Farewell Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre, Orchard Road, Singapore

A photo essay.

If your parents are as old school as mine, you would have grown up on ox-tail stew Wednesdays and have borscht (with a big dollop of sour cream of course) running through your veins.

You would have gone to Shashlik Restaurant (Level 6 Far East Shopping Centre, 545 Orchard Road) properly dressed, wearing covered footwear, and have been on your best behaviour under the watchful eyes of stern Hainanese waiters who served both cabinet ministers and little children with impeccable manners, disdaining the garish fawning that now passes for “good service”.

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

There was a sizeable queue waiting to have their last meal at this retro institution, with its somewhat tired decor.

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

We didn’t really need the menu:
Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

After giving a waitress our order, we settled in for the long wait, smiling as the sole remaining old waiter made his rounds, as serious as ever:

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

To start, borscht soup with soft warm bread (on the side plate with a proper butter knife):
borscht soup, Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

complimentary bread roll. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

or a tray of escargot:
escargot. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Then on to the main course: beef shashlik, optimally medium-rare, brought to the table in skewers, on a serving trolley, and set a-sizzle on hot plates:
beef shashlik. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

or chicken a la kiev:
chicken a la kiev (imperial), Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

And to end, the famous baked alaska:
baked alaska. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

baked alaska. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

and a cherry jubilee, flambéed with butter, brandy, and cream, and served with vanilla ice-cream:
cherry jubilee, flambéed with butter, brandy and cream . Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

and a peach melba with vanilla ice-cream:
peach melba. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

After paying for the meal, I tried to express how sad it was to bid farewell to another tangible reminder of childhood. But “goodbye” was all I could croak to the old cashier. By then, she had already turned to process the next bill.

Life, she seemed to say, goes on.
Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

business card. Shashlik Restaurant, Far East Shopping Centre

Retro Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) Flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore

Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, SingaporePost-training session, I was caught in that sweet limbo between dog-tired and strangely exhilarated, so decided to walk off the adrenaline around the old school Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats at Dakota Crescent.

Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, SingaporeClassic circular stone tables and chairs that are better for yabbers with neighbours

Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singaporethan the current HDB preference for benches.

Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, SingaporeOriginal wooden doors, some painted cheerful colours – the signal flag of gentrification by yuppies and hipsters? ;-o

It was quiet there with a good breeze coming between the flats. But this wasn’t the eerie quietness of abandonment, decay, and death. There was evidence of life – a chalk drawing on the strangely-new badminton court, a boy on a skate-scooter wheeling past to chat and ask to see my photos, and then, music and dancing!

Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore

This “nostalgic playground” was was designed by HDB’s Khor Ean Ghee in 1979. It is immensely charming and built to last, unlike the fading and cracking plastic stuff in fashion now. Aesthetics aside, the whole construction is spread-out enough so that children have the freedom to choose how they want to use the structure without getting on top of each other or having to wait their turn:
Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
Dove Playground, Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore

There were quite a few old cats around, chilling in the shade:
"Please do not throw cats here!". Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
cat in plants. Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore

And a place isn’t old school and retro enough if it doesn’t attract a hipster coffee shop! So here’s Tian Kee & Co. (12 Dakota Crescent, facebook) – they took over the premises of a provision shop that’d been there for the last 54 years.
Tian Kee Cafe, Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
Tian Kee Cafe, Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, SingaporeTian Kee Cafe, Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
Tian Kee Cafe, Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore

Tian Kee Cafe, Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore
Tian Kee Cafe, Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore

  • beans: didn’t ask, but the internet says it is a Dutch Colony blend
  • crema x microfoam: cappucino-thick
  • flavour x body: full-bodied cocoa with faint hint of caramel
  • aftertaste: medium

Dakota Free Library:
Dakota Free Library, Tian Kee Cafe, Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, SingaporeTaking a leaf from Rawls, it was quite a novel thing not to instinctively accuse the authorities of always spoiling things and then to hunt for that petition to sign to prevent the redevelopment of Dakota Crescent, but to:

  • assume that HDB has the welfare of the residents at heart, even if these residents are merely renting the flats;
  • find out the rationale for the relocation. A quick Google brought up this article where the Member of Parliament for Mountbatten, Mr Lim Biow Chuan said this was “ to improve the living conditions of the residents there”. Regular lift breakdowns in the blocks there and the age of the flats meant that moving to a newer flat with the mod cons would be more beneficial to the old folks in the long-term.

I suspect we are so sinful that we have forgotten that speaking ill of another without verification is slander, and slander (“a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report”) is wrong, whether or not someone sues you for it in a human court of law.

Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flats, Dakota Crescent, Singapore

Nostalgic for the 1980s? Cakes, Snacks, Titbits, Childhood Games, and the Dangers of Nostalgia

Because I run with the older crowd, there have been quite a few 40++ (“the new 30s”) birthday celebrations since the start of 2015. At that age, it’s not that much of a treat getting stuff since they have the financial means to buy whatever they want. So rather than going with the cake-fad-of-the-month, we’ve had fun searching out retro cakes and snacks for the occasion. You’re never too young to get all nostalgic.

nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore cakes nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore cakesSponge cake slices with buttercream frosting held up amazingly in our hot and humid Singapore weather. They were from Nice Bakery in Ang Mo Kio (S$1 per slice). A few streets away, Pine Garden sells similar cakes for S$1.50.

