Rediscovering the romance of Chap Goh Mei

19 02 2014

The fifteenth day of the Chinese New Year, Chap Goh Mei (Hokkien for 15th night) as it has been commonly referred to in Singapore, has traditionally been associated with romance. It was perhaps in the hope of rediscovering the romance of a festival that has been lost in the embrace of modernity that drew a healthy crowd of participants to a walk through the streets of Chinatown on the evening of the fifteenth day this year on what coincidentally was also the western day for the celebration of romance, St. Valentine’s Day that was organised by the Conservation Management Department of the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).

A romantic spot on the streets of Chinatown on Chap Goh Mei.

A romantic spot on the streets of Chinatown on Chap Goh Mei.

The fifteenth night of any Chinese lunar month is of course one that, weather conditions permitting, would be illuminated by the light of the full moon – a setting that certainly is ideal for romance. In the case of Chap Goh Mei, it is a night when Yuanxiao Jie (元宵节) is celebrated, providing an evening for romance to be found not only in the light of the moon, but also in the glow of colourful lanterns; it having been a tradition to have lanterns displayed outside homes and along five-foot-ways, as it was for children to take to the streets carrying lanterns in a fashion similar to the Mid-Autumn festival.

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The search for romance would take many eligible young men and women to the water’s edge – the waterfront along Esplanade was, I am told, a particularly popular spot, from which fruits would be aimed into the water. For the ladies, it would be oranges, representing good husbands, that would be thrown, and for men, good wives taking the form of apples – a practice that I actually did not know about until more recent times.

The lantern parade through the streets of Chinatown on what can be seen as a double Valentine's Day in search for a lost romance.

The search for romance.

While we did not get the chance to toss oranges or apples in the name of romance, we did however get an opportunity to rediscover the romance of Chap Goh Mei and of a Chinatown that would otherwise lie hidden behind the recoloured labyrinth of streets of what would once have been referred to as Tua Poh or the ‘Greater Town’.

The lantern parade.

The lantern parade.

The route we were to take, lanterns in hand, was one of many twists and turns, taking us through a complex of streets that in being referred to as Chinatown, belies the intra-ethnic divisions that did once exist within the greater Chinese immigrant community, divisions that would once have been apparent in moving across the area’s many streets.

Only a thin Ho may enter? The Thin Ho clan association on Ann Siang Road.

Only a thin Ho may enter? The Thin Ho clan association on Ann Siang Road.

The first pause we made was the Ann Siang Hill area where the Cantonese dialect group did have a strong presence. Besides the well known Yeung Ching School (now referred to in the Mandarin form of the name as Yangzheng School) that was perched on top of Ann Siang Hill, there were the many Cantonese clan associations – many of which are still present in the area. Amongst the school alumni are many well known names. This included one that is synonymous with the the lost art of story telling and Redifussion’s Cantonese broadcasts in the 1950s and 1960s, Lee Dai Soh. Another, perhaps lesser known in Singapore, is a certain Xian Xinghai, the composer of the Yellow River Cantata – a work which was to become used as a Chinese revolutionary song. The Yeung Ching foundation does still maintain a presence in the area as is evident from a signboard seen atop a building it owns along Club Street close to its junction with Ann Siang Hill.

The condo in the background would have been where the Yeung Ching school would have stood - atop a since levelled hill the base of which would have been at the condo's sixth floor.

The condo in the background would have been where the Yeung Ching school would have stood – atop a since levelled hill the base of which would have been at the condo’s sixth floor.

Ann Siang Road.

Ann Siang Road.

Club Street.

Club Street.

From Ann Siang Road and Club Street, the procession made its way up to Ann Siang Hill before continuing down to Amoy Street, once a predominantly a Hokkien street, as was Telok Ayer Street where the group was to make a stop in the glow of the beautifully restored Thian Hock Keng temple, a magnificent example of Hokkien temple architecture and a National Monument.

Up Ann Siang Hill.

Up Ann Siang Hill.

