Chilling out in Pasir Panjang

30 07 2022

Deprived of the long beach that it took its name from, and with its one-time star attraction Haw Par Villa having been set on a course for hell, there seems little to draw the visitor to Pasir Panjang — that is except for the vegetable wholesale centre that has become synonymous with it, Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre. The huge centre, which is spread over a 15.2 ha site that was reclaimed from the sea, comes alive in the dark of night and draws vegetable, fruits and dried goods traders to it, along with others in search of a bargain.

Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre is Singapore’s main vegetable, fruit and dried goods distribution centre.

Developed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and opened in 1983, Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre was built to consolidate vegetable, fruits and dried goods wholesalers from the urban centre who were being displaced by urban redevelopment and the river clean-up effort, the centre was initially populated by 90 wholesalers from Clyde Terrace and Maxwell Road markets, plus over 350 from the Upper Circular Road / Carpenter Street and the Tew Chew Street / Chin Hin Street area. The centre features four sections with 9 out of its 26 blocks dedicated to fruits, another 8 blocks in its vegetable section, 4 blocks housing cold rooms and another 5 blocks for dried goods. With several hundred cold and chilled stores, it is quite literally a cool place to chill out at!

Tew Chew Street, which was one of the wholesale centres around Singapore. It was one of the places where imported vegetables from Cameron Highlands found buyers until 1983/84.

An opportunity not just to chill out, but also learn more about the centre and some of the people whose nocturnal existence puts fresh fruits and vegetables on the shelves now presents itself with the My Community Festival 2022. Among its offerings is a tour of Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre that is led by guide Ms Pamela Loh, who takes participants on an interesting walk through cold stores, a fruit distributor and through the especially large vegetable section — a hive of activity at the midnight hour six days a week, whether it is the seventh month or not. Besides an “insider” view of the wholesale centre, the opportunity to meet and learn about the lives of some of the people who run businesses at the centre, is a wonderful bonus.

Ms Pamela Loh leading a group at the cold room section.

Organised by My Community, My Community Festival runs from 5 to 21 August 2022. On offer is a host of unique experiences including this tour to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre. There are also after dark tours to seafood wholesale centres at Jurong and Senoko Fishery Ports. For more information on the festival, please visit https://mycommunityfestival.sg/.


Chilling out at the cold room section where temperatures are maintained at 4 degrees C for vegetables.
The inside of a cold room.
At the fruits section, where a treat awaits …
Huge and juicy chilled US cherries being offered for sale at KSY, a fruit distributor – a must buy!
Mrs Fong, who runs a vegetable wholesale stall with her husband.
Fresh winter bamboo shoots!
Giant cauliflower.
Giant pandan leaves.
The centre’s vegetable section comes alive at night.
The guardian of Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre.

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Northern Singapore’s last fishery port

26 07 2022

Believe it or not, the northern coast of Singapore once played host to a large fleet of fishing vessels. The fleet’s port of call was at old Kangkar Villlage down the Serangoon River, located right at the end of Upper Serangoon Road. The fleet was moved to Punggol Fishery Port when that was set up in the 1980s to move the fleet and consolidate the fish wholesalers of Kangkar and also Bedok. At the point of its move in 1984, Kangkar accommodated a fleet of 90 fishing boats and 16 fish wholesalers. Another move was made in 1997 to Senoko Fishery Port, which will itself close in 2023, after which all fish wholesale activity will be consolidated at Jurong Fishery Port. The move, which in tiny Singapore terms seems to a place a world away, will bring to a close the northern coast’s longtime connection with the fishing and the fish wholesale business.

The entrance to the port.
The floor of the wholesale market at Senoko Fishery Port.

The link that it has with old Kangkar does mean that Senoko has become home to a tightly-knit community of fish wholesalers who are of Teochew origin. Several of Senoko’s businesses have their roots in Kangkar’s fishing fleet operators whose boats would spent 3 to 4 days fishing in the waters close to Horsburgh Lighthouse (on the island of Pedra Branca). Over the years, close ties have been forged between the businesses which span several generations and what that does mean is that in Senoko there is a spirit of cooperation rather than competition. The closure of Senoko will thus not only bring a huge dose of sadness to its business operators but surely bring to the end that sense of community and that “kampung spirit” that is quite clearly evident in Senoko.

