Saturday, June 28, 2008

225 Outram Road

225 Outram Road in the 50s

225 Outram Road as at 26 June 2008

This building has stood at the end of Eng Hoon Street for the past 50 years.

I heard a KWA family owns this building and the immediate neighbour suspects it belongs to a very influential family in Singapore.

Anyway, I don’t care who owns it so long as they don’t tear it down to build another boutique hotel.

Here’s a short write up about this building which I found from the book titled: Singapore, A Guide to Buildings, Street and Places by Norman Edward and Peter Keys

One might pass by this corner building without notice it but it is a good example of the Modern Movement style established in England in the 1930s and further developed in the 1950s.

The building has shops on the 1st storey set behind a series of round columns supporting a reinforced concrete frame containing 5 storeys of apartments above.

Niemeyer-like curved concrete slab skirts the building to form an awning above the shops and creates an interesting spatial effect in its relationship to the cantilevered slab of apartments above.

The building turns the corner skilfully on 3 sides and is of good proportions.

Windows have sun-shielding cantilevered slabs above on one side and metal curve louvres on the other, very much in the Modern Movement vogue.

Fact: Built in 1956 and designed by Alfred Wong Partnership

Friday, June 27, 2008

Another Boutique Hotel?

Heard that this will be converted into another boutique hotel!!!!!

Do we really need that many hotels here at Tiong Bahru?

Hotel RE! just opened along Chin Swee Road and that is just a stone throw from Tiong Bahru Estate.

Their website looks interesting and the retro designed rooms looks good.

And now the new owner of this Tiffin Box lookalike building will be joining in the boutique hotel club.

If all the hotels succeed in filling up their rooms, I'm sure certain parts of Tiong Bahru will come alive and the retailers will be rejoicing.

Time will tell.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


The current resident conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) spent his growing up years in the Tiong Bahru Neighbourhood. Find out more about Mr Lim Yau in this article that appeared in the Straits Times yesterday.

The Straits Times
June 16, 2008
The monday interview, Lifestyle
By Stephanie Yap

An entire generation of musicians have played or sung under SSO resident conductor Lim Yau, who is still mentoring and nurturing amateur ensembles

THOUGH conductor Lim Yau is in the process of moving house, the living room of his condominium in Sembawang - the aptly named Euphony Gardens - is still decorated with all manner of music paraphernalia: bookshelves full of music scores, towers of CD cases and a wall covered with framed posters of concerts and operas he has conducted.

Most of the posters are elegantly subdued and the one that stands out is a poster for the Singapore Lyric Opera's 2006 production of Mozart's The Marriage Of Figaro. It shows the corseted torso of an amply-endowed woman as two pairs of apparently male hands lace her up.

'Part of my agreement with the Lyric Opera was that I would get the poster,' the resident conductor of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO), 56, says in a quiet, deliberate manner, as if carefully considering each word before uttering it.

'I tried to find the person whom the pair of boobs belongs to. But, I think, it is maybe computer enhanced.'

He pauses for a beat, then chuckles softly in his sonorous, bass-baritone voice.

Indeed, his reserved, imposing manner and wry sense of humour are well known among musicians who have worked with him during his almost 30 years of conducting.

SSO's fixed fourth-chair first violinist Chan Yoong Han, 33, says: 'He may appear fierce and stern on stage but he's actually a very warm person inside, with a wicked sense of humour.'

Besides his work with the SSO, Lim is the music director of the Singapore Symphony Chorus, which he has worked with since 1981. He was music director of the Singapore Youth Orchestra from 1990 to 2002 and co-founded the Lyric Opera in 1990.

Life! classical music critic and SSO board member Chang Tou Liang, 42, says: 'Practically all the younger musicians of Singapore, professional or amateur, have played or sung under him - I would say an entire generation.'

Dr Chang himself first met Lim back in 1992 when the physician joined the Singapore Symphony Chorus, where he sang for 10 years as a tenor: 'Lim is known for his droll humour and dry wit, which he often uses to diffuse potentially tense situations when the choir does not sing to his expectations.

