Friday, August 31, 2007

Si Kar Teng

Jalan Membina (Opposite Zhangde Pri Sch)

Kim Tian Road (Next to Regency Suite)

Was it a coincidence or was it an attempt by HDB to provide residents with subtle hints of this area's original identity?

These modern Si Kar Tengs are found around the Kim Tian Place area. Even though these structures had been there for more than 10 years, I did not give it much thought until I realised the significance these pavilions had for this area.

I bet not many residents here knew about this also. The pavilions looked ordinary and there is nothing there to associate these pavilions to the origins of this area.

Maybe no one likes to remember that this was once a CHINESE cemetery and so one one talks about it. But the truth was this was a major Chinese cemetery in the 19th century and many pavilions were erected on the graves back then. Those pavilions were used as a shelter against the scorching sun when the descendants of the deceased came to pay their respects during the annual “Qing Ming” festival. As all the pavilions were erected with 4 pillars, so that was how this area was referred to as SI KAR TENG.

No one call this place SI KAR TENG anymore. I last time I heard it was probably in the early eighties. But my Dad's generation will still have vivid memories of this place as he told me he could see the coffins sticking out of the eroded slopes when he was much much younger.

I think I would have freaked out big time if I ever saw those sticking around.......remember....OLD OVER SIZED CHINESE coffins.....not the modern sleek designed type with MP3 players and built in aircon.

Our Splendid Seng Poh Garden

Excerpt from Tanjong Pagar Town Council, The Window, July Edition

After six months and at a cost of $250,000, the sunny morning we had on 6 May was just right for the opening of our new garden. Many got up a little earlier to join the morning walk at 8am. Then we sat down for a rest and chat, to music by and expert zither player.

There were long queues for the free popcorn, cakes and water. And all sorts of interesting things for sale at a flea market by the side. If you didn’t like either, you could just enjoy the flowers. Seng Poh Garden is now the only garden in Tanjong Pagar Town with over thirty types of flowers in it!

Assoc Prof Koo Tsai Kee arrived at about nine, and joined us as we learned more about the history of the garden from the MC. The 1st garden was built in 1972, and had a fountain. Barbecue pits were installed later in 1992, but removed in 2006, when residents complained of the smoke and noise. Now we have pavilions surrounded by greenery, and an amphitheatre perfect for events.

We also learned about our landmark sculpture. “Dancing Lady” was sculpted by the same man who built the Merlion, Mr Lim Nang Seng. And with each renovation, the Lady danced around the garden a little. To make sure we were paying attention, the MC gave a quiz!

After a Wushu performance and a spectacular lion dance, Assoc Prof Koo officially opened the garden to great applause. In the bright morning sun and surrounded by blooms. It seemed even the Lady was pleased with her new home.

Click on the image above for the Chinese Version

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tan Chay Yan (1870 – 1916)

Chay Yan Street in the Tiong Bahru Area is named after a rubber planter, Tan Chay Yan (1870 – 1916). Chay Yan was the eldest son of Tan Teck Guan and the grandson of Tan Tock Seng.

He was known as the first rubber planter in Malaya. In 1896, he planted the seedlings on a 40-acre plantation in Malacca. It turned out to be a success. He then went on to plant rubber on a 3000 acres site. Many followed him later. He could take credit for the prosperity of the Malaysian economy which was boosted by its rubber plantations. Chay Yan also planted rubber trees in Chao Chu Kang, Singapore, with prominent Chinese like Lim Boon Keng, Lee Choon Guan and Tan Jiak Kim.

Educated at a high school in Malacca, he was appointed a Municipal Commissioner at 21 and a Justice of Peace at 24. In 1900, he was elected a member of the Straits Chinese British Association in Singapore and later President of its branch in Malacca. Chay Yan donated $15,000 in the name of his father to a medical school which was to become the King Edward VII Medical School, the forerunner of the University of Singapore’s Medical Faculty.

An orchid variety, Vanda Tan Chay Yan, was named after him. The peach-coloured Vanda Tan Chay Yan is considered one of the most outstanding hybrids produced in Singapore and has established Singapore firmly on the world orchid map. Vanda Tan Chay Yan was awarded a First Class Certificate, the highest award given by the Royal Horticultural Society of the UK, at the Chelsea Flower Show in England in 1954.

A road in Malacca was also named after him in view of his contributions to the country's revenue.

