Sunday, January 24, 2016

Chinatown Festive Street Bazaar for the Year of Monkey (2016) @ Singapore

Frequent readers of this blog would be aware that i make it a point to visit Chinatown a few weeks before Chinese /Lunar New Year to cover the street bazaar and this year is no exception; in fact, the upcoming new year is exceptionally special as it's the year of monkey (my year)!

For those who are wondering on the length of the Bak Kwa queue at Lim Chee Guan; the situation wasn't bad at all even though you might wish to note that i visited on Monday afternoon six days ago.

As usual, let's start the walk via the pedestrian-only Pagoda Street!

To summarise on the stalls and their offerings, they didn't vary much from last year or even the years before. There is a high duplication rate across the years so do bear with me as i try to keep my comment short and succinct.

Cushion covers - although with a new home in the work, my generation would be less likely to change our cushion covers to adhere to the red festive theme. Maybe i have not reached that "stage" yet.

Only during Chinese New Year would your eyes be bombarded by a lot of red-themed shops; it's interesting that while Chinese thinks red signifies luck, the Westerners tend to associate it with danger.

Tons of cute monkey plushies and there many more to come in this post.

Brick and mortar shops are usually allocated the outdoor space to extend their business operations and in the case of Fragrance bak kwa, it makes total sense since bak kwa is like one of the most-haves at home, when relatives and friends visit.

Pricing as of last Monday. Feel free to taste some before you make a decision. From my memory, Fragrance bak kwa tends to have a higher fat ratio.

Some shops chose not to align with the festive theme which i thought is good as it tends to bring out something different that further adds on to the variety for the melting pot society we live in.

Lanterns that might look out of place in the smaller HDB flats that most of us live in nowadays. I think even in the mind of my parents, the big-ass pineapple decoration is preferred as the pronunciation of the fruit in Hokkien (ong lai) is similar to "prosperity is coming".

Dad, from young, would take on the task of decorating the house before Chinese New Year. With cheaper imports from China in recent years, he has the tendency to buy more and a lot more when the stalls start to slash prices on the day before the new year starts.

A S$2 shop that misled customers into thinking everything is S$2; to be fair, some of the items were priced as low as S$0.50! So no complaint on that.

Mini rice buckets; for rice-eating Chinese (especially those from Southern China where most of my ancestors come from), it's important to "show" that the rice container is always filled. Normally, you would see the word "满" which means full.

Monkey soft toys again; notice that aside from donning festive clothing, these monkeys had a special makeup to "up" their appeal. Can you identify what the makeup is?

It's funny that a statue can have a shift in its cultural significance with a change in surrounding. In the past, i would have thought the samsui woman was resting. Now, with the huge sign notifying the opening of "CurryTimes", the statue seemed to be waiting for it to open!

Along Pagoda Street - this section laid smacked in between two religious abodes that are not our traditional Chinese temples; the Muslim masjid jamae chulia and Hindu sri mariamman temple.

If i have a kid, i would dress him / her up like this.

Nice decorations but in my house, this would have collected a lot of dust! As i age, i tend to veer towards practicality and since i take on household chores, the lesser to clean, the better.

Singapore-theme tote bags priced at S$2 apiece! Now, who says Singapore's stuff is expensive. This was in fact cheaper than many touristy places in China!

I am supportive of Singapore-themed artwork and decorations; don't be surprised if you see big cushions in the design of ang ku kueh in my house.

Chinese New Year (CNY) auspicious couplets that would be pasted on the sides and top of the main door frame.

Beautiful paper cuts - i remember that there was a few art sessions on paper cutting when i was in primary or secondary school and it was extremely fun! I was quite good in it actually.

Sea bird nest - otherwise known as coral seaweed in one of the stalls along Pagoda street. Unlike the one i blogged about before, this falls under a different brand.

It has a few unique flavours that the other brand (Arkon) doesn't have though; including cranberry, pineapple, almond and osmanthus. Unfortunately, i didn't check out the pricing.

I don't profess to be a snacker but i might have needs for the above device. Looking like straws, they are like simple mechanical sealer for that bag of chips that you couldn't finish.