While the atmosphere in Senoko, which supplies a small portion (some 4% in 2020) of Singapore’s chilled seafood imports, certainly does come anywhere close to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market — with which it has often been compared to, visiting it is a must due to its impending closure. As with Tsukiji, visits have to be made at an ungodly hour, in the wee hours of the morning. That is when its offerings, which are now imported mainly from Malaysia and other parts of Asia, come in and when the regular buyers come to obtain their supplies. There may also an opportunity to purchase seafood at wholesale prices, although one has to be prepared to buy in larger quantities with some exceptions, and be armed with an ice-box. While the port may be accessible to the public (you will need you NRIC and it is opened from 2 to 6 am except for Monday mornings), getting to Senoko may proof difficult. There is however an opportunity that presents itself for a guided visit during the My Community Festival. Organised by My Community, the annual festival runs from 5 to 21 August 2022 and offers programmes that provide a host of unique experiences — including visits to both Jurong and Senoko Fishery Ports and also Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre (for vegetables).

Lian Yak Fish Merchant, is the oldest of the businesses. It started business way back in 1955 and operated a fleet of fishing vessels out of Kangkar Village.

More information on My Community Festival can be found at https://mycommunityfestival.sg/.

Seafood is sorted into baskets for buyers.
Crustaceans are among the items on offer.

More photographs of Senoko Fishery Port






Registration for one-north, a visual adventure (GSK Asia House)

27 06 2022
Please click on the image for registration.

Developed by JTC, one-north is as exciting and vibrant as a lifestyle destination, as it is a cool place to work in. The master planning for the estate, carried out by the renowned architecture firm Zaha Hadid, laid out a blueprint that saw to one-north’s blend of new-age structures, postwar residential units and lush green spaces. Set on the rolling landscape of a former military quarter, the business park is where the future meets the past, and where the idea of work-live-play-learn has been best put into place.

one-north, a visual adventure is a series of photowalks that is presented by Jerome Lim in collaboration with JTC to uncover one-north’s architectural beauty and its vibrant spaces.

The first of the walks, being held on Saturday 2 July 2022 takes participants into GSK Asia House and to its immediate environs:  

Date : 2 July 2022
Time : 9 am to 10.45 am

Kindly register only if you are able to make the visit by filling the form in this link (registration has closed as of 10:48 am, 27 June 2022 as all available spaces have been taken up).

Registrations will close when the participant limit of twenty (20) has been reached or on 29 June 2022 at 12 noon, whichever comes first.

Do note that each registration only admits one (1) person. A unique registration will be required for each participant. Duplicate registrations shall be considered as one registration.

For further information, kindly visit: one-north, a visual adventure.


one-north, a visual adventure is a series of photowalks that is presented by Jerome Lim in collaboration with JTC to uncover one-north’s architectural beauty and its vibrant spaces.






Wei-ing in on kueh

6 06 2022

Kueh (also spelt kuih) — a range of snacks popular in this part of the world — is something that almost anyone who lives in Singapore finds pleasure in. A firm favourite, especially amongst the young, is the rainbow-like assembly of sticky and individually coloured layers of sweetened and flavoured rice flour that is known locally as kueh lapis sagu. Most will agree that this snack seems most enjoyable when dismantled and then consumed one layer at a time.

The unusual, a rather yummy kueh salat laksa.

For me, stuffing one’s mouth with kueh of any variety, counts as one of the simplest of pleasures of living in SIngapore, even if I did have a rather traumatic experience once doing just that. It happened the Chinese New Year when I was seven at a kampong house of a family friend in Punggol. As tradition would have it, snacks and goodies were placed on the table, including a plate of ang ku kueh or red tortoise (shell-shaped) snack. Unable to resist the call of the red tortoise shell, I helped myself to an ang ku kueh. Biting into the sweet, somewhat sticky but soft and quite delicious bean paste filled snack, I promptly swallowed. It was at that point of swallowing that I realised — to my absolute horror — that I had quite literally bitten off more than I could chew when I felt a shaky milk tooth going down the mouthful of kueh.

Wei of Indie Singapore Tours.

My subsequent encounters with ang ku kueh would prove far more enjoyable, the most recent of which involved downing a variety of kueh, including ang ku kueh, in (and with )good spirits as part of a specially curated tour. The tour Whis-Kueh, offers an interesting perspective on kueh and what passes off as kueh in Singapore, taking participants first on a walk through the streets of Chinatown in search of the traditional makers of kueh and kueh’s many local variations. Why Whis, one may ask? Well, the reward at the end of the walk is not only a really tasty platter of kueh — some of which is now rarely found, but also a few swigs of whiskey (and rum) that quite surprisingly is able to bring out the best in some of the kueh.

In search of the original location of one of the traditional pastry shops.

