Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The essential software of neighbourhood shops

This neighbourhood shop is rather big and has bright and neat window display. Well and good. Some may not have such orderly display, but that's ok too, because the service inside is usually warm and friendly. What's important for neighbourhood shops is their software.

Some time ago, Bharati Jadish and Keith de Souza (Talkback on radio) were getting opinions from the public on how neighbourhood shops can be improved to attract more traffic. Government has given these shops funding. Which is a good thing.

Some said window displays can be improved. Some said the goods can be better packaged. And one said there should be more promotional campaigns by these shops.

We heartlanders go to neighbourhood shops, sometimes in our pyjamas, for practical reasons -- and for a touch of warmth. So, they don't have to look like a mini Cold Storage or mini NTUC Fairprice or even a mini Seven-Eleven.

The charm of neighbourhood shops lies in their haphazard window display -- a hodgepodge of items not arranged aesthetically nor even neatly. And stepping on the tail of the shop's resident cat is all part of the happy experience  (maybe not for the cat) of shopping at a neighbourhood shop.

The wares they stock are not exactly brand names unless you count Ayam brand or Mei Ling. So I don't really care how glam their window displays are.

What do I usually get from these shops -- heavy or unwieldy stuffs like toilet rolls, washing liquids (giant sized), mops and brooms, pails, bottles of various sauces including my favourite Bull Dog brand vinegar for making trotters. You don't want to be carrying these around town while doing your shopping.

I do buy smaller things from these shops too, like Brands essence of chicken, tissue paper -- and canned drinks (which are much cheaper than those sold at coffee shops). DIY items are fantastic. A provision shop near my place also sells sliced fruits and freshly squeezed juice, so that's great. They even sell pet food. If you browse around, some actually stock a whole lot of things like needles and thread, rubber bands, raffia, face powder, hair sprays, colognes, baby powder, Panadol... the list goes on.

I know in some neighbourhoods, there are furniture shops too. That's excellent because I can lug a stool, a foldable mattress, or even a shoe rack home without having to take a cab.

These shops deserve whatever funding they can get -- and I think some of the money can go into maintaining the personal service they have been providing so well. Hopefully, this would include maintaining the health and welfare of the proprietor too -- the smiley old man sitting outside on a crate -- so that he will be around for a long time. He is so much a part of the shop and he is the best window display I can think of -- and the best promo the shop can get.

It would be a sad day if these shops are ousted out because of rising rents. They are important to our lives.

Monday, 22 August 2016

77 years of grandeur and still counting

Tranquility reigns on the top level, with a great view to boot.
Clean lines and elegance.
Concrete blocks and airy awning, a pleasant contrast.
This building has been around 77 years and two Fridays ago, it was the first time I entered it. It is of course, the National Gallery now.

You won't regret spending a long afternoon at the Gallery. So many things to see, so many cafes and makan places... Many quiet nooks with nice seats and books which you can browse.

Both adults and kids can have fun painting (digitally) and then have your finished works projected and animated on the wall. I found that immensely fun.

A national monument, the place used to be the Supreme Court  -- and the building was as stately as its name sounded. 

Now, the stateliness has taken on an overtone of breeziness and modern chic while retaining its old elegance. So cool. 
View from one of the many splendid windows on the ground floor.

A rehearsal in progress. Don't you love the red grand piano?

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

The shrine that travels from Zheng Hua to Jurong

The Jin Fu Gong is vast, with two huge courts for sports.
So thrilled to see a live chicken, even
though it's in a cage and not roaming
around in a kampung.
The chicken in the cage reminded me so much of the wet markets of my childhood. I have not seen a live chicken for a very long time. 

I wonder what a lone chicken is doing here in this temple called the Jin Fu Gong (Jurong West). For the next offering, I guess. 

Anyway, this temple had its origins in a shrine that was rather far away from the temple's current premises -- at Zheng Hua Village (Bukit Panjang). 

In the 1960s, residents of this village found a statue of Tua Pek Kong and a shrine was erected round it, known as Kim Hock Keng (Jin Fu Gong) -- Golden Luck Temple. It was known for its well -- people drinking its water were said to be cured of their cough. With development in the 1990s, the temple was re-sited in Jurong West.

