An annual invasion of sugarcane

14 01 2014

Photographs taken in the heart of the Serangoon area on the eve of Pongal, one of the many colourful expressions of the various cultures found in Singapore that living on the island provides an opportunity to immerse oneself in. Pongal is a harvest festival that is celebrated over four days. Originating in southern India, the festival sees the streets off Serangoon Road come alive with celebration with much of the activity centered on a Campbell Lane invaded seemingly by stalks of sugarcane.

Campbell Lane is where a Pongal bazaar annually paints the street in the colours of the harvest, seen in the purple of black sugarcane, the green of bananas, ginger and turmeric leaves, as well as in the colours of the earth from traditional clay pots. Hard to miss is also the orange and gold of sweet treats and the burst of joy that the floral garlands bring, mixed with the hues of the many who throng the streets in search of the essentials for the festival. 

More on the festival and how it is being commemorated in Singapore can be found at the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association’s website.

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Soonambu Kambam welcomes the month of Thai

11 01 2014

Soonambu Kambam, the “Village of Lime” or “Little India” as the people in the tourism board would like us to know it takes on a festive appearance this time of the year as it prepares to welcome the Tamil month of Thai, the first day of which falls on 14 January 2014, a day when Thai Pongal is celebrated. Another festival to look out for in the month of Thai is Thaipusam, which falls on 17 January this year.

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Pongal is a harvest festival that is celebrated mainly by the Tamil community in Singapore and brings Campbell Lane (and Hastings Road this year) to life – with a bazaar coloured by steel and earthen pots, as well as lots of festivities in the lead up to the festival – which is celebrated over a four day period, and during the festival to look out for. The celebrations in the Village of Lime starts today along with a street light-up along Serangoon Road (the light-up will be up to the end of January). For more information on the festival and festivities, do visit the Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association’s website.

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Multilevel conversations

28 12 2013

Conversations, taking place at different levels, as observed at the Masjid Angullia (Anguilla Mosque) located at Serangoon Road. The mosque was built on wakaf land donated by the prominent Angullia family. Although the main building we see today is one that is from rather recent times, having been put up in 1970, the entrance gatehouse we do also see today is one which is associated with the previous building (which was demolished in September 1969) and has been put up for conservation under the recently released URA Draft Master Plan 2013. The previous building was thought to have been put up before 1898 on land provided in 1890 by Mohammed Salleh Eussoof Angullia, a trader who had come to Singapore in 1850 from Gujarat in India. More information on the mosque can be found at the MUIS website.

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The call to prayer.

The call to prayer.

The gatehouse which has been put up for conservation, seen with the crowd after sunset prayers.

The gatehouse which has been put up for conservation, seen with the crowd after sunset prayers.

The main mosque building - put up in 1970.

The main mosque building – put up in 1970.





A annual walk of faith

28 01 2013

Thaipusam is perhaps the most colourful of the religious and cultural traditions brought in by the early immigrants to modern Singapore that is today celebrated on the streets of Singapore. Celebrated by Tamils from southern India during the full moon of the Tamil month of Thai, the festival in Singapore is notable for the 4 kilometre procession over which devotees carry a “burden”, in the form of a kavadi. The procession which starts from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple along Serangoon Road and ends at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple (Chettairs’ Temple) at Tank Road sees hundreds of devotees every year making their way along the route carrying kavadis which range from milk pots placed on their heads to more elaborate kavadis such as spike kavadis and chariot kavadis. The spike (or “vel”) kavadis is perhaps the most elaborate and involves the piercing of up to 108 spikes onto the body. The chariot kavadis involves the attachment of hooks to the backs of bearers which is attached to ropes pulling a chariot. Devotees often also have other piercings carried out including with skewers through the tongue and cheeks with holy ash applied to the area before hand. The piercings are said to inflict no pain as well as leave no scars (no blood is spilled as well) – devotees go through a 48 day spiritual cleansing prior to Thaipusam – which involves a strict regime of fasting, abstinence, and prayer. More information on the festival can be found at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple’s website.

