If the wet markets ever vanished from the face of this city, I’ll pack up my bags and go for good. The heartland neighbourhoods with the all-too-familiar wet markets and hawker centres reveal such a paradoxical mix of the old and new. They showcase the richness and complexities of our heritage, culture and traditions and what truly is Singapore. It is one place you must visit to see the Singaporeanness in Singapore. It is in the heartland neighbourhood that you will find the original kway chap, wanton mee and fried carrot cake (forget about foodcourts!). Here, you can get a big glass of soybean milk for only sixty cents and order “Michael Jackson” with a straight face without being laughed at, with the same amount of money. “Michael Jackson”, for the uninitiated, is plain grass jelly (known as chin chow) mixed with soybean milk. It’s only in Singapore we find such humor and inventiveness.
We’ve been exploring the wet markets near us lately, mainly because we needed to hunt for shrimps, water snails and tubifex worms for the puffer fish and terrapins in our aquarium. And what better time to show our kids the real Singapore beneath the shiny veneer of our bustling, commercialised city, with this month being Singapore’s birthday month.
During the National Day weekend, we checked out the wet market at Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4 for brine shrimps to feed our puffer fish. We found an old uncle running a pet stall in the wet market, selling all sorts of tropical fish, shrimps, mealworms, mice and dwarf hamsters. Just next to him is another lady also selling pets. She has goldfish, puffers, terrapins and more dwarf hamsters. There, the kids squealed and jumped around in excitement looking at pets in a wet market. They also drank sugarcane juice, soybean milk and ate soursop ice jelly.
And only in the heartlands do you meet people who think they’ve known you forever. A few grannies smiled at me and approached me (at different times of our stroll there) to check if the two kids running around were mine; and upon seeing another one being strapped to my chest proceed to exclaim in disbelief that I was a rarity on Planet Singapore to have three kids so close together. It is in the heartlands I get a pat on the back for boosting the national birth rate.