Friday, September 26, 2014

The Straits Times : Patching heritage cracks

The Straits Times
By Melody Zaccheus
26th September 2014

The uncertain fate of Singapore's historic dragon kilns highlights problems of overlapping roles and varying priorities of the three heritage bodies.

THEY may be Singapore's only two surviving dragon kilns from the 1940s and 1950s, part of a once-booming brick industry here, but their fate is up in the air.

The wood-fired dragon kilns - their distinctive shapes resemble a dragon's tail and smoking head - at 85 and 97L, Lorong Tawas, in Jurong are part of a fascinating history.

Up till World War II, Singapore was home to at least 20 smouldering kilns. Some of the Jurong kilns used to produce latex cups used by nearby rubber plantations.

However, they sit on government land earmarked for long-term development.

And the National Heritage Board (NHB), the statutory body some would think is responsible for their safe keeping, actually has no power to conserve the site.

This is even though its impact assessment and mitigation division deemed the kilns historically unique and of artistic value last August, and managed to persuade the site's owner, the Singapore Land Authority, to extend its lease by three three-year terms.

The board's division, the Preservation of Sites and Monuments (PSM), has the power only to gazette - or preserve - national monuments based on stringent criteria.

For the site to be conserved, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) would have to step in. Even then, it would have to weigh the needs of the agencies involved in the site - this includes the JTC Corporation, which runs the CleanTech Park there - and the future land needs of the area. The agencies involved must come to an agreement.

So, after surviving for decades, the dragon kilns' future is clouded due to a hodgepodge of rules on heritage and conservation matters, and overlapping or conflicting development priorities.

Other historic sites and monuments are falling through the cracks too.

In 2008, five heritage bridges along the Singapore River were put on the conservation list by the URA. Under the law, conserved structures and buildings must retain their original structure and achitectural elements.

They must also be sensitively restored or repaired carefully, should the need arise.

But some of these structures, which fall under the charge of their site owners, the Singapore Tourism Board and the Land Transport Authority, fell into disrepair.

This would not have happened if a government body had been appointed to galvanise and see to it that different agencies and developers work towards the same goals.

Architectural conservators, historians and civic groups say the problem lies in the overlapping and unclear roles of the three bodies charged with heritage matters - the NHB, PSM and the URA.

The situation today

THE NHB promotes heritage appreciation through managing its national museums, and documentation and outreach efforts.

Under its umbrella is the PSM, which provides legal protection for national monuments - these must have socio-historical, cultural and architectural value on the level of national significance - and offers monument owners guidance and regulatory support.

Then there is the URA, established in 1974, and which is charged with studying old buildings for possible conservation as part of land use planning.

For a structure to be worthy of conservation, it needs to fulfil the URA's requirements, including having architectural, social and cultural significance; the rarity of the structure; and the contribution to the environment.

Experts have given these bodies the thumbs up for their good work so far.

They applauded the NHB's landmark move to set up an impact assessment and mitigation division last July to study and act as consultant on the effects development has on the country's heritage. The new division came about as part of an internal reorganisation. Comprising a group of conservation architects, historians and researchers, its job is to conduct impact assessments of redevelopment works on heritage sites and structures and work with parties involved to establish mitigation measures.

It acted as mediator, working with the Housing Board and Singapore Heritage Society, to incorporate heritage elements into the new Bidadari housing estate, for example. It also worked with civic group My Community, the URA and Housing Board to help conserve several landmarks in Queenstown, Singapore's first satellite town.

NHB chief executive Rosa Daniel said NHB plays the role of heritage promoter, facilitator and regulator. "Each role is important and we seek to find the balance that best serves the needs of a more discerning public and a more complex operating environment."

Experts acknowledged the URA's work as well. The authority has close to 7,200 buildings in its conservation stable.

They noted that its latest gazette in June saved warehouses, public housing flats and social institutions such as health-care facilities and a library - marking a shift from the large numbers of shophouses and black-and-white colonial bungalows it started out saving.

Gaps in the system

HOWEVER, gaps still exist. Experts argue that the NHB's main business is still the operation of its eight museums and heritage institutions.

