Tuesday, September 30, 2014

[Culture] Teochew Cultural Exhibition in Singapore

I'm a Teochew. A Peranakan Teochew, and I converse more in Hokkien and Malay than my own original Chinese dialect. Still, that is no excuse for me to not find out more of my Teochew roots, and what better way than to visit this exhibition.

Teochews "make up 21 percent of the Chinese population". (1) It is said that the first Teochews who arrived in Singapore after 1819 were from the Riau islands in Indonesia and from Siam. (2) 

So what have I gained from my visit to this exhibition?

1. Nan Hai is a very big place

When I'd first met a local professor at Bukit Brown, I asked him about the words "Nan Hai" since it had appeared on my great grandfather's tombstone. The professor stretched out his hands to show me that the area was big, and it was not a name of a village or city. The name Nan Hai can be traced as far back as 3,000BC. (3) So if I had wanted to narrow things down to just two coordinates, it would be as good as finding a needle in the haystack.

2. Traversing the seas via the Ang Tow Zung

So how many days did it take for our Teochew ancestors to arrive from Guangzhou to Singapore? Well, the internet tells me that sail boats will travel at about five to seven knots. That works out to about 13km/h. So if we do a direct point A to B calculation (Going over land and sea, and going non-stop), it would have taken our ancestors 200 days to get to Singapore. The perils of the seas were plenty.

The sail boat ain't no catamaran and when faced with the storm, it's really a battle between you and mother nature.

3. Interesting artifacts and festivals

This is called "Gway Huan Sam Bo" or Teochew three treasures. In the past, food was stored in these baskets and were brought on long boat trips or to work.

The Teochews have quite a number of festivals - one of which is called "Chuk Hue Hng" or Coming out of the garden. This festival is a "coming-of-age ceremony" for males and females who were 15 years of age, according to the lunar calendar. 

There are much more that you can learn from this exhibition. There's also Teochew food that you can savour. The exhibition runs from September 25 to October 5 over at Ngee Ann City Civic Centre. There's an entry fee of S$5/pax.
Sept 25 to Oct 5 at the Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza.
Sept 25 to Oct 5 at the Ngee Ann City Civic Plaza.


1. Phua, G. (September 21, 2014). 5 interesting facts about Teochews in Singapore: The Straits Times. http://www.straitstimes.com/lifestyle/more-lifestyle-stories/story/5-interesting-facts-about-teochews-singapore-20140921

2. Conceicao, J. L. (2009). Teochew community:Singapore infopedia. http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1499_2009-04-09.html

3.  Ring, T., Salkin, R. M., La Boda, S.(1996). International dictionary of historic places. Volume 5. Asia and Oceania. Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. P. 302.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

[Museum] A Visit to the Children Little Museum

Two questions that the man at the front desk asked when I'd first stepped into the shop,"Le Ai ki Lao Teng Mai?" (Do you want to go upstairs?) and "你要拍全家福” (Do you want to take a family portrait?)

I started my conversation with a Mr Ang when my son asked whether he could buy a display toy. Mr Ang, who was just a short distance away, walked over and dissuaded my son from even thinking of touching the cars as it will cost him more than a hundred dollars to buy such collector's items. Thank goodness that I did not have to part with my money!

But I did part with S$6 ($2/pax) to visit the Children Little Museum. Mr Ang asked whether we had wanted to visit the museum and though I was only mildly keen, I felt that it was a good way to support Singaporeans who are keen to preserve local history, heritage and culture.

You might ask me of my initial reluctance of not wanting to visit the museum at first. The reason was that it was really a small shop house, and I opined that there may not be much to see since the museum is only located on one level. But I told myself that if I had wanted to support local conservation effort, I should then support this effort by the private collectors.

The thrill starts when we walked through the door. The wall was lined with old toys, from tricycles to wooden horses.

Other than loose toys, the second floor also sees thematically-arranged areas - the old street barber shop, the drink stall with old FnN bottles, and even a facade of an old kampung school - Pei Hsin Public School.

There was also well stocked shelves of books and stationary, as one would see in book shops of yesteryears.

We took our time to scrutinize the 'oldies' and frankly, it was worth the S$2. 

