So I thought I kick off 2013 with trying to shake off and lose my one biggest most useless* superpower that I have been imbued with since that gamma ray accident – The amazing mutant power of Procrastination. And the first thing I thought I do is write a looooooooong overdue blog post.
*although the winner of most useless power will always go to ArmFallOff Boy:
But this post will be slightly different – its not going to be a recipe or a new supperclub post.
I figured since I am blessed with this plusixfive platform, it would only be right if I used it to write about things that I love about Singapore and not just about the food.
Not in a mushy creepy “ohibetplusixfiveisagovernmentcoverforthetourismboard” stand-up-and-sing-the-national-athem-yo-biatches kinda way.
But little things which I encounter back in Singapore which make me go all warm and fuzzy inside, smile and wanna go up to that little thing, pat it on its back, buy it a round of Tiger beer and go “Attaboy well done you. You deserve some sort medal or something shiny”.
I also figured I should write a little something about what Peranakan is/are since we do feature it on the supperclub menus quite a bit - Jason (@feasttotheworld) being a Peranakan himself. And no he isnt a carnivorous monster fish with a penchant for tittties.
So, first up is Alvin Yapp’s Peranakan museum of all things Peranakan and gorgeous – The Intan.
By the way, for avoidance of doubt, Alvin never paid me to write this. In fact, I am not sure he even remembers me. He did pour me a cup of ice tea in his home though whilst I was there (which he graciously let me into outside of admission times after I, short of tying myself to his front gate, grovelled and begged for entry to). One thing I have to add is that none of the photos here are from my own. They are from his website (http://www.the-intan.com/) I fabulously accidentally deleted all my photos which I took at his place (Clumsiness/ Stupidity – Yet another amazing mutant superpower of mine).
Sometime in 2012, a friend’s facebook showed up all these photos of an elaborate, fascinating and deeply well-curated Peranakan museum.
Wait, stop, for all those who don’t know what a Peranakan is. Here’s the link to Wikipedia but if you are lazy, it is a collective term used for the ethnic Chinese populations of Malaysia and the Dutch-controlled island of Java and other locations, who have adopted to Nusantara customs – partially or in full – to be somewhat assimilated into the local communities.
You can’t actually tell them apart from another Singaporean Chinese person. They look ethnically Chinese. Some have mixed lineage of Malay and Chinese but generally, you cant really pick one out from a crowd. Its not like they have the letter P branded on their foreheads or are fabulously good looking (although you probably won’t be hard pressed to find a Peranakan who would think so. The good looking part not the P branded on forehead part).
But what really drew me to this culture was their food. Arguably, they were probably the first authentic fusion cuisine. Being Chinese people adopting Malay customs and being assimilated into Malay communities and having inter-race marriages, led to a collision of culinary influences combining the wok cooking and slow braising techniques of Chinese cooking and the milder Chinese ingredients with the local fiery and strong Malay and Indonesian chillis, curries and spices. It was also a culture where cooking was an integral part of their community as it was often a way of showing off their wealth and affluence by the skilfulness and how complicated the dishes were.
Anyway, back to the Peranakan museum on facebook. I was enthralled. In my own journey to discover Peranakan cuisine, this really piqued my interest. It was like a museum of all things Peranakan. So one email thing led to another and Alvin one day very graciously invited me into his home one day when I was in town.
And what I realised was that this was not just a museum but it was also Alvin’s home. Alvin lived in it. It was his humble abode as well as a private museum.
Whereas most people would happily live in living rooms filled with flatpacked Ikea furniture, Alvin lived and breathed in little time capsule of a time gone by where shoes were meticulously beaded, dishes were painstakingly and lovingly prepared and furniture was luxuriously detailed with luminescent mother of pearl in-lays. As he walked me through his home and I nosily poked my nose into every cupboard, he would like an excited child, pick up a random object (“yes those are spittoons lining the stairs…”) and rattle off the story behind it (“yes that’s an ancestral worship altar! Peranakans retained the Chinese tradition of paying respects to ancestors”), the details in the design (“see! see! See the engravings on the chair! Did you notice its all mother of pearl!”), why it looked like what it looked like (“See the eagle and the dragon on the chairs in mother of pearl? Because some Peranakans adopted Western ang moh culture, they incorporated Western symbols into their design”) and the quirks of their history (“Notice how Mother Mary is in a traditional kebaya? and baby Jesus wrapped in batik…”).
He must have done this same talk hundred times and answered the same questions but he was always so enthusiastic and brimming with passion.
Alvin sat me down and told me his story. That at first he was staying in an apartment, where he had been collecting all his wares. He tells me it was his innate curiosity and also admiration for his own Peranakan heritage that led him to start collecting and simultaneously learning about his culture. He moved to this shophouse some years ago and started displaying his extensive collection of Peranakan furniture, costumes and trinkets after returning from living abroad five years ago, although he emphasises this is ‘not a full-time job, it’s merely a hobby’.
In his own words, “it was more than the fine needlework or craftsmanship that captivated my fascination for the Peranakan culture. Rather, it was the astonishment and admiration at how a culture, so young and recent, was able to achieve and create a community that influenced every aspect of social life. It was precisely this remarkable conception that inspired primary professions to design and create beautiful works of art. Pottery makers, tailors, cobblers, chefs, jewelers and carpenters were instantaneously turned into artists, drawing inspiration and combining techniques from different cultures. They experimented with different mediums and explored different styles that manifested into forms and expressions never seen before.”
In February 2011, the National Heritage Board awarded The Intan private-museum status and it has been used for all sorts of events from site-specific plays, book launches to art gallery shows and concerts to private events like weddings and birthdays but all with a Peranakan twist.
You can also book yourself in The Intan tour lasts 90 minutes for tea or three hours for dinner, and Alvin’s mother prepares the authentic Nonya dishes. He also regularly hosts theatre shows and I think there is one on right now.
So why am I featuring this?
In a word – pride.
Proud that someone in my country has decided to go to such lengths, on his own terms, in his own time, with his own initiative to do something like this.
In a country where all things old and slightly yellowing gets bulldozed, razed and torn down in the name of economic progress to be replaced with something silver and steel and glass and cold and shiny. Where we were brought up thinking we all had to grow up to be either a doctor, a lawyer or a banker. Where we tie ourselves up in a big fat knot tumbling over each other acquiring and acquiring and acquiring the newest latest shiny handbag/ golfclub/ car/ home/ gadget.
He didn’t do it because he thought it would bring him fame and fortune. He did it simply for the love of it, to preserve his identity and heritage and to leave something, other than pixels of facebook photos and dusty photo albums in attics, for future generations.
Now that is surely worth so much more than the latest hand-stitched embossed dead animal skin case for that new touchscreen gadget.
69 Joo Chiat Terrace Singapore 427231
+65 9338 2234
(all photos from the Intan website)