I recently bought some old Singapore postcards from Sungei Road and there was one with a very good snapshot of a real ice ball man:
Behind the undated postcard, the words "久式冰水摊" (meaning "old-style drink stall"), "VANISHING HAWKER" and some Japanese words (which I couldn't understand) were printed. The company name LIAN HONG STATIONERY (PTE) LTD was printed as well. (This company is still around today but has since shifted to a new location.) The company address printed on the postcard was "15 Seah St Singapore 0718". Thus the postcard must have been printed some time between 1979 and 1995 because that was the period when Singapore had a 4-digit postal district system.
Notice the big container in front which looks like a modern-day fish tank with no fish but with some sand at its bottom. The transparent red liquid within the container is the drink that I talked about in the earlier article. It is called air selasih in Malay and the 'sand' below looks like frog eggs but they are actually basil seeds. They have a slippery mucous coating after they have been soaked in water for some time. When you bite the seeds, they crunch delightfully.
If you look carefully, you could see the man's right hand resting on something black which I believe is a first generation ice shaver. You might even make out an ice block with a cloth on top of it lying on the ice shaver.
So this man was an "ice ball cum drink seller", no doubt about that.
Below are some of my personal observations about the postcard. (Could you come up with some of your own?) -
Recently, I saw some bottled soft drinks still being sold at a modern-day pasar malam (Malay for "night market"). I could tell that the words on some of the bottles were Thai. Hence the drinks should rightfully be called "Thai water" instead of "Holland water", a name by which most Cantonese people called them at that time. (Chun See mentioned about the name "Holland water" in this post.)
a. Some of the bottled drinks were Yeo Hiap Seng's chrysanthemum and soya bean; Magnolia's orange; Green Spot (an orange non-carbonated drink); F&N's orange and ice-cream soda; and Pepsi Cola.
b. The stall was mainly made of wood - even the cart wheels;
c. The hawker was an Indian man. Almost all ice ball men then were Indian; and
d. Behind the hawker, along the "five-foot way" was a mama stall. (This is a stall usually manned by one or two Indians selling toys, tidbits, sweets, cigarettes, batteries and other small items. The mama stall still exists in Singapore today and it certainly deserves a separate blog post on its own.)
The ice ball man from whom I bought my ice balls in the 1960s was located at the junction of Albert Street and Queen Street. (The location of the stall is indicated by the red box in the photo below. The exact location should be just behind the lorry with the green canvas in the photo, near the lamp post.
At that time, Albert Street was a bustling pasar malam at night. Every night you could find street peddlars selling all sorts of wares - toys, cassette tapes (no CDs then yet), snacks, clothes, sundry goods, etc. Most of the stalls were lighted by kerosene lamps. Many people thronged the night bazaar after dinner because they did not have a lot of night entertainment then. That was probably the main reason why we had a post war baby boom too, haha.