Photographs from Thaipusam 2013

(Black and Whites)

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(In Colour)

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Photographs from previous years’ Thaipusam observations:

Thaipusam (2012)
Thaipusam (2011)
Thaipusam (2010)

A similar festival celebrated in the Tamil month of Panguni in the Sembawang area:

Panguni Uthiram (2012)
Panguni Uthiram (2011)





More than just fishy business

16 01 2013

The wet markets we find in Singapore today are much more orderly versions of the wet markets in that Singapore I that grew up in. Yesterday’s markets were always lively, serving not only as places to obtain fresh produce during a time when refrigerators were less common, but also as places where people could come together at a social level. In the age of refrigerators and supermarkets, wet markets are today a lot quieter and are now much less of a focal point. Many come to life only during the weekends and just before festive occasions. Despite this, wet markets are however still very much a sensory treat and wonderful places to discover the texture, colour and smell of a Singapore which through these markets we cling on to. One market I particularly enjoy visiting is Tekka Market. The market had in its previous incarnation been one I have long held a fascination for, its passageways filled with the wonderful aroma of spices and the sight of mutton vendors standing over logs which served as chopping blocks. Finding itself across the road from where it originally was, the market is one which still attracts shoppers from across the island in search of some of best cuts of beef and mutton; the wide selection of fish its fishmongers seem to have more of than those in other markets do; and the exotic offerings such as buah keluak that seem to only be found there.

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A walk around the Village of Lime

28 10 2012

A walk I recently took was around what is one of my favourite places in Singapore and what has to be one of the more colourful districts in Singapore – the area we now refer to as Little India, an area which was referred to as “Soonambu Kambam” in Tamil or “Kampong Kapor” in Malay which translates into “The Village of Lime”. The area is one that takes a life of its own every weekend when thousands of migrant workers from the Indian sub-continent congregate in the area and one, that in the lead up to the Hindu festival of lights, Deepavali (or Diwali), takes on a very festive atmosphere not just with the annual Deepavali street light-up, but also with the Deepavali bazaars around the area.

Men playing carrom – a popular game in the Indian Sub-Continent.

The Deepavali light-up with the weekend crowd.

The Anguillia Mosque during sunset prayers.

Colours of Deepavali – a walk through a Deepavali bazaar.

Many migrant workers from India and Bangladesh congregate in the area every Sunday bringing much life and colour to Little India.

Indian sweets are popular items – jelebi, pastry soaked in very sweet syrup.

An art deco hotel building in Mayo Street – the former South Seas Hotel.

A boy watches a five foot way tailor at work on the sewing machine.

A busy hole-in-the-wall shop.

Many gather to catch up with friends.

Anywhere’s a good place to sit around and share the week’s experiences.

A busy car park.

Balls of dough – bread in the making to feed the hungry.

Even with the crowd – it is possible to find a place to have a quiet moment.

Catching up on the news – the text on the newspapers reflect the many different parts of the sub-continent the migrant workers are from.

Many makeshift food stalls appear to cater for those gathered.

The more upmarket establishments also do a roaring trade.





Thaipusam at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple

7 02 2012

Having photographed the procession of Kavadis on the streets over the last two Thaipusam celebrations in Singapore, as well as with Thaipusam falling on a work day this year, I decided to set off early this year to take a look at the preparations of the Kavadi bearers at Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple in Serangoon Road at the break of day. The colourful Hindu festival during which ‘Kavadis‘ or burdens, some which involve piercing of various parts of the body, are borne by devotees, is one which captivated me as a child and one that still contiunes to fascinate me to this day. It can possibly be considered to be the last authentic religious festival that is still enacted on the streets in Singapore – albeit with some restrictions which give it less of an atmosphere than celebrations that take place in our northern neighbour Malaysia.





