Find cool and unusual items at Chinatown festive street bazaar

Madam Lu Cui Hua, 56, has been selling handmade lanterns at the bazaar for more than 20 years. -- PHOTO: LU CUI HUA
Madam Lu Cui Hua, 56, has been selling handmade lanterns at the bazaar for more than 20 years. -- PHOTO: LU CUI HUA
Mr Mo Han Kong makes cute paper cuttings of faces. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
Mr Mo Han Kong makes cute paper cuttings of faces. -- ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

This year's Chinese New Year fair in Chinatown has vendors selling goods from Africa and India

You cannot go wrong with the yearly festive fair in Chinatown if you want to load up on Chinese New Year goodies, from waxed duck meat to nuts to Chinese couplets inscribed with auspicious greetings.

Amid the standard fare, however, you can also find some unusual offerings at this year's Chinese New Year Festive Street Bazaar, which is spread out across Pagoda, Smith, Temple and Trengganu streets.

It kicked off last Friday and runs until Feb 18, the eve of Chinese New Year.

For example, Shalom Orphans in Temple Street peddles colourful leather pouches and intricate woven bags made from the fibres of the baobab tree.

Stall owner Mariam Idd Makame, 48, who is from Tanzania in East Africa, says the products are mostly made by widows from her hometown.

A full-time clothing designer, she volunteers at the orphanage and the shop, Shalom Orphans, is a charity arm that helps raise funds for the orphans and widows there.

It is the second year that she and her Filipino husband, Mr Ruel B. Laranjo, 44, have set up shop at the bazaar. They live in Tanzania and often travel to places such as Dubai, India, Singapore and the Philippines to peddle their wares.

"My products are very different compared to the rest here," says Ms Makame, who was dressed in African garb when Life!Weekend visited the bazaar on Sunday.

Her bags are priced from $3 to $100, and 40 per cent of the proceeds go to the 150 orphans living in Shalom Orphanage in Tanzania. Hers is one of the 440 stalls at this year's bazaar, down from the 480 last year.

ChinaTown06021501

The bazaar's organiser, Kreta Ayer- Kim Seng Citizens' Consultative Committee, says the drop in the number of stalls is due to the fact that some stall spaces in Sago Street had to be removed "due to fire safety reasons".

Rentals, however, have gone up, with vendors shelling out $500 to $2,000 more for a stall. For example, Ms Makame paid $3,200 this year, a jump of nearly 80 per cent from the $1,800 rental last year for a stall of the same size.

This, she says, is because she had to rent the space from a re-seller as the organisers had run out of suitable vacant shops.

Despite the higher costs, Ms Makame says she has a "good feeling" about the bazaar this year, as she has regular customers who have come back to look for her.

While she says it is too early to tell, her stall saw healthy sales over the weekend with about 100 customers.The organiser says rentals for stalls located in front of existing permanent shops, which make up roughly 90 per cent of the total number of stalls, remain the same. Life!Weekend understands that the rent for one such stall costs about $3,500.

The remaining stalls are involved in a bidding tender. The highest bid for a shop this year is $12,200, up from $10,288 last year.

ChinaTown06021502

Mr Lim Gek Meng, 63, head of the bazaar's organising committee, says: "The top bid varies each year. The amount depends on the bidders involved and the value that these bidders peg to the location of each stall space."

The committee hopes to attract one million visitors, up from last year's 870,000.

"We have been seeing more visitors to the bazaar this year. We can sense that most people are in high spirits and eagerly preparing for Chinese New Year," says Mr Lim.

He cites the popularity of Chinatown as "the place to be for Singaporeans and tourists alike" during the Chinese New Year period. The street light-up, which features goat-shaped and gold coin lanterns this year to usher in the Year of the Goat, is also a crowd puller.

Though the bazaar's official opening hours are from 6 to 10.30pm daily, many stalls open earlier and close later, especially on weekends. They will close at 1am on the eve of Chinese New Year.

Another stall offering ethnic items is run by Mr George Tan, who sells Indian home decor items and accessories.

Though he has a permanent shop selling Indian items in Pagoda Street, the 43-year-old is setting up shop at the bazaar for the first time.

"I wanted to do something different so that people won't find the same things along the whole stretch," he says.

His products are sourced from Indian cities such as Jaipur and Delhi and include handmade jewellery boxes priced from $10 and beaded bags priced from $20.

