short stories into a book called “The Story of a Scissors Sharpener’s Daughter.” The purpose of compiling this book is to give my readers an insight into the lives of a family in the 1960s and 1970s in this tin-mining city. It is not the story of a rich family but a resilient and humble one. You can say mine is a story of the voiceless and the faceless in a city known as “City of the Millionaires.”

Compiling this book has turned me from a blogger to a writer. It was a journey of faith and courage. Of course there were trials and tribulations as I went along. Time constraints and financial limitations were always there but I persevered because this is a story that I really want to share and not keep in the closet of my heart.

I relied heavily on memories of my childhood days that somehow stayed so vividly in the deepest recess of my mind despite the passage of time. Before my parents passed on, they always used to reminisce how tough it was for the family and these were some of the stories that I have included too in this book.

Lastly, I would like to thank my wonderful family, friends and relatives for their patience and encouragement. Without their valuable support this book would not have come to fruition. I am glad to see this book, my first endeavor, is finally here before our eyes.


Feb 25, 2013

Night in Chinatown

Under an acetylene lamp, the barrow man displays his fruits.
Descent into Chinatown does not require the passport of multi-lingualism.  It helps, naturally enough, if you can decipher the strident yells and screams, and perhaps add your own suitably worded contribution to the pageantry of noises.

Baby, strapped to mother's or sister's back, sleeps through the din around the stalls.
But the technicolor qualities of its colour remains, and they are there for all to see and feel - even if the strange signboards and flashing neon lights, adorned with gold and red characters, appear to be no more than a hotch-porch of twisted faces or a winking, spidery scrawl.

Excursions are best enjoyed at night. The glaring heat and incessant onrush of traffic, from gaudy trishas to fat-jowled automobiles, make a day outing something of a nightmare. But once darkness has fallen, the heavy scars and wrinkles of Chinatown's old age are softened under the myriad bright lights that glow with a beckoning warmth.

Her sensitive inhabitants react suitably, dressing up in rainbow-gay frocks and crisply laundered shirts, selling goods on the sidewalk, eating at roadside and market stalls or just wandering about.

Perhaps no place exudes this feeling of incandescent contentment more than the People's Market.  Neatly tucked away between a Chinese cinema, of which its patrons are acutely aware, and Police Headquarters, about which they are blissfully unconcerned, the market during the day is a drab empty series of vast barrack-like structures without walls and separated by wide passages. But at night it becomes an Oriental fairyland.

Restaurants vie with each another for cheapness and quality of  food.  Yellow flames lick out of fiercely burning stoves, on which pots and pans sizzle, hiss, crackle and explode as lumps of pork, fish, prawns and noodles are thrown into the boiling fat. Garlands of chicken, golden-waxen and fat, hang beside red-lacquered ducks to tempt the passer-by.

Garlands of chicken, golden-waxed and fat, hang for the customer's inspection at a wayside stall.
The passages are thronged with people coming in with greedy eyes or those, already replete and happy, going out to the cinema or a dance hall or just to roam around.

Opposite the market are several streets for the exclusive reserve of hawkers and these nocturnal strollers. Only the foolhardly would dare to invade this glittering domain at night other than on foot. The hooting of a car horn finds little respect. Pity the poor tourists crawling through in their taxi.

"Pears! Fresh pears from China," shouts a mobile hawker, slicing their skins with well-aimed strokes from his razor-edged knife. His barrow on wheels is neatly piled, basking under a carbide light made from an empty tin of baby's food.

"How much?" I ask, pointing to the fruit priced in Chinese characters.  "Thirty cents," he shouts, "Pears! Fresh pears from China!" "Ah! You think I don't read Chinese. Twenty cents written there."  A roar of laughter goes up. He dips the sliced pear into a jug of water, and takes the twenty cents with a smile.

A Chinese clerk and his wife bargain for a T-shape vest for their young son, and decide on the one with a picture of Superman. Young Superman himself is less than four years old.  No early supper and to bed by eight o'clock for him - not for anyone in Chinatown.

And next to it is a sort of housewife's stall. Neatly arranged in the same row are packets and tins of shampoo, deodorant, insect powder, abrasives, talcum powder, disinfectant, a baby's feeding bottle and brassieres.

In front hang some small towels stamped with that exhortation common to all Chinese towels, "Good Morning, Sir", with Chinese characters proclaiming "Congratulations on your early  peace!"  How is it that I have only used them at night, scented warm steaming and slapped on the face, to help recover from gargantuan Chinese meals?

Round the corner is probably the  most characteristically Chinese street in Chinatown named after the most essentially Malay or Malay States - Trengganu.  The City Council street nameplate is spelt incorrectly, just to emphasize the paradox.  But Chinatown is full of paradoxes. The young boy selling shirts at the corner is studying "Richard II" between serving customers.  His father owns a grocery, augmenting his income to educate a large family with a shirt stall - looked after by his eldest sons in turn.

