Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Great Peranakans: Learning about the Grandfathers behind the roads

There is a odd little phrase we use in Singapore, typically directed at people who are taking their own sweet time to cross the road - "your grandfather's road is it"? For some people, the answer could be .... ... Yes!

Tan Tock Seng
Today, I visited the Peranakan Museum's exhibition on Great Peranakans: Fifty Remarkable Lives, featuring babas and nonyas who had contributed to Singapore's early economicdevelopment and nation-building, also to its cultural and social development.  Some are well-known, like Mr Tan Tock Seng, who endowed the Chinese Paupers' Hospital, which subsequently was named after him, but still following in his tradition of caring for all who enter its doors.  Or Lim Boon Keng, Tan Cheng Lock, etc, who at least I have heard of within more "modern" times!

Others are less well-known - maybe  remembered best for the roads named after them, such as Seah  Liang Seah of Liang Seah street,  Tan Kim Tian (Kim Tian Road in Tiong Bahru) or Tan Keong Saik of Keong Saik street.(I'm sure he's glad that his street is now a row of nice eateries rather than a row of brothels....).  And who knew that Koon Seng road (the one with pretty pastel houses, see my earlier post here - although I didn't mention the street's name) was known for the development of Malay theatre in Singapore?And of course, Mr Chew Joo Chiat, who owned the land on both sides of the road which bears his name today.

The majority of those mentioned are men, but I was glad to see a few ladies' names subsequently appear.
Painting of Mandalay Villa
Ladiies like Dr Lee Choo Neo, Singapore's first female physician (and Lee Kuan Yew's aunt), her good friend Mrs Tay Lian Teck (yes, there is another road named after her husband - he died during WWII), and Mrs Lee Choon Guan (Mdm Tan Teck Neo, daughter of Tan Keong Saik).  Mrs Lee was a well known socialite and famous hostess, who threw big parties at her mansion, Mandalay Villa on Amber Road (of course it has been long since torn down). It was at one of these parties that a certain Mr LKY asked a young Miss KGC to wait for him, till he came back from his studies in the UK. Back then, I suppose the Peranakan community was small and relatively close.

The other fascinating thread that runs through it - families.  Tan Tock Seng's oldest son Tan Kim Ching (apparently rumoured to be the head of some secret societies) but also a good friend of the Thai Royal family, due to his trading connections; Kim Ching's grandson, Tan Boo Liat; Tan Tock Seng's grandson by his third son, Tan Chay Yan (who started a rubber plantation here in Malaya), and Maggie Lim (nee Tan), a seventh generation descendent of Tan Tock Seng who started family planning in Singapore.

On the left, Kwa GC's wig and on the right, Lee KY's
The political leaders who contributed to modern Singapore are profiled too - Lim Yew Hock, the second Chief Minister of Singapore, and from the PAP - Goh Keng Swee, Toh Chin Chye, Lim Kim San, and of course Lee Kuan Yew are featured too. I did not know that Mr Lee never referred to himself as a Peranakan or a Baba, but of course if his mother is the author of one of the best known Nonya cookbooks it is a dead giveaway (to take just one small example).  Mrs Lee is also featured in the exhibition and hers and Mr Lee's lawyers' wigs share a prime spot.

In short, this exhibition, held as it is in Singapore's SG50 Jubilee year, is indeed timely for younger Singaporeans to remember and celebrate the roles and contributions the Peranakan community has played in the development of Singapore.  And find out what it takes to get a road named after you......

P.S. In case you can't make it down, there is an app!  The coolest thing.  Features some of the Peranakans profiled (not all), with a short profile, little audio recordings, etc.  Just search for "Great Peranakans" on your phone and check it out. There is also a book, "Great Peranakans: Fifty  Remarkable Lives" based on the exhibition and available at the National Library.  As at this moment of writing, it is sitting on the table beside me.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Few Stollen Moments

Once upon a time there was a girl called Whitney and she sang like an angel.  This post is not about her, although I could not resist naming this post after one of her greatest hits.  This year, I decided to try out my baking skills on that well-known German Christmas favourite, stollen. 

To be honest, I did not intend to write about stollen this year.  I meant to share about my first experience creating a beautiful, iced sugee cake.  But the icing turned out a little less stiff and somewhat messy.  Certainly nothing to post pretty pictures about.  So, in the tradition of sharing a recipe every Christmas, I decided to go with the stollen.  After all, there are Eurasians of German descent too (at least I think so).  And we've gone through the pineapple tarts, mince pies, sugee, fruit cake, shortbread etc etc.  

Stollen is essentially a yeasted bread, filled with fruit and marzipan, and covered with a snow-like layer of icing sugar.  I took up breadmaking this year and frankly enjoy kneading the bread, the texture and heft of the dough, the smell of bread baking in the oven and of course the delectable goodness of freshly baked bread.  So when I found a nice-looking recipe from Paul Hollywood (of Great British Bake-off fame), I knew it was time to do a Christmas bread.

It's a straightforward recipe - prepare the dough, add the fruit and spices and let it rise, then roll it out, and add the marzipan.  Many recipes require that the marzipan be rolled up like a sausage in the middle of the loaf but Paul's doesn't - you roll it out thinly and then roll it up with the dough.  This way the marzipan is better distributed in the loaf itself.  (I used half the amount of marzipan stipulated in the recipe.... ours is not a sweet toothed family, and the dried fruit is already sweet.) Let stand for another hour, then bake.

So does it look like a babe in swaddling clothes?
When ready, it is apparently meant to resemble the baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes.  Indeed my effort did have a certain resemblance....

I should probably have left it in the oven for another 15 minutes or so, for it did turn out a little underbaked (as Hollywood would say). But it was still a tasty, buttery, fruity loaf, full of Christmas flavours. Perfect with a cup of coffee, for a stollen moment on a busy Christmas morning.

Merry Christmas to all!


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