In the spirit of SG50 celebrations last year, a series of community memories driven projects were introduced under the Past Forward showcase supported by the Singapore Memory Project. One of them is a publication called Trades by Postal Code. 

“In the places I discovered, the artisans displayed strong responsibility towards their trade and a sense of humanity uncommon in current times. As I conversed with them, I realised that these trades, once thriving, will soon be gone.”

Nicole, the producer of the book, is a 25 years old Singaporean youth who has put together both her interests and graphic communication design skills in this meaningful photography documentation of the old tradesmen in Singapore, She reflected “Memories are made and found and then a little more becomes known. Singapore sheds a different light letting me see this country with new eyes. I walked around Singapore in search of old places and traditional trades. In the places I discovered, the artisans displayed strong responsibility towards their trade and a sense of humanity uncommon in current times. As I conversed with them, I realised that these trades, once thriving, will soon be gone.”

Today, we share four out of eight documentations which Nicole has collected and featured in Trades by Postal Code (part I), following by an interview with her (part II). Through this book, we hope to give you readers a rare glimpse into these fast disappearing trades; to peer into the inner worlds of these tradesmen whose lives, philosophy and attitudes often characterised their trades.

Nicole Chai, producer of Trades by Postal Code

First Stop: New Chay Hong Beauty Parlour – Postal Code: 534579 (presently closed down)

The shophouse of New Chay Hong Beauty Parlour is both home and office for Aunty Lan. The beauty parlour stamps as a gathering point for her customers, whom she became friends with after their years of patronage. Much like the aged furniture in her shop, the way of contacting Aunty Lan hasn’t advanced much. There is no need for a mobile number for her, because you can find her in person at the same old place.

One part councillor, one part friend, Aunty Lan listens to the daily musings of her friends while she fixes their hair. Nowadays, money is of little importance to her. The companionship from her customers’ long years of regular visits are worth more than what money can bring.

This place now belongs to Housing Development Board (HDB), and she signs the lease every 6 months. She may very well be moving out of this place soon, but she has been signing the lease every half a year for about 10 years now, so we’re hoping for another 10 years more.

Customer at New Chay Hong Beauty Parlour

Second Stop: Siyamala Book Store – Postal Code: 217984

Uncle Govindasamy has been running this shop for 33 years, working 12 hours a day from 8am till 8pm. Despite the long hours, he has never complained. Situated by the walkway, his shop is easily accessible and serves as a meeting point for his friends and customers.

“I am not tired, because everyone here are my friends”.

He passes time by people watching, witnessing the meeting and parting between people.

Uncle Govindasamy, owner of Siyamala Book Store

Third Stop: Tan Hiap Hong – Postal Code: 218203

Attending to different customers and taking orders in different languages is a breeze for Mrs Tan. Fluent in Mandarin, Malay, English and some Chinese dialects, like many tradesmen of her time, she doesn’t think much of her multilingual talent. It was purely out of necessity that she learned the languages in order to conduct business.

“When this place goes, you won’t be seeing anymore charcoal shops outside industrial areas, this is the last one standing

Maybe in a few years’ time, I will consider closing down this place or rent it out, and have a quiet life. My brother and I are old now, we are not what we used to be, and time isn’t what it used to be too.

Life was simpler back then”

Mrs Tan, owner of Tan Hiap Hong

Seventh Stop: Ho Tit Coffee Powder Factory – Postal Code: 534988

“If it weren’t for the love of coffee, I would never have continued with this trade. My late father-in-law’s love for coffee has led us to continue roasting coffee in traditional methods, and this alone is the last one standing in a residential area in Singapore, the rest have moved to industrial parks.

This trade is tiring and requires long hours on foot. When you roast coffee beans the temperature soars. The beans have to be roasted in such a way whereby it doesn’t get over roasted, and so it requires quite a bit of experience to understand the coffee beans you’re working with.

We roast many different beans to achieve the best taste we can, and we believe in selling our best coffee beans.”

Throughout the years, the price of Ho Tit’s coffee beans have been the same because Aunty Cythnia and Uncle Dominic stand by their principle that no matter your’e rich or poor, everyoen should be able to afford their coffee. They want to spread their love of coffee to more people.

Interior of the factory

Do you like the stories we have shared? Stay tune to our blog for the interview with Nicole coming up this Thursday. We will also be giving you tips on how to obtain a copy of the book in our upcoming post.

 testYing Ying
Editor, irememberSG
Singapore Memory Project

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