Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Sunday Times : Earlybird hawkers

The Sunday Times
By Paige Lim
15th June 2014

Some hawkers do a brisk business in the wee hours, catching the night owls and early risers

Stalls in Tiong Bahru Market And Food Centre which open early include Xi De Li (above), Teck Seng Soya Bean Drinks and Yuan Ji Fishball Noodle. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

It is 2am and on the streets, there are people staggering home after a night out in clubs and bars, and others who have just ended a late shift at work or are gearing up for an early shift.

Most people are sound asleep but not hawker Loh Teck Seng, who is busy at his soya bean milk stall at Tiong Bahru Market And Food Centre.

He is among a group of hawkers who open for business in the wee hours of the morning and then pack up in the early afternoon.

Over a span of three days, SundayLife! visited 18 hawker stalls whose opening hours range from as early as 2am and close no later than 3pm. Most of them do brisk business before most of Singapore wakes up.

Mr Loh, 60, says he cooks batches of soya bean milk at his stall, Teck Seng Soya Bean Drinks, from midnight to 5am.

He says: "It can get extremely busy from 6.30am onwards, and if I start late, I cannot finish making my batches in time."

As customer traffic is not as brisk before 6am, he can cook the soya bean milk and curd and sell them at the same time. He has been operating his stall from 2am to 2.30pm for more than 30 years.

Hawkers interviewed say their customers are workers who have just ended late-night shifts or have early morning shifts. They include taxi drivers, police officers, 24-hour restaurant operators and wet market stallholders. Nightclub patrons also make up the pack.

Among this mix of customers, the majority are regulars who have been patronising the stalls for years.

Poultry seller Stanley Yow, 44, who opens his stall between 3am and 4am at Tiong Bahru market, buys breakfast from Teck Seng Soya Bean Drinks, fried dough stall Xi De Li or Yuan Ji Fishball Noodle, all of which open before 5am.

He says: "It's good that these stores open early because where else can you find food so conveniently at this hour?"

Some of the hawkers enjoy brisk business during these early hours.

One of them is Mr Teo Chai Kim, 53, who runs a porridge and noodle stall in a coffee shop in Bukit Panjang. It opens at 2am.

The stall’s most popular dish is Koka instant noodles cooked in a pork broth (above). -- PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

He sells the Koka brand of instant noodles cooked in pork broth and customers can add ingredients such as pork slices, minced pork, eggs and seafood such as prawns.

It is a hit with youngsters and the hawker says he sells more than 50 bowls between 2 and 3am.

When SundayLife! visited the coffee shop at 2.30am, there were about 15 people, ranging from teenagers to young adults, devouring the noodles. His stall had a regular stream of customers.

Student Ho Zhong Yu, 19, who was there at 3am and lives nearby, says he goes there to eat when he has to stay up late to complete assignments.

Student Kasey Lim, 22, who goes there once or twice a week in the wee hours for supper, says: "His noodles taste better than the normal instant noodles you cook at home. I come here because it's the only stall I know of that is open at this time."

Others hawkers have changed their hours to meet the increasing number of early risers.

Mr He Mei Fai, 43, whose stall, Pin Xiang Noodles, in Toa Payoh has been around for over 20 years, says his operating hours used to be from 6am to 2pm and 5pm to 11pm, but are now from 4.30am to 11am.

He decided to open earlier after having to turn away customers who would often show up before 6am.

On good days, he can sell between 20 and 30 plates of wanton noodles from 4.30am to 5.30am and says he no longer operates at night because his daily target can usually be met from just opening in the morning.

At the market and food centre at Block 112, Jalan Bukit Merah, seven stalls out of 22 are open for business by 5am.

Two of them, Jit Man Prawn Noodle And Lor Mee and a no-signboard stall which sells minced pork and fishball noodles, start at 3.30am daily without fail.

Ms Serene Teo, 50, who owns Jit Man Prawn Noodle And Lor Mee, says it is common for stalls at the food centre to open very early because of the poor afternoon crowd.

"It gets really quiet here from about 1pm and traffic slows down, so we usually close then and depend on our morning sales."