'Choir members regard him with awe and sometimes reverential fear, but he is always an approachable person who is very frank and candid, and does not mince words.' The only baton-wielding gig on the local classical music scene which Lim, a 1990 Cultural Medallion recipient, does not appear to have taken up is the big one: that of music director of the SSO, a position currently held by China-born conductor Shui Lan.

But he seems more bemused than defensive when you ask if he has ever wanted to be the SSO's music director. 'No,' he says firmly. 'It is a very hard job. It takes a different type of person to do that.'

Then, in his quiet, deliberate way, he adds: 'I doubt I'll ever be. But that is not an issue. I am happy where I am, contributing in the way I am contributing.

Those who can, teach

AS IT turns out, the contribution Lim seems proudest of is not to any professional organisation. He is most animated when he talks about amateur music societies which he founded - the 14-year-old The Philharmonic Chamber Choir and the 10-year-old The Philharmonic Orchestra.

Though these ensembles are defined as amateur, the members are so highly regarded that they are occasionally hired for professional engagements, and are described by Dr Chang as 'Singapore's most accomplished semi-professional classical outfits'.

Lim seems especially attached to the orchestra as he has known many of the musicians since they were teenagers with the youth orchestra, and has even referred to them as 'my children'.

'Those who, having been provoked, scolded, insulted by me, and are still willing to stay - they stay long,' he says, chuckling.

He has been preparing the two ensembles for their upcoming concerts. On July 10, the choir will present Light And A Hundred Colours, a concert of sacred motets from the Renaissance.

On July 27, the orchestra will present Northern Exposure III, featuring the fifth, sixth and seventh symphonies of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.

It is the last in a series of three concerts featuring the composer's complete symphonies. The orchestra has tackled Beethoven and Schumann in previous symphony cycles. 'It is a good experience for us, as well as the audience, to do the journey together,' says Lim.

His work enables music lovers who do not pursue music as a career to continue pursuing it as a passion.

One example would be Ms Wang Siao Hua, 29, an officer with the Ministry of Education who plays double bass with the orchestra. She first met him when she joined the Singapore Youth Orchestra in 1991.

'It takes a while to get to know Mr Lim, and for some of us to get his jokes. But we are all his adopted children,' she says. 'Without his guidance, I'd have stopped playing in an orchestra long ago.'

Lim's dedication to the ensembles is all the more remarkable given that he is not paid for his work: 'I don't want them to pay me. I say, 'We are all putting in our spare time and let us build it up together'.'

Guiding non-professionals seems a natural fit for Lim, who comes from a family of teachers. In fact, his ambition as a young man was to be a music teacher.

'The funny thing is, I had never thought of being a conductor. I always had a very pragmatic approach to life and when I went to the Royal College of Music, I planned to be a teacher,' he says.

He candidly confesses that he 'did not like' the youth orchestra when he first took up its baton in 1990: 'I found the kids arrogant and maybe I was arrogant too, and we simply got nowhere together.'

In the end, it was his biological children who helped him appreciate the experience.

He has two children with his wife Quek Soo Hiang, his high school sweetheart who is a choir mistress with the Singapore Symphony Children's Choir. His daughter Veda Lin, 26, is now in Germany studying the baroque and modern oboe while his son Lin Juan, 24, is studying the cello at Manchester's Royal Northern College of Music.

'After my kids joined the youth orchestra as well, I became more than just a conductor. I was also a parent and I began to see that it is very meaningful to work with young people,' he says.

'They are always so open. To be able to plant the seed in their thoughts, to cultivate certain musical disciplines in them - I consider this a privilege.'

From Beijing opera to batons

UNSURPRISINGLY, Lim came from a home filled with music.

The youngest of four children of a Chinese literature teacher and a housewife grew up in a flat in Tiong Poh Road, opposite a coffee shop which played Rediffusion, the cable radio service, from 6am to midnight every day.

'In the last half an hour before midnight, I would hear the nan yin, Fujian's ethnic instrumental and vocal music. It was a kind of lullaby for me,' he recalls.

