The charcoal shop

11 04 2016

I was reminded of the charcoal shop, a sight I would come across every now and again in my childhood, when I stumbled upon one on the old streets of Ipoh about five years ago.

Occupying the ground unit of an old shophouse and with walls and floors darkened in varying degrees by carbon dust, the shop bore many similarities with the ones that I remember; the only clues of the time and the place were in the more modern looking implements used to sort, weigh and pack the charcoal and the sacks and bags that the charcoal was being packed into.

The charcoal shop -this one seen in Ipoh in 2010, was once a common sight in Singapore.

The charcoal shop, this one spotted in Ipoh in late 2010, was once a common sight in Singapore. The shop has since stopped operating.

Shops such these were commonplace in days when charcoal fired just about anything. From stoves and clothing irons in homes, to the ovens and furnaces of commercial establishments, the reach of charcoal then exceeded beyond that of gas and electricity. Demand fell with resettlement and redevelopment, electricity and gas were more suited for use in the public housing units the population was being moved into, and the use of charcoal was reduced to the occasional barbecue, and to the rare occasions when the charcoal stove would be dusted off for the making of festive snacks. From a high of 300 shops, the numbers were reduced to about a hundred by the time 1980 had arrived. Those that did survive, were to disappear over the two decades that followed.

The shop's interior.

The shop’s interior.

Besides the supply of charcoal for domestic use, trade in charcoal in Singapore also extended to a thriving import and export business. Based initially in the Rochor area, the trade moved to Kampong Arang at Tanjong Rhu when Nicoll Highway and the Merdeka Bridge were built. With the clean-up of the Kallang Basin reaching their final stages in the late 1980s, the trade was to be moved once again, this time to Lorong Halus (more information: The curious ridge of sand which runs from Katong to Kallang Bay).

Little remains of the charcoal trade today. Like many of the trades that added life and colour to our world, it has since been replaced by the grey of the economy of the new age; remembered only by a few, whose memories will soon fade.





The Google Shophouse

1 08 2015

From doodles that grab your attention whenever the occasion calls for one to transporting you to some street in some far flung of the world from your armchair, Google seems to come up with some of the coolest ideas. And, what’s even cooler is some of Google’s latest initiatives are now on show in a shophouse in Singapore.

The Google Shophouse at 63 Spottiswoode Park Road.

The Google Shophouse at 63 Spottiswoode Park Road.

The so-named Google Shophouse, set up in the SANA Gallery – a conservation shophouse at 63 Spottiswoode Park Road, offers SG50 weary Singaporeans with an alternative celebration over two weekends, this (1 to 2 August) and the especially long “Jubilee Weekend” (7 to 10 August). As a showcase that has us look at new ways to explore our history and heritage through technology, the choice of the venue, so says Google, was motivated by shophouses being seen as an enduring symbol of Singapore’s heritage and history.

The gateway into a Google world.

The gateway into a Google world.

Among the cool technologies that visitors to the Google Shophouse will get to immerse themselves in are the Singapore Time Walk, the Cultural Institute Initiatives and its now well-used Google Maps Street View technology. The latter, which sees 40 new Singapore locations being published on Google Maps, including some off the beaten track places such as Pulau Ubin and the MacRitchie Forest, will also allow visitors with the opportunity to take a look at some of the technologies employed such as the Google Trekker and Trolley.

The man behind the Google Trekker and the off-the-beaten-track street views of Singapore, speaking to Minister Lawrence Wong.

The man behind the Google Trekker and the off-the-beaten-track street views of Singapore, speaking to Minister Lawrence Wong.

The Trekker.

Minister Lawrence Wong trying on the Google Trekker.

A Street View of Pulau Ubin.

Street View of Pulau Ubin on display.

The Singapore Time Walk App allows users to take a walk back in time around Singapore's landmarks.

The Singapore Time Walk App allows users to take a walk back in time around Singapore’s landmarks.

The Cultural Institute Initiative is a collaboration with the National Heritage Board to bring a collection of cultural objects to the Google Cultural Institute.

The Cultural Institute Initiative is a collaboration with the National Heritage Board to bring a collection of cultural objects to the Google Cultural Institute.

Besides the chance to explore Singapore’s past and present, visitors will also get to see some of the future on show – in the Coding Camp for students and the Doodle for Google Gallery. Coding camps are being organised in collaboration with Google’s partners at the Google office over the course of the year to allow them to have a feel for the technology and tools that will power the future.

The Google Shophouse will also see another initiative, the Coding Camp for students on show.

The Google Shophouse will also see another initiative, the Coding Camp for students on show.

We also see how the young imagine the future in the Doodle for Google gallery – the doodles of 25 finalists, who have been asked to imagine “Singapore: The next 50 years” is on display at the shophouse. The winning entry, by 8 year old Moh Journ Haydn of Beacon Primary School, will be seen on Google Singapore’s homepage on independent Singapore’s 50th birthday , 9 August 2015, for 24 hours. More information on Google Shophouse can be found at Google Shophouse.