Though she gets only about three to five customers at 4am, business picks up at around 6am.

School cleaner Hui Yew Hoo, 70, whose morning shift starts at 6.30am, says: "I come here at 4.30am to buy prawn mee to take away for breakfast as I don't like to queue and fight with a crowd later on."

Taxi driver Yeo San Teck, 55, adds that he usually drives to Redhill Porridge at Redhill Food Centre to eat after his night shift ends at 4am.

"Many taxi drivers frequent these haunts in coffee shops and hawker centres over 24-hour fast food places or restaurants because the food is much cheaper and tastes good."

The queue at the stall when SundayLife! visited at 5.30am last Wednesday was testament to its overwhelming popularity.

The stall owner wanted to be known as just Mr Han and would only say that his stall, which opens at 5.15am, does not need any more publicity as he is unable to cope with the current demand. He sells out before 8.30am every day.

Having to wake up at the witching hour to prepare their ingredients does not deter these hawkers, who say they are used to it after years of operation.

Madam Ngern Kah Cheng, 65, of Tanglin Halt Delicious Duck Noodles, says she has been getting up at 1am every day to prepare for her stall's 4am opening since 1969, when she started the business.

Closing in the early afternoon has its advantages, as hawkers say they can go home earlier to rest and have more time to prepare for the next day.

Mr He of Pin Xiang Noodles says going home earlier allows him to spend more time with his children and cook them dinner. He has a daughter, 19, and a son, 16.

Housewife Lee Cheng Toh, 54, says: "I always knew there were places that opened late but never knew there were ones that opened so early."



Teck Seng Soya Bean Drinks

Tiong Bahru Market And Food Centre, 30 Seng Poh Road, 02-69Open: 2am to 2.30pm, closed on Monday

What: Soya bean milk and beancurd made from scratch in batches from midnight to 5am. The first batch is ready for sale by 2am.

Price: From .80 for a cup of soya bean milk and from .90 for a bowl of beancurd

Hai Xian Zhu Zhou

Block 163 Bukit Panjang Coffee Shop, 163A Gangsa Road

Open: 2am to 2.30pm, closed on Thursday

What: The stall's most popular dish is Koka instant noodles cooked in a pork broth. Customers can add ingredients such as lean pork slices, minced pork, eggs and seafood such as prawns. The stall also sells porridge with sliced fish, pork and seafood. Other dishes include mee sua, ee-meen and mee hoon kueh.

Price: From $2.50 for a bowl of Koka noodles, depending on ingredients added, $3 for Koka noodles with seafood and spicy Koka noodles, from $2.50 for a bowl of porridge


Jit Man Prawn Noodle & Lor Mee

Jalan Bukit Merah Block 112 Market And Food Centre, 112 Jalan Bukit Merah, 01-16

Open: 3.30am to 12pm daily

What: Stallholder Serene Teo's father ran this stall for 50 years before she took over 20 years ago. It serves prawn noodles, laksa, lor mee and sliced fish soup. Saturdays are the busiest day of the week and Madam Teo says she can sell up to 50 bowls of noodles between 3.30am and 6am.

Price: $2.50 or $3 for a bowl of prawn mee, laksa or lor mee; $4, $5 or $6 for a bowl of sliced fish soup


Tanglin Halt Delicious Duck Noodles

Tanglin Halt Market and Food Centre, 48A Tanglin Halt Road, stall no. 23

Open: 4am to 2pm daily, closed on Monday and Friday

What: This stall has been around since 1969 and sells braised duck noodles and duck drumstick noodles, among other dishes. Add-ons include duck tongue, duck feet, gizzard and beancurd.

Price: From $3 for braised duck noodles, $6 for duck drumstick noodles, from 50 cents for add-ons

Tanglin Halt Original Peanut Pancake

Tanglin Halt Market and Food Centre, 48A Tanglin Halt Road, stall no. 16

Open: 4.30am to 11am daily, closed on Monday, Wednesday and Friday

What: This popular, 25-year-old stall sells traditional peanut pancakes. Customers can also buy pancakes filled with red bean paste, yam paste, pandan-flavoured green bean, salted bean paste and black sesame paste. It has regular customers who have been patronising the stall for 10 to 20 years. About 80 per cent of its sales are made before 9am.