Tan died of malaria at the age of 46. A relative believed he could have caught it during the long hours spent at the rubber plantations. His wife, Chua Ruan Neo, a tenth generation Nyonya here, continued with the family tradition of giving. The couple had seven children - six daughters and a son.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Tan Kim Ching (1829 - 1892)

Kim Cheng Street in the Tiong Bahru Area was formerly referred to as Kim Ching Street. This street is named after Tan Kim Ching.

Kim Ching was the eldest son of Tan Tock Seng, a native of Changzhou, Fujian province.

He followed his father’s footsteps and achieved considerable success for his Chop Chin Seng, which owned rice mills in Saigon and Siam.

When the Tanjong Pagar Dock Co. (the forerunner of the Port of Singapore Authority) was established in 1863, he contributed $120,000 to its development. He also engaged in saw-mill and shipping.

After his father’s death, he was revered as a leader in the Chinese community.

He was made a Justice of Peace in 1865, two years after he was made an additional Justice of Peace.

Later in 1872, Kim Cheng received another honor of being appointed a honorary magistrate to assist in the administration of justice.

In 1888, he was made a Municipal Commissioner.

As he was engaged in rice and foodstuff trade with Siam and had forged a close relation with the country, he was appointed the first
Consul-General for Siam by the King in 1886.

In 1878, he joined hands with Tan Beng Swee, son of Tan Kim Seng, to found an ancestral shrine Bao Chi Gong for the Tan clan.

In 1888, Kim Cheng was conferred the 3rd class decoration of the Order of the Raising Sun for arranging Prince Komatsu’s (of Japan) visit to Siam on a diplomatic mission.

A charitable man and an arbitrator, Kim Cheng had great influence on the Chinese in Kelantan and Petani.

Before the signing of the Pangkor Treaty on Perak affairs, he exerted influence on the secret society members of Shan He Hui to accept mediation by the government.

He was fluent in Malay and was arguably the most powerful Chinese leader in the region in the 19th century

Kim Cheng died in 1892 at 63, leaving behind a daughter and several grandchildren.

All his sons died earlier than him.

Saturday, August 25, 2007


Whenever my grandma needed to visit her relatives in Neil Road, she would hire a trishaw to take my brother and me there. She would ask the trishaw rider to cycle through the "SI PAI POR" which was the Singapore General Hospital (SGH). (SGH was just next to the Tiong Bahru Estate, before the CTE came about)

Hence I always thought the phrase "SI PAI POR" was the Teochew translation for "HOSPITAL". I never really dwell on the origins of that word until I started researching for this blog.

Here's what I found out:

There used to be a few road names within the present SGH compound that were known as Sepoy Avenue, Sepoy Lanes and Sepoy Lines. (These road names has since been expunged)

These roads are named after the Sepoy Camp (Indian troops) of the East India Company (EIC), whose quarters were located in the area. These EIC soldiers came after the founding of Singapore in 1819. They officially acquired their names in 1958. The name Sepoy lines, which is located at the end of Salat Road (Silat Road), is found in Coleman's 1836 Map of Singapore. The cantonments of the sepoys were moved to this area in May 1823 and continued to remain here till about 1880s. ("Cantonment" refers to a group of lodging assigned to troops)

Sepoy Lines was part of the site of what is now the Singapore General Hospital, built here in 1882. It was also reported in 1843 to be an area where people were killed by man-eating tigers. Sepoy Lane and Avenue exist on the General Hospital grounds. The Sepoy Lines and police station and parade ground are at one end of Outram Road.

Note : "SI PAI POR" is the Hokkien meaning for "Sepoy plain". Sepoy is from the Hindu "SIPAHI" (Soldier)

So now we know that SI PAI POR does not mean Singapore General Hospital but the location in which SGH happens to be located in.

So why can't my grandma or everyone else back then, just use plain language and just refer a hospital as a hospital?
(By the way, the Hokkien or Teochew equivalent for Hospital would be "Low Koon Chu" )

My mum in law offered a clue this evening. People do not like to utter words that are not auspicious and the word "hospital" was not a politically correct word to use if you do not want bad luck to head your way. She said that to tell people that you are going to the hospital is like you are going there to be cut up by the doctors. Hence, people use replacement words to make it sound more pleasant.