The view at the top.

The view at the top.

The pathway down.

The pathway down.

Down Ann Siang Hill.

Down Ann Siang Hill.

Lantern bearers during a pause in the search for romance.

Lantern bearers posing for a photograph outside the Thain Hock Keng temple in the search for romance.

The temple, which now stands across from the watchful eyes of the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan, is dedicated to the protector of seafarers, the Taoist goddess of the sea, Ma Zu, does point to the fact that the temple did once find itself by the sea, as did the street it is located at – Telok Ayer Street was in the early days of post-Raffles Singapore, a waterfront to which many immigrants would have come ashore at (it was also interesting to learn that the rebuilt Hokkien Huay Kuan, sitting on the site of the temple’s wayang or Chinese Opera stage built over the then shoreline, was designed with a wide through corridor on its ground floor to provide a symbolic passage from the temple to the now distant sea). This did provide the street with a flavour that went beyond the Hokkiens with several other houses of worship and immigrant reception point coming along the street that were put up by other groups of immigrants including a Hakka clan association, Ying Fo Fui Kuan (also a National Monument) and the former Hakka Fuk Tak Chi Temple which was also used by Cantonese immigrants.

The 'watchful eyes' of the Hokkien Huay Kuan.

The ‘watchful eyes’ of the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan.

The rather interesting walk ended at another magnificent work of temple architecture, the very recently restored Yueh Hai Ching or Wak Hai Cheng temple at Phillip Street. Set inside a within a walled compound accessible through a narrow doorway from which the sight of coils of incense would first greet the eye, the temple (actually two temples side-by-side), also a National Monument, is another wonderful example of temple architecture, -this time in Teochew style. 

The Yueh Hai Ching temple.

The Yueh Hai Ching temple.

Through the doorway to the newly restored Yueh Hai Ching.

Through the doorway to the newly restored Yueh Hai Ching.

Incense coils.

Incense coils.

The oldest Teochew temple in Singapore (its building dates back to the 1850s), the Yueh Hai Ching features a elaborately decorated roof and is dedicated to Ma Zu and Xuan Tian Shang Di. The temple besides catering to the Teochew community, does also attract worshipers from the Cantonese community – especially during the Chinese New Year – the Cantonese and Teochew communities having an affinity with both having originated from Guangdong (Canton) province. More on the temple can be found at the Ngee Ann Kongsi’s website.

Inside the temple.

Inside the temple.

Another view inside the temple.

Another view inside the temple.

While taking a walk in the company of strangers through now sanitised streets of an old world we in modern times may have seemed to have over-romanticised might not fit into everyone’s idea of how they would want to spend an evening businesses have turned into an excuse for money making, it was a walk in which I was rewarded with the rediscovery of the romance of a festival and of times I might not have otherwise been reminded of.

Smoke from large joss sticks in the compound.

Smoke from large joss sticks in the compound.





The sun rises on the year of the horse

2 02 2014

Photographs taken as the sun set on the Chinese year of the snake on 30 Jan 2014, rising at dawn on 31 Jan 2014 in a golden welcome to the year of the horse.


Colours of the sun setting on the year of the snake, 7.24 pm 30 Jan 2014.

Colours of the sun setting on the year of the snake, 7.24 pm 30 Jan 2014.

Early light as the sun rises on the year of the horse, 6.46 am 31 Jan 2014.

Early light as the sun rises on the year of the horse, 6.46 am 31 Jan 2014.

A couple watching the changing hues at sunrise, 6.56 am 31 Jan 2014.

A couple watching the changing hues at sunrise, 6.56 am 31 Jan 2014.

Colours of the sunrise, 7.01 am 31 Jan 2014.

Colours of the sunrise, 7.01 am 31 Jan 2014.

The rising sun, 7.17 am 31 Jan 2014.

The rising sun, 7.17 am 31 Jan 2014.

The rising sun, 7.22 am 31 Jan 2014.

The rising sun, 7.22 am 31 Jan 2014.





