How Grandma won a duck for dinner


Grace Ling Chan’s favorite story won the first prize in the Singapore Story contest in The Straits Times.  [Source:  The Straits Times, 29 October 2011]


Grace Ling Chan

Grace Ling Chan, 32, has Down syndrome and is a human resources clerk at Goodwood Park Hotel.

I love all types of meat.  My favourite is duck in all its forms – roasted, braised or stir-fried.  Today, Singaporeans can easily afford to eat it at every meal, but there was a time when the dish was a luxury.

Every time we eat duck, my mother will tell me stories about my grandmother’s efforts to win a cooked one for dinner.

My late maternal grandmother, Madam Sim Twa Boey, used to wait anxiously for the duck man to visit their neighbourhood of terrace houses near Little India.  He carried delicious braised duck in two baskets slung across a pole on his shoulders.

The man would call out: “Ark bak sio sio” – fresh braised duck.

It was the late 1940s and early 1950s, and those who could afford it would buy a duck straight from him; those who couldn’t would throw dice to win either half or a full bird.

Each throw of the dice would cost only 10 or 20 cents.  My grandmother would always try her luck with a couple of throws to win a duck for her family.

When her luck was good, dinner would be very, very special – like Christmas and Chinese New Year rolled into one.

My mother Rose Chan, 71, says:  “The story of old Singapore is all about people like my mother who brought up nine children on very little.

“In the old days, there were no degustation dinners costing $200.  Life was very simple.  Singapore’s gross domestic product has since grown from zilch to what it is today.”

Both my mother and my father Chin Bock, 78, have numerous growing-up stories.  I love the duck story best because it’s my favourite meat to eat with rice, noodle or by itself.

Actor as “Lor Arh” Hawker at Sitting in Pictures

In 2011, Chang Soh Kiak, Writer, Director, Producer of Sitting in Pictures invited me and our friends of “Friends of Yesterday” group to her studio to produce a video on “foodage”.  We shared our childhood memories of the food in the past that we remember.

Chang Soh Kiak graduated with an honours degree in Economics and Political Science, University of Toronto.  Her career in TV began as a producter for a Current Affaits show in Singapore’s national channel.  She ventured further afield into sub-tropical Africa where she was an audio-visual consultant to various NGOs.  Over the course of two decades, she went from deforestation to urban jungle to downunder where she produced media for the corporate world, became an independent documentary film maker and co-founded Sitting in Pictures.  With a base in Australia, she travels extensively as she assumes the role of thinker/doer for the company.

Philip Chew blog on “Lor Arh” here .  The screenshot photos of the filming below:
James the Lor Ark seller (9)
Lor Arh vendor

Please watch the Foodage ‘Lor Arh Dice Game’ video here .

How many pioneer generation Singaporeans remember the “lor arh” dice game?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s