Warm, nourishing, simple and sweet

Posted on December 31, 2012



Grandfather came here an expert clock-and-watch man, at a time when such instruments were objects of great pride and status. He and his brother soon established a small but thriving business in the heart of the old town. They did better than to walk among kings, as here was the domain of the King’s profligate colonial henchmen – European bankers and spice traders, feared Chinese Klansmen and the Baba Nyonya gentlemen of higher civic office.


He was from an old tradition of Confucian rites, where a person’s execution of their role in society was not only his means of survival, but transcendence. Great pride and exertion had gone into learning his trade, maintaining the shop, his democratic treatment of customers and his flawless commercial ethics. His tireless devotion to the work went without saying.

Old house

All of the above assured the Kok brothers’ success in business, and although not rich, they provide a comfortable existence for their families. Like the glutinous rice filling of a Nian Gao (a Chinese New Year sweets), life during my aunt’s childhood was warm, nourishing, simple, and sweet. They never knew the opulent trappings of their wealthy customers, but neither did they know the starvation and hard graft of their poorer ones. Other relatives followed to establish their own fortunes over the years, encouraged by my grandfather’s calm enthusiasm and fondness for the place.