The celebrating of Spring in the greater town

27 01 2014

The arrival of spring, commemorated by the Chinese by the celebration of the new year, brings much colour and life to the streets of the “Greater Town”, tua poh, as it was known as to the local population. Besides the street market – long a popular source of goods necessary to welcome in the new year, the area since 1985, has also been livened up by the illuminations of an annual Chinese New Year light-up.

No horse run - this year's light-up is perhaps light years ahead ...

No horse run – this year’s light-up is perhaps light years ahead …

Crowds thronging the street market.

Crowds thronging the street market this year.

I managed to take in the festive atmosphere on the streets, packed with crowds that the weekend before  the new year brings, but not before I attended a rather interesting sharing session on the celebration of Chinese New Year held at the URA Centre. Entitled “Cakap Heritage: All About Chinese New Year in Kreta Ayer / Chinatown” and jointly organised by the Singapore Heritage Society (SHS) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), the session provided a view not just of how the festival in years past would have been celebrated in the area, but also of the many ways in which Chinese New Year was observed all across Singapore through the recollections of several of the session’s participants.

A bus passenger The an gazes out at the festive light-up. The annual light-up is now a spectacle not to be missed.

A bus passenger The an gazes out at the festive light-up. The annual light-up is now a spectacle not to be missed.

One topic that was discussed at length during the session was shopping. Besides shopping for festive goodies, cards and decorations, Chinese New Year is also when new clothes and shoes – a must for every Chinese, are bought. For some it would be the only occasion to splurge on a new outfit and while many had theirs tailored, clothes for children were often bought from the Tua Poh street market – although as one former Changi Village resident did testify, shopping wasn’t necessarily confined to the streets of Chinatown.

Festive goodies on offer at the street market.

Festive goodies on offer at the street market.

A seemingly popular shop to buy shoes from, was the Phoenix Shoes Company, located in a shophouse along South Bridge Road. Although the shop wasn’t one I was familiar with, it did bring back memories of another shoe shop – further east along South Bridge Road, from which my parents got their shoes from. That shop, the Crane Shoe Store, is one I well remember for how a light green box in which the pair of shoes in the size desired, would come rushing down a chute from the store room above – almost without delay whenever the shop assistant shouted an order out.

The streets come alive in the lead-up to Chinese New Year.

The streets of the greater town come alive in the lead-up to Chinese New Year.

Other experiences ranged from the buying gold jewellery (On Choeng – a goldsmith on South Bridge Road, seemed a popular choice), to waxed products and ducks eggs. A name synonymous with the prelude to Chinese New Year these days, Lim Chee Guan – known for the long queues for what is today a must-have Chinese New Year treat, bak kwa or long yuk (sometimes translated to pork jerky or barbecued dried pork), did also get a mention. A participant did make the observation that queues would have been non-existent back in the 1950s – when it would be difficult for many. Another luxury mentioned was feasting on bats – something that a restaurant by the name of Oriental in the 1950s, was along with monkeys and squirrels, apparently quite well known for.

Shoppers at the street market.

Shoppers at the street market.

One the subject of luxuries, mention was also made of how for some of the less well-off folks – such as the Samsui women, Chinese New Year would be one of the rare, if not only occasion on which they would put meat, in the form of chicken, on the table, saving through the year to do so.  The mention of chicken does take me back to the Chinese New Years of my early childhood, when the second day involved visiting a family friend who helped on a chicken farm in old Punggol – besides the squealing of pigs for their supper and perhaps an unfortunate incident in which I swallowed a loose teeth biting into an ang ku kueh, a memory that does linger from those visits is the sight of a headless chicken bound for the pot, scampering around on the sandy ground. 

The colour of gold.

The colour of gold.