So instead of saying I am going to the "LOW KOON CHU", I would rather say I going to "SI PAI POR"

Friday, August 24, 2007

Tiong Bahru Primary School

My thoughts are on my primary school tonight. I guess it has got something to do with the mini gathering my primary school friends has organised for this weekend. Yes! After more than 2 decades, some of us are still in touch!

Here's the history of how my primary school came about and disappear and then re-appear somewhere up north.

Class Photo taken while I was in Primary 4
The photo may be fading but I hope the memories stays

Founded in 1930, Quan Min Primary was the first Chinese School in Tiong Bahru.

Located at 337, Tiong Bahru Road, it had some 30 pupils in five classes in 1949. Headed by founder Liu Jinming, the school engaged six teachers. The school’s board of directors was headed by Liu Murong. The other school in the adjacent Bukit Ho Swee was Jie Gu School, which was founded by Li Qinghu in 1936. After a fire in 1961 which gutted many houses in the areas, Quan Min and Jie Gu was merged to become
Jiemin School.

Tiong Bahru Primary School (Under Construction)
Collection of Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts,
Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

Now : A Power Station has replaced Tiong Bahru Primary School

Tiong Bahru Primary School (Assembly)
Collection of Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts,
Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

Some things never change, children still do not pay attention
Collection of Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts,
Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

My favourite place, The Tuck Shop
Collection of Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts,
Courtesy of National Archives of Singapore

Jiemin School was subsequently renamed Tiong Bahru Primary. Tiong Bahru Primary School closed down in 1990 following a steady decline in its enrolment. The Silat primary school in Jalan Bukit Merah also suffered the same fate. At present, the only surviving primary school in Tiong Bahru is Zhangde School. (Initally known as Chiang Teck School)

Note : (Jiemin Primary School was resurrected in 1985 and is now located in the Yishun area)

Looking at the 1st photo, I now realised that I had been deceived by the adults back then. I was told that my school was previously a morgue. I kinda believe that because our school was quite close to the Singapore General Hospital. While catching tadpoles in a drain behind my school one afternoon, an auntie told my friends and I that the water we were fishing in were water used for washing the dead bodies in a nearby morgue. That was so effective in getting us out of the drain immediately.

Memories are made of these

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Sin Hock Heng Street

About 100 hundred years ago, there lived some 30 families in Tiong Bahru area.

The only road passable to bullock carts and rickshaws was then known as Sin Hock Heng Street.

In 1927, the former Singapore Improvement Trust acquired the areas and started to rebuild Sin Hock Heng Street.

When completed, the road was subsequently renamed Tiong Bahru Road.

Tiong Bahru Road ran through the estate from the Singapore General Hospital on one end to the Bukit Merah on the other.

Houses were built on both sides of the road.

Sin Hock Heng Road was the only road where bullock carts and rickshaws could pass when travelling between the city center and Bukit Merah

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

What was Tiong Bahru like 100 years ago?

Tiong Bahru was largely a swampy area about one hundred years ago. Not long after, Chinese immigrants came to Singapore and many chose to settle down in the area, planting taro as feeds for pigs. Thus the place earned itself a name as “ORH CAI HNG”in Hokkien or taro plantation (In Mandarin : YU CAI YUAN).

Taro Plantation with a pig nearby

Later on the area was generally known as “Four-Pillar Pavilion” (Hokkien : Si Kah Teng) as part of it was once used as a cemetery where it was then a common practice for the rich among the Chinese to erect shelters with four pillars on the graves of their ancestors. The pavilion was used as a shelter against the scorching sun when the descendants of the deceased came to pay their respects during the annual “Qing Ming” festival.

“Tiong” is the Hokkien transliteration of cemetery while in Malay “Bahru” means something new. Together it says the area is a new burial ground compared with an earlier one a stone’s throw away at Heng Shan Ting (a temple), in Silat Road. The Chinese temple was built by the early Hokkien immigrants.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Interesting Exhibition @ Tiong Bahru CC

Sketches, Impressions and Visions of
Tiong Bahru

Tiong Bahru is a place fondly remembered by many Singaporeans for its food and old SIT flats. As one of the earliest mass housing experiments in Singapore and the region, what we see today in the older part of Tiong Bahru is a mixed of graying residents alongside with increasing tourist presence and new yuppy occupancy. Students from the NAFA interior Design/Exhibition and Retail degree programme spent five weeks investigating the past, present and future of this charming neighbourhood which has witness colonialism, imperialism to independence in Singapore. Street sketches, a video documentary, a guide to Art Deco architecture, and proposals for future designs in the Tiong Bahru conservation area were produced as a result of this study. We welcome you to join us in this creative journey through changing times from the perspective of our younger generations

