Monday, August 6, 2012

The PeRUNakan

By Kelly Liew, Advanced Diploma in Nursing (Midwifery)
My secondary school friend, Kian Hong (left), and I looking for clues during the race
I received my secondary school education in Tanjong Katong Secondary School, which is in Katong area and as such, Katong became the hangout for me and my peers. I remember walking down Haig road (where the school is) to Tanjong Katong Shopping Centre for a cheap meal before we went home. When we had a little more money, we would walk down East Coast Road to the famous Katong laksa shop, where we bought ourselves bowls of flavourful laksa only to be eaten with spoons and no chopsticks. Such beautiful memories! Till now, Katong remains my top choice when I am asked to decide on a place for food.

Don’t be mistaken, there is more to Katong than food, food and more food. And I discovered this last Saturday when I participated in PeRUNakan  - an “Amazing Race” style game. This event was organised by The Peranakan Association Singapore, supported by the National Heritage Board, and partnered with students from NYP’s School of Information Technology (SIT) Student Club.  Our students spent three months planning for this event. I took up the challenge and joined 19 other teams in the race as we set out to discover a different side of the Katong/ Joo Chiat area. I was confident as I had my secondary school friend, Kian Hong, as my partner for the day. Reminiscing fondly, I thought to myself, "We grew up here right?"
The race started at I12 Katong (formerly Katong mall). Each of the team was given a sheet of paper which contained 4 different pictures of different checkpoints in the Katong/ Joo Chiat area. Below the pictures, we had to answer questions that were given to us at each checkpoint. Initially, I was confident, but I lost all hope the moment I saw those pictures! Both of us had no idea where to start looking. I was a little reserved about stopping strangers to ask for guidance. Kian Hong, on the other hand, went all out to ask almost everyone he saw if they knew where those places in the pictures were.

Our first source of help came from a nice nyonya (female Peranakan) from Rumah Bebe. She led us to the Kim Choo Kueh Chang shop at Joo Chiat place. When we spotted the distinct green shop house, we were immediately greeted by the smell of savoury rice dumplings. The checkpoint station master handed us a clue to the answer to the first question. Being very kiasu, I tried to ask for hints from the station masters but they appeared as clueless. I later found out from Jin An, the leader of SIT club, that the core planning team deliberately kept the information from the station masters to prevent ‘a leak of information’. How smart! [Editor’s note: Naughty, naughty Kelly! :P]

Clue 1: ‘What is the Unit number of this place?’
 The next place that we went to was a shop house on Joo Chiat road. There, we were given our second clue. The third picture had us thinking for a long time. Many residents we approached told us that there were many possible areas to look for the uniquely Katong terrace houses. Such single storey terrace houses were built slightly risen from the ground to prevent flood waters from entering the house during high tides. After a thorough Google search on my phone, we were led to Joo Chiat Terrace, where we found the house. The house is the cosy home of Mr Alvin Yapp, a lover of Peranakan culture. He collects items that were used by the Peranakans and opens his home to visitors to share his love for the Peranakan culture, history and lifestyle. It was pity that we missed the chance to enter the house.

Mr Alvin Yapp’s Peranakan home - The Intan
By the time we left the house, we were exhausted. Slowly, the two of us strolled to the nearby drinks stall to get a drink, not forgetting to ask for suggestions to the last checkpoint. We were in luck when we stopped by a shop that sold Popiah skin made the traditional way. A boy from that shop identified it as a shop near the Boon Tong Kee chicken rice shop. We immediately hopped on a taxi and rushed over. Very quickly, we found The Peranakan Association Singapore which was the last check point. By that time, most teams had already caught up with us and started looking for the answers to the last picture.

It was only at around 4.30 pm when all the teams returned to I12 Katong and submitted the answers. I could see everyone as looking tired and as exhausted as I was. I felt old!

At 6 pm, the winners of the race were presented with the new iPads, Canon cameras and iPod touch. No, I didn't win any of those. I did, however, take away many valuable lessons from the event. It allowed me to discover a side of Katong and Joo Chiat I never knew of. I also learnt the lifestyles of the Peranakan, and their culture fascinates me. One day, I hope to be as patient as the Nyonyas, and complete my very own Kasot Manek (Peranakan beaded shoe).

The participants in the PeRUNakan
A pair of Kasot Manek can take up to 3 months to complete.
 In the month of August, all National Heritage Board museums will open their doors for free for Singaporeans and PRs. I encourage everyone to visit them and join me in the quest to embrace our heritage. See you!
Kelly is a first year student, pursing an Advanced Diploma in Nursing (Midwifery), who loves reading and cooking. She also likes to spend time with her friends, engaging in relaxing activities. Her friends describe her as unpredictable, spontaneous and inquisitive.

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