In looking up the temple's origins, I came across this blog which described Zheng Hua Village so well, with such interesting anecdotes and lots of old pictures: Diary of a Singaporean Cabby. The author also described the wet market there -- which made me think of the chicken I saw at the temple.

Today, the Jin Fu Gong's main deity is still Tua Pek Kong. Other deities there include Goddess of Mercy (Guanyin), God of War (Guan Di), Goddess of the Sea (Mazu), Tiger God and Datuk Kong. 

Jin Fu Gong was originally a Tua Pek Kong shrine in Zheng Hua Village (Bukit Panjang).
Several "dragon" pillars offer firm support for the temple. 
Wall reliefs that tell of tales from The Three Kingdoms and more. 
One of the guardians of the temple. 
Signboard at the temple appealing for donation to erect a new eco-friendly burner.
A lovely carp pond also graces the temple's compound. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Hooked on a little shop of wonders

Some useful hooks and stuff which I got from a provision shop in Jurong West.

Big glass jars with metal lids containing all sorts
of biscuits. You can still find them today
at some provision shops.
I can spend hours in a provision shop, pouring over their goods and visualising what I can do with some of them. The bigger shops combine hardware with sundry goods -- which is great. So you wander around the shop, from Brands essence of chicken, dish washing liquids to pots and pans and then to one of my favourites -- various kinds of hooks for hanging various things. These days, there are hooks and hooks.

But thank goodness, provision shops don't try too hard to keep up with the times. They play songs you can tap your feet to -- like Sukiyaki -- though most of them have cash counters and even Nets service.

But I know of at least one which still uses a rusty can and pulley, operating in the heart of a HDB estate. The boss insists that this relic be used instead of the cash register. Probably in his late 70s, he has a full crop of white hair. Hale and hearty, you can see him almost every day, fanning himself and seated on a wooden crate while his two daughters managed the shop. His wife occasionally emerged to help out.

Did you catch "The Provision Shop" on channel 8 last Sunday? I think the idea is great -- with the provision shop and the characters reflecting a rapidly changing Singapore. Indeed, the provision shop is one of the last icons in retail (and service) with the "personal touch". (I once borrowed a ladder from them.)

The telemovie's centrepiece (for me) was the honest look into the relationship between a Singaporean and a foreign worker -- and the rapport and understanding that came too late.

Overall though, I think the storyline is a little contrived and doesn't capture my attention as much as the interviews given by Royston Tan. He is a great storyteller and very captivating -- like when he talked about his childhood at his family's provision shop in Lorong Chuan -- and when he talked about his philosophy in film making. I love the props (some he had saved from those days) -- tikum-tikum, packets of snacks (are they still edible?), etc.

Wonder if he kept some of those tubes of gel that came with a small straw? You press the gel (which came in many wonderful colours) into a ball shape at one end of the straw. You blow from the other end and voila, the gel grows into a balloon. (Alas, to the disappointment of many kids, the balloons being transparent were not as colourful as the gel.)

Perhaps I'll find them at Rosyth Road, the provision shop where the filming took place.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

5-min dessert

I have always liked oats. Mum used to make oat porridge for us when we were sick. Those days, there were no quick cooking oats and she had to boil the oats for a long, long time. Then when it began to thicken, she added a bit of condensed milk, and beat in an egg.

Recently, I got some quick cooking oats. It thickens within 2 minutes when the water boils. Add a bit of coconut cream, then sprinkle brown sugar on top. Let the sugar melt a little before eating. Baristas can try making a pattern on top like they do with coffee :)

Monday, 4 July 2016

Chubby Chick

Isn't it cute? Meet my first egg cup, Chubby Chick. Cost me only $8 as it was the only one left on the shelves. And its beak (if you look closely at the picture) is a little chipped. Original price was $15.

I've never owned an egg cup in my life. When I was a kid, I would have my soft-boiled egg perched on a whisky glass. As the whisky glass was really tiny, the egg yolk would run over. I hated that.

