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.
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.
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.
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.