The Chinese music would be followed by the British national anthem, God Save The Queen, as the station closed for the night. In the mornings, he would hear snippets of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony and Ravel's Daphnis Et Chloe used as mood music in radio soap operas.

Although his family was not musical, they played an instrumental role in his musical development.

'My father died when I was 11 and the little that I can remember of him is that he enjoyed reciting Tang poetry in Hokkien,' says Lim.

'He also liked Beijing opera, so I too like jing ju nowadays. I can't claim to know a lot about it, but I would happily sit through the whole show and listen to the songs.'

As for his mother, 'the only musical influence she had on me was that she would cane me if I didn't practise on my piano'.

Though he started studying the piano at the age of four or five, he never took any formal exams.

'I am quite rebellious and right from Day One, I did not see the point of doing that sort of thing,' he says. Still, he was accomplished enough that during his secondary school days at River Valley High School, he would help members of the Chinese orchestra notate music from cassette tapes.

But his first love was for the voice, which he attributes to hearing the Vienna Boys' Choir sing on television when he was in Primary 6: 'The television was not very common then, so you had to stand outside other people's windows to watch. They sang the Blue Danube, and I could not tear myself away.

'I kept hoping that my neighbours would not switch channels - though in those days there were only two, I think.'

He sang in the school choir and took his first music exam in his late teens, earning his Licentiate of the Royal Schools of Music (LRSM) in singing for both teaching and performance.

Though he was seriously thinking about pursuing music as a career by then, 'my mother had other thoughts', and thus he spent a year at the then Nanyang University studying biology.

'But this was 1970, the year the world celebrated the 200th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, and so instead of reading my biology textbooks, I studied Beethoven's symphonies,' he says cheekily.

In 1975, after completing national service, he left Singapore for the Royal College Of Music in London, studying voice and choral conducting and graduating with honours.

It was his three elder siblings - his sister and his elder brother were teachers, while his second brother worked in telecommunications - who paid for his three-year course. They are all retirees now.

He gained real-world experience by joining London's Philharmonia Chorus in his second year, where he sang under famous conductors such as Lorin Maazel, Seiji Ozawa and Ricardo Mutti, and after graduation, he joined the chorus of the Bayreuth Festival in Germany, which specialises in Wagner's operas.

Lim truly fell in love with conducting after attending a masterclass with famed conductor Sergiu Celibidache in 1980. So he was excited by the news that Singapore had set up its first professional orchestra in 1979.

In 1980, he applied for the post of chorus master with the Singapore Symphony Chorus. He got the job, but as then music director Choo Huey pointed out, it took up only one day a week. However, the orchestra did need a concert manager.

This was why, for the first three years after his return to Singapore, Lim found himself writing Chinese programme notes, picking artists up from the airport, ordering music, borrowing unusual instruments, and even accommodating the backstage demands of guest soloists.

'I had to prepare a bucket of hot water for a prima donna pianist, who had to warm her hands right up to the second before she walked on stage,' he recalls with a wry grin, referring to Israeli pianist Ilana Vered.

But his waterboy days were soon over. In 1983, he received a British Council scholarship to take an advanced conducting course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. He then worked as the assistant conductor of the SSO, eventually becoming the associate conductor.

'I had a three-year bond with the SSO and I have been stuck here ever since,' he says with a laugh.

He pauses for a second and adds: 'Well, except for when I resigned in 1997.'

That resignation caused no minor stir in the classical music scene at the time. Although it is understood that he left due to contractual and artistic disagreements with certain people in the management, he remains tight-lipped on the matter.

'We all have our differences,' he says simply, without any apparent rancour.

Three years later, he bumped into the SSO's current music director Lan Shui, who succeeded Choo in 1997. They chatted, and Lim signed on with the SSO again, this time for his current post of resident conductor.

What convinced him to go back after his dramatic exit?

He pauses, frowning thoughtfully. Then his face slowly breaks out into a grin: 'Because those people that had differences with me had all left the SSO.'