The glasses, if I may add, had never been used by anyone for whisky or brandy except our "ancestors". Two such glasses were filled with a shot and offered to our ancestors on the eve of Chinese New Year -- together with a whole cooked chicken that would have a sprig of pine leaves (from the tree in our garden) in its beak.

Ye olde book shop, the best

The old MPH building at Stamford Road, now occupied by SMU Labs. Pic: June 2016.
There will never be another book store like MPH -- the old one at Stamford Road. Although there is Kinokuniya and bygone ones like Towers and later Borders. But nothing beats the old MPH with its heavy glass and wooden swing doors, a staircase with smooth wooden banisters that led up to the cafe. On a hot or rainy afternoon, you could take refuge in this cafe (I think it was called the Books Cafe) -- huddled up with a book you have just bought -- and a sandwich or some potato chips and a Coke. A bonus if you had a seat by the window. There was no place that could cheer me up as much as the old MPH.

Passed by recently and was reminded of happy days spent at this place. The last 'event' for me there before it closed was meeting a former colleague from long ago -- by chance -- drinking coffee with his wife. He hopped to my table -- a very earnest young journalist turned teacher. Not sure whether he is still teaching today though.

There used to be a branch at Parkway Parade which I visited everyday during lunch when I was working at the old Marine Parade library, eons ago in the 80s. While still enjoyable, it had a very different feel from the old MPH, But of course.

'Over the hill' ride at Chun Tin

I don't seem to be able to wind up my tale on Beauty World. Anyway, I think this would be the last on the area -- for a while. I just want to share this 'thrilling' ride I've got on the escalator at the MRT station. You see the tilted building in the picture? The escalator (actually a travelator) follows the slope up to the 'apex' and then downwards -- spitting you out at the exit at Chun Tin Road.
I have never ridden on a travelator like that. For elderly folk, it may be wise to hold on to the railing as you near the 'peak'. 

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Chun Tin spiral -- and toothy tales

Here's a lovely spiral staircase that leads up to a roof garden, belonging to the corner unit at Chun Tin Road. The road was named after a dentist, Cheong Chun Tin. He was the first qualified* Chinese dentist (born in Hong Kong) to have settled in Singapore. Educated in the States, he opened a dental practice at South Bridge Road. He had two sons -- also dentists -- running the Cheong Bros dental clinic.  Cheong Chin Nam also had a street named after him in the vicinity.
Somehow, couldn't find a Chin Heng Road or Street in Singapore. But the brother, Cheong Nam,  was more than a dentist. He was a land owner, rubber plantation owner and merchant (according to Singapore Street Names by Drs Victor Savage and Brenda Yeoh).
Just some trivial: A corner unit at Chun Tin Road was selling for $2m -- in 2014. A terraced house in the vicinity, for about $3 m. It should be very cool to stay in the area -- with the new Beauty World MRT station just completed -- and interesting eateries and shops nearby.
BTW, Pearlie White, the only Singapore brand toothpaste, is a family heritage dating back to 1869 when Dr Cheong Chun Tin started operations in Singapore. He didn't leave his heart in San Francisco and came to Singapore after obtaining his dentistry qualifications there. 

*Another BTW, there used to be "unqualified" Chinese dentists in Singapore. My friend used to tell me about one who operated on the upper floor of a shophouse along 6th mile, Upper Serangoon Road. He used a thread, she said, looped it round your ailing tooth and pulled.

Great treat on a rainy day

Tau sar piah from Poh Guan Cake Shop, Upper Cross Street, with very moist fillings. As you may have noticed, Mao Mao  (topmost in pic) already has its nose on the cakes before I did. Pic: 2 July 2016.
I don't know why, but I usually walked past this shop at Hong Lim Complex, looking at all its wares but somehow never got down to buying any. But it was raining after my bak kut teh lunch nearby, and I was still hungry. So I thought I should buy my favourite tau sar piah from the shop, Poh Guan Cake Shop, eat it quietly under a shelter, and watch the goings-on (which weren't too many) at my favourite watch shop (probably a very old establishment as well -- a small shop which only charges $5 for changing your watch battery). Oh yes, Poh Guan Cake Shop is rather old -- opened in 1930 making simple Hokkien goodies like peanut candy. Now, it has the widest variety of traditional kueh-kuehs in Singapore. OK, I may be overstating...  but it does look like it has a lot, from the simple steamed brown cakes to sticky flour nuggets called sak ke ma (Cantonese).

