A debut, of sorts

Consider the Kopitiam illustration, by Norman Teh
Illustration by Norman Teh for POSKOD.SG, all rights reserved

I've written my first piece for POSKOD.SG, "Consider the Kopitiam". No, I did not review any food or drink stalls for this story.

An excerpt:
The coffeeshops I remember well are the ones where there were always some regulars at their usual tables, slouched over a tepid cup of coffee or well-iced glass of beer, yet the place felt like anyone could walk in to buy a meal or a drink and they wouldn’t feel unwelcome. At the coffeeshop, you can sit in fan-cooled respite from the heat, and watch Singapore go by on the street or the world go by on the 50-inch widescreen TV set. You can kibbitz with complete strangers about how Singapore or the world is changing all too quickly, yet rest assured that if you shout kopi siew dai ping at the drink stall assistant, he or she (even if non-Chinese) will faithfully bring you the exact concoction of coffee, condensed milk and ice that your encoded order requests.
Read the full essay here.

Many thanks to Kennie, Jeremy, melanderings and the POSKOD.SG editorial team for their extensive comments on earlier drafts, and to my history/researcher contacts who pointed me to useful historical and sociological work on hawkers and coffeeshops. Daniel Goh, ampulets and mr brown also offered helpful background info on some of the mysterious inner workings of our delightful kopitiams.

Finally, a bonus for my blog readers: a sentence that was excised from the final version of the essay because it didn't quite fit. I'm including it here because I think it suits my blog better:
At the basic level, it’s reassuring to know that wherever I live in Singapore, there’ll almost always be a kopitiam close at hand, where eventually the stallholders will remember that I prefer my noodle dishes without chilli, my chicken rice heaped with chilli sauce, and my kopi as black as they can make it.
Comments welcome. Just don't ask me where to find the "best" kopi-O kosong in Singapore.

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At 1/10/2012 11:41 am , Blogger Chris Davies said...

Great article - and made me want a kopi-O...

At 1/10/2012 6:59 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Increasingly served by migrant workers from who just could not holler kopi o siew dai with as much gusto.

At 1/10/2012 8:16 pm , Blogger Tym said...

@Chris - Thanks!

@Anonymous - In my experience I've also met a number of migrant workers who can holler and/or make the right kopi/teh combinations without batting an eyelid. In fact the drink stall guy at my current 'local' kopitiam is a very competent guy with a PRC accent (haven't spoken to him about how long he's been in Singapore and working in kopitiams).

I think kopitiam "traditions" and food will continue to change with new immigrants and influences, which ain't necessarily a bad thing. In Chua Beng Huat's essay "That Imagined Space: Nostalgia for Kampungs" (in which he also discusses the kampung kopitiam), he cites the instance of an unnamed MP who asked MND in 1993 to ensure that coffeeshops in HDB estates were not displaced by fast-food joints: "Due to the competition from established fast-food chains, if there should be insufficient eating houses in the neighbourhood centre, it is likely that the traditional fishball noodle and roti prata will be replaced by the hamburger and friend chicken" (see Portraits of Places: History, Community and Identity in Singapore, edited by Brenda S.A. Yeoh and Lily Kong, Singapore: Times Editions, 1995, p. 223). Today we have plenty of McDonald's and KFC outlets in HDB estates. Regardless of whether one likes fast food :) I think we can safely say that "our" "traditional" kopitiam food is also still alive and well.

At 1/26/2012 4:11 am , Blogger JesuaFreak said...

Good article.. kudos to you


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