The Vanishing Trade

Do you still remember when was the last time you visited a “mama shop”? 2 days ago, 2 months ago or no longer anymore? Well, I would not even be surprise if you told me you do not have a clue of what a “mama shop” is now.

Ever since the early 90s, when Singapore was first introduced to the western culture, our lifestyle has started changing profusely. We were heavily influenced and affected by the westerners’ way of living. We started dressing like them, eating like them, talking like them and even living like them. It was not a bad thing but it is a sad truth that now, a lot of our Singaporean cultures have started disappearing.

Many years ago, groceries were bought mainly from the nearby neighbourhood mama shop. Rice, snacks, drinks, several daily necessities all could be found at one place and it was so much more convenient and comforting to buy everything from there. The relationship between the neighbours and the mama shop was also something to compliment about. Everyone in the neighbourhood knew each other and they had such a strong bond. They were so closely knitted that even paying the next day for the items bought today could also be done. The trust between each other was there and there was no need for any prevention against thieves. However, as time evolves, all of this closeness started to drift apart due to the great influence.

Supermarket chains started surfacing and the number of convenience store has been rising ever since then, taking over more and more mama shops. In fact, now if you were to realised, in every five to eight blocks around the neighbourhood, there will be a convenience store. They are everywhere around!

Now, that all these stores are governed by a particular company, it is also very difficult to foster a close and personal relationship with the particular store. It is not like the good old days anymore. Moreover, times have changed, so have the people in the neighbourhood. Many people come and go so often that there is barely any closeness and trust among neighbours too.

However, all these changes did not just happened over time but they were actually caused by the effects of cultural studies. This happens when two or more cultures are being exchanged and imitated, just like the western and Singapore’s culture.

Similarly to what I have learned this week about the cultural studies perspective, after reading this article, I now have a better understanding of cultural studies and the impacts it have on others. It has also showed me that communication need not always be direct; some other forms of communication can take months or years to be brought across.

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22 thoughts on “The Vanishing Trade

  1. xepthrichros says:

    Indeed Singapore has changed much due to influence of western powers. Both for good and bad. However I think the term ‘mama shop’ is still valid today though. But that aside, there have been changes, and while many are good, i feel that Singapore should maintain some of her culture, as you said.

    • jacqchin says:

      Thank you for your comment. Sure, everything has its pros and cons, even for this case. Though Mama shops have not entire disappeared, it is apparent to many that the trend its dying. It is sad, not only because it is part of the Singapore culture but it used to bring the neighborhood so closely together and now, everything has changed.

  2. Ashley says:

    Yes i definitely miss the good old mama shops, which sadly, have been replaced by the giant convenience chain store brand name and clearly i mean 7-eleven. Not only are they at shopping malls, they even took over the spots of mama shops underneath housing flats! Its important to be open to other cultures so to keep ourselves updated about affairs off the island, but i feel that we need to preserve our culture as much as possible, and mama shops should definitely be one of them!

    • jacqchin says:

      Thank you for your comment. It is sad isn’t it? How Singapore’s culture is shaping to become like the westerners. I agree with you that we need to preserve our culture as much as possible; however, just a thought between us two is sadly not sufficient enough to change anything. I guess, we just have to wait for someone of an authority level to discover this lost. 😦

  3. Aqila says:

    What we’re witnessing before our eyes is the rapid modernisation of our country- MRTs and LRTs are seem to continually be in construction as long as new housing estates are being built. With these conveniences right at our doorstep, we get into the ritual of taking these quick modes of transport to purchase our groceries in bulk at the nearest supermarket before going home. Groceries seem to be slightly cheaper and they come in a wide variety to suit our tastes and preferences. With supermarkets at such close proximity, they’ve become our preferred destination for stocking up on our groceries. However, the ‘mama’ shops still do retain its ‘convenience’ factor. They’re great for one-stop purchases, refilling the gaping basic necessities in our homes, for leisurely buys. Many a time, it is too much of a hassle to travel to a supermarket for just a single or a few light items which could otherwise be found at your very own void deck ‘mama’ shop. ‘Mama’ shops also retain their old-school charm; it can be said that both the young and old do feel a slight sense of nostalgia at the sight of a ‘mama’ shop. It’s been part of our culture for such a long time- it’ll truly be a pity if we were to do away with them.
    At the end of it, I think a hybrid of supermarkets and ‘mama’ shops existing in our ‘modernized’ country would bode well with everyone.

