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An old school bakery and a lomo shop show how they are preserving old experiences.

From an old school bakery to a shop promoting a traditional yet unpredictable photography form, two businesses offer their perspectives on how they are preserving old experiences.

Digital age meets traditional space

For some time now, arts groups and small quaint boutiques have been setting up shop in traditional shophouses alongside Chinese medical halls and even pawnshops. Perhaps, these traditional spaces give off an old world vibe that is particularly inspiring for these types of trades and activities. Just take a quick stroll in any of the historic districts in Singapore and chances are you will find a number of eclectic shops lining the streets.

Lomography — the art of taking photos characterised by vibrant colours and vignettes on the fly — is a hip hobby that’s making analogue photography cool again. Adding to the edgy vibe of this unique style of photography, a new Lomography boutique-cum-gallery tucked in a cosy shophouse welcomes you into a world of dazzling colours and historic charm. Located at 295 South Bridge Road across from the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, the shop is set in Chinatown’s multicultural district.

This particular shophouse was, for several decades, occupied by a dispensary, and later on, a company dealing in machines for the jewellery industry. Besides such retail businesses, many of the spaces along this stretch of South Bridge Road were also used as warehouses and coolie-houses from the late 1800s. 

In keeping with the spirit of conservation, Meerly Wang, 30, the shop’s former general manager, retained most of the structure of the 1,500 sq ft ground-floor unit. She has injected a twist of fun by inviting local artists to express their views about Lomography on the pillars framing the shopfront. “In the past, shop owners put up their shop names on the pillars. We are now expressing our identity through two creative murals. These have become instant talking points among visitors and passers-by,” she says.

“When they visit for the first time, customers and fellow Lomography enthusiasts are always pleasantly surprised to find us in such a well- conserved shophouse,” shares Ms Wang. Inside, the shop’s 100 sq ft airwell has been transformed into an office. Natural light is let in, in keeping to the spirit of the traditional design. To bring out the playful, vibrant style of lomography, the shop boasts of a signature LomoWall. From HDB blocks, to the Singapore Flyer and Sentosa beaches, the thousands of photographs on the wall serves as another record of Singapore’s past and present. 

Old school bakery

Conservation isn’t just about preserving physical buildings and spaces but also about nurturing and cherishing social memories of the place. While many shops have come and gone, one old stalwart has stood the test of time and is in fact, as popular with the younger generation as it is with the old.

Tan Hock Seng (陳褔成), located at 86 Telok Ayer Street is famous for its freshly baked Hokkien pastries like beh teh saw (round, flaky fragrant biscuits with a sesame malt sugar filling) and pong piah (flatter, less flaky version of the beh teh saw). Founded over 70 years ago, Tan Boon Chai, 67, the third-generation owner feels that his bakery is a way of preserving culture and tradition for the younger generation.

Many traditional trades are fast disappearing from Singapore’s landscape but we take comfort in the fact that we can still buy freshly baked Hokkien pastries from Tan Hock Seng. Indeed, Tan Hock Seng’s biscuits have gained new fans among the younger set, with many purchasing them as souvenirs for friends and relatives living in Europe, Australia and elsewhere. And this is on top of the office crowd and regular customers all over the island who flock there for their comfort fix.

Although he has received suggestions to “modernise” his current shop with gleaming new displays and sleek metal shelves, Boon Chai chose to keep to the shop simple, and some say vintage, decor that has been serving the business well all these years. So, instead of digitally-printed signs slipped into plastic holders, visitors can expect weathered vanguard paper signs with handwritten names and prices.

Across a formica-topped wooden counter, laden with the shop’s signature beh teh saw, double-packed in sets of 10 pieces in transparent plastic bags, he explains, “This is a part of our identity and we shouldn’t change it. Besides, most of my customers want our business to retain this nostalgic feel… Many of our loyal customers have good memories here.”

Memories are meant to be cherished and sustained. And guardians like Boon Chai and his confectionary do just that. Be warned, the freshly baked beh teh saw sells out fast, by the early afternoon.