We descended the flights of steps and Mr Ang greeted us readily and was asking me if it was a good visit. Yes it was, I'd replied.

To which he jumped in to ask if we had wanted to take a family photo together with the old Vespa bike. It felt like he was a seasoned campaigner who knew what makes the people tick. Being open and friendly was definitely a good start.Though we rejected the offer (camera-shy), we still proceeded to try out the Vespa.

And spend some money I did as my son beckoned me to buy him the styrofoam plane for S$1 each.

Overall, it was indeed an interesting outing for the family. 

Address: 42 Bussorah Street
Singapore 199460

Sunday, September 21, 2014

[Food] Sungei Road: Original Laksa

After visiting the holy grail - the historical Sungei Road Thieves Market, and reading about the famous pushcart laksa in that area, I was all ready to have a go at this local delicacy.

Founded in 1956 by brothers Wong Yew Poh and Yew Hwa, (1) this roadside stall sited in front of the ice factory along Sungei Road, a bowl of laksa then cost only 30 cents. (2)

My dad was a frequent visitor to Sungei Road in the 70s and whenever he was there, he would order a bowl of laksa. By then, the stall had moved into a coffee shop along Sungei Road.

So the pushcart stall is no more. Instead, they have moved a few times - from Kelantan Lane to now, Blk 27, Jalan Berseh

Arriving at the coffee shop, there were about five stalls that were opened, but only one with a queue. The laksa is so good that even famous celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain had sang praises of it. (3)

I was number 8 in the queue and that gave me time to have a good look-around. There were three things that made the laksa unique:-

1. Charcoal Fire

Using charcoal fire to keep the laksa gravy warm showed that the owner had wanted to keep true to the old flavor. Really, how many smallholders still utilize charcoal for their cooking?

2. Endless stirring

She stirred the gravy, and stirred, and stirred and I can go on saying that. She never stopped stirring. This to ensure that the flavour was evenly distributed.

3. $2 a bowl - cheapest around

Devastated. When we finished slurping down the laksa. Yes, slurping because the owners made sure that the noodles are cut to a slurpable (Is there such a word?) length! What's more, it's only $2. The price has stayed constant for more than a decade now. Where can you find such delicious laksa at such a going price? Also, one eats with just a spoon. Here, I'm just trying to squeeze a whole lot of goodness into this column, because the chilli also helped to separate the real McCoy from the rest of the wannabes.

Not long after, the main star of the stall, Mr Wong Yew Poh, appeared. Hands still strong. Stirring to check the quality of the gravy. Just like old times.

1. The New Paper. (December 18, 2005). One good laksa.

2. Teo, G. (March 29, 2002). Go on a food trail, and taste history. The Straits Times.

3. Lee, S. Y. (March 11, 2007). Bourdain kissed by bliss. The Straits Times.

Friday, September 12, 2014

[Park] Sembawang Park: A view of Sembawang Shipyard

I had intended to start my round of cycling at Sembawang Park and head south. But I ended up cycling all around the park instead. 

Hand to heart, I was totally mesmerised by the place. I arrived at the park pretty close to dusk and was in two minds whether to continue with my cycling expedition as it was drizzling. I was thankful that I proceeded as planned as I rediscovered the charms of Sembawang. I'd spent part of my life in this area as I was from the Boys' Brigade and their campsite was just around the corner. That's another story for another day. The park itself is not well visited and thus totally serene.

On top of that, the after-rain air was refreshing. I even tried to take in an extra breath or two to shake my lungs to life! Located in that area are barbecue pits and rest shelters. There is also a jetty where anglers launched their line in hope of catching substantial amount of fish. Others were social anglers who were there to socialise with their other angler friends.

Just to the left of the jetty sits Sembawang Shipyard which was formerly the mighty Sembawang Naval Base - a crown jewel to "The Gibaltar of the East".

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sungei Road Thieves Market: I Came. I Saw. I Wandered.


It has been awhile since I had last visited the Sungei Road Thieves Market. There were lots of on-going construction in that area and even with a GPS, I was temporarily disoriented.

