Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Chinatown

This is Chinatown and it is Singapore's own version of chinatown. Although there are Chinatowns all over the world, I will still say that our version of Chinatown is unique to Singapore's history.

Our forefathers from China arrived into the then British colony in search of better lives. They built up this area with their bare hands. The dwellings, the cuisine and lifestyle bear a strong reflection of the colonnial influence. The multi-racial characteristic of the colony has shaped our ethnic Chinese cuisine into a unique style that is nothing like what you can get from any other Chinatowns in the world. Our Indian and Malay friends' taste for chilli has found its way into our cuisine and this explains why chilli is commonly used in the Chinese dishes in Singapore. We have laksa, Hainanese chicken rice with that special chilli sauce, fried kuay teow etc are some of the dishes that you can't find in the usual Chinatowns.

This is the main reason why I find little affinity in chinatowns away from home. Their Chinese-ness can't quench the homesickness in me because they are nothing like home!

After living away from home for a few years, I started to appreciate Chinatown at Outram Park more than ever before. I used to dislike this area for its chaos, the hygiene level and the aging outlook. But now, I love Outram Park for the way it is, totally unpretentious--apart from the area which was renovated by the Singapore Tourism Board which is just a showcase to tourists to what Chinatown should look like. This "Chinatown" is a typical economic and pretentious gesture of the authority that places more importance to economic returns than one's heritage. I could even find the same souvenirs here that I saw in Manchester Chinatown! Sourvenirs that are totally irrelevant to the historical development of Chinatown.

I love the array of food stalls that lined up People's Park complex. C is happily confused by the brightly-lit signboards and photos of the food that the hawkers are selling.

It is stuffy on a hot day (there is no air-conditioning here); the eating area is not the cleanest; the hygiene standard which the hawkers prepare the food may not up to the Western's standard but I love all of this now. Although the food complex has gone through several upgrading and hygiene standards have been raised, there is still a way to go to meet the usual standards.

Fruit hawkers selling fruits away from spick and span supermarkets. One can even "savour" the smells of the fruits in the air in these hawker stalls. Longans are in the season at the point of my visit. Some fruit hawkers are selling sliced fruit on a stick. It was a hot day and I went for a stick of chilled water chestnut while C went for kiwi.

Standing on the overhead bridge across Eu Tong Seng Road, one can get a spectacular view of the skyscrapers in the CBD area. Standing in this older and more deprived area of this island-city, I faced the prosperous and glamorous part of Singapore in the south. It bears a stark contrast to Chinatown. Once, I got a bit touchy with this view at the thought on how this Chinatown has toiled and aged for the future of this fast-moving and pragmatic nation that has long forgotten its roots.