Thank you ACS

I wasn’t in ACS when I was in primary school, and so when I qualified via PSLE to get attend secondary school there, I was thrilled because my Sunday School friends were all ACS boys. And I was terrified, because I hadn’t been an ACS boy.

A smaller turnout for the Class of '85. But we were still the rowdiest.
A smaller turnout for the Class of ’85. But we were still the rowdiest.

I wasn’t in ACS when I was in primary school, and so when I qualified via PSLE to get attend secondary school there, I was thrilled because my Sunday School friends were all ACS boys. And I was terrified, because I hadn’t been an ACS boy.

It took a couple of months in Sec One before I acclimatised, and began talking the talk thanks to teachers whose names I still remember – Mrs Evelyn Wee – English and Form Teacher; Mr Navaratnam, Science Teacher, whose first comments at lab period was to joke that the ACS lab was so old, the equipment was donated by Sir Stamford Raffles; and Mr Jagmohan Singh, History Teacher, who, apart from teaching us how to pronounce “King Nebuchadnezzar”, also famously described anthropological development thus: “the more civilised we are, the donkeyer we become”.

I am forever grateful for the liberal education I received in my seven years at ACS/ACJC, and even more thankful for the fast friends I made, and with whom I still work and play. It was a special place, this place of learning – and we were the lucky few in the 1980s who were assigned ‘native speaker’ teachers from all over the UK who brought with them their knowledge, culture and quirks and opened our eyes to the world.

We were the lucky few who were taught the difference between passing exams and learning, and more specifically, I remember a teacher preparing us for the AO Level General Paper exams which were to be marked by teachers in the UK. He said to ‘give them something to keep them warm, because they’re marking your papers in the cold of winter. Write about your hawker centres, your spicy foods, your sunshine and your tropical storms. I guarantee you you’ll score an A’.

So, thank you very much, Anglo-Chinese School for teaching us to tell our own stories. And congratulations on getting to a hundred and thirty. #TBIYTB

Surprising Sembawang

What was more interesting when we shot the video, was how the bunch of sixty-something year old uncles and aunties were enjoying the spring, soaking their feet in plastic wash basins and buckets filled with hot spring water.

Sembawang Onsen

A video posted by Benjamin "Mr Miyagi" Lee (@miyagisan) on

I visited Sembawang Hot Spring for the first time last Friday because I had written it into a video script.

It’s the only natural hot spring in Singapore, and you can read about its properties on Wikipedia. What was more interesting when we shot the video, was how a bunch of sixty-something year old uncles and aunties were enjoying the spring, soaking their feet in plastic wash basins and buckets filled with hot spring water. The aunties were fully clothed, but the uncles went around bare-chested. Later on, the uncles took turns to soak their whole selves in used chemical drums filled with the water.

One of the uncles appeared to have been a practitioner of a sort of therapy. He would massage the limbs of the aunties who were there, asking them to relax, stretch and flex their joints for about fifteen minutes per aunty-patient. There was one aunty who appeared to be more afflicted with something than the others, because not only did Therapy Uncle have to massage her limbs, most of her torso had to be handled by his hot hands as well. It must have hurt a bit, because there was quite a bit of shrieking.

Now that Sembawang Hot Spring is done from my bucket list of local things to do, I’m looking forward to eating some famous Sembawang White Bee Hoon. That’s right, I’ve never had it. I always thought all bee hoon was white.

Minejima & Co. Hits The Road

I’m very happy to announce that Naomi’s new business ‘Minejima & Co.’ will be ensconced at Block 71, Loewen Road, Dempsey Hill, from now till 16th December. Please come by to say hi, and do some of your Christmas shopping here. It’s a great Christmas Market that the folks at Dempsey Hill have put up. It’s far from the madding regular mall crowds even if it’s just 5 minutes from Orchard Road.

Minejima & Co Logo

I’m very happy to announce that Naomi’s new business ‘Minejima & Co.‘ will be ensconced at Block 71, Loewen Road, Dempsey Hill, from now till 16th December. Please come by to say hi, and do some of your Christmas shopping here. It’s a great Christmas Market that the folks at Dempsey Hill have put up. It’s far from the madding regular mall crowds even if it’s just 5 minutes from Orchard Road.

Plus, if you’re a history buff like myself, you’d appreciate being in the area, once known as Tanglin Camp, and remembered by those my age as where we went for our pre-NS medicals and where our parents dropped us off on Enlistment Day (more precisely we reported to Block 15 Dempsey Road, and the old three-tonners came to the parade square to take us away after we swore allegiance to the SAF). The area has a much longer history than I can remember, of course, and you might be interested in looking at who Dempsey, Ridout, Loewen, Harding and the other roads are named after.

Anyway, back to Naomi’s Minejima & Co.. A few people have asked why we sell the stuff we do – and that’s been easy to answer. We want other people to enjoy the same stuff we use at home, whether they’re toys that we like Kai playing with, or reusable shopping bags that are durable and don’t look ugly. Our business philosophy is simple: We’ll sell something only if we like it.

