May 2, 2010

I Helped Old Ladies Find Their Way in Chinatown!

Photo credit: Google Street View

The incident happened this afternoon at Hong Lim Complex. I was about to cross over to China Square Central when a middle-age voice asked the group of youths behind me for direction. The inquiry was done in Mandarin. The youths, also Mandarin-speaking, were clueless about her destination. I was already halfway up the stairs to the overhead bridge (see cover photo) but chivalry got the better of me. Determined to save the damsels in distress (old ladies, not the youths), I rose to the occasion. What was the inquiry?

So I turned back and descended upon them - two old ladies (middle-age actually but we call them oldies?) who wanted to go to a Chinese medicine shop at Upper Cross Street. Looking calmly to the right to orientate myself, my forefinger then went into quick left-right motion to indicate the street in front cutting South Bridge Road where we were standing (see cover photo). The two ladies went on their way and I was pleased at having done a good deed.

The youths were clueless because the inquiry went like this, "请问海山街怎么走?" In Singlish, "how to go to Hai San Street?" The name struck a chord with me but probably not with the youths. The unfamiliarity is understandable; after all the name is not even in our street directory lexicon.

Upper Cross Street in Chinese
Upper Cross Street in English and Chinese. I remember the Chinese name from its frequent mention during traffic update due to traffic jams and roadwork.

Two reasons why I was able to become the knight in shining armour:

1. I pay particular attention to geographical history of the Japanese Occupation. During the Japanese aerial bombardment of Singapore, Chinatown was whacked hard due to its high population density. One bomb, I read, was dropped on Upper Cross Street. The article I read was in Chinese and you know those Chinese old-timers who write such articles, they will not use the English name or the Chinese equivalent 克罗士街上段, just like oldies prefer 四马路 to the Chinese equivalent of Waterloo Street. I think the sentence went like "A bomb was dropped on 海山街 in front of 钊记面家". I was like huh, when did Chinatown have a street that sound like Hai San? I remember Smith, Pagoda, Trengganu, Mosque, Chin Chew, Hokien etc. and the main roads New Bridge and South Bridge Road.

The name rings a bell however. In our social study and history textbooks, we read of the secret society clashes between the Hai San and Ghee Hin (or was it Ghee Hock?). These gangs were also fighting up-peninsular in Perak, as I later found out in my Malayan History lessons. Perak .. yea, the start of British intervention in Malaya. Just recently, I found out Hai San Street got its name from the presence of the secret society office along the street (anybody knows the address?)

Not a food connoisseur, I did not know where was this 钊记. In fact I did not even know how to read the Chinese character which greatly discouraged me from using google (I used pinyin input which required me to know how to read the characters first) But 钊记 was etched into my memory and one day the two characters just magically appeared … while I was walking along Upper Cross Street. :)

Chew Kee Eating House
钊记面家 - Chew Kee Eating House (err, why not Noodle House?). 钊记 is read Zhao1 Ji4. There is another Chew Kee further down the road but this is the original stall.

2. I received "visual confirmation" an hour before I met the two oldies which reinforced my belief that Hai San Street is Upper Cross Street. A break from my usual habit, I alighted at Chinatown MRT Station instead of at Raffles Place. Looking for the exit nearest to Upper Cross Street that would bring me to Hong Lim Complex, I saw the following sign. Woo, I didn't realize they still retain the old Chinese name for the street!

Chinatown MRT Station
Upper Cross Street - 海山街. It was done perhaps to guide the old folks to their destination .. and to reduce the agony of our youths in having to answer heritage questions.

If Upper Cross Street is Hai San Street, then I made a small mistake. In directing the oldies to Upper Cross Street, my forefinger went into a quick left-right motion to indicate the road in front intersecting South Bridge Road. If you check the map, Upper Cross Street ends at the junction in front of Hong Lim Complex, so the right motion is correct. The left motion points them to Cross Street which might not be part of Hai San Street. But looking at the development around Club Street, I do not think one would venture forward to try find a Chinese medicine shop in their midst.


Victor said...

That shop sells very good soya sauce chicken noodle. In fact, there are 2 shops of the same name and they are located only a few shops apart on the same street. Just ate there 2 weeks ago with my elder son. However, I like the texture of the noodles in the 1970s better.

yg said...

i have heard of han san kuay in the past but i would not know it is upper cross street. so, this old man will have been of no help to the old ladies.

Victor said...

Icemoon, besides 海山街 there is 七木街 in the vicinity. Do you know which street is this?

Icemoon said...

I'd love to try their soya sauce chicken noodle one day!

yg, the ladies asked in mandarin, you could have said you are english-speaking.

Huh, 7 woods street? Not aware of that, I hope I don't get asked before I know the answer from .. Victor.

me said...

what a coincindence...hmm...

Lam Chun See said...

Haven't been in this area for a long time except driving through. The place looks so diffrent from the old days.

Reading about the fire at People's Park Complex recently makes me want to go there and explore if I can recognize any old landmarks.

oceanskies79 said...

This is something new to me. Thank you for sharing. I would have more to learn from you regarding the geographical history of the Japanese Occupation.

And I don't even remember reading about the secret society clashes between Hai San and Ghee Hin when I was reading social study.

Marvellous induction, you have done the ladies a great favour. Looks like you were God-sent to them. ;)

rting said...

You're cool! You actually knows the history of the history of it?! To be frank, I am kind of ashamed when I read your post due to my incompetence to introduce the interesting background stories to the students I brought around Singapore to tour. =x Haha.

Icemoon said...

I remember our social study/history textbooks will mention Hai San/Ghee Hin/Ghee Hock without fail in the chapter on secret society.

History of the history of it .. hmm