A consequence of the decades of social engineering in Singapore, is perhaps the loss of the use of the Chinese dialects, along with dialect group specific cultural practices such as was observed in the celebrations of yesteryear. Besides dialect group specific such as the Hokkien practice of Bai Ti Gong (honouring the Jade Emperor) still seen today, there are dialect group specific practices that have been adopted by the wider community such as the tossing of raw fish salad, yu sheng - a widely practiced Chinese New Year custom now in Singapore. This was confined initially to the Cantonese –  a gentleman recalled his first experience of it that went back to 1955. Other dialect group specific practices included taboos associated with Chinese New Year such as not sweeping the floor, and not throwing rubbish out of the house on the first days of the new year. 

A young shopper.

A young shopper.

One practice that was common across the community was letting-off firecrackers. The thunderous burst of noise, the acrid smell of gunpowder that lingered in the air and the sea of red paper that littered the streets, would not be something the younger folks would of course remember. Firecrackers which were banned after 1972 in Singapore – the first modern version of the Chingay parade organised in 1973 was offered as to compensate for that. These were however very much an integral part of the celebration before the ban and several of the participants did share experiences from the 1950s and 1960s, before the ban kicked in, such as how as girls they would not dare venture out on their own out of fear of mischievous boys would would lie in wait to scare the girls by throwing lighted crackers at them.

Scenes from Chinese New Years of days gone by ... the smell of gun powder and smoke that filled the air, and the sea of red left behind .... (source: National Archives, www.picas.nhb.gov.sg).

Scenes from Chinese New Years of days gone by … the smell of gun powder and smoke that filled the air, and the sea of red left behind …. (source: National Archives, http://www.archivesonline.nas,sg).

Still on the subject of firecrackers, a Danish couple shared how it was also common practice to let off crackers for the new year. Firecrackers are known there as “Chinese” – the smaller ones “one-cent Chinese” and the larger ones “two-cent Chinese” – a reference possibly to the origins of firecrackers.

Preserved fruits on offer,

Preserved fruits on offer.

Without the sound of firecrackers going off through the night, and perhaps with the distractions of the modern world and the dilution of cultural practices, Chinese New Year does seem a quieter affair these days. Chinese New Year, is however, very much still an occasion for the family to gather – the family reunion dinner is still very much an important part of the celebration for many families. And if one does brave the crowds on the streets of the Greater Town, streets that while perhaps are over sanitised and modernised, are where one does discover that the spirit of Chinese New Years past is one that is very much alive in the present. 

A view over the sanitised Chinatown and the modern city that has grown around it.

A view over the sanitised Chinatown and the modern city that has grown around it.

A view of the busy New Bridge Road with the galloping horses of the light-up.

A view of the busy New Bridge Road with the galloping horses of the light-up.





The faces of Chingay 2013

24 02 2013

If anyone reading this appears in any of the photographs below (or in this album), I would be pleased to extend a higher resolution copy of the photograph to you if you can drop me an email.


Photographs from what was certainly a feast for the senses, Chingay 2013, which was held at the F1 Pit Building over two evenings on 22 and 23 February 2013. The annual event, touted as “Asia’s Grandest Street Parade”  is organised the People’s Association. In its current incarnation, Singapore’s Chingay was conceived as a street parade to celebrate the Chinese New Year in 1973 in the wake of the ban on the tradition of letting off fireworks, the parade has evolved over the years into the spectacular celebration of Singapore’s rich multi-ethnic mix and includes participants from many other countries. The event wouldn’t have been a success if it wasn’t also for the efforts of many participants and volunteers, to whom this post is dedicated to:

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Spreading happiness at Serangoon Gardens

14 02 2013

Tucked away in a somewhat obscure area of Serangoon Gardens is a delightful little café that as its name, Sun Ray Café, suggests, brings sun rays over the area. Describing itself as a joyful and offbeat spot, the cafe is probably better known to pet owners – it being one of the few pet friendly eateries found in the area of Singapore.  I guess, not being a pet owner, I might be forgiven for not being aware of the cafe, and it was only through an invitation for a food tasting session that I got to know of its existence.

Yu Sheng that is served not with raw fish, but with smoked salmon and tossed with a fork.

