匆匆岁月牛车水 Chinatown: The Currents of Time
馬真路 Merchant Road
余東旋街 Eu Tong Sen Street
Picture (1): Merchant Road
Whenever I pass by, I am always suffused with an immense sorrow – this place was once the territory of the belle of Chinatown and myself. My aunt was from Guangfu, and lived on this street with her adopted daughter, as the landlady of a boarding house. Since we were related, my father would occasionally bring me for visits, helping her write to her family about day-to-day matters. Narrow and grimy, Merchant Road wasn’t actually very long. It had a morning market, and after five o’clock in the evening, there was a night market selling everything under the sun, jam-packed with bustling crowds.
I still remember that Berlin Salon which I frequented, used to be around this junction. Thirty cents was enough for a haircut there, but if there were a lot of customers, I would be banished to wait my turn at the five-foot way, since the shop was so tiny that it only had space for the two barbers to move around. Who knew that seventy-odd years later, I would return to this place to relive past dreams, and search for the innocence of my childhood.
Picture (2): Eu Tong Sen Street
别害我，Mr Coldstore知道了还得了。往日街道的景色已不在。变了, 其实我们也变了。
In the 1950s and 1960s, Eu Tong Sen Street was a prosperous and busy road, and essentially served as Chinatown’s key landmark. Here you had People’s Park Complex, The Majestic, and the Great Southern Hotel. Each side of the street was crammed with stalls selling all sorts of snacks, and in the People’s Market there were zhi char stalls, drinks stalls, household goods, women’s clothes, etc. For me, the most unforgettable was the stall selling braised snacks at the entrance of People’s Market, where for a dollar or less, you could eat your fill.
On New Bridge Road, there were the secondhand goods stalls. The secondhand bookseller would sometimes recommend you books like The Long March
and Quotations from Chairman Mao.
But better not get me into trouble with Mr. Coldstore.
These scenes from bygone days are no longer there. Things have changed, but so have we. . . .
Picture (3): My Romance with Nan Tian
我们在牛车水余东旋街邂逅，那时的我还是一个孩童, 而你是一位天真活泼的少女, 是我们学生的偶像。动荡时代我们又见面，那时的你是一位美丽成熟
When we first ran into each other on Eu Tong Sen Street, I was only a child, but you were an simple, vivacious teenage girl, the idol of my schoolmates and I. We next met in more tumultuous times; by then, you were a beautiful young wife in your prime, and everyone’s dream woman. In later years, we met yet again; you were as graceful and lovely as ever. You told me quietly, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve married someone else. My name is Yue Hwa now.’ My heart ached. Helpless, I could only think: ‘Congratulations, Madam National Disaster.’
Pictures (5-7): The Other Side of Chinatown
As society evolved and developed, the Chinatown of the post-1980s era changed tremendously. The standard of living increased, and Chinatown rapidly shed its poverty for a more prosperous life. But did you know there is still a group of lonely old people who are homeless, or who have a home but would rather live on the streets? I very much hope that volunteers in Chinatown can show them some care and concern.
A reference to Operation Coldstore on 2 February 1963 when the Special Branch arrested 107 members of the left-wing Barisan Sosialis political party and associated organisations in order to to prevent any attempt by Communists to use violence to disrupt the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia. Source: NLB HistorySG
, ‘Special Branch mounts Operation Coldstore’, http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/history/events/79b177e2-4d1f-4692-9a95-d2be1510495b
, retrieved 9 July 2015.
The Great Southern Hotel (南天大酒楼Nan Tian Da Jiu Lou)
was a luxury hotel which opened in 1936 and was the equivalent of the Raffles Hotel for the Chinese-speaking community. In 1994, it was converted to a department store, Yue Hwa Chinese Products. Source: NLB Infopedia
, ‘Great Southern Hotel’, http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_479_2004-12-15.html
, retrieved 9 July 2015.
Translation: Teng Qian Xi