the quintessential Singapore hangout

The following cultural report on a coffeeshop is posted as part of my course Journalism Reimagined.

Right in the heart of Potong Pasir, a coffeeshop buzzed with the Saturday lunch crowd. Conversations in a mix of Chinese and English bounced back and forth from the low ceilings. The television blared in the background, showing the latest Taiwanese drama for no one in particular.

Just as I sat on the white bench which had grown slightly grey with age, a piece of crumpled tissue slipped off from the neighbouring table. Nobody looked up. A minute later, a man dressed in a blue “Broadway Food Centre” T-shirt walked over, a muddied piece of cloth in hand, a bunch of keys jiggling from his belt. He had a small frame, and had combed his hair to hide the balding patch. Moving quickly, he gave the table a quick wipedown with practised motion. Then he moved on to the next dirty table. The tissue remained on the floor, joining the specks of dirt marking the white tiles.

A few minutes later, another similarly dressed woman approached my table. “You want any drink?” the plump, middle-aged stall assistant asked in Chinese, holding a green Carlsberg tray with empty glasses and loose change. Unfazed by a “no”,  she continued on to the drinks stall, where other grey-haired assistants stood.

Behind the Homemade Noodles, Chicken Rice and Economical Rice stalls, younger faces looked on. They wore t-shirts in all sorts of colour, a vast contrast from the blue uniformed staff on the other side of the coffee shop. As I approached, they called out in mellifluous Chinese: “Miss would you want anything?” Like in many other coffeeshops, the Chinese stallholders have taken over the trade of hawkering, an indication of the influx of foreign workers who work at places too menial for most Singaporeans.

These stallholders, however, are not the only foreigners in the coffee shop. An angmoh couple walked past on their way to the MRT station just straight ahead, carrying with them golf clubs. A few minutes later, three Caucasian women wandered into the place and stood looking at the signboards of the various stalls, before eventually deciding on the Economical Rice.

They then took their meals to the round tables outside, where a group of Indians had been sitting for at least an hour, pouring their homemade tequila and carton of orange juice as they chat. Just metres away, 20 cents were dropped into a coin slot, and the immobile purple elephant suddenly came to life, singing and moving in a circular motion as it carried the toddler, watched by a bored parent.

Only a few bouquets of flowers at the florist opposite the coffeeshop gave any indication that the day was Valentines’ Day. For the children, the old, the locals and foreign alike, it was just another Saturday that they were spending at this coffeeshop — the quintessential Singapore hangout.

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