Pongal in the Village of Lime

16 01 2012

An area in Singapore I find myself from time to time wandering in is the area that is referred to as Little India today. It is an area full of life and awash with colour, one that over time, has be successful in retaining its ethnic flavour in a way that the other ethnic districts on the island have not be able to. The area is one that has developed from its early days as a southern Indian settlement that had been established along Serangoon Road. It was an area referred to as “Soonambu Kambam” or “The Village of Lime”, an area that during my childhood drew many from all over Singapore. The old market, Tekka, had been the main draw with the hard-to-find range of spices and exotic ingredients, as well as a fine collection of mutton butchers that were available. It was in accompanying my mother to Tekka that provided me with an introduction to the area which developed into a fascination for it. That would have been more than four decades ago, when Singapore had been a very different place. Time has since made its mark on the area – that old Tekka market set has since been pulled down with the market moving right across Serangoon Road. It is not this incarnation of the old that now draws visitors to the area, but perhaps a new market that now pulls the crowds in. The new comes in the form of Mustafa – a departmental store whose reputation has spread far and wide attracting many in search of a bargain crowding its narrow passageways.

A reflection off a discarded mirror in a back lane. A walk through the Village of Lime does allow for reflection through the windows it provides to the past.

The former Tekka market (with the red roof tiles) was a big draw for many in Singapore (the former Kandang Kerbau Police Station can be seen across Serangoon Road from the old Tekka market) (photo source: National Archives of Singapore).

It is not the old nor the new market that I seek when I visit the area, but it is for the area as it still is today. Despite the encroachment of non traditional businesses – the rag-and-bone trade, budget lodgings, non traditional cafes and watering holes, the soul of the area as it was has still very much been left intact, becoming very much a focal point for many more – the new immigrants and transient workers, who seek the comfort it offers them of a home away from home.

I am drawn to the area by what it still is today.

The Village of Lime is today one that exhibits many moods, moods that are influenced by the time of day, the day of the week, and also the time of the year. The brightest moods are ones seen during the many Hindu festivals – celebrated maybe less boisterously than in the days of old, but one that still adds a flavour that only the area can have. The festivals bring much colour and activity, whether it is the lights and crowds that the lead up to the festival of lights, Deepavali, brings; the noisy street procession during which an extreme act of faith and devotion – the carrying of a Kavadi during Thaipusam is seen; or the four day harvest festival, Pongal, celebrated at this time of the year. Sundays also bring with it a somewhat festive mood, when crowds of transient workers on their precious days off throng the streets and open spaces to escape from the monotony that the long work hours and the stifling confines of their crowded and far-away dormitories bring, creating a new buzz on the streets in the area.

Floral garlands at this year's Pongal bazaar - festivals bring much colour and buzz to the streets of today's Little India.

The Pongal bazaar along Campbell Lane.

Wandering around over the weekend had the added bonus of the Pongal bazaar at Campbell Lane in the lead up to this year’s Pongal celebrations. It is during the lead up and during the four day celebrations that Campbell Lane bursts to life, being where the main festivities are held. This attracts many to the stalls at the bazaar where much of what is needed is to be found – colourful floral garlands, clay and steel pots, and stalks of purple sugarcane and more. The hub for the festivities is a marquee a corner of which an enclosure has been set up to hold cows and goats – a rare sight in urban Singapore, to be honoured during the festival. To get the best feel of the festivities and to soak the atmosphere up, it is best that Campbell Lane is visited during the evenings, when the streets are also lighted up for to celebrate Pongal.

Stalks of purple sugarcane during Pongal.

Cows are honoured during the harvest festival.

A cow is milked at the Pongal celebrations.

Clay pots, decorated with painted mango leaves on sale - new clay pots are used to cook pongal - sweetened rice cooked in milk, as offerings for Pongal.

Steel pots on sale.

Ginger on sale.