Exhibition Venue
Tiong Bahru Community Club (Reading Corner)
67A Eu Chin Street
Singapore 169715

Exhibition Period
25 August - 26 August 2007

Opening Time
11am - 9pm

Video Presentation
(TBCC Conference Room)
7:30pm, 25 August 2007 (Saturday)

Kent Neo
Location Map

Event is organised by :
Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Department of 3D Design,
NAFA Campus 1, Wing B Room #4-05, 80 Bencoolen Street, Singapore 189655
Tel : +65 6512 4000 Fax : +65 6337 681

Saturday, August 18, 2007


联合早报 (Zao Bao)









Friday, August 17, 2007

TV Commercials

This TV commercial was shot at the corner coffeeshop at Block 57 Eng Hoon Street. (Next to the EGGshop)

That coffeeshop was recently taken over by someone new. Needless the say, the whole place had been gutted out and it is now squeaky clean......just like any other coffeeshops in just about anywhere else in Singapore.

........Modern Singapore.....the relentless pursuit to ERASE.......

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tan Tock Seng [AD 1798 - 1850]

Yesterday, I was walking along Outram Road and I decided to check out something which I have been longing to do so. (By the way, Outram Road is at the edge of the Tiong Bahru Estate)

This used to be the road that led to the main entrance of Gongshan primary school. The school has since moved to Tampines and the old school was demolished.

I once competed in an Inter-School basketball tournament in this school compound, though I am not sure which school we competed against. It could have been Havelock Primary School or Redhill Primary School. Anyway, whoever our competitors were that day, my school, Tiong Bahru Primary School, was thrashed. Part of my primary school song contained these words.....we will bring you honour, and glory! I could not utter those words with pride that day and I never played basketball again ever since.....not because my team lost, but because I scored an OWN goal and I was so embarrassed. What a blur sotong I was.

Anyway, the reason why I walked up the slope was because my curiosity won over my usual inertia.

I always knew there was a tomb along Outram Road but never bothered to find out who was buried there. It was someone important for sure. I even speculated that it could be Tan Kim Seng since it is close by to Kim Seng Road. I am so glad that I took the trouble to find out.

Here's my findings :

There are 2 tombs here on Outram Hill. And one of the tomb contains the remains of the founder of Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Mr Tan Tock Seng himself.

The final resting place of Tan Tock Seng

The larger of the 2 tombs found on Outram Hill

Surprisingly, Mr Tan's tomb is the smaller of the two. The bigger and grander one belongs to Tan Tock Seng's daughter-in-law (Chua Xiao Hui). According to fengshui or geomancy, it seems that the location of the bigger tomb is more appropriate for females.

Based on information from
Asia Paranomal Investigators, there used to be 3 graves here but one of them has since been removed. (I urge you to go and check out their website as they have many interesting information which I never knew!)

I must confess, prior to this, I only know that Tan Tock Seng was a successful businessman who is also generous and he setup some hospital for the poor. That's about all that I knew. If your knowledge about this great guy is as shallow as mine, here's the expanded version (ripped from Tan Tock Seng Hospital Website)

Mr Tan Tock Seng was born in Malacca in 1798. He was the third son of an immigrant from Fujian province in China. As a young man full of entrepreneurial drive but no worldly goods, Tan Tock Seng ventured to Singapore to start a small roadside business. He would buy fruits, vegetables and fowl from the countryside and hawk the fresh food in the City.

Hardworking and thrifty, he saved up enough money to open a shop in Boat Quay and proved to be a fine businessman. It was likely that he spoke English and he made his fortune when he entered into some speculation with an English friend, Mr J.H. Whitehead. When Mr Whitehead died in 1846 at age 36, he was buried at Fort Canning and a tombstone was set up bearing this inscription:

"... as a token of affection on the part of a Chinese friend, Tan Tock Seng."

