I grew up in a rather suburban residential neighborhood of Singapore in the 1960’s. Our home sat on a hill up from a main thoroughfare. The vicinity is devoid of any commercial establishments but for a little dry goods store three quarters way down the hill. I often frequent the store for two reasons. One was to buy local and foreign candies, which they stocked in neat rows of glass canisters. Another was to ogle at the myriads of dry food products, many of which I could not even identify. I remembered the front of the store lined with sacks of grains and beans. There were white rice, glutinous rice, brown rice, soybeans, mung beans, red beans and others. There were also rows of glass canisters filled with dried mushroom, cuttlefish, squid, scallop, and all kinds of seafood. And then there were the individual cellophane packages of dried plums, nuts and Chinese fruit candies strewn all over the counters. We used to buy them by the jin, which is a Chinese weight unit still used in Singapore then. This is my memory of the Seng Hock market.
Eeee… eeee… eeek… lets rewind that memory. Well, I also remember the surly grumpy store clerk, who never greeted his customers, and always gave the impression that he was doing such great favor for you weighing and bagging your purchases. He often peppered expletives, in his native Fujian dialect, during his interaction with the customers. I also remember the ginger mouser sunning in front of the sacks of grains. Now that is what shopping in a true Chinese dry goods store all over the world is like, be it Hong Kong, Shanghai, New York, London or Sydney. Thanks to the Chinese diaspora we can enjoy the pleasure of shopping for our native goods in genuinely authentic environment.
Seng Hock had since moved to another location as I discovered on a trip back a few years ago. Development had forced the replacement of this exotic dry goods store by a Seven Eleven. In spite of the mix memory I am glutton for these experiences. It comforts me because of the familiarity, pleasant or otherwise. Here in New York Chinatown there are many stores just like Seng Hock. Albeit majorities are now actually staffed with friendly assistants, few though still make getting help a trying experience