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Highlights from 147

Row of shophouses facing Neil Road. Pics taken: 2 July 2016, a brilliantly hot day.

Bus No. 147 plies between Hougang Central and Clementi. I took it from Chinatown (after a very satisfying hour of foot reflexology) and these are just some of the scenes I captured from the seat at the back of the bus. It was a nice bus ride.  
The Wat Ananda Metyarama Thai Buddhist Temple, one of the oldest Thai Theravada Buddhist temples in Singapore. Founded in the 1920s.
Green fields near Portsdown Road and Tanglin Halt. The train used to chug through these fields. 

Thursday, 30 June 2016

The beauty of Beauty World

There may not be a Spinelli's, a Tim Ho Wan or a Ding Tai Fung. But it's great. Beauty World Centre (completed in 1984) is an example of how a place can be spruced up without losing its characteristics. However there was a news report earlier this year that its food centre on the 4th floor (same floor as this 'rojak' provision shop in the picture -- rubber balls bunched up like grapes, so reminiscent of childhood) is going to be bought up by a mysterious someone -- for some $17 m-- and to be converted into an aircon place!
Oh dear.  So I hared to the place. Managed to try its Beijing dumplings so far -- almost translucent skin with crunchy fillings full of freshly chopped vegetables and pork. Dipped into black vinegar and thin ginger shreds -- simply delicious. Many more stalls to try -- satay beehoon, mutton soup, wanton mee. I could already smell the mutton soup while tucking in my steamed dumplings. Stall holders are all so patient and friendly too. A pity they will close their business to give way to another boring aircon food centre with nondescript food. 
At least, let me try its char kuay teow first. 
Chun Tin Road (named after a dentist who was born in Hong Kong and got his education in the States), opposite Beauty World Centre. 
The place looks great after the Beauty World MRT station was completed in 2015 -- clean lines -- and bright. The carpark next to the MRT station has now got gantries -- so no more "Feng Fei Fei" and no need to tear coupons like mad.

If you are around the area, do not miss getting some old fashioned cakes, egg tarts and other goodies from Ng Kim Lee Confectionery. Has been around for more than 60 years.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Rear mirror

"REAR MIRROR" doesn't have as much Hitchcockian ring to it as "Rear Window". But it can be as scary.

Which is why a former colleague of mine, a photographer, didn't think much of the rear mirror. "Don't look behind" is his philosophy (mostly for driving, but for some aspects of life as well). He was (or still is, I am not sure) a simple fellow who believes in minding his own business.

"If it (the car behind) gets too near and hits you from behind, it is in the wrong. He (the driver) will pay for damage," he said, matter of factly.

It is increasingly hard to ignore what's going on behind you, though. There are raging drivers who believe that nosing your back bumper from just a centimeter away, would spur you to take off like a bird and drive over the roofs of the cars ahead.

It is almost impossible to drive into the main road from a small road -- because no one is going to slow down except for some rare kind soul. On top of it all, the driver behind would be blasting his horn at you. And if you look at the rear mirror, you will catch him making bad signs at you with his fingers.

And I don't know how cab drivers are able to over take so expertly. It's a big puzzlement why they don't all end up as F1 drivers. As for me, if I so much as to flicker a left or right signal, the cars on either lanes would speed up immediately, making it impossible for me to filter to the next lane.

It has become a reflex action for many drivers in Singapore to step on their accelerator on seeing flashing indicators. (Which is the reason why many motorists do not signal when they want to turn left or right. They just do it.)

So now, perhaps one can understand why ambulances have a tough time in Singapore.

The only way one could ride through the roads of Singapore stress free, would be to hire a cavalcade -- in front and behind.