Mr Tan owned large tracts of prime land, including 50 acres at the site of the railway station and another plot stretching from the Padang up to High Street and Tank Road. Other assets were a block of shophouses, an orchard and a nutmeg plantation which he co- owned with a brother. In time, he became an influential Chinese leader and was the first Asian to be made a Justice of the Peace by the Governor. He was skillful at settling feuds among the Chinese.

He was known for his generosity and his most famous gesture was the gift of $5,000 to build the Tan Tock Seng Hospital in 1844. But he also gave widely to other charitable causes, for example, the burial of destitute Chinese, as a proper funeral was important for the Chinese, rich or poor. He was also one of the founders of Singapore's oldest temple, the Thian Hock Keng at Telok Ayer. This became the centre of worship for the Fujian Chinese.

Mr Tan died in 1850 at age 52. An obituary in the Singapore Free Press described him as one of Singapore's "earliest settlers as well as most wealthy inhabitants." The paper also praised his contribution as a Justice of Peace:

"Much of his time was engrossed in acting as arbitrator in disputes between his countrymen, and many a case which would otherwise have afforded a rich harvest to the lawyers, was through his intervention and mediation nipped in the bud."

He left behind his widow Lee Seo Neo, who owned a large coconut estate in Geylang. Like him, she was unstinting in her support of the hospital and paid for a female ward. He also left behind three daughters, who were each bequeathed $36,000 in cash. His three sons, including his eldest Tan Kim Ching, inherited his land parcels.

To put everything in perspective, this tomb existed even before the Tiong Bahru Estate was built!

Another thing I have profited today is a better appreciation for the Outram area. All information pertaining to Outram could be found here : OUTRAM INFO

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Vanished People

If we could gaze into the past, we would be able to see this make shift barber shop here. (The picture should show a Malay barber with a small lion's mane....but I cannot find anything from the NET leh).

This original "Express Cut" shop was located just behind my grandma's home. (Now the Link Hotel).

This was where my grandma would send my younger brother and me for our monthly haircut.

I still remember I hated the solution they apply on your skin before shaving it. My skin itched like crazy after that.

Today, the place is just a void and there is nothing there to remind anyone of what existed here before.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Stand up for Singapore with a dash of heritage

Straits Times
Aug 13, 2007

Keeping a piece of our roots alive may be just as important as modernisation
By Tessa Wong

WHILE the crowds at Marina Bay jostled to catch the National Day Parade last Thursday, I watched a different national spectacle in the cinema just across the road.

It was Royston Tan's 881, the colourful getai flick which unabashedly celebrates all things heartlander.

While both were equally imbued with national pride, they couldn't be more different in meaning.

To me, a young Singaporean, they also represented a subtle ongoing war of ideology waged on behalf of our young.

With its fancy military displays and dazzling high-tech special effects, the parade championed our relentless march towards progress set against emblems of the future, the Central Business District skyline and the ongoing construction of the New Downtown at Marina Bay.

The film 881 was, on the other hand, a showcase of our homegrown culture set against a nostalgic view of Singapore, complete with crumbling buildings and retro 70s costumes.

It is, perhaps, an example of the increasing hunger among some young Singaporeans to capture and preserve our heritage against the onslaught of modernisation.

This is not necessarily restricted to professional artists or filmmakers.

Even ordinary youths are doing it, from history students who contribute to the blog Citizen

Historian, to amateur photographers who visit forgotten spaces in Singapore and post pictures on photo-sharing website Flickr.

One notable grassroots example is the Magical Spaces Project by the online magazine Five Foot Way.

Inspired by a column written by Straits Times journalist Hong Xinyi, the project encourages people to submit written or drawn expressions of what they think are 'magical spaces', or ordinary places which are of special significance, in Singapore.

Cynics may find such obsessions a waste of time, or worse, twee and faddish, akin to teens crazy about vintage clothing and 80s indie music because it's the 'in' thing now.

But I think such earnest efforts to defend, or at least preserve, our cultural heritage in small but significant ways, are touching.

Their core message, that Singapore with all its flaws is still worthy of treasuring, runs counter to what our materialistic society preaches - that a shiny modern future ruled by progress is the way forward.

I don't doubt the need for constant innovation to stay competitive.

But there is a price for such efforts, and I'm not sure whether this is really being taught or learnt at all when places of significance, such as Clifford Pier and the National Library, are knocked down for the sake of 'national progress'. Or, when the current en bloc fever demolishes homes left, right and centre.

