Eighty-two percent (as of Mar 08) of Singaporeans and Permanent Residents live in public housing estates (affectionately referred to as heartlands). I’m one of them. And I love it here in the heartlands. They offer a comprehensive environment where all the necessities that one needs are just a few steps away or even right downstairs. Where I live now, there’s a wet market, a NTUC Fairprice, 2 hawker centers, a 7-Eleven below my block, and rows of shops selling all kinds of stuff and offering services such as medical, beauty, foot reflexology, and photo printing.
However, even though I’ve lived almost all my life in a HDB flat, I hardly patronise the neighbourhood shops other than meals at the hawker centre or getting groceries from the supermarket. I used to get my haircut at the Malay barbershop for S$8.00 but have in recent months, moved to branded salons in downtown malls.
Increasingly, the small neighbourhood retailers are facing stiffer competition from mega malls in the shopping districts and big retailing chains, retreating to serve a mainly middle-aged customer base and losing the young ‘uns. My recent coiffure migration is a case in point. And it’s a pity I’ve lost the appreciation of getting what I need where I live. Now I spend more time going to get my haircut, and I pay more.
Hence, when I was offered an opportunity to rekindle the convenience of my heartland roots by Hong Kah Shop Proprietors’ Association, I decided to take up the challenge. I was among 8 lucky bloggers who’ve been given a S$150 ang bao (red packet) to eat, shop and play at Hong Kah Point during their Chinese New Year Carnival.
Hong Kah Point – Chinatown of the West
Even though it’s in a different housing estate (I live in Whampoa Drive), I have comfort in the familiarity that all residential towns and estates in Singapore adhere to a common set of planning principles. This way, we can easily orientate ourselves no matter where we are and assimilate into any neighbourhood easily.
But that doesn’t mean we live in a cookie-cutter environment where everything is homogenous. Each town has its own unique identity and specialties. So what will I find at Hong Kah Point? What are the famous food? What’s so special about shopping here? What fun is there to be had in this small neighbourhood centre?
When I received the invite for the enjoy-n-blog contest (3 winning blogs will be chosen from the 8 of us), I thought Hong Kah Point is a suburban shopping centre much like Northpoint in Yishun or Compass Point in Sengkang. So I was slightly taken aback when it’s the name of an estate rather than a shopping complex. Most of the bloggers didn’t know it too! Which goes to show that Singapore though small, has many places yet to be explored.
Meaning of Hong Kah
Hong Kah is derived from the Teochew term for Christianity – 丰家 (Feng Jia), which means a ‘bountiful harvest of households’ or ‘plentiful blessings in homes’. In Hokkien, a Christian is sometimes referred to as someone who jiak hong gah (jiak = eat; hong gah = Christianity).
The place got its name because of an evangelist who managed to convert many of the Chinese residents in the area during the 1970s to Christianity, a harvest of families so to speak. But the Chinese characters are written as 丰加 now (which is phonetically similar to ‘家’ but means ‘bountiful addition’) after a renaming exercise to downplay the religious inklings of the name’s origin.
How to get here
Hong Kah Point can be reached by taking the MRT to Chinese Garden Station and transferring to Bus No. 335, or alighting at the Lakeside Station and taking Bus No. 187. You can also walk from Lakeside Station to Hong Kah Point. Just walk along Jurong West St. 51 towards blocks 501 – 508. It’s a less than 10 minutes stroll.
If you take a cab, tell the driver Jurong West St. 51 block 501 instead of Hong Kah Point because like the bloggers, most would not know the estate’s name.
Must-Eats at Hong Kah Point Hawker Centre
The first thing I did when I got to Hong Kah Point was eat. I’m a yao gui (hungry ghost) of local hawker fare and there’s bound to be some famous culinary talents in every neighbourhood hawker centre. As I’ve never been here nor got much recommendations from a search online, I decided to find my great eats by asking the residents themselves.
I think the magic of enjoying a day at the heartlands is the spirit of gotong royong (neighbourliness). I started my day of gluttony by queuing at Heng Heng sliced fish soup stall and asked the lady behind me what’s so good about it. Next thing I know, the lady in front joined in and I soon had a list of must-eats at the hawker centre. There were many recommendations but I managed to only try the following throughout the day…
Great Finds for Year of the Rabbit
In between the eating, I explored the neighbourhood shops at Hong Kah Point. Since Chinese New Year is around the corner, there’s a carnival going on. I love these heartland carnivals because the mood is very festive with familiar new year tunes blasting from the shops and there’re usually good bargains for clothes, decorations and foodstuff.
Some of the great buys I saw at the Hong Kah CNY Carnival were T-shirts with interesting prints at S$10 and jumbo packets of fish maw at S$8.00 each. The same grammage of fish maw in NTUC Fairprice costs S$12.90 or more depending on the shape and grade (cone, butterfly, or assortment).
My targets at the carnival were again of the yao gui nature. I’m looking for specialty new year goodies and tidbits of Hong Kah Point and found 2 confectionery / bakery that makes their own pineapple tarts fresh daily in the shop. The making of pineapple tarts is an artform and really good tasting ones are hard to come by. So it’s really unusual to have 2 shops that make equally good versions of this snack in one place!
