Thursday, 2 November 2017

Lost child, lost tune

A slope at Fort Canning Park overlooking Liang Court and Clarke Quay. Pic taken 21 Oct opening of the Downtown Line 3.

ONCE there was a child who was lost here -- long, long ago -- on one of these slopes. Here, at King George the Fifth Park (now known as Fort Canning Park of course).

My parents, my brother and I were seated on a slope when the announcement of the lost child was made over the loud speaker. There were massive crowds there that day. Maybe it was a fun fair. The loud speaker (the type that looks like a fat trumpet) was blaring out songs after songs.

I asked my mother what it was all about as the music suddenly stopped and the announcement took over. My mum explained to me, adding that children must behave and stay by their parents' side.

I kept wondering whether the poor child was found. All the music from the loudspeaker suddenly seemed very sad after that. I still remember one tune because it was a familiar one and played over the radio rather regularly. I later thought it might be Je ta'ime (with snatches on the electric organ) but this French song wasn't written till 1969 when I would be in secondary school. But dad was with us then that day, so I should still be in primary school at that time.

That tune still plays in my mind sometimes. An elusive tune with no title.

Today, it is still a very nice walk at Fort Canning. The numerous slopes are as appealing as before. But the River Valley Swimming Pool is gone. The old changing rooms are still there, and the pool has been converted into a playground with slides and swings.

Also gone of course, the National Theatre and the Van Kleef Aquarium,to make possible the construction of the Fort Canning MRT station.

Interesting walls  -- many of them at Fort Canning.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Did she drive a 36-door limousine?

It used to be a standing joke during my school days, this riddle that went: Why is so and so grander than even one who owns a Mercedes? Because he owns a 36-door limousine.

I haven't heard anything about this "limousine" for the longest time till I was queuing for my drink at Alexandra Village food centre recently.

The lady owner of the drink stall had a visitor, another woman who was boasting that she could drive any vehicle, from motorcycles to lorries. With a flourish of her hands, she was describing how she always drove a lorry during Chinese New Year, ferrying her relatives and friends around.

"All but one kind of car I haven't driven," she said, raising a finger and pausing for effect.

I was all ears, keen to know the answer. But another old man joined the conversation and chipped in:"Hahaha, was it the 36-door car?"

I eventually got my Coke, and I didn't catch the woman's reply. Maybe it was really the 36-door car which was for collecting night soil in the good old days when some areas still did not have flush toilets. These "limousines" had 36 compartments each, for storing night soil buckets. Each compartment had a small door.

But why 36, I wonder.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Sungei Road laksa

Sungei Road laksa at Yuhua market.

GRACIOUS, Sungei Road laksa has travelled far and wide in Singapore. My last Google search yielded five such stalls -- two in the vicinity of Serangoon area where Sungei Road is -- one in Chinatown, one in Jurong East and another as far as Bedok!

The signature taste of the Sungei Road laksa which started out in a pot on a trishaw at Sungei Road, was its soup -- brewed over a charcoal fire. I am not sure whether this is still being done at all the five stalls.

I always thought that the one at Jalan Berseh is the real thing -- but somehow I always missed it and ended up eating some other stuff. I tried the one at Hong Lim in Chinatown, but it was only so so. It tasted ordinary to me, sad to say. Not so different from Katong's laksa.

Recently, I stumbled upon the one at Jurong East, at the Yuhua Market and Hawker Centre. There wasn't a queue at all. The soup was a little bland and thin. I guess I should stir it more because some tasty bits were at the bottom. I always liked those tasty bits which I think could be pounded hae bee (dried shrimps) and spices like ganlanga and lemon grass.

