Tuesday, August 31, 2010

blog day - 31 august

here are my 5 recommendations:

1 a moonlight rendevous
a former malaysian who now lives in canada. he is older than i but still very young at heart. i like his sense of humour. lots of pictures of beautiful things, especially women. especially entertaining is his posting on 'pranks'.

2 the tide chaser
blogs about nature. he seems to see a lot more flora and fauna, especially fauna, each time he goes to a place. very nice pictures. educational. learnt a lot from reading his blog.

3 seen this scene that
blogs about nature parks and intersting places in singapore. covers events and happenings in singapore. very well-taken photgraphs and a very informative blog.

4 a singaporean uncle in australia
lives in sydney but still has singapore in his heart. writes about food, with recipes, that he prepares at home. (met up with him on his last 'balek kampong' visit.)

5 second shot
a young man who seems to know more about the past and our heritage than many senior citizens. painstakingly researches about places in singapore, especially heritage sites. an expert at second shot. go to his blog to find out what second shot is.

this was on page 8 of the straits times, 28 june 1985

i remember my mother subscribing to a tontine initiated by a distant relative who lived in the same kampong. the tontine head was referred to as the 'huay tow'. from what i have learnt, most of the tontine heads in my kampong were women. they would gather a few friends, relatives and neighbours to join the scheme. the number subscribing to a tontine was not fixed; it could range from fewer than 10 to more than 30. it was not impossible for some tontines to have more than a hundred members, considering that quite a number of the tontine heads absconded with a few hundred thousand dollars.

tontine was basically intended as a mutual aid programme. it was a way of securing a substantial sum of money at short notice to meet a contingency or to settle a debt. not all who joined a tontine, however, were desperate for money. some might have more than one share in the same tontine.

the contribution varied from one tontine to another. in the early years, monthly subscription could be as little as $10. that particular tontine my mother joined was $50 per share. bidding was held on a fixed day, usually, once a month. it was not compulsory to turn up for the bidding. the pool of money went to the highest bidder. sometimes when there was no bidder at all, the 'huay tow' would call on qualifying members to ask if he or she would like to put in the minimum bid.

if you had bidden and collected from the pool, then your share would be considered 'sie huay' (dead tontine). subsequently, you would have to pay the full amount of $50 each month until every member had received her share from the pool. in some cases, the 'huay tow' got a cut, like a service charge, from the pool money. if you had not collected from the pool, then your share was considered alive ('wuat huay').

my wife explained to me how it worked. let us say the monthly contribution was $50 and there were 10 members, including the 'huay tow' in the group. for example, member 'ah soh' highest bid was $5. she would get a total of $405. since her bid was $5, the other 9 members needed to pay her only $45 ($50 - $5) each. this gave a total of $405. where a service charge was due to the tontine head, 'ah soh' would end up getting only $380.

usually, the member who took the last pool profited the most. so, those who were not in urgent need for money would not bid high at all. they would just put in a nominal bid each month or not placed any bid at all.

as tontine was quite loosely organised, there could be variation as to how the pool of money was distributed. in some cases, the 'huay tow' was entitled to the first loan. the head could dispense with the service charge, especially if all the members were close friends or relatives.

we often read about the disappearance of tontine heads in the daily newspapers. there was one case where the organiser of a tontine absconded with more than a million dollars. in fact, after organising a few tontines, the 'huay tow' of my mother's tontine group went into hiding in muar, johor, for a few years.
tontine was illegal and it still is.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

home-made pinball machine

looking back at the things that we constructed in the past, i cannot help but marvelled at the enterprising and inventive spirit of the children of those days. if you go to blogger chun see's goodmorningyesterday, you can read about the toy gun that his friend chuck made during his kampong days. i too made and played with such a toy, using the same kind of ammunition - the green unripe fruit of the jamaican cherry tree. the tembusu tree provided the best material for making lastik (catapult) which we used to shoot birds and sometimes, dogs.

besides lastik and toy gun, i remember we also had a modified pinball machine. it was made using rubber bands and iron nails and played with colour marbles on a wooden board. to incline the board, we raised the top by placing a piece of wood, brick or a box under it. where would we have seen a real pinball machine? i guess it must have been at the new world amusement park at kitchener road.

there were two versions of the home-made pinball machine. one had a 'shooter' to propel the marble upwards so that it would eventually drop, hopefully, into one of the winning slots. like the actual pinball macine, we also had some devices that would bounce the marble around. this 'bouncing stick' was constructed using a nail with a rubber band wrapped all around it. there were also some constructed using two nails placed about three centimetres (about 1 inch) apart with two or three rubber bands stringed between the two nails.