Meanwhile, the Sungei Road Flea Market, which has to make way for a new MRT station by 2017, and rustic island Pulau Ubin are, like the historic dragon kilns, not safe from future development works.

Despite valiant efforts - including extensive documentation projects of these places by the NHB - the board's hands are tied, for it has no actual power to protect them.

The PSM division has also got flak from some monument owners for not providing enough technical expertise or funding for repair and restoration efforts, which can cost millions.

As for the URA, concerns about conflict of interest have been raised because, while the authority sizes up places for conservation, it is also associated with "bulldozers and demolition, acquisition and redevelopment", says cultural geographer Lily Kong of the National University of Singapore.

What experts want

EXPERTS believe a more holistic way to promote and protect heritage is needed.

Some say the NHB, with its existing resources, should be the lead agency and be armed with greater bite to push for the protection of sites it deems historically worthy. Others say there is a need for an independent and dedicated government agency.

Some suggestions include expanding the NHB's scope and operations to take on the URA's role of conservator.

Under this scenario, the NHB would also preferably have the power to require site owners and caretakers to report to it on maintenance matters and provide more financial support to national monument owners.

Others, such as Dr Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore, said this power should be vested within a new and independent agency. Describing the agency as an ombudsman, he said it would be able to take both private developers and ministries to task if heritage laws are violated.

Take the Tan Si Chong Su temple, where the secretary of the temple's management committee was fined $500 in 2003 for making unauthorised renovations to the national monument.

The monument's owner, the SLA, was not taken to task, said Dr Tan. "There must be political will to give this body enough power to do the job and this would involve amending or creating legislation for this."

He added: "The heritage ombudsman would sit across ministries and account only to Parliament. If this is in place, then there is no need to worry about the pecking order of the various ministries.

"It would have powers to receive complaints and investigate them. If rules are violated, it would have powers to prosecute the parties involved."

The way forward

NO MATTER who takes the lead in this effort, it is clear that there is a need for a body to step in and impose mandatory impact assessments across the public and private sectors before development decisions are made, said Dr Jack Lee, a heritage law expert from the Singapore Management University.

Architectural conservation specialist consultant Ho Weng Hin said the assessment report should detail the condition of the building or site, the heritage elements worthy of protection and the parameters for future use, given its existing state.

Mr Ho said: "Singapore has a dwindling stock of heritage buildings, so we must be diligent about the background work that we do."

Singapore University of Technology and Design assistant professor Yeo Kang Shua, who is also the honorary secretary of the Singapore Heritage Society, said such reports would ensure that, at the very least, "we will know what we are losing, if we have to let them go".

Dr Yeo added that the process should be open for public comment and viewing - as in the case of Hong Kong, where people can submit historic buildings for grading and the results and meetings are open to the public.

This would start the conservation conversation early on.

Law expert Dr Lee agreed. "Heritage groups often don't realise that a site is in danger of redevelopment until after the decision has been made," he said.

The extra pair of eyes could also help identify important historic areas that have been left out of the country's annals.

These include the Singapore Heritage Society's suggestions, such as schooling, housing and leisure heritage sites and forgotten parts of Singapore like Tanjong Malang in the Palmer and Hill road area.

Alongside civic groups, the body would also champion a mindset shift, where heritage considerations, now in their infancy, carry the same weight as the country's developmental needs.

Such a multi-faceted approach would prevent historically valuable places from slipping through the cracks - such as the red-brick National Library building and parts of Bukit Brown Cemetery.

It is timely to relook this sector, especially with the nation's bid for the Singapore Botanic Gardens to become its first Unesco World Heritage Site.

More importantly, with the country's jubilee year coming up next year, Singapore must develop an overarching and all-encompassing system - through a process of constant refinement - that can work for another 50 years, to ensure a lasting legacy for future generations.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Feeling Blue with the Green Programme

Since last week, there were blue recycling bins that appeared all over the estate
It seems the recycling company are at it again.

Same old tired strategy with most likely the same outcome.

They had just conveniently placed the bins in front of all the blocks with no regards to the aesthetic of the community.

Since my blog post about this issue in 2009, nothing much has changed. (

The recycling company hasn't learnt anything as some residents remained equally stubborn and ignorant as they will persistently dump foodstuff into the recycling bin.