Biscuit King, 130 Casuarina Road, Singapore. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro Singapore snacksBiscuit King (130 Casuarina Road, Thomson) is almost a one-stop shop for the snacks and toys and games that kids in the 1980s would have counted out pockey-money for at corner mamak shops and the drinks stall in the school canteen:

individually-wrapped hard-boiled sweets like Hacks, Mentos, and that fizzly orange sweet. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro Singapore snacksindividually-wrapped hard-boiled sweets like Hacks, Mentos, Haw Flakes, barley mints, Hudson wild cherry, Sarsi, White Rabbit, and that fizzly orange sweet,

preserved fruits, nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snackspreserved dried fruits (kana?) – grandmothers’ favourite afternoon chew. I only ate these to assuage sore throats,

biscuit tins. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snackstins of biscuits (usually from Khong Guan) – you pointed to what you wanted and the shopkeeper would then weigh your selection. I liked the ice gems (and debating the best way of eating it – icing first? biscuit base first? indulgently, both at one go?), pineapple jam in a flower-shaped biscuit, cashewnut cookies topped with one half of a cashewnut, salty sticks, butterfly crackers, peppery roll crackers.

nostalgic for the 1980s in Singapore? Mamee Monster
nostalgic for the 1980s in Singapore? Mamee MonsterMamee Monster (S$1.50 for a bag containing little packs from discount shops around Singapore) – seasoned instant noodles (in chicken or BBQ flavours) that you crushed in the packet, added even more seasoning to, then shook about to distribute evenly amongst the dried noodle fragments. I’m surprised they haven’t made a molecular gastronomy equivalent of this yet.

Bee-Bee Snack. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacks Bee-Bee Snack. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksBee-Bee Snack (S$3 for a bagful). The sort of fried flour stuff you ate after swimming class or while waiting for the school bus, after you’ve had your deep-fried chicken wings of course.

nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksLigo California Golden Seedless Raisins – supposedly the healthier snack. But with that amount of sugar… Sometimes the raisins were too dry and you needed to work them in your mouth so your saliva plumped up the wrinkles.

Hiro choc cake. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksKinos Hiro choc cake (S$0.40, Biscuit King). Some sort of sponge with a chocolate coating, tasting of nothing in particular. You needed several to fill you up.

Ding Dang. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacks Kinos Tora. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksDing Dang (S$0.60, Biscuit King) and Tora (S$1.00, Biscuit King) also from Kinos used mean wafer balls covered with chocolate. They’ve now been replaced by some cereal bar nonsense and the packaging art has been changed to reflect the lack of chocolate balls. Toys still included.

Apollo Milk Chocolate Wafer Cream. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksApollo Milk Chocolate Wafer Cream (S$0.80, Sheng Siong Supermarket).

Polo peppermint. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksPolo peppermint sweets (S$0.40, Biscuit King) – we offered them to friends, sucked them so that the circle remained intact, then tried to whistle through them.

Chupa Chups. nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksChupa Chups. Didn’t know they were a brand of Spanish lollies and that their logo was designed by Salvador Dali! Obscure flavours were the most sought-after. When you were done, you tried to whistle through the empty stick, or chewed on them like you didn’t know about the dangers of BPA, or flicked them onto unsuspecting classmates.

(See also Teck Leong Lee Kee for wholesale prices.)

nostalgic for the 1980s? retro "old school" Singapore snacksAh, and what about those childhood games before everyone sat in the canteen and stared at their smartphones? Goli (marbles), national flag erasers, hopscotch, zero point (jump-the-rope with a rope of rubber-bands), snakes-and-ladders, aeroplane chess, pick-up-sticks, Chinese checkers, kuti-kuti (small colourful plastic tokens),

retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s Singapore Bestman Balloons. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s SingaporeBestman Balloon (S$1.20, from the man outside Sheng Shiong Bedok). A whole box just feels like an indulgence. I think we used to get just one or two tubes each, and had to make it last.

Snap card game. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s Singapore Happy Family card game. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s Singapore Donkey card game. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s Singapore Old Maid card game. retro nostalgic old school childhood games, 1980s SingaporeSnap, Happy Families, Donkey, Old Maid card games (S$2.50 for 4 packs from the man outside Sheng Shiong Bedok, S$0.60 each from Party Mama Shop) – these cards aren’t as good quality as they used to be.

On the bus today, an old man in front of me was commenting to his wife as we passed the graves opposite MacRitchie Reservoir:

“See, look all the graves. There are all these young people, keep getting angry that the graves are taken away. For what? All these dead already. And they think they live so nicely in their houses, go to their schools, drive on all the roads, don’t need to knock down old things? Always complain traffic jam, complain too expensive, complain everything. Ask them to take care of a family, a big family, they can anot? They can fit into one house meh? Cannot, then complain. Why not throw away all the old things, then can fit. We all did it before, why they cannot? Stupid nonsense, think they’re so smart!”

Nostalgia is nice and neutral, but we never stop there do we? We rose-tint the past, we talk about the “good old days” when things were better and easier, when people were honest and caring, things were just more authentic. And we know about the inauthenticity of authenticity.

Mired in self-deception:

  • we become needlessly negative about our present;
  • we fail to learn from history, and in our blind nostalgia deliberately repeat the mistakes of the past (eg. the nostalgic theme parks of Eastern Europe longing for their fascist past);
  • we reject the good that has been achieved by the progress of the intervening years;
  • we are unable to properly solve present problems guided by a clear view of past mistakes and present successes.

iced gem biscuits with a cup of milky teathe aforementioned iced gem biscuits