Like the City Council, Chinatown makes a brave effort with its English spelling.  There is a "liquors" shop and a "cofe" that sells "cafe".  The French influence does not stop here.  There is Maison Chong, but alas he is a mason.  Then there is the American influence, too, as above the tumult came the throbbing strains of a modern crooner singing from a nickolodeon.

A youngster plays the "Turf King" pin table under the watch eye of a girl attendant.
There they are, several of them, with pin tables, "Turf King" and "Atlantic City" on a demolished site and looked after by a bevy of bright  young ladies.  The warm evening air is filled with an etherialised treacle, as some young bloods push 20-cent after 20-cent piece into "Turf King" or "Atlantic City," with one eye on the popping lights of the machine and the other on its guardian.

Opposite is a small stall called "Heavenly, Heavenly," which sells Chinese pork cutlets.  Nearby is someone whose speciality is stewed sweet potato.

The vendor of lizard soup for aphrodisiac qualities,  is famed for his good humour.
Next is the vendor of lizard soup, known for its aphrodisiac qualities, and the seller of dumplings and meehoon, uncooked and raw and heaped in long white appetising strips ready to be plunged into the scalding water bubbling in a copper cauldron at the other end of the stall.

Behind is a coffee shop, packed with customers, labourers, shop assistants, clerks, all sipping black coffee or toying with a fruit drink, smoking, gossiping, shouting, reading a Chinese newspaper or trying to listen to a Chinese prima-donna on the Rediffusion set.

Further along is an indoor restaurant, a slightly more respectable and better appointed establishment, catering for towkays and special occasions.  Chinese sausages, chickens and ducks, cold and waxen-yellow, hang behind its glass windows.

It reminds me of  "The Elegant Flower", in my recent book, with its portly grinning proprietor and his quietly smiling wife in a loudly printed pyjama-costume.  Their speciality appears to be cold bird's-nest water.

At the centre table is a family group, a dinner of welcome being given to an old lady, just back from China, by her dutiful son.  His wife and children and younger brothers and sisters are all in attendance.

The old lady holds back from the series of tempting dishes laid before them, and whenever she moves, does so with gingerly steps, swaying to and fro - doubtless to impress her emigre children and grand-children that she belonged to a conservative and respectble family in the old country, and that the refinements of Chinese fashions of bye-gone days are still with her.

A girl will cut your hair in one of the glittering barber's shops.
Out in the street again, the crowds seem to be swelling, like ants scurrying through an enormous open-air ant-hill.  Above is only the star-lit night, and the lines of washing hung out on poles from the tops of houses.  Over there is a group of plush permanent hair waving saloons, the "White Hibuiscus" and the "Rose Plum," each disporting bright new window curtains.

Finally, around the corner, are what seems to be the main attraction to most tourists - the death houses, where homeless and dying are brought to end their days.  There must surely be a morbid strain in tourists that with all its colour and natural gaiety, it is Chinatown's death houses they immediately make for.

The bereaved sit, sipping their coffee or soft drinks, outside a death house in Sago Lane
But even these have a sort of gaiety at death's door, as friends and relatives of the deceased sit at tables on the roadside sipping coffee, smoking cigarettes and receiving financial contributions, duly acknowledged in black ink on red strips of paper, just like contributions made to picketing workers on strike - a kind of sympathy for the solidarity of mourners.

There is a loud toot on the horn from a large black limousine.  One of the mourners is in the middle of the road chatting with a friend, leaning on a bicycle.  Slowly he wheels it out of the way.

"These are the death houses," shouts the polished guide at the driver's seat.

"Gee!" says one of the old ladies huddled up in the back of the car, "What would they say about that in the States?"

"That's sure interesting," says her friend.  "Now we've seen Chinatown, lets get back to the ship."  The honking car moves on, and the bicycle is wheeled back into the middle of the road.
This article "Night in Chinatown" by Desmond Neill , sounded like a strange and out-of-place Chinatown Singapore today to readers on the blog.

The street names, the buildings, the busy shopping activities, the majority of Chinese-Singaporean residents,  are the same in Chinatown.  Same. Same. But different!

The vivid, colorful description about "Night in Chinatown" article by Desmond Neill was first published in The Straits Times Annual for 1952, sixty-one years ago.  Its a beautiful piece of  travel journalism with polished words like poem.  It brings my mind back to Chinatown at night over six decades ago.  Surreal...

The article and photos with thanks and acknowledgement to The Straits Times Press as a blog for the benefit of nostalgia friends.

This is reproduced from an old article from an old magazine which most people have forgotten about it.

Age does not always determine value.  Just because a magazine is old, doesn't mean it's valuable. And just because it's newer doesn't mean it's worthless.

I am not speaking about collection of old magazines for commercial purposes or as an investment to profit the sales of old magazines like priceless vintage stamp collection.

