As I stepped out from the side entrance of Katong Shopping Centre, located at 865 Mountbatten Road, towards the primary school to meet my little boy, I was completely consumed by the torrents of heat wave. The heat wave was sweeping the whole of Singapore lately. It was simply outrageous as the heat waves seemed to swirl around me effortlessly. I felt more like a big piece of meat stewed slowly over small fire till moist and tender except now I was midway to meeting my boy, and feeling dehydrated, sticky, uncomfortable and grumpy. And the sun was like a magnifying glass, irritably and meticulously pricking almost every minuscule pores on me. My office wear was not of much help until I saw an ever pleasant looking boy in comfortable shade of green, trotting cheerfully towards me as our eyes met. I hastily hurried him into the concrete shade of cool air, almost drenched in my own perspiration, and desperately seeking shelters of comfort.
I offered to carry his school bag, also known to us as the Little Ali Baba Bag (battalion bag as it is called in the army). At a staggering 8kg, about four notebooks, I can almost train my biceps or triceps given a proper grip. I reminded him over and over again that he is going to the school and not the battle field, and he needs not to bring all the stuff to the school. Yet, I always laughed cruelly over his cute resigned look as he will always try to explain the rational of doing so. The academy (school) appears oblivious to all the little ‘hunchbacks-to-be.’ Sometimes I just wonder whether the Ali Baba Bag is the cause of his skinny beanie look. I will definitely collapse with fatigue if my brief case is the weight of his school bag for my course of work but nonetheless I always take over the load without fail. The old man can still take it.
I led him to Ren Ren Desserts, a little reward after the end of the examinations and a stopover before we made our arduous way to the bus stop under the scorching sun. The Ali Baba Bag landed with a thug, and stayed motionlessly like a statue at the side of the table. This modest looking and theme-less shop, which can probably seat up to 30 patrons or less, is located inconspicuously at the basement of Katong Shopping Centre. It is managed by an elderly cheerful couple who speaks Cantonese just like me. And most Cantonese has a sweet tooth for desserts. The little boy excitedly browsed through the simple laminated menu for something cold and refreshing.
Katong Shopping Centre is a decades old building and it is unlike the new mega malls with mainly scores of trendy retailers, boutique café and fine cuisine restaurants. At the core of the retail mall are some domestic workers agencies on the first floor and mainly printing shops on the second, and flanked by a few interesting trades at both wings of the mall including an arcade, music shop, tailors, a canteen, tattoo shop, ladies accessories, eateries and so on.
For the last couple of days and with my car in the workshop, I have every reason to seek shelter at any nearby air conditioned area. With the school just somewhere near the corner of this building, it is a short walk away and some time to kill. As I started my usual gourmet foray, with slight skepticism of finding one here, was hoping to find a decent place for a drink and light snack in a building where I have hardly visited for the last 10 years or so. And Ren Ren Desserts (仁仁甜品) just caught my attention.
Ren Ren is a simple place, well kept and clean. The colorful posters of desserts caught my attention as I stepped into the shop and started to pick my choice. Within minutes and to the amusement of the couple, I devoured a bowl of piping hot almond cream (prevent cough and phlegm) followed by another bowl of piping hot soupy dessert of dried apricot (nourishing), white fungus and longans, and finally a coffee pudding (sweets) to mark my first visit. Cantonese believes that certain desserts have a nourishing effect and good medicinal properties for the body. There is really no harm to take more of it to detoxify the acids in the stomach, hydrates the body and soothe the loss of appetite. I devoured a lot more the next few days, and the elderly owners took notice of my big presence and my likes for the Ice Mango, Berry Yogurt, Yam Cake, Chendol, Glutinous Rice with Ice Cream, Ice Melon, Hawthorne Jelly, the sour Hawthorne drink and Grass Jelly with Longan. The price is reasonable; it is almost like the cost of hawker fare.
Now, I am just a hard core regular who knows where to get nice and affordable desserts when I am around here. Just like some of the elderly regulars and young working adults, you may just spend less than five dollars each person to enjoy a bowl of dessert and a range of finger foods for a short hearty afternoon with a few good friends. In some parts of the town, you may spend more than $10 per person just for a cup of boutique coffee and a piece of so-called quality and bite sized pastry. You will probably end up licking up the expensive coffee in style to drag the time rather than drinking in gulps and feel the punch of caffeine, and get more of it. I just like it the big bang manner and yet just simple. People are just like cars or vehicles of different shapes and models; it still gives out carbon monoxide. Why must we pay so much more to enjoy marginally, miserably and stylishly?
The word, 仁, is a Chinese character meaning benevolence, goodness and humility. It is shown in this elderly couple’s benevolent business of keeping the prices of the goodness desserts affordable to the public, and offering a humble place of simple quality life style where people will get together for a nice community bonding or family get-together. As for me, I simply enjoy a good read and relaxing in the comfort of this humble dessert house, and at the same time nourish my body for another journey ahead, and the Ali Baba Bag.
Ren Ren (仁仁), here I come again.