This is what inevitably happens when I get together with the Fairways Kids, a bunch of friends I’ve known since I was 11, back when my family moved into a Singapore condominium building named (naturally) Fairways.
Sure, we’ll catch up on jobs, lives, kids, significant others. But somehow the conversation always wends its way back to one thing: ice kachang, a sugary dessert featuring a bowl of sweet corn, red beans, palm seeds and jelly topped with a minor hill of shaved ice that’s been doused in syrup so sweet you can practically feel a toothache coming on as you shovel spoonfuls into your mouth.
We were a rambunctious lot — still are, some might say. Rough soccer games, fearless, kickboxing fights in the swimming pool, endless games of volleyball in the tennis court — this was how our youths were misspent. But the highlight of those idyllic days often was a trip over the fence (the shortcut before the condo association built a back gate) to the hawker center in the back.
What lay at the end was an ice-cold mountain, festive and pink.
Back behind the fence, we had homework, exams and, later, boy or girl problems to consume us. But at Telok Blangah Food Centre, things were simple. All we had to worry about was whether we had enough coins that day for a bowl of ice kachang.
After our most recent trip down memory lane, I decided to venture back to the old Telok Blangah neighborhood to see if our ice kachang stall was still there.
At Fairways, which is something of a ghost town these days as most of its residents have moved out, the good old back gate remained …
And on the other side of that gate, our trusty old hawker center appeared.
The hawker center looked the worse for wear but a familiar red sign immediately beckoned …
Immediately, I placed my order — one ice-kachang, plain and simple.
It costs $1, or U.S. $0.72, these days, which may have been a little expensive for our tastes back then. But it was comforting to see the familiar ingredients getting scooped into a bowl.
The ice kachang itself tasted perfectly fine — sweet and cold with the reward of jelly-like chewy palm seeds (better known as attap chee in these parts) right at the bottom.
But it was disappointing — just like any other ice kachang, that is. Nothing special or hallowed, as I remembered.
The missing element, of course, was the company.
Around the table, there was no Francis, Leonard, Kevin, Sam, Kelvin or Daphne. No Yunn-Yunn, Teng-Teng, Peng-Peng or Pauline.
There was no bickering, no laughter over the latest skateboard spills, no showing off of the latest roller-skates someone got for Christmas. And at the end, there were no belches from Sam, which he’d perfected into such an art that they literally could be heard loud and clear from 10 floors up.
I may return for the Telok Blangah ice kachang but I may not. But that’s alright, really.
These days when the Fairways Kids meet up, we share dim sum, sushi, beers and cocktails.
As much as we looked forward to and savored our journeys over the fence back then, of course it never really was about the ice kachang.
Red Swallow’s Hot and Cold Desserts, Blk 79 Telok Blangah Drive (Telok Blangah Food Centre), #01-13.