Destination Singapore — Experiencing Singapore through Travel

26 05 2023

Even before mass tourism took root with the arrival of the jet age, Singapore has fascinated would be travellers from the West. The romanticised depictions of the island penned by the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham, in the late 19th and early 20th century have more often than not, made Singapore out to be an exotic destination, as have travel guide books of the day. Singapore was after all a great port city, the crossroads of the East and West in more ways than one, and a cultural melting pot in which the well-heeled traveller could travel to and be accommodated in the lap of luxury in the days when the romance of travel seemed at its height, and yet have that experience of the exotic East.

It was in fact travel guide books that provided the inspiration for the curators of Now Boarding: Experiencing Singapore through Travel, 1800s–2000s, to bring Singapore out as a travel destination. One of two exhibitions opening at the National Museum of Singapore this last weekend in May, the exhibition will offer its visitors an experience of Singapore from the perspective of a traveller to the island.

Postcards and Posters on display.

The exhibition will have visitors explore four common travel themes or chapters if you like in a (modern) travel guide book, Getting Around, Places to Stay, Eating Out and Sights and Shopping. But before all of that, as in the case of the days of mass travel, one has that small matter of getting to the “airport” at the museum’s Rotunda — where one will be greeted the all too familiar sight of a Changi Airport flight information flip board (or at least a part of the decommissioned Terminal 2 flip board), and having to collect a “boarding pass” — which serves as an entry ticket and more at the check-in (museum ticketing) counter.

Exhibition Boarding Pass.
The former Changi Airport flip board.

Exploring the exhibition — especially in the first two sections, one is struck by how much getting here and its associated experiences — even today, has an emphasis that is placed very much on luxury. In Getting Around, depictions of long, luxurious and somewhat leisurely voyages on the passenger liners of old or even train journeys on the Malayan Railway seen in posters on display confronts the visitor. It seems no different when it comes to the modern day, with a unmissable Singapore Airlines’ A380 Suites Cabin in plain sight.

SQ A380 Cabin Suites

Once one is in Singapore however, there options of getting around the island that are on offer are a lot more down to earth. A trishaw on display, which has a rather interesting backstory to it, was an affordable means of conveyance for the person-on-the-street, as was its predecessor the rickshaw. It was also popular as a means to move around for tourists, for whom the trishaw was not only cheap, but a novelty!

A Trishaw.

In Places to Stay, the lure of the Raffles — an enduring Singaporean icon and the epitome of luxurious stays in Singapore — seems unescapable even in a museum setting. There are also other luxurious names of the past that will pop up such as the Adelphi (there is a small glass on display that tells yet another interesting story), and the Hotel de L’Europe.

Uniforms on loan from Raffles Hotel.

Eating Out at Singapore’s coffee shops, outdoor eateries and hawker stalls has undoubtedly been one of the must-dos for a visitor. It may not always have been the case given the issues we faced with hygiene in the past but this caught on in the 1950s and 1960s when street fare came to the fore. From a range of tools and kitchen utensils to kopitiam cups, drinking glasses, soft drink bottles and serving trays carrying advertisements of popular brands, to photographs and postcards featuring hawkers, visitors will get that sense of what the experience of eating out may have been like. In addition to this, there is an assortment of restaurant menus that can be viewed through an interactive display. The menus include one from A&W — the first fast food restaurant chain to set up shop in Singapore when it opened its first outlet at MSA (later SIA) Building in 1968.

Kopitiam memories.

Besides shopping at Orchard Road, a tourist draw since C K Tang opened its store in 1958 even if the shopping destinations then were at High Street and Raffles Place, Sights and Shopping also explores areas such the cabaret, night club and more recent clubbing scene. One popular and rather famous (or some say infamous) tourist spot — at least until the early 1980s, Bugis Street, is glaringly missing in the mix.

Recalling the club and cabaret scene.

To complete the exhibition experience, visitors can reflect on the portrayal of Singapore over the years and add personal impressions home at digital kiosks located within the gallery. Limited edition postcards featuring what’s on display from the National Museum’s collection are available with a donation to the museum. These can be sent to any address across the world by dropping them in at the Singapore Post mailbox placed just outside the exhibition gallery. Also, playing an accompanying Now Boarding mobile game will also yield a bonus digital gift. And if you have some energy left, there will also be pop-up rooms — with a disco room opening with the exhibition. In August, there are two other rooms to look out for that will feature transportation and a hotel-themed room.

The pop-up disco themed room.

The exhibition opens on 27 May 2023 and runs until 19 Nov 2023. For more information, including ticketing, please visit

A second exhibition opening on 27 May 2023, Get Curious: All About Food! is aimed at families with kids. More information on this can be found at:


From “Chinatown” to “China Town”

3 12 2021

The development of Singapore’s Chinatown, its reason for being, and how it does not quite fit into the same mould as the Chinatowns found across the non-Chinese world, was the topic of my previous post. Chinatown’s evolution in more recent years, first into a conservation and a tourist site as one of three of Singapore’s “ethnic quarters”, does have a significant influence on what has become of Chinatown today as a go-to place for the newest additions to the Chinese community in Singapore.

Chinatown today is part tourist attraction, a place for Singaporeans to find traditional goods for the occasion and for the new Chinese to get a taste of home.

The “new Chinese”, if I may call those more recently arrived from China that, started arriving in the wake of the setting up of diplomatic ties between the People’s Republic of China and Singapore in 1990. That opened the doors for an inflow of much needed migrant workers, along with academics, professionals, students and “study-mamas” (or peidu mama) in large numbers. Recent estimates has it that there could be as many as 400,000 new Chinese who have come Singapore, some of whom have been naturalised. Similar ethnically with their long-time Singaporean Chinese cousins who have mainly descended from southern Chinese immigrants, the new Chinese have a wider diversity in their origins, have quite different values and cultural perspectives, speak differently and have differing tastes. A natural consequence of this is the appearance of the many businesses, eateries and stores that now cater to the tastes, wants and needs of this numerically significant group.

Well patronised Northern Chinese and Sichuan food eateries along New Bridge Road.

Chinatown, and in particular, People’s Park Complex, is now where a concentration of such business can be found. People’s Park Complex, perhaps for it long-time role as a place to purchase Chinese made products since its opening in 1970, and where several remittance agents were set up in the 1990s, would attract travel agents specialising in the Chinese market, food and snack stalls, stores dealing in Chinese foodstuffs, and most recently, supermarkets. These have more or less become permanent fixtures in the shopping centre. Beyond this, food outlets are also made an appearance in and around the area of the complex. People’s Park Food Centre has now a range of food stalls offering food representative of northeastern China and also from the numb and spicy (mala) food from the Sichuan area.

Eateries and food stalls lining People’s Park Complex and People’s Park Food Centre offer a taste of home for many new Chinese.

Nearby, a long-time Chinatown landmark in the form of the former Great Southern Hotel, has been the home of Yue Hwa Chinese Products, a Hong Kong store which brings in Chinese goods and foodstuffs since 1996. The store has been a go-to place for ingredients for the more exotic types of Chinese food. It has however seen the arrival of a new competition, Scarlett Supermarket, whose name in Chinese ShiJiaKe (思家客) translates into “homesick”. The supermarket, which brings in Chinese snacks and foodstuffs and offers them at very reasonable prices, has in the short time since it opened its Trengganu Street outlet in October 2020, become popular both with new Chinese and with many Singaporeans. It has since opened stores across Singapore, including a flagship store in People’s Park Complex and by January 2022, will have 10 stores in total.

Yue Hwa Chinese Products, a Hong Kong store that was established at the former Great Southern Hotel in 1996. It has long been a go-to place to obtain ingredients for more exotic Chinese cooking.
The new kid on the block – Scarlett Supermarket, which opened its first store in Oct 2020, and has since opened several other stores across Singapore, including a flagship store in People’s Park Complex in Feb 2021.

What has become especially lively is the Chinatown food scene. This isn’t just confined to the area in and around People’s Park Complex, but has also added flavour to the scene across Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road. That is where the heart of old Chinatown was. Now an area that is at the heart of the tourist side of Chinatown, new Chinese eateries can be found along with several others along Upper Cross Street, Mosque Street, Pagoda Street, and Smith Street.

Eateries lining Mosque Street.

While the eateries may have been set up with the aim of bringing a taste of home to the multitude of new Chinese here in Singapore, many have also found regular patrons elsewhere. Three northeastern (dongbei) Chinese restaurants along Upper Cross Street for example, have become popular with the Koreans and Japanese and are featured on websites and other social media channels not just here but also in their home countries. In this way perhaps, Chinatown could be seen as playing a role of bringing people together, much like it did in the past.

A dongbei restaurant along Upper Cross Street.

While the focus of this post is on Chinatown becoming “China Town”, Chinatown today a lot more than that. As we heard in the video attached to my previous post, it is also a place for Singaporeans, especially those with past connections to the place. The renewal of Chinatown has also brought with it a host of new attractions such as the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Although the authenticity of the relic that it houses has been questioned, and perhaps whether the temple’s place in Chinatown is appropriate, it is here to stay. The temple and much of today’s Chinatown could be thought of as a continuation of the Chinatown of the past. Although not quite the same, it is still very much a place that brings people and cultures together.

Not Chinatown and not Singapore? A structure that perhaps defines the new Chinatown, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Consecrated in 2008, it was built to hold what is claimed to be a tooth of Buddha that was housed in an earthquake damaged stupa in Myanmar. Questions have been asked about the authenticity of the relic.

From Chinatown to “China Town” (video)

From Chinatown to “China Town”

Memories of ‘Batman’

13 02 2020

A guest post by Edmund Arozoo, who, following a conversation on the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, recalls a time when bats were hunted for consumption in Singapore. Edmund who grew up in a kampung in Jalan Hock Chye, now resides in Adelaide, Australia.

After band practice we often have a sit down meal of home cooked dishes at the band leader’s home. It is a great way to chill out and also have a bonding session. Last Sunday the conversation at the dinner table touched on the Coronavirus situation the world is currently facing and the theory of how it may have originated from bats and possibly through the ingestion of bats by humans. Well someone at the table declared that he had eaten bat meat before. Like me, he too was originally from Singapore. Suddenly a “kampong” memory came flashing back. I was reminded of how sometimes at dusk and into the night the “bat man” would appear. He would have with him two long bamboo poles (galahs). Each pole had along its length an edge of fine netting attached. So when the poles were raised and spread apart it was like having a fishing net spread overhead in the air.

The “batman” would survey the area for any bats in flight. Then he would observe their flight paths. And because the flight paths were very often loops and predictable he would position himself after the bat had flown overhead and immediately hoist the galahs up and spread the top ends apart and hold the netting as high as he could. He would then wait in anticipation for the bat to fly back – straight into the netting. Once the bat was entangled in the netting, both poles were lowered and the trapped bat extracted and kept in a container with the others that were caught.

