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Holland V by Toh Weisi [ Ed- Congrats, this is good ]

The community I live in is a colourful one, nestled in the alternative epicentre of Singapore's night life. It has become a coffee-joint cum fast-food restaurant enclave, fast succumbing to the influences of American commercialism, while still retaining hints of local culture in its many fruit, food and flower shops. The place my friends call 'Holland Village', I call home.

My family has been living here for the past two years, before which we frequented several restaurants in the vicinity, especially on weekends. Ironically, we as a family have since lost interest in even our favourite outlets, preferring rather to have a simple meal at some of the far less expensive places, if not, at home. Even so, we continue to depend on the many conveniences and facilities our self-sufficient neighbourhood has to offer us, including two supermarkets, three photo-processing studios, two pharmacies, numerous cobbler stands, a post office and a swimming complex.

Without people, a community cannot be considered as such; the familiar faces behind the counters and shopfronts-- supermarket cashiers and proud stallholders, among others-- and the ever-presence of the weekday and weekend crowd have made a difference to our time here, while shaping the facade of this lively place.

Above all, the humble yellow-beamed, zinc-roofed cooked food centre here in Holland Village reigns as a valued symbol of our national culture-- it is where working professionals out for their lunch break, tired housewives returning from the market and expatriate families congregate to enjoy a meal full of Singaporean zest. The grease-spewing shop lots are surrounded by sticky tabletops and equally filthy seats, onto which people eagerly squeeze. There is no greater manifestation of the Singaporean pastime.

My father, now semi-retired, is a keen supporter of such a pastime. He spends most of his day hanging out at this hawker centre, talking to Uncle Ho, the chicken rice seller. It is no wonder then, that when my mother decides not to cook, we inevitably have chicken rice for dinner; in fact, my father now pays for chicken rice and drinks on a monthly basis! Amongst the four of us in the family, he definitely has the greatest attachment to this community of sorts.

Our family has had a particularly long-lasting relationship (which started long before my brother's school blazer needed to be dry-cleaned) with the Instant Wash Centre's lady boss. About half of my mother's wardrobe is sent down each week, and all her clothes are returned without a crease, smelling nice. We get nice discounts as well, and I get a toffee each time I visit the shop.

The Sweets Secrets Bakery provides for most of our breakfasts-- chocolate eclairs, cinnamon buns, Danish pastries-- which we get, free-of-charge, from the bakery itself every Thursday night. My mother has this perfect arrangement with the staff, who gratefully pass her plastic-bagfuls of the day's leftovers. We share this with the Malay family a few doors away, and they in turn send over saliva-invoking delicacies during their festivities.

However, for our family, this is probably where our involvement in the community ends. Although the community club is within a hundred metres of our flat, we have never set foot in the place, and were never drawn by even the most exciting activities organised by the club. We have only just met our next-door neighbours, and that was by chance, a result of taking the same lift together, and later realising that they lived right next to us. As such, we do lead quite private lives, as do the households around us. It is not a close-knit community we live in.

The neighbour I interact with most is a 10-year old girl, who lives three floors below us with her mother. I help her with her schoolwork sometimes, but even then, we do not meet each other routinely. My mother has yet to join the market brigade, and my brother, serving his time as a navy cadet, has virtually no social life to speak of, much less, community involvement. Our family evidently has not been assimilated into the heart-land culture of the area, and has no intention of being so, preferring rather to blend in, as observers, with the cosmopolitan crowd.

Yet, this does not stop me from enjoying purely being able to live in such an environment. There are many things I do enjoy about living here, among these, the accessibility and cultural diversity.

More than seven bus services serve this area, with a Mass Rapid Transit station nearby. From here, my family is able to reach all of the destinations within our routine -- namely school and the workplace-- by public transport. Similarly, we receive many visitors, because of the high accessibility of our neighbourhood. I enjoy, especially, the times when my friends call, requesting me to join them downstairs, at one of the three coffee joints here. My community is undoubtedly a very convenient place to live in; when sent to buy milk from the supermarket, for example, I can race down and up with the milk in less than ten minutes.

Further, I enjoy the diversity this community has to offer me; the crowd mix is so varied that it is impossible to describe people as a whole, except that they are 'Holland Village-goers'. There are throngs of teenagers in their school uniforms, burdened with files and textbooks, either studying-- trying to study-- or grabbing a quick bite before diving back into those books. There are young Japanese mothers, infants in arms, with a toddler or two, browsing the ethnic gift shops; there are Caucasian couples dining in a Thai restaurant; rich Chinese kids enjoying Häagen Dazs green tea ice cream; Bangladeshi workers mending broken tarmac...the blend of cultures and people from all social stratas makes this place truly unique. What is special to me is that I can observe all this just by looking out of my balcony window!

Living in such surroundings provides the excuse for the occasional treat from my parents, for stress relief, or for good effort. While we do not fancy eating out a lot, it feels good knowing that one can pop downstairs anytime, for a classy bite.

I derive even more joy from being part of situations where I feel the human 'touch' to the atmosphere of the community. I clearly remember the time I felt like baking banana crumble at nine p.m., and then realised that our household had run out of bananas. I sped down to the fruit stall which was closing, and asked to buy a bunch of bananas. Recognising me, the fruit stall lady decided to give the bananas to me at no cost; she even asked for the recipe! It is these little things I enjoy, incidents that reveal that in spite of the hustle and bustle, we are still capable of building a semblance of human relationship.

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