another version did not have the 'shooter'. you simply dropped the marble from one of the openings at the top. with the board inclined, the marble would eventually travel to the bottom or end up at one of the winning slots.

so, what was the prize for winning at the game. according to one friend who used to play the home-made machine, it was a small bag of colour glass marbles.

of course, our backyard pinball machine did not come with flashing lights and sounds of bell ringing but it did provide us moments flushed with excitement and joy.

in the earlier years, pinball machines found at arcades were the mechanical type. the electronic ones appeared in the late 70s. malaysia banned pinball machines in arcades, amusement parks and private clubs in 1983. i am not aware of a similar ban in singapore.

the good, the bad and the ugly at the ukele

Friday, August 27, 2010

gimson school or boys' town?

gimson school, clementi road

boys' town, upper bukit timah road

i posed this question: have you heard of gimson school? to a number of senior citizen friends and i was surprised by the responses. all except one had not heard of this school before. did the authorities keep its existence a secret? it could not be because there were reports concerning the school in the local newspapers.

when i was teaching in a secondary school, i came across a few incidents in which the parent, usually it was the father, threatening (the boy, his son) to take the boy out of the school and put him in boys' town. all these years i have been under the impression that boys' town was the place to dump delinquents. nevertheless, in later years, i was also aware that a few of the more problematic students had spent time in a boys' home.

after reading about gimson school, i now have a clearer picture of the difference between boys' town and the boys' home. gimson school started as bukit timah boys' home. the name was changed because people kept mixing it up with boys' town school along upper bukit timah road.

gimson school was started in 1947 and it was located at clementi road. it was a reform school - a school for problem boys. it was built to accommodate 140 boys but it took in many more. the boys were taught basketry, carpentry, tailoring, baking and farming. they had about 2 hours' of schooling each day.

boys who entered gimson school went by way of the courts. they were not ordinary delinquents; they were in fact juvenile criminals. those under the age of 19 who broke the law were usually kept there for between 3 and 5 years. it was not big news to read about inmates running away from the school, which seemed like a common occurence. fights, sometimes involvings weapons, were also often reported in the local newspapers.

on the other hand, boys' town took in problem boys from exasperated parents who did not seem to be able to control their children. these children had problems either at home or in school. they were not as bad as to have broken the law although some of them would have but were not caught.

today, those under 16 years of age who have a brush with the law are sent to singapore boys' home located at jurong west. the girls' home, which still retains the name 'toa payoh girls' home' is at defu avenue. boys' town became assumption english school when it merged with chij bukit timah in 1973.

photos from national archives of s'pore

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

endangered dish - loh kai yik

this cantonese dish is called loh kai yik. it used to be quite a common and popular dish in the 60s but today, it has become almost 'extinct' in singapore. i came to know about it when i heard the name mentioned while we were eating teochew kway chap at havelock road food centre. someone in the makan group recalled that there was a cantonese equivalent of the kway chap. when he started to describe it, i realised that i had seen it being sold in my kampong in the 60s.

as usual, i did a search on the internet and found out that there is one stall at people's park food centre selling the dish. perhaps, this is the only stall in singapore selling loh kai yik. such a rare find cannot go unreported. the name of the stall is loh mei - which is another name for loh kai yik - specialist. like most local food, you can choose to eat at the food centre or you can buy 'takeaway'. i can see the similiarity between the cantonese dish and the teochew kway chap. both use a large shallow basin to contain the assortment of foodstuff and to keep it warm. the differences: loh kai yik does not come with 'kway'; kway chap does not have kangkong, chicken wing and cuttlefish.

in the 60s, most of the people who sold this food were itinerant food sellers. the general characteristics of such a person were: cantonese, elderly (could be either male or female) and working alone.

one person described a pot-bellied man who would go around on a bicycle with a big pot filled with tau pok, cuttlefish, pig skin, pig intestines, liver, belly pork and kangkong.

another talked about an old woman who carried a pot of the stuff moving from house to house. she announced her presence with shouts of 'loh kai yik, loh kai yik'.

according to a third person, there was a shop in joo chiat which sold this dish.

over at prince charles crescent, there was an old cantonese woman, who wore a sombrelo, selling this food. the customers would provide their own bowl and they could choose the items that they wanted, just like when you buy kway chap or yong tau foo.

