Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Accidental Tourist - "Can Survive Lah!" Tour with Gereldene Lowe

I was fortunate to walk with Ms.  Geraldene Lowe on her 'Can Survive Lah!" tour that focuses on Singapore's surviving but vanishing trades like Joss Stick Maker, Paper House Maker, Chinese Instruments/ Opera Shop Owner and Wood/ Seal Carver. 

Before joining her tour, I was definitely unaware of the existence of these men and women who have been working their craft with their families in the same trade for the past 2-3 generations. 

The Joss Stick Maker was one Mr. Amos Tay who is a third generation artist who makes intricately carved figurines and joss sticks from the cinnamon tree. His shop is located at an industrial park area in Ang Mo Kio. I saw him work his hands that transformed what looked like the 'modern day' "Play Doh" to a fine looking porcupine fish. On another side, gold colored paint was being applied by hand onto certain sections of joss sticks and I stood there mesmerized by the speed of the handiwork that is being performed before my very eyes. From what Gereldene shared, 20 feet tall joss sticks are now banned in Singapore due to fire hazard concerns. I was happy to see that they kept a 10 foot tall joss stick in one corner of the shop and quickly indulged in my photography passion. 

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At our next stop, we walked down to a shop that does Paper Houses. I spoke to one Mr. Zhou who was kind enough to spare me some time to tell me a bit about the history of this place. Apparently he is also took over from his father and these paper houses are generally offered as part of the last journeys of a deceased i.e. burnt as part of the offerings. He told me that after the frames are assembled and tied by hand with each sheet of paper applied onto the stick frames by hand. Despite the labour intensive work involved, they can complete their usual orders in about 1 day! His sister then showed me a photo of one of their most elaborate pieces and informed me that the paper mansion complete with garden, forecourt, gate etc) took them longer - I think she said it was 1-2 months. 

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After a refreshing fruit juice stop at a fruit shop in a hawker centre, we were sped off to meet Mr. Jeffrey Eng (owner of Eng Tiang Huat, a shop who promotes and provides Chinese cultural products like musical instruments, opera costumes and embroidery work since his grandfather's time from 1937). Mr. Eng was affable and was deft in explaining what a Chinese Opera will require to put on a performance by using fake moustache, whiskers and hats. He even played some of the Chinese musical instruments like Erhu and Gong to show how the music complemented the Opera being staged. He was very entertaining with his stories and his shop is definitely a shop of treasures! 

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Our last stop for the day was at Yong Gallery in Chinatown where Mr. Tay (expert woodcarver/ seal maker) is stationed. With patrons like prime ministers, ministers, dignitaries, he is definitely well loved for his skills and handiwork. Fortunately for us, he was able to display his carving skills on a small Chinese seal in a work table located just outside his shop. Mental note to self is to make sure I get a nice wood carved plaque made by him for my birthday. 

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I have certainly enjoyed my half-day excursion with  Geraldene  as I saw a side of my little island that I have NEVER thought to exist.  Geraldene Tours are definately unique and one of a kind and she has so many stories and memories to share that I will jump at another chance to go on her guided tour when the opportunity arises. 

You can contact Geraldene through the following means if you are interested to find out more of her tours: 
email: geraldenestorus@hotmail.com 
Tel: (65) 81551390/  (65) 67375250
address: 27 Oxley Road, #06-08 Orchard Court, Singapore 238621

Till the next time, onto the world and beyond! 

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