The Batman © Edmund Arozoo.

If my memory serves me correctly, sometimes to attract the bats he would use the simple aid of a match box. A matchstick was removed from the box and jammed in between the top edge of the sliding drawer and the bottom side of the cover sleeve. By using the thumb to press over area where the matchstick came into contact with both parts of the box the matchstick was then forcibly moved inwards and outwards. This created a sound that we were told attracted the bats.

Bat Attractor © Edmund Arozoo.

Once he netted and stored the catches the “Batman” would move on to other parts of the kampong.

I understood that these bats were caught for human consumption.

While some around the dinner table that night expressed horror over the thought of eating bats, I had to remind them that during those days in Singapore people were known to eat flying foxes (fruit bats), iguana and wild boar.

Then I had to confess to the others that I too have been adventurous (game) here in Australia to have eaten Kangaroo meat, Emu meat pies, and when I was in the Northern Territory I had dined on Buffalo steak and stir fried Crocodile.

Prairie Hotel , Parachilna, South Australia © Edmund Arozoo.

Another memory then resurfaced – on our trip to Lake Eyre in 2016 we stopped for lunch at the Prairie Hotel in the country town of Parachilna, north of Adelaide. The menu promoted the ‘FMG’ – Feral Mixed Grill and if I remember correctly for us Aussies it was tongue-in-cheek fondly referred to as “road kill”, with Kangaroo, Camel, Emu, and Goat served as a platter.

Feral Platter © Edmund Arozoo.

In recent years I have tasted escargot, frog legs and often indulge in Blue Vein cheese (I love durians!)

Would I try Bat ….hmmm perhaps not just yet!

© Edmund Arozoo, 2020

Bat and flying fox Consumption in Singapore

The consumption of bats, especially the larger fruit bats, wasn’t just confined to Chinese population, some of whom believed it to be a cure for asthma. It was not unheard of amongst some of the other ethnic groups:

“The preparation of flying fox for consumption was quite an art and required a skilled hand as the glands under the armpit of the bat had to be carefully removed or else the whole dish was unpalatable due to the musky odour characteristic of the mammal. Flying fox was either prepared with herbs of curried. The strong ingredients presumably disguised the strong flavour of the bat. It was also considered to be a remedy for asthmatics.”

– Francesca Eber in “Singapore Eurasians: Memories, Hopes And Dreams”.

A postcard depicting a boy holding a flying fox in Singapore.


Rats, on the streets of Singapore!

10 01 2020

The arrival of spring, celebrated as the Chinese New Year, brings colour to the streets of Singapore’s Chinatown. Marked these days by a street light up, the anticipation of the festival also sees a host of events and activities as well as the crowd pulling Chinatown Chinese New Year Street Bazaar offering new year delicacies and must-haves, and an invasion of rats this year for the Year of the Rat.

Trengganu Street last weekend.

Anticipating the arrival of spring in Chinatown.

Rats have invaded for the Year of the Rat.


Heritage & Food Trail

Always a hit, the nightly stage shows run from 8 to 10.30 pm from 4 to 24 January 2020 at Kreta Ayer Square, opened each night with a lion dance performance. Another well received activity is the Heritage & Food Trail, which takes participants on a historical and cultural tour through the streets of Chinatown, culminating with a feast of Cantonese delights at Singapore’s largest hawker centre, Chinatown Complex Food Centre. Tickets for the trail, which run on 11, 12, 18 and 19 January, can be purchased at Kreta Ayer  Community Club at $15/- per participant or online (with a 10% discount) at:

11 Jan :

12 Jan :

18 Jan :

19 Jan :

Food, glorious Cantonese food from some of the 200 food stalls in Chinatown Complex Food Centre.

Yes 933 deejays on the heritage and food trail.

Mural hunting during the heritage and food trial.

The “disneyfication” of Chinatown is complete.

A Walk through Temple Street

Photos of the always Colourful Street Bazaar











Laksa’s origins will surprise you

28 11 2017

I’ve always enjoyed a bowl of laksa. The dish, which has an amazing range of equally delectable localised variations, brings great comfort and joy to many in Malaysia, parts of Indonesia and Singapore. There is perhaps no other dish that can so strongly be identified with a locality. In its very basic form, laksa is a vermicelli like noodle in a broth.  While it can be said that it is in the countless variations of this broth, tempered by the influences of over a century, that has provided the various forms of the dish with its local flavour; its origins as a dish, how it morphed into what we see of it today, and even its rather strange sounding name, is a source of great puzzlement.

Singapore Laksa

One suggestion of how laksa got its name that has gained popularity is that it was derived from a similar sounding Sanskrit word for a hundred thousand. This, it is said, is an allusion perhaps to the multitude of ingredients that go into making the various forms of its broth the celebration of flavours that they are. I am however inclined to take the side of the suggestion that the wonderful encyclopedia of the world’s culinary delights, the Oxford Companion to Food, offers. That has the word laksa being Persian in origin. Lakhsha meaning “slippery” in old Persian, was apparently also used to describe noodles, which the book also credits the Persians with the invention of.

Sarawak Laksa

That latter suggestion will no doubt spark endless debate. There seems however to be evidence to support the assertion such as in the many noodle type dishes that are found spread across the Middle East, Central Asia and Europe – all with names that all sound very much like lakhsha. Examples of this are the Russian lapsha, the Uyghur laghman, the Jewish lokshen, the Afghan lakhchak, the Lithunian Lakštiniai, and the Ukrainian lokshina. The Italian sheet pasta dish, Lasagne, also sounds uncannily similar to old Persian for noodles.

Lokshen (photo: Danny Nicholson on Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0).

As with the variants of the Near East, Lakhsha seems to have become a similiar sounding laksa in this part of the world. Early Malay-English dictionaries, such as one published by R. J. Wilkinson in 1901, have laksa both as the word for ten thousand, as well as for a “vermicelli” – ascribing the latter’s origins to the same Persian word.  The use of the word as such is seen in several of the news articles of the day. One report, in the Malayan Saturday Post of 29 December 1928, shows how “Chinese Laksa” was then made, through a series of four photographs. As a word to describe a type of noodles, laksa is in fact very much still in use in places such as the Riau Archipelago. There, “lakse” or “laksa”, is taken as a noodle of a similar appearance to the laksa we find here made from the staple of the islands, sago.

R. J. Wilkinson’s “A Malay-English Dictionary” describes the word “laksa” both as a word for ten-thousand as well as for a kind of vermicelli.


There also are early descriptions of how that laksa may have been prepared in the press. One, found in a 1912 report on hawker fare in The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, describes what seems to be quite a different dish from the one we are now familiar with:

A familiar dish with the Chinese coolie and Straits school-boy is “laksa”. The vendor of this compound, vermicelli, “rats’ ears” (mush-rooms), and other things in a kind of soup, shouts out every now and then “Laksa a wun!” and many who taste it declare that it is A1.

Lakse or laksa, describes these noodles made from sago in Pulau Singkep in the Lingga group of islands in the Riau Archipelago.

One of the many ways in which laksa is served on Pulau Singkep is with a fish broth and sambal.

poem, penned in 1931 by a prominent personality Mr. Seow Poh Leng – a Municipal Commissioner and a champion of hawkers’ rights – provides an idea of how the dish had by the 1930s, started to evolve. An attempt to draw attention to the difficulties street hawkers faced, the verse also describes how a dough of ground rice became “lumps of tiny snow-white coils” when boiled and which was then “served with tasty gravy and a pinch of fragrant spice”. Published in the Malayan Saturday Post of 16 May 1931, the piece was the writer’s response to the death of a laksa vendor. The vendor had taken his own life after several run ins with the Municipal authorities that deprived him of his livelihood.

Laska Siam, served at another popular Penang laksa stall, this one at Balik Pulau.

By the 1950s, laksa as a dish, seemed to have already taken on several distinct styles. A 1951 article in The Singapore Free Press, “Let’s talk about food”, mentions two types of “Siamese” laksa: one sweet and one hot and sour, along with a “Nonya” laksa. The two variants of “Siamese” laksa are again mentioned in a 1953 Singapore Free Press article on food in Penang. The sour type “Siamese” laksa identified is perhaps the predecessor to the Penang or asam (or assam) laksa dish of today as another 1951 report, this time in The Straits Times on Penang, seems to confirm. The article draws attention to one of Penang’s attractions, Ayer Itam (now spelled Air Itam), to which the young and old would walk six miles or brave a ride on a crowded bus to. Ayer Itam, is identified as “the village with the famous Kek Lok Si”, and (a seemingly already popular) “Siamese” laksa (Air Itam is a location many in Penang flock to today for asam laksa).

A bowl of Penang or Asam Laksa.

Another version of Asam Laksa from Madras Lane in Kuala Lumpur.

What we can perhaps surmise from all of this information is that despite its shared name, laksa in its many variations are really different dishes. Built on an otherwise tasteless base of rice or sago vermicelli or a noodle substitute, how its various forms of laksa have been flavoured to excite the palate, says much about the invention and the creativity of the region’s pioneering food vendors.

Variation on a theme, Laksa Goreng (Fried Laksa), Peranakan style.

Lakse Goreng topped with crushed ikan bilis from Pulau Singkep.

