Vanishing acts

24 08 2015

Standing in silence at what perhaps is a less explored end of Balestier Road is a row that was only recently emptied of all life. Life in the row at the Rumah Miskin end of the road, included several reminders of the city we seem to have long forgotten – until only a few weeks ago, or at least when I last drove past it a month or so ago, the row was home to two artisans shops, a timber merchant and the merchant’s material storage yard.

A reflection on a discarded piece of the old world.

A reflection off  a discarded piece of the old world (sitting against the fence of Chop Chuan Seng’s former material yard).

Trades such as these were once a feature of the city’s living streets, but not in the redefined urban landscape we see today. With our streets seemingly intent only with the display of the city’s new found vanity, little place has now been left for the one thriving traditional business of old, leaving many of our streets, even ones along which the structures of old still exist, with little flavour and with hardly any character. The “more of the same” that many of our spaces in Singapore, once each with a charm and character of its own and now with a tendency to be differentiated only by a fanciful name, have become.

Along the five-foot-way of the row now emptied of life.

Along the five-foot-way of the row now emptied of life.

The noodle manufacturer, Nam Hin, which occupied two shop lots at Nos. 3 and 5.

The noodle manufacturer, Nam Hin, which occupied two shop lots at Nos. 3 and 5.

The now closed gates of the shop the noodle manufacturer once occupied.

The now closed gates of the shop the noodle manufacturer once occupied.

The Rattan Furniture maker's shop.

The Rattan Furniture maker’s shop.

Along the back lane behind the rattan furniture makers' shop.

Along the back lane behind the rattan furniture makers’ shop.

The timber merchant, Chop Chuan Seng, which occupied a four storey art-deco style building.

The timber merchant, Chop Chuan Seng, which occupied a four storey art-deco style building.

And the now empty timber merchants' yard next to it.

And the now empty timber merchants’ yard next to it.

A view of the storage shed inside the yard.

A view of the storage shed inside the yard.

 





Trading stories with six tradesmen

15 03 2013

An often overlooked chapter in the Singapore story is the one that is written by our pioneering tradesmen. Many had little choice to turn to their trades as a means of income, but in doing so, they were able to contribute to society by serving the many important needs of the growing population in the early days of the development of Singapore. While many of these trades have fallen victim to the rapid pace of change, as well as perhaps to the globalisation, and have been forgotten about; there are some which have managed to stay relevant or have evolved to meet the changing needs of today’s society. An exhibition which opens to the public today at the National Museum of Singapore, Trading Stories: Conversations with Six Tradesmen, looks at some of the tales of these tradesmen, through personal accounts from six pioneering tradesmen, some who have retired from their trades, and some whose trades are still very much alive today.

Exhibition panels featuring former Samsui woman, Mdm Ng Moey Chye, 81, who was actually the daughter of another Samsui woman.

Exhibition panels featuring former Samsui woman, Mdm Ng Moey Chye, 81, who was actually the daughter of another Samsui woman.

Letter writer Mr Thangaraju s/o Singaram, who is 85 years old and was from Tamil Nadu, India.

Letter writer Mr Thangaraju s/o Singaram, who is 85 years old and was from Tamil Nadu, India.

Exhibition panels featuring tukang urut, Mdm Runtik Binti Murtono, a 53 year old immigrant from Surabaya.

Exhibition panels featuring tukang urut, Mdm Runtik Binti Murtono, a 53 year old immigrant from Surabaya.

The exhibition which will be on until 23 June 2013, features the stories of a traditional goldsmith, a movie poster painter, a tukang urut (or Malay confinement lady), a Samsui woman, a poultry farmer and a letter writer, recounting the colourful journeys taken and the experiences of these tradesmen.  In doing so, we do not only hear tales of sacrifice and struggle in the early days of Singapore, we also gain many insights into the trades themselves and perhaps in them, many other stories that would otherwise not have been told, such as that of the Achari craftsmen caste and the wows to remain single that many Samsui women took.

Mr Ho Seng Choon, of Lian Wah Hang Quail and Poultry Farm, one of the six tradesmen featured, speaking to Mr Sam Tan, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth at the opening of the exhibition.

Mr Ho Seng Choon, of Lian Wah Hang Quail and Poultry Farm, one of the six tradesmen featured, speaking to Mr Sam Tan, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth at the opening of the exhibition.

Panels featuring Mr Murugaian s/o Ratnaswami Asari, 72 a goldsmith who came as a carpenter from Tamil Nadu, India in 1957.

Panels featuring Mr Murugaian s/o Ratnaswami Asari, 72 a goldsmith who came as a carpenter from Tamil Nadu, India in 1957.

Former movie poster painter Mr Ang Hao Sai. Behind him is a hand-painted movie poster made for his 2008 film, My Magic.

Former movie poster painter Mr Ang Hao Sai. Behind him is a mock up of a traditional cinema on wheels (peep-show) and a hand-painted movie poster loaned by filmmaker Eric Khoo that was made for his 2008 film, My Magic.

Besides the six tradesmen, the exhibition also includes a community segment which features over 20 exhibits contributed by the community. These include private artefacts and keepsakes, locally produced documentaries and a community photography exhibit. One which caught my attention is khat calligrapher, Mr Faizal Somadi’s beautifully executed works of Jawi calligraphy. Jawi is a less often used traditional Malay script which in more recent times has been replaced by the romanised script. Visitors to the exhibition will also be encouraged to leave some of their personal memories of old trades behind by posting notes on a wall.

A reflection of a fan with Chinese calligraphy with a showcase of showing the tools of the trade.

A reflection of a fan with Chinese calligraphy with a showcase of showing the tools of the trade.

Mr Faizal Somadi, a khat calligrapher whose works are on display, speaking to Mr Sam Tan.

Mr Faizal Somadi, a khat calligrapher whose works are on display, speaking to Mr Sam Tan.

Visitors can leave some of their own memories of old trades behind.

Visitors can leave some of their own memories of old trades behind.

Also to look out for as part of the exhibition, is a series of street theatre performances and demonstrations of the old trades. This will take place at the museum on weekends in May and June. The museum has introduced programmes for primary and secondary school students. Trading Stories runs from 15 March to 23 June 2013 at the museum’s Stamford Gallery and opens from 10 am to 6 pm daily. Admission is free. More information can be found at www.nhb.gov.sg/tradingstories.

Photographs and memories of spaces where some of the trades once thrived - my personal contribution to the exhibition.

Photographs of spaces where some of the trades once thrived – my personal contribution to the exhibition.








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