賺錢湯 - translated as "earn money soup", the one question on everyone's mind is whether we can earn more money after drinking more soup. Essentially, it is a nutritionally healthy soup that believes money would automatically come in with good health.

Personally, i am more interested in the bottles of longan honey sold at the same stall. Specially imported by the stall owner from Taiwan, this 3-kilogram bottle retailed at S$80. Go check it out as the owner brought in only 20 bottles for sale!

Curtains - like many people nowadays, i am more keen in having blinds instead of curtains for my windows. Let's see as curtains nowadays are quite economically priced and putting them up isn't as cumbersome as before.

Seeds from the thousand-eye Bodhi trees that fruit once every forty years - this Buddhist accessory is said to enhance luck and evade evil.

The bazaar comprises of stalls in Pagoda, Smith. Temple, Sago and Trengganu streets and in my opinion, those along Temple streets tend to offer more unique stuff.

This street is also the most photographed street during the Chinese New Year period given the towering People's Park Complex right at the end.

See, even the cushions deviated from the usual ones!

LED t-shirts - they were at the exact same location last year! Maybe i should have bought a few for Jovyn and Jerald; oh well, i am likely going to be there on the eve and shall buy if they still have  the sizes.

Honey again although this time, they hailed from the Korean island of Jeju! Prices were a lot higher than the ones from Taiwan; priced at S$60 for a much smaller bottle.

Custom made name plates - i would likely be getting one for my new flat once it is in move-in condition! My intention now is to have a photo wall and having a "label" for the wall would be cool. Hm.... should i have it as "Cavin's Crazy Moments"?

It's a pity that about 10 percent of the stalls along the stretch wasn't open even though it was about 3pm when i was there. One of the keys purchases i would make on an annual basis would be the coffee from "Kopi Hock".

Keropoks from Malaysia / Indonesia!

I am more interested in the dipping sauce; as there didn't appear to be sampling of the sauce and i am by nature shy to ask, i continued my way.

African products and accessories - this was in the news a couple of years ago and the lady owner was so cute; she purposely looked this way when i took the picture.

According to the recent article on The Straits Times, this is the third time they are setting up shop for the CNY bazaar and these beautiful handbags / clutches are "completely handmade"!

Thin yet soft, comfortable looking blankets at S$10 each. I don't see any bedsheets this year even though i doubt i would buy any; the last time i did, the material couldn't withstand the washing power of my washing machine and broke apart after the second or third wash.

Our usual CNY decorations stall.

Korean Tees - the material was silky smooth and it's a pity they didn't have anything for men. Anyway, i doubt i would buy any as i like to try out my tops before i buy.

This time round, i noted quite a number of stalls selling handmade Chinese New Year goodies and i would suggest you bring along an empty stomach to sample!

The one above even had promotion freebies for those who purchase more than S$50; a free stainless steel insulation lunch box / two-piece kitchen helper.

Lacking the image of Chen Mei Feng this time, the popular Taiwan soap opera starlet, this marketed the healthy flaxseed oil soup thingy.

Two stalls side by side - right one is on accessories like bracelets etc and the left one sells real  frozen flowers which were a species of chrysanthemum that can last up to 10 years!

Nail foils - don't know how they work since the target group was on ladies. 

King of Peanuts - i was instructed specially by my mom to buy a few bags so that she can indulge before the new year starts! Anyway, i would only be buying at the end of my walk since i didn't want to lug them along with my camera and there were usually quite a few stalls selling peanuts and melon seeds. 

Unshelled macadamia nuts from China - this reminded me of my major regret in China back in October when i didn't buy enough!! Another to-buy item added to my list.

The same shop offered a variety of fresh fruit and dried products from China. As i mentioned before, China does have good quality products and it's worthwhile to check out what's on sale! 

Hanging CNY decorations.

Do you know that the variety of melon seeds and peanuts brought in for the bazaar / during this period is so special that you could not find them at all once the celebrations for the lunar new year are over?! 

I don't even know what the hell is Taiwan on the 8th peanuts - I wasn't a lover for peanuts and melon seeds in the past but the increased variety means there's bound to be a few that i enjoy. For one, i love black-seed King Kong peanuts! 