A Hawker’s Lament
by Seow Poh Leng
(Malayan Saturday Post, 16 May 1931, Page 18)
We came from far Cathay, the land of old renown,
A livelihood to seek in this far-famed town.
My parents they are old but still must toil each day
My father selling bean-curds, my mother selling “kway”.
We left our home and kin to this far distant shore;
And promised to return to see them all once more,
To share with them and theirs what little we have made
By dint of patient toil, by means of honest trade.
By four o’clock each morning when you are all abed
The ‘laksa’ I’m preparing that people may be fed
I grind some rice to powder and knead it to a dough
Then press it through a sieve to a boiling pot below.
This stringy mass of flour which hardens as it boils
Is made up into lumps of tiny snow-white coils;
Then served with tasty gravy and a pinch of fragrant spice
My ‘laksa’ finds more favour than the ordinary rice.
In woven bamboo basket made up in several tiers
Are placed my tooth-some wares and the necessary gears.
In a gourd-shaped earthen vessel the ‘laksa’ simmers low,
All day aboiling gently on charcoal burning slow.
From street to street I wander, my pace a steady trot,
And bear my loaded basket as well as the steaming pot.
The noon day trade I seek and may with luck—oh rare !
Avoid the stern police who ask a certain share.
These guardians of the law with lynx eyes watch for me,
And more than do their duty unless I pay a ” fee.”
They see that I comply with what the by-laws state;
That is, whatever happens, I must itinerate.
Sometimes from sheer fatigue I pause some breath to take,
To dry my streaming sweat, to ease the limbs that ache;
And then the “Mata-mata” finds me resting there,
And forthwith to the Court I must with him repair.
And once – alas the thought! – in prison cell I lay.
The fine imposed on me was more than I could pay.
What use is there for me this arduous life to lead?
My humble cries for mercy receive but scanty heed.
By ceaseless toil I tried an honest life to lead.
If I the “tips” forget, the traffic I impede.
And for such bogus crime there is no other way –
Before the Court I’m brought and straightway made to pay.
I’ve plied my trade from childhood, the profits have been small,
Yet I would quit right gladly for any work at all,
Seek work at any distance – if only work there be
Without the constant harass and the unofficial fee.
A rickshaw puller – aye the “totee’s” job I’ll do.
I’ll go to Malacca, I’ll go to Trengganu.
Alack! my quest is vain, my faintest hope is gone;
My limbs they are weary, my heart with sorrow torn.
Good-bye the M.H.O., my last farewell to thee!
Good-bye to all M.C.’s, good-bye the I.G.P.!
You wish me back to China, you want me off the street;
Posterity shall know I die your wish to meet!
Not satisfied with fines the Magistrates impose
The dreary prison cell must add to hawkers’ woes.
My goods and property you wish to confiscate?
But here you will not win—the law will come too late!
Good-bye my parents dear, good-bye my kith and kin!
Think not the step I take a very grievous sin.
Right well I am aware of honour due to you;
And thank you from my heart for lessons wise and true.
To comfort your old age my level best I’ve tried.
My efforts seem in vain, the cruel fates decide.
I cannot stoop to crime and slur the family name,
So drink this portion dark, preferring death to shame.

A Malay laksa vendor in Penang, c. 1930s ( | Mrs J A Bennett Collection/National Archives of Singapore).


Laghman at Uyghur Taamliri
Uyghur Laghman
Gary Stevens on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Brooklyn - Sheepshead Bay: Jay and Lloyds Kosher Deli - Noodle Pudding
A variation on a theme. Lokshen kugel, an Ashkenazi Jewish pudding or casserole, commonly made from egg noodles.
Wally Gobetz on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

The Real McCoy

29 07 2016

Like it or hate it, there seems no end in sight to the salted egg craze. Salted eggs, a long time poor Chinese man’s source of protein, now  seem to flavour just about anything from seafood to pastries and burgers here in Singapore.

The Quarters is latest to join the fray with its own take on the slated egg burger popularised recently by a certain fast food chain. The modsin café, which is helmed by Chung Deming – the man behind the out-of-this-world Durian Crème Brulee, intends with the burger’s debut, to show us what the Real McCoy, as salted egg burgers go, should really be about.

The Real McCoy and Shiok Fries.

The Real McCoy and Shiok Fries.

While I am not a huge fan of the taste of salted eggs, I enjoy a good bite with its flavours mixed in and I have to admit that Deming’s Real McCoy is an extremely good bite.  Dripping but not soggy from the creamy rich almost cheese like appearance yellow coloured aioli – which by the way is bottled and sold off the shelf, the burger as a whole is flavourful with many subtle hints of the smaller parts that make the whole. What I also like about the Real McCoy is its wonderfully thick, cripsy and yet juicy oat batter coated American Southern style fried chicken patty that sits on a bed of lettuce and sliced tomatoes – just how I think chicken burgers should be.

Buah Keluak flavoured ice cream.

Buah Keluak flavoured ice cream.

Complementing the Real McCoy very well is Deming’s super shiok Shiok Fries – which can be eaten with the salted egg aioli or better, the chilli crab sauce. Whatever way you like it, remember to also leave some room for the desserts …. the Real McCoy can be paired with the café’s signature Durian Crème Brulee or DurianCanBoleh for a nice price until the end of August. And if durian doesn’t give you enough of a kick, there is something else that will certainly give you one – Buah Keluak flavoured ice cream that tastes just like buah keluak out of the shell when cooked in a Peranakan kitchen.

The café also has a small selection of craft ciders and beer - including this one wth a not so pleasant name. The plae beer or Pilsner is apparently named after a village with the rude sounding name in Austria. Hell means pale in German.

The café also has a small selection of craft ciders and beer – including this one wth a not so pleasant name. The plae beer or Pilsner is apparently named after a village with the rude sounding name in Austria. Hell means pale in German.

The Real McCoy ($16 nett – $14 nett for a limited promotional period only) will be available from 30 July 2016 at both The Quarters at Icon Village (at Enggor Street) and its sister outler, Kush at Timbre+ (at Alexandra Distripark).


The urban redevelopment resettlement centre that became Funan

1 07 2016

The lights went out on Funan DigitalLife Mall last night. The well-loved mall will be closed for three years for redevelopment and from the sound of the “experiential creative hub” it is being made into, the new Funan will bear little semblance to the Funan we all knew and loved.

The lights of Funan.

The lights of Funan.

While I shall miss Funan, a dignified alternative to Sim Lim Square for electronics and IT related merchandise shopping, I shall not mourn its passing in the same way I mourn the rather iconic Hock Lam Street that it buried. What can best be described as a very colourful example of Singapore in less ordered days, is on the evidence of the many photographs and postcards that exist of it, must have been one of the city’s most photographed streets.

Hock Lam Street, as seen from Colombo Court across North Bridge Road (source: National Archives of Singapore online).

The street, at its junction with North Bridge Road,  was where the Tai Tien kopitiam (coffee shop) was located. Popular with office workers from the vicinity and shoppers from the nearby shopping streets as a lunch destination, the kopitiam or rather the five-foot-way around it, would be where I would often find myself seated for the post shopping treat my parents would give me of Hock Lam Street’s famous beef ball soup.

A popular lunch stop for office workers from the area and for shoppers from the High Street area, the Tai Tien coffee shop at the corner of Hock Lam Street and North Bridge Road (source: National Archives of Singapore online).

It is from Hock Lam that Funan in fact takes its name; Funan being the pinyin-ised Mandarin pronunciation of the Hokkien Hock Lam (福南). The name, an attempt to remember the lost icon,  is perhaps a also reminder of a period in our history when we saw fit to distort place names that reflected the diversity of the Chinese diaspora to Singapore through the Mandarinisation of many of them.

The Hock Lam Street area (in the foreground) in 1976 from which businesses were moved temporarily to the Capitol Shopping Centre - the flat roofed building seen at the top of the picture (image source:

The Hock Lam Street area (in the foreground) before its demolition  in 1976. Businesses displaced were moved temporarily to the Capitol Shopping Centre – the flat roofed building seen at the top of the picture, before being moved to Funan Centre in 1985 (source: National Archives of Singapore online).

Funan Centre, as it was known in its early days, was completed in 1985 after much delay (it was initially scheduled to be completed in 1979 but a design change resulted in its delay). Built as a permanent “resettlement centre” by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), it’s purpose was to house the many businesses being displaced by the huge wave of redevelopment that was then sweeping through the city, including the many hawker stalls the street had been well known for. Examples of such centres include the former Blanco Court, since converted to Raffles Hospital, and the former Cuppage Centre (now 51 Cuppage Road). The latter was built to house market vendors and food stalls from the former Orchard Road Market and the area around Koek Road and Koek Lane.

Funan with its floors of IT and Electronic shops.

Funan with its floors of IT and Electronic shops.

When it opened in early 1985, Funan Centre featured a mishmash of shops and businesses, organised by the floor according to the categories of goods and services they offered. Many had roots in the area, and moved over from a nearby temporary resettlement centre, Capitol Shopping Centre and the neighbouring temporary food centre. Already then, Funan was touted as a place to shop for computers – its opening coinciding with the dawn of the personal computing age. One floor, the sixth, was devoted to the forty to fifty shops that made up its Computer Mart.

Capitol Centre just before its demolition.

The since demolished Capitol (Shopping) Centre.

The hawkers of Hock Lam Street found themselves elevated seven floors above it in the Funan Food Paradise – described then as Singapore’s first custom built air-conditioned hawker centre, what we today are perhaps fond of referring to as a food court (it actually opened a couple of months before Scotts Picnic Food Court, which was widely recognised as being Singapore’s first air-conditioned food court). Besides the popular Beef Noodle stall from Hock Lam Street, Funan Food Paradise became well known for Carona Chicken Wing, which built up a popular following when it was located at temporary food centre.

Packing the food court up. Some may remember the original food centre on the 7th floor from which the likes of Carona Chicken WIng operated.

Packing the food court up. Some may remember the original food centre on the 7th floor from which the likes of Carona Chicken WIng operated.

The floor below Computer Mart, the fifth, featured hairdressing salons while the fourth was where one shopped for home appliances and music. The third level was where shops dealing with fashion apparel and accessories were found, including a downsized Cortina Department Store, which had moved over from Colombo Court. The second level, as it was before it closed, was the place to buy camera equipment. Fast food outlets such as A&W and Big Rooster were then found on the ground floor. A post office also made a brief appearance, opening at the end of 1985 and closing two years later.

An eatery on the first level.

An eatery on the first level.

The ownership and management of URA owned commercial property passed on to Pidemco Holdings in 1989. Pidemco Holdings, later Pidemco Land, was a privatised property ownership and management arm of URA formed in 1989. Pidemco, which is an acronym for Property Investment, Development and Estate Management Company, merged with DBS Land in 2000 to form CapitaLand, the mall’s current owners. The mall was upgraded by Pidemco in the 1990s and took on a more IT / Computer related flavour. It was renamed Funan The IT Mall in the late 1990s and Funan DigitaLife Mall in the mid 2000s.

More information on the redevelopment can be found at the following links:

Parting Glances























Geylang in the early light of day

12 11 2013

The new day brings with it freshness and hope. It is perhaps with fresh optimism (or maybe not) that Geylang, a neighbourhood in Singapore better known for what goes on after dark, wakes up to each morning as it wakens from a short and restless slumber, coming alive in a way that, because of its reputation, one might least expect.

Migrant workers lining the Geylang kerbside  - a common sight in first hour of daylight.

Migrant workers lining the Geylang kerbside – a common sight in the early light of day.

I often enjoy a walk through its streets, numerous lorongs and five-foot-ways, in the early light of day. Without the chaotic scenes that is all too often associated with the worn and tired neighbourhood and the accompanying vehicular clutter, Geylang’s less appreciated architectural treats can best be shown some appreciation. Also adding colour in the early light, is a parallel world, a world much of Singapore has denied an existence to, laying claim to the streets fresh with litter left behind by the world we know Geylang to be.

Geylang Road as the sun rises.