Yu Sheng that is served not with raw fish, but with smoked salmon and tossed with a fork.

That it is an offbeat place is probably also seen in some of the food creations made specially for the occasion of the Lunar New Year and Valentine’s Day. One of the first things we got  to do was toss the what has come to be a tradition for the Lunar New Year in Singapore and Malaysia, Yu Sheng or Raw Fish Salad. That is perhaps as traditional as it does get, not only is the “Raw Fish” Salad topped not by raw fish as its name might suggest, but by a generous helping of smoked salmon, but it also is  tossed with a fork. Topped off with croutons, and served with plum sauce, the salad’s ingredients and the salmon topping is shaped into a short cylinder in a mould – taking on a rather quirky and non-conventional appearance. The Sun Ray Café Yu Sheng Platter, named Rising Joy is rather a rather delightful twist to the traditional dish, comes in two sizes – a small portion ideal for 2 diners is priced at $10.80 and the large portion for 4 diners costs $16.80 and will be available until 24 February. Being a pet friendly, the café also serves a pet version of the dish with boiled salmon, a portion of which costs $6.80.

A peek into the pet friendly café.

A peek into the pet friendly café.

The main part of the food tasting was to introduce the café’s Valentine’s Day menu (for which this post probably comes a little too late for). Available on 13 and 14 February, the menu comes with a choice of three entrées. The menu is also served with a Smoked Salmon Salad served with a wonderful walnut sauce dressing; a Cuppa’ Mushroom Soup inspired by how cappuccino is served these days which I thought was just right – light and not overladen with cream; a choice of Home Made Tiramisu or Chocolate Lava Cake; and a choice of drinks – a Signature Mocktail Mellini or a glass of House Wine. The entrées can be selected from a Australian Seared Steak (marinated in red wine and rosemary and served with Lyonnais potatoes); Crusted Salmon (sesame crusted salmon with sweet taro mash – I am told it is naturally sweet taro); or the Honey Glazed Spring Chicken (grilled and served with oven-roasted potatoes). I though the salmon turned out the best – full of flavour complemented by the sesame crust. The steak was also tender and juicy and rich in flavour. The chicken however did taste a little too sweet and wasn’t to my liking. The menus are priced at $45 for the steak, $35 for the salmon and  $30 for the chicken.

The smoked salmon salad with a walnut sauce dressing.

The smoked salmon salad with a walnut sauce dressing.

Cuppa' Mushroom Soup.

Cuppa’ Mushroom Soup.

The Valentine's Day menu offers a choice of entrées. The Australian Seared Steak menu costs $45.

The Valentine’s Day menu offers a choice of entrées. The Australian Seared Steak menu costs $45.

The crusted salmon.

The crusted salmon served with sweet taro mash.

Honey Glazed Spring Chicken.

Honey Glazed Spring Chicken.

The very refreshing Signature Mellini Mocktail.

The very refreshing Signature Mellini Mocktail.

Besides the food – the café’s owner is also big on coffee. A trained barista, he hopes to also turn the café into one that serves specialty coffees and is considering roasting his own beans. Tthe café was kind enough to have a little coffee appreciation session during which Columbia Geisha beans (which we were told cost $300 a kg!) were used and the practice of coffee cupping was  introduced – after which I will not look at a cup of kopi-o in the same way again.

Brewing the Geisha beans.

Brewing the Geisha beans.

A cupping spoon.

A cupping spoon.

Located at 79 Brighton Crescent, more information on the pet friendly café can be found at its Facebook page. And do note that, as a special treat, the café is extending a $10 return voucher – all you would need to do to claim the voucher is to say “Happiness will keep us alive!” to the staff serving you.