Even in the absence of a festival which does change the mood of the place, much of the area’s charm can still be discovered. Best seen on foot, the streets around are littered with colourful double storey pre-war shophouses and is awash in colour. Even when, as I did, one wanders in the relative calm of the morning, there is no shortage of colour on the streets. Sundry shops found around the Dunlop Street area with their displays of fruits and vegetables are ones that immediately catch one’s attention and are ones that shouldn’t be missed.

Having a cup of tea on a five-foot-way outside a cafe.

Onions and potatoes on sale at a sundry shop - essential ingredients in southern Indian cooking.

Gourds on sale.

Wandering around the area and getting lost in the maze of colour is certainly not without reward. There is an astonishing number of places in which the appetite worked up walking around can easily be satisfied (not that anyone needs that excuse for that). And even when satisfying one’s food cravings isn’t on the agenda, it must really be difficult to resist the calling from that nice heartwarming cup of Masala Tea …

A lady dressed in the traditional sari, shops along Dunlop Street.

A lady carrying a young child at a sundry shop.





A world apart: a leisurely stroll through some of the streets of Little India

15 08 2010

Continuing on our back to school walk from Thieves Market, my old schoolmates and I crossed the busy Jalan Besar to what seems a world apart from the rest of Singapore: the charming area known to us as Little India. Set just a stone’s throw away from the city centre and its skyscrapers that dwarf much of the older areas around it, this quite delightful part of Singapore is one that I have always enjoyed wandering around. Bounded roughly by Jalan Besar to the east, Sungei Road to the south, Race Course Road to the west, and Kitchener Road to the north, the main part of the Little India area is alive with the colour and activity that much of the streets of Singapore seems to be missing. The area had mostly developed in the late 1800s, when the cattle rearing trade that thrived from the watering holes that the swamps in the area had provided. Many of the names used for and in the area in fact bear the evidence of this, Belilios Road and Lane being named after one of the pioneers of the trade, I.R. Belilios, as well as obvious names such as Buffalo Road, Kerbau Road and Kandang Kerbau. The emergence of this trade, one that was dominated by immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, attracted many other economic migrants from the sub-continent to the area transforming it into a hub of economic activity as well as a home for many Indians immigrants.

Crossing Jalan Besar to Little India, we passed this beautiful pre-war shop house at the corner of Jalan Besar and Veerasamy Road.

A newspaper advertisement for the White House Hotel at the height of its glory.

The route that we had taken to Sungei Road had taken us within sight of an Art Deco style building at the corner of Jalan Besar and Sungei Road. This had once been the White House Hotel, a building that I have never failed to notice. Its distinctive green windows had long reminded me of the panes of the windows and doors that was with me for the six years I was at St. Michael’s School. The building also served as a marker of the midway point of a journey that I would take once a week in my lower secondary school days. Then I would attend technical lessons at McNair Road in the Rumah Miskin area, and getting to school after workshop classes involved a ride on the bus that would take me through Jalan Besar, Bencoolen Street and Bras Basah Road. The building is also positioned such that it also serves as a marker for the south-eastern corner of Little India, and back when I was in school, the hotel had seemed to have seen much better days. These days, having been given a makeover and painted a pleasant light pastel blue, the hotel which is run by the budget chain Hotel 81, has some of the dignity that the building perhaps deserves for its architectural style restored.

The Art Deco styled former White House Hotel, which might have once been a rather grand looking hotel marks the end of Jalan Besar at its junction with Sungei Road. As a schoolboy I used to pass this building on the bus that would take me from the technical workshops at McNair Road to the school I attended on Bras Basah Road, marking the midway point of the bus ride.

Making our way through Veerasamy Road, we noticed that much of the area now seems to be dominated by the rag-and-bone trade … the evidence of which is not difficult to notice: small trucks buried in paper and cardboard pulling alongside shop houses that overflow with used items; weighing scales chained to posts on the streets; trolley loads of cardboard boxes being pushed around by elderly folk, are within sight everywhere.