This was taken on 22/09/2014 and there were clearly food stuff and rubbish in and around the bin
Since these bins are not cleared daily, it will emit bad smell and attract vermin.

Oversight and practicality could be why the bins were placed along the road. It is much easier for the truck to drive alongside it to pick it up.

Practicality rules the day

This unfortunately mars the facade of our estate.

What if the same is done at these iconic places?

Can you spot the iconic blue bins?
There are 2 things the recycling company needs to do.

First thing is WORKING CLOSELY with the town council and second is EDUCATION

With the town council involved, bins could be placed at the back alley and an electric buggy could be used to clear the recycling bins efficiently onto a central collection area.

The recycling trucks could come and pick up the recyclables at one or two designated locations instead of picking them up all over the estate.

The recycling education will most likely go the way of the Courtesy campaign, it has to be a protracted on-going campaign until everyone becomes socially and environmentally responsible about their trash.

Until that happens, please execute the green campaign thoughtfully.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Straits Times : Tan Tock Seng's descendants celebrate Tiong Bahru link

The Straits Times
By Kash Cheong
28th July 2014

New plaques there mark two roads named after his son and grandson

Tanjong Pagar MP Indranee Rajah (in red) unveiling the Tan Kim Ching plaque with Mr Tan Hsien Chuang, 45, a descendant of Tan Tock Seng's eldest son Tan Kim Ching. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

THEY had some big shoes to fill, but descendants of merchant and philanthropist Tan Tock Seng did not disappoint.

Tan Tock Seng's eldest son, rice trader Tan Kim Ching, who was the first leader of the Hokkien Huay Kuan, donated to hospitals and built facilities to prevent the Thian Hock Keng Temple in Telok Ayer Street from flooding.

And because of his trading business, he established good ties with the Siamese ruler at the time, King Chulalongkorn, recommending English tutor Anna Leonowens to teach the royal family English. The fictionalised account of her story was made famous in the musical The King And I.

And Tan Chay Yan, Tan Tock Seng's grandson by his youngest son Teck Guan, was the first rubber planter in Malaya. He donated generously to medical causes.

Sixty-eight descendants from the Tan clan gathered for the unveiling of two plaques yesterday. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Yesterday, two new plaques telling the stories of the two men were unveiled in streets named after them in Tiong Bahru.

Tan Tock Seng had six children. His family genealogy now spans over eight generations.

Descendants from the Tan clan joined Tanjong Pagar MP Indranee Rajah in unveiling the plaques. The plaques in Kim Cheng and Chay Yan streets would give residents a greater sense of heritage, said Ms Rajah, who is Senior Minister of State for Law and Education.

"I am proud to have my ancestor's story on a street named after him," said Ms Sylvia Tan, 82, a housewife and Tan Chay Yan's granddaughter.

The boards were produced by Seng Poh Residents' Committee, in consultation with the Tan clan.

Clan members made several stops on a tour tracing their roots yesterday. The 68 descendants, part of a group of 200 that arrived in Singapore for a reunion dinner last Saturday, paid their respects at Tan Tock Seng's grave in Outram Road, and visited the Thai Embassy to commemorate relationships built by their ancestors.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Sunday Times : Earlybird hawkers

The Sunday Times
By Paige Lim
15th June 2014

Some hawkers do a brisk business in the wee hours, catching the night owls and early risers

Stalls in Tiong Bahru Market And Food Centre which open early include Xi De Li (above), Teck Seng Soya Bean Drinks and Yuan Ji Fishball Noodle. -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

It is 2am and on the streets, there are people staggering home after a night out in clubs and bars, and others who have just ended a late shift at work or are gearing up for an early shift.

Most people are sound asleep but not hawker Loh Teck Seng, who is busy at his soya bean milk stall at Tiong Bahru Market And Food Centre.

He is among a group of hawkers who open for business in the wee hours of the morning and then pack up in the early afternoon.

Over a span of three days, SundayLife! visited 18 hawker stalls whose opening hours range from as early as 2am and close no later than 3pm. Most of them do brisk business before most of Singapore wakes up.