Indeed, as the SSO celebrates its 30th birthday next year, Lim is one of the few people who can claim to have seen the orchestra through its growing pains.

'With great amusement!' he quips, before breaking into raucous laughter.

When pressed to elaborate, he says coyly: 'You can't be too frank on this sort of thing, can you? I am very comfortable talking entirely openly, but it is not good for other people.'
Then, more seriously: 'I have seen myself grow, too. I am a typical SSO product. Much as I at times like to poke fun at it, like it or not, I am part of it.'

WITH MUM: A young Lim with his mother at their Tiong Bahru flat
WITH FORMER PRESIDENT ONG: Lim with the late President Ong Teng Cheong in 1993, when the then presidential nominee made his conducting debut with the SSO in a concert at Victoria Concert Hall to celebrate Singapore's 28th National Day

Monday, June 16, 2008

Lim Leack

Located within the Tiong Bahru Estate, the first Singapore Improvement Trust estate built in the late 1930s, Lim Liak Street was named in 1941 on completion of the housing estate after the well respected Chinese merchant, Lim Leack.

Lim Leack was the proprietor of Leack, Chin Seng and Co and Chop Hiap Chin. He came from China to Malaya in 1825.

He started his business in tin-mining and later part of his life, he moved to Singapore and started his shipping business.

A public spirited man. He was much respected in the Chinese community.

He died at age 71.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Relive the good old days

I have moved this 21st May posting to today to remind everyone of this event this weekend. Hope the weather will be cool and we will have a great time watching the Movie this Saturday evening. See you there!

Tiong Bahru Community Centre Youth Executive Committee will be organising a movie for the residents of Tiong Bahru this June.

Don’t miss this opportunity to relive the old days of open space movie screening.

The following are the details :

Move Title: 881
Venue: Tiong Bahru Communty Centre (Basketball Court)
Date: 14 June 2008 (Saturday)
Movie starts at 7:30pm

Free Seating (I wonder if I should bring along my own stool)

Where is Tiong Bahru CC? Click here to see MAP : SHOW MAP

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Art of Being Laid Back.

Just Read this article: How to Be Laid Back

I never knew we need to learn about this.

Doesn’t this come naturally to everyone?

It is funny that we now have a website to teach people how to be laid back.

Perhaps we live in a fast paced society that being labelled “LAID BACK” is not exactly a compliment.....unless you have made it BIG time.....financially and thus has earned the bragging rights to this label.

Anyway, the reason why I’m discussing this topic is that many visitors to the Tiong Bahru Estate have always used this term to describe this place, A Laid Back Place......

Perhaps people here walk in an unhurried manner.

Or maybe it is our dressing.

A Tee-Shirt and shorts attire would suffice.

If you are super comfortable with yourself and not bothered about what others think of you, you can even walk to the market in your pyjamas.

Or perhaps these visitors are constantly bumping into these “LAID BACK” folks in Tiong Bahru.

Spotted between Block 19 & 21 Lim Liak Street

Spotted at Seng Poh Garden

Spotted outside Tiong Bahru Market

These are truly laid back people and I envy them for the peace and serenity they possess in them....or that’s what I would like to think.....positively.

Most people would think they are just dead tired and needed a convenient place for some shut eyes before they go back to the grind.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

More pictures of the New 4-Storey Hotel

I was surfing the NET and I accidentally stumbled upon these pictures which may interest all of us here at Tiong Bahru.

This may be how the new hotel at the junction of Tiong Bahru Road and Seng Poh Road may eventually look like.

Notice there is no swimming pool in the facade of the hotel in these pictures.

I suspect this could be the initial proposed design from the architect.

The infinity pool was probably an after-thought.

I’m glad they put the fish tank in.

So instead of watching birds at the birdless corner, we can now gawk at people swimming at the new Van Kleef aquarium!

I hope the name, Hotel Nostalgia, is just a project name and not the FINAL name

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

New 4-Storey Hotel @ Tiong Bahru

The artist’s impression of the new 4-storey hotel is out!