Curated by Wei, the founder of Indie Singapore Tours which is running the experience, the tour offers quite unique and interesting insights into kueh. For the experience, Indie Tours has partnered with Furama City Centre (FCC) — the venue for the whiskey and kueh pairing session during the second half of the tour, and with INTERCO-MLE — the source of the whiskies (and rum), all of which are sourced from various distilleries, and independently bottled by the company. Besides kueh sourced from traditional kueh makers such as Ji Xiang Ang Ku Kueh, Tong Heng Traditional Cantonese Pastries, and Poh Guan Cake House (the source of the now hard-to-find Teochew chi-kak or “rat-shell grass” kueh (鼠壳粿), even if it is a traditional Hokkien cake maker), the kueh platter will also feature two of FCC offerings — the durian pengat and a really delicious kueh salat laksa. Much like ang ku kueh in my childhood, I am never able to resist durian and a good kueh salat, which traditionally sees a glutinous rice base topped most often with a pandan flavoured sweet custard layer. The laksa salat reminded me of a savoury salat that I once tasted, only this, as my fellow participants would attest to, was really out of this world!

The reward.

The short and sweet but thoroughly enjoyable, highly educational, and most definitely weight gaining two-hour experience runs every Saturday from 3.30 to 5.30 pm (minimum 4 to go) and is priced at $120/-. For more information, and bookings, please visit https://indiesingapore.com/tour/whiskueh/.

Chinese Cake.
Traditional Teochew kueh from top and clockwise: png/tao kueh (饭/桃粿); soon kueh (笋粿); and chi-kak kueh (鼠壳粿) – served at the Chui Huay Lim Club.

What is kueh?

The word kueh in Singapore is used to describe many types of snacks or even dishes. Kueh can be colourful, but can also be rather colourless. Kueh can be savoury, but are more often than not sinfully sweet. Locally, the word is often translated as “cake” or “pastry”. It however is hard to really translate what a kueh actually is, and describing any kueh as a cake, does not in my opinion do any kueh justice. While the word kueh may be Chinese in origin, the use of that single syllable extends also the rich array of locally adapted and created kueh, or kuih in Malay, that reflect regional tastes and flavours, and ingredients used in the region.

The origin of the word is in the Minnan languages such as Hokkien or Teochew, which was spoken by a large majority of Chinese immigrants to Singapore and the region and amongst who were some of the earliest Chinese settlers in the region. The Minnan word kueh (粿), describes types of snacks that are usually made from glutinous rice flour. Here however, sweet potato flour, and even mung bean flour — known locally as tepung hoon kueh (hoon kueh being Minnah for “kueh flour” and tepung, the Malay word for flour) is also used. Some examples of traditional Chinese kueh includes savoury steamed rice “water cakes” or chwee kueh (水粿) and chai tow kueh (菜头粿) or carrot (more accurately “radish”) cake and soon kueh (笋粿). Sweet(ish) kueh includes huat kueh (发粿) or “prosperity cake”, often used for prayer offerings, and ang ku kueh (红龟粿).

The hard to resist durian pengat, which surprisingly goes well with the stronger whiskies.





A delightful song and dance about Katong

22 02 2022

Betel Box Tours must be applauded for its most recent effort at bringing out the wonderful tales that are connect with the especially colourful district of Katong. Titled Katong Dreaming: A Musical Tour, the tour involves a walk of discovery through the district’s much storied streets with its stories told through verse, through song and through dance. Created by August Lum, Marc Nair, Mark Nicodemus Tan and Valerie Lim, and produced by Jamie Lee, two of the wonderfully talent team – Mark Tan, who takes on the role of guide, narrator and singer (he dances too) and independent movement artist Valerie Lim, expertly provide a highly entertaining and refreshing take on Katong’s streets, back lanes, personalities, cultural and religious sites. The tour is certainly well worth the two hours and the price of the ticket!

The musical tour runs until the end of March 2022 and tickets (and further information) may be obtained through: https://katongdreaming.peatix.com/.

Katong Dreaming: A Musical Tour — performed by Mark Tan and Valerie Lim.

About Katong Dreaming: A Musical Tour

Katong is always a delight to visit, with its colourful houses, sleepy streets and culinary treasures. But Katong also holds a rich history, steeped in Peranakan culture and traditions, brimming with surprising stories.

Katong Dreaming: A Musical Tour, is a performance art tour created by August Lum, Marc Nair, Mark Nicodemus Tan, and Valerie Lim. It is produced by Jamie Lee for Betel Box Tours, supported under the STB-NAC Performing Arts Tours Pilot Grant, an initiative by the Singapore Tourism Board and National Arts Council to encourage the development and test-bedding of innovative performing arts tours by tour operators.