Though he finds the $2,500 stall rental expensive, Mr Tan says it is worth a shot to get people here to appreciate his Indiamade goods.

He pays $2,000 monthly rental for his brick-and-mortar shop. While he declines to reveal figures, he says sales over the weekend at the stall were "quite good".

Despite their unique offerings, these stalls, like all the rest, have to work hard to woo shoppers.

While Ms Makame says she will be "extra friendly", Mr Tan made the decision to also stock traditional Chinese New Year items, such as red decorative wall hangings. Once he draws the customers in, he would take the chance to highlight various Indian products to them.

"I show them the rich striking colours and the intricate beading and designs which may also be auspicious to the Chinese, such as those with elephants on them," he says.

Elephants are traditionally associated with strength and reliability in Chinese culture.

Ms Fatimah Abu Samah, 49, who is back for the second time with keropok from Terengganu in Malaysia, relies on feedback from previous customers. Keropok are deep-fried crackers usually flavoured with seafood.

She says: "My customers asked for more varieties of keropok and told me to sell them in smaller packets so that they can eat them instantly while shopping."

So this year, in addition to 250g plastic tubs of fish, squid and prawn keropok priced at $6, she also offers them in smaller 100g pouches that cost $3.50. Last year, her stall stocked only fish keropok.

When Life!Weekend visited the bazaar on Sunday, it was packed with shoppers, many of whom were munching on the free samples of peanuts and Taiwanese jelly that were being given out at several stalls.

However, stallholders say it is too early to tell if sales will be good. "People are only browsing in the first week of the bazaar. There will likely be more customers next week," says Ms Lu Cui Hua, 56, who sells lanterns made of red packets.

She has been a regular at the bazaar for the past 20 years.

CuiHua060215

One such window shopper was veterinarian Cathy Chan, 35, who was at the bazaar with a friend when Life!Weekend returned on Monday.

Having visited the bazaar for the past five years, she was surprised at the number of people there on a weekday.

"We just wanted to join the festivities and walk around. We didn't expect there to be a crowd - there were as many Singaporeans as there were tourists," she says.

Undeterred by the crowds, she adds: "I might bring my two-year-old daughter here. She came last year and loved the colourful lights. There were just so many things to see."

Mr Brendan Tan, who works as an engagement executive in the arts industry, acknowledges that it might be cheaper to get some items, such as festive cookies, from Johor Baru.

"It's also easier to buy plants from the nurseries in West Coast as we live in Chua Chu Kang," says the 27-year-old, who visited the bazaar with his parents and younger brother.

Toting bags of macadamia nuts they bought at the Chinatown bazaar, he adds: ""But it's still a yearly tradition for us to come here and soak in the atmosphere of festivity."

nabilahs@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Sarah Giam


AFRICAN ACCESSORIES

ST 20150206 CNY BAOBAB 1043324e

Accessorise with new arm candy and help widows and orphans from villages in West Kilimanjaro, Africa.

This stall, which is under the African humanitarian organisation Shalom Orphans, sells bags and purses handwoven by widows using the fibres of the baobab tree. Some items are fashioned from leather discarded by luxury brands.

The stall is manned by a couple - Ms Mariam Idd Makame, 48, from Tanzania, and her Filipino husband, Mr Ruel B. Laranjo, 44 - who work for Shalom Orphans. Prices start at $3 for a leather coin purse to $100 for a handwoven handbag. Forty per cent of the proceeds will go to Shalom Orphans.

Where: 16A Temple Street

Open: 10am to 10pm on weekdays, 10am to midnight on weekends

PUZZLE FOR KIDS

ST 20150206 CNY TOY 1043331e

Wean the kids off iPads at family gatherings with these innovative toys from Taiwan.

Called Doctor Puzzle IQ Toys, each plaything is made of 15 blocks. The toy can be taken apart and re-assembled into 5,000 variations, including frogs and owls. One set costs $28 and two cost $50. Each set comes with an instructional DVD.

Where: Fifth stall on the left when you enter Pagoda Street from New Bridge Road

Open:Flexible hours, from morning till night

TEA BREAK

ST 20150206 CNY TEAHOUSE 1043334e

Try various teas such as pu er, ginseng oolong and rose tea at this booth, set up only during the festive bazaar, outside T30 Kung Fu Tea House. Tea leaves are available for sale too.