I discovered an interest in old magazines as helpful "memory aids" with stories of nostalgic memories which were told by the first person stories.  At the moment they were captured, as fresh as their experiences  of  a place, people or event.  Sharing this blog will help to rekindle the fond nostalgic memories of the past.

The writers may have forgotten after many decades later to describe them from memory; or because the writers have passed on.


Feb 23, 2013

Ways Done in the Past - Lau Pa Sat

An aerial view of  Lau Pa Sat, Singapore in 1937
As a sequel to the previous blog on "Ways Done in the Past - Foodage", this blog is on Lau Pa Sat.

Wouldn't it be amazing to travel in "The Time Machine" to experience the places of an era we choose and meet people of another era?  To learn from them about their lifestyles, their environments in those days.

Charley Pride said: "I was always a dreamer, in childhood especially. People thought I was a little strange".

As I spend more and more time nowadays to think about the blog topics for nostalgic memories of the past, my friends bluntly told me straight to my face, "Hey, you are a dreamer with silly scenarios in your head that will not happen today".  They tell me to get my head out of the clouds and live in the real world.

As a child when I grew up in Bukit Ho Swee kampong, my mind was often full of imaginations and dreams. Maybe it was just me...

Maybe I had watched too many "kungfu" or "wuxia" (martial art) movies during my young days at the Atlantic Cinema in the Great World Park. During the school holidays, my favorite pastime was to watch these Mandarin movies in the afternoon matinee at 50 cents for two shows.

Wang Yu, Bruce Lee in Mandarin were my movie heroes.  Cheng Pei Pei was my favorite heroine.

"My own heroes are the dreamers, those men and women who tried to make the world a better place than when they found it, whether in small ways or great one".(George R.R. Martin).

"Without dreamers, no dream would ever be given reality, and we would live in a very small and shallow world".  (Vera Nazarian).

"You may say we're all dreamers,
And you're not the only one,
But if you care to join us,
Then the world will be more fun"
~ George Hammond

I try to keep on blogging and dream on my memory trips to blog my personal virtual adventures and experiences about Singapore memories to share.

Whilst I couldn't possibly translate my dreams about "The Time Machine", I found some research material on the Internet and posted archived photos of "Lau Pa Sat"  with courtesy of  the National Archives of Singapore on this blog.

The idea of time travel by means of a time machine gained popularity with the H. G. Wells story "The Time Machine", published in 1895. The term "time machine", coined by Wells, is now universally used to refer to such a vehicle. Since that time, both science and fiction have expanded on the concept of time travel.

Time travel is the concept of moving between different points in time in a manner analogous to moving between different points in space. Time travel could hypothetically involve moving backward in time to a moment earlier than the starting point, or forward to the future of that point without the need for the traveler to experience the intervening period (at least not at the normal rate). Any technological device – whether fictional or hypothetical – that would be used to achieve time travel is commonly known as a time machine.

"Lau Pa Sat" in the Early Days

Telok Ayer Market ( 直落亚逸巴刹), also known colloquially as Lau Pa Sat ("old market"; 老巴刹), is a historic building in Singapore and is located in the Singapore's Central Business District.  It is currently a food centre. There are several shops inside the market such as a 24 hours Cheers Store, a shoe repair shop, a tailor and a laundry store. In the evenings on the weekend a live band plays at the stage in the middle of the market.

Singapore's first market was located at the south bank of the Singapore River.  When the government acquired that land for more lucrative commercial use in 1823, the market was moved to Telok Ayer Street.
(Source:  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).

Beside the Lau Pa Sat in 1900, there was a "Singapore Flyer"...

Lau Pa Sat, 1956
Lau Pa Sat, 1957

By the early 1970s, the area around Telok Ayer Market - Shenton Way, Robinson Road, Cecil Street and Raffles Place - had swelled into a busy commercial district with sparkling new skyscrapers.   In 1973, the market was converted into a hawker centre and by 1986, it was closed to make way for a new Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line. The building's historical and architectural value was recognised and its signature cast-iron supports were put into storage.

Lau Pa Sat under renovation, 1970
Lau Pa Sat under renovation, 1973
Lau Pa Sat under renovation, 1980
Lau Pa Sat nearly completion of renovation, 1989
Lau Pa Sat, 1989

Lau Pa Sat Festival Market in 1990

Re-designed Lau Pa Sat Festival Market in 1992

Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, 2013

Prominent street signage to the stalls and seats for customers
First time visitors from Texas, USA to Lau Pa Sat
Hi, we like it !  The food is so licking good...just look at the empty bowls!
Recognize the man-sized cut-out poster of the bread seller?
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore
Same place.  Robinson Road, Singapore 2013 (above).  Different Times.  c 1930 (below) 

In conclusion of this photojournal blog with the juxtaposed photos of Robinson Road, Singapore to show the renewal development and transformation of  Singapore in 83 years...then and now.