The area on both sides of Jalan Besar seemed to be dominated by the scrap and rag-and-bone trade ...

Evidence of the rag-and-bone trade ... a weighing scale for weighing newspapers and cardboard boxes.

Trolleys of flattened cardboard boxes being pushed through the streets of Little India are a common sight.

The quick walk through the very colourful streets also took us through Kampong Kapor Road. Turning left into it from Veerasamy Road, where we could see the Kampong Kapor Methodist Church, somehow out of place in the surroundings. Built in 1930, the Art Deco church building was built to house a growing congregation which had outgrown the original church building in which the church had started. The original building was incidentally the Middle Road Church building that is now part of Sculpture Square. It was where we had earlier in our walk, stumbled upon Ngim Kum Thong’s very intriguing art exhibition.

The streets in Little India are washed in colour.

Kampong Kapor Methodist Church on Kampong Kapor Road. The church started as the Middle Road Church, the building of which is now Sculpture Square.

More of the Art Deco style Kampong Kapor Methodist Church building built in 1930.

Continuing on our walk through Cuff Road, it was interesting to notice that what is still essentially an Indian enclave, shows signs of a strong Chinese immigrant presence. Many of those involved in the rag-and-bone business are in fact Chinese nationals. As well as that, there was also evidence of some western influences. Where else would you see a sign over what is essentially an Indian café selling a fare of fried Indian snacks such as pakoras and samosas as “Hot Chips”?

The area since has through its history been a magnet for migrants from India.

These days, Little India also attracts migrant workers from other parts of the world as well.

Little India these days is also a mix of east and west.

The sight of newspapers and magazines displayed on lines was once a common sight all over Singapore, and is today still commonly seen in Little India.

A five foot way - typical of pre-war buildings in Singapore ... now serves as a convenient parking space for all kinds of small vehicles ...

Moving back northwards along Serangoon Road, we crossed over the road near its junction with Belilios Road to the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. The temple is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Singapore, the history of which is well summed up in the temple’s website. The temple is dedicated to Kaliamman, more commonly referred to as Kali, the Destroyer of Evil, a popular goddess with the workers who were said to have been involved in the construction of the temple in the late 1800s.

The Sri Veeramakaliamman on Serangoon Road is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Singapore, having been constructed in the late 1800s.

Inside the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple.

A Hindu priest inside the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple.

Floral garlands and offerings on sale at Belilios Road next to the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple.

After a short break at Chander Road where we had Masala tea at Masala Hut, we then made our way to Tekka Market, passing by the North Indian Shree Lakshminarayan Temple, and walking through the mall at Belilios Lane / Krebau Road, through the small lane by the former residence Tan Teng Niah, and out to Buffalo Road. This took us across to the HDB complex that houses the new Tekka Market. The original Tekka Market was actually located across Serangoon Road from where the current market is, and had when I was a child, been a source of fascination for me. I remember the shopping trips there with my mother during which I would take in the wonderful aroma of spices and look forward to seeing the mutton sellers towering over their huge chopping blocks which had been cut from large logs. So, I was pleasantly surprised to see that smaller versions of these chopping blocks are still used by some of the mutton sellers – the only difference being that they stand firmly on the ground and do not seem to tower over me any more. That certainly give me a shot of nostalgia as we continued to wander around the market.

Scenes from the colourful shophouses of Chander Road ...

A liquor store on Chander Road.

Beet Root on display at Buffalo Road.

Tekka Market today ...

Fresh fish at Tekka Market.

The log chopping blocks that I was very taken with as a child.

