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A "recycled teenager" learning to blog.

Jul 6, 2019

Sweet family bonds

Phyllis Phua (seated left, in pink blouse) with her grandfather, Mr Lao Song Khong, 78, and three generations of their family.  Mr Lao sold desserts like tau suan (whose ingredients of split mung beans, sugar, potato flour and pandan leaves) when he was a teen to survive the hungry years of the 1940s.

By Phyllis Phua

[Source:  The Straits Times, 29 October 2011]

Phyllis Phua, 16, is a Secondary 4 student of Pasir Ris Secondary.  She wins $100 in shopping vouchers and an iPod Touch 8GB.

My grandfather Lao Song Khong came from China to Singapore with his mother in 1938, when he was five.  In 1946, his mother managed to get a pushcart and became a street hawker near Read Bridge at Boat Quay, selling four varieties of desserts all boiled into a sugary soup.

They woke at about 6am for breakfast before buying ingredients for the desserts.  Once home, they would prepare Teochew fried yam in sugary paste, which is rarely sold now.  They also made red bean soup, cheng tng and tau suan.

After a simple lunch, they would load the desserts onto charcoal stoves in the pushcart and trundle it down the street.

Grandpa, who was in his teens then, helped his mother serve customers and was utensils.  They sold desserts till about 10pm, before packing and folding their cart and calling it a day.

By the time they reached home, it was already nearing midnight.

Although life was difficult, they made a decent living of about $7 a day, which was enough for Grandpa, an only child, and his mother.  His father had died during World War II, so mother and son depended on each other.

He was about my age when he sold desserts but his life was clearly harder than mine.  It was tougher to earn a living in the past, when manual labour was common.

Still, Ah Gong cherishes the bedrock values and kampung spirit of those days. 

People were friendlier and warmer, he says.  Neighbours were like family, helping one another and celebrating Chinese New Year together.  Food was tastier, and furniture was more durable.

Thinking about the lessons from his simple life, he says in Teocher:  "We cannot steal, rob, bully, trick or cause harm to others for personal gain.

"We have to depend on ourselves and the morally upright.  If we see others in need, we do our best to help them."

Grandpa folded up his dessert cart at 20, when his mother died of tuberculosis.  After that, he took up odd jobs and worked in an ice cream factory, before driving taxi for 30 years.

Grandpa is now 78 and widowed.  Although he was an only child, he has raised his own loving family.

With his expert cooking skills, his family of four children and eight grandchildren have the sweet pleasure of eating his delicious desserts, which also include barley with gingko nuts and water chestnut soup.

Indeed, our family bonds are strengthened because of the times we share while enjoying the desserts of old Singapore.

Read Bridge, originally known as Merchant Bridge, was renamed in honour of prominent businessman William H Read.  The bridge crosses the Singapore River at the uppermost limit of Boat Quay.  [Source:  National Archives of Singapore].


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