. heritage along footpaths .

When I first heard about the ‘Heritage Along Footpaths’ project from Jerome’s blog, I knew that it was an exhibition that I couldn’t miss. It might sound really nerdy but I actually used to enjoy playing this educational computer game called “The Vanishing Trades of Singapore” as it brought me on an interactive journey to walk down the lanes of Old Singapore. A journey where trades of the yesteryear came to life – Chinese Opera, Cloak shoe maker, Letter writer, Glove Puppeteer and Matchmakers.

Together with Christine, we headed over to the designated site at SAM where we had our very first taste of the traditional ice ball dessert (yay!) and even caught a glimpse of a Caucasian having his hair trimmed by the Indian street barber! I even contemplated paying a visit to the fortune teller but decided against it as I figured that it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Fortune Tellers
Fortune telling was once a thriving business because many people, particularly those with little or no education, relied on fortune tellers for advice on matters such as marriage, business, the selection of auspicious dates etc.

For Chinese fortune tellers, the more frequently displayed items would include small statues/pictures of Buddha or other gods, lighted incense or joss sticks, pictures of palms or faces filled with lines and tiny Chinese characters, as well as tools such as books to consult from, carved bambook sticks, cards, etc. The more popular Chinese fortune telling methods would include palmistry, face reading, “Bazi” (use of one’s birth data to foretell one’s destiny) and “Kau Cim” (a set of 78 fortune sticks to predict one’s short term future). 

On the other hand, Indian fortune tellers were primarily parrot astrologers. At the start of each session, the parrot astrologer would lay a deck of 27 fortune cards on the table. Once the parrot has been “provided” with the customer’s name and birthday, it would walk out of the cage, pick a card from the stack with its beak and return to its cage. The parrot astrologer would then interpret the card and advise the customer accordingly.

– Information extracted from NHB –

This Chinese fortune teller must be very accurate in his predictions as there was a long queue of customers waiting in line for their turn, in spite of the heavy rain.

Street Barbers

Usually operating along the “five-foot-ways” of shop-houses in areas such as Chinatown, Serangoon Road and its vicinity, Tanjong Pagar, these street barbers required only a small space for their operations (typically 1-3 chairs for their customers).  The toolkit of a barber would typically include a pair of scissors, combs, brushes, razors, powder puffs, barber cloth, as well as a mirror. Some of these barbers even provided extra services such as ear cleaning and head & shoulder massage!

Due to urbanisation and higher standards of living, street barbers no longer appealed to the younger generations. With most of the elderly street barbers retiring over time, it is not surprising that street barbers are fast becoming a non-existent sight.

– Information extracted from NHB –

Kachang Puteh Sellers
The term “Kachang puteh” is a Malay phrase with “kachang” referring to nuts, beans or peas. Although “puteh” means white, kachang puteh sellers offered kachang in variety of colours and prepared in a variety of ways including steamed, fried, roasted or dipped in sugar.

Kachang puteh sellers in Singapore were primarily Indians as kachang puteh originated from a snack in India known as “chevdo”. A typical seller in the early days would be an Indian man dressed in white sarong. He would pack his kachang into paper bags or bottles which were then placed on a rack or tray balanced on his head. In the later years, the roving kachang puteh sellers began to sell the snacks using push carts or bicycles and could be found anywhere that had high human traffic.

These days, as part of the local cinemas’ efforts to revive the good old cinema days, “non-authentic” kachang puteh sellers could still be spotted selling these popular snacks near the box office.

– Information extracted from NHB – 

Ice-Ball Sellers
Once a common sight in Singapore, ice-ball sellers were primarily Indian vendors who sold drinks and ice-balls at the same time. Ice-balls, each costing about 5 to 10 cents, were immensely popular in the 1950s to the 1960s, particularly among young children and teenagers. Eaten with bare hands, ice-balls provided relief in Singapore’s sweltering heat.

There are usually 2 types of ice-balls available: ice-balls with colourful syrup toppings only or ice-balls with colourful syrup and milk toppings, plus sweet cooked red beans and jelly bits.

These days, the ice-ball has been replaced by the ice-kachang, which is essentially an ice-ball placed in a bowl.

– Information extracted from NHB – 

Growing up, my grandparents used to treat me to a refreshing bowl of ice-kachang at least once a week or  more if I behaved well. It’s no wonder that the ice-kachang has always been my favourite cold dessert until I was introduced to Mango Sago dessert! Anyway, having heard so much about the ice-ball from them, I have thus made it a point to include ice-ball tasting in my “TO DO” list.

Imagine my excitement when I found out that the NHB will be bringing back this “extinct” ice dessert for the heritage exhibition! A chance for me to finally tick “My first ice ball” off my list! Best of all, it only cost 20 cents, a fraction of the cost at the Singapore Food Trail. Turns out that I’m actually quite a messy eater as it was quite a challenge trying to prevent the condensed milk and syrup from spilling out of the plastic wrap! The verdict? I prefer my bowl of ice-kachang any day! :p

Heritage Along Footpaths: This project, initiated by National Heritage Board,  seeks to re-introduce trades that were once common in the past at two designated sites within the Bras Basah and Bugis precinct – the Singapore Art Museum and Stamford Arts Centre (along the mural wall facing Middle Road). At each of the sites, tradesmen that were once commonly found along alleyways or five-foot ways – namely street barbers, cobblers, fortune tellers, ice-ball sellers and kachang puteh sellers – will ply their wares at the prices of yesteryears. This event was held over the 1st 2 weekends of the month of December.


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