Mr Loh, 60, says he cooks batches of soya bean milk at his stall, Teck Seng Soya Bean Drinks, from midnight to 5am.

He says: "It can get extremely busy from 6.30am onwards, and if I start late, I cannot finish making my batches in time."

As customer traffic is not as brisk before 6am, he can cook the soya bean milk and curd and sell them at the same time. He has been operating his stall from 2am to 2.30pm for more than 30 years.

Hawkers interviewed say their customers are workers who have just ended late-night shifts or have early morning shifts. They include taxi drivers, police officers, 24-hour restaurant operators and wet market stallholders. Nightclub patrons also make up the pack.

Among this mix of customers, the majority are regulars who have been patronising the stalls for years.

Poultry seller Stanley Yow, 44, who opens his stall between 3am and 4am at Tiong Bahru market, buys breakfast from Teck Seng Soya Bean Drinks, fried dough stall Xi De Li or Yuan Ji Fishball Noodle, all of which open before 5am.

He says: "It's good that these stores open early because where else can you find food so conveniently at this hour?"

Some of the hawkers enjoy brisk business during these early hours.

One of them is Mr Teo Chai Kim, 53, who runs a porridge and noodle stall in a coffee shop in Bukit Panjang. It opens at 2am.

The stall’s most popular dish is Koka instant noodles cooked in a pork broth (above). -- PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

He sells the Koka brand of instant noodles cooked in pork broth and customers can add ingredients such as pork slices, minced pork, eggs and seafood such as prawns.

It is a hit with youngsters and the hawker says he sells more than 50 bowls between 2 and 3am.

When SundayLife! visited the coffee shop at 2.30am, there were about 15 people, ranging from teenagers to young adults, devouring the noodles. His stall had a regular stream of customers.

Student Ho Zhong Yu, 19, who was there at 3am and lives nearby, says he goes there to eat when he has to stay up late to complete assignments.

Student Kasey Lim, 22, who goes there once or twice a week in the wee hours for supper, says: "His noodles taste better than the normal instant noodles you cook at home. I come here because it's the only stall I know of that is open at this time."

Others hawkers have changed their hours to meet the increasing number of early risers.

Mr He Mei Fai, 43, whose stall, Pin Xiang Noodles, in Toa Payoh has been around for over 20 years, says his operating hours used to be from 6am to 2pm and 5pm to 11pm, but are now from 4.30am to 11am.

He decided to open earlier after having to turn away customers who would often show up before 6am.

On good days, he can sell between 20 and 30 plates of wanton noodles from 4.30am to 5.30am and says he no longer operates at night because his daily target can usually be met from just opening in the morning.

At the market and food centre at Block 112, Jalan Bukit Merah, seven stalls out of 22 are open for business by 5am.

Two of them, Jit Man Prawn Noodle And Lor Mee and a no-signboard stall which sells minced pork and fishball noodles, start at 3.30am daily without fail.

Ms Serene Teo, 50, who owns Jit Man Prawn Noodle And Lor Mee, says it is common for stalls at the food centre to open very early because of the poor afternoon crowd.

"It gets really quiet here from about 1pm and traffic slows down, so we usually close then and depend on our morning sales."

Though she gets only about three to five customers at 4am, business picks up at around 6am.

School cleaner Hui Yew Hoo, 70, whose morning shift starts at 6.30am, says: "I come here at 4.30am to buy prawn mee to take away for breakfast as I don't like to queue and fight with a crowd later on."

Taxi driver Yeo San Teck, 55, adds that he usually drives to Redhill Porridge at Redhill Food Centre to eat after his night shift ends at 4am.

"Many taxi drivers frequent these haunts in coffee shops and hawker centres over 24-hour fast food places or restaurants because the food is much cheaper and tastes good."

The queue at the stall when SundayLife! visited at 5.30am last Wednesday was testament to its overwhelming popularity.

The stall owner wanted to be known as just Mr Han and would only say that his stall, which opens at 5.15am, does not need any more publicity as he is unable to cope with the current demand. He sells out before 8.30am every day.

Having to wake up at the witching hour to prepare their ingredients does not deter these hawkers, who say they are used to it after years of operation.