the gradual disappearance of this dish could be attributed to two factors: (i) it was time-consuming to prepare; and (ii) people, now being health conscious, would avoid eating this dish.

if these are the reasons, then many other dishes, which are currently available, will have also gone the way of the dodo.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

gambling to get food for free?

photo from national archives of singapore

in the 60s, we could gamble for our food. the ice-cream vendor offered us a chance to get a free ice-cream if we could draw out the coloured sticks in a certain order. there were two winning combinations for a complimentary ice-cream. he had ten coloured sticks - 5 red and 5 blue - in a narrow cylindrical container. we could either draw out the sticks in pairs or singly. when we got the combinations right, we won for ourselves a free ice-cream - a pontong or a scoop in a cone.

this was how you could win : let's suppose the first pair you drew out was a red and a blue. then subsequently, you had to repeat the pattern - a red and a blue or a blue and a red - till the end to win a free ice-cream. if you started with a mixed pair (red, blue) and the next pair was of the same colour, then you were out. if the first pair you drew out was of the same colour, then the subsequent ones had to be pair of the same colour, either both blue or both red. when you were out of the game, you paid the vendor 10 cents for your ice-cream.

the ice-cream seller would come around on his bicycle with the box of ice-cream strapped to the back of his bicycle in the afternoon. when children played this kind of game, we called it tikam tikam. another food vendor who offered the adults the chance of getting a free meal came a-calling in the morning. he sold braised duck. when adults played it, we considered it gambling.

so, the ice-cream was not the only food that was offered as (a) free food. the man who hawked braised duck also provided something along the same line. but, for your free braised duck, you had to play a game called 'see-gor-luck' with him. i had never quite understood the game of 'see-gor-luck' until i started finding out more about it to write this blog posting.

the game of 'see-gor-luck' involves three dice which you throw into a bowl. if you see the '4, 5 and 6', you win automatically. however, if you throw '1, 2 and 3', then you lose automatically. there are certain combinations that do not count. those that count are the first two mentioned and the triple. if you have a pair, then the odd one out is known as the 'point'. the higher the 'point', the better. for example, if you throw '6, 6, 2' and the other player throws '3, 3, 5', the other player wins because of his higher 'point' (5).

if you throw a combination that does not count, like '1, 2, 4', then you get to roll again until you get a valid combination.

it would seem that the blacks in the united states of america know how to play this game which they call 'cee-lo'. they learnt it from the chinese who migrated to america. here is a rap of the same name ('4, 5, 6') by the group kool g.

i do not know the amount that the adults placed for a wager to get a portion of the braised duck.

fried rice paradise - a 2-part performance?

i went to watch dick lee's fried rice paradise at the esplanade last night. we paid $53 each for the circus seat. i was told that at that price, it was a heavily-subsidised; the actual cost of the ticket would be more than a hundred dollars. anyway, i was not disappointed with the performance.

at about 10.20 p.m., a leading member of the cast came on stage and announced that we would have to go back another day to watch the remaining part of the show. to end the show for that night (last night), the whole cast came on stage to sing the finale song 'fried rice paradise'.

before the show, i went for dinner at glutton's bay. no, i did not have fried rice. i had fried noodle, indian style. the mee goreng, which would have cost $3.00 at adam road food centre where i usually have it, cost $5.00 at glutton's bay.

Friday, August 20, 2010

where can you find this s'pore emblem?

blogger secondshot - whom i have yet to meet - showed more than one singapore emblem in a recent blog posting. he had chanced upon one of the emblems while out gathering materials (pictures) for his posting on the war memorial park. i think i have seen the same emblem when i was a school boy.

another emblem which i am familar with is the one at the gate leading to the former mt emily swimming pool. if i am not wrong, it is still there. this also appears on the same posting.

you can imagine my excitement - yes, senior citizens also can get excited - when i saw the singapore emblem (top two pictures) when i was exploring an old part of singapore. i have walked past this gate several times in the past but i had not noticed the emblem until that day.

senior citizens do not need to fly here and there to keep themselves going; they only need to get up and keep moving around, instead of facing the wall. there are so many places in singapore which you can visit and re-visit to learn about our heritage and uncover 'new' things.

here are the quiz questions (based on the top 2 pictures):

1 where do these gates lead to?

2 what was the original use of the main building (not visible in the picture)?

