Connecting to different cultures is definitely of my passions. I live in the ‘heartland’ area of Toa Payoh, which is one of the oldest public housing estates in the country. The best part about living here is the large local market. A gathering point for much of the community, it's a fabulous experience that I try to share with others. When I lived in Japan, I loved exploring my local neighbourhood, and I'm now enjoy doing the same in Singapore.
Complete with a 'wet' area for fresh fish and meat, it also has small shops selling anything from clothing, joss papers, mobile phones and shoes. Freshly made kueh and char siew roast pork can also be found. Come durian season, you'll immediately know it too! My background in Japanese means I can read nearly everything, and understand nearly nothing...ahaha!
I teach some of my art workshops at my home studio. I didn't plan it this way, but students have recently remarked on the insight into local culture they get when they visit. After finding their way to my ‘point block’ in the corner of Toa Payoh (former opposition territory and now undergoing a terrific upgrading program), they start to get a feel for the peculiarities of this some 40-year-old spot of Singapore.
Nearly every element of my workshops involves a local business. At 'kueh' time, I bring out freshly-made snacks from my market shop. The uncle who runs this shop has his midday snooze by 11am, so I always hurry over early in the morning to buy the day's treats.
I sometimes focus on Peranakan tiles for my workshops. As such tiles are normally found on old shophouses around Singapore and Malaysia, I have to spread my wings a little further for those....like Tanjong Pagar! My great-grandfather helped establish a clan temple there that has many fabulous tiles. Otherwise, you'll find me trekking around Club Street or Joo Chiat area on the hunt for those elusive heritage tiles.
I also buy a lot of my equipment from the local market, and by now most shop keepers vaguely understand what I do. Or at least pretend to! The dried good shop is run by Mr. Ah Leh - my lunchtime buddy since I nearly always sit near his shop. He's also a substitute grandfather for my children, who will scamper off and investigate his amazing array of products.
I also pride myself on being reasonably ‘eco-friendly’ since I wash and re-use most of plastic plates and tools for printing. Students usually giggle when I wrap their finished works in a certain waxy brown paper - you may know what I mean if you eat chicken rice! Works perfectly to protect the fabric from any damp paint spots.
After class, my students and I often head down to the market for lunch. We sometimes go and see Malaysian seamstress Mrs. Ng if she doesn’t look too busy, and show her the fabulous creations that the students have made. I think she gets a lot of pride at seeing how her hard work is appreciated by others.
Feeling rather hungry by now, we'll go to the cooked food section for a well-deserved feed! Yummy 'char siew' roast pork and dumpling noodles are my favourite, and made by a handsome chap and his Peranakan mother. I've rarely seen roast pork or dumplings made on the premises and it really does taste different. I hope he gets on Makan bus tour lineup soon! But then I'll have to wait in line...:)
I feel a great sense of joy when I see students from countries such as Japan, Australia and the UK creating a ‘handmade’ connection to Singapore. Hopefully, their experience with heartland culture will stay with them, and somehow help contribute to better understanding of different people and places.