Other than delectable CNY tidbits, no celebration would be complete without getting some decorative banners and auspicious ornaments to usher in good fortune for the next 12 months. My family prefer to recycle our decors but that doesn’t mean I don’t like checking out the designs of each year’s festive acccessories. 通过时下的照片，就让我给大家拜个年，希望相片中的吉祥讯息感染您在兔年里的运程！
Cultural Gem – Cheok Keuw Bridal Company
Talking about romance, there’s one shop that’s not to be missed when visiting the neighbourhood – Cheok Keuw Bridal Co. at Blk 506, #01-180. This shop is a living museum right in the HDB heartland retailing the essentials for a traditional Chinese ceremony.
The family business was started 50 years ago and has been passed down from parents to children. The second generation owner is Clara Pay and she shared that the legacy of the shop may very well end with her as she has no heir to take over and her brother’s children aren’t interested. So better go take a look before this gem gets lost to time.
The outstanding decor notwithstanding, anyone who comes here will be rewarded with an intimate peek into the Eastern nuptial traditions and customs through the antiquities on sale. Clara will also patiently explain what, how and when to use the items according to the varying practices of different dialect groups.
Clara freely shares all her fascinating knowledge about the intricacies and dos and don’ts during a Chinese wedding process. I spent quite a lot of time at her shop and learnt so much from her. Thanks Clara!
But the shop also has another poignant story, and that is the story of Clara. At the age of 19, she was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer and later in her 30s, she had breast cancer. But talking to her and being in her pressence, one would never know her health woes unless you read a newspaper clipping framed up in a corner about her struggles with the diseases. The Chinese article was written in 2006 when she was in her 40s. She is still undergoing chemo treatment now but she’s full of life and very delightful to chat with.
Of all the numerous auspicious objects that are used during a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony, the tea set, lamps and nutpial candles are the top 3 quinessentials. Here are the symbolic meanings behind each of them :
Tea Set - When the newlyweds offer tea to the elders, it’s a sign of respect and when the elders sip the tea, it shows acceptance of the new addition to the family. The tea ceremony also serves to announce the marriage to both sides of the family clan. The tea cups will always come with a handle to represent the ear, meaning that the couple will listen to their parents-in-law.
Nuptial Candles - These candles are lighted to annouce the new union to ancestors. Sort of like an otherworldly email or sms to inform the ancestral spirits of the new family member so that they can watch over him/her. One of the candles would have a dragon motif (male) while the other has a phoenix (female) and they are usually lighted in this pairing.
However, the Hokkiens and Teochews light the candles in a dragon-dragon or phoenix-phoenix pairing. This unusual practice of lighting a ‘same-sex’ pair is somewhat unique to Singapore. The bride’s family would light a pair of dragon candles to annouce the addition of a son-in-law, while at the bridegroom side, a pair of phoenix candles are lighted to annouce the coming of a daughter-in-law. This way, the ancerstors don’t get gender confusion!
Lamp - Light and lamp has many meanings but the main one at a customary Chinese wedding represents fertility. 灯 (light) sounds like 丁 (child) so by lamp lighting, it is a wish for the couple to go forth and multiply! I wonder if there’s any effect on their offsprings if they light different lamps. For example, if they light a lava lamp, the child will grow up to be hot stuff; laser light gets them a scientist; red light guarantees the child a place in the lewd industry, etc. I think my parents lighted a disco ball at their ceremony.
It is definitely worth making a special trip to Cheok Keuw even if one is not in the vicinity or plan on having a traditional Chinese wedding. It’s very enlightening to just stand there and listen to Clara advise her clients on the symbolic meanings and usage of the different items while feasting the eyes on all the heritage knick knacks. Furthermore, there’s a very adorable and docile coffee-coloured poodle named Cappuccino in the shop that’s bound to have you asking… how much?
13 Hours at Hong Kah Point
After a day eating and shopping, it’s time to see how the Hong Kah Point residents have fun. I cancelled an appointment to help my friend with party arrangements and missed another friend’s house party at night to attend their resident Singing Competition.
Was it worth the sacrifices? Well, it’s not really my kind of thing but I must say I was pleasantly amused. They can really sing and from those I’ve heard, all of them can cause earthquakes with their diaphragms! Many Hokkien songs were sung that night and they all looked so professional and confident. Oh, and they really dressed up for their performance too.
Since I ended the day at Hong Kah Point on a musical note, I thought it apt to conclude this entry with a Hokkien song I recently fell in love with. Due to the nature of the language and its domination in the most awful of curse phrases, Hokkien songs have often been associated with the uncouth, unpolished and tacky. Just as how hip Singaporeans may consider it uncool to shop at neighbourhood stores or get a haircut in a heartland salon. They prefer the glitzy, air-conditioned downtown malls and famous brands. I preferred them too.
But having spent such a long time at Hong Kah Point (I was there at 9:30am and left at 10:30 pm), I would say, give the businesses in your estate a chance. You may discover a type of ‘merchandise’ that money cannot buy; an at home feeling while shopping, eating and playing. And many of these heartland shops are changing the way they do business and the products they offer so some of the things we find here can not be found anyhere else. Like this song, Hokkien (heartland lifestyle) has become and can be hip!
Let’s not forget our roots and incorporate them into our higher aspirations so that we can enjoy a wider repertoire of lifestyle experiences unique to Singapore. All hail good English, proper Mandarin… and endearing Singlish!
The title of this song is 《保庇》(bo bee) by 王彩桦 (Lotus Wang) and it means ‘bless / blessings’ and ‘protect’. With this absolutely charming and joyous tune, I wish everyone a protected and blessed year ahead!
If you would like to see more photos, please click here.