Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Straits Times : iPhone app helps police nail suspect

The Straits Times
8 Dec 2010

POLICE have arrested a serial snatch thief with the help of an iPhone application that traces the location of the mobile phone.

A woman was walking along Lim Liak Street near the Tiong Bahru food centre early last Sunday morning when a man approached her from behind and snatched her iPhone. She notified the police.

Police were able to trace the phone with the 'Find My iPhone' application. They then established the identity of the suspect with follow-up investigations.

The application allows users to estimate their handset's current location with the use of Google Maps.

The suspect, a 18-year-old Malaysian man, was arrested on Monday evening near Outram Road.

Preliminary investigations show that he is believed to be responsible for other snatch theft cases in the Tiong Bahru and Kim Tian estates.

He will be charged in the Subordinate Court today for snatch theft which has a maximum punishment of seven years in prison and caning.

A court order will be made to hold him in custody for further investigations.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Appeal for Eye Witness : Hit and Run

This a similar looking car which was hit

A grey Volkswagon Polo was rear ended while parked overnight along Seng Poh Road (towards the direction of Tiong Bahru Road) between 14-15th October 2010.

The car owner suspects a low profiled car is likely to have hit his car as the damage crumples upward, meaning the offending car went under the rear.

The impact was so great that the axle broke. (That means this idiot was driving at a break neck speed and someone could have been killed!)

If you have witnessed the accident, please let us have the information so that we pass it to the police.

The poor VW owner will be carless for the next 2 months because of some cowardly reckless driver.....and that driver is still on the road!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Voices at Central Singapore : CIVIC LIFE: TIONG BAHRU

Civic Life : Tiong Bahru

Two Irish filmmakers are recording the changes in this old part of Singapore


WHEN FILM MAKERS Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy visited Tiong Bahru, they were immediately drawn to the hawker centre. The London-based Irish duo wrote in an e-mail: "When we arrived there and saw the architecture, heard the noise of the place, witnessed the range of human interaction, to say nothing of the great food there, we immediately fell in love with it."

The duo, who are married, met in Dublin in the early 1980s and began working together in 1986, calling themselves the "Desperate Optimists". All their ventures back then were with community groups. They worked in a range of media, including video, theatre and radio.

They explained that their initial efforts were made against a "pretty miserable economic background". "We don't believe creativity thrives in difficult economic times, but when people have no work or prospects they often turn to the activities that interest them, which can lead them to creating art or at least engaging with creativity."

It was in 2003 that they started to focus on films and were recognized for their "Civic Life" series shot in 35mm cinemascope. In these ventures, which tend to take months of planning, a few days to capture, and which range from six minutes to 28 minutes in length, they get communities to explore issues important to the community being filmed.

The first two efforts were set in the Irish capital, the rest in England. To date, they have done nine, one of which, "Who killed Brown Owl", won the Best British Short Film award at the 2004 Edinburgh International Film Festival. The Tiong Bahru film is the first to be shot outside Britain.

On their films to date, the directors said: "It's not like our first "Civic Life" film came fully formed but rather it came, not unlike Dolly the cloned sheep, on the back of many years of searching, exploring, experimenting."

"Civic Life: Tiong Bahru" is about "transition and change". It revolves around the relationship between a rebellious teen and her foster mother; the young boss of a drink stall who wants to set up a Mexican tapas bar; and a grandmother who insists on staying in Tiong Bahru despite her son's pleas to move in with him.

As with the other films in the series, the 150 "actors" appearing in it are ordinary people from the community. Invitations are extended and "actors" volunteer their time, depending on how involved they think they can be.

One of them is Madam Lim Ah Way, 86, who was spotted while she was attending her weekly handicraft gathering at the Tiong Bahru Community Club. The grandma. who plays the grandmother and has been living in Tiong Bahru since 1966, said jokingly in Teochew: "They chose me because of my white hair." Her kakis at the club also got pulled into making cameo appearances.

In real life, Madam Lim's five children respect her decision to continue living in Tiong Bahru rather than move in with one of them. "This is the place I'm most familiar and comfortable with, and where all my friends are," she explained. There are many old people here who feel the same, she added.

Mr Leo Mak, 24, plays the drink stall boss, and his reel character is somewhat similar to his real persona. His father has been running a stall at Tiong Bahru market for the last 10 years and he has been helping his dad.

While he may be looking for other business opportunities outside of the market, a tapas bar is not on his to-do list. Meanwhile, he has made firm friends with the other hawkers and residents, and said: "Many of my good friends are much older than me, and we can talk about almost everything under the sun."

"Civic Life: Tiong Bahru" is a collaboration between the National Museum of Singapore and the British Council. It will be screened at the National Museum throughout October with a series of 90-second videos.

The above article was extracted from VOICES at Central Singapore, Issue 54, September + October 2010.

VOICES is a Central Singapore Community Development Council publication.

Voices at Central Singapore : Youthful Outlook


Lin Xiaoling wanders the streets of Tiong Bahru and finds the area, despite being in its 70s, still spry and engaging.


