Friday, September 7, 2007

The Tiong Bahru bird-singing corner

From Yawning Breading 's titled : Rock, jazz and songbirds silenced

John Malathronas' new book Singapore Swing has a rather disconcerting tale about the loss of the bird-singing corner of Tiong Bahru. He had found the place on his first visit and thought it very charming.

Page 97:
I knew that bird singing contests were common in South East Asia, but nothing had prepared me for the scale of the spectacle in the Bird Arena Café: a roof of railings with hooks on which dozens of identical 20-inch round bamboo cages were hanging, one bird per cage; competitors, almost exclusively male, sitting in a row of chairs parallel to the line of cages above, sipping a mug of coffee; waiters bringing drinks, collecting dishes and taking orders; judges walking around making notes; and spectators sitting at tables...

Tiong Bahru Bird Singing Corner during it's heydays


But my overwhelming memory is of the aural tapestry by the birds themselves -- seemingly shamas on my Sunday -- caressing my eardrums and imprinting their love songs into my unconscious.

On his second visit slightly over a year later, page 159:

Yes, one of the first things I did is return to the Bird Arena early on my first Sunday morning, before the nightlife devoured me, as is its wont. This time, I knew something about the suburb itself: it was the first public housing project in Singapore, the brainchild of the Singapore Improvement Trust which operated until 1960 when the Housing and Development Board, the HDB, took over. Despite the lack of maintenance, there is something earthy and liveable in those three- and four-storey houses that still stand -- most noticeably in Seng Poh Road and Eng Hoon Street -- compared with the later Gotham City tower blocks of the HDB. The pavements may be cracking and the smell of mold spores might permeate the air, but the curves, the lines and the dimensions are more agreeable and convivial.


I stop and look at my map. Was it here? Yes, it was, but --

The old cafe is no more. A high fence informs us of 'Danger/Keep out/Bahaya Jangan dekat' and in a few more alphabets I can't interpret. The block of flats next to it has been covered with green netting as if ready-wrapped for a take-away. I know where to look: up, where a wiry old signboard is only just discernible: 'Tiong Bahru Bird Arena - Mata Puteh'. I shake my head. It cant' be! Tourist leaflets are still advertising the song contests! They just can't demolish it!

Tiong Bahru Bird Singing Corner after it was slated for demolition

They most certainly did. And so another bit of Singapore is thrown away. The blocks nearby have been converted to a new hotel.

Tiong Bahru Bird Singing Corner after the LINK HOTEL took over

It's possible that the bird corner has merely been relocated -- perhaps some readers might know the answer? -- but it's doubtful if one can recover the ambiance of old in a brand new location.

Living in a city that is always on the go has its price. Everything competes for space; sentiment has to fight relentlessly with utility.

We are doing a reasonable job of marking out and preserving some old buildings, but our choices tend to be influenced by our politics. We choose to preserve our grand buildings, especially those of governmental significance; governments generally have a high opinion of themselves.

Particularly in Singapore's case, with our foundational narrative lauding the British colonisers, grand colonial buildings get first-class treatment. The other politically-influenced aspect comes from our tendency to see race and religion as building blocks of society. Thus temples and buildings of communal significance are also valued. It's funny how some of these are quite obscure, yet are elevated into national monuments.

We seem not to be able to grasp the significance of places that are of popular significance: places that ordinary people have grown accustomed to having around, and which connect them to a sense of home.

The old National Library was torn down to make way for a pointless little road tunnel. The National Stadium was recently terminated with extreme prejudice. Years earlier, the National Theatre was also razed -- in its place today stands an empty field. You'd notice they were all called "National" this and that. Didn't save them at all. What chance did the un-national Bird Arena have?

Read more of it at : Yawning Bread
Saw this posting at Skyscraper City. Thank you Route16 for posting it there.


Anonymous said...

The bird lovers shifted their gathering spot to Blk 4A Boon Tiong Road

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