Prosperity sweets - when i was very much younger, these were heavily sought after, especially the ones with gold foil which was a determinant for wealth for make-believe plays. 

As usual, a lot of Taiwan imported goodies like the mochis and jellies. Maybe i should make a trip to Taiwan next year to cover on their CNY festival bazaars; for all you know, a lot of products we see here might not even be sold there. 

One stall helper gamely showed me the items in ice-cold water that were prepared for sampling! In his words; feel free to sample and buy only if you like the taste! That's the spirit for any kind of sampling! 

Business was relatively slow since most people prefer to buy only when the new year is near. If you have time, it's a great opportunity to sample first and then decide later. Don't wait till the even though; i did last year and some of the stuff i wanted were pretty much sold out. 

Located at the corner of the cross junction of Temple and Trengganu streets, do check out their special nuts like sesame cashew nuts! 

This was here every single year at the exact same location! 

Please try the delicious braised mushrooms! I shared before how much i disliked Chinese mushrooms in the past and how much i love it now that i have gotten over the barrier! 

Aside from the main ingredient (the Chinese mushrooms), the key to its marvellous taste lies in the bottles of mushroom powder that look suspiciously like bee pollen powder! 

Trengganu Street - in the eve, this was easily the most crowded street with a human jam that's best avoided. Don't be an ass and ask people in front of you to move faster when it's a near impossible task .

Festive sweets again - do keep in mind that i didn't see any sampling for these. Taste wise, they are basically low quality chocolates / sweets and their main objective was just to "beautify" your home when visitors drop by. 

Another stall selling peanuts and melon seeds. Prices in generally were pretty consistent as main players were the King of Peanuts, King of Melon Seeds and the King of Peanuts and Melon Seeds. However, there were smaller players with cheaper pricing. 

Yet again a permanent fixture during the CNY bazaar in Chinatown and this would attract your attention with the mind boggling amount of biscuits and goodies! 

Aside from being economically priced, they were also smaller in size which means it's easier for you to buy a variety for the house! I hate to buy a big box  / container sometimes as it means i would take a longer time to finish the same product! 

Prosperity plants to liven up the house! 

One of the smaller players for peanuts and melons seeds, i realised that for the past few years, i have been buying from this same stall as the pricing is always cheaper! 

They called it "New Year Cake" while i prefer to call this a huge ass mochi cake. Known in Chinese simply as 年糕, it is different from the ones we know in Singapore and from Korea.

Sold at S$6 a box now, the pricing would startle you during the eve. It likely wouldn't skyrocket; based on previous years, prices can fall to as low as S$2 for a box as the retailers would have to clear everything!

Dried sweets - commonly used for offerings, these preserved fruits can be rather nice to eat although not on a massive amount at one go.

Another photo of Temple Street.

Milkfish chips seaweed cakes - it's a combination of both; hence the name. They made for a relatively tasty snack like right now when i don't feel hungry enough for lunch.

Varieties as appended above for the seaweed cakes. A few were vegetarian based with mere use of nuts and seaweeds only. 

Paper cuts again, this time with paper cut couplets for the doors as well. 

Australian roasted macadamia nuts with flavours like abalone! As we all know, macadamia nuts are expensive and this retailed in sizes ranging from 60g packs to a kilogram! 

Ladies clothing which would appeal more for my mom. As she grows older, her taste for tops weighs heavily on bright, vivid colours with sleeves.

Korea Lazy Shoes - canvas shoes with loads of patterns that were said to be soft, durable and slip proof. Patterns were gaudy though. 

Motor vehicles continued to travel along the street so don't get too pre-occupied with your sampling! Keep a lookout to avoid any mishaps! 

Smaller hanging monkey decorations.

Made to order wooden sandals - another long time retailer in the temporary bazaar. I have always wanted to buy one pair for my mom as i thought the designs would suit her. 

Abalone and frozen seafood - eh.... is it allowed for the stall operator to hold on to a ciggie while serving customers? Whatever the case, for frozen seafood, i would always go for the factory Fassler at Woodlands!