Well, maybe this is the old school taste after all. We could be too used to modern day laksa -- much richer and thicker soup -- compared to the prudent old days.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

An enchanted tale of wanton mee

Does anyone know where one can have a plate of wanton
noodles that would take one back to the 60s or 70s? Even the
 80s would be good.  
IT'S Qing Ming. This festival is not like the 7th month or what is commonly known as the Month of the Hungry Ghosts. However, there is still a bit of "enchantment" associated with the season -- it is the Chinese "All Souls Day" after all. So here's a short ghost story, or rather, a little tale of "enchantment":

A VERY hot day though April was supposed to be rainy and full of thunderstorms. Yunji was on her way to Jurong Point for lunch. Looking out of the bus window as was her habit since she was a kid, she saw a coffee shop at the corner of an old block of flats. Strange that she had never noticed this place before.

On impulse, she decided to try out this nice little coffee shop -- instead of the noisy and crowded food court at Jurong Point. She quickly pressed the buzzer and alighted at the next bus stop. She was glad that there was an overhead bridge to the other side of the road where the quaint, out-of-place coffee shop was beckoning.

Strange that I never saw this overhead bridge before, Yunji muttered to herself as she climbed up the steps.

There wasn't a soul on this side of the road. That is so strange, Yunji thought to herself. Usually, at this time, there would be housewives dragging their shopping on those ubiquitous tiny trolleys, or students rushing home from schools. Today, not a soul!

There was a certain stillness at the coffee shop -- just the gentle clink-clink of dishes being washed that sounded kind of distant. Only two old men were tucking in their food quietly. An old fashioned signboard said "Tian Tian Kopi Diam".  To her delight, one of the stalls was selling jiaozi and another, wanton mee. 

Actually, there were just these two stalls, and a drink stall. Jiaozi or wanton mee? It took her a while to decide because both were her favourite food. In the end, wanton mee won.

"Korn lo," she told the stall seller, a smiley woman with short permed hair -- clad in samfoo. The samfoo was the sweetest Yunji had seen -- white with small pink and blue roses.

Strange again. Normally she would have ordered "wanton mee, da". But she had automatically said "korn lo" instead, which is the Cantonese for "dry mix". This means having your noodles mixed in chili sauce and ketchup.

As she sat down on the wooden chair at the marble-topped table, she saw that the floor was covered with mosaic from end to end -- sparkling clean! Where to find, Yunji muttered to herself.

Yunji gobbled down her noodles with gusto, all the while suppressing a desire to whisk out her handphone to take a picture of the seller. Where in Singapore can you find a wanton mee seller in samfoo these days? Not even in Chinatown.

The samfoo-clad woman even came to her table and snipped the noodles on her plate with a pair of scissors so that the strands were easier to slurp down. Right out of my childhood, Yunji thought, as she thanked the woman. The noodles were right out of her childhood too -- with the old school taste of chili sauce and ketchup. The char siew was roasted just right -- tender, with tiny crispy corners. The soup with the tiny dumplings was served separately in a small little bowl.

Yunji ordered a cup of kopi-o from the drink stall to round up her lunch. Much to her surprise, she saw bottles of Green Spot and Sinalco on the shelves. Wow! But the guy behind the counter was a no-nonsense fat man with white singlet and draw-string pyjama pants, so Yunji had second thoughts about asking him why he was still selling those drinks that had disappeared since a long, long time ago.

The next day, Yunji thought she would bring her lunch kakis to the quaint coffee shop. Looking out for the overhead bridge which was where they were supposed to alight, Yunji was puzzled that there wasn't one.

"Why, it was just after this turning," Yunji told her two colleagues. In the end, they had lunch -- the usual -- at Jurong Point.

The day after, Yunji thought she would give the coffee shop a try again. Once again, she couldn't find the overhead bridge. But she alighted anyway, where she thought the bridge would be. Crossing at a pedestrian crossing at the road junction ahead, she made her way across the road.

There was no sight of Tian Tian Kopi Diam at all -- though Yunji walked for almost an hour up and down the road, with her umbrella holding up against strong winds -- and a slight drizzle. A thunderstorm was threatening to break out.