Celebrating the Lunar New Year at Marina Bay

12 02 2013

In celebration of the Lunar New Year, The Float @ Marina Bay once again plays host to River Hongbao. The annual event, now in its 27th year, is organised by Singapore Federation of Chinese Clan Associations (SFCCA), Singapore Press Holdings (SPH), Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCCI), Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and People’s Association (PA) with the aim to allow both locals and visitors to immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere. This year’s fair sees a display of lanterns including some of the largest which have been designed and specially handcrafted for River Hongbao on display at The Float. This combined with the host of fringe activities including amusement rides and carnival games; nightly shows on the main stage and; brought specially this year – food and handicraft from Guangdong Province, will certainly make this year’s River Hongbao one that will certainly be worth a visit.

The Guangdong Arts Troupe during the Countdown Ceremony on Saturday.

The Guangdong Arts Troupe during the Countdown Ceremony on Saturday.

The Float coming to life for River Hongbao 2013.

The Float coming to life for River Hongbao 2013.

The lanterns will definitely be a draw this year – the most eye-catching one being the towering 18 metre tall God of Wealth, as well as two large Screen Lanterns, which measuring 30 metres by 10 metres, will certainly not be missed. The lanterns have all been locally designed and handcrafted by craftsmen in China and also include zodiac lanterns – 12 of them each with a zodiac animal – the one with the snake will of course be taking centre stage. One rather interesting lantern is that resembles a Chinese Opera or Wayang stage – with lantern puppets as well as puppet show performances at selected times throughout the day. Visitors can also look forward to receiving fortune numbers from the God of Wealth at two hourly intervals from 1 to 11 pm.

The lanterns will add light and colour to The Float over the nine days.

The lanterns will add light and colour to The Float over the nine days.

The 18 metre tall God of Wealth.

The 18 metre tall God of Wealth.

The zodiac lantern featuring the snake.

The zodiac lantern featuring the snake.

A floating lantern.

A floating lantern.

A lantern featuring giant pandas.

A lantern featuring giant pandas.

Besides the lanterns, the happenings on the main stage which comes alive every evening, should also not be missed. The shows on the main stage will over the nine evenings, feature performances by both local and foreign performers, including acts which hail from China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia.  The highlight includes the performances which feature dancers from the National Taiwan University of Arts and the Nanfang Song and Dance Company, as well as acrobats from Shantou Acrobatic and Magic Troupe. In addition to these acts, the evening of 13 February will see a “Local Talent Night”,  14 February a “Youth Night” which showcases upcoming young talents and 15 February, a “SFCCA Night” during which the clan associations will put up both Mandarin as well as perfromances in dialects. The last evening (16 February) will see a “Harmony Night” when the different ethnic groups come together in a grand finale. For more information on the programme, please visit the River Hongbao’s Programme page. River Hongbao 2013 runs from 8 to 16 February 2013. More information on River Hongbao can also be found at the event’s website and Facebook Page.

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Further information on River Hongbao 2013:

Working with Guangdong

As part of efforts to further cultural cooperation with Guangdong Province, River Hongbao will be partnering the Department of Culture and Department of Tourism of Guangdong Province to bring the region’s highlights to Singapore. Visitors to The Float will be entertained by the Guangdong Arts Troupe, which comprises of performers from the highly acclaimed Nanfang Song and Dance Company and acrobats from Shantou Acrobatic and Magic Troupe. Guangdong is also well known for its popular Cantonese cuisine so expect your tastebuds to be tantalized by the region’s delicacies available at the River Hongbao Food Street. Handicrafts from from different provinces of Guangdong like silk scarves from Shunde, Guangzhou bone and jade sculptures, Foshan paper cuttings and souvenirs from The Musuem of Dr Sun Yat Sen will also be available for visitors to bring a small piece of Guangdong back with them.

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River Hongbao Food Street

Continuing with 2012’s success, River Hongbao’s Food Street will bring back last year’s winning local fare like Char Kway Teow, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Fried Hokkien Noodles, Satay Bee Hoon, Oyster Omelette, as well as Asian street favourites from Taiwan and Thailand. Guangdong chefs will also be flown in to entice palates with popular Guangdong delicacies like Grilled Quail’s Eggs, Soup Dumplings, Oysters steamed with garlic mince, Traditional double boiled soups and many more.