Once again, i feel that some stalls should not be given any shop space; for example, photography studios for wedding pictures. 

This stall stood out from its use of clear, plastic container that showed you, at one glance, the type of goodies they have for sale. 

Most shops would adopt the "gunny bag" design as it gives a more traditional feel to it. By the way, there's the king kong peanuts (黑金剛花生) in the middle. The peanuts all looked the same and i would be at a loss on which to buy without any sampling!

The stall helper for the nail foil stall enthusiastically posed for me in the above photo. Maybe because the crowd had yet to descend that day but stall owners were like extremely free and friendly!

Oh, the flaxseed oil soup thingy again.

Hypnotic pinwheels from Hongkong; i noticed quite a few stalls selling them last year although it's limited to only one stall this time round.

Dried persimmons! As i mentioned before, the white powder has to be washed away using hot water before you can eat them. 

The dried persimmons hailed from Gongcheng in China of course! Those who have been following my Guilin postings should know that i was quite near to the city famed for its persimmons

Amber (beeswax) accessories. You can get the operator to use a raw amber to produce it to the accessory you want; pricing is at S$3 a gram. Note: A GRAM. 

Another stall with dried persimmons from Gongcheng. I almost bought a kilogram; appearance wise, they looked dehydrated compared to the ones i had in China

Pomelos from Shatian - i did a google search and Shatian is a place in Guangxi province that's famous for their pomelos! Wah, Guangxi has quite a number of notable produce; the persimmons from Gongcheng, the yam from Lipu and the pomelos from Shatian! 

LED wooden clocks - i have seen them in Thailand, chanced upon them in Groupon and now here in the bazaar too. Even though they are everywhere, it seemed to see a steady stream of customers. 

Koi Kei bakery that originated from Macau - the use of the space in front of their shop was limited generally to this table. Such a shame on the use of valuable space. 

Nyonya kebayas from Indonesia! The peranakan design is a beauty to behold and i don't think it would ever go out of fashion! Mom should seriously consider buying one set. 

Since a full cycle of the Chinese zodiac takes twelve years, many monkey decorations introduced specifically for the year of monkey would need to be cleared by CNY; failing which the vendors would have to store for another twelve years before they can put them up for sale again! 

Nuts again.

As you have noted, the number of stalls selling Chinese New Year decorations were quite excessive. However, as far as scale is concerned, you should frankly check out this shop right next to the start of food street.

Hard to get your bearings on its location? Look out for the blow up God of Fortune that's placed on top of the shop! In past years, there's a fortune cat too! 

Preserved olive - not my cup of tea. 

Waxed products shop along Smith Street - a Cantonese favourite, my Hokkien family doesn't touch any of the stuff except for the sausages which is used mainly as an ingredient for fried rice.

Only a small section of Smith Street is reserved for the bazaar as the main stretch caters for the motor vehicles going up the ramp to the carpark at Chinatown Complex. 

Ocarinas for sale, including a few other traditional Chinese musical instruments. There's one type by the name of Tao Xun that look just like ocarinas and said to be the world's earliest musical instrument. 

Another nuts / seeds place; this one allowed you buy from 100 grams whereas the rest usually starts from 500 grams upwards.

Start of Food Street (which essentially takes up half of Smith Street); as the stalls are pretty much there throughout the year, i shall not be touching on them here. 

Let's proceed with the narrowest street in the bazaar, Sago Street!

Dried persimmons from Gongcheng and roasted pistachios from USA; strangely, i used to enjoy pistachios a lot more but it has been quite a while since i last touched one (pistachios in ice cream don't count). 

Many stalls along the street are permanent and some continue to market their usual fare in the festive bazaar; like this one with waffles, sotong balls, Taiwan sausages etc.

Pomelos again - contrary to Shatian pomelos, these were generally from Malaysia with a section reserved for the prized honey pomelos from Ipoh.

Pumpkins; likely as offerings for the altar. Speaking of prayers for CNY, there were quite a few and i couldn't remember all of them save for the one for the Jade Emperor on the eve.

