It is sheer contrarian and unusual that NHB is organizing Heritage Along Footpaths, a project that seeks to re-introduce trades of the past and in a bid to up the nostalgic factor, decreed that ice-ball will go for 20 cents, sama for kacang puteh. At such crazy-low price that is surely extinct in Singapore, the news is just too good to be true and the offer … too hard to resist! So what are we waiting for?
This unexpected treat is brought to us courtesy of NHB's Precinct Development Unit, as part of NHB's efforts to inject greater vibrancy into Bras Basah and Bugis. The objective as stated by NHB director Mr Alvin Tan:
We hope that inter-generational families will bring both their grandparents and children to this event ... so that grandparents can share their memories of what it was like in the past, and at the same time the younger generation will be able to experience some of the services, some of the food that were available in the past.
Admittedly I have not heard of the Precinct Development Unit before this. This is sad because while the heritage bluff's attention is fixated on the last train (KTM) and last cemetery (Bukit Brown) where NHB's silence is deafening, some of their folks have been doing good work in other areas. Take for example their state-of-the-art heritage trail in the Near Field Communication project.
Heritage Along Footpaths will take place over two weekends in December (3-4, 10-11) at two locations - Stamford Arts Centre and Singapore Art Museum (SAM). On Sunday, I checked out both places out of curiosity and also visited SAM for their "free admission".
Oddly enough, at neither venue were the trades conducted in alleyways or five-foot ways where they were supposed to have been found last time. At Stamford Arts Centre, a long tentage was pitched beside the mural wall facing a grass patch and Middle Road; at SAM they could be found along one of the walkways at the building corner which got me wondering whether the SJI Brothers allowed fortune tellers and barbers to ply their services along the school corridor so easily.
Tradesmen peddling their wares beside Stamford Arts Centre. If Waterloo Girls' School (later Stamford Girls' School) was still around on the empty plot of land, this would be an alleyway.
The scene at Singapore Arm Museum. I hope you are not thinking of five-foot ways when you see this.
Before this, the closest we have to the ice-ball is this ball of ice in a bowl from the dessert stall at the Singapore Food Trail. I blogged about having my first ice-ball here. At the tentage beside Stamford Arts Centre, I experienced my second ice-ball. Trying to savour it however was a different ball game. To save cost or perhaps to create a more "authentic" experience, they did away with the bowl! I wonder how many young adults have experience cupping a ball of ice with both palms, albeit with a clear plastic sheet as "protection", and tackling it to the end before it turns into a puddle. The latter was a nuisance and it proved extremely challenging for me to avoid the syrup water from dripping down my clothes and camera. Avoiding this "waterfall" remains the toughest part of eating that ice-ball. In the end I gave up and simply allowed the excess water to escape down the drain. No wonder when I was at the SAM side, I could feel the ground making a sticky sound (piak, piak) against my Crocs sandal. I hope subsequent rainy days will clear away the syrup stains.
How three young "hawkers" prepare ice-ball for the crowd at SAM. The folks must have one hell of a good time savouring their ice ball; the sticky ground is proof of that.
Perhaps it was a Sunday and the master tradesmen brought in by NHB for the event were enjoying their day of rest. From Zaobao, I learnt they had the original hawkers and barbers from yester-years to showcase their skill but alas, I did not have the privilege to meet them. Other than the fortune teller who is always an old man (I guess having a young chap to tell your fortune is just not authentic), others were lads not beyond forty. I doubt they were real tradesmen or even apprentices of the real ones; I suspected this when the ice-ball seller took such a long time to "decorate" my ice-ball with syrup water from the four or five plastic containers. I take it he was being cautious with the spread in case it spilled; real hawkers - see how they decorate your ice-kacang or chendol - do it in quick twirling motions.
The young barber at SAM. While it is only 50 cents per hair cut, I wonder how many will actually risk their hair after I tell you my companion Ine spotted a mistake made by the barber at Stamford Arts Centre. I won't unless I intend to shave my head bald like the author of this blog.
NHB's decision to hold Heritage Along Footpaths at two locations presented an interesting contrast. The sight was not what we'd expect. At Stamford Arts Centre, I was a little disappointed by the thin crowd and locals felt like the minority there. When you consider Kwan Im Temple nearby with her devotees and the other tradesmen peddling their wares (selling koyok?) at Albert-Waterloo street, this nostalgic setup should have attracted the uncles and aunties in the area to whom these trades must have been childhood memories. At SAM, the situation was reversed; family groups and queue were more evident. Perhaps these people came for the free admission to the Art Museum, just like me?
Turnout could have been better at Stamford Arts Centre. Where is the anticipated crowd? I can't believe I did not have to queue up for my ice-ball (stall in the foreground). It was a little embarrassing paying only 20 cents for my ice dessert; luckily the lad did not accept my coin - he pointed promptly to a tin on the table and I'm supposed to drop my 20 cents in it! Like a charity.
Contrast with this sight at SAM - long queue for the ice-ball!