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Memory Collection Drive

This year, River Hongbao will work together with the Singapore Memory Project (SMP) to collect memories of Chinese New Year celebrations in Singapore. Visitors can share their memories of the festive traditions or past River Hongbao events at the Memory Collection Drive. For memories contributed, they will receive specially designed hongbao packets, while stocks last. These memories will enable future generations of Singaporeans to understand the collective journey of our nation and the different facets of Singapore. Members of the public can also submit photos and stories via singaporememory.sg or the SG Memory iOS App.

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Minister for Prime Minister’s Office Mr Lim Swee Say joining the countdown celebrations.

Minister for Prime Minister’s Office Mr Lim Swee Say joining the countdown celebrations.

The fireworks display at the countdown.

The fireworks display at the countdown.





Chasing the dragon through streets of red and gold

25 01 2012

I did something I’ve not contemplated doing in a long time over the weekend which was to brave the crowds on the streets of Chinatown on the eve of the Chinese New Year. I must admit that it wasn’t the street market with its offerings of red and gold and festive goodies that drew me, but rather the opportunity to photograph the 108 metre long illuminated three-dimensional Water Dragon decoration that has for the last month or so, dominated the divide between Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road at the junction with Upper Cross Street, but since I was already there, I took the opportunity to take what was a thoroughly enjoyable walk around the street market as well.

Beside the street market, another draw to Chinatown in the lead-up to the Chinese New Year is the light-up which this year features a 108 metre long 3D Water Dragon.

The crowds on Pagoda Street on the eve of Chinese New Year.


Dragons, big and small, were everywhere this Chinese New Year.

Last day offers by vendors hoping to dispose of their excess stock attract crowds to the Chinese New Year street market.

Strolling around the street market, I realise that despite the sanitised version of streets that were once never without that spark, there is still some of what is missing to be found on the streets as they come alive in the lead-up to the Lunar New Year. Then as it is now, Chinatown is a focal point for shoppers seeking the essential to welcome the New Year, as they throng the narrow passageways left through streets lined with stalls that offer goods of red and gold – colours considered most auspicious by the Chinese, bringing colour and excitement that remind us of a now distant world.

Melon seeds - a must serve during the New Year.

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Picking tangerines. Tangerines symbolise gold and are exchanged during the New Year for luck and prosperity.

Chopsticks on sale.

The market draws more than the local shopper – tourists mingle with the crowds, as do more recent residents of Singapore – many from a world from which our Chinese ancestors made their passage from in search of a better life and the world which gave us the festival we now celebrate. It is the new arrivals to our land that seem to bring the new Chinatown now to live, much as the ancestors to our older Chinese citizens would have done in very different surroundings. There was a different feel to the surroundings this time as well as a late afternoon downpour threatened to dampen the atmosphere that was building just as the crowd thickened in anticipation of discounts offered by vendors seeking to dispose of excess goods before the streets fall silent for the New Year. Although the downpour did thin the crowd on the streets as many sought shelter in the food outlets that were still opened late on the eve of the New Year, there were still plenty who umbrella in hand, braved the sudden deluge in search of a bargain.

The late afternoon downpour failed to dampen the atmosphere.

A shopper and her daughter under an umbrella.

More recent arrivals from China gathering for a reunion away from home along a five-foot-way in Chinatown. Part of the renewal has seen Chinatown becoming a focal point for the new arrivals from China, as much as it was one for the arrivals of old.

Wet from the rain, I decided to make a move as day became night, but not before seeking the best vantage for a photograph of the Water Dragon. I soon found it, thanks to the hundreds of photos that have been posted. It was then time for a reunion of sorts – not the ones I miss that were always accompanied by the sounds of a Tanjong Pagar Railway Station that has since fallen silent, but one in which tradition has been abandoned – a sign perhaps of who I have become in the brave new world I now find myself in.

An aerial view of the Water Dragon and the light-up.








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