Weary shoppers can also take a break inside the cosy Tea House, a permanent shop which seats 40. A pot of tea under the Leisure Tea category costs $12 and includes dried longan red date tea and lavender tea. Although teas such as tie guan yin ($20) and da hong pao ($28) are pricier, you can ask for water refills.

Where: 30 Temple Street

Open: The booth outside is set up from 3 to 10.30pm daily; the store is open from 11am to 11pm daily - it closes at 10pm if there are no customers at 9.30pm.

HANDMADE LANTERNS

Brighten up your living room with lanterns made of folded red packets or colourful shiny paper, handmade by Madam Lu Cui Hua, 56, who has been selling lanterns at the bazaar for more than 20 years. She learnt to fold red packets into lanterns from origami books and has supplied her creations to hotels.

A lantern made of colourful shiny paper costs $18, while a goat made of 69 folded red packets, complete with plastic eyes and cute little metal bells around its neck, costs $80. Both are 25 to 30cm tall. The lanterns are selling fast.

Where: Third stall on the left when you enter Temple Street from South Bridge Road

Open:Noon to 10pm from Monday to Thursday, noon to past 11pm from Friday to Sunday

FACE PAPER CUTTING

For a fun memento, stop by this stall to have a cute paper cutting of your face done by Mr Mo Han Kong, 30, who is from Shanghai.

Pre-made cute figures cost $10 each, and a paper cutting of an actual face costs $15.

You can also have your name painted in multi-coloured Chinese motifs such as fish for $20, or buy pre-cut patterns like that of an owl for $10.

Where: Opposite T30 Kung Fu Tea House (30 Temple Street)

Open: From about 9am to 11pm daily

WINDMILL ORNAMENTS

ST 20150206 CNY WINDMILL 1043276e

Put a different spin on your usual Chinese New Year decor with these shiny windmill ornaments in bright hues imported from Hong Kong.

They are said to bring good luck when the cellophane windmill blades rotate. There are five designs to choose from. Prices start at $3 for a simple windmill on a striped multi- coloured plastic stick to $38 for a wall decoration with windmills arranged to form a circle.

The stall is operated by Mr Simon Tan, 33, a clerical assistant, and his mother, housewife Margaret Ng, 63.

Where: First stall on the right when you enter Temple Street from New Bridge Road

Open: 10am to 10pm daily

SEAWEED

ST 20150206 CNY SEAWEED 1043302e

Add crispy seaweed, available with 13 types of toppings, to your stash of Chinese New Year snacks.

Made in Taiwan, each pack costs $6 and you get a free pack if you buy five.

Mr Lan Tian Zai, 35, who helps man the stall, says the latest addition is seaweed with crispy milkfish chips, which come in both original and spicy flavours. There are also toppings such as spicy almond and buckwheat purple rice.

Where: 39 Temple Street

Open: 11am to past 11pm daily

Sarah Giam

TERENGGANU SNACKS

ST 20150206 CNY KEROPOK 1043310e

Munch on snacks from Terengganu, Malaysia, brought in by Ms Fatimah Abu Samah as you browse the bazaar.

There are four types to choose from at this stall - keropok in fish, squid and prawn flavours, as well as fish sticks.

They cost $3.50 for a 100g pouch of fish sticks, prawn or squid-flavoured keropok, or a 120g bag of fish-flavoured keropok, or $10 for three packs.

Bigger tubs are one for $6 or two for $11. Each bottle of fish, squid or prawn-flavoured keropok weighs 250g, while a tub of fish sticks weighs 230g.

Where: 49 Temple Street (nearer to South Bridge Road)

Open: 11am to 11pm on weekdays, 11am to midnight on weekends

DELHI OFFERINGS

ST 20150206 CNY 1044136e

The wares at this stall may not be typical Chinese knick-knacks, but their bright hues and intricate details can liven up the home too.

Run by Mr George Tan, 43, and his shop assistant Wendi Fu, the stall offers merchandise from Delhi and Jaipur in India.

There are handmade jewellery boxes for $10 as well as handmade bags - beaded ones cost about $20 while a silk clutch bag costs about $30.

A range of cushion covers made of silk and polyester is also available, priced from $5.

Where: Temple Street near the side door of the Sri Mariamman Temple.

Open: 10am to 9pm daily