Madam Ngern Kah Cheng, 65, of Tanglin Halt Delicious Duck Noodles, says she has been getting up at 1am every day to prepare for her stall's 4am opening since 1969, when she started the business.

Closing in the early afternoon has its advantages, as hawkers say they can go home earlier to rest and have more time to prepare for the next day.

Mr He of Pin Xiang Noodles says going home earlier allows him to spend more time with his children and cook them dinner. He has a daughter, 19, and a son, 16.

Housewife Lee Cheng Toh, 54, says: "I always knew there were places that opened late but never knew there were ones that opened so early."



Teck Seng Soya Bean Drinks

Tiong Bahru Market And Food Centre, 30 Seng Poh Road, 02-69Open: 2am to 2.30pm, closed on Monday

What: Soya bean milk and beancurd made from scratch in batches from midnight to 5am. The first batch is ready for sale by 2am.

Price: From .80 for a cup of soya bean milk and from .90 for a bowl of beancurd

Hai Xian Zhu Zhou

Block 163 Bukit Panjang Coffee Shop, 163A Gangsa Road

Open: 2am to 2.30pm, closed on Thursday

What: The stall's most popular dish is Koka instant noodles cooked in a pork broth. Customers can add ingredients such as lean pork slices, minced pork, eggs and seafood such as prawns. The stall also sells porridge with sliced fish, pork and seafood. Other dishes include mee sua, ee-meen and mee hoon kueh.

Price: From $2.50 for a bowl of Koka noodles, depending on ingredients added, $3 for Koka noodles with seafood and spicy Koka noodles, from $2.50 for a bowl of porridge


Jit Man Prawn Noodle & Lor Mee

Jalan Bukit Merah Block 112 Market And Food Centre, 112 Jalan Bukit Merah, 01-16

Open: 3.30am to 12pm daily

What: Stallholder Serene Teo's father ran this stall for 50 years before she took over 20 years ago. It serves prawn noodles, laksa, lor mee and sliced fish soup. Saturdays are the busiest day of the week and Madam Teo says she can sell up to 50 bowls of noodles between 3.30am and 6am.

Price: $2.50 or $3 for a bowl of prawn mee, laksa or lor mee; $4, $5 or $6 for a bowl of sliced fish soup


Tanglin Halt Delicious Duck Noodles

Tanglin Halt Market and Food Centre, 48A Tanglin Halt Road, stall no. 23

Open: 4am to 2pm daily, closed on Monday and Friday

What: This stall has been around since 1969 and sells braised duck noodles and duck drumstick noodles, among other dishes. Add-ons include duck tongue, duck feet, gizzard and beancurd.

Price: From $3 for braised duck noodles, $6 for duck drumstick noodles, from 50 cents for add-ons

Tanglin Halt Original Peanut Pancake

Tanglin Halt Market and Food Centre, 48A Tanglin Halt Road, stall no. 16

Open: 4.30am to 11am daily, closed on Monday, Wednesday and Friday

What: This popular, 25-year-old stall sells traditional peanut pancakes. Customers can also buy pancakes filled with red bean paste, yam paste, pandan-flavoured green bean, salted bean paste and black sesame paste. It has regular customers who have been patronising the stall for 10 to 20 years. About 80 per cent of its sales are made before 9am.

Price: From 80 cents

Pin Xiang Noodles

Block 93 Lorong 4 Toa Payoh, 01-46

Open: 4.30am to 11am, closed on Monday

What: This popular stall sells wonton noodles, wonton soup, mushroom-chicken feet noodles, mushroom and shredded chicken hor fun and dumpling noodles. The stall used to operate from 6am to 2pm and 5 to 11pm about five years ago, but opening earlier has proven lucrative for the owner.

Price: $3 for noodles, from 50 cents for add-ons

Yuan Ji Fishball Noodle

All the action happens before 11am at this stall (above), which sells fishball noodles and mushroom minced pork noodles -- PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
Tiong Bahru Market And Food Centre, 30 Seng Poh Road, 02-72

Open: 4.30am to 1pm, closed on Monday

What: All the action happens before 11am at this stall, which sells fishball noodles and mushroom minced pork noodles. About 10 regular customers would come at about 4am to get their fix.

