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A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Sep 4, 2016

Boss No In ! Any How Sell !

The blog title in the signboard photo for a laugh!

To find out more about this sales gimmick on the signboard, please read the last page of this blog.

To post this blog, I acknowledge with thanks to NewspaperSG and National Archives of Singapore courtesy of the National Library Board, Singapore for the resources to do the research on this blog.

Thanks to Sylvia Toh Paik Choo to "meminjam" (Malay translation to borrow) from her 13-year-old feature article published in the now defunct "New Nation" newspaper.  Sylvia is alive and kicking with full of energy on Facebook and hope she would not kick me for posting on this blog.

According to Wikipedia (where the rich and famous people are mentioned), Sylvia Toh Paik Choo is a newspaper columnist and humour writer from Singapore.  She is the author of Eh Goondu! (1982) and Lagi Goondu! (1986), the first two books on Singlish.  She was the first to put a spelling and punctuation to Singlish.  Written with good humour, the books can be considered as social history.  Paik Choo has been compared to Art Buchwald and Mark Twain.  She now works at Straits Times Press.

Paik Choo is my Facebook friend and I am her ardent fan for decades since she made me laugh and chase my blues away ..... everything she writes and everywhere her name appears every printed publication (whether defunct, dead or alive) which I could grab hold of, especially in the libraries.

It is my pleasure to reproduce Paik Choo's interesting article "You can still find storybook Chinatown" here.

As we read her story, I add more ingredient of salt, sugar, and all sorts of spices from "memory-aids" of archived photos with thanks to National Archives of Singapore.  No additional charges to the traditional dishes we love.

Before starting her story in the articles, please take a look at the photos of the places she mentioned.

Mosque Street

Photo taken on November 3, 1953.  View of Mosque Street, looking towards South Bridge Road with the Jamae Mosque partially visible in the background.

Pagoda Street

Photo taken on February 4, 1959.  Night scene of stalls in Pagoda Street during Chinese New Year shopping.

Morning market in Chinatown.  There can be as many as 1,200 street stalls throughout a typical day in Chinatown.  Most of these stalls are concentrated along Trengganu Street, Sago Street and Banda Street, with a few spilling into Temple Street and Pagoda Street.  The goods sold include food, livestock and perishables.

Smith Street

Postcard featuring junction of Trengganu Street (running from bottom right-hand corner across) and Smith Street in Chinatown.  The three-storey building is the former Lee Chun Yuan opera theatre, believed to have been built in 1887, offering Cantonese opera performed by local, China and Hong Kong troupes.

Trengganu Street in 1919

Temple Street

Photo taken on May 4, 1959.  View of flooded Temple Street, looking towards People's Park wet market along the parallel New Bridge Road and Eu Tong Street.  The taller buildings in the background belong to the former Pearl's Hill Police Headquarters.

A crowded morning wet market with temporary makeshift stalls in Temple Street in 1970.

Another photo of the roadside stalls in the open-air..  No carparks outside the shops in the early days.

Cross Street

Street junction of Upper Cross Street and Eu Tong Sen Street with the electric tram in the middle of the road.

With the old photos posted, you can now switch your mind to the times of nong, nong ago while reading the feature article by Paik Choo.  These scenes in Chinatown cannot be recreated to imagine.

The story goes - or so I start to make it up - a tourist, a Mr Smith, is in Chinatown to see a temple, a pagoda and a mosque.  He ends up cross.

Why?  We shall come to that later, but do you get the clue?

Mosque, Pagoda, Temple, Smith and Cross are parallel streets in the boxy grid that is the "sum" (heart in Cantonese) of Chinatown.

For a history of the enclave the way it was, stop by 48 Pagoda Street, the Chinatown Heritage Centre

Photo courtesy of the contributor on the Internet shared on Google.

It was restored from three old shophouses (tailors) and sectioned off to recreate the living conditions of early migrants.  Typically Disneylandesque.

Open every day of the year from 10 am to 7 pm, it's $8 for a cross Mr Smith and $4 if you show a local card.  (Note: Please check the updated info at Chinatown Heritage Centre).

A storybook place, Chinatown is.

You have only to not just look, but stop and buy and the chitchat that follows will add another page to its cramped, dark history.

The Centre has two books, Lotus From The Mud and Down Memory Lane in Clogs, by the same author, a Madam See Cheng, 70, who grew up here."

[Posted on a previous related blog here .]

The English versions are $14.80 and in Chinese, $8.80.

Try explaining to the getting - crosser Mr Smith that 88 is a fortuitous number for the Chinese.

But, by far better than ant page-turner, there is Jimmy, owner of Wang Tang Eating House (2 & 4 Trengganu Street) better known as Tai Pei Seafood to the older generation.