It’s also been really encouraging so far, that people have enjoyed the products we’re exclusive distributors for: Quut from Belgium, RuMe from the US and Handlebar Heroes from the UK. We did have a bit of difficulty classifying the ‘type’ of shop we were going to be, whether it was an eco-product shop or a kids’ stuff shop or a homeware shop. But eventually, we settled on being sellers of ‘Playfully Useful Things’.

We’ll continue to sell online at minejima.co while we work on supplying retailers with our products. In the meantime, do come by Loewen Road this fortnight for your Christmas shopping, and have fun with our now-famous interactive sand display. Our only rule is, please keep the sand within the box or our pop-up hosts will be very upset!

Thank you all who’ve supported the business so far, and don’t forget to follow us:

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Free Dempsey Hill Shuttle Bus Schedule

The Dance of The Flaming Arseholes: A Royal Australian Navy Tradition

Things would get rowdy, as you would imagine, but the sailors from the RAN took the cake – there are photographs of men on the roof of a public toilet in a Bugis Street alleyway, with something alight sticking out from their naked buttocks.

Back in the day when Singapore was an unruly sailors’ town, Bugis Street was a thriving collection of bars, Zhi Char stalls and transvestites, all vying for the custom of thirsty, hungry, and horny military men on shore leave.

Things would get rowdy, as you would imagine, but sailors from the RAN took the cake – there are photographs of men on the roof of a public toilet in a Bugis Street alleyway, with something alight sticking out from their naked buttocks.

This stunt was practiced in various ports of call, and was called The Dance of The Flamers, or The Dance of The Flaming Arseholes. The steps were simple: The sailors who volunteered to entertain everyone else simply had to strip naked, find a rolled up newspaper and kiap it between their buttock cheeks, and set it alight. Then he simply had to walk from one end of the stage to the other without dropping the buttock torch.

These days, visiting sailors seem much more restrained, while other types of tourists let their children defecate on the floor of cafes in our shiny integrated resorts.

Podium dancing, RAN style
Before hot yoga, there was this workout

Dining With Some Din: Chew Kee Eating House

There are better iterations of Soya Sauce Chicken Noodles around Singapore, but this place reminds me of Chinatown before Chinatownification, of when the Hokkien-speaking called the area Gu Chia Zhui. There’s another shop on South Bridge Road that’s been around since I was child, but that one’s been air-conditioned and iPadded (i.e. some POS vendor sold them an menu and ordering system using PIC grants).

This picture is of the glass panel in front of the kitchen/soya sauce chicken chopping station.
This weird picture is of the glass panel in front of the kitchen/soya sauce chicken chopping station.

Just off the corner of Upper Cross Street and South Bridge Road there’s a shop called Chew Kee Eating House. For as long as I can remember, it’s been serving Soya Sauce Chicken Noodles.

The ‘Eating House’ is uncomfortably warm at lunch time, dimly lit, and really noisy. And it struck me then, that that’s why I like it:

There are better iterations of Soya Sauce Chicken Noodles around Singapore, but this place reminds me of Chinatown before Chinatownification, of when the Hokkien-speaking called the area Gu Chia Zhui. There’s another shop on South Bridge Road that’s been around since I was child, but that one’s been air-conditioned and iPadded (i.e. some POS vendor sold them an menu and ordering system using PIC grants).

Chew Kee Eating House has stayed the same in terms of the food they serve, the place it’s served in, and the staff who serve. The only thing different is the price. (I paid $6 for lunch on Monday – a Soya Sauce Chicken Drumstick Noodle with a Cold Barley Water).

It is noisy, with staff – family members who own the business – shouting orders in Cantonese, scolding younger wait staff in Hokkien, and taking orders in Mandarin. There are an equal number of people waiting for a seat as there are waiting to take out.

I was ushered into the premises to share a table with an Aunty who was equally as unperturbed by the brusqueness of service and the messiness of the food slopped onto our plates a few minutes after we made our order, the efficiency of which an iPad ordering system can never replicate:

Waiter: Sek Mutt? (May I take your order please?)

Me: Gai Bei Meen (Can I have a plate of Chicken Drumstick Noodles, please?)

Waiter: Sui Gao? (Would you like a bowl of piping hot dumpling soup to accompany your meal?)

Me: Yee Mai Sui. (No thank you, but I would like to have a tall glass of your best home made Barley Water.)

Waiter: Dong? (Would you like it cold or warm?)

Me: Hai. (A cold one would be lovely, thank you).

My late mother used to ask her driver to stop on the way home from the office (illegally on the double-yellow lined Upper Cross Street), while she yelled her order to a staff member who’d be on the lookout for ‘drive-through’ orders. The order was always filled within five minutes, and Mom was only ever fined once. She did offer the traffic cop the most elaborate excuse of needing to eat urgently because she had gastric.

I was quite sure no-one ‘drove through’ any more, but I spotted one motorised customer as I was leaving after my sweaty, noisy meal.

Chew Kee Eating House from Benjamin Lee on Vimeo.