Recently, I came across a picture of this photographer friend on his Facebook. He looks astonishingly young still -- and hang gliding in some Thai resort. Stress free. So I believe he is sticking to his philosophy of not looking back -- a dubiously good philosophy for most aspects of life -- besides driving.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Chopstick satay

Should have used some belly pork instead of just lean, hind meat. But still ok. Presentation lacking, I know, but no time as I want to eat them while still hot, 

HAD a craving for satay. The best satay around my place is the stall at Alexandra Village, supposedly to be satay from long ago Ponggol. But thought I should try to make some myself -- without bamboo skewers and without the need to grill them over a charcoal fire.

No worries, can be done. I think pork belly is the best. Slice them into strips and marinate them with finely chopped garlic, hoi sin sauce, tabasco sauce, honey or brown sugar, light soya sauce, a bit of peanut butter and Chinese wine (optional). Put in fridge for about an hour or more.

After that, you can make the sauce, using a lot of peanut butter -- use the chunky variety (like the one in the picture). Add a teaspoon of hoi sin sauce, plenty of ginger sauce (Samsui Woman brand), tabasco sauce, a dash of light soya sauce, honey or brown sugar, and lots of tumeric powder. Blend everything well, adding water till the sauce can drip easily from spoon.

Pour meat and marinade into pan and simmer till the marinade just about dries up. Then sear meat by adding honey. When nicely brown and slightly charred (in some parts, not totally), remove and put on plate

Now, add more oil to the pan if needs be. Fry chopped onions and garlics. Pour in sauce mixture, simmer till thicken. Pour in a bit of coconut cream and let sauce thicken more.

Serve meat and sauce as a dip. Have some cucumber at the side, or ketupat.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Green Dragon's anniversary

 Pic taken: 12 June 2016.

The wayang (Chinese street opera) started on the right foot -- by unscrolling a banner that said " Peace on Earth". No, it wasn't Christmas. It was June and the wayang marked the anniversary of the Green Dragon temple nearby. 

There wasn't a single soul out in the open on that hot afternoon. No audience  notwithstanding, the actors and actresses proceeded to go round the temple -- perhaps only the main players as I saw only three of them plus one holding some sort of whisk* slumped at the post of a nearby bridge (guess he was tired) -- to pay homage to the deities in the temple. 

Then, the three made their way back to the stage, met by the one with the whisk at the bridge. They took a bow to an invisible audience and unfurled the peace banner -- all to clanging cymbals and blaring wind instruments. 

After that, it was exit stage left. And there was peace as they turned in for a siesta before their real performance in the evening, hopefully for a larger audience than just me.

*BTW, a horsetail whisk was believed to have magical powers to whisk away evils. It can be used as weapon too -- you see them often enough in old Cantonese gongfu movies -- a flick of this weapon, usually used by highly skilled nuns, could send victims flying. I believe (if memory serves me right) there was such a nun in "Sin Hawk Sun Jum" (The Fairy Crane and the Magic Needle).

Pic taken: Aug, 2015. 
The Ang Chee Sia Ong (Green Dragon Temple) at West Coast Drive: A Mr Wang Dong Qing brought to Singapore the joss ash from a temple on the south bank of Hanjiang in Chaozhou, Guangdong. He eventually erected a temple at Pasir Panjang's 7th milestone (Tao Yuan Village) in the 1920s. When the area was redeveloped, it was moved to West Coast Drive, consecrated in June 1997. The temple features a Green Dragon pond, bridge (which used to spout water from two dragons when one stepped on the bridge) and fountain. Another highlight is the wall carvings depicting 24 classic examples of filial piety -- for example, story of the son staying up the whole night to serve as "food" for mosquitoes -- just so they won't attack his mother.
The legend attached to the original temple (Qing Long Gu Miao) in China, is interesting. According to this site:, green snakes were found near a temple built to honour an upright official (during the era of the Three Kingdoms). Any generals seeing a such a green snake would end up victorious in battle. Hence, the temple became known as Qing Long Miao (Green Dragon Temple). BTW, in ancient Chinese culture, serpents were more or less equated with dragons.