Friday, August 21, 2009

bite me, if you love me! - the Geylang connection

What has them in common -
- love me, bite me, duck neck, Fist of Fury- all in Geylang.

- Since moving to Geylang, I’ve been trying to catch up with all the wonderfully interesting shops and signboards along Geylang Road. Interpose with the traditional straits shop houses, and you will find vignettes of the sub-urbancenter in transformation

At a glance, I thought that the Chinwoo Athletic Association located in Neil Road had set up a branch in Geylang.

Though within Geylang precinct there is already quite a number of clan associations and clubs that offer martial arts and pugilistic training, and well, perhaps to attract the new migrants from our ancestor land and to boost its membership, the association had extended to the eastern part of the island.

- For Geylang is the under-declared Chinatown of 21st century Singapura.

However, I found it a little misplaced that the big sign outside the shop front should be titled – 精武門 -Jingwu Men. If it is a branch of the Chinwoo Athletic Association, & in keeping with the official name of Chinwoo Association worldwide – it should be - 新嘉坡精武體育會 – 芽籠支部. – Xinjiapo Jingwu Tiyuhui Yalong zhibu - Geylang Branch.

Well, 精武門 – Jingwu men – is the title of Bruce Lee 1972 movie hit, Fist of Fury – in Chinese. And getting all the more curious, and wanting to find out more what is in Jingwu men, I ventured into the shop to take a closer look –

Instead of a dojo – it actually is a kopitiam that started off selling the local fare such as curry chicken noodles & laksa. However, along with the influx of the new migrants, the kopitiam has transformed itself into a semi-pub, and with a front stall selling possibly the latest craze in Geylang –yabozi - duck neck.

Interestingly on the wall, I also found not one, but two photographs of the founder of Chinwoo – Huo Yanjia - 霍元甲(1867 – 1909 -haphazardly placed on the wall, among the mess of tables, chairs and drinking bottles.

Not in a million years, I thought would ever the upright and respectable HuoYanjia, approve of his photographs to be hung in a messy kopitiam-cum-watering hole, that is patronized by pot-bellied ah pek, (local dialect for uncle) & pandered by 流萤 – liuying – fireflies.

Well, in Geylang, Bugis, and Chinatown – there is a proliferation of - yabozi stalls and shops – usually branded as :

武汉久久鸭脖子 – Wuhan 99 duck neck
武汉精武鸭脖子 - Wuhan Jingwu duck neck

Jingwu is derived from the street name – Jingwu Lu – 精武路 - in Wuhan which is supposedly the origin & center of the yabozi stalls.

There story had it that – one of the stalls invented the catchy phrase as its advertisement slogan:

爱我就啃我 - aiwo jiu kenwo - if you love me, bite me!

That is - buy my duck neck and you will be assured of a good, crunchy and tasty bite.

With this catchy phase, well, the rest as the say was history. Thro the web – this advertisement caught on China-wide.

If you go Beijing, you will not leave without having a taste of Beijing duck. If you go to Wuhan, having a bite of the duck neck, is a must taste in the itinerary. The duck biz – neck and all – is reportedly a RMB6 billion ($$1.25B) dollar business in Wuhan.

As Hou Yanjia is a native of Tianjin – 天津 (the city with the eco-project joint with Singapore), Jingwu - 精武- has long been registered as a trademark by a food business in Tianjin. And reportedly this Tianjing company has taken the Wuhan Food business to court for infringing on the word - Jingwu.

Perhaps – the Wuhan entrepreneur who ventured into Singapore has an eye for Geylang – for one, because of the congregation of the Chinese migrants there, and two, all the more because there is a free flow of love in Geylang…. if you love me, bite me.

Well, so much for the duck business, out goes the window Chinwoo & the founder…Geylang, Wuhan yabozi style.

Notes & references:

1. 精武 - Chinwoo - Jingwu

Chinwoo – possibly derived from the southern Chinese dialect, such as Cantonese - zingmou – is the same as - jingwu (pinyin).

Chinwoo Athletic association was spread to the Chinatowns world wide by the early migrants from South-china.

This picture of the Chinwoo Athletic Association in KL was take in 2005 CNY period - @ Chinwoo Hill, close to KL Chinatown.

2. 霍元甲 - Huo Yanjia


3 . Films on Chinwoo and its founder

- Fist of Fury - 1972 : Starring Bruce Lee & Nora Miao

It was an impressionable film that I watched while in Form 3, in my hometown. I remember after the show, I reverted to using chopsticks for dinner that evening, instead of eating with fork and spoon.

- Fearless - 2006 : Starring Jet Li - & based on the autobiography of Huo Yanjia.,

4. 鸭脖子 - yabozi –

Listed as the 10 ten snacks in Beijing Street food - reported in The Star, Toronto -

Yabozi (duck's neck) – The duck's neck is long and winding, weird-looking and leathery, but it's chopped up and makes a great snack-in-a-bag. The neck is marinated in brine with chilies, boiled and, finally, stir-fried. Its flavours vary from star anise to cumin, but this classic Wuhan snack will likely leave your lips buzzing. You don't need to spend an evening (and a fortune) in a fancy restaurant having Beijing duck to, well, eat duck: You can also buy whole ducks on the street.

Tianjin net : (in Chinese)

5. 流萤 – liuying – fireflies.

This term is used in the local Chinese dailies to refer to the lady-of-the night, the street-walkers that congregate in Geylang area, from sun-down .