The Owkang Chicken Sellers

8 06 2019

Unforgettable memories of the sights and smells of buying Fresh Chicken and Other “Chicken” Memories.

A guest post by Edmund Arozoo, once of Jalan Hock Chye and now of Adelaide


Images do stir up emotions. Some are like flashcards that jolt our memories transporting us back in time. For me in recent years, one particular image did just that. Browsing the net, I came across pictures of the memorial sculpture at the site of the previous Simon Road Market in Hougang – the sculpture of a chicken seller and the female customer. This triggered many childhood memories of the “sights and smells” associated with this particular trade and other “chicken” memories. And I wanted to view the sculpture in real time as well as photograph it so that I could use my personal image(s) when I do a post on this subject. I would thus not be infringing any copyright issues.

On my recent trip back to Singapore I caught up with a good friend Rasiah Sabai, a schoolmate and a fellow Jalan Hock Chye kampong “kaki” from way back. I had mentioned to him my quest to visit the sculpture. So meeting up at Serangoon MRT station we caught the train to Kovan station and took a walk down memory lane.

An old Singapore Street Directory map of 6 ½ milestone Upper Serangoon Road.

Starting from Lowland Road we tried to mentally picture where the old Empire Theatre would have stood and where our favourite hawker stalls once were situated. As we headed for the sculpture we recollected and tried to pinpoint where “Daily Bookshop” would have been and the various provision shops, radio/electrical shops and coffeeshops that were past landmarks. Memories of watching the first TV broadcasts standing along the fivefoot path outside the radioshop also came back.

We then stroll down towards the sculpture and I took lots of pictures. Then we did a loop right up to Lim Ah Pin Road, crossed Upper Serangoon Rd and on to the junction and entered Tampines Rd up to where old Jalan Hock Chye was. Both of us were reminiscing as we walked.

An edited picture of the Roadside Sculpture near where Simon Road Market once was.

Since then I’ve been keen on documenting my “chicken” memories. It has been over a month since I have returned back to Adelaide and it is time to do just that. My mind fast rewound back to the days when we kampong kids were similar to the “chooks” that grazed the kampong compounds. We were indeed like the kamong ayam – the original “KFC” – Kampong Free-range Chickens (children).

Free range rooster in our compound.

Most of my neighbours reared poultry. For chicken rearing, the start would be to visit one of the two chicken incubator shops just past the junction of Upper Serangoon Rd and Tampines Rd in the easterly direction towards Ponggol. These shops had huge incubators that could hold tens if not hundreds of eggs. And as kids if we were fortunate to pass these shops at the right time it was hard not to fall in love with the recently hatched yellow little darlings that were placed in flat wicker trays/baskets prior to being sold. Many a kampong chicken started life that way and were reared for their eggs or groomed for their eventual destination of the pot. I do remember carrying a few of these yellow furry bundles of joy home in the brown paper bags that were in prevalent use then.

These small yellow bundles of joy when brought home were literary hand fed by us kids and we watch them grow to hens and roosters. Thus when it was time for them to be slaughtered and readied for the pot it was traumatic for us as they had become almost pets. Oh the trauma. I will come back to this later as nothing overrides the memories of buying live chicken from the chicken sellers in Owkang.

The chicken sellers our family patronised were located at an unsheltered area quite close to the canal running alongside the start of Tampines Road. This canal ran alongside the Simon Road market and travelled underground under Upper Serangoon Road.

The area where these poultry sellers operated seemed in areas remanet of floors of old buildings as some parts of the ground were cemented and there were also remnants of wall edges.

Usually on Sundays as our family made our way to attend the early morning Mass at the Church of the Nativity from Jalan Hock Chye we walked along Tampines Road. After crossing the road, a small pedestrian bridge would take us to the area of the poultry sellers and then through a small alleyway we would emerge on Upper Serangoon Road which we had to cross to get to the side of the market to catch the transport that would take us to church. This alleyway had a number of makeshift stalls that sold different merchandise, a mini bazaar indeed. Only two stalls remain clear in my memory the one that sold clothing material and clothes and the “You Tiao” hawker who sat almost on ground level in front of a huge wok of boiling oil armed with his pair of long chopsticks busily turning the twirls of dough for the ever long queue of customers waiting for their orders to be ready.

It was this early morning walk negotiating the path between the poultry sellers that was mind blowing. In the dimly lit environment we would catch sight of some unscrupulous sellers force feeding chickens with sand and small stones or pebbles. This was so that these live chickens sold would weigh heavier and this would increase their selling price. These were the sellers mum would avoid and if I remember correctly we had a regular seller whom she always went to. But still there were precautions that she and other mums took to lessen the chances of being short changed when buying live chickens and we kids were often deputised to assist.

The sequence of buying life chickens those days was in this order:

  1. the chicken was chosen from amongst the many from the wicker baskets they were in. This was to ensure they were not sickly or perhaps even dead.
  2. the selected chicken(s) were weighed and their price bargained.
  3. the selected birds were tagged and placed in another basket.
  4. from this basket the chickens were removed slaughtered and de-feathered
  5. the “naked” carcass with the metal tags still attached were placed one side for collection.

Besides the knowledge of the additional weight increase through sand and stones, we were also schooled to scrutinise the actual weighing process. The daching was the prevalent weighing machine then. These hand held scales could be manipulated through a slight of hand. Whilst the thumb and index finger held the string that was the fulcrum and all eyes were focussed on the pointer at the opposite end of the balancing rod, we were always told to be aware of the little finger that would sometimes be used to covertly tilt the scales in the sellers favour. In the commotion of balancing a squawking, struggling chicken hanging from the dachin the action of the little finger could increase the sale price by a few cents.

It was a well-known fact as stated by K S Neoh in his blog post – Weighing In On The “Dacing”: 

It was also widely known that sellers sometimes manipulated the implement to cheat customers either through deft handwork ………..

The use of the little finger to tilt the scales (adapted from the picture by K S Neoh).

As mentioned above, once the chickens were selected, weighed and the sale price negotiated, the birds were tagged with metal numeric tags around their necks for identification of ownership and placed in a separate wicker basket. It was the responsibility of us “deputies in short pants” to ensure that “our” birds were not switched.  Thus we stood in the midst of all the activity while our mums went across to the Simon Road market to do their marketing for the various chicken dishes she had in mind.

Who can forget the sight of the assistant(s) reaching into the “sold” basket grabbing one of our birds, plucking away at the feathers around the throat region then with a swift action of a knife  slit at the exposed skin Then holding the bird tightly, manoeuvre the neck above a bowl so that the blood could be collected. The grip had to be secure or else you would literally witness the scene of chaos of a “headless chook” running around.

Once the bird was limp and lifeless, it would be dipped into a basin of boiling hot water and quickly removed and the de-feathering would commence. Throughout this ordeal the birds would still be wearing their identification tags. Once completely naked the birds would be place into another basin and when all of our purchases were ready they would be place in our market baskets and their tags removed.  Then us deputies then had the honour of helping our mums by carrying the basket of “naked” chickens home all the time eyeing the edges of the “you tiao” wrapped in newspaper that mum had bought. It was a nice reward for our services and would complement the cup of hot coffee she would make when we got back home.

I do not think those who have been deputies would ever forget the sights and smell of buying fresh chicken then. The smell of spilled blood, wet feathers and chicken poo are not easy to forget .Now we just decide which tray we want to buy or point to the supermarket staff the pieces that we want.

Coming back to our own chickens as I mentioned it used to be traumatic because of the attachment through hand feeding them when they were littlies as well as watching them grow.  The adults would try and shield us from seeing the particular bird being chased and restraint, slaughtered, etc. It was sometimes hard to sit and have a meal of what was once close to us. But those days we had to eat whatever was on the table or go without a meal.

Those hens that were layers normally had longer lives as nothing beats the taste a freshly laid egg. It was when they stopped laying then it was time for the chopping board.

An occasional bonus was when a neighbour’s hen would take a short flight over our fence and come into our compound. Then observing where she was scratching the dirt and which bush she would nestle into, we would wait for the usual clucking to announce that she had laid an egg. And sometimes out of habit she would return to grace us with more free eggs.  Those were the days too when we could bring our eggs to the various hawker food vendors and get them to include the eggs in the dish at no extra cost rather than pay more if he had used his own eggs. I do not think the present day hawkers at the Hawker Centres or Food Courts would entertain this now.

Thank you Rasiah! Our walk down memory lane took us back in time as we tried to pin point where our favourite hawker stalls were especially the good ones. We had lots of laughs during that warm afternoon walk delving deep into our memory banks and tagging fond memories of people, faces and names to sites and locations still standing. But the sights and smells associated with the chicken sellers was a re-run hard to forget.

