Friday, October 26, 2007

Endangered Ubin Lontong

Wikipedia defines Lontong as "an Asian dish made of compressed rice that is then cut into small cakes". Home-made lontong is possibly rather hard to come by these days. However, on the island of Pulau Ubin exist one such specimen of Lontong that possibly defines what Lontong should be like.

A glimpse of the rare specimen of lontong

Now why do I say this Ubin Lontong is an endangered species? It's not because you can no longer find good lontong else where in Singapore or in the world. Instead, it's this particular lontong that is endemic on Ubin. You cannot find it elsewhere but at Pak Ali's coffeeshop beside the jetty bridge on Pulau Ubin.

Pak Ali's coffeeshop

What more, it's such an rare species that you cannot even find it on other days apart from Sundays before 11am! Sometimes by 10am, it's already gone, grabbed off the shelves by its devoted followers or incidental fans.

Unfortunately, ignorant ape that I am, I have never known of the existence of this delectable lontong till last Sunday (21 Oct) when I visited Chek Jawa with Ria and a few special friends. Before we embarked on our journey, we had a leisurely breakfast, enjoying the heavenly lontong soaked in drool-inducing coconut curry gravy. In fact, just writing this is making me drool uncontrollably again!

Now why is this lontong endangered? Well this delicacy comes from the hands of the macik (auntie) of the establishment, wife of Pak Ali. The couple must be at least 90 years old now and they are still working every day at their coffeeshop under the Assam tree*. Not only do they serve fantastic lontong but the meesiam and mee rebus are also irresistible.

Pak Ali with Dr Chua Ee Kiam, author of the Pulau Ubin: Ours to Treasure book

During Hari Raya, the amazing couple also offers homemade candies and goodies in their coffeeshop. Unfortunately, as with the rest of the aging population, the lontong is under threat as it may very well disappear from the face of this planet when the cook is no longer with us. Where then would we find our Ubin lontong?

Hari Raya goodies at Pak Ali's shop

Even as life and death are part of the natural cycles of our existence, it is unavoidable that one day the Ubin lontong will cease to be. However, let it be remembered that we once had this fantastic lontong and it was delicious!

*I am still looking for the photo I have of the coffeeshop and the Assam tree beside it. Once I find it, I will be sure to share it on Ubin Stories.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Long lost classmates

It was this photo that started it all.

It was this photo that started this blog rolling and growing as early as May 2004.

It was also this photo that made a connection across the Pacific Ocean a few weeks ago. I received an comment from somebody in USA who had the exact same photo. Compare the two photos here.

It turns out that Dennis's mother was a classmate of my mother! The children of Ubin go far. Both his parents are from Pulau Ubin and they migrated to the US in the 1970s. Dennis was born in Mississippi, USA but now lives in Texas. Unfortunately his mom passed away a few years ago. But at least my mom's dream of finding news of her classmates is slowly coming true.

It'll probably come as a shock to many who has only seen the Ubin of today that the island used to be a big settlement with a population close to tens of thousands at its peak. The granite quarries on the island were a big source of income for the island in addition to the rubber plantations and other primary production industries.

While it is really unfortunate that my mom never got a chance to catch up with her classmate in person, Dennis and his father with my mother and I in Singapore exchanged stories via email. Dennis has fond memories of Ubin as unlike me, he has had the opportunity to live on Ubin for a few months in his life in the early 1980s. His mother and grandmother also often told him many stories of Ubin.

Dennis' paternal grandfather was the accountant of the Ho Man Choo Quarry. In the above photo you can see the actual name of the quarry. It was spelt "woo mon chew" but the chinese characters reveal that perhaps the name "Ho Man Choo" (Chua, 2000) is the Hokkien or Teochew pronunciation of the name. Today, NParks has renamed the quarry as Pekan Quarry. Naturally Woo Mon Chew was the name of the quarry owner. Dennis "thinks it was opened in 1947 and closed or sold in 1970".

"My mother's family lived near the quarry. I remember as a child when we would visit Ubin, there would be sirens that go off to signal the blast of the granites. We would all have to take cover or go indoors. Sometimes we would see small chunks of dirt and debris fall out of the sky. There used to be a well behind my mother's house." - Dennis, in email correspondence

Coincidentally, in July 2005, when I first brought my mother back to Ubin, the first time in more than 35 years that she has been back to Ubin, she actually pointed out to me Dennis' mother's home on Ubin. She remembered buying drinks and that there was a hairdresser in the area. Seeing the photos that Dennis has scanned and uploaded on flickr, she regaled me with fond stories of her childhood.

This was Dennis' paternal grandparents home which is just beside Pekan Quarry, where the Nparks office was, where the toilet and Jelutong Campsite is today. Next time as you walk by the area, think of the families that lived here before!

As my mother lived very much further west of the town, she would always walk home together with Dennis' mom up till their home before my mother continues on home down the road. She remembers buying drinks from Hai Liang's shop which is now near where the seafood restaurant is. In fact, the shop may still be there. Monkey will investigate.

Dennis' mother and father lived next door to each other. Their houses face each other along the road. In fact, Dennis' maternal aunt and uncle still lives in their family home on Ubin today!

Dennis' Mother's family

I have really been inspired to really try to scan and go through my family's photos and talk to my granduncles who lived on the island. There is so much to learn and record before this bit of Ubin's history disappears forever. Dennis' love for his family and his excellent memory (unlike my memory of a goldfish) has really benefitted all of us who now know so much more about Ubin. And of course my mother who now knows a little more about the girl who stood beside her in the class photo.

Thank you for sharing your stories Dennis! Hopefully I can convince him to become a regular contributor for Pulau Ubin Stories!

See more photos of Pulau Ubin from 1940s - 1970s on Dennis' flickr set. He found these photos of Ubin in his grandmother's home and scanned them all!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Six restoration projects win Architectural Heritage Awards

By Margaret Perry, Channel NewsAsia
01 October 2007 2020 hrs

SINGAPORE: Six restoration projects have won the Architectural Heritage Awards this year.
The sixth award winner is the House No. 1 located at the eastern tip of Pulau Ubin.

It is believed to be Singapore's only remaining authentic Tudor-style house with a fireplace. Its uniqueness fits in nicely with its new function as a visitor centre to Singapore's nature treasure, Chek Jawa Wetlands.

Read the full story here.