Through the front door

21 05 2009

Growing up in an apartment built by Singapore’s public housing body, the Housing and Development Board or the HDB, the common areas outside the apartment were a buzz of activity throughout the day. Through the front door of the apartment, which most kept opened in those days, probably to provide some form of ventilation, I was able to observe quite a fair bit of what went on along the common areas outside the apartment. A steady stream of salesmen and food vendors, as well as bill colectors and the “karang guni” or rag and bone man or two,  passed by each day, along with some of the  regular visitors – the swill collector in the morning and the postman in the afternoon.

Among the food vendors, the tok-tok noodle boy always made an impression, knocking chopsticks against a hollow wooden block which made the tok-tok tok-tok sound that told us that the told us that fishball noodle hawker’s assistant was coming round. In those days, the hawker’s assistants would deliver the piping hot bowls of noodles right to your doorstep once you have placed an order. Besides noodles, there were other options such as such as Kacang Putih,  Pulot Hitam (black glutinuous rice dessert topped with coconut milk) – the lady who sold this would carry a pot of the glutinous rice over a small charcoal stove at one end of a stick, balanced by a basket on the other end with utensils and a pail of water, over her shoulder, and the option I most looked forward to: curry puffs. The friendly Indian man who sold them came around every afternoon, with his green bag, filled with round curry puffs, each wrapped in grease proof baking paper. Out of his bag, at 30 cents a piece, the smell of freshly made curry-puffs greeted me from where he stood at the front door. I would watch in anticipation as either my grandmother or mother would undertake the transaction. I could never wait to sink my teeth into the crispy buttery pastry filled with piping hot potato and chicken curry.

The Front Door, 1968

The Front Door, 1968

Once in a while, the elevator repair technician, George, would come around to service the only elevator that served the upper floors of the apartment block. I was always greeted with a  “naughty boy” each time he was around, not that I minded it. I referred to him as “George of the Jungle”, after the character in the cartoon of the same name – a comical alternative to Tarzan, that was popular then. I would observe him from the elevator landing, fascinated with the elevator’s machinery on the top of the elevator car that George would be working on.

The apartment also provided good views of the areas around – we had an especially clear view of the Potong Pasir area, which at that time was a farming area. There was once when there was massive flooding affecting much of the low lying Potong Pasir area. I recall being able to see nothing much more than the attap and zinc roofs of houses in the village, and through the binocular, pink carcasses of drowned pigs could be seen floating in the floodwaters. Being used to seeing dirty looking mud covered pigs on my annual visits during the Chinese New Year to a farm that one of my grandmother’s friends were taking care of, I was quite surprised to see how pink pigs could be.

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4 responses

8 07 2010
The smells of the Toa Payoh that I grew up in « The Long and Winding Road

[…] shrimp, I am now revisiting some of the aromas that I grew up smelling in Toa Payoh. There was the smell of curry puffs that greeted me through the front door of course, as well as the “fowl” smell of poultry and the wonderful aroma of spices […]

10 07 2010
When the post man came a calling « The Long and Winding Road

[…] that we moved into on my own. And in between playing with my toy soldiers and building blocks, or peering out through the usually opened front door at life beyond the flat, I would look forward to the arrival of the post man. That always was able […]

29 09 2010
Going up 40 years back in time … « The Long and Winding Road

[…] Through the front door […]

7 10 2010

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