The waking Geylang Road as the sun rises.

The parallel world is one belonging to a large group  of the neighbourhood’s transient residents, migrant workers who come from far and wide. Drawn to the area by the availability of low cost accommodation shunned by the locals, the coolies hole themselves up in overcrowded lodgings squeezed into the upper floors of the neighbourhood’s many shophouses.

An area of modern Singapore society for which there is low interest in.

An area of modern Singapore society for which there is low interest in.

The migrant workers are ones who toil for meagre spoils in jobs necessary to keep Singapore going, menial jobs that are below most of us. These workers, the modern coolies of a modern Singapore, rouse as the extinguished lights that painted the previous night are still warm, spilling onto the streets and five-foot-ways in scenes that are reminiscent of coolies squatting in wait along the five-foot-ways of old.

Transporting the foreign legion.

Transporting the foreign legion.

Unlike the scenes of old, the new coolies wait not for the call, but for blue and silver trucks to ferry them to places of work at which they remain well into the dark of night. The blank stares accompanying the scene seem however the same, brought about not by the numbness that opium would once have provided, but by the lure of false hope for an unattainable material nirvana.

As night time Geylang goes to sleep, another side of Geylang awakes.

As night time Geylang goes to sleep, another side of Geylang awakes.

Migrant workers along the five-foot-way of a shophouse.

Migrant workers along the five-foot-way of a shophouse.

Material nirvana aside, the migrant workers who do find themselves in Geylang are perhaps the lucky ones in a country which chooses to conceal the bulk of the new coolies in faraway dormitories well hidden from sight. The migrant workers in Geylang do at least find themselves in an environment where the conveniences of the urban world are at their disposal – their presence has in fact drawn a slew of new business catering to their needs to the area. Interspersed among the KTV outlets, dingy looking massage parlours, pubs and well established food outlets are mobile phone and service vendors, new food outlets, budget clothing shops, mini-marts, and internet cafes to serve the demands of the wider migrant communities – many opening at the break of day to catch the very early birds.

Businesses open at the break of day to cater to migrant workers leaving for work.

Businesses open at the break of day to cater to migrant workers leaving for work.

Food stalls with offerings more appropriate for lunch do a roaring trade as many pack food for lunch.

Food stalls with offerings more appropriate for lunch do a roaring trade as many pack food for lunch.

It is the food stalls that do particularly well in the early light. Many are stocked not so much for that breakfast bite, but with offerings more appropriate for lunch. Taken away by many migrant workers, the contents of the white styrofoam containers serve a hurried lunch which is taken during the morning’s break, allowing the lunch hour to be used to catch up on much needed sleep.

Migrant workers queuing up at a cooked food stall.

Migrant workers queuing up with the odd local breakfast patron at a cooked food stall.

This parallel world is one we in Singapore, more often than not, choose not to see. It is a world that we can in fact draw many parallels to, one that opens a window into both Singapore’s and Geylang’s past – painted by stories not so different, only that … the stories do end in very different ways …

Seeking enlightenment - many houses of worship found in Geylang catered to the early immigrants community in the area.

Seeking enlightenment – many houses of worship found in Geylang catered to the early immigrants community in the area.

A scene along the foot-foot-way.

An early morning scene along the foot-foot-way.

Businesses catering to the needs of the migrant workers are in clear evidence.

Businesses catering to the needs of the migrant workers are in clear evidence.

Other posts on Geylang:

A great reason to say cheese!

26 04 2013

There a nice little place in a corner of Toa Payoh Central where you probably won’t mind getting into a gooey yellow mess, and as the good people behind the place would have it, fall in love … The little place, Yellow Submarines at Block 177, one of the latest fast-food concepts in town, will surely get you into one – with its offerings of sandwiches and fries loaded with an oh-so-good mess of melted cheese – so good that it certainly won’t be a surprise if it does have, as the writing on the wall there would have it, you falling in love at first bite!

Certainly love at first bite!

Certainly love at first bite!

The menu is built around a Philly icon, the cheesesteak.

The menu is built around a Philly icon, the cheesesteak.

The cheese laden offerings Yellow Submarines has on its menu, is built around a long time Philly (Philadelphia) icon,  the Cheesesteak. It does however, go beyond the popular steak sandwich in its “no pork, no lard” menu and includes choices which extends to tuna as well as vegetarian sandwiches.

Yellow Submarines' menu has something to offer everyone.

Yellow Submarines’ menu has something to offer everyone.

Even with the choices on the menu, it wasn’t difficult to come to a quick decision on what I was going to have. It had to be the Yellow Submarine Classic. Filled with a generous portion of thinly sliced premium New Zealand beef flavoured with gravy and caramelized onions and coloured yellow with cheese, the Classic is indeed one – each bite into it was one which brought pure joy to the tastebuds! Yummy and I was definitely in love! There is a choice of having the sandwich on its own or adding the price of a serving of Torpedo Fries, for a very sinful serving of the melted cheese rich and somewhat spicy Torpedo fries and a drink.

The best and messiest way to have that Classic and Torpedo Fries - especially with the cheese at the bottom of the cup the fries comes in.

The best and messiest way to have that Classic and Torpedo Fries – especially with the cheese at the bottom of the cup the fries comes in.

With the portion being sufficiently large and that I had to save myself for the tempting desserts on the menu, I left it to the others in the group to tell me about the other items – all of which return positive verdicts.

The vegetarian mushroom laden M-1.

The vegetarian mushroom laden M-1 Submarine.

The Tuna Submarine.

The Tuna Submarine.

The Chicken Submarine.

The Chic Submarine.

The Single Hit.

The Single Hit.

The desserts on the menu – are highly recommended – the brownie (Choco Bomber) especially, although the cheesecake (NY Cheese Hunt) does deserve an honourable mention, as does the ice-cream filled brioche. Not a fan of brownies, the Choco Bomber did win me over with its most texture and rich enough chocolate flavour which wasn’t – as brownies tend to be, overpowering.

Must try desserts - the cheesecake, brownie and

Must try desserts – the cheesecake (NY Cheese Hunt), brownie (Choco Bomber) and brioche with ice-cream (Frozen Cannon).

Not normally a brownie fan, the Choco Bomber won me over - thought it was just right, not too sweet or overpowering.

Not normally a brownie fan, the Choco Bomber won me over – thought it was just right, not too sweet or overpowering.

Yellow Submarines can be found at Blk 177 #01-110 Toa Payoh Central Singapore 310177 (end of Blk 177 that faces Lorong 2) and is open from 10.30 am to 10.30 pm daily. For the official opening this weekend (26 to 28 April 2013 – dates inclusive), Yellow Submarines is offering a free upgrade to a meal for every purchase of a sandwich, sub or burger – so do hurry down! More information can be found at the Yellow Submarines website and Facebook Page. Yellow Submarines can also be found on Instagram and if you do post pics on Instagram, do remember to add the hashtag #yellowsubmarinescheesesteaks.

Official opening promotion - free upgrade to a meal only on the weekend of 26 to 28 April.

Official opening promotion – free upgrade to a meal only on the weekend of 26 to 28 April.

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.

Gold that certainly needs guarding

11 10 2012

It was right on the last day that we found it, coming away with bagfuls of what must surely have been a very precious commodity that we had two of our toughest ladies, Valyn and Yiwei, to stand guard over it.

Pure gold that required two of our toughest ladies to stand guard over! (Photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The commodity has to be nothing short of pure gold – many come from near and wide, descending on a humble village away from the bustle of Macau’s bright lights and fluid streets just for it, or rather a taste of it. The golden item, is nothing less than the most sought after piece of pastry in the territory, a Lord Stow’s egg tart, smooth and creamy custard given a tinge of gold when baked in a pastry cup.

Gold in a pastry cup, Lord Stow’s Egg Tarts (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The egg tarts or pastéis de nata (pastel de nata, singular), is what certainly draws the crowds to the sleepy village, Coloane Village, which is as far away as one can get in the tiny 29 square kilometres that is Macau. The village takes its name from the island, the southernmost of two main islands beyond the Macau Peninsula – an island that is sometimes referred to as Macau’s countryside. It was for long a neglected part of the former Portuguese colony, becoming a hotbed of pirate activity until the problem was eventually dealt with by the Portuguese in 1910.

Coloane Village is a sleepy village that seems far removed from the bright lights of the nearby Cotai Strip (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The village, as is the bakery, is a curious place. Seemingly out of touch with the glitz and glamour of the integrated resorts sprouting up not so far away on the Cotai Strip – a piece of reclaimed land which has connected the Coloane Island to its northern counterpart, Taipa Island, it (and what is found in it), must be a wonderful example perhaps of how east and west has blended during the rule of the territory’s former masters.

Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane Village – it is not just in the bakery, but in the entire village where east has blended well with the west (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

At the heart of Coloane Village is a little piece of Portugal, the Eduardo Marques Square (Largo da Eduardo Marques). The square takes its name from the Portuguese governor Eduardo Marques who oversaw the victory over the pirates. This is in fact commemorated in the square in the form of a monument which stands at one end of it. It is at the opposite end however, that the attention of the visitor will be drawn to – the yellow of the baroque façade of the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier is one that will certainly not be missed.

A monument in the Largo da Eduardo Marques to commemorate the defeat of the pirates in 1910 (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The Eduardo Marques Square is also known for its food outlets which apparently are a must-try (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The yellow baroque façade of the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier at the other end of the square.

The yellow chapel, built in 1928, is definitely one that should not be missed. Besides containing some of the most sacred Catholic relics found in Asia (at one time it also housed relics of St. Francis Xavier – the missionary who is attributed bringing the faith to Asia), it does also contain a rather interesting religious painting. On the painting there is an image of a woman bearing the likeness of the Chiness Goddess of Mercy, Kun Iam or Kuan Yin, carrying a child, which is in very much a similar fashion as a very popular Catholic depiction of the Mother and Child. This surely is a wonderful example of how well east and west have blended here.

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier was built in 1928 and once housed some relics of St. Francis Xavier, a missionary who is attributed with bringing the Catholic faith to Asia.

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier is where many important Catholic relics are found (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

An example of east and west meeting inside the chapel – a painting with the likeness of Kum Iam carrying a child shown in a popular pose used by Catholics to depict Mother and Child.

The peace and calm that is the sanctuary of the chapel (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The narrow lanes that took us through to the main square, the Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes, where gold was to be discovered, are equally captivating. Full of colour and interesting details, the streets are ones that I would, if I had another opportunity, like to spend perhaps a whole day exploring. There certainly is much more in the sleepy little village than the golden coloured pastries. Time I didn’t have, and with the egg tarts calling, it was to Lord Stow’s Bakery for our final stop at the village before we were to have lunch.