Price: $2.50 and $3


Qing Zhai Vegetarian Food

Block 216 Market And Food Centre, Bedok North Street 1, 01-08

Open: 5.30am to 1pm, closed on Monday

What: A queue forms the minute the stall opens at 5.30am. The stall offers a wide variety of vegetarian food, such as beehoon, fried noodles, kuay teow, to which mock meats and deep fried items can be added.

Price: From $1 for beehoon, fried mee and kuay teow, accompaniments from 70 cents for vegetable dishes, from 80 cents for mock meats and from 50 cents for deep-fried items

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

URA Master Plan 2014 (Tiong Bahru)

(1) Seems that Block 1 Tiong Bahru Road will be demolished as it has been scrubbed out of the Master Plan.

(2) Just realised that our quaint Post Office is actually sitting on commercial space. Which means it can be turned into something else.

With some much competition for commercial space in this estate, it doesn't take a bright spark to suggest an alternative location for the post office.

(Please don't make us go to Bukit Merah Central to pick up our parcels hor)

(3) Tiong Bahru Market is actually sitting on residential & commercial land! With a Plot Ratio of 2.8 (meaning 36 storeys building can sprout up here), someone is gonna say INTEGRATED buildings is the way to go!

Am sure this will happen if they ever en-bloc the post war side.

It would be convenient to entice a developer with this proposal.

(4) Okay okay..... our park is still a park.

Currently a showflat and some eye sores are PARKED there. Yeah, it is still a Park nonetheless.

(5) Ground floor owners at Block 55 Tiong Bahru Road can now point to this and say their RESIDENTIAL home could be turned into a commercial property coz URA say one.

By the way, someone at URA forgot to PINK CODE Hua Bee and Flock at Block 78 Moh Guan Terrace. (To err is human, we understand, no worries)

And with this chart, we now know where the commercial properties should be located and where the clandestine ones are operating out from. 

Its okay, allowed or clandestine, we QUIETLY love them all don't we. :-)

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Straits Times : Grave sparks quest to dig up ancestral connections

The Straits Times
By Melody Zaccheus
9th June 2014

Seah Eu Chin's descendant also seeks to save tomb from wrecking ball

Inscriptions on his father's urn led Mr Sean Seah (above) to the villa built by his ancestor Seah Eu Chin in Yuepu village in Shantou, China (Below). Mr Seah has filmed a video documenting his visit to the villa. -- PHOTOS: COURTESY OF SEAN SEAH; LIM SIN THAI

SOMBRE photos of Singaporean pioneer Seah Eu Chin used to hang on the walls of Mr Sean Seah’s family home.

Then there are the roads, such as Eu Chin Street in Tiong Bahru and Seah Street in the city.

But as a young boy, Sean had little inkling about just how influential his famous ancestor was.

The late Seah, for instance, was known as the “King of Gambier”, having built his fortune as the owner of gambier plantations in areas like Thomson. He was also one of the founders of the Ngee Ann Kongsi, a Teochew clan association that was set up in 1845.

It was only two years ago, however, when the younger Seah saw the large and newly discovered grave of his ancestor for the first time, that everything clicked.

Now, he is hoping to save the grave in Toa Payoh West, which is at risk of redevelopment due to its proximity to the upcoming North-South Expressway.

He approached the National Heritage Board last month and plans to put together a petition signed by descendants of Seah Eu Chin’s four sons to preserve the grave, which sits on land where the late Seah grew pepper and gambier.

Said Mr Seah, 38, a business development manager at a multinational corporation and a sixth generation Seah: “I felt a connection to him after seeing something so large and tangible.

“The grave is a living testament of his life and success, and very different from just reading off a list of his accolades or hearing stories from my grandfather about his achievements. For the first time, I felt that my lineage was truly special,” he said.

His visit to the grave alongside 40 other family members prompted Mr Seah to embark on a journey to rediscover his lineage.

Now, he is one of the more active Seahs on a mission to rediscover his roots and champion his family’s heritage.

For instance, Mr Seah spends most of his time outside of work combing through archives, looking for distant relatives and filming videos documenting his quest.

The grave where his ancestor was buried with his two wives in 1883 was discovered in 2012 by tombstone hunters, brothers Raymond and Charles Goh.

