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Column: Shoi's Pick


Step into Life's Little Pleasures

by Shoi

During those early years as a newly-wed living in the UK, a favorite weekend jaunt was exploring the little antique shops and stalls in London's Camden Town and Portobello Road Market.

Step into life's little pleasures

Vintage Nyonya Slippers

“Step into life's little pleasures”

Soon, English bric-a-brac, together with my collection of Asian knick-knacks, all found their own special niche in the tiny Kensington basement flat that was our "home away from home" — Vintage Poirot postcards cascaded down a bedroom door. Extravagantly-colored antique papier mache boxes became trusted keepers of jewelry, keys, old coins and daily whatnots. 19th century hand-embroidered Nyonya slippers replaced their furry counterparts to keep my toes warm indoors.

Friends used to drop by our flat for impromptu meals. And my signature "burnt" offerings (no, I'd never been wooed for my cooking) were lovingly served on precious old china. Those yet unacquainted with my home-making peccadilloes were incredulous, "You're seving us food on antique plates?"

What can I say... except that to me, beautiful things, old and new, are made to be touched, worn, eaten/drunk from, enjoyed, shared. They don't work for me locked behind glass cabinets or hidden away until that "special" occasion — It's sheer indulgence to be able to celebrate day-to-day living with these little pleasures and treasures.

Since this column is all about beautiful things... today, I'd like to share snippets on a unique type of ceramics that is a part of my Malaysian heritage...

The legacy of the Baba Nyonya

A distinctive Chinese community of merchants and traders evolved in Peninsular Malaya in the 18th & 19th centuries, and flourished in the former British Colonies along the Straits of Malacca. Called the Straits Chinese or Baba Nyonya, their customs and traditions are a colorful blend of influences derived from Chinese and Malay cultures.

By the turn of the 20th century, ensconced as society's elites with their wealth and public/political position, the Baba Nyonya further distinguished themselves in the development of a highly refined culture — One with exacting lifestyle standards that dictated even their cuisine, their crockery and their embroidery must conform to the era's concept of "refinement" or halus.


To cater to their taste for all things refined, Nyonyaware (also known as "Straits Chinese porcelain") was created by artisans in China and exported over. The firing process of the ceramics, resulting in the vibrant, distinctive hues of green, blue, yellow, pink and even lilac or mauve, entailed much technical finesse.


Predominant motifs used in Nyonyaware include luxuriant blossoming peonies, often flanked by pairs of phoenix. Border patterns are typically derived from Buddhist art. The symbols inherant in most of these wares relate to marriage, fertility, the South, peace and prosperity.

Although the product of a bygone era, these objects reflect the rich legacy of the vanishing Baba Nyonya culture of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia.

For me, to have a humble sandwich served on these beautiful, precious plates allows me to share and experience, in a real way, a little piece of history.

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