A colourful narrow lane in Coloane Village (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

A village shop (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The area around Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes is certainly worth exploring (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes is also where the bus stop is (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Another shop found in the narrow lanes of Coloane.

That Lord Stow’s is as curious as the village is, there is no doubt. The bakery, is the brainchild of an English pharmacist (yes you read right!), the late Andrew Stow (whose ex-wife serves a slightly sweeter version of the popular pastry at Margaret’s Café in downtown Macau). He started the little bakery in 1989, perfecting his recipe using his skills as a pharmacist, achieving phenomenal success very quickly – with the bakery itself becoming a tourist draw. Many tourists make it a point to head to the bakery to pack the tarts, which are sold for MOP/HKD8 per piece, MOP/HKD45 for a box of 6, or MOP/HKD90 for a box of 12, before heading home.

Gold production (photographs taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Curiosity aside, the bakery does make that egg tart that is certain to give one a ‘love at first bite’ experience and certainly with a taste that is no less than divine – well worth that pilgrimage to Coloane just to worship it. That together with the desire to explore the narrow lanes of the charming little part of Macau and the rest of the island (which does seem well worth exploring), will make it my first, and also last stop the next time I am in Macau.

An extremely happy customer (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Look how much this one bought! (Photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

More expressions of happiness (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Worship (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The trip was made possible by the kind sponsorship of the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) which included a three night stay at the Grand Lapa Macau, and also Tiger Airways who sponsored the two way flights.

Links to finding gold:

Macau Government Tourist Office
Tiger Airways
Coloane Village (MGTO site)
More on Coloane Island (MGTO site)
Lord Stow’s Bakery

Note: this is a repost of my post on the My Macau Experience 2012 site which sees 10 bloggers share experiences of their visit to Macau. Readers will get a chance to vote for their favourite My Macau Experience 2012 blogger and stand a chance to win $1000 worth of Macau travel vouchers. Voting has started (on 28 September 2012) and ends on 15 October 2012. Votes can be cast on a daily basis at the My Macau Experience 2012 Voting page.

In pursuit of happiness on the streets of old Macau

20 09 2012

Much of the second day of our trip to Macau seemed to be spent in the pursuit of happiness. Happiness, not as one might imagine, found in the brightly lit gaming rooms that one can’t really get far away from in the territory, but rather found in and around the narrow streets and back lanes of old Macau, streets and back lanes that given more time, are ones that I certainly would want find myself getting lost in.

A dance of joy at the foot of the steps leading up to the iconic ruins of St. Paul’s, one of the many pockets of happiness that awaited us on the second day (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Scrambling around the streets late on what was a muggy Sunday morning, it didn’t take long to find ourselves dripping in perspiration and it did seem for a while, that that was the last thing that would lead us to any form of happiness. We had found ourselves involved in a Mini Macau Amazing Race, split into five teams of two, wandering around seemingly aimlessly seeking answers which were to be found in the narrow streets in and around Senado Square.

Have GPS will race … not that it helped … as my team was the last to arrive (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

We did in the course of the race, stumble upon happiness. We found that in the name of a street – Rua da Felicidade or 福隆新街,which translates to the Street of Happiness. The name has its origins in a seedy past, one that was associated with the pleasures of the flesh. The street is today (along with the narrow streets around it), where pleasures are still to be found, in indulgences that some would say are no less sinful. This we had to leave for a little later with the little matter of having first to finish the race.

The pursuit of happiness brought us to a street called ‘happiness’, the Rua da Felicidade / 福隆新街 (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Being paired with a very able partner in Kaika, of The Cosplay Chronicles fame, somehow wasn’t enough. Arriving drenched in the morning’s exertions at the pit stop, we were to hear the dreaded ‘you are the last team to arrive’. Looking back, we had perhaps spent a little too much time on happiness, in search of what one might call a purveyor of happiness that eluded us. We did find some momentary happiness at the end point though. That came in the form of what has to be one of the simple pleasures of Macau – a Portuguese Egg Tart or Pastel de Nata as some refer to it. The Macau favourite was one that came from Margaret’s Café (玛嘉烈蛋挞), tucked away in what seemed like an obscure alley not far from the Grand Lisboa Hotel, which served as the end point.

A jump of joy in front of St. Dominic’s Church, one of the stops along the race route … I was paired up with Kaika of The Cosplay Chronicles for the race (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Happiness at the pit stop – found after having an egg tart (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Margaret’s Café (玛嘉烈蛋挞) is tucked away in what seemed like an obscure alley not far from the Grand Lisboa Hotel (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The scene that greeted us at Margaret’s Café, might have had fuelled some delusions some of us might have had that the large crowd that was present was there to cheer our efforts. It was however clear that they had come for the rich creamy custard filled flaky pastry cases that can only be described as a little piece of heaven. There was just a queue that was in evidence, with tables laid on the outside all filled up, many were seen, egg tarts in hand, standing around in the alleyway. The café had been one of the many pockets of happiness surprising us in the labyrinth of streets of the race route and looking back at it, the race certainly was an well thought of means devised by the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) to help get us acquainted the streets in and around Senado Square and what they have to offer.

There was a large crowd at the café when we arrived (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Those who could not find seats did not seem to mind having their egg tarts standing (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

With the newly acquired local knowledge fresh in our heads, a number of us decided to use the free time we had after the race to embark on a quest to seek out the pockets of happiness we now knew the streets had to offer. Retracing our steps back to the street called happiness, we sought out Cheong Kei Noodle House (Loja Sopa Da Fita Cheong Kei or 祥记面食专家) and the famed shrimp roe noodles we were made aware of. Undeterred by the queue that had formed when we arrived, we patiently waited for the reward that awaited us, shrimp roe noodles of which we each had one (we realised that the portions served were small enough), sharing a bowl of wan ton soup, and what seemed like house specialities fish skin salad and fish balls deep fried with a coating of rice that resembled balls of Fererro Rocher. The shrimp roe noodles, noodles sprinkled with dried shrimp roe on top, made an interesting eat and turned out to be quite a happy treat. The fish balls and wan ton were too, but I think the jury was out on the fish skin which if anything was rich, as I learned from the ladies with us, in collagen.

The queue to get into Cheong Kei did not deter us (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Fish Skin Salad, a specialty – the jury seemed to be out on this (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Fererro Rocher balls? Deep fried fish balls coated with rice (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

What we came for, happiness in a serving of shrimp roe noodles (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

… which Ai Sakura seemed to find (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Feeling happy from the exercise of gluttony at Cheong Kei, there was more happiness to be sought. We decided to find it in some sweet delights that Macau does have an abundance of – desserts! We headed to the Leitaria I Son (義順牛奶公司) along San Ma Lo (新馬路 / Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro), known to many who visit Hong Kong as the Yee Shun Milk Company. The dessert shop, which I understand originated in Macau, offers a range of smooth and creamy steamed milk puddings with a variety of toppings, all of which would probably require several trips to Macau to have a complete taste of. We shared a few different bowls – a plain milk pudding, as well as one each with ginger, lotus seeds and red beans. The ginger was quite an interesting experience, and if you are fond of having a cup of strong ginger tea we find at the sarabat stalls in Singapore, it is something you certainly will like – which I did. Seeing the expression on the face of one in the group, Rui Long, the representative, as she had a taste of it also told me that ginger wasn’t everyone’s bowl of milk pudding. I did however find, and I think many would agree with me, that the bowl with the red beans topping came closest to happiness in a bowl – red beans seemed to best complement the joy of milk pudding.

The search for more happiness took us into Leitaria I Son (義順牛奶公司) along San Ma Lo (新馬路 / Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro), known to many who visit Hong Kong as the Yee Shun Milk Company and famous for their steamed milk puddings.

Happiness found in bowls of steamed milk pudding at I Son … just so good! (Photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

It was at this point that some decided to head to the shops in Senado Square in search of the happiness that shopping does bring. A few headed back to the starting point of the morning’s race, Ponte 16, to visit the MJ Gallery and MJ Café there. The gallery, the only one in Asia devoted to the late ‘King of Pop’, Michael Jackson (MJ), is where MJ fans will take great delight in the 40 well-known pieces of MJ memorabilia on display. This includes the iconic white rhinestone glove which he wore worn during his first moonwalk performance which was televised during Motown’s 25th Anniversary in 1983, and also a fedora hat and crystal socks worn during his Victory Tour in 1984. MJ was certainly a big part of the generation I am in and I was quite happy to see that he has fans in the young bloggers who came along. One big fan we were to discover amongst us was Rui Long, who I must say did an excellent impression of MJ next to a life-sized standee of MJ doing the legendary moonwalk.

Some headed back to Ponte 16 to visit the MJ Gallery.

Paying homage to the late ‘King of Pop’, Michael Jackson at the MJ Gallery at Ponte 16 (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The MJ Café at Ponte 16.

The time tunnel at the MJ Gallery captures the key milestones of MJ’s legendary career (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Rui Long during a perfect impression of MJ.

The MJ Gallery features 40 items of MJ memorabilia including some iconic items such as the white rhinestone studded glove he wore during his legendary moonwalk performance televised during Motown’s 25th Anniversary in 1983 (photographs taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

I decided next to head on my own in an attempt to discover the heart of old Macau, starting with the A-Ma Temple (媽閣廟) which is thought to be at the origins of the Portuguese given name of its former colony. The temple, I will write on in part of another post, which dedicated to the Taoist protector of fishermen, the goddess of the sea, Mazu or Matsu (妈祖 / 媽祖), serves as the starting point of any heritage trail through the streets of old Macau. It is also a stone’s throw from Lilau Square, the heart of the first Portuguese settlement. It was at the square where peeking through a window of a convenience kiosk, I spotted Yiwei, of Foodeology fame, seemingly in a state of happiness peeking (quite coincidentally) through a window at the opposite side of the kiosk.

The A-Ma Temple (媽閣廟) is at the origin of the Portuguese given name for Macau.

Having spent a little more time that I thought at the A-Ma Temple, the Moorish Barracks along the way and at Lilau Square, and perhaps a little distracted by the sweet smile at the other end of the kiosk, I abandoned thoughts of continuing with my trek through old Macau. I decided on heading back to Senado Square where I would find the larger part of the group, with the promise of a raid on more places of culinary happiness later that evening.

The joy that accompanied the surprise through a window of a kiosk at Lilau Square.

I found the group close to the steps leading up to the ruins of St. Paul’s, looking for happiness in the many shops selling Macanese / Cantonese confectionery and biscuits found in the streets leading up to the ruins. It is at these shops that Macau favourites such as boxes of almond cookies fly off the racks like hot cakes, and where another favourite, what I is best described as sweet barbequed meat or 肉乾, referred to locally as jerky (or in Singapore as ‘bak kwa’ or ‘long yuk’), is displayed in folded sheets as large as a piece of A4 sized paper– something I would certainly would have found happiness in as a child!