3 who subsequently occupied the building?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

what we used to wipe our backside

today's toilet paper comes in a roll and it can be made from different types of paper; they come in different colour, different texture and some are even perfumed or medicated. some 'luxury' toilet papers are quilted or riffled. i have also come across toilet rolls decorated with dolphins or cartoon characters. during our kampong days, toilet paper was a luxury item.

what then did we use to clean our backside in the past.

in those night-soil carriers days, we had not started using toilet paper that came in a roll. we cut old newspapers into square or rectangle pieces and use them to do the job. they were held together by a length of wire that was pierced through one corner of the stack. when we had to do a quick job, we did not even bother to get the ready-cut ones, we just grabbed some old papers and headed for the latrine. sometimes we collected the soft tissue-like papers that were used for wrapping fruit and used them for the same purpose. one advantage of using old newspaper was that you had something to read while engaged in your business.

when we were out in the belukars catching spiders and we had an 'emergency', we would use the most convenient thing found around us - the leaves of plants - to do the cleaning job. leaves might not do a thorough job but it was better than using earth or sand.

we had a few indian neighbours in the kampong. i noticed that whenever they visited the 'jamban', they would carry a mug or jug of water. i was to learn later that most indians in those days did not use any paper, much less toilet paper, to clean up after the business. instead they used water to wash their backside. actually, water does a more thorough job than wiping with paper. a combination of both is considered the best way of cleaning up the mess.

now that i live in a flat with modern sanitation, what do i use? at home i prefer to use water. when i am outside and i need to use the public toilet, i usually have no choice but to use toilet paper.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

another scare in the 60s

apart from the oily man scare, there was another scare in the 60s and 70s that inadvertently kept children at home, especially after dark. this was the rumour circulating around the island that young children had been kidnapped and killed and their heads used for supporting the foundation of some bridge that was being built.

this could have been attributed to the old indian and chinese beliefs that the river-god needed appeasing when man attempted to interrupt its flow by building a bridge across it. to the indians and the chinese, securing the favour of the god could be obtained by making some human sacrifices.

not only were children scared stiff by this story of human heads being needed to ensure the successful completion of a bridge, parents of young children were equally scared. many of them accompanied their young ones to schools and some even stayed to wait until dismissal time so that they could see to their children home safely.

according to my friend, there was yet another belief, this time involving the successful completion of buildings, especially tall buildings. it seemed that during the construction they had to bury 7 types of metal in the ground. burying inanimate objects was nothing frightening as compared to taking away the lives of small children.

incidentally, talking about bridges, there are 4 colour bridges in singapore - white bridge (pek kio), red bridge (ang kio thau, keng lee road), black bridge (orr kio, balestier road) and green bridge (chey kio, ord bridge). i think white bridge was the one along kampong java road, leading to dorset road. there is also orr kio thau (havelock road/ganges road).

Friday, August 13, 2010

oily man scare 50s to 70s

with oil spills everywhere - in the gulf, china and india, we may see the re-appearance of the orang minyak - the oily man.

in the days where street lamps were few and far in between and where, in most out of town places, electricity was supplied by generators which shut down just before midnight, these conditions and environment were suitable for the oily man to operate. under the cover of darkness and smearing himself with black oil, he rendered himself almost invisible. the oil on his body also made it difficult for anyone to get a good hold on him. i believe the oily man was a normal human out to take advantage of the irrational fear of people at that time.

i am quite surprised that my blogger friend victor koo has not blogged about this.....the oily man. the area where he once lived was where the oily man made his second appearance in the 50s. the scare in the 5os first started in the area near great world city and it soon spread to middle road, victoria street and queen street area. maybe he was too young then to be frightened by the phantom prowler.

for five nights, large crowds gathered outside st anthony's convent trying to catch a glimpse of the elusive oily man. he had been seen on the roof of the building. the crowd was so big that it caused traffic jams and the police had to be called in to try to disperse the mob. however, it did not capture the interest of everyone. a friend who lived near middle road read about it in the papers; he could not be bothered to join the excited crowd. even when the police declared the 'oily man' a hoax, people continued to gather in the evening.

very soon, the sightings of the oily man were reported all over singapore, from chinatown to changi. at telok kurau, angry villagers chased a dark man clad only in blue swimming trunks. another time one man was found naked crouching beside a hedge. he carried his clothes in a bundle. there were a few reported cases where girls were attacked by a man smeared with black oil and wearing only a pair of swimming trunks.

another oily man - it could be the same man - molested a malay woman at kampong alexandra. the woman screamed and the oily man while trying to make his escape was hit on the head with a parang wielded by one of the villagers. however, he still managed to escape capture.

