26 June 2006

The Ice Ball Man

The younger generation may not have any idea who an ice ball man was. (No, he was not an iceman with one ball missing. Nice try though.) The closest modern day equivalent of the ice ball is the ice kacang which is similar in form and substance, but not shape.

The ice ball was sold at 10 cents during the 1960s. I always patronised a corner stall located at the junction of Albert Street and Queen Street, only a stone's throw from where I lived. This vicinity had a permanent pasar malam (night market) during that time. The stall was operated by a lone Indian man who wore white all the time - turban, shirt and sarong. (Sorry that I didn't check out the colour of his underwear, if any.)

When you tell the man, 'Aneh (brother), ice ball satu (one)', he would shave the ice using one hand by moving a whole block of ice back and forth on top of a homemade wooden ice-shaver that looked like a stool. But don't you ever try sitting on the stool because it had a very sharp blade embedded in it:

A piece of folded towel was placed on top of the ice block for better grip and also to prevent his hand from getting too cold, I guess. His other bare hand would be cupped under the stool to catch the ice shavings. Plastic or rubber gloves were unheard of at that time. Halfway through, he would fill the centre of the ice shavings with 2 simple ingredients - sweet red beans and chin chow cubes. Then he would continue shaving (the ice, that is) to cover the ingredients. After that, he would shape the product with both bare hands into an almost perfect white ice ball. To put the finishing touches to this classic dessert, he would ladle on sugar syrup of 3 colours (red, green and brown) and then pour some Carnation milk straight out of a tiny hole punched in the top of the can, meanwhile always rotating the ice ball with the other hand to ensure that the milk 'went all around the globe'. I would invariably request him to potong (cut) the ice ball into 2 halves so that I could share the joy (and cost) of eating an ice ball with my neighbour's kid.

The best way to eat an ice ball is to eat it with your bare hands. You put the ball to your lips and suck hard. (I am sorry if you find my language a bit crude here.) When most of the syrup has been sucked out of the ball, you bite into the ice and eat the rest of the ball that way. You can finish the ball in 5-10 mins although you always try to make it lasts as long as possible. However, in Singapore's hot weather, 10 mins is about as long as it gets before the ball starts to melt.

Besides selling ice balls, the Indian man also sold cold drinks. He had a very special drink which was transparent and red in colour. It had some tiny fruit seeds that looked like frog eggs to me. (When you bite into the seeds, they crunch delightfully. I never see this fruit nowadays and I don't know what it is called. Maybe some of my readers can help me out?) By the way, I knew how to get the Indian man to give me some of this flavourful drink for free. This operation required military precision - armed with an empty enamelled mug, I waited for him to close the stall for the day, usually at around 11 pm. Just before he poured the leftover drink from his container into the nearby drain, I intervened and asked pitifully, 'Aneh, kasi sikit boleh? (Brother, can you spare me a bit?) Most times, I managed to get my free drink this way.

Photo credit: Credit goes out to the shameless author who is proud that he has the resourcefulness to take the above photos recently at Sentosa's Images of Singapore.

Amendment on 30 Jun 2006: I have since found out that the 'frog eggs' mentioned above did not come from a fruit but a plant called basil. Those were basil seeds. Please refer to this link on ice kacang and this link describing the basil seed. Here is a photo that shows the basil seeds in water:

A Father-son Bonding Session

Every father seems to be blogging about bonding with their children these days. (Recent posts about father-son bonding and spending quality time together with the family are in Chun See's Ipoh trip here and Chris' day out cycling with his sons at East Coast Park here. One conspicuous thing that is common to both Chun See's and Chris' posts is that their wives are not mentioned in them. There is talk about all other things - they wax lyrical about the scenery, the clouds, the rain, the bicycles, the fishing pond, the kois, the temple, and yes, even the car and me. But not a single word about the mums. Why are they keeping mum about mum? Is it because Mother's day is over? Or is it because 'men are from Mars and women are from Venus' as Chris so eloquently puts it here? I don't think so. The truth is that mum is always working tirelessly behind the scenes, making sure that the 101 things in the family run smoothly. And the best part is that she doesn't demand any credit (nor pay... phew) for all the hard work that she puts in. I must remember to credit her bank account at the end of this post.