For decades, the Seah family, of which there are about 500 members scattered across the globe, had not known its location.

“I hope the Government can help us keep the grave so that we can show future generations a physical marker of their heritage,” said Mr Seah, who has two sons aged one and four.

Mr Charles Goh, 46, who took a year to hunt down the grave, agreed. “It is a rare find and a rare tomb of someone so illustrious. We should conserve what we can, especially at a time when we are looking back at our roots and hoping to better tell the Singapore story.”

Last month, Mr Seah also discovered that his ancestor had built a grand villa in Yuepu village in Shantou, China.

He found it after doing some research on the inscriptions on his father’s urn, with some help from the Seah clan in Singapore.

He filmed a video of his experience visiting the site – as the first descendant to return after 191 years – to share with other Seahs.

The villa, located within a 300 sq m compound – about the size of three five-room flats – even housed a school once.

Mr Seah said: “It showed that he had his hometown and family in mind even after achieving success in Singapore.”

He added that he was inspired by his ancestor’s tenacity and said he has plans to conduct heritage tours to Yuepu.

“I learnt about him during history lessons in school but questions still lingered, like why he had taken the treacherous two-month-long journey in 1823 to Singapore from China,” said Mr Seah. The trip helped answer some of these questions, he said. “I learnt that he was a fighter... someone who was willing to take risks for opportunities.”

Although he did not inherit any of his ancestor’s material possessions, Mr Seah feels that he inherited priceless values and traits. His desire to trace his genealogy and lineage stems from a belief that there is more to life than just chasing material success.

He said: “A person without knowledge of his roots is missing a part of his soul. Life starts as an empty page and it’s up to us to decide how to paint the colours of each page and chapter.”

There is also the joy of finding other members of the Seah clan. Family ties are easily verified by checking generation names – a Chinese practice where family members from the same generation use the same characters for their middle names. This was how he met his cousin, chef Elton Seah, 38,three years ago while doing national service in-camp training.

Then there is the thrill of saying that it is his grandfather’s road whenever he drives or walks by any of the four streets named after Seah Eu Chin and his two sons Peck Seah and Liang Seah.

Said Mr Seah: “I feel very proud to have come from his line. I hope our family can continue to produce good people who will contribute to society just like he did.”

Singapore's 'King of Gambier' SEAH Eu Chin (1805-1883), who came to Singapore in 1823, started work here as an accountant and a clerk on trading ships.
Later, he began working as a middleman, supplying ships with goods.
Over time, his fortune grew and he bought huge parcels of land for gambier and pepper plantations.
At one point, he owned plantations that stretched from River Valley Road to Bukit Timah. Seah, who received an education in Chinese classics back home, was well respected by both the Chinese and European communities for his business acumen.
He is known for his role in founding Teochew association Ngee Ann Kongsi. He was also one of the few Chinese here to become a member of the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, a largely European-dominated body.
Descendants can join the Facebook group Seah Eu Chin Descendants. Seah's journey to Yuepu can be viewed at

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Sunday Times : Tiong Bahru roast meat shop to close

The Sunday Times
By Kezia Toh
27th April 2014

Eatery is latest casualty in rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood

Roast meat eatery owner Yip Kwok Ching is moving out after his landlord upped the rental for the shop unit from $8,000 to $12,000 a month -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Popular Tiong Bahru roast meat eatery, Hong Kong Jin Tian, will shut its doors after this weekend - in the continuing exodus of old-timers from the now hipster estate.

The eatery's owners, a couple who moved from Hong Kong to Singapore in 1986, say they are moving after the landlord upped the rent for the 1,100 sq ft to 1,200 sq ft shop in Eng Hoon Street from about $8,000 to $12,000 a month.

Owner Yip Kwok Ching, 62, says he is still hunting for another location to continue his business. The nearby Redhill market is one possibility.

His wife, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Yip, says: "Of course, we are not happy about leaving because we have been here for many years."

The couple started their eatery at a Tiong Bahru market stall in 2000 before moving it to the coffee shop five years later. It has been there since.

Mrs Yip, 56, says: "Newcomers don't know the going rate for the place and spoil the market for us. It affects traditional food such as ours."