Edmund Arozoo  

June 2019


 

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Retracing the “Ice Ball” Trail

22 01 2014
A guest post by Edmund Arozoo who takes us on a walk back 50 years in time on the ice-ball trail to his kampung at Jalan Hock Chye

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Your whole life flashes in front of you when you experience a near death moment. Memories come flashing back. Memories of all the good times and bad – and times that one had forgotten or chose to forget come back vividly. Having been in that position almost two years ago there is one strange memory that strangely stood out in my mind and often came back to me after that.

It takes me back fifty or more years ago when I was in primary school at the then Holy Innocents School (which later became Montfort School). Those were the days when the Ponggol Bus Company or aka the “Yellow Bus” Company serviced routes in the Serangoon and Ponggol District. My generation of users of this service would remember the wooden louver windows these buses had in those early days!

Well, the average daily “pocket money” for school kids our age then was 30 cents. 10 cents for bus fare to and from school, 10 cents for a plate of Char Kuay Teow or Mee Siam etc, 5 cents for a drink and 5 cents for Kachang Puteh or sweets.

On certain days after our morning school sessions when the urge for a “cool” after-school treat was high a group of us, living close to each other, would decide that if we walked home we could use the 5 cents saved to buy the refreshing “ice ball” – shaved ice shaped into a ball (like a snowball) and sweeten with various coloured sweeteners and a dash of evaporated milk. This was handmade and looking back was pretty unhygienic but it was a special treat for most of us to quench our thirst.

Well the walk from our school, which was next to the Church of the Nativity, back to our homes in Jalan Hock Chye, off Tampines Road, covered a distance of about a mile. We were usually hot, sweaty and thirsty by the time we reach the “kaka” (Muslim Indian) shop that sold iceballs. However walking the last few yards home sucking on an iceball was simply “heavenly” then.

I was in Singapore recently and a strange urge came over me – I wanted to walk the iceball trail again! (I did not think it was the progression of a second childhood coming on).

Well on 10th August 2012 I and my wife caught a bus from Upper Thompson Road to Houggang Central to do the trail. Sadly my old school is no more there but the Church of the Nativity is still there and that was my starting point. With camera in hand I recaptured memories of various roads and lorongs that were landmarks then. Fifty years has seen lots of improvement on what was then on a whole a rural environment. Some lanes like St Joseph’s Lane have gone but it was nostalgic to recap what was and still is present. Very few landmarks of old remain. I knew we were getting close to our destination on approaching Lim Ah Pin Road. By then we were thirsty and welcomed a cool soya bean drink at a shop opposite Lim Ah Pin Road before heading for Kovan MRT station. This station used to be the terminus for the STC bus company that ran services into town and other parts of the island in those days.

Rd signsa

Sadly too Jalan Hock Chye is no more around, being replaced by Hougang Avenue 1. However other landmarks are still there to pinpoint precisely where we used to get our iceballs. The Kaka shop used to be directly in front of the start of Jalan Teliti which is still there; and where my old home used to be is where Block 230 now stands and diagonally across there was a small lane that is now the present Jalan Hock Chye.

Well fifty years on I am glad I still could do the ice ball trail again and to all the old Monfortians who did the walk with me then – life was very simple then but very much cherished. However no ice ball for me at the end of the walk this time – had to settle for an ice kachang as a substitute!

trail3


Words and images by Edmund Arozoo, who now resides in Australia and whom I had the pleasure to meet last December.






A reminder of a world we long have discarded

10 05 2013

A road which featured in the many drives my father took us on to wonderful coastline at the eastern tip of Singapore was Tampines Road. Once Singapore’s longest road, the road is today 5 kilometres shorter than it was, truncated in part by the construction of the Tampines Expressway (TPE) on the eastern end of the road. While much of the road bears little resemblance to the rural road off which the fencing of the northern boundary of the then Paya Lebar International Airport featured, as did many kampongs and fishing ponds, there are still some reminders of the world which except for the airport which is now used by the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF), has long since vanished.

A peek at a world left behind.

A window into a little piece of Tampines Road which the time seems to have been left behind.

A motor and tyre workshop dominates much of an area where time seems to stand very still.

A motor and tyre workshop dominates much of an area where time seems to stand very still.