Raw vegetables at S$1.50 a plate by this super old ah ma manning the stall. Depending on the harvest, you can also find other vegetables sold at the counter. 

The narrow Sago Street.

Unique flavours like milk cream and red dress. The sole red in the picture is just a variation of red; the pink shirt worn by the man standing behind the bag of peanuts! 

Every year, without fail, i would take this picture of the dancing lion puppets. They appeared the same every single time yet this time, there's something different. 

Appearance of the monkey puppet! The most famous primate in Singapore is Ah Meng, our beloved Orang Utan who had passed away whereas the most famous monkey in Chinese legends would be Sun Wu Kong from "Journey to the West".

Traditional home made new year cake - this is the one that i associated 年糕 with and in our household, mom would fried this with flour and egg and sometimes with a slice of sweet potato or yam. 

Monkey soft toys again.

'Red' packets with Chinese surname! I have indicated quote marks as they were in purple and yellow, unlike the traditional red colour for 'red' packets. 

Most interesting 'red' packets came from this stall which imports the packets from Hong Kong. Their most attractive features are the lack of any design with just auspicious Chinese words branded on them! 

Money bags for those who are expecting a lot of ang pows (red packets)! 

Oh my god, emoticons in cushion forms! Most of us have an emoticon we frequently used and mine is the use with a sticking out tongue. How about yours? :P 

The monkey god battling the new year lion! 

You can't see much from this stall as the dark clouds foretold an imminent heavy downpour and the stall owner needed to protect its products from any damage. They were mainly the confetti guns, bomb bags and sparklers; weirdly, there's only one stall in the bazaar selling them. 

Local Singapore products that foreigners can bring home. I am a durian lover yet i absolutely detest most durian-tasting items; in my opinion, durians must be eaten in their original, raw form and not in tarts, cakes, biscuits etc.

On one hand, these are chopsticks for individuals under the same zodiac animal sign. On the other hand, the chopsticks for the zodiac animal of dogs can also be used specifically for man's best friends; the canines.

Singapore has low crime, not no crime. Hence, do be aware of pickpockets! There were cases in Malacca of overseas crime syndicates that purposely travel to other countries for crime related activities. So, beware!

End of my walk! okay, not really since i needed to purchase the items that mom requested for. After walking for more than an hour, i have a rough inkling on where i should buy her peanuts and melon seeds. 

First stop - popping in to 大中国, the brand more famous for the mooncakes!

Mooncakes would be the last thing on my mind; do you know that stuff is calorie-potent?! My objective was to get the new year cake; one big, one small! Do note that the ones at 大中国 have no preservative added and must be refrigerated! 

Going back towards the way of Trengganu Street.

It's close to 4pm and the street was slightly more crowded. The scene was nothing compared to Chinese New Year's eve though. 

Instead of pineapples, you may consider these hanging lanterns made to look like the Chinese character of spring; 春. 

Need a toy to irritate someone? Get the shrieking chicken! 

Masks to masquerade yourself as the monkey god! The workmanship was very retro and the same design was used even when i was a kid. 

Golden piglets to decorate the altar - the only two pigs i like are the edible pork kind and the one i used to feed my coins to.

I couldn't resist buying a pack of the unshelled macadamia nuts! The young lady serving me said most locals don't know what they are as the macadamia nuts we see are the shelled types.

Sampling is available; she had difficulty pronouncing the word macadamia nuts as in China, they know it generally as 圣果 which is translated directly as holy fruit. 

Vendors preparing to protect their wares from the rain with plastic sheet. Thankfully, save for a short and light drizzle, the heavy downpour didn't materialise. 

My last stop - Taiwan First Class Melonseeds! 

My family's favourite melon seed was the phoenix eyes king (凤眼王) and this was a hefty 50 percent off in pricing from the rest of its competitors! I asked about the King Kong peanuts which were not displayed and they have it too!

While waiting for my 3 kilograms of peanuts and 3 kilograms of melonseeds, i had a nice chat with the uncle next door who came from China.

My haul for the day! Shagged!


Until When?
Until 1am on 08 February 2016 

Additional Information
For Chinatown street decorations, click here

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