Monday, July 13, 2009

街头街尾芽笼巷 - active aging Geylang style

In today’s ST there is a article on active aging. It’s the story of a retired lecturer who feeling bored after a month of migrating down under, returned to the city island to take up a teaching position in a polytechnic. He’s 70 years old.

Well, this photograph taken along Geylang Road tells of a tale that would hit this story of active aging on the head -

It was Sunday afternoon, 1:00pm, walking down Geylang Road from the junction of Guillemard Road towards city, and looking for a place to lunch.

This tanned sinewy Ah Pek – 阿伯 - with balding silver hair painting the shop front caught my eyes. As I was considering painting my new place myself, I thought it would be a fine opportunity to get some hands on free advice on painting from him.

So much for cultivating a kampong spirit in city living, and good neighborliness, it will also give me a chance to get to know some of the residents in this new neighborhood. Notorious though it may be – Geylang - there was a gang attack just the night before in the lorong nearby – there should be friendly souls around, I thought.

Sure enough, Ah Pek was an approachable and affable man, and probably the friendliest of folks that you could expect in a place such as Geylang.

He gave me a cheerful smile, while going about his job and said that the previous tenant – a hotpot restaurant named Alishan – had vacated the lot and he’s sprucing the place up looking for a new tenant. He’s doing up the whole shop by himself – electrical, piping, painting and all and is his own contractor.

He said that he had been working on the shop front for the past three days. First, repairing the cracks on the wall with putty, before applying the paint, and that the work though relatively easy, is strenuous, but it helped him saved without sub-contracting out the work.

Well, his reply fits perfectly to my intent. What he said next, all the more is no excuse not to do the paint job myself –

Ah Pek asked me:

(Do you know how old am I?)

Looking at his sprightly self climbing up and down ladders, I attempted a guess - 70 perhaps.

He smiling replied:

(I’m already 80 years old!)

Ah Pek continued that a few years ago when he was younger, he even replaced the floor tiles on the five-foot way & decorated the facade of the Straits shop house, with a dragon motif.

Seeing that he’s so active for an octogenarian, I whipped out my mobile phone camera, and asked if I could take a picture of him.

Ah Pek gleefully replied:

为什么你要拍我的照片,我有什么美。 你应该拍哪一个吗!
(Why you want to take my photograph, I am no beauty. You should be taking the picture of that one.)

He turned his head and gestured at the prettily dress lass that just walked pass.

So much on active aging – see you in Geylang . . .


1 . 街头街尾芽笼巷

Jie tou jie wei Yalung xiang – literary meaning – up & down Geylang and its lanes

If Beijing has her hutong – 胡同 - and Shanghai the linong – 里弄 - then Singapore, would have or should it be had, Geylang & her lorong's - albeit a humbler version.

Straddling the two main roads – Sims Avenue and Geylang Road - that runs parallel the length of this sub-urban center are the many lorong (Malay) – 巷 – xiang – lane / alley. In all what’s left now is from Lorong 2 to 44.

The locals will head to Geylang – if one is in seek of durian. Pleasure quarters are on the even numbered lorong’s while gourmet offerings in general is on the odd number sector.
It’s the place in Singapore where heaven & earth meets - temples, mosques and churches are an alley’s apart with the house of vices.

While our ancestors gathered at Kereta Ayer - 牛车水- the defunct Chinatown- when they migrated to the Nanyang – 南洋 - a century and more ago, Geylang is alive with the new migrants and foreign labors from China – the new China-town.

Geylang is touted as one of the top 10 tourist attraction by Times magazine.,31489,1845806_1845592_1845748,00.html

2. Ah Pek – 阿伯

Uncle – in local Hokkien dialect to address an elderly man.

阿伯 - a bo ( pinyin) - ah pek (Hokkien) – ah bak (Cantonese ) : paternal uncle – who is older than one’s father
阿叔 – a shu - ah jik - ah suk: paternal uncle younger than one’s father

3. After lunch – went to visit to the museum and the Aljunied Library. On the way back at about 4:30pm, Ah Pek was still actively at work – clearing the back of the shop house. Another centenarian in the making -

4. Despite her notoriety & sleaze – Geylang was and is abode to learned monks and renowned artists – check it out: