In the midst of metropolitan Singapore, where buildings are characteristically modern and spanking clean, lies a small enclave that pricks our curiosity. As we walk through the conservation shophouses along Blair Road, it is difficult not to peek into the homes whenever someone from the inside opens up their door. Sometimes we could see a glimpse of light beaming through in the middle of the home.
While the beautiful facades of the shophouses are free for all to be admired, there is this certain mystique of what is behind the closed doors and windows. The experience of living in a shophouse where our ancestors came to build, is very much an exclusive and an unattainable dream.
As we move up north to the highly acclaimed and renowned shophouses located in Malacca and Penang, I was pleasantly surprised to find stretches of similarly styled buildings in Phuket Old Town. Through my many visits with W of my in-laws in Phuket, amidst the very touristy beach resorts and bars in the Patong area, I find a certain charm of the old town that lures me in. There is this sense of nostalgia and familiarity when you see old trades such as the hardware shop and a couple of old biscuits bakery. Many of them still have that large font signboards placed at the front. Although their shop names feature Chinese Characters, chances are many of the shop owners in Phuket no longer speak Mandarin. After all, the general Chinese population are probably the fifth generation Chinese immigrant. While they have been fully assimilated into the Thai culture, the Thai Chinese in Phuket still pray to Taoist Deities and celebrate the Vegetarian Festival.
The last Baba-Nyonya Wedding Hair Salon
One unique culture in Phuket is that the newly-wed couple will hold a Peranakan styled wedding ceremony. Likewise, W and I had such a ceremony when we got married in 2016. The tradition of the bride’s elaborated accessories and the intricate details of the wedding hair remain an important feature. W’s granduncle was one of the last few persons in Phuket who could do a traditional wedding hair. He ran this old trade in a shophouse saloon for decades and W was fortunate to have her hair done up by her granduncle.
11/12/2016 - Preparing for the morning ceremony at the shophouse
Granduncle went to a better place. Through the shophouse, he left behind memories of his dedication in helping the Nyonya Bride looked her best and his skilful craft in cooking up Phuket traditional food.
W, her brother and I have decided to take over the shophouse.
16 Krabi Road, Phuket Old Town