Jacking up prices will not help pay the rent, she adds. Jin Tian charges $3 for a plate of roast meat with rice. Add 20 cents to the cost and customers will not come, she says. "It's very strange because customers are willing to pay $6 for a slice of cake across the road," says Mrs Yip, gesturing to the nearby Tiong Bahru Bakery.

Jin Tian's is, by now, a familiar story in the now popular retro enclave with its pre- and post-war flats.

Housewife Ang Soo Leong, a longtime resident, hopes another hipster joint is not sprouting up in its place.

Mrs Ang, 84, moved to the area after she was displaced during the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961. She says in Mandarin: "It is a pity that the old businesses are gone because they hold a slice of history. The new places charge such high prices, I dare not step inside."

The influx of new ventures began around 2010 when artisanal coffee joint 40 Hands opened in Yong Siak Street. Since then, chic boutiques, cafes and bookstores have sprouted.

Long-time business owners in the area are receiving sizeable offers.

Mr Rodney Goh, 59, of provision shop Pin Pin Piau Kay & Co in Seng Poh Road, says he gets offers to rent or buy his 1,500 sq ft space "every other day". Offers go as high as $2 million to buy or about $10,000 a month to rent.

Hardware shop-owner Michael Chan (above) and provision shop-owner Rodney Goh (below) say they have been offered up to $2 million to sell their space or $10,000 in monthly rent. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Mr Michael Chan, 66, who owns hardware shop Hock Eng Hin in Seng Poh Road, says he has received six serious requests to buy or rent his 1,300 sq ft space in the past two years, with offers reaching up to $1 million.

Mr Cheng Mook Boon, 65, who owns Cheng Delicacies, a 24-year-old Hainanese homestyle food coffee shop in Yong Siak Street, says he gets offers of between $6 million and $12 million for his 1,800 sq ft space.

The grapple for space seems fierce but there may be a sign of the market cooling down. The light purple doors of the coffee shop located opposite Jin Tian have been shuttered since January.

A previous tenant, Mr Loo Kia Chee, 55, who had been running his Hainanese curry rice stall since 1990 in the neighbourhood, says he left when the landlords asked him to rent the entire coffee shop for $20,000, up from $3,200 for a stall. He decided to move down the road, renting a stall for $3,000, while another tenant, a Teochew braised duck stall owner, has moved to Ubi.

Mr Loo says: "The coffee shop needs renovation. Taps are rusty and ventilation is poor, which would easily set me back by $10,000 to $20,000."

It has been nearly three months since the coffee shop closed and there is a "problem looking for tenants", says senior marketing director Jane Lee, in her late 30s, of property firm ERA Realty Network, who is marketing the space. The landlord wants a 50 per cent rise in rent, she says, jacking up the price to more than $20,000. The landlord declined to speak to SundayLife!.

Regular foot traffic in Tiong Bahru, unlike Housing Board estates such as Ang Mo Kio or Clementi, is also slower.

Ms Lee says: "It can be a dead town on weekdays. When the asking price is so high, it is difficult to find tenants."

This could be a signal of the softening of demand in the heated Tiong Bahru market. But it is more likely that the asking rent is "too high", says Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo of the National University of Singapore's department of real estate.

"The landlord might have made the call based on a high offer from someone before the current lease expired, but potential business owners may find the high rent is not sustainable," he says.

Older businesses in the neighbourhood may be taking a hammering in terms of rent and takings, but old-time stalwarts are unfazed.

Pin Pin Piau Kay provision shop's Mr Goh says residents still go to him for necessities such as rice and toilet rolls.

And Mr Chan of Hock Eng Hin has moved with the times, displaying vintage crockery outside his 21-year-old shop. "Very popular with young people these days", he says. He also stocks home-fix tools to cater to new expatriate residents who prefer to do up their homes themselves and go to Tiong Bahru to look for tools.

It would be interesting to see how the neighbourhood transforms when these old businesses fade away, says Assistant Professor Walter Edgar Theseira of the division of economics at Nanyang Technological University.

He says: "The charm of Tiong Bahru comes from the mix of old and new, so would people still value the area when the old businesses disappear?"

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