And this "yet to be named hotel" will be ready in June 2009.

That's just a year away.

Scrutinise the picture closely and you would have noticed a “lap” pool on the facade!

Wow, that would be Tiong Bahru Estate’s 1st swimming pool!

There are some questions I have in my mind right now.

Where will the drop off point be located?

Will the taxis or mini buses stop indiscriminately along Tiong Bahru Road?

And are there any parking facilities within this hotel?

There seems to be an opening at the sides of the building.

I hope that is the entrance into the hotel’s car park.

We welcome all visitors but we do not condone indiscriminate parking at the resident’s expense!

Monday, June 2, 2008


Extracted from TravelMole
by Yeoh Siew Hoon/Transit Cafe
28th December 2007

It was one of those balmy evenings in Singapore. The rains had just ended and there was that slight earthy smell in the air. Water on hot earth. Sizzling. Sensuous. Every now and then, the smell of incense wafted towards us. Spicy. Tangy.

We were seated at a new wine bar, Tbone Steakhouse Cafe, in Tiong Bahru, a new and up-and-coming neighbourhood for the BoBo (Bohemian Bourgeous) crowd. My Scottish friend, who works in the area, tells me he likes it here because "here, I still feel like a foreigner. I still get someone trying to sell me a suit".

Such is the evolution of Singapore as the urban sprawl spreads and we urban rats scurry for new haunts where there is still a lingering of the old – Tiong Bahru is like the forgotten suburb on the edge of town, known among locals for its great food (of course) and dilapidated shophouses and flats.

An old apartment block here has been converted into a hotel.

And a few advertising and Web design agencies, escaping escalating rentals in the city, have moved into the neighbourhood – it's the beginning of cool for TB.

We inhaled the bouquet of our wine – a chardonnay from Australia. Fresh. Zesty. (I am sorry I cannot tell you what it is because I think I drank too much of it and we all know fermented grapes are bad for grey cells.)

Next to us was what we called "the magic door". Every now and then, a stream of girls, all with pretty impressive chests, we noticed, would emerge and another stream would enter. It was like watching Betty Boop In Revolving Land.

We wondered.

And we chatted. Our conversation wafted to that of smells.

Perhaps it was the smell of the hot earth or the incense or the garbage truck parked nearby that inspired us but my friend, who owns a Web design agency, talked about the next wave in online – that of smells.

How we would soon be able to embed smells into our websites so we can engage our customers in all senses of the word.

I know. Hotels have also woken up to the sense of smell. Almost every deluxe hotel now has some kind of scent wafting through their lobbies and public areas.

For example, Westin has the "White Tea" scent. Shangri-La has "The Essence of Shangri-La" – it says the "scent's bottom notes of vanilla, sandal and musk are highlighted by top notes of light bergamot and tea spiced with ginger". There's also the Sofitel scent.

But I feel there is something amiss in all this. How can one scent rule them all? Shouldn't individual hotels in different destinations have different smells that are evocative of the place they are in?

I mean, I don't want to walk into a hotel in New Delhi and be reminded of Beijing, for instance.

According to research, 70% of our emotions are based on smells so wouldn't smells be a good way of giving us a sense of place instantly?

And so our conversation drifted to the notion of places and smells.

Can a destination be encapsulated in a scent? Just like the protagonist in Patrick Susskind's "Perfume" who became so obsessed with a woman that he wanted to distill her into a bottle of perfume, can we do that with destinations?

And so we began our question and answer game.

What would Thailand smell of? Lemon grass *Malaysia? Tumeric and ginger*India? Masala*Vietnam? Fish sauce*Indonesia? Kretek (cloves)*Switzerland? Chocolates*England? Fish and chips*Germany? Beer or sauerkraut.

Interestingly, most of our answers were related to food (I was the only Asian at the table, okay) until we got to Singapore and one wise person quipped, "Dettol."
Would you like to continue?

From all of us at The (Aromatic) Transit Cafe, here's to an olfactory 2008.

