In the neighbourhood

The nice thing about working in Chinatown is that for the first time in my life, I spend most of my day in a historic part of town, surrounded by buildings are as old as, if not older than, my grandparents, just like every other person living around here. Most of the streets run preternaturally narrow and one way, flanked by shophouses spruced up by pastel paint --- but walk down the right back alley and you can still stumble upon the monochrome grime and sweat of everyday life.

Old school coffee break

I often feel that there's so little of old Singapore left, whatever there is, I'll snatch up and hold close, regardless of how much it's been "restored" and reformed. Beggars can't be chosers, you know. At least in Chinatown, the streets still live and breathe, even when it's not Chinese New Year, and the shophouses haven't been mutilated beyond recognition (with the possible exception of the Chinatown Heritage Centre). Walking around the neighbourhood at lunchtime, I don't feel that modernity is relentlessly looming over me, even though it's lurking just around the corner in the form of, ironically, tall shoeboxed buildings housing the Ministry of National Development and Urban Redevelopment Authority. Closing my eyes for a moment, on the upper floors of a shophouse where I work, I can for an instant imagine how cramped and colourful it must have been in its youth, when three or four times the number of people lived there, as do work there in airconditioned comfort today. I think about the shophouses my parents lived in as children in other parts of town, long demolished before I was born.

So I take the long way around when we're out to lunch, skirting down streets whose names I'll forget in a minute but whose clan associations and shops and food I'll use to navigate my way back. I prolong my lunch breaks, dawdling over coffee --- by which I mean the thick black teeth-staining variety, no cafelatteswithlowfatskimmilkandashotofraspberrysyrup available here. I think, I'd keep this job just to be in the neighbourhood.


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At 1/16/2006 8:09 am , Blogger cour marly said...

Yeah, Chinatown beats JTC style Stepford Business Parks hands down!

At 1/16/2006 10:08 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

enjoy every minute of it. make opportunities like these last. :-)

At 1/16/2006 5:40 pm , Blogger ragingyoghurt said...

you know, i really do like a shot of raspberry syrup in my white chocolate mocha.

At 3/13/2006 10:56 pm , Blogger Tym said...

An interesting article I came across while doing research: Chinatown as a Microcosm of Singapore.


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