at zion road, the oily man was seen dancing naked on the rooftop. when he was chased, he threw stones at his pursuers.

over at clementi estate, the oily man was declared by some to have supernatural powers. according to one claim he could remain invisible, especially to men, or transform himself into a dog. 1000 police and soldiers were deployed to capture the oily man. it was so serious that they were given orders to shoot on sight.

he was seen more than once at royal air force (raf) changi. the terrified housewives of the base airmen barred their doors and bolted their windows to keep the oily man out.

actually the 50s was not the first time singapore heard of the oily man. there were also reports of the oily man earlier, in the 30s. there were also two malay films based on the oily man. the first was 'orang minyak' (oily man) and the second 'serangan orang minyak' (the oily man strikes again.) sporadic sightings of the oily character were reported in the 60s and even in the early 70s.

over in malaya, there were a number of cases in which young girls and housewives were either molested or even raped by the oily man.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

indoor playground for small children

if you do not have young children or if your children are grown up, you may not be aware that such places exist. i first came to know of such facilities when i was in melbourne recently.

you would not step into such a place unless you have small kids to take care of. i was not aware that such a service was available in singapore until i was asked to accompany a grand nephew to fidgets at turf city. when my two girls were younger, we took them to ikea at sixth avenue, actus at sunset way and the macdonald's at serene house. (incidentally, actus at one time occupied the premises vacated by ikea at sixth avenue.) all these places had playroom with multi-coloured balls for toddlers to romp for free. nowadays, these indoor playgrounds are enjoying good business.

at fidgets, adults who accompany the children go in for free but the kids are charged $8 per entry for those who are below two years old and $15 for those between 2 and 10 years old. one accompany adult has to be there with the kid. the area set aside for 'little fidgets' has two small plastic cars and a small ball room.

for the bigger children, there is a bigger playing area in the form of an adventureland. still, sometimes adults have to climb in to rescue their little ones. the under 2s should be kept away from this area because the bigger ones tend to be rowdier. the area is carpetted and socks have to be worn at all times.

there is a cafe which serves drinks and snacks. however, the prices, to me, seem higher than those at starbucks - which i don't patronise anyway. you do not pay cash but instead use the same card issued to you upon entrance. the parents, especially the mothers, seem to find some respite while their little ones are playfully occupied.

if you go to this website, you can find a list of the indoor playgrounds distributed all over the island.

Monday, August 9, 2010

'kampong of forgotten souls'

a kampong house in the 50s (from national archives, s'pore)

i just found out that the kampong (kampong chia heng) where i spent nearly 30 years of my life was labelled 'the kampong of forgotten souls' in the 50s. i also found out that the rows of attap houses that we stayed in were constructed without a permit. although it was located 6.4km from the city, there was no proper road, no proper sanitation and no electricity.

a complaint was lodged when three blocks of unauthorised wooden and attap buildings were under construction. the authorities were not able to find out who the 'developer' of the buildings was. by the time, the people who claimed to be owners - 7 women and 5 men - were charged in court, there were already nine blocks and some were already occupied. anyway, there was no court order to demolish the illegal structures. the 12 owners - all chinese - were fined $30 each. it was reported that the 'kongsi' raked in a profit of some $400 000.

in the early days, there was no electricity although there was piped water. there were two public stand pipes serving a population of 1000. when electricity first came to the village, it was in the form of a noisy private generator which was operated for four hours between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m.

in a 1953 government report, 9 congested areas in singapore were listed as potential fire risks and kampong chia heng was one of them. the following year, the villagers were praised by the fire department for helping to prevent a lallang fire from spreading to the houses. actually, i remember there were a few instances when we all pitched in to help put out fire, not just lallang fires but also fires that started in some of the houses.

kampong chia heng also made the news in 1963 when a 62-year old village man was infected by cholera. all the people in the village - babies, children and adults - had to be innoculated against the disease. the man was hospitalised at middleton hospital (orr sai).

in the political scene, i can remember three members of parliament. the first was a hainanese barber, a mr lim, who later defected to the barisan socialis. subsequently, we had mrs devan nair and she was succeeded by mr lawrence sia, a former president of the teachers' union.

i have blogged about my kampong in this earlier post.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

changing scene - kranji
(kranji railway crossing)

there used to be a kampong kranji near to the railway crossing. in fact, just beside the track, there was a short road called jalan surau. (a surau is a prayer room/ a small mosque.) in the patch of secondary forest between the former army camp and kranji loop, there is a small malay (muslim) cemetery. i had not noticed this in the past when i drove past this point. today, when we decided to walk to the hut next to the crossing, i saw the tomb stones.