I've spotted this article from TravelMole and am reposting here. The observation made by the writer is quite entertaining.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Boys’ Brigade Connection

I've just finished dinner at the Tiong Bahru Market when I bumped into a familiar face while walking toward the escalator.

This person was wearing a Boys’ Brigade officer’s uniform.

“Wah, you are an officer now?” I asked Timothy. “Not too long ago, you were just a Private.”

“Yes Sir, I just finished my Basic Officer Training Course.” Timothy replied.

“Please lah, don’t call me Sir, just call me Alvin”, I said.

“Cannot lah, must call you Sir.” Tim replied............
(The rest of the conversations are too mundane to be blogged)

In case you are thinking that I’m going off tangent, hold your horses 1st.

There is actually a connection between the Boys’ Brigade in Singapore and the Tiong Bahru Estate!

The connection lies in the founder of the 1st Singapore BB Company, Mr James Milner Fraser.

And since I spent my A LOT (And I mean a LOT!) of my time in the BB from 11 years old till I took my ‘O’ levels, I am especially elated to stumbled onto this piece of information.

From official records, Mr James Milner Fraser was already working for the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1927 as a Town Planning Assistant.

So the Pre-War Section of the Tiong Bahru Estate may have traces of his work already!

And I’m pretty sure he played a huge role in the post war series of Tiong Bahru as he was promoted to Manager of the Trust in 1946 and supervised many major developments, including more than 10,000 houses, shops and flats, as well as writing a number of papers and reports on town planning and housing issues.

Prior to coming to Singapore as a young architect in 1927, Mr James Milner Fraser was already very much into the BB movement; having grew up in the 23rd Aberdeen Company and later became a BB officer in the 23rd London Company.

The Singapore BB Story was in fact made possible by 2 men who have a deep love and respect for the movement and a chance sighting of a BB buttonhole along the streets of Singapore.

BB Ex-Sergeant Quek Eng Moh, a Swatow Old Boy was just walking along some streets in Singapore when he saw the BB buttonhole on Mr James M Fraser.

Fortunately it was not just a “Hi-Bye” kinda encounter between these 2 people.

They went on to start Singapore’s 1st BB Company on 12th January 1930 at Prinsep Street Presbyterian Church.

The block of flats next to this church is exactly the same as the Post War Tiong Bahru flats. So now you know who was responsible for that design

I’m proud to have been a part of this life changing movement.

Here’s more information about Mr James Milner Fraser, Singapore’s BB Founder:

James Milner Fraser was born on 5 January 1905 and was articled to James Cobban of Aberdeen in June 1920.

When Cobban ceased practice in September 1923, Fraser transferred to the office of George Watt, where he completed his apprenticeship in June 1925.

Throughout this period he studied at Aberdeen School of Architecture, Alexander Gordon being among his tutors.

He then moved to London where he joined the LCC Housing Department as an architectural assistant and studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic and at the Northern Polytechnic, Holloway Road.

In 1926 he made a study tour of Rome, Florence and Paris, and in the same year took a position as assistant architect in West Ham Borough Council.

The following year he emigrated to Singapore where he joined the Singapore Improvement Trust, working in the Municipal Offices under his former tutor and fellow émigré Alexander Gordon.

He passed the final exam in Singapore in August 1928 and was admitted ARIBA in late 1929, proposed by Gordon, Percy Hubert Keys and another.

By the mid-1940s he had been promoted to the position of Manager to the Trust, and in the ensuing years supervised major developments including more than 10,000 houses, shops and flats, as well as writing a number of papers and reports on town planning and housing issues.

He was admitted FRIBA in 1955, by which time he had been awarded a CBE.

He subsequently returned to Scotland, probably to retire, and he died at Cults, Aberdeenshire in November 1978, survived by his wife Alice.

Me in the Junior Section of the 25th Singapore BB Company a very long time ago

Me in the era where it was NORMAL for the spectacles frame to cover half your face

We had a lot of fun performing even though we played worse than the neighbourhood funeral band