A sure shot way to fire up the creative engine is to just throw myself at Chinatown. It works every time, irrespective of how deep a rut I’m in. This neighbourhood with its rows of beautifully conserved shophouses in varied architectural styles is an incessant source of delight and creative inspiration. When you watch the encroaching high rises craning their neck from above, you realise that this wonderful anachronism is the result of deliberate choices made in its favour. Sure the rumble of tourists’ feet wandering these streets sound like ka-ching to the exchequer, but for people like me – this is where we come to chase our muse.
So when a sketchwalk was arranged at the intersection of Craig and Neil Road, one Sunday morning, I left my hearth and home to be in the company of these beauties :
I don’t know how the food fares at this eatery, but this building is an eye candy. I was only wondering, what if a Chinese fortuneteller had told Dr. Montgomerie who owned the 13 hectare nutmeg plantation around Craig Road in the 19th century, that one day, Spaghettini with caviar and chives will be rolled out from an exquisitely designed shop house standing at his property? Would he believe the soothsayer? The kind surgeon probably would’ve accused him of hyperbole.
Walking further down Craig Road, Tong Mern Sern Antiques Arts and Crafts Shop with its cheeky signage enticed me enough to make a stop. My friends had exactly ten minutes to spare till lunch, so I had to make my fingers work crazy fast on the sketchbook, leaving me no time to cross the little road, go inside the shop and ask the owner about their tag line, so it doesn’t haunt me till death. I still don’t sleep okay.
With a belly full of nimble dumplings, I came back for one last sketch. But before I leave, you must know that with Dr. Montgomerie’s passing, his nutmeg plantation was auctioned off and eventually fragmented into building lots that were leased off to wealthy Chinese developers. Craig Road and nearby Duxton Road and Duxton Hill were constructed, which in the following years became the living quarters of the poor and depraved. This posh locale with ridiculously high rent and property prices that we see today emerged with constant development and urbanisation over the last fifty years.
So, instead of rubbing shoulders with opium addicts and gamblers, I have a Korean tourist bending over my sketch and excitedly poking at the second building from left. Yes my good man, it is Hongdae Korean BBQ, now calm down, will you?