The streets below the ruins of St. Paul’s are littered with shops offering happiness in the many local snacks and confectioneries.

Sweet BBQ Meat a.k.a. jerky or 肉乾 is displayed in A4 sized sheets.

A shop assistant with a flat basket of a local favourite, almond cookies.

Ai Sakura finding happiness in a confectionery shop.

Tired from what was a long day out, it was then time to seek the dose of happiness at one of Macau’s food institutions – one we found out about during the race, Wong Chi Kei Noodle House (黃枝記麵家) in Senado Square. Wong Chi Kei has been in business some for some 66 years, having started in 1946. Set in an old shophouse in Senado Square, the wait to get into the restaurant, popular with locals and visitors, proved to be well worth it. The noodles and the soup in which they were served can be described as nothing less than a bowl of great happiness! As with any visit to the region, I had to have a bowl of beef brisket noodles. I thoroughly enjoyed and would if I could, return for more. The wan ton noodles and crab congee are apparently among the favourites here, as is the shrimp roe noodles, which served in larger portions with a generous helping of wan ton, was received well by those who did try it.

A happy customer leaving Wong Chi Kei Noodle House (黃枝記麵家) in Senado Square, a local institution.

The verdict was that the shrimp roe noodles at Wong Chi Kei brought happiness to those who tried it.

Leo of Spin or Bin Music must be wondering how Ai Sakura is going to eat all that!

Another house specialty is the crab congee.

Before we were prepared to call it a day, there was still one last bit of happiness we had to seek. We headed back to the dessert shop that had eluded Kaika and me during the race, Hang Heong Un (Loja De Doces Hang Heong Un / 杏香园雪糕甜品屋), in which their walnut cream desserts are said to bring pure joy. I decided on ordering something that would cool me down instead, it having been a hot day – a cold water chestnut based dessert. That did bring pure joy to me, certainly an excellent way to bring what I must say was a very successful pursuit of happiness through the streets of Macau to a very happy conclusion.

Last stop for finding happiness was Hang Heong Un (Loja De Doces Hang Heong Un / 杏香园雪糕甜品屋) off the street of happiness.

A refreshing bowl of water chestnut based dessert – a perfect way to end a happy day.

The visit to Macau was made possible by the kind sponsorship of MGTO, flights were sponsored by Tiger Airways with check-in baggage allowances included.

Links to Happiness:

Getting there
Macau Government Tourist Office
Tiger Airways

Pockets of ‘yum’:
Margaret’s Café
Cheong Kei Noodle House
Leitaria I Son
Wong Chi Kei
Hang Heong Un

Happy places:
Suggested Walking Tour of Macau
Rua da Felicadade
Senado Square
Ruins of St. Paul’s
St. Dominic’s Church
A-Ma Temple
Lilau Square
MJ Gallery at Ponte 16

Note: this is a repost of my post on the My Macau Experience 2012 site which sees 10 bloggers share experiences of their visit to Macau. Readers will get a chance to vote for their favourite My Macau Experience 2012 blogger and stand a chance to win $1000 worth of Macau travel vouchers. Voting starts on 28 September 2012 and details can be found at the My Macau Experience 2012 Voting page.

Video of Mini Macau Amazing Race as captured by the crew of

The other side of the moon

15 09 2012

In a fast changing world in which there often are just little reminders of the past to cling on to, it is always good to come across old world traditions that have not been displaced by the new. One area in which we are able to see this is in the making of mooncakes by some of the established mooncake bakeries, one of which is Chop Tai Chong Kok. I was able to visit the bakery very recently just as the making of mooncakes was being ramped-up as the Chinese eight month, in which the Mooncake or Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated, approaches.

Mooncakes are still made in the traditional way at Chop Tai Chong Kok.

Having been in the business for some 77 years, the shop has long been one of the popular brands in traditional Cantonese style mooncakes, attracting long queues for the sweet delectable treats it produces in the lead-up to the Mid-Autumn festival. It now produces the mooncakes it is well-known for, as well as other Cantonese style pastries and confectionery, in a shop lot in Ubi Avenue 1, having had to move its business in 34 Sago Street when Chinatown was being cleaned-up during the conservation efforts which have given us the sanitised version of Chinatown we see today. The shop has since opened a retail outlet back in the shophouse in which the business started – one that is now rented.

Long queues seen at the original shop at Sago Street in the lead-up to the Mid-Autumn Festival (photo taken off one displayed on the wall of the shop).

Having had to move out of their Sago Street premises during the remaking of Chinatown, the business now rents the same unit and operates a retail outlet there.

Although now made in newer premises, little has changed in the production of Chop Tai Chong Kok mooncakes since the days of the late Mr Tham Kah Chee who arrived from China in 1935 and started his business at Sago Street. The preparation of the dough as well as the lotus and bean paste fillings to the pressing of dough wrapped balls of paste into the round shaped mooncakes in wooden moulds that the late Mr Tham himself would have used is still very much done by hand. I was able to observe part of this process which involved five persons standing around a wooden topped table, very quickly transforming flat pieces of dough and pre-prepared balls of paste into unbaked paler versions of the famous mooncakes. The sounds of wooden moulds on the wooden table top took me back to the days of my youth when I would wander around the old streets of Chinatown to catch a glimpse of shop fronts brightly coloured by cellophane lanterns and for a chance to watch unbaked mooncakes being made on tables lined along the five-foot ways as the Mid-Autumn Festival approached.

Little has changed in the preparation of ingredients and in the way the mooncakes are made even with the mooncake maker operating in newer premises. The mooncakes are still considered to be the best among the best of traditional Cantonese mooncakes in Singapore.

The business is now in the hands of the second and third generations of the late Mr Tham’s family, with a grandson, Weng Seng, now involved in the running of business. Facing many challenges including he arrival of many new players in the market, the introduction of newer variations of the traditional pastry, changing tastes, the small local market, as well as in employing people willing to labour in the bakery, their mooncakes continue to remain popular with Singaporeans due to their commitment to tradition and quality. Being one of a few organic businesses that has reclaimed a place in a Chinatown where many other businesses have found it hard to return to, the desire of the new generation taking over to maintain the relevance of the business in the face of new challenges does spell hope that they will, for some time to come, continue to serve as a reminder of a world that would otherwise have long been forgotten.

The business in now in the hands of the Mr Tham Kah Chee’s children and the next generation. His son Mr Tham Wing Thong seen here is still very much involved in making the pastries.

Fillings (lotus paste with egg yolk seen here) prepared by hand are rolled into a ball and placed on trays ready to be wrapped in a skin of dough.

Trays of fillings for the morning’s mooncake making.

A flat round piece of dough is rolled and used to wrap the pre-prepared fillings. Lotus Paste, Red Bean Paste and Green Bean Paste with lotus seeds are traditional fillings used.

Covering up the filling …

A ball of dough wrapped around the filling ready to be pressed into a mould.

Pressing a dough into a wooden mould – the moulds used are those handed down by the late Mr Tham Kah Chee.

A fully pressed mooncake in the mould.

Knocking out the mooncake from the mould.


The mooncake is then placed in a baking tray destined for the oven.

Trays of unbaked mooncakes.

A close-up.

Mid-way through, the baking mooncakes are taken out to be glazed using egg-yolk.

Glazing the mooncakes.

A tray of freshly baked mooncakes just out of the oven.

Once out of the oven, the freshly baked mooncakes are transferred to wooden paper lined trays to cool down.

And given a light brush over.

Customers can opt to have their mooncakes wrapped in a traditional way.

Traditionally packed mooncakes.

And take them home in traditional brown paper bags – we used to call these chicken paper bags as such bags came in handy in bringing live chickens home.

A stack of paper bags … customers can also opt to have the mooncakes packed in square boxes and brought home in plastic bags or corporate gift paper bags.

A favourite with the kids … ‘piglets’ in baskets …

Similar methods are employed in the making of piglets.

Other traditional pastries are also on sale at the retail outlet.

Almond cookies.

Mooncakes on sale at the Sago Street retail outlet.

Spicing Town up

27 07 2012

Having a spice fix is something I can’t live without and I got one last Friday at a dinner buffet at the Town Restaurant at the Fullerton. On for a very short period of time from 20 to 30 July 2012, Town Restaurant takes one on “A Tasty Passage to India” through its dinner buffet – one that combines the flavours brought in from the Taj Palace New Delhi with the selection of seafood on ice, salads, pastas, pizzas and cheeses that is always a draw on its popular buffet line.

Delivered straight from the Taj Palace New Delhi is the “A Tasty Passage to India” DInner Buffet at The Fullerton’s Town Restaurant.

Seafood on ice from the buffet line.

The buffet which is presented in partnership with the Taj Palace New Delhi and Jet Airways, sees many Northern Indian specialties being served up including Murg Badam Shorba (Almond-flavoured Chicken Broth), Kasundi Mahi Tikka (Bengal Mustard Fish Kebab), Kolapuri Mutton (Spicy Mutton Curry), Phoolkopichi Bhaji (Cauliflower Curry Served with Crushed Peanuts), Paneer Makai Seekh (Minced Cottage Cheese and Corn Kernels Char-grilled On Skewer), Chingri Malai Curry (Prawns Cooked in Coconut), Subz Briyani (Vegetable Spiced Rice) along with an assortment of Indian Breads and tangy Chutneys. In town to lend their expertise to Fullerton’s The Courtyard are Guest Chefs from the Taj Palace, Shahid Hossain, the Executive Sous Chef of Taj Palace New Delhi, and Commis Chefs Sandeep Chauhan and Vinod Kuma from Taj Palace New Delhi’s speciality Indian restaurant Masala Art.

A selection from the grill.

Tandoori fish.

A selection of breads.

With what must certainly be too much to choose from for one dinner sitting, I had to selectively sample what was on offer. What I can say is certainly worth a try besides the briyanis and breads which I never can resist, is the Kolapuri Mutton, the Tandoori Fish, and a potato cutlet which is topped with sauces, the name of which I unfortunately was not able to catch. “A Tasty Passage to India” is priced at S$52* per adult and $26* per child (6 to 12 years old) [*subject to service charge and prevailing government taxes]. The dinner buffet is on unitl 31 July 2012 daily from 6 to 10 pm at Town Restaurant (located at the lobby level of The Fullerton Hotel). For reservations, please call (65) 6877 8128 or email

Potato cutlets frying in a pan …

… and is served with sauces that include a masala sauce and a mint sauce which is topped with pomegranate – delicious!