    • jacqchin says:

      Thank you for your comment. Sure, as much as we would all love our country to be as developed as it can be, I still wish mama shops were around. After all, like you have said, it brings a sense of nostalgia. 🙂

  4. Chloe says:

    Wow this blog post sure does bring back memories! The humble mama shop was one of my favourite childhood haunts for cheap after-school treats. Mama shops were still pretty common in my neighbourhood when I was a kid, but as time passed, I noticed that they had begun to dwindle in number. The shops that had closed down in my neighbourhood were mostly reopened as convenience stores and mini-marts. I totally agree with your point that convenience stores are everywhere nowadays. It is quite sad because it seems that mama shops may soon become a thing of the past ): that personal touch between shop owners and customers has greatly diminished.

    I think most people prefer to shop at supermarket chain stores or convenience stores instead of mama shops as these stores provide a wider variety of groceries and necessities, and are, well, convenient. Mama shops still bear a certain rustic charm, at least to me, but it appears that that appeal is lost on most people in this modern era, where there is a tendency to forsake personal relationships with such shops for sheer convenience.

    • jacqchin says:

      Yeah, it does bring back some of the “old school” memories right?! Mama shop used to be one of my favourite places too. But like what we have observed, it is a sad truth that this trend is dying too soon. I sure do miss the personal relationship I used to have with the vendors and my neighbours. & likewise, I sure do wish that the trend of Mama shop will re-surface again. Anyway, thanks for your input! 🙂

  5. diannetan says:

    Under the influence of Western culture, Singapore is changing. We are now much more open to Western actions, for example, kissing and hugging in public. Because we are so influenced by the Westerners, we forsake some of old traditions. I kinda like the fact that we used to have mama shops. I used to visit the mama shops near my grands place with my cousin and we will shop as though they were our ‘Paragon’. We felt super rich as the things there were really cheap. Its a pity how people tend to move on so quickly that we tend to forget about the past and all the childhood memories we used to have.

    • jacqchin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I believe it is not just Singapore, other countries as well are all changing in some way or another. But since we are Singaporeans who live in Singapore, I guess it is more apparent here where we can all witness the changes. & yeah, I do remember those times where candies were just 10c-30c and how I used to get my mum to buy so many of them each time after school. It is really such a pity all these are slowly becoming part of the past. 😦

  6. Nana says:

    After reading this article, I just can’t help to think how I was in primary school and running around to get snacks and sweets from the mama shops under the void deck/ hbd blocks, getting all hyped up when new varieties were brought in. Definitely would be a waste if Mama shops vanish due to all the big supermart that could buy consumer goods in bigger bulk and thus being able to sustain their stores longer than compared to the mama shops. However, I do want my children to experience what I did in the past, and not lose that ‘kampong’ feel. And also I agree with the article that mama shops do create bonds between the people living around the neighbourhood, such as getting to talk with the shop aunties/uncles there for hours..engage in conversation with others in the shop..isn’t it just heartwarming to keep in touch, dont wish to lose that in the near future. Unlike supermart such as ntuc, we are all just thinking of getting what we want and need, and wanting to go thru the whole process as fast as possible – like how some even get impatient queuing – where got time to talk to the cashier?? But I wouldn’t say to have mama shops all around either.. should have a good balance between both, that will be good 🙂
    Great article and sharing ^^

    • jacqchin says:

      Thank you for your comment. HAH, i still remember how WE used to buy stuff from the mama shop together, so much memories. & yes the “kampong feeling”, I know what you mean, everybody used to be so closeand friendly. Unlike now, the neighbourhood seems to have more and more strangers especially with all the progressions going on everywhere; everyone is starting to distant away from each other (unknowingly). Well, till today, I’m still hoping that this trend will re-surface soon and probably, we can get the same feeling back! 🙂

  7. mariontpn says:

    I still have a “mama” shop at my block! I, however, do not patronize them as often as I did when I was young. I think our tastes have changed, and now we want things like Starbucks, Max Brenner and JCo Donuts. I agree with the above comment, I do not want to lose the ‘kampong’ lifestyle in the neighbourhood. We already don’t say ‘hi’ to our neighbours, do we really want to be completely cut off from a unit? I think that some things should be kept, to remind us of how we started out and remember that childhood was a lot simpler.

    • jacqchin says:

      How fortunate! I wish I had one under my block too. 😦 But true, i guess you are right, not only is our society changing, our tastes have also changed overtime especially due to the huge influence. I can say we are starting to crave for different things now; more imported goods and less local products. This is probably also the reason why convenience stores are opening everywhere; because they cater more to our current needs (such as convenient food like cup noodles and microwaved food) However, because I was brought up in the era with my neighbourhood surrounded by Mama shops, I wish they will re-surface again. Anyway, thanks for your input!

