Tuesday, 14 March 2017

When debates were black and white

DEBATES. There are more and more debates these days in Singapore -- on social media -- and perhaps a little in coffee shops.

But I do so miss the good old debate series on B&W TV, especially those with Max Le Blond chairing them -- in the early 1970s. Actually I think he was first a debater before chairing the series. Always a joy to watch him. The last bit, when the judges were debating over the results, was the best bit as that was the time for members of the audience to have their say too.

If I remember rightly, the series was aired at 7pm over channel 5. Love to see the top-tiered schools pitched against each other. Remember rushing home from school to catch it.

Wish I had a screen grab of the old debate series... but in those days, who would have ever dreamed that you can take a picture of what's happening on your TV set? Or a mobile phone that lets you take pictures anytime and anywhere?


Treasures from a Shandong couple

Guotie (pan-fried jiaozi) brought all the way from Beijing to Singapore,
made by my friend, Pauline Dawn Loh. Mum used to make such dumplings too,
which she learnt from a Shandong friend in Singapore.

My parents used to know this couple from Shandong. The wife was tall and big. The husband was tall and thin. They visited us often. Sometimes, I would follow my parents to their house which was at Medway Drive, just a few lanes down from where we lived in Serangoon Gardens. I liked their house which had a porch. I don't remember a single piece of soft furniture in their living room, but it was cosy nonetheless.

They had endless conversations. I would have a plate of peanuts all to myself while they talked. The wife toasted the nuts without oil and with just a bit of salt. I loved the filmsy, flaky skin which tasted salty and sweet at the same time. And after I finished the plate, the wife or the husband would refill it with more peanuts stored in an airtight Milo can.

The husband sometimes entertained me (as he knew I was bored) by playing the saxophone and the violin. I wondered why he wasn't a member of the orchestra or something. Perhaps he was when he was young.

They were always very neat in their appearance. The wife wore black rimmed glasses. Her hair was jet black (maybe dyed), a straight, one-length bob with side parting, clipped securely at the longer side. She wore simple tailored dresses (mostly in dark shades) that reached down to her calves. She had a rich timbre to her voice, and occasionally would let off a hearty guffaw.

The husband has his hair combed back like Tony Tan, but not as black. He wore short sleeved shirts (usually checked) and baggy pants with cuffs. He spoke softly and didn't seem as gregarious as the wife. He smoked quite a bit too -- cigarettes from a green tin -- Consulate. Once, he showed me a pipe and sachets of tobacco. I remember one of the gifts he gave Dad was a gold cigarette case. I had many moments of fun springing the lid open and close. Those days, smoking was common, though already known to be bad for health, it was not as publicised.

Their conversations with my parents were always peppered with laughter. I enjoyed listening to them though I wasn't at all sure what they were talking about.

I don't think this Shandong couple had many friends here. My parents seemed to be among their very few. They drove and would sometimes take us to a dinner of jiaozi (dumplings) in Chinatown. But first, they would weave in and out of the stalls in People's Park, The stalls were then outdoor, with many meandering narrow alleys formed by the arrangement of the stalls. They were fond of crockery, cloth, household goods. They spent a great deal of time browsing -- till they saw my long face -- and it dawned on them that it was way past dinner time.

My mum learnt the art of making jiaozi from the wife. Many happy hours were spent with me helping to knead the dough and rolling it out into neat rounds, using a Red Lion bottle ( popular brand of a drink in the 60s) as a rolling pin. Mum would be busy mixing the minced pork and cabbage for the filling. Dough left under a wet towel would have faces formed on them (by me of course) --  the "Play Doh" of today!

The wife also gave my mum, neatly cut rectangles of materials, kept in biscuit tins. These were laboriously cut with edges pinked, from scraps of materials leftover from her dresses. My mum would sew those little pieces into patchwork blankets for us. I would steal a few pieces to make into clothes for my dolls. I had many happy hours looking at all the pieces of materials and thinking of what design would go well with the various material.

The treasures from this Shandong couple were generous, textured and so rich.