Price: From 80 cents

Pin Xiang Noodles

Block 93 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh, 01-46

Open: 4.30am to 11am, closed on Monday

What: This popular stall sells wonton noodles, wonton soup, mushroom-chicken feet noodles, mushroom and shredded chicken hor fun and dumpling noodles. The stall used to operate from 6am to 2pm and 5 to 11pm about five years ago, but opening earlier has proven lucrative for the owner.

Price: $3 for noodles, from 50 cents for add-ons

Yuan Ji Fishball Noodle

All the action happens before 11am at this stall (above), which sells fishball noodles and mushroom minced pork noodles -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Tiong Bahru Market And Food Centre, 30 Seng Poh Road, 02-72

Open: 4.30am to 1pm, closed on Monday

What: All the action happens before 11am at this stall, which sells fishball noodles and mushroom minced pork noodles. About 10 regular customers would come at about 4am to get their fix.

Price: $2.50 and $3


Qing Zhai Vegetarian Food

Block 216 Market And Food Centre, Bedok North Street 1, 01-08

Open: 5.30am to 1pm, closed on Monday

What: A queue forms the minute the stall opens at 5.30am. The stall offers a wide variety of vegetarian food, such as beehoon, fried noodles, kuay teow, to which mock meats and deep fried items can be added.

Price: From $1 for beehoon, fried mee and kuay teow, accompaniments from 70 cents for vegetable dishes, from 80 cents for mock meats and from 50 cents for deep-fried items

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

URA Master Plan 2014 (Tiong Bahru)

(1) Seems that Block 1 Tiong Bahru Road will be demolished as it has been scrubbed out of the Master Plan.

(2) Just realised that our quaint Post Office is actually sitting on commercial space. Which means it can be turned into something else.

With some much competition for commercial space in this estate, it doesn't take a bright spark to suggest an alternative location for the post office.

(Please don't make us go to Bukit Merah Central to pick up our parcels hor)

(3) Tiong Bahru Market is actually sitting on residential & commercial land! With a Plot Ratio of 2.8 (meaning 36 storeys building can sprout up here), someone is gonna say INTEGRATED buildings is the way to go!

Am sure this will happen if they ever en-bloc the post war side.

It would be convenient to entice a developer with this proposal.

(4) Okay okay..... our park is still a park.

Currently a showflat and some eye sores are PARKED there. Yeah, it is still a Park nonetheless.

(5) Ground floor owners at Block 55 Tiong Bahru Road can now point to this and say their RESIDENTIAL home could be turned into a commercial property coz URA say one.

By the way, someone at URA forgot to PINK CODE Hua Bee and Flock at Block 78 Moh Guan Terrace. (To err is human, we understand, no worries)

And with this chart, we now know where the commercial properties should be located and where the clandestine ones are operating out from. 

Its okay, allowed or clandestine, we QUIETLY love them all don't we. :-)

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Straits Times : Grave sparks quest to dig up ancestral connections

The Straits Times
By Melody Zaccheus
9th June 2014

Seah Eu Chin's descendant also seeks to save tomb from wrecking ball

Inscriptions on his father's urn led Mr Sean Seah (above) to the villa built by his ancestor Seah Eu Chin in Yuepu village in Shantou, China (Below). Mr Seah has filmed a video documenting his visit to the villa. -- PHOTOS: COURTESY OF SEAN SEAH; LIM SIN THAI

SOMBRE photos of Singaporean pioneer Seah Eu Chin used to hang on the walls of Mr Sean Seah’s family home.

Then there are the roads, such as Eu Chin Street in Tiong Bahru and Seah Street in the city.

But as a young boy, Sean had little inkling about just how influential his famous ancestor was.

The late Seah, for instance, was known as the “King of Gambier”, having built his fortune as the owner of gambier plantations in areas like Thomson. He was also one of the founders of the Ngee Ann Kongsi, a Teochew clan association that was set up in 1845.

It was only two years ago, however, when the younger Seah saw the large and newly discovered grave of his ancestor for the first time, that everything clicked.