Streets of sin and salvation

13 06 2012

Passing through the Geylang area of Singapore, it is probably hard to imagine it as anything other than a destination to indulge in two of the seven deadly sins. The two ‘sins’, gluttony and lust, is a reputation that the district has acquired – gluttony in that it is a destination to search for some of the best food in Singapore; and lust that can be satisfied in the glow of the red lights of some of its lorongs (streets). It is perhaps not the ‘sins’ that meets the eye down Geylang Road but the rows of shophouses that line the busy thoroughfare. Although there are many that have been spruced up of late, it is the tired look that many wear that you would first notice.

A green light at a traffic junction in Geylang. There is more to Geylang than the red lights that is has acquired a reputation for.

Much of Geylang wears a worn and tired look.

The tired veneer hides a world that awaits discovery such as this five-foot-way of a Late style unit along Lorong Bachok.

The area does seem to be well policed and is a relatively safe area to explore. However, it’s best (especially for ladies) to avoid walking alone.

It is easy to forget where you are in Geylang, there streets bear no resemblance to the futuristic looking city centre just a few kilometres to the west, having a look and feel of perhaps the main street of one of the larger towns across the causeway. A large proportion of the area’s architecture, is made up of buildings that date back to the turn of the last century, seemingly at odds with the futuristic looking city centre that lies at the end of the main street that has all but discarded the same buildings that dominate Geylang’s landscape. Within the landscape, it is the less familiar accents that seem to be heard – the area draws many who have come to seek their fortune – a reprise of a role that it once, interestingly enough, played, a role that perhaps gave the area some of the attractions we are about to discover.

The streets bear very little resemblance to the ones of the futuristic city just a few kilometres to the west.

Migrant workers from China line the sidewalks to await transport to their work sites – Geylang with its cheap lodgings attracts many migrant workers – a reprise of a role it played in the pre-war years for those coming from China seeking a fortune.

It is in peeling the tired and worn veneer that Geylang wears, and looking beyond the reputation it has acquired, that you will find that Geylang does have a lot more to offer. It is a district that is rich in history, having traced its origins to the resettlement of the sea gypsies that once lived around much of our shoreline – the Orang Laut from their homes in and around the swamps that dominated much of the Kallang Basin. Over time, as the city to the west expanded outwards, being close to the banks of two large rivers, it naturally drew many industries to the area, and with them, the immigrant population needed to keep the factories running as well as businesses that supported both the industries and the growing population. One thing that is also very apparent in and around the area is the ample sprinkling of places to perhaps seek salvation in – mosques, temples and churches, nestled in between Geylang’s buildings, that were established to support the spiritual needs of Geylang’s booming population and have survived till today.

Geylang has historically attracted many factories to the area, being close to the banks of the Geylang and Kallang Rivers and as a result many spiritual and commercial enterprises – many of which survive until today.

Besides having a reputation for its streets of sin, Geylang’s streets are also streets of salvation in the form of the many houses of worship that were established to meet the spiritual needs of the area’s diverse population.

One of many temples along Geylang Road.

Several mosques can be found in the area. The photo shows Masjid Khadijah along Geylang Road built in the early 1900s.

A more recent introduction – a temple housed in a conservation double storey Late style shophouse in Lorong 25.

Geylang’s history is well represented in its architecture, a lot of which, fortunately for our future generations, has received conservation status. The area is rich particularly in shophouses built from the early 1900s to just before the war – many are in the Late style that dominated in first four decades of the 1900s and also in the Late Transitional style of the late 1930s. There is also many delightful buildings that feature elements of the Art Deco style that was popular in buildings in Singapore just before and after the war. Many are hidden away in Geylang’s lorongs along with some other charming discoveries that can only be found in walking the many streets – which with a small group in tow I attempted to do over the weekend.

A row of Art Deco style shophouses built in 1939 between Lorong 30 and Lorong 28. The architectural landscape of Geylang is representative of its history of settlement and development which took-off at the turn of the century up to the pre-war years.

Late Transitional style shophouses along Geylang Road.

The back alleys around the Lorongs can be quite colourful – in more ways than one.

The spiral staircase is common architectural feature found at the back of many of the shophouses.

A discovery that awaits in one of the many lorongs of Geylang – colourful tiles behind the barbed wire of a fence.

One street that I take particular delight in is Lorong 24A. Here, two rows of beautifully conserved and brightly (but tastefully) decorated Late style terrace shophouses stand across from each other and is a must-see if one is in the area. The cluster of lorongs around Lorong 24A (and even the main road) is blessed with some other gems as well. Running parallel to Lorong 24A, Lorong 26 has a few. One is a two storey bungalow that sits at the junction of Geylang Road and Lorong 26 – used by the Meng Yew Hotel. Further in, there is also a two storey bungalow at No. 5 for which conservation takes the form of it being incorporated as part of a condominium development that is fast changing the architectural landscape of Geylang’s lorongs. Also on Lorong 26, there is a temple to be discovered – one that is in a setting that harks back to a time when much of the area around would have been in a similar setting – a time we have chosen to forget.

Lorong 24A contains two delightful rows of very well conserved and brightly decorated Late style houses.

Another two storey Late style house along Lorong 24A.

Close-up of a Late style house in Lorong 24A.

Meng Yew Hotel at the junction of Lorong 26 with Geylang Road.

A private home temple at No. 14 Lorong 26 takes us back to a forgotten time.

A view of the temple building housed in a single storey bungalow of a type that was found all over the area in a setting that harks back to the good old kampong days.

The side of the temple’s building that is raised on stilts – a measure made necessary by frequent flooding.

A two storey bungalow at Lorong 26 which is being conserved within a larger condominium development that it will be a part of.

In the same area on Geylang Road, there are some noteworthy buildings. One is the conservation of Late style shophouses at Lorong 28 / Geylang Road as part of a residential / commercial development ‘The Sunflower’. Another is a pink building that bears not just the history of the building on its face, but also points to a time when the many small players in the soft drink manufacturing were able to compete alongside the big boys for a share of the market. The words on the Art Deco building tell that it was once the home of the Eastern Aerated Water Company, which had moved its factory here in 1951 from its former premises in Middle Road. The shift of the factory here represented a milestone for the company which produced ‘Ship Brand’ carbonated drinks with the introduction of automated production. The company stopped production in the 1980s. Across the road at Lorong 25, there are a few temples and a church. However, it will again probably be the row of beautiful Late style houses that will catch the eye.

The Sunflower at the junction of Geylang Road and Lorong 28.

The Art Deco style former premises of Eastern Aerated Water Company close to the junction of Geylang Road with Aljunied Road.

A row of conservation Late style houses along Lorong 25.

Crossing Aljunied Road, the very obvious sale of items that are linked to the area’s seedy side reminds us of where we are. We quickly walk past and over to what were the premises of Geylang English School and Geylang West School – now put to commercial use. We had taken the route to bring us towards Lorong 17, where we were to meet up with someone who was going to introduce us to a spiritual gem – a temple that is a physical marker of the area’s industrial past and one that lives on borrowed time. That I will come to in another post. There was still time to walk along Lorong Bachok where at the corner of the street and Lorong 19, there is a very fancifully decorated set of two storey Late style shophouses from 1929 that are rather interesting.

The former Geylang English School and Geylang West School premises.

A gaily decorated Late style house along Lorong Bachok.

This brought a thoroughly enjoyable two-hour walk of discovery to its end. We stopped by a kopi-tiam (coffeeshop) to grab a much needed drink and for some rest before we embarked on the next part of the journey of discovery … The walk provided a glimpse of what the often misunderstood lorongs of Geylang has to offer. There are many more streets that will take more than a few walks to discover and that will certainly ones that I will look forward to.

Decoration on the pillar at the corner unit at Lorong Bachok / Lorong 19.

Decoration on the complementing pillar.

Online Resources on Geylang:

Seeking an old world over the New Year

5 01 2012

Strange as it may seem, I found myself wandering around streets some 350 kilometres away during the lead up to the New Year, thinking for a while that I was in a Singapore that I had my wonderful childhood in. The streets of Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur where I was has been a source of fascination for me since my first visit there as a child of six and it has also become, along with other parts of the country, a place where I often search for that world – the Singapore of my childhood that is now lost to me. The streets of Kuala Lumpur today and those of the Singapore of yesterday are undeniably two very different worlds – worlds far apart in many ways. Both cities have seen dramatic changes in four decades since my first visit and are today hardly recognisable from the cities they had emerged from. There is however one key difference in how either city have gone through their respective transformations. Where with Singapore, much of what made Singapore, Singapore, has now been lost – replaced in many cases by the cold hard stare of glass, steel and concrete, there is still the buzz of daily life that can be discovered nestled in between the towering edifices of modern Kuala Lumpur.

There are places I remember ... that resemble this. A back lane off the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

An area that I take particular joy in wandering around has become known as the city’s Chinatown – centred on Petaling Street or Jalan Petaling, once a must-go destination on my almost annual visits to the city to savour some of its culinary offerings. The street market it is well known for has unfortunately seen the inevitable invasion of stalls that provide a wider apppeal to a tourist than the local, but there is still in and around the area a world much like that old world we have left behind in Singapore to stumble upon. It is in the five-foot ways and narrow alleyways off the main street that this older world I seek is tucked away. One, alleyway which runs parallel to Petaling Street off Madras Lane (or Jalan Sultan) is home to what must be a well known wet market, teeming in the early hours of daylight with many from the area and beyond, in search for the day’s supply of fresh produce. I first came to know of the market on a trip to Kuala Lumpur that coicided with my very first journey out of the now forgotten Tanjong Pagar Railway Station some two decades ago – and it nice to see that it still is set in that wet, slippery and less than pleasant smelling passageway that leads to what must seem like a reward at the end of it.

The wet market at Madras Lane.

A butcher's assistant at the wet market.

What lies at the end of the wet market is a cluster of food stalls – ones that have a reputation for being amongst the best in a city where sumptous street fare is never hard to find. Despite the less than pleasant demeanour with which customers of some of the stalls are served, the cluster never fails to draw a steady stream of hungry customers in the mornings and the very popular Chee Cheong Fun, Yong Tau Foo and Assam Laksa usually sells out by the time one arrives for a late lunch.

Madras Lane is also famous for its street fare.

The early morning crowd at the Yong Tau Foo stall.

Enjoying a bowl of noodles at Madras Lane.

After a bowl of the irresistable Assam Laksa and a glass of warm soya bean milk the morning I found myself there, there was still time to discover what else Madras Lane had to offer. The five-foot ways and crowded back lanes was certainly a joy to wander through -a hole-in-the-wall shop with colourful magazines strung up for sale, as well as a shop lot where one could have an offending mole removed caught my eye as did a back lane strewn with pushcarts awaiting use to serve the evening’s dining crowd, a back lane barber, a sidewalk fortune-teller, and a cobbler waiting patiently for his next customer.