His mother was born in the New Bridge Road end of Pagoda Street, then moved upstairs to the block where his coffee shop is before marrying and raising a family at the South Bridge Road end of Pagoda.

"He sounds like a character you could use on your TV drama or sitcom," I say to friends in production.

"Oh, I based the drinks man in Moulmen High (Ch 5 drama) on him."

The 32-year-old, good-looking, plump in a tough way, is articulate about the place he has not left.  His is a photographic memory.

"I can tell you about Chinatown in the past," he say."

His coffeeshop is a popular institution both with locals and tourists for its open-air seating and tasty and inexpensive cooked foo.

"They come back.  They say the food is best, but why the beer gone up in price from two years ago?  Rental, you know, they keep raising."

Jimmy's mother sold shoes in the street.

"Night time if rain, our mother wake us up, quickly keep the shoes, because the drains flood and wash the shoes away.

"You know where we used to hide, why play hide and seek?  In the drains.  Sometimes, big rats swimming next to you.

"I don't think you have experience this kind of  childhood."

The square of streets was residential in area with roadside makeshift stalls.

"Anything you want to buy, you find here."

Including pythons slit for its gall-bladder and frogs filleted for a garlicky exit.

There were some 20 kids who made a lot of noise playing on the streets every evening, and the "government took over, sell to private and our friends all gone."

[ ] Old Chinatown atmosphere cleaned up

Jimmy admits the hygiene is muchg, much better now, but it has also cleaned the district of its culturally rich atmosphere.

He is embarrassed when tourists ask him what there is to see here.

"What you see here, you can see in Bugis Square,

"Any town central will also have the same kind of pasar malam, selling same things."

The Chinatown he lived came alive at 6 pm, when residents and shoppers turned out, and stalls would wind down at 11.30 pm.

"Now shops close at 6.30 pm."

That life, he laments, you cannot see any more.

"Poor people here, after playing, we have a guni chwee (condensed milk drink) and half boil egg with bread, that is our entertainment, so happy, 60 cents can settle everything.

"Our mother, so busy selling things, where got time to tell us, 'don't play in the rain' you see, not protected children, but can become commandos in NS."

One sight he will never forget is 'the wall that moves'.

"Last time our houses, the landlady only put one five-watt light in the bathroom and toilet.  So quite dark.  But you can see the black wall move.  You know what is that?  Cockroaches.  The cockroaches on the wall!  "You don't have this in HDB right?

If I did, my MP would be roundly Baygoned.

You can sit and talk with Jimmy all night (he shuts at 1 am now, used to be 4 am).  Or you move on in search of others like him.

The Cantonese cross-talk residents from upstairs tenement shouting an exchange between the clothes poles to vendor - is all but gone.

Here and there you do spot remains of those days.  Mr Wong of Chan Lai Kee Sauce (52 Smith Street) is one such character.

He doesn't just sell his homemade sauces - and he has one for every dish imaginable - he can dictate you a cook book.  "I'm second generation," he says in English, unravelling his good morning towel.

"You know 'sek choi hai Guangzhou' (to eat is Kwangchow)?

"I can tell you not only which sauce for what dish but I can  teach you how to cook it.
"Of course, you don't want to see the factory where the sauce is made.  Here you smell sauce, it's nice, you buy.  Ang moh only know how to siew (grill) their food.  But we have sauce for every kind of cooking."

His house brand is Best Chef, "my own logo".

Round the corner on Sago Street is good news.

Herb Wonder (8 Sago Street) is a month-old eating place run by a young couple and they are the reason why you no longer have to drive all the way to Johor Baru for the famed herbal roast duck.

Samuel Yik and his wife Eliza Gunawan bought the recipe "yes we paid quite a bit" from that JB fella and it's one of their best selling dishes.

The setting is another reason for eating here (prices are very reasonable),  It is like pulling up stops in a village inn in dynastic China.

Bao Zhi Ling (No 10) in a hole in the wall sinseh.  Its shelves hold medicaments all of which seem to be branded by the same grandfather whose bearded face appears on boxes, tubes and bottles.

Behind a floor-length curtain is the consultation room, $24 will sort out your aches and pains, medicine included.

On 61 Temple Street is a shop that is still to be named, as owners Mr Chee and Mr Loh have been occupied with the merchandise.

A paradise for vinyl lovers, long and short play records going from $2 to $500 (classical boxed sets) and Cantonese songs still in their brown papper sleeves!

The stories you can't verify and to the colour.

They tell of how the father gives his recipe for the famous mooncake to the sons who then quarrel and each sets up his own etcetera and people swear by one although both one from the exact recipe.

Occasionally the mooncake in the story is changed to bak kua.  My favourite is the anecdotal one about the two tailor shops - one was Weee Kian Fatt and the next door, Soh Kian Wee.

But shop 01-07 on Trengganu Street where the sign reads "Boss No In! Any How Sell" is for real.



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