Eleven Customers (Silver Medal Picture - Vienna)
Photograph Print by Yip Cheong Fun.
This artwork is mounted on mattboard.
Down Memory Lane in Singapore:
Vanishing Trades: Eleven Customers
(A Silver Medal Picture - Vienna)
This picture of a roadside Yong Tau Fu eating stall is nostalgic as it shows the rather informal style of eating by the roadside in Chinatown in the old days. Imagine eleven customers patronising a roadside eating stall, and all squatting or sitting on steps to enjoy a meal. The practice or lifestyle shows that people at that time treated the streets or even the five-foot ways as an extension of their living space, very much like a courtyard of our modern day condominium. Of course, their actual living accommodation was mainly cubicles or congested coolie quarters. It was also not uncommon to find many old ladies sitting on stools by the roadside in the evenings to enjoy the cool air. C'est la vie! There is nothing whimsical about this. It is part of the reality of life. It was certainly not something for people living in the gay bubbles of contemporary living to snigger or Snicker about. Period.
The picture is also symbolic of the post-war economic conditions in Singapore. The word depression in 1932 affected an international seaport like Singapore greatly. There was widespread unemployment. People in Chinatown, unable to find work, turned to street hawking. Street stalls filled many roads day and night. It created some problems for the authorities. Admittedly, the myriads of hawkers stalls brought a certain charm to the social and cultural landscape. But the fact remains that many stallholders operated under less than desirable conditions, due to lack of piped water supply and inadequate facilities to prepare and cook their food. To compound the problem, the authorities and the general public had to cope with the indiscriminate disposal of wastes into drains. This caused a pollution problem. The new government that came to power after Singapore's independence began to tackle the hawker problem in a comprehensive way, starting with the registration of hawkers and issuing them with licences, and later an exercise was mounted to re-site the roadside hawkers into new hawker centres. At the corner of Smith Street and Trengganu Street in Chinatown stood one of the many new hawker centres controlled by the Environment authorities.
Regarded as a superb picture, Eleven Customers, is a good example of Yip's deep and prevailing interest in the human condition. Its headshots of the subject tell stories. Just look at the small family (left bottom). A mother feeding one child, while a younger child demands attention with an outstretched hand. How very touching! Or look at the action of each human figure and the different attires. Their individual actions - the photographer used them as a dramatic device to harness the heroic feelings. And the attires - do notice the cheongsam, samfu, the tight skirt frock, Majie dress and other casual wears of those yesteryears.