  8. purelyxc says:

    Hmmm, there’s a ‘mama’ shop near my house too marion! Well, it is true that cultural studies are pushing shops like these off the radar, but then again, it is part of our Singapore culture to have shops like these carrying affordable products lying around isn’t it! 🙂

    But, you are right to say that times have changed, and things like these are being taken for granted and before we know it, it no longer is there anymore. I think a line should be drawn before pro cultural studies perspective people get rid of more memories such as the ‘mama’ shop.

    • jacqchin says:

      Why are you guys so fortunate?! I wish I still had one nearby, so I don’t have to feel so deprived. haha & yes, because it is part of Singapore’s culture and its dying that’s why it so saddening. I do agree that a line should be drawn however, It unlikely that 2/3 people like us can do anything to make a change, so i guess we will just have to wait and see. Nevertheless, thank you for your comment.

  9. beatricehua says:

    This is really an interesting post! 🙂

    and wow, yes i really don’t remember the last time i visited a “mama” shop. Supermarkets and convenience stores like 7-eleven have really taken over. True to what you said, many people come and go so fast that barely anyone remembers who is who. In the past, the auntie or uncle at the mama shop would always remember what their regulars buy, and engage in more than just small talk. They would even become friends! it’s quite sad to see this changing and i rarely even see anymore mama shops around! But i guess it’s all for the better? Singapore is a fast paced society and there is really no time for anything but speed in service. Hopefully there’ll still be a number of mama shops around 😦 it really brings back many memories when i step into one

    • jacqchin says:

      hahah thank you for your comment! i thought this would be a really interesting article to talk about as well. Anyway, like you have mentioned, I guess its all for the better. Especially since our country is one of the many fast paced society,efficiency is definitely one of the key characteristics people tend to look out for now when purchasing. So I guess everything has changed for a good course but hopefully in time to come, all these changes will not blurr our culture.

  10. Gdine Chin says:

    Thinking about those mama shops really evoke nostalgic memories. The 10c sweets, the biscuit tins, the familiar shop owners… It’s so sad that all these mama shops are slowly disappearing. People rather stock up from big supermarkets now, where they can roll their trolleys around the wide variety of food and necessities. Not forgetting those bonus points you get as a member or those lucky draws that happen once in awhile, giving people more incentive to shop at these places more for future ‘benefits’…

    • jacqchin says:

      Thank you for your comment. Isn’t it scary how fast our society has changed? All those sweet memories with our neighbours and Mama shop vendors have slowly evolved into what we have now; a distant relationship. It is indeed such a pity, but I guess it is all for the better. 🙂

  11. Yiqun says:

    Well, I agree that the loss of certain culture practices or businesses could be attributed to development in Singapore. in addition, I would like to add on the loss of culture due to the loss of many places of heritage due to the major development carried out by the government “bull-dozer” approach, which decisions were often made from the top-down which does not consider the public’s opinions.

    For instance, if we can recall the demolishment of the Old National Library which was an iconic red-bricked building at Stamford Road was taken down for urban redevelopment in 2004, as well as the Van Kleef Aquarium (1955-1991). These are landcapes which brings fond memories to us (maybe our parents at their time), which is the same “mama” shop analogy you are trying to convey to us 🙂

    Often, the state uses these proposals for renewal, rejuvenation and growth as their reasons for taking down the old things for new and better things. However, I think that we might need to measure the price of progress by the things we have left behind. What happens if the cost of progress outweighs renewal benefits? Would that progress still be valid?

    On the other hand, development does bring forth positive outcomes to our economy. Comparing Singapore today to the time when our parents were borned, we are really a very fortunate bunch of people living here. Development results in higher efficiency in terms of better technologies and skills of people. Relating back to the “mama” shop example, they are actually being “eliminated” in the industry due to their small size in nature as a firm which would not be able to reap cost benefits like supermarkets like NTUC or Giant.

    We might argue that the personalized service between the “mama” shop owner and his customers would definitely be better than buying groceries in the supermarkets whereby everyone seems so distance from each other. However, I would like to pose this question to all of you, will you be willing to pay for the higher price incurred to maintain this culture and bond forged ? Yes, this would brings us back to the cost-benefit analysis mentioned earlier.

    We still have a choice to make if we want to preserve these existing trades. That would be through the most conventional and simplistic way, which is to start patronizing them. This way, they would have higher chance of survival in the industry and would not be shut down. So, the choice is yours !!! You can start now by buying an ice-cream from the first “mama” shop you come across 😀

    • jacqchin says:

      Thank you for your comment. Indeed, I agree with you that we are so much more fortunate than those before us. & the existence of mama shop has its pros and cons as well. I guess its boils down to the different perspective each individual has on its environment. Nevertheless, being such a sucker for those happy memories, I’m still wishing that this trend will re-surface soon.

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