Out of Tekka Market, we decided to head back to school again by MRT. This was not before we encountered a long snaking queue that we might have mistaken for one of the queues that offer a pot of gold to a lucky punter in one of the many lotteries that we have here. These queues get especially long when the prize on offer is not just a pot of gold, but the equivalent of several pots to the tune of a few million dollars. Thinking it was probably a queue for one of these, we were quite surprised to see that it wasn’t. The queue had in fact snaked its way to a POSB ATM machine! I had only prior to this, seen monster ATM queues during the seasons of shopping frenzy, that form in the Orchard Road area, and from my recollection, I don’t think any of these were anywhere as long as the one I was looking at that day – perhaps only a third the length of what I was seeing!

The long snaking queue at the POSB ATM ...





A cup of coffee today as it might have been yesterday

14 04 2010

Sometimes, a chance encounter with a person or a chance discovery of a place or a building can be just so delightful. This was so on one of my wanderings through the streets of a Singapore that time has left behind, when the discovery of a charming little coffee shop, nestled in an obscure corner of a part of Singapore that I know little of and set amongst quaint streets and buildings that are reminiscent of a time we have long discarded, seemed almost like a godsend to a soul longing to be transported back to that forgotten time.

A cup of kopi-O to start the day.

Seeing that little coffee shop, sitting quietly as if wanting to be overlooked, brought back memories of the wonderful kopi-tiam (coffee shops) of old, where the robust aroma of thick black coffee would greet the morning crowd who, sitting on the rounded wooden chairs by the heavy marble top tables, would greedily devour the simple fair of roti-kaya, kopi-O, and soft boiled eggs.

The coffee shop at the corner of Clive Street and Upper Weld Road.

Kopi-O served in a cup reminiscent of the coffee shops of old.

One morning, early for work, I decided to venture back, perhaps in an attempt to persuade the little shop to bring me back to the days that I so miss, sitting down at a table set amongst rickety marbled top tables of yesteryear that were a little worse for wear, sans the rounded wooden chairs that would have gone with it. Ignoring the signs of today in the newer generations of tables and plastic chairs that were interspersed with the tables of old, and perhaps the dates on that the calendars that were also reminiscent of those of yesteryear hanging on the tiled walls reminding me of where I was in time, it did seem for a while that I was back to a kopi-tiam far removed from ones that today attempt to recreate the charm of the kopi-tiam of old with sterile and air-conditioned outlets that seem so necessary in our modern world, with modern prices to go with it.

Preparing a cup of coffee in the traditional way.

There I sat patiently as the smell of roti being toasted over the red-hot ambers of a charcoal fire as is traditionally done, filled the air, mixed with the aroma of kopi-O being brewed with the help of the customary coffee sock blackened through use, into a metal pot with a long spout placed over a grill to keep warm over the same charcoal fire. Observing the insides of the kopi-tiam, I was delighted with the sight of objects that brought the charms of the old kopi-tiam back to me: coffee-socks slung next to the preparation counter with shelves lined with coffee cups and glasses; a big bowl sugar resting on the preparation area; empty condensed milk cans with holes punctured on the semi opened lids through which a loop of raffia is attached waiting to be used as take-away containers for coffee; white tiled walls with old-styled calendars resting against them ….

Coffee socks hanging by the preparation counter.

Loaves of roti (bread) lying in wait.

Eggs to be boiled.

Even calendars reminiscent of the calendars of old are displayed on the walls.

Another calendar reminiscent of the calendars of old displayed on the wall.

Very reminiscent of the days of old - when coffee is taken away not in a plastic bag, but in a washed condensed milk tin.

The roti-kaya was served as it would have been, lightly toasted and darkened slightly by the charcoal ambers, crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, with a thin layer of kaya (a pasty sweet spread of coconut jam) and a generous slice of butter wedged in between two slices of toast cut in two. For a while, I was back in the kopi-tiam of old, but alas, it was only for that fleeting pause from what was today, sitting there in the midst of the reminders of yesterday.

Kopi-O and roti-kaya.


Afternote:
One more thing that I remembered on the coffee shops of yesteryear was seeing men gathered around the tables, with shirts unbuttoned or undershirts rolled up above their tummies, slurping coffee from saucers! :)








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