Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Down Memory Lane

Walking down any streets that comprises of old shophouses evokes a sense of nostalgia. When was young, I had to catch up with my mom walking down these five-foot ways (walkway passage) with shops along side of it. Nowadays if I have the time, I will pause to admire what the interesting facade has to offer. Each house has some unique features about it either ranging from plain & simple to elaborate & ostentatious with ornamental mouldings. Their ornamentation draws inspiration from the Malay, Chinese and European influence. Their style is very much determined by when it was built and affluence of the owners.  

The earliest shophouse style dating back to 1840s built in Chinatown and Kampong Glam were mostly for male immigrants slogging at our Singapore River. By 1900s to 1940s an array of ornate and intricate designs were introduced to the shophouses' facade. These two or three-storey shophouses or townhouses have narrow street frontages. The interior extends back to great depths. On entering the front door, one progresses through a series of spaces, unfolding different sections of a family home. One of the reasons for the narrow widths of these buildings is that they were historically taxed according to the width of their street frontage rather than the total area, thereby it was practical to build them this way. Another reason for the structural span, was determined by the length of the timber used. Such buildings could be seen throughout South East Asia. In some remote towns most of these derelict shophouses had to make way for development.

There is also a growing concern to hold back part of our personal heritage. Heritage resonates with people's psyche and it's often manifested in homes they had once lived before. Though such old houses may have been restored, with new businesses taking over. A sense of displacement is often felt when familiar places are refurbished. Vanishing trades in the yesteryears have totally disappeared. Their brick & mortar business can no longer survive in the current world of mechanization and technology. Thus, Chinatown in Singapore has evolved into a clean touristy place of interest.

This was the Chinatown I had the chance to experience in the 1960s when my minder (Amah) brought me to her servant quarters in Sago Lane. This lane was home to funeral parlors, coffin shops and death houses for the terminally ill and dying, since the early 20th century. I remembered hearing the blowing of the suona, the clanging of cymbals and chanting when the funeral rites were carried out downstairs. 
While I was doing up this blog, I happen to stumble upon a rare gem to show you what it was like in  those days in Singapore. I don't know why I hadn't come across this film when
I have seen other Harley Mills movies. This short story was shot entirely on location in Singapore probably in late 1966. Have a treat since it is Valentine's Day. I hope you have enjoyed my posts and do hope you'll keep coming back for more.


Pretty Polly  (1967)



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