What is the point of being taught in school that our history is important when your favourite haunt disappears, or when your home has to make way for a spanking new skyscraper?

Showing you care for Singapore goes beyond the nationalistic pomp and pageantry of National Day. It is also about recognising that modernisation inevitably costs us important parts of our heritage.

The generations who come after us need to know this in order to make the right decisions for this country's future. Who better to teach this than youth like ourselves?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The day before the Hungry Ghost Festival

Preparation for the Hungry Ghost festival has begun island wide. Designated custodians of the tradition has started stocking up the tentages with offerings and stuff to be blessed.

For the Tiong Bahru estate, the venue is at the badminton court in between block 38 and 49 Kim Pong road.

The welcome party for the "good brothers" will commence tomorrow evening while the annual "dinner and dance" will be held on Tuesday night. But not sure if there's gonna be any dance (GETAI) as my source told me that there is lesser participation and contribution and that event might be scrapped due to a lack of funds.

I guess the demographics in Tiong Bahru are fast changing and the newer residents here are not active participants.

But if there is a GETAI performance, many of us will become passive participants. Since it is free, we just go, watch and be entertained lah.

Picture taken at 11:34 pm 12th August 2007


Before the old Tiong Bahru market was demolished to make way for the existing one, no one could missed this neatly dressed fortune teller along Kim Cheng Street.

If you have him for a neighbour, you would have no problem believing that he is a TOWKAY or someone who works in the Shenton Way area just from his dressing and the accessories he carries.

Crisp shirt, trendy pants, and a POWER briefcase. (This is the man who may have inspired all the PORTA-thingy that was to come.)

After opening his briefcase to "touch base" with his bosses, he is ready for business. (Actually he looks like some middle management kinda guy as he is the conduit between the people and his bosses. )

As his office is ALFRESCO inspired, his work hours is quite short too. I think he leaves for home after lunch as he cannot TAHAN the heat from his job. But his bosses never complaint about him skiving on the job. So I supposed they must be quite pleased with his work competence.

I think there was another "fortune" teller along this street and he differentiate himself from the competition with a parrot. That parrot would help pick some divine sticks to predict the client's future.

My grandma used to patronise these folks with the hopes of getting some divine numbers to improve her probability at "CHAP JI KEE". Whenever she "strike", she would share her winning with me by giving me 50 cents. I never had many 50 cents from her.

This would have been the spot where the Porta-Deity consultant would have sat today.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

We are destroying what is uniquely Singaporean

The Straits Times
Aug 11, 2007

I AM neither an architect nor a history buff. However, a part of me died a little when I read the story, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow (LifeStyle, Aug 5).

I am only in my mid-30s and I cannot show my young children the library and the live theatre I used to visit.

Growing up in Chinatown, I saw how the life and soul of the area were taken away and reduced to what many see today - a tourist trap.

I saw beautiful pre-war houses in Teo Hong Road and New Bridge Road - homes to average folk - being taken away, only to make way for carparks.

I do not deny that many buildings in Chinatown have been preserved, and elsewhere too, but for whom and to what extent? Were our pre-war houses painted in bright multi-colours like you see today? Did they house mostly bars, pubs and restaurants? Did the shopkeepers sell keychains, T-shirts and CDs? Is it not an irony that we spend money telling the world that we are 'Uniquely Singapore' yet we keep on destroying what is uniquely Singaporean?

We have replaced uniquely Singaporean architecture with 'iconic' modern buildings built by foreign talents.

While I understand that Singapore needs attractive man-made attractions like theme parks and casinos to attract tourists to stay economically healthy, I hope that the authorities would realise that it is the human geography of a country that touches the hearts of many visitors. It is what gives a place authenticity and culture, and which will win the hearts of people.

With Singapore-style architecture disappearing, our indigenous identity is on its way to a slow demise.

Singapore’s history is already young. With the architectural heritage weakening, the day will come when instead of showing my grandchildren the places I used to go or have fond memories of, they would be showing me their latest playgrounds instead.

Meanwhile, I will spend my next weekend visiting the horse-shoe Pearl Bank Apartments to show my daughters that this is the place where Mummy first earned her keep as a young student tutor.

Tan-Wee Yin Ping

Friday, August 10, 2007

Washing Dirty Linen

I was watching 前线追踪 (FRONTLINE) on channel 8 at 10:30pm just now and saw a story being done on Tiong Bahru.