This two-hour walking tour begins at the southern border of Katong at East Coast Road before winding through Ceylon Road, Joo Chiat Road, Koon Seng Road, and Tembeling Road. In three broad chapters, familiar experiences of food, faith and historical landmarks are woven together through cross-disciplinary art forms into a groundbreaking blend of musical theatre, site-specific performance and tour guiding.


Valerie Lim and Mark Tan

About the Artists:

Marc Nair is a poet who works at the intersection of art forms. His work revolves around the ironies of everyday life. He has published ten collections of poetry.

Valerie is an independent movement artist. The mysteries of the human body, multi-disciplinary and immersive works deeply thrill her. She believes life must be spent pursuing what makes us feel the most alive.

August is a musical storyteller, who has been making sounds for a variety of mediums, from stage to film to theme parks as well. Included in his wish-list is the desire to write music for a dramatic series, as well as background music for certain public spaces.

Mark is a musician, writer, performer, and tourist guide. All of the aforementioned stages allow him to talk about his loves for art, music, history, football, and cricket, to audiences who have no choice but to listen.


Photographs taken during the tour





Discovering the “China” in Singapore’s Chinatown

23 12 2020

Unlike many other cities around the world where “Chinatowns” exist, a “Chinatown” in Singapore — where three in four of its population are ethnic Chinese — does seem rather odd.

The roots of the Chinese quarter do of course lie in Singapore’s very first urban plan, the so-called Jackson Plan of 1822, hatched at a time when the settlement was still very much in its infancy. That plan, placed the main settlement for migrants from China in the area where Chinatown is today also had a “Chuliah campong” for settlers from the Indian sub-continent adjacent to it. To the Chinese speaker, Chinatown had long been known as Tua Poh (大坡) or “the greater town”, or Ngau Che Shui or Gu Chia Chwee (牛车水) — a reference to bullock-drawn water carts carrying supplies of fresh water to the settlement in its early days. It is perhaps in recent times that the notion of the former settlement being Chinatown has taken root, and this seems rather ironically to have coincided with the quarter losing its original Chinese-ness through resettlement and redevelopment, and its subsequent association with the modern Chinese immigrant and the tourist crowd from modern day China.

The Town Plan of 1822.

These developments do in a way, mimic the evolution of the Singaporean Chinese identity — something that the “Not China Town” tour that has been put together by The Real Singapore Tours — seeks to examine. The tour, which I had the opportunity to attend a preview of, involved a long but leisurely walk through Singapore’s Chinatown. Together with the realisation of how widely spread Singapore’s so-called Chinese quarter is, the tour provides its participants through the stories told at various touch points and through songs, is a much deeper understanding of what the “China” in Singapore’s Chinatown is really all about.

Chinatown at the Crossroads – Cross Street was in the area where the “Chuliah Campong” was.

The tour, which can be forgiven for being too long due to the depth into which its guides expertly explore the evolving Chinese identity and for the refreshment stop — is certainly a must do — if the question of what shapes the Chinese Singaporean identity does bug you. Do look out for them at The Real Singapore Tours.


Highlights of Not China Town

Guide Jamie Lee giving an overview of what Singapore’s Chinatown is all about.
Listening to the first song – before the continuation of the “dance” through Chinatown.
Why Pagoda Street?
Another of the guides, Mark Tan (who sings very well), explaining the politics in the simplification of the Chinese character “sheng” in taking the king (王) out and giving power to the ground (土). The simplification of Chinese characters was an effort initiated by the Peoples’ Republic of China in the mid 20th century.
Celebrating the recent addition of hawker culture in Singapore to UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage at the new age and very touristy hawker street on Smith Street?
A modern addition to Chinatown – around where the street of the dead was. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple may have little to do with the collective memory the Chinese Singaporean may have of Chinatown, but it is an example of Tang architecture — the dynasty with which the Chinese immigrants of the past from Southern China identify with. Many descendants of the earlier Chinese immigrants to Singapore would have been identified as T’ng Lang, T’ng Nang or Tong Yan – 唐人- or Tang Ren in Mandarin or People of the Tang, rather than as Han Chinese.
Mark Loon – on the ma-jie and their vows of spinsterhood.
Of animistic practices and the natuk kong.
On the visit of Deng Xiaoping and the sinification of the Chinese in Singapore.
Clues that point to the migration from Amoy (E-m’ng or Xiamen).
A last song – at where it all began for many early immigrants from China.