Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Don’t Fall Off That Mountain

I had lunch this afternoon at the hawker centre at Beauty World Centre and sat next to an old man in front of a yong tau hu stall. It was a very small, square table and I felt a little awkward eating in silence, face-to-face with a stranger. I was hesitating whether or not to start a conversation with him. Unlike my friend Victor, who likes to interview complete strangers - be they China ladies or bare-footed Indonesian maids - for his blog stories, I am always bit shy to initiate a conversation with strangers.

Then I was reminded of a line from a book by veteran Hollywood actress, Shirley MacLaine. The book was titled, Don’t Fall Off That Mountain, in which she recounted her many travels to different parts of the world, including the mountainous regions of Nepal. What she wrote was: “The more I travelled, the more I realised that fear makes strangers out of people who should be friends”.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that this gentleman may well know the answer to a question about the old Beauty World that I have been asking. And so I broke the ice by asking him, “Ah chek, do you know about the old Beauty World from across the road?”

“Oh yes of course.” he replied. “My yong tau hu stall used to be located there. But now I am old already, and I let my wife handle the operations.”

As we spoke, I found out that they had relocated to the present premises in 1983, and it was not because of the fire which I blogged about earlier. It was only a small fire and it happened in the 1970’s.

I told him that I used to take the pirate taxis to Safti on Sunday nights from Jalan Jurong Kechil. “Do you remember the ‘par ong chia’s?” I asked. “Oh yes’ of course.” he replied. “That must be in the 1970’s because not long after that they were gone (apparently stopped by the government).”

“How about the Green Bus number 174 and 175 which were always so crowded on Sunday nights?” I then asked. “Yes I remember 174. It goes from Nantah (Nanyang University) in Jurong to Si Pai Poh."

After that he got up to help his wife (who must have glared at him for wasting time) clear the dishes.

And so I end this post with another question for the young readers.

Where is this Si Pai Poh that the old man spoke about? That’s Hokkien. In Cantonese, it would be Sei Pai Por? More important - how did this name came about?


Anonymous said...


Chris Sim said...

Chun See, I think you've quoted that line from Shirly Maclaine's book before. Not everyone of us is like the gregarious Monkey, you know.

Good thing you broke the ice, 不然我们被你骗了还不知道呢!

Ya, SGH is right. Right? Hee.

Lam Chun See said...

I just made the question a little tougher. By the way, 40-somethings, even if they looked like teenagers, are not allowed to take part in this quiz.

Victor said...

>... fear makes strangers out of people who should be friends.

Sigh, another person who gives good advice but don't practise it.

Thanks for linking me. Now I know why hits on my blogsite sky-rocketed recently.

Victor said...

You forgot to mention the time when I nearly got maimed by a vagabond just after I took his photo and that incident where I befriended your ex-boss. (Talking about that, do you know what happened to him? Some time ago, he asked me for your HP number which I gave. Did you hear from him?)

Of course, not forgetting that some people would even get into an argument just for a blog story.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I find that in Singapore it is difficult to break into a conversation with a stranger. In place I have been (Western countries or Japan), there is no such thing as a casting a "dirty look" as in the case might be in Singapore. To even ask for directions or information can also be frustrating.

We simply get answers like:
1. "I don't know" (in half Mandarin/English)
2. Shrug-off the should
3. The person asks his friends and then the whole group giggle
4. "Boh Eng"

How come (I need some enlightenment)? Our unique culture? Social grace????? BTW even Westerns in Singapore also behave the Singapore way.

Victor said...

Peter, probably it's because they got cheated or hear other people got conned too many times before? :P

Let me recount a personal experience I had recently at Golden Mile Food Centre. I saw a lady eating a delicious-looking bowl of porridge. She was with a few of her office colleagues seated at the same table. I approached her and asked, "Excuse me..." But before I could squeeze 5 words in, she shook her hands and said, "Don't want". I continued, "Er... I just wanted to know from which stall did you buy that bowl of porridge." She was so embarrassed when her friends burst out laughing.

Sometimes, it helps break the ice if people are not so suspicious of each other, especially towards CS.

But then again, nowadays whenever I eat at food centres, I usually encounter at least one case of someone either asking me for a donation or trying to sell me something. So I get pretty wary myself.

Anonymous said...

Talking about making friends with strangers, my mother was indeed an expert. Only my sister Pat has inherited her innate social skill, say about 80 per cent. Just to quote a few incidents, when I went with my mother to China sometime in 1989, she practically made friends with all the tour guides and after we came back to Singapore a young man, an undergraduate of a beijing U, who was our tour-bus driver (part-time) wrote to my mother, well-wishing her. In Guangchow zoo, while I went to look at the Pandas, my mother made friend with a lady drink-stall owner. When I came back to the stall to look for her, I found my mother talking to the lady as though she had found a long-lost sister. Her ability to converse with total strangers was borned out of a personal philosophy, like the Nike slogan - 'just do it'. I wish I have her guts.

Anonymous said...

I believe "Si Pai Por" refers to the area somewhere in Chinatown.

Anonymous said...

Chuh See, did you asked the Ah Chek about the cinemas there? I am sure he knows about it, including the mutton soup stall...

Lam Chun See said...

Chuck, he confirmed that there were 2 cinemas. But no chance to grill him for more details. I shd have asked him about that wayang stage. Never mind, I know where to look for him again.

Si Pai Por is the Singapore General Hospital. But how did it get this name?

Unknown said...

I believe the name for SGH was linked to its location at Sepoy Lines (Si Bai Por in Hokkien translation) at Outram area during the British Colonial Times?