This time around, the story about Tiong Bahru was not all sugar, spice and everything nice. Instead, it focused on the pent up frustrations of a Tiong Bahru resident here.

What was the frustration about? Illegal roofs on the ground floors and illegal occupation of common areas....namely the common courtyard.

There are basically 2 types of ground floor units in Tiong Bahru. One type are those with an EXCLUSIVE courtyard while the other types are those WITHOUT the courtyard.

I have come across many buyers, including agents, who thought that all the courtyards are taken over by the owners illegally. THIS IS NOT TRUE.

Some courtyard have the fire escape staircases that leads all the way to the back wall while some fire escape staircases ended in the middle of the courtyard. Because these staircases ended in the middle, such courtyards cannot be closed up and the courtyard remains a common area. (Some residents have built their own perimeter walls in these type of courtyard. The considerate ones will create a walkway to the back door for the residents above to use while some.....well, you can just discern that they hardly or never spare a thought for their neighbours.)

Another type of courtyard found here are those blocks built on high gradient grounds. If you walk around block 78,79 or 80, you may have noticed that the ground floor units from the front are actually located on level two from the rear.

I think the British wanted to built bomb shelters all around block 78,79 and 80 but probably changed their mind halfway through the construction. This has resulted in many ORPHANED courtyards around here.

Why ORPHANED? Because no one would use them as they are located one floor below the ground floor unit. The story tonight is about these ORPHANED courtyards.

A resident living in Block 78 Yong Siak Street alerted MediaCorp about someone using the common courtyard illegally. He claimed that he has complained to the town council and HDB branch office but till today, no action has been taken. So he has no choice but to take drastic action.

He claimed that he has no issues with the illegal usage of the common area within the courtyard space as it could be kept clean in the past. But when illegal user padlocked the courtyard and installed some barb-wires on top of the roofs, the cleaners could not access the area and a lot of thrash has accumulated there. That really irked him a great deal. The tons of rubbish seems to have come from level 3 and 4 which are tenanted to nurses and workers. Even the ground floor unit is currently tenanted.

The reporter investigated and found out that the ground floor owner who has illegally used the common area runs a provision shop a few doors away and the reporter brought in the camera.

Initially the shopkeeper was cordial and claimed that the roofs are all temporary structures and can be taken down at a moment's notice. She also admitted to storing her display racks there (I think they have all rusted).

Then the shopkeeper became annoyed and asked who ratted on her. You could sense her restrained anger when she was told that it was her neighbours upstairs who squealed on her. She immediately telephone her neighbour and ask why she brought in the media circus without prior notice. (Quite hilarious actually).

Her elderly neighbour then appear and tried to shift the blame to her brother. After which, everyone went to her home to check out the situation. Indeed there were a lot of trash on the roof. The reporter also interviewed the family next door and that lady immediately accuse all the tenants of the misdeeds. She claimed that it was the nurses and workers who smokes and drinks and litter all over the place.

The reporter then confronted the nurses and workers. The nurse seems decent and I kinda believe that they don't smoke or drink. But when one of the workers was interviewed, he kept shaking his head and said that they were not responsible. And after much probing, he says he was not sure as he never saw anyone smoked or drank and so he assumed that it was not his flatmates.

Anyway, the story ended off by saying that HDB and the Tanjong Pagar Town Council will look into the matter and take appropriate actions.

I think the irate resident has gotten his point across loud and clear tonight. But in the process, he may have lost a neighbour and a friend.

Let's hope residents in Tiong Bahru will never resort to using National TV to wash all their dirty linens again.

Note : (As I do not have a DVD recorder, I scrambled to record the documentary from my digital camera camera memory space ran out after 2 minutes. Sorry folks. maybe you can watch it from MobTV. In future, if you need to record any local channel shows in advance, you can do so at RecordTV. By the way, there is a re-run next Tuesday afternoon and I have preset RecordTV to record it. Hopefully I can update this post with a full video)


Tiong Bahru Estate is just 17 minutes North of the nautical terms.

This place is just 2 minutes away from the higher profile marina club, ONEº15.

Though Tiong Bahru may not be the EXISTING playground for the rich, famous and successful, it was probably once a home to these rich, famous and successful people.

I heard from a long time resident here that one of Singapore's most successful banker once lived in the Tiong Bahru Estate when he arrived here from China.