this stretch of kranji road is usually lined with vehicles, mainly, heavy ones, in the mornings and evenings. the waiting traffic towards woodlands road can sometimes stretch more than a kilometre. the cause of this congestion is the bottleneck at the crossing which permits one directional flow when the light is in its favour. prior to 1990, before the traffic light controls were in place, it must have been more chaotic. i cannot imagine how it was like when there were no barriers. i suppose users had to be very alert to the sound of the whistle and the train.

in singapore, all the gates at the five railway crossings are manually operated. the four crossings are at kranji, sungei kadut avenue, stagmont, chua choa kang and bukit gombak.

when the barrier across the road is in place, traffic comes to a standstill in both directions. this will take only a few minutes, the time needed for the train to clear this crossing. the barrier is manned by an employee of (malayan railway) ktm. he stays in the ramshackle of a hut most of the time. a few years back, there were some concrete structures but these have all been demolished. even the rambutan and mango trees seem to have disappeared.

come july next year, this scene will eventually change. with the track no more in use, this section of the road can then be widened to facilitate the normal flow of traffic. however, i hope they do not make it too wide or too straight as many drivers, especially of trucks, here have a tendency to speed.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

hokkien names for roads and places

sio poh hai kee and thih pa sat

my parents' generation knew these roads and places by their hokkien names. when i went to keng lee road, i would tell them that i had gone to 'ang keo thau'. my uncles and aunts were at one time living at 'si kar teng', until their houses were razed in the big fire. i also remember my mother referring to a place called 'sua tee'. i am not sure where that is; it could be somewhere in tampines where there were many sand quarries.

below is a list of those roads and places i can remember.

albert street - kum pong bangkulu (kampong bencoolen)

alexandra road - lau chi kha

arab street - jiauwa koi

balestier road (near towner road) - goh chor tua pek kong

balestier road end - mang ka kha

battery road - tho kho orr

beach road - sio po hai kee; ji chap keng

boat quay - tiam peng lor thau

bras basah road - lau kho khen khau

bukit ho swee area - si kar teng

bukit timah road - beh chia lor boi

chinatown - goo chia chwee

china street - kiau keng cheng

clifford pier - ang teng beh tau

clyde terrace market - thih pa sat

fort canning - ong ke swa kha

ganges avenue/havelock road - orh kio thau

henderson road - poh lay long

hokkien street - beh chia koi

johore - sin swa

kallang gaswork - hway siah

kandang kerbau road - tek kha

keng lee road - ang kio thau

merchant road - cha choon thau

middle road - sio po ang moh pah thi (european foundry)

middleton hospital - orr sai (black lion)

nicoll highway - tok lip kio (independence bridge)

north bridge road - jee beh lor

petain road - keng jeo kha

queen street - sar beh lor

serangoon garden - ang sar lee

singapore general hospital - si peh por (sepoy)

south bridge road - tua po tua beh lor

sungei road - kek sng kio

telok ayer - kiau keng khau

waterloo street - si beh lor

do you have any more to add to the list?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

huat kway (prosperity cake)

i bought this huat kway (prosperity cake) for $1.40. in those kampong days, most chinese hokkiens made their own huat kway at home. these days, they are manufactured in flatted factories, like those at woodlands link block 15 and gourmet east kitchen at bedok north st 5. sales of these cakes is very good, especially on the 1st and 15th days of the lunar calendar and during the chinese festivals.

i used to watch my mother make bigger ones to be offered to the gods - the more important the god, the bigger the kway. she would use the round, bamboo tray, lined with grease paper (or bread paper) to steam the huat kway. she would hand-beat the flour mixed with dissolved brown sugar - which she called 'black sugar'.

the huat kway would be only considered a success when the top cracked open. so, when she was in the process of making and steaming the cake, we could not mention anything related to the splitting of the cake, otherwise we would be blamed if it turned out rounded. she would use a burning joss-stick to estimate the steaming time. however, she would still stick a chopstick into the cake to check if it was properly cooked. if the dough still stuck to the chopstick, then she would prolong the steaming time by a few minutes.

today, i experimented with making my own huat kway. the ingredients were few and simple. i used self-raising flour, brown sugar and water. instead of using firewood to heat the kwali filled with water and topped with a cover, i used the three-tier electric steamer. as i did not have any bamboo trays, i used whatever holders i could find. i lined the side with grease paper.