Anonymous said...

Si for letter C . The 'C' class wards in SGH ?
Bai for the board that holds the letter C ?
Poh for the 'tat poh','siew poh' area ?

Just guessing .:)

Anonymous said...

The name "Si Pai Poh" evokes in me nostalgic memories of a place called "Outram Prison" This prison was demolished in the 1960s. I cannot recollect the year the prison was demolished. What I can remember clearly was that there was a school called Outram School which was located on the site now occupied by the temporary hawker centres at Outram Road. This school was located just next to the prison. When the Outram prison was demolised all the prisioners were tansfered to the newly built Changi Prision. I remember I had my early primary education at Outram Scool having transferd from Pearl's Hill Primary school. There was not much of difficlty going to Outram school as I was living at Guan Chuan street in Tiong Bahru. I would use "Man Road" as a short cut to the school. The road is now expunged and I believe the road had been renamed as Chin Swee Road.

Stanley Foo

Lam Chun See said...

Stanley - welcome to Good Morning Yesterday. Thanks for your inputs. Look forward to regular participation from you here.

OK here's what I managed to glean from the internet about Si Pai Por or Sepoy Lines

From the Singapore Infopedia website:

In Hokkien and Cantonese Si-pai po refers to "Sepoy plain" or "Sepoy's field". Sepoy Lines, the Outram Police Station and parade ground used to be at one end of Outram Road. It is still known by this name amongst the Chinese. In Hokkien Si-pai po ma-ta chhu and Cantonese Si-pai-lin ma-ta liu means "Sepoy plain (or 'lines') Police house".

From the SGH website:

"1926 Singapore General Hospital at Sepoy Lines is opened by Governor Sir Lawrence Guillemard. It is the seventh in the line of General Hospitals"From

From website:

Sepoy: "An indigenous soldier serving in the army of a foreign conqueror, especially an Indian soldier serving under British command in India. The lowest enlisted rank in the British Indian army and its successors, equivalent to private."

Anonymous said...

A few blocks of HDB flats were built together with some shops directly opposite the present SGH in the seventies, behind Pearl Bank Building. Port workers were given priority to purchase these flats, but I did not take up because my wife was superstitious of the hospital opposite. Later one of my colleagues took the offer and stayed in one unit which I found it to be very airy and near the port area. The famous Outram Road Char Kway Teow was located in a corner coffee shop. I ate only twice the famous dish here. The kway teow man was real fast and before I settled down the plate came.

Anonymous said...

Wah, history lessons for me!

On talking to strangers, I think S'poreans scared of all those Gotcha and Candid Camera TV shows in the past and afraid of being featured in any new seasons lah! Kekekeke....
Or we are brought up this way - remember Papa or Mama used to tell you as kids - Never talk to strangers!

Oops, I think I'm guilty of "I don't know" and "Shrug Shoulders"

Anonymous said...

The Outram Prison was demolished in 1967 and by 1969/70 it was ready for occupation.

The reason why it was not preferred was because the blocks were slanted or built in the direction of the Outram Road General Hospital mortuary (present mortuary site).

Also it was perceived to be a haunted place, not so much that there were hangings there but because of WW2 stigma. My father was a "Tiong Bahru Boy" since 1934 and he told me that in 1946, many Japanese POWS were hung there; the photos of those hung are displayed at the Old Ford Motor Museum.

I think there was a popular shop in the shopping area of Outram Park called "CAMY" I think. This shop sold cosmetics and was popular with the ladies.

Lam Chun See said...

I enjoy the 'Candid Camera' style tv shows, Gags and Just For Laughs which are shown regularly on Channel 5. I think they are based in Canada. You can see that the people 'caught' in the gags are very friendly and helpful people. And they are of all races. But of course, they may have censored away the unpleasant encounters; but still ...

Lam Chun See said...

Hey Victor, you said ..."Sometimes, it helps break the ice if people are not so suspicious of each other, especially towards CS.

Are you refering to me or civil servants?

Anonymous said...

My mother used to scold me for being a timid introvert boy and called me to open my 'golden mouth' when approaching people. Now being an old man myself, I realise that what she said is very correct. We cannot assume that just by the look of that stranger we conclude that the guy is friendly, or unlucky or.. In short, I am actually trying to be defensive, predicting the outcome before even trying. So the English saying - 'Do not judge a book by its cover' holds water.

Anonymous said...

Like Chun See, I am a great fan of "Just for laughs" gags shown on channel 5 tv. I find that the gags are always a panacea for those in bad mood or under stress, especially for me. I will never miss this programme even when I have some other matters to attend to. How I wish Channel 5 could extend the programme to a one hour duration instead of a half hour as at present. Does any one out there know whether there are such DVDs or CDs for sale.

Anonymous said...

As always, in the internet age, check out youtubes. I think there are quite a lot clips on youtube.
BTW, there is a way to download youtube clips using greasemonkey or videodownloader.


Victor said...

>Sometimes, it helps break the ice if people are not so suspicious of each other, especially towards CS.

That abbreviation was intentional. It is left to the reader's interpretation, hehe.

Anonymous said...

Chinese use to say: "When you enter a temple, you need to pray. When we enter a house, we need to address people. Another wise saying: "When at home we need our parents, When outside home, we need friends". All these are basic principles of being social. So getting them right we make a lot of friends, failing which we are friendless, and worse becoming anti-social.

Unknown said...

i managed to learn some hokkien name for places that made it so convenient at times.

near to beauty world is my church. sometimes the names are not familiar to older taxi drivers, so I learnt to say "chit kor pua". they know exactly there it is!