Do not be mistaken. This post is not about my children's mum aka my wife. If it is, I would have titled my post differently. I just felt that I should not be left behind when everyone else seems to be talking about father-son bonding. And these days, school assignments provide fathers with lots of opportunities to bond with their children. My younger son was given one such assignment to be done during the June holidays - to make an item out of recycled material. Two weeks ago, I bought a Seiko watch from OG at Albert St. It came in a very elegant transparent persplex box. I thought, why not recycle the box and make a lantern out of it for my son's project?

So I sat down with my son today and went through the steps with him:

1. I burned holes in the box using a hot soldering iron so that I could thread the wires through the box.

2. I burned a slot in the centre plastic column of the box so that I could slot in the light bulb.

3. I soldered the wires to the light bulb.

I admit that the above steps were done solely by me, not only because it is not safe to let my 9-year old son handle a hot soldering iron, but he would not have the skills to solder the wires to the bulb. All he did was to watch me performing the above tasks with some amazement. I then cut out some triangles made from colourful cellophane paper and double-sided adhesive tape. My son pasted the triangles onto the lantern to decorate it. The result? A unique lantern which no one else has. But most important of all, it is a joint effort by both father and son. I hope that he is proud to carry it around during the upcoming Lantern Festival:

Beautiful isn't it? I mean not just the lantern but the bonding time I had with my son. And the part my wife played in this? She uttered to me this morning: "Hello, tomorrow school reopens already. And you still have not done the recycling project for your son. Remember to do it today, okay?" See, I told you that mum is responsible for ensuring that the 101 things in the family get done smoothly. And I appreciate her for that. Thanks mum.

19 June 2006

A Short Retreat

It is the June school holidays and many families are going for short holidays. While my good pal Chris was spending a day at the beach, I was doing the same at a resort hotel that is as beautiful in the day as it is in the night:

Actually, my family did consider going for a cruise on this passenger liner instead:

However, I chickened out after I found out that I had to spend about S$2,000 for our family of 4 to go on a 2-night cruise-to-nowhere that would last less than 40 hours. And at that price, they were giving us a quad-sharing inside-room (which is a room with not even a porthole so you can't tell weather whether it is day or night outside or what the whether weather is like outside). Moreover, we don't gamble so I see little point in going for the cruise.

Make no mistake - a stay at the hotel was not cheap either. A seaview room cost S$290++ which came up to S$338 nett. It was priced S$40++ more than a hillview one and a full 4 minutes was all I spent at the balcony to take some photos like this one:

Thanks to my blog, you can now decide if the view is worth it before you put your moolah down.

My wife seldom plans ahead for holidays. This break was actually decided only 2 days beforehand. (Chris, who sits next to me in the office, can vouch for me as he heard me make a phone booking for the hotel room.) Because of the late decision, cheaper options like Costa Sands (whose rates are less than 1/3 that of the hotel) were fully booked. Moreover, we had to contend with a hotel room number which everyone else had rejected:

It is also the World Cup (WC) season. Of course, the hotel's TVs were showing the live matches according to schedule:

Celebrity blogger Kenny Sia had a recent post here in which he took a dig at the WC Teamgeist soccer ball and how its logo seemed to be inspired by an item which most women aged 50 and below use once a month. (My sincere apologies to Chun See if I am found to be hosting contents which are deemed 'not so suitable' for the 'not so young at heart' in my blog yet again):

But I have to agree with Kenny that the resemblance is unkenny uncanny. Even the hotel seemed to condom condone this practice. It had a mural of a similar-looking object on its 9th floor lift lobby:

Hmm... the mural must have been erected in honour of the World Cup, in particular, the Teamgeist soccer ball.

06 June 2006

British Legacies (1)

Not everyone knows that Singapore was under British rule for more than a century. Singapore, together with Malacca and Penang, became part of the British Straits Settlements in 1826, under the control of British India. By 1832, Singapore had become the centre of government for the three areas. On 1 April 1867, the Straits Settlements became a Crown Colony under the jurisdiction of the Colonial Office in London. In Sep 1945, after Japanese occupation, the British forces returned and Singapore came under the British Military Administration. When the period of military administration ended in Mar 1946, the Straits Settlements was dissolved. On 1 Apr 1946, Singapore became a Crown Colony.