A bowl of Assam Laksa I had to have.

A sidewalk fortune teller along Jalan Sultan.

A hole-in-the-wall shop.

A five-foot way along Jalan Sultan.

Have that offending mole removed.

I suppose I would have spent the entire day immersing myself in that old world – but that unfortunately wasn’t that Singapore that I had sought, although it did in many ways remind me of it. It was time then to transport myself to the new world – first for lunch and for a look at another area I was familiar with from my early visits to the city – the Bukit Bintang area which has also seen tremendous change. And as darkness descended on the city for the last time in the old year, it was time to embrace the new – in a way that even an old world cannot escape from – with a blast of colours in the sky, but perhaps in a gentler and quieter way than it would have been if I had stayed at home. With that there is a realisation that much of the old ways will soon be forgotten … but there is that hope that the city I found myself in, would cling tightly on to those little reminders of its past which would allow me many more opportunities to seek the familiarity and comfort of the old world that I can no longer find in the place I grew up in.

A somewhat quieter welcome to 2012 than I would have expected in Singapore - fireworks over Bandar Utama in Malaysia.

The finale after the 10 minute dispay over Bandar Utama.

A tour of Singapore’s food history in 8 hours

11 08 2011

Produced by Sitting In Pictures, Foodage is a series of eight 1 hour episodes shown on Okto at 10pm on Thursdays, which made its debut on 4 August 2011. Foodage traces Singapore’s food history in the years since independence through collective personal memories, home movies and photos, recapturing our lifestyle and food trends over the years.

Catch Ukelele Man, Dick Yip, better known as "Uncle Dicko" amongst his fans and readers of his blog The Wise Old Owl, as he entertains with his ukelele in Episode 2 of Foodage.

The second episode of Foodage, “Food to Roam”, will be on the air this evening (Thursday 11 August). A synopsis of the episode provided on its Facebook Page:

In the 60s, hawkers roamed the kampongs and the streets of urban Singapore. The children who grew up in this foodscape share their memories – the roving calls of these hawkers were music to their ears, and fed their seemingly insatiable appetites. Their memories – both pungent and poignant – are set against a turbulent backdrop of merger and independence, lawlessness and unemployment and the Big Fire. The food on offer in this episode includes, Indian rojak, wanton mee, kaya bread, mee siam and tuckshop tidbits. The Singaporeans sharing their stories, include Jerome Lim, Peter Chan, Shaik Kadir, Yeo Hong Eng, Andy Lim, Toh Paik Choo, James Seah, Lum Chun See, Aziza Ali, Dick Yip, Ong Yew Ghee, Ivy Lim-Singh, Geraldene Lowe-Ismail…. watch out for The Foodage sweet spot moment when the strains of the “lang tin ting” man of the 50s gives way to the “ukelele” man of the noughties.

Do follow Foodage on Facebook:

See also:

Andy Lim: Sounds n Music Of Food Hawkers

Lam Chun See: Foodage Episode 2 (Okto Channel, Thursday 11 Aug, 10 pm)

Day 3 in Hong Kong and finally able to get a feel of the gorgeous hotel room

29 07 2010

Having had two fully packed days of excitement that the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) had planned, the ten bloggers were provided with an opportunity to sleep in on Day 3. We were all grateful for it, having caught very little sleep amidst the excitement the night prior to the trip. And I suppose for the members of the two teams preparing for the much anticipated bath tub race the next day, it was a time to get some needed rest. With my body clock waking me up at a time when I would usually wake putting paid to an hope I had to sleep in, what was left for me to do was to savour the gorgeous room that the HKTB had arranged in one of the 66 “Coolest New Hotels in the World” as the Condé Nast Traveller Hot List for 2010 would have it. Indeed, The Mira does qualify as super cool, a feeling you get just stepping into the lobby. Based on the information kit provided by the hotel, the Mira has a total of 492 guest rooms and 56 suites and specialty suites, the rooms are decorated in one of three vibrant themes: Red, Green and Silver, furnished with handpicked fabrics and materials and feature the Egg Chair by Arne Jacobsen, a 40-inch LCD TV, 500GB Sony Personal Computer / Entertainment Centre, Bose in-room soundscapes, a “My Mobile” Nokia phone service (which assists guests to connect anywhere, anytime, inside or outside of the hotel) and complimentary high-speed WiFi and wired Internet.

The Mira is a stylish boutique hotel at the corner of Nathan Road and Kimberly Road in Tsim Sha Tsui which opened in 2009.

The Mira is a stylish boutique hotel at the corner of Nathan Road and Kimberly Road in Tsim Sha Tsui which opened in 2009 (all images of the Mira are courtesy of the hotel).

The three coloured themes that the rooms are designed in: Red, Green and Silver.

The three coloured themes that the rooms are designed in: Red, Green and Silver.

Indeed, the room was really cool, and having already used the Bose sound dock the previous two nights, I set out to discover what else was cool about the LCD TV and the Sony Personal Computer. What was a really nice touch was just this, combined with the wireless keyboard, one could do just about anything on the internet from the comfort of the luxurious bed, or from the red Jacobsen Egg Chair in the red themed room that I was in. Super cool!

The PC and Wireless Keyboard.

The PC and Wireless Keyboard.

Room One, a lounge which is seamlessly woven into the hotel's lobby.

Room One, a lounge which is seamlessly woven into the hotel's lobby.

Yamm: an international buffet restaurant.

Yamm: an international buffet restaurant.

The day’s activities started at 11 with brunch, and I guess I was so engrossed with what I had at my disposal in the room, that I had almost forgotten about the time. Brunch was at a café prior to making our way to the promenade where the much anticipated bath tub race was to be held. If there was tension between members of the two rival teams at brunch, it was not really evident. Darren seemed intent on fuelling up with food, while Pete was all cool and smiling. Violet was her usual talkative self and Geck Geck was a picture of cool composure. There was some evidence of paparazzi gathered outside the café, but that did not seem to affect our stars.

Darren was intent on fuelling up before the race.

Darren was intent on fuelling up before the race.

Geck Geck was cool and composed, as was Aussie Pete.

Geck Geck was cool and composed, as was Aussie Pete.

Were these paparazzi gathered outside the cafe?

Were these paparazzi gathered outside the cafe?

Pre-race tension ... Darren giving Pete the cold hard stare!

Pre-race tension ... Darren giving Pete the cold hard stare!

By the time we got down to the promenade, a large crowd had already gathered and although Pete imagined (or hoped) that the screams of excitement were directed at him (see my previous post on the bath tub race), the largely teenage crowd had in fact come to see the stars from the Korean entertainment network KBS. We were to discover that the four had almost missed the boat or rather, bath tub … as we were a little late for registration. Well, register they did, and it was fortunate that they were able to, as we would have certainly missed out on the excitement of Pete’s and Geck Geck’s big splash into the harbour.

Were those Pete's fans?

Were those Pete's fans?

Pete's turn now!

Pete's turn now!

We're gonna win it says Pete!

We're gonna win it says Pete!

Go Singapore!

Go Singapore!

The reporter was on hand to interview Pete for what was to be his famous victory which somehow became a dip in the harbour.

The reporter was on hand to interview Pete for what was to be his famous victory which somehow became a dip in the harbour.

The crowd excitedly rose to catch a glimpse of Pete's famous dip.

The crowd excitedly rose to catch a glimpse of Pete's famous dip.

Darren and Violet came in second.

Darren and Violet came in second.

We had to leave behind the excitement and electric atmosphere of the Dragon Boat races that were going on, but not before catching a glimpse of the KBS Dream Team receiving an award, and the presentation ceremony for the Pink Spartans a team of breast cancer survivors and supporters from Singapore who won the Pink Dragon Boat Racing Breast Cancer Survivor Invitation Race.




The crowd had gathered to catch a glimpse of the KBS Dream Team which included members of U-KISS.

The crowd had gathered to catch a glimpse of the KBS Dream Team which included members of U-KISS.

The Pink Spartans.

The Pink Spartans.

Saying goodbye to the races.

Saying goodbye to the races.

It was time for some rest and relaxation at the hotel, and then for me, a walk around town. I somehow found myself taking the Star Ferry to Central and back just for the fun of it, I guess something I would devote another post to. I made it just in time to catch a quick shower and dress up for dinner, which was at the Hong Kong Old Restaurant on the fourth level of the Miramar Shopping Centre, just across Kimberly Road from the hotel. The popular restaurant which serves Shanghainese cuisine and also features dishes from Yang Zhou and Szechuan we were told was named in a way to discretely draw reference to the “old money” in Hong Kong, a reference to the wealthy Shanghainese that had settled in the territory.

The Hong Kong Old Restaurant in the Miramar Shopping Centre.

The Hong Kong Old Restaurant in the Miramar Shopping Centre.

Entering the restaurant.

Entering the restaurant.

The menu.

The menu.

Dinner was an interesting affair, perhaps with the mood lightened by a loosening of tongues brought about by the familiarity of having been together for three days, some Tsingtao and perhaps due to the face that it was our last evening as a group, most choosing to return as scheduled the following day. The food wasn’t quite the usual Shanghainese fare that I had previously been used to, with a variety of very interesting concoctions which included pig trotters that had been soaked in vinegar prior to cooking, in typical Shanghainese fashion we were told. The highlight I guess most would say was dessert, ice cream that had been fried – simply delicious! After dinner, there was still time to walk through the emptying streets, which some of us did, ending up around the Granville Road area – which I would again attempt to cover in another post. After that, it was our last night to savour the interestingly cool hotel room, before we say goodbye to what had up to that point been an exhilarating three days in the Fragrant Harbour.

The Tsingtao may have helped with the loosening of tongues ...

The Tsingtao may have helped with the loosening of tongues ...

Umm ... a few of us couldn't resist more of the beer ...

Umm ... a few of us couldn't resist more of the beer ...

The excellent food was the highlight.

The excellent food was the highlight.

An egg dish...

An egg dish...

I even tried the pigs trotters ... something which I usually wouldn't even look at.

I even tried the pigs trotters ... something which I usually wouldn't even look at.


Point, point, shoot, shoot ...

Point, point, shoot, shoot ...






More point, point, shoot, shoot

More point, point, shoot, shoot



Objects of desire!

Objects of desire!

Someone had seconds ...

Someone had seconds ...

The super model had fun as well!

The super model had fun as well!

Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy My Hong Kong Travel Blog site. Please visit the My Hong Kong Travel Blog where you can vote for you favourite blogger and stand a chance to win a trip to Hong Kong. Details would be provided at the voting page.