I smiled when I was writing up a summary of an interview I did late last year with two brothers who grew up in the Serangoon Gardens estate in the 1960s. They were describing their childhood there. Besides the usual childhood games, they recalled the large number of vendors who used to come round the estate.

Men on bicycles and trucks would come to sell fish, vegetables and bread. A guy from a nearby provision shop would also come round the houses weekly to take orders and deliver groceries to the homes.

Home delivery on Cowdry Ave, Serangoon, undated Source: Stephen Charters, singas.co.uk

The children most anticipated the arrival of the food vendors. There was ice cream, Mee Rebus, Kon Lo Mee, and even a fish-and-chip truck to cater to the many British expats that lived in the area. When they heard the vendors arrive, the children would rush out with their bowls and 20 or 30 cents to buy a bowl of hot food to eat. Sometimes, they would even bring their own egg to be added to their bowl of noodles.

Close to the estate was farmland in the Chia Keng area. Even without streetlights at night, the brothers could tell when the farmers were moving their cattle. The sounds of the cow bells and smell of fresh poo were a sure giveaway.

Given their proximity, the farmers were smart to tap on the captive market available to them in Serangoon Gardens. Besides the milk and vegetables, the farmers would sometimes go round the estate with huge pile of cow dung for sale, and they did a booming business! Almost everyone in the estate had a garden and cow dung was a popular plant fertilizer at the time.

While most times, farmers supplied produce to residents, sometimes it was the other way around. Farmers would give residents (who were willing) a bucket to hang on their fence in which they would put their left-overs or unwanted food. Every evening the farmer would come round and collect this food to feed his animals. In return for this help, these families would receive a box of eggs or two chickens as a token of appreciation during Chinese New Year.

Listening to these stories somehow gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I’m not sure whether it was the stories themselves or the delighted faces the men had when they recounted them to me. Regardless, I thought about how great it would be to time travel and experience these simple pleasures for myself!


In the Workroom: Buy a pound of poo?