Of Crackers and Lanterns

By : Serene Fong
09 September 2014

Growing up in Lorong Lew Lian, I remember the long corridors and the lifts that stopped only on every few floors.


My parents’ flat was in Block 8, and its design was typical of the other blocks in the neighbourbood. But I never actually noticed its simple and spartan design. My fonder memories of the place centred around the happy life the community had created. “Lew Lian” literally means durian in the Hokkien dialect. Like its namesake, though the exterior shell looks spiky and unattractive, the fruit inside is creamy and delicious.


The block where I grew up in  

The corridors I used to walk down everyday

The strong sense of neighbourliness and trust is seen in the open doors our neighbours kept. Nobody thought it was unsafe to leave their doors wide open throughout the day and even till late at night. Often, neighbours would poke their heads in and ask after one another. As a child, I found it interesting to be able to make out what was going on in our neighbours’ homes, much like watching reality TV, when I walked past their flats and peeked inside.


The house I used to live In

My sister and I loved to play with our neighbours who lived on our floor. There were six of us – two girls, two boys, my sister and me. I think we bonded because we were all about the same age and most importantly, we did not have high-tech stuff like tablets and smartphones to play with. The neighbourhood was our playground. We played everywhere – catching and hide-and-seek at the void deck; and “cooking” and Monopoly in one another’s home.


Where I used to play and run around with neighbours

But the greatest fun of all came during festivals, especially Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn Festival.


Crackle and Pop!

Singapore banned firecrackers in June 1972 for safety reasons. But for those of us who never experienced the deafening explosions of the firecrackers of old, the little white “Pop Pop” pellets that were hugely popular in the late eighties and early nineties made good substitutes – at least for us kids.


They made loud crackling sounds when thrown to the ground, simulating the noise of firecrackers. We loved throwing them on the floor of void decks and staircases, in large numbers during the midnight countdowns ushering in the Chinese New Year. The naughty ones among us would grab a whole bunch and throw them all at once, scaring passers-by. Unsurprisingly, these crackers were later banned in Singapore too for causing a nuisance.

Mid-Autumn Festival

The other festival that I always looked forward to as a child was the Mid-Autumn Festival. Why? Because we could “officially” play with fire and not get scolded.


After dinner, mum would bring out our favourite cloth lanterns, kept carefully in the kitchen cabinet. As I write this, I am filled with warm thoughts and fond memories of my mother’s love and the virtues of her thriftiness. It was also the time when it was common for people to keep stuff for further re-use instead of discarding them.


As night fell and the bright full moon smiled in the sky, the six of us would assemble at the void deck area. It was a happy occasion for us children, and the usually quiet neighbourhood sparked into life as more and more families joined in to celebrate mid-autumn. Each of us carried our lighted lanterns with boxes of small candles (to replace the burnt out ones), and walked around the estate in a procession, chaperoned by our parents.


Seeing my girls having fun during the Mid-Autumn Festival brings back fond memories of the past

Each lantern had a small, lighted candle. My sister and I would do our best to ensure that our lanterns did not catch fire, only because our phoenix and dragon lanterns were very beautiful and too precious to us. So far, I have not come across a lantern that is close to what we used to possess. It is a pity that I do not have any photograph of the lanterns. Then again, we did not own any cameras nor smartphones to record precious moments like these.


The estate I used to walk around in a procession during the Mid-Autumn Festival; much of it has changed with a BBQ pit corner added

The biggest space in the estate where we would end the procession during the Mid-Autumn Festival





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