It took a very nice gentleman to direct me to the historical flea market. He warned me that there were just a few stalls left. I withheld my judgement of the place and with my trusty foldie, I rode excitedly towards Sungei Road, looking forward to see what I would find.

But before we look into the present, let's take a stroll into the past.

Taken from: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/ (1)
The first article that mentioned about the Sungei Road market was dated 13 October 1935. The market is also known as Robinson Petang, or Afternoon Robinson as the stalls would mushroomed only in the afternoon. Why Robinson? It was named after a departmental store that was supposedly located in that area. (2)

Sungei Road market also had its character. Whenever anyone visits the market, they would have needed to tolerate the "nauseating smell that comes from the canal". (3)

Then, the stalls lined along the ground level of these shop houses which added to the quaintness of the place. (4)

In its heydays, the Sungei Road market saw more than 180 stalls selling different nick-knacks but some of these stallholders had resettled themselves in proper shops along Kelantan Lane, Syed Alwi Road and Sim Lim Tower. (5)

It was never smooth sailing for the stall holders there. The threat of seeing the closure of the market was mentioned as early as 1978. (6) In 1982, the Environment Ministry was also on-hand to tear down the temporary stalls. (7) Still, the stallholders returned to their old haunt in 1983.

The illegal stallholders had to play hide-and-seek with the Ministry of Environment officers. "It was only in late 1989" that these hawkers were given temporary permits to hawk their wares. (8)  Business started to flourished again. There were even mobile food stalls that sold tasty Laksa and the likes.

But by 2000, there was no need for stallholders to request for permit, though the only condition was that they were only allowed to sell second-hand goods. (9)

The streets that they hawked their wares include Pitt Street and Larut Road.

To protect themselves from the weather, the stallholders erect temporary shelters using tarpaulin and big umbrellas.

As I walked along the streets, I was looking out for something that is worth my purchase. Army helmets, old kettles, religious amulets, all these items were not of my fancy.

Some of these items were so worn-out that the stallholder had just lumped everything together. It looked to me like a pile of junk. But I'm pretty sure that the gentleman selling these items must have felt that they were indeed worth a dollar or two.

Time was never an issue for these stallholders, especially if you were their regular customers. They took their time to chat with their customers, some of whom even sat on the side of the seller while chatting away about times gone by. But for those whom they are unfamiliar with, the stallholders were not as patient. "Le Chuay simi? " (What are you looking for?) was a retort by the stallholders, targeted at new customers who were disentangling some of his wares. 

Alas, the end is near for these stallholders and there seems to be no reprieve. These stallholders will be asked to move, most likely permanently as the land will be use to build an upcoming MRT station. (10)

As I wandered through the flea market and had found nothing of my liking, I know that many others would have found something interesting that they will take along with them. If nothing else, at least the memories of this place will be in our hearts forever.


1. Untitled. October 13, 1935. The Straits Times. http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg. Retrieved on: September 6, 2014.

2. Jalan Besar: Heritage Trail. http://www.academia.edu/3665785/Jalan_Besar_A_Heritage_Trail. Retrieved on: September 6, 2014.

3. Robinson Petang. October 2, 1953. The Straits Times. http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg. Retrieved on: September 6, 2014.

4. Cheong, S. October 26, 1979....and an old one.  The Straits Times. http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg. Retrieved on: September 7, 2014. 

5. Thieves' Market: Big Move Out Soon. November 30, 1981. The Straits Times. http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg. Retrieved on: September 7, 2014. 

6. Sungei Road Stall Still Going Strong. August 14, 1978. The Straits Times. http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg. Retrieved on: September 7, 2014.

7. Kumar, S. August 11, 1982. The Straits Times. http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg. Retrieved on: September 7, 2014. P.8.

8. Yeo, R. June 1, 1991. Flea for All. The Straits Times. Factiva. Retrieved on: September 7, 2014.

9. Ho, M. October 12, 2001. How much for that broken phone. The Straits Times. Factiva. Retrieved on: September 7, 2014.

10. Flea market and the city. August 10, 2014. The Straits Times. http://www.straitstimes.com/news/opinion/more-opinion-stories/story/flea-mart-and-the-city-20140810 Retrieved on: September 7, 2014.