The crackle and sizzle of oil on the heavy metal woks engulfed the quaint little coffee shop. It was almost as if the sound waves from all the cooking had travelled up into the air and taken the form of a giant old radio, frantically searching for a signal.
Tucked behind a decrepit block of dull green flats, the Fair Inn Food Place on Woodlands Street 81 seems to be the only burst of vibrance and colour in an otherwise sluggish neighbourhood. Walk in, and you will be greeted by old Chinese men, with laugh lines and wrinkles etched onto their weathered skin; reminiscent of intricate carvings on wood.
Though their age shows through the little things, like the crow’s feet by the sides of their eyes and the slight limp in their gait, they have a perpetual smile on their faces. And their energy never seems to waiver, even when dealing with the large flock of students that unfailingly saunter in for lunch.
Now, don’t be fooled by the tacky orange plastic chairs or the over-sized dirty mustard- yellow tables. They have been worn down over the years – by grime and filth, and by secrets and memories shared over meals. Yet, these inanimate objects unfailingly support the weight of all the people who laugh, smoke, and eat on them, as if they had become accustomed to their constant presence over time.
Speaking of time, every dish you order arrives within a few minutes and is served piping hot. In fact, the different races are encompassed in the variety of dishes available at the shop. Some of the dishes include spicy mee goreng, crispy prata and fresh fishball noodles.
The food is surprisingly good, considering the worn-down stall signs and grease-stained walls surrounding the shop. But truth be told, people seem to keep returning because of the antiquity of the whole place. Once you step in, you’re transported to the 1920s, where time seems to stand still while you enjoy a hearty breakfast of hard-boiled eggs and a mug of steaming hot coffee. The dialects spoken excitedly by the vendors and the random giggles from students merge with the gentle lull of the whirring fans to chip away at your worries. Life seems easier and full of joy.
So, if you ever wonder what life was like before all the concrete buildings and fast cars, all you have to do is visit Woodlands’ very own time capsule.
This is a colour piece written by a second-year Diploma in Mass Communication student for a feature writing assignment in December 2014.