Sing’s Tips on Reducing Plastics

It’s World Environment Day today. Well, happy World Environment Day!

But it’s not really that happy, of course, because the rivers and seas are choked with our plastic and the sea creatures are suffering and dying everyday. Just recently, a pilot whale died off Thailand and was found by rescuers to have eaten over 80 plastic bags! That’s just the most recent of thousands of sad tales of marine animals dying because of our plastic habit.

There are plenty of calls now to reduce using plastic. Change is slow, understandably but people are waking up to it. But is life with no plastic so unimaginable?

Palmer Road - Picture 3 Watermarked

In our book The House on Palmer Road, the little protagonist Sing lived in 1930s Singapore when hardly any plastic was used at all. Perhaps we can take a few tips from her on living with little plastic or none at all. Here are a few tips from Sing.

Metal Lunch boxes 

Plastic free lunch box 2

Mother always packed Sing’s sandwiches in a metal lunch box for recess in school. This was great because she didn’t have to queue to buy food at the tuckshop, leaving her with more time to play five stones with her best friend Beng Neo. (You can read more about that in our upcoming sequel The House on Silat Road.) Take some inspiration from her — instead of plastic lunch boxes for school, use metal or stainless steel ones. The metal lunch boxes we have these days are just as funky (maybe even more than plastic ones!) and have the added benefit of looking sleek and chic. Bring it in a pretty insulated plastic-free lunch bag which will keep things either hot or cold if you use in icepack.

Tiffin carriers 

If you’re buying food home from the hawker centre, bring your own container for the hawker to use. Ah Seem or Big Sister would have used a tiffin carrier usually made of enamel to bring warm porridge or some lunch treat when they visited Grandmother during the war years. (You haven’t read about that, too? Look out for it in the upcoming sequel!) In fact, tiffin carriers are making a comeback decorated in pretty designs, like retro beauties pictured here. We like! So does Sing.


Bring your own Coffee Mugs

In the same vein, bring your own reusable cup for your regular coffee fix, instead of using those nasty styrofoam cups that hawker centres provide, or the paper cups at Starbucks and the like. These days there are lots of really nice stainless travel mugs that you can use, while making a stylish statement for the environment. We’d like one of these please…or five.

JMJ houseware stainless steel cups.png

Water bottles instead of bottled water

…And instead of bottled water from the nearby Seven-eleven, put a teensy bit of effort and fill up water in your own plastic-free bottle or flask. After all, Singapore’s tap-water is completely drinkable. What’s more, an insulated flask gives you the added benefit of keeping cold drinks cold all day. Think iced water or ice lemon tea. A plastic disposable bottle can’t beat that.



Baskets for the Market 

Ah Seem would have brought her trusty wicker basket to  the market every day.  It would have carried everything she needed–from vegetables to fish wrapped in newspaper, dried prawns and eggs sitting in their paper mache carriers. And still have room for her wax paper umbrella in case it rained! Shop like Ah Seem and bring your own to the wet market or supermarket, and say no to the plastic bags which turtles and whales eventually choke on!


A Bar of Soap

Lots of plastic bottles are used for our liquid soap and shower gel. Think of how many we use every few months and how many are tossed away. Even if you used refills, they too come in plastic bags. Sing and her big family used good old bars of soap to bathe and wash their hands. It was so effective, even the night soil man carried his own bar of soap at the back of his truck! Liquid soap and shower gel were totally unheard of then.

Bars of soap come mostly packed in paper. Even if they did come in plastic packaging, it uses a lot less plastic than the bottles of liquid soap! So turn to bar soap, and help save the world with every bath you take!

Soap bar

So you see, it’s not that bad, is it? Sing, now 84 years old, has this one thing to say on World Environment Day, “People just don’t want to wash up after themselves these days! That’s why they use so much plastic.” If we just put in little more effort, we’ll go a long way to reducing plastic and doing some good for the only home we have. 🙂

Happy Environment Day, everyone!

Our Second Book – “The House on Palmer Road”

Can you imagine what life in Singapore was like over 75 years ago? A lot more different than we probably think. No plastic at all, no flushing toilets, cars without windscreen wipers or electric headlights, and lalang-covered fields where cows and goats wander. It’s in this setting that our second storybook takes place and we are too excited about it.

Titled “The House on Palmer Road”,  it recounts the adventures of Sing, a playful, tree-climbing, 8-year-old girl who lives with her family of in a wooden house in Palmer Road, together with her 9 brothers and sisters. Comprising 15 light-hearted tales, it is set in late 1930s Singapore, when the island was still a British colony, and just before WWII and the Japanese Occupation. In its pages, young readers go on all sorts of adventures with Sing, from frog hunting in the wasteland, to being chased by guard geese in dark godowns, to evenings in the Great World Amusement Park. Often taking place in the sunlit outdoors, it promises to be a playful enjoyable read for youngsters.

But in the background, the world is on the brink of World War II: readers (and Sing) encounter this through distant snatches of conversation and references by the grown-ups about impending war, the advance of the Japanese, the plight of relatives back in China. While all worrying, these are half understood by Sing and both protagonists and readers are focused on the playfulness of the stories without feeling too threatened by what’s happening around the world.

The stories, characters and places in The House on Palmer Road are all real, because they are based on the childhood of co-author Si Hoe S.S., a first time author at 83 years old!  The wooden house on Palmer Road, after which the book is titled and where the family of 13 lived, was built by her father, a building contractor. The landscape is vividly detailed based on her also-photographic memory, which we also verified against old maps and photographs and archival material to ensure accuracy.

We had released this book in early February, just before Singapore observed the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore in WWII (15 Feb 1942). This is significant because the story ends when Singapore fell.

What’s particularly unique about this book is it presents pre-war Singapore through the eyes of a local, and a child to boot. There is very little written of this period from a local’s perspective: most accounts of pre-war Singapore have been written by the British colonials then, and many local people of that time — except for the local elite — were not educated enough to do so. So this presents a rarely seen account of Singapore.

Meanwhile, we got a really talented Singaporean artist Lim Anling to provide us lots of charmingly playful illustrations to go along with it. Helping to tell the story are her 58 illustrations which you see a sample of here. She is incidentally also the artist behind our Singapore postage stamp series “Vanishing Trades”. The House on Palmer Road was published with some help from a grant by the National Heritage Board.

It is currently available at the Books Kinokuniya, Books Ahoy, Woods in the Books,, Closetful of Books, Tango Mango, and at the National Museum of Singapore and Asian Civilisations Museum. Priced at $12 before GST.