Editor| Nathasha Lee
Contributing Writer | Xiyao Fu
Photographer| Audrey Lim
Whenever any Singaporean asks me where I live, I usually say ‘Ghim Moh.’
‘Ghim Moh’ is actually the name of a housing estate a few streets away from where I live. Yet over the ten years I’ve lived in my current neighbourhood, the Ghim Moh hawker center and market have come to dominate my memory of ‘home’. On countless weekend mornings I would join the snaking hour-long queues for char kway teow at the hawker center before shoving through the seething crowds at the wholesale market next door. Family conversations would be peppered with gossip about the ‘vegetable man’ and the fishmonger’s daughter. Occasionally there would be news of the tirades the elderly coconut seller made whenever we bought all the freshest coconuts he had for the day. My sister and I would even boast of the imitation Cath Kidston pouches we could find in the surrounding sundry shops. The hawker center was a seemingly endless source of food, gossip and household goods. Quite simply, Ghim Moh had almost everything we needed.
Four years ago, the main complex was shut down for renovation. Many shop-owners chose to close their businesses permanently. Those who remained were squeezed into a much smaller building that had been hastily constructed across the road. The wide, tiled lanes between hawker stalls were now replaced by tight grey cement aisles and the muggy heat from hot kitchens and sweaty customers. A photo book was published lamenting the imminent disappearance of the ‘old’ Ghim Moh. I, too lamented that the place where I grew up might be irreversibly changed.
Now I can’t remember the difference between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Ghim Moh. The renovated market appears the same as the Ghim Moh of my childhood, except brighter and livelier. Or perhaps I’ve been trying to impose my memories onto this place. I’ve been trying to rediscover the sights, sounds and smells that had endeared me to this place all those years ago.
The funny thing about places is that we tend not to remember just one aspect of them. Different impressions coalesce into memories that we become attached to. Xiyao Fu reflects on the memories that characterize her neighborhood:
"Between the west 3rd and 4th ring of Beijing, the 12th-floor building that I live in stood lonely on a stretch of old street. The whole street took only 20 minutes to wander through, but it was so crowded with the vigor of life that defined ‘neighborhood’ in my memory. Diving into the old street at night, you would be cheered by the colorful signs of various small businesses but also repelled by the stink from the drainage. However, if you dared to rush some steps and go closer to the city’s heart, you would see the homely yellow lights of bakeries, hear the content conversations of people walking out of wet markets, and encounter groups of students in sports uniforms walking home through the deep alleys. More familiar than those old and young faces was the smell of street food coming from a chain of family restaurants. On a winter night after work, I watched middle-aged men sate their appetites, and imagined how a bowl of steaming hot beef noodles from my favorite old uncle would be so healing to the heart.
One day a friend told me that she was moving away because the old street would soon be pulled down. I didn’t know what that meant to hundreds of families like hers, but I spotted newly dissected houses or dimmed? advertising lights every time I walked past the old street. It took more than three years to replace the old street with a wide, clean road which heroically eradicated the traffic jams, dirty street foods, and unregulated businesses. Not long after, I lost contact with that old friend, as well as that sense of neighborhood."
Xiyao Fu is from the Class of 2021.