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Tuesday, Apr 29, 2014

Singapore

A rare trade

The New Paper | Tuesday, Apr 29, 2014

Ms Bao Qing of Boli Trading.

Woodlands Mart

Block 768, Woodlands Avenue 6

This charming mall evokes a sense of peace.

Wide open spaces, a children's playground, provision shops selling inexpensive drinks and snacks and plenty of public benches make for simple pleasures - like eating an ice lolly on a hot day.

The 6,000 sq m of lettable space includes a foodcourt, computer peripheral shops and gift shops, among others.

Nestled in a corner of the complex is a hidden gem. Sharing a unit space with an optical shop, Boli Trading's plain signage belies the colourful kebayas inside.

Ms Bao Qing, 46, greets me with a warm smile and a soft handshake. She has been tailoring for over 20 years.

Her speciality is in custom-making kebaya and baju kurung, which are traditional Peranakan and Malay dress, respectively.

She previously worked in the city area but Ms Bao, who lives near Woodlands Mart with her family, wanted to have a space where her two primary school children could hang around after school.

And people at the mall are friendly, she adds.

She says in Mandarin that she enjoys conversing with her clientele, even though she speaks very little Malay or English. "They're easy-going and friendly, so it's easy to strike up conversations."

Her clientele, which consists mainly of returning customers, travel from all over Singapore to see her - often on word-of-mouth recommendation.

Many bring their own bolts of cloth and come with very specific designs or patterns in mind.

"I've never had someone ask for a refund," she says, beaming. "I take pride in being able to fulfil all their requests."

The Koufu outlet at Woodlands Mart sits right next to another food court, Fork & Spoon. With a different name and design, one would be forgiven for thinking that it is a rival.

But Fork & Spoon is actually one of Koufu's casual eatery brands, which features a "no pork, no lard" concept to cater to the Muslim community.

Koufu first set up shop in Woodlands Mart in 2002. Fork & Spoon was set up soon after in 2005.

Rather than simply separating the Muslim stalls' utensils from the non-Muslim stalls', the entire foodcourt has no dishes containing pork or lard.

And it does this at no cost to variety. Besides Malay food, the foodcourt houses fried chicken franchise TenderBest, a chicken rice stall, a seafood stall and even a Japanese and Korean food stall.

Indulging in tradition

888 Plaza

Block 888, Woodlands Drive 50

From Woodlands Mart, head a short way south to 888 Plaza.

After dining and browsing the wide variety of shops, you can find everything from groceries, stationery, toys, furniture and bicycles at this convenient locale. Stop by and say hi to the folks of Likyo Confectionary.

Mr Alex Ong, 46, and his wife Madam Janice Teo, 36, (pictured below) have been at the Plaza for 13 years and have basically seen the neighbourhood mature.

Likyo Confectionery sells a variety of old-school treats beside modern, intricately-decorated cakes that can rival top bakery chains, and has been a firm favourite among residents.

I spotted packets of "niu er bing" (also known as "biskut telinga") and colourful stacks of "piring" wafer discs that I loved as a kid.

Colourful fondant cakes featuring cartoon characters like Doraemon and the minions from Despicable Me adorn the chiller display.

Mr Ong is especially proud of his donuts.

"They're baked the traditional way," he says in Mandarin.

"Very soft. Children like them this way."

They take customised orders for birthday cakes and can even prepare a three-layer wedding cake on special order.

Over the years, they've kept up with technology.

In order to connect with their clients, Madam Teo maintains a Facebook page for the bakery, where you can browse pictures of their latest creations.

Mr Ong's passion has been many years in the making. He and his brother have been baking since they were teenagers.

Despite the rise of large retail chain bakeries, Mr Ong is not fazed by the competition.

"It's a different market, a different audience. We do our own thing. We use traditional methods. I'm not worried," he says with a smile.

This article was published on April 27 in The New Paper.

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