One reminder is a little pocket of a more recent past, which seems to lie well forgotten, at what was the 9¾ milestone of the old Tampines Road. Close to where a cluster of huge temple complexes which if memory serves me right started to crop up in the 1970s is, the reminder is a remnant of what once was Hun Yeang Village – the name of which is remembered only by that little bit of Hun Yeang Road which still does exist. The area lining Tampines Road around Hun Yeang Road was where in the 1970s the Hun Yeang Community Centre and the Tampines Veterinary Clinic could also be found, all which have since disappeared, leaving only a rather dilapidated looking row of shophouses from the village’s more recent past behind. The row houses businesses dominated by a tyre and motor workshop, all of which does seem to be wedged in between the past and the present – a reminder of the suburban Singapore of the 1970s that we have discarded.

The row of shophouses at Hun Yeang Road.

The row of shophouses at Hun Yeang Road.

A scene which resembles that of the semi-urban rural world of the 1970s.

A scene which resembles that of the semi-urban rural world of the 1970s.

The area to the left was where the Community Centre once was, and to the right where the vet clinic was.

The area to the left was where the Community Centre once was, and to the right where the vet clinic was.

Interestingly, the man who gave his name to Hun Yeang Road (as well as the village) was Mr Khoo Hun Yeang, a prominent Penang born businessman who lived from 1860 to 1917. Mr Khoo, whose father owned a coconut plantation on the mainland side of Penang, had in his time run the coconut plantation as well as making a name in other businesses. He was also later to join the Opium and Spirit revenue farm in Penang in which his father was a partner in, and later serve as a Managing Partner (from 1899) and Managing Director (from 1902 to 1906) of the Opium and Spirit Farm in Singapore. The farms – which were licenses granted through a tender for the collection of taxes on behalf of the then Straits Settlements government for items on which the government regulated and had a monopoly on, particularly that related to Opium and spirits were highly lucrative. Mr Khoo left the Opium and Spirit Farm in 1906, moving to Kuching (there is also a street in Kuching named after him) where he was involved in the construction business. Mr Khoo’s association with the area came about through his purchase of a 81 ha. fruit and rubber plantation here in 1913. Tragically, Mr Khoo passed away in a motor accident in Medan to which he has gone to to seek medical treatment in 1917 and is buried in Penang.

Truck tyres dominate the scene in front of the row of shophouses.

Truck tyres in front of the row of shophouses.

That time would catch up with what’s left of the former Hun Yeang Village, there is little doubt. But until that happens, this little piece of the past will be one I will hold on to, not so much as a place I have interacted with, but one in which I am reminded of that more familiar and gentler world I grew up in – a world that much as I would like to, I would never be able to return to.

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Images related to Tampines Primary School / Hun Yeang Village provided by hoosiers:

Tampines Primary School Crest / Badge.

Tampines Primary School Crest / Badge.

Members of the Staff, 1968.

Members of the Staff, 1968.

Members of the Staff, 1982.

Members of the Staff, 1982.

This gentleman was our senior assistant then. I got to meet him during this CNY for the first time since 1977 (37 yrs later). Pretty overwhelming..

This gentleman was our senior assistant then.
I got to meet him during this CNY for the first time since 1977 (37 yrs later). Pretty overwhelming..

The mere sight of this turquoise Ford Anglia will strike fear in every pupil of TPS as it means the Senior Assistant cum Discipline Master is around somewhere in the school..

The mere sight of this turquoise Ford Anglia will strike fear in every pupil of TPS as it means the Senior Assistant cum Discipline Master is around somewhere in the school..

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TPS4

TPS3

Map showing location of Hun Yeang Village.

Map showing location of Hun Yeang Village.

Excursion to Paya Lebar Airport.

Excursion to Paya Lebar Airport.






Strange Horizons: The giant spinning tops off Tampines Road

9 05 2013

What does look like two giant spinning tops from the bottom of a grassy slope along Tampines Road are actually two concrete inverted cone shaped storage tanks built to each hold 8448 cubic metres of NEWater – water recycled from waste treated to become drinking quality water. The elevated tanks which measure 43 metres in diameter at the top, make up the Tampines NEWater Service Reservoir maintained by the Public Utilities Board (PUB) provide storage for NEWater produced nearby for use by nearby electronic chip manufacturing factories which require very clean water.

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