The Doodle for Google gallery.

The Doodle for Google gallery.

The winning Doodle for Google entry, by 8 year old Moh Journ Haydn, which will go on the Google Singapore page for 24 hours on 9 August 2015.

The winning Doodle for Google entry, by 8 year old Moh Journ Haydn, which will go on the Google Singapore page for 24 hours on 9 August 2015.


Street View demos of Pulau Ubin and the MacRitchie Forest


 

 

 

 





Coloured corridors

13 11 2013

Conceived by the founder of modern Singapore Sir Stamford Raffles, the five-foot-way was a feature that was stipulated in the Jackson Town Plan of 1822 and is seen today in the shophouses which once dominated the urban landscape of Malaya and Singapore. In Singapore today, over 6000 of these shophouses have been conserved and their five-foot-ways remain colourful spaces through which I often enjoy a walk through. The photographs that follow, are ones from some of the more colourful areas of Singapore in which clusters of shophouses with five-foot-ways, old and new, can be found. More on the five-foot-way and the idea behind them can be found in two of my previous posts, the links to which are at the end of this post.

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Other five-foot-way adventures:





Kaki lima

27 06 2013

The kaki lima or the five-foot-way, is a feature of the shophouse, which was once dominant in the urban landscapes across much of British influenced South-East Asia. Sheltered from the blazing tropical sun and the frequent torrential downpours, they made an ideal communal space, as well as one in which many trades thrived.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

The five-foot-ways I encountered in my childhood, full of bustle, colour and texture, were ones I found to be thoroughly fascinating. I never did have a dull moment walking along one, even in the evenings – the corridors, even those emptied of life and traders, found other uses. It was common to see bicycles and tricycles parked as well as other clutter. A common sight that we don’t see today is that of the jaga, more often than not an elderly turbaned Sikh man, seated on a charpoy – a wooden framed rope bed, outside the business premises he was to guard. It would also have been, especially in the smaller towns across the Causeway, common to hear a noisy chorus of swallows who built their nests overhead in the corners of the ceiling.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Sultan with a hole-in-the-wall shop still commonly found along many such corridors.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Sultan with a hole-in-the-wall shop still commonly found along many such corridors.

The kaki lima of today, particlarly those we find in Singapore, are much less lively versions of those of yesterday. They are still however wonderful places to explore and can often offer as enjoyable an experience as they might have in the days of my youth, throwing up a surprise every now and again. One area where I did find myself wandering through the kaki lima recently, was around the Jalan Sultan and Jalan Petaling area, in the heart of old Kuala Lumpur, where the set of photographs in this post were taken.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee north of Jalan Pudu just outside a now quiet textile shop which must have once done a roaring trade.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee north of Jalan Pudu just outside a now quiet textile shop which must have once done a roaring trade.

The shophouses in this part of the Malaysian capital once contained many traditional businesses. With many abandoned by the organic businesses which had brought much life to them and their sheltered corridors, the rows of shophouses seem to be in the throes of a slow death. It is a sense of sadness that I am filled with finding little reminders of what did once used to be as well as businesses still there for which time has obviously passed.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Petaling. A sign for a tailor shop which has closed reminds us of a time forgotten.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Petaling. A sign for a tailor shop which has closed reminds us of a time forgotten.

In Singapore, with over 6000 shophouses conserved, the more colourful shophouse five-foot-ways are still easy to find even as vast areas of its urban landscape are now populated with modern buildings. The ones around several conservation areas including in Little India, Kampong Glam, Geylang and Chinatown, are still rather interesting. These five-foot-ways were the subject of a contribution of photographs I made to a recently concluded three-month long exhibition on vanishing trades held at the National Museum of Singapore which looks at how spaces some of the early traders were commonly found it have evolved.

Another five-foot-way along Jalan Petaling where the remnants of an “old trade” was spotted.

The idea of the five-foot-way as an architectural feature was to provide a continuous sheltered walkway and as a space where trades could operate and has been attributed to Sir Stamford Raffles. He had it stipulated in the 1822 Jackson Town Plan that he oversaw, requiring that “all houses constructed of brick or tile should have a uniform type of front, each having a verandah of a certain depth, open at all times as a continuous and covered passage on each side of the street”. It is thought that Raffles’ got this idea from buildings in Dutch administered Batavia he had observed during his time as the Governor of Java, influenced it is suggested by verandahs found around squares in southern Europe. From Singapore, the five-foot-way spread to other parts of South-East Asia.

Watching time slowly pass on a five-foot-way along Jalan Sultan.

Watching time slowly pass on a five-foot-way along Jalan Sultan.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Panggong.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Panggong.