David Marshall was appointed as Singapore's first Chief Minister on 6 Apr 1955 but resigned on 6 Jun 1956, after the breakdown of constitutional talks in London on attaining full internal self-government. Singapore managed to attain self-government only in 1959. In May that year, Singapore's first general election was held and PAP came into power in an uneasy united front with the communists to fight British Colonialism.

The defence of Singapore then was still the responsibility of the British. However on 16 Jan 1968, the British PM, Mr Harold Wilson announced the intention to withdraw all of Britain's 35,000 troops stationed in Singapore by end 1971. Singapore was unprepared for this bad and shocking news as the nation was less than three years into independence from Malaysia. It was only in the very initial stages of building up its Armed Forces - the first batch of 900 National Servicemen was still under training. It also badly needed a strong defence force in order to attract investments. Even with National Service, Singapore was under severe pressure to take on the burden of defence in just under four years. But we did, as the lyrics of a national song goes. And as they say, the rest is history.

So what are some of the legacies which the British left behind? This post, the first part in a series, will surely either bring back memories for you or if you are younger (ahem, cough), you will be surprised like I was by some of the details uncovered here.

Mr Peter Tan, a recent friend I made in blogosphere, very kindly provided me with some old images for this series. He also elaborated on the very interesting history behind the images (which I will blog more about in my next post). When Peter was about 10-year old, he inherited a pile of photos and memorabilia from his British neighbour who was based in Keat Hong Camp at that time. Clearly sentimental about the legacy which the British neighbour had left him, Peter had faithfully kept these artefacts for more than 40 years, despite objection from his wife.

The first image which Peter provided me was an old map, circa early 1950s:

For a larger image of the above map, please click here.

The map covered part of the city area and showed the areas declared out-of-bounds to the British army personnel based in Singapore. Coincidentally, my childhood home (1), primary school (2) and secondary school (3) are all within the map. Bugis Street (0), a favourite haunt for British servicemen, was only a stone's throw away from my childhood home.

Here is a quiz. Out of the following 10 landmarks in the map, how many can you recall or associate with? (Warning: Answering the quiz honestly would reveal your age.)

1. Cathay Cinema - The building was opened in 1939 and was Singapore's first skyscraper. It still houses the Cathay Cineplex today.

2. Rex Cinema - Opened in 1946 and still standing today. It has gone through many transformations - was once a skating rink and recently turned into a nightclub.

3. NAAFI Club - Navy, Army and Air Force Institution Club, originally established as Britannia Club in 1951 to serve the social and recreational needs of the members of the British Armed Forces and their allied counterparts. The SAF NCO Club took over the facilities in Mar 1974. SAFE Superstore was located there for a number of years. The Club was renamed in 1994 to the SAF Warrant Officers and Specialists Club. There is ongoing construction of the Circle Line at the site. Hopefully this magnificent and historic building will be preserved:

4. Alhambra Cinema - Located on Beach Road together with nearby Marlborough Cinema, it was the first cinema to have air-conditioning. Both the Alhambra and the Marlborough cinemas mark the site where Shaw Tower stands today.

5. Stamford Cafe - Located at the junction of Bras Basah and North Bridge Roads, a popular eating place for the British Armed Forces personnel.

6. New World Amusement Park - In its heyday, it was one of three very popular amusement parks frequented by locals and foreigners alike. In contrast, only the faded arch at entrance still stands today. Behind it, a brand new condominium is taking shape.

7. Combined Police HQ and Mountbatten Club in Bras Basah Road - (No information was available on the Internet.)

8. Raffles Hotel - Established in 1887, the hotel is truly Singapore's 'Grand Old Dame'.

9. Jalan Besar Stadium - Still proudly standing today.

10. Tidal swamp bounded by Kallang Road, Lavender Street and Bendemeer Road - Will someone please tell me that I am not seeing things?

Sources and Acknowledgements:

I wish to express my sincere appreciation to Mr Peter Tan. This post would not have been possible without his kind contributions.

Details of Singapore's history were obtained from:

www.sg and