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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Old trades make brief comeback

For two weekends, kacang putih sellers and cobblers set up shop at Art Museum and Stamford Arts Centre
The Straits Times - December 3, 2011
By: Corrie Tan
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Old trades make brief comeback Relive the old days with trades people such as the roadside barber (above) and the fortune teller. -- ST PHOTOS: TERRENCE LIM

Fancy a haircut by a traditional street barber, or a paper cone of kacang putih (Malay for roasted nuts)?

Fourteen old-time tradesmen will ply such services and wares at the Singapore Art Museum and Stamford Arts Centre this and next weekend.

Members of the public can pay yesteryear prices: as little as 20 cents for a sweet ice ball or 50 cents to have their fortune told.

Once a common sight along five-foot-ways here, these tradesmen are part of Heritage Along Footpaths, a National Heritage Board initiative that aims to bring a vibrant touch to the area.

Mr Alvin Tan, National Heritage Board's director for heritage institutions and industry development, tells Life!: 'We really hope that people will learn about important aspects of our community heritage, like what these tradesmen and our trades were like in the past.'

The heritage board conducted research in September into trades once prevalent in Singapore, and felt that Heritage Along Footpaths would be a fun way to share what they found with the community.

The tradesmen involved, who are either Singaporean or based here, range in age from their 30s to 60s. There are four barbers, four fortune tellers, two kacang putih sellers, two ice-ball sellers and two cobblers (right). It took about a month to bring all of them together.

The youngest, Mr Bala Murali, 37, who will be selling kacang putih, learnt his trade from his father, who in turn learnt it from his father in the early 1970s in Singapore. Mr Bala used to accompany his dad to schools and cinemas to sell kacang putih when he was a child.

But he has since put his traditional trade on hold, saying: 'Nowadays, very hard to earn money lah. Can't see that much of a profit.'

He now holds a full-time job in the marine line to support his three children ranging from 1 1/2 to seven years old. His wife, 32, is an administrator in a school.

He bemoans the rapid development of Singapore, saying: 'I miss the old times a lot. It was fun, those days, really fun... A lot of things from the olden days are gone.'

So it comes as little surprise that he was delighted to be part of this event: 'I was very excited. Everything about the old trade came back again.'

He says the education of his children comes first, but that he will definitely teach them the art of roasting, steaming and selling nuts. It took him just a few weeks to learn the trade he loves from his father. These days, he roasts the nuts in his oven at home, rather than in a big wok like the old times.

Information panels about tradesmen such as Mr Bala will be on display at both event venues.

Mr Tan says: 'We hope it will encourage grandparents and parents to share their personal experiences and memories of these trades and tradesmen with the younger generation. And hopefully, through this, the family can bond.'


Where: Singapore Art Museum (along Queen Street near Bras Basah MRT) and Stamford Arts Centre (along the mural wall facing Middle Road)

When: Today and tomorrow, and Dec 10 and 11, 10am to 5pm

Admission: Free

Info: For a map of the venue, go to



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