This mural, painted at 729 Havelock Road (Uncle Chicken Rice – Sin Kee Famous Cantonese Chicken Rice by Niven) depicts a scene close to my heart. The scene is that of a chicken rice stall at Chinatown’s Smith Street, where I lived from 1983 till 1995. In 1983, during the big Chinatown cleanup, my family moved from the old funeral shophouse of Sago Lane (Street of the Dead, now the carpark next to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple) to the HDB block at Smith Street above the hawker centre, just a few hundred metres away from Sago Lane. Before the cleanup, street hawkers used to hawk all over the streets in Chinatown. The hawkers poured waste and sewage water into the drains which often ended up in the Singapore River. I vividly remembered this chicken rice stall and the florist next to it.
The centre figure is the old Mr Leong who started out at the chicken rice stall ‘Hang Kei’ in the 1940s. In the 60s, his son Niven Leong learnt the culinary skills from his father at this depicted Smith Street stall (In the mural, Niven is depicted chopping the chicken behind the stall.) The inherited skills and recipes were carried from Chinatown to Margaret Drive Hawker Centre and then to the Bedok Market Place, and now to Havelock Road.
Singapore is developing too quickly. I’m glad to be helping the community, in a small way, to memorialise its heritage.