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Ode to Lit


To Kill a Mockingbird:
I think this is the edition
we had in the 70s, 
I remember it had an orange cover.
Literature is something I have always enjoyed. In secondary school, I enjoyed all the books we had to do (well, not all of Shakespeare's plays). We had books like "Six Short Stories" -- such a great selection of stories by masters long dead and gone.

There was "The Bagman's Story" by Charles Dicken. Never knew what a "bagman" was till we started on this story. So, this bagman stopped by an inn one night and had an interesting conversation with a weird chair. In the same book, there's "The Bottle Imp" by Robert Louis Stevenson when we learnt what an "imp" was.

Later on, we did "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Good Earth". Which other subject lets you read for pleasure but Literature? Even Shakespeare, after a while, wasn't too bad.

In university, we got to read more novels. It was credits to most of our Lit tutors that we didn't have to overly dissect and analyse the text so that we lost our own reactions to the stories. But it was good that they made us wary of not putting ourselves too much into the story and taking it totally away from the authors.

I was happy that my tutorial group did not have members who were always ready with answers. Er, we liked to think deeply first and collect our thoughts before we answer.

After another quiet class, Dr Max Le Blond ( a very good tutor) became rather exasperated. He said he would let us think without disturbing our thoughts -- so there was a long silence in class with just the breathing of his huge mastiff sitting next to me. This mastiff was as tall as me when seated. Loved its presence!

Even now, snatches of remembered lines would for no good reason, flit through my mind. Lines such as:

The horror, the horror (Conrad's Heart of Darkness)

Rivets I wanted (Heart of Darkness, and the visual image of a demented man looking for rivets...)

No not yet... no not there (Forster's Passage to India)

And of course:

When shall we three meet again, in thunder, lightning or in rain?

Et tu Brute?

The Ides of March are here. Aye, but not gone...

Cowards die many times before their deaths...

Now, we just need a little bit of the "stream of consciousness" to link them up into some kind of meaning...

Anyway, I wish I haven't thrown or given away all my Lit books. Nothing like re-reading one on a rainy afternoon.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Where are the bananas?


Jalan Pisang, where you can find interesting gables such as this one with a wall mural of a girl cuddling a marmalade cat. 
A nice shady walk along Victoria Street towards Arab Street.

Chemistry, cafe along Jalan Pisang.
I've seen these interesting shophouses along Victoria Street --  from the bus -- most of the time. But just recently, I had the chance to take a nice walk as I alighted from bus 51, heading towards Arab Street to look for doll-making materials.

Except for bananas, Jalan Pisang (which means Banana Lane), has a lot of interesting stuff -- from quirky gables (like those shown in the pictures) to a range of eateries like the Michelin guide Maimunah Restauran famed for its nasi padang and Fluff where you can find the fluffiest cup cakes with interesting salted caramel toppings -- as well as Royals Steakhouse that also boasts homemade pumpkin soup (according to their website) and other goodies. Pity I just had lunch. Next time.

The area is rich in history, of course, being part of the vast garden belonging to Malay royalty -- once upon a time. Jalan Pisang must once have been the spot for banana trees in the garden.

According to the book, Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics, the street was named during the Municipal Council meeting on Boxing Day in 1860 (well, they met even during festive season, these hardworking people!).

The Hokkiens called it "buan a thiong cheng thau tiao" which means "the first street in front of the Malay cemetery" (at Jalan Kubor), the book went on to say. Well, I didn't know it was the "first street".  Google map shows that indeed it is, if you are heading towards Jalan Sultan from Victoria Street.

There aren't many nuggets on Jalan Pisang's past, though of course, the history of Kampong Glam has been written about, extensively. Here's something that you could read up on: https://www.ura.gov.sg/uol/conservation/conservation-xml.aspx?id=KPGL
Pink flowery heart gable, belonging to a nightclub (I believe). Postnote added 15 March: I was there again last Friday with a friend to taste that beef steak at Royals Steakhouse when I noticed that this wall has been white washed! Blank now. So that flowery heart has vanished, I guess, for good.