My Family Story
I interviewed my grandfather and my other family members and found out a great deal about my family’s history. Not only did I find out that my dialect group is Teochew, I also found out the meaning behind my name. My parents explained that my name means calm, peace and their hope that I am grateful. What intrigued me the most was the interview with my grandfather and I felt that what he said was worth finding out. Upon interviewing my grandfather, he revealed that he worked at a provision shop in his late twenties. I obtained the information of his job and the facet of the old provision shop by observing a photograph that he showed me and asking my other family members for reliable information. Some of the information on the photograph also came from the internet research. It was a little hard to gather factual information on the artifact as the photograph was taken a long time ago. It also took me a long time to find out the kind of provision shop and how it was operated in the past through my grandfather.
Provision shops are a familiar iconic fixture in the Housing Board Estates for children like my mother who grew up in the eighties. In this provision shop, my grandfather would use rusty Milo tins to keep spare change and coins. The provision shop “Tay Yong Huat”, used to be located at Toa Payoh Lorong 1 but the entire building was demolished for the development of state land. It was then relocated at Toa Payoh Lorong 4. The old provision shop was a significant place for my grandfather as it was a place where neighbors could gather to chit-chat.
According to my grandfather, the shop was stacked with goods and many objects “had a story to tell”. There were stack loads of goodies in old cupboards and on the concrete floor. Perhaps only my grandfather and the shop owner, who is now a friend of his, knew full well of how to locate items compacted within the space.
Based on the research on the website (remember Singapore.org), I also found out that the metal gates of the old provision shops were drawn sideways instead of the usual method of pulling the shutters up or down. In the past, things were also sold differently. Biscuits were sold by measuring their mass on the weighing scale and the shop owner name the price. This was unlike the way biscuits were sold in the supermarkets whereby the price tags were already labelled on the attractive packaging. Rice was also specially delivered to the doorsteps of different households. Fruits were cut into big chunks and left on a tabletop to be sold.
The shop is significant to my family as it was where my grandfather spent long hours to make a living for the family. Without the shop, my family would not have been able to live in comfort as it was the only source of income for the family. My grandfather would not be able to bring home the traditional “bread biscuits” for my mother and her siblings to enjoy if he had not worked there.
The old provision shop is important not only to my family members but also to the pioneer generation. My grandfather and his friend are towards keeping the shop in operation for as long as their health permits as they regard the shop as a significant part of their lives. They have dedicated a lot of time and effort in maintaining the shop and it would be hard to face the prospect of winding down a business which the shop owner, together with his employees, have painstakingly built up over the years. This provision shop which my grandfather worked in, was just an example of the many old provision shops in the past. It is definitely disheartening to see something so historical to be torn down or taken over by the air-conditioned supermarkets. In my opinion, preserving such old provision shops is important as they show what creative methods people in the past used to make a living in a world without technology as good as today. If removed, the future generation would have no idea of how old provision shops used to look like.
Whenever possible, we should all progress with time but at the same time, without losing too much of our valuable heritage and memories of old Singapore. As for me, the greatest loss would be: unable to see much of the provision shops and unable to reminisce about my family history.
Through this activity, I found out more about my family’s history. I had never thought that any of my family members would have actually worked in such provision shops. I also had a chance to talk to my grandfather. I also realized that my family’s history was connected to Singapore’s history as well. It is important to find out about our family history from our older generations before they are lost together with time.