Now, he is hoping to save the grave in Toa Payoh West, which is at risk of redevelopment due to its proximity to the upcoming North-South Expressway.

He approached the National Heritage Board last month and plans to put together a petition signed by descendants of Seah Eu Chin’s four sons to preserve the grave, which sits on land where the late Seah grew pepper and gambier.

Said Mr Seah, 38, a business development manager at a multinational corporation and a sixth generation Seah: “I felt a connection to him after seeing something so large and tangible.

“The grave is a living testament of his life and success, and very different from just reading off a list of his accolades or hearing stories from my grandfather about his achievements. For the first time, I felt that my lineage was truly special,” he said.

His visit to the grave alongside 40 other family members prompted Mr Seah to embark on a journey to rediscover his lineage.

Now, he is one of the more active Seahs on a mission to rediscover his roots and champion his family’s heritage.

For instance, Mr Seah spends most of his time outside of work combing through archives, looking for distant relatives and filming videos documenting his quest.

The grave where his ancestor was buried with his two wives in 1883 was discovered in 2012 by tombstone hunters, brothers Raymond and Charles Goh.

For decades, the Seah family, of which there are about 500 members scattered across the globe, had not known its location.

“I hope the Government can help us keep the grave so that we can show future generations a physical marker of their heritage,” said Mr Seah, who has two sons aged one and four.

Mr Charles Goh, 46, who took a year to hunt down the grave, agreed. “It is a rare find and a rare tomb of someone so illustrious. We should conserve what we can, especially at a time when we are looking back at our roots and hoping to better tell the Singapore story.”

Last month, Mr Seah also discovered that his ancestor had built a grand villa in Yuepu village in Shantou, China.

He found it after doing some research on the inscriptions on his father’s urn, with some help from the Seah clan in Singapore.

He filmed a video of his experience visiting the site – as the first descendant to return after 191 years – to share with other Seahs.

The villa, located within a 300 sq m compound – about the size of three five-room flats – even housed a school once.

Mr Seah said: “It showed that he had his hometown and family in mind even after achieving success in Singapore.”

He added that he was inspired by his ancestor’s tenacity and said he has plans to conduct heritage tours to Yuepu.

“I learnt about him during history lessons in school but questions still lingered, like why he had taken the treacherous two-month-long journey in 1823 to Singapore from China,” said Mr Seah. The trip helped answer some of these questions, he said. “I learnt that he was a fighter... someone who was willing to take risks for opportunities.”

Although he did not inherit any of his ancestor’s material possessions, Mr Seah feels that he inherited priceless values and traits. His desire to trace his genealogy and lineage stems from a belief that there is more to life than just chasing material success.

He said: “A person without knowledge of his roots is missing a part of his soul. Life starts as an empty page and it’s up to us to decide how to paint the colours of each page and chapter.”

There is also the joy of finding other members of the Seah clan. Family ties are easily verified by checking generation names – a Chinese practice where family members from the same generation use the same characters for their middle names. This was how he met his cousin, chef Elton Seah, 38,three years ago while doing national service in-camp training.

Then there is the thrill of saying that it is his grandfather’s road whenever he drives or walks by any of the four streets named after Seah Eu Chin and his two sons Peck Seah and Liang Seah.

Said Mr Seah: “I feel very proud to have come from his line. I hope our family can continue to produce good people who will contribute to society just like he did.”

Singapore's 'King of Gambier' SEAH Eu Chin (1805-1883), who came to Singapore in 1823, started work here as an accountant and a clerk on trading ships.
Later, he began working as a middleman, supplying ships with goods.
Over time, his fortune grew and he bought huge parcels of land for gambier and pepper plantations.
At one point, he owned plantations that stretched from River Valley Road to Bukit Timah. Seah, who received an education in Chinese classics back home, was well respected by both the Chinese and European communities for his business acumen.
He is known for his role in founding Teochew association Ngee Ann Kongsi. He was also one of the few Chinese here to become a member of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, a largely European-dominated body.
Descendants can join the Facebook group Seah Eu Chin Descendants. Seah's journey to Yuepu can be viewed at