QI TIAN GONG stands at a corner of Eng Hoon Street, which leads to the heart of Tiong Bahru. The temple, in the evening, basks in the soft orange glow of street lamps. Lights off, shutters down, incense burnt. Gone is the bustle of the daytime, when crowds pray to the Monkey God for the well-being of their loved ones.

Shophouses line that street. One has edgy graphics in bright colours which glimmer through the dark on its inside walls. It is a communications outfit. A group from the company crowd the five-foot way outside. Lights positioned, cameras snapping, ideas flowing.

The two faces of the old enclave, a stone's throw from Chinatown and the Singapore General Hospital, are more accentuated up the street. Here, two of the shophouses retain the mosaic tile flooring laid years ago. Local fruits spill out of one, barrels of rose, merlot and chardonnay beckon from the other.

Walking the streets and back alleys of Tiong Bahru, roughly bounded by Tiong Bahru, Tiong Poh and Kim Pong roads, is never boring. The little estate comprises many of the old Cantonese-style shophouses which once lined most roads in town. Go further in, in the horseshoe-shaped area around Moh Guan Terrace, is yesteryear's version of posh public housing, because these homes had a flush toilet. These three-and four-room flats are just a stone's throw from today's top of the line, towering HDB homes in Duxton Plain.

The older version is four-storey blocks of walk-up apartments, built in the 1930s. They are the first mass housing project undertaken by the Singapore Improvement Trust, the British colonial authority's version of the HDB. They boast rounded balconies, spiral staircases and light wells, practically nonexistent in public housing now. Twenty blocks have been gazetted for conservation.

Before World War II, the precinct was favoured by the upper class. The rich kept their mistresses there. After the war, the population tripled, undermining its exclusivity. In the 1980s and 1990s, many younger residents saw the flats as too old, too small, too old-fashioned and moved out.

Mr Nai Yong Chew, 52, grew up in one. He and his nine siblings, hawker dad and housewife mum enjoyed two living rooms and a bedroom. "It was a squeeze," he admits. Still, it was considered better than the neighbours' attap houses.

Children played hide and seek at the bomb shelter at Block 78, now a storeroom for cleaning equipment.

Hawkers plied the streets with their wares. When they were rounded up for illegal peddling, they banded together and appealed for licences to carry on selling. It led to the building of Tiong Bahru market in 1950, a modest single storey centre.

Once smokey and cramped, this one-level gastronomical haven, known for its chwee kueh, for mee and roast pig, was replaced four years ago with a round three-storey building complete with escalators - wet market on the ground floor, hawker stalls on the second and a car park to top it off.

Today, the market is still the heart of the estate.

While his siblings have since moved out, Mr Nai has taken over his father's fruit stall at the market. "Tiong Bahru has changed a lot, mostly for the better," he notes. "It's funny, I'm getting old, but Tiong Bahru has become more youthful."

Mr Huang, dried goods stall owner

The two primary schools he and the neighbourhood children attended have gone - because there were not enough pupils! The many corners residents would gather at with their singing birds have been pulled down to make way for an expressway and fancy boutique hotels.

The new has merged with the old, the flamboyant and the nondescript sit cheek by jowl. Each street has its own character. Those lined with eateries are crowded and boisterous, but just turn a corner, and you are back in a quiet lane, never knowing what you will stumble upon.

At Yong Saik Road, some shophouses still carry the wooden signboards of yesteryear. One has a painting of a woman with coiffed hair. The Chinese characters on it invite passers-by to climb a dark narrow stairway to a hair salon. Knocks on the door of this are unanswered.

A man from the ground floor unit explains the salon has closed, but if needed, a girl from China who rents a room nearby can offer a haircut.

At every junction of the estate's short streets are old-style coffee shops, the kind where customers were once served by men in sleeveless singlets and striped pyjama bottoms. The tables and chairs still spill onto the sidewalk, the morning still orders kopi and eggs, friends and families still --ather in the evening for a hotpot meal.

On Guan Chuan Street. where the U-shaped, red brick Block 78 is an architectural artwork, there are a sprinkling of art galleries and studios. a hint that the neighbourhood is looking beyond the basics.

What made the estate charm in the past is working again, and over the last decade, a younger professional crowd and expatriates have been moving in. Like Mr Kelvin Ang, 38, who spent six years living near London's Portobello Market and who wanted to continue that experience of contemporary village life at home.

The low-rise buildings and smallness of the estate comfort him. He appreciates the many opportunities for interaction with the neighbours, especially the older ones, who hang out in their backyards, tend to their gardens and chit-chat with friends. "If newer residents make the effort, most of the older ones open up fairly quickly," says the civil servant, who has been offered home-cooked dishes.

Madam Lee, resident

The community spirit which attracted him is palpable. Madam Tan Ghee Chang, 75, a resident for close to 40 years, does not hesitate to invite this stranger in for tea and a chat. She says in a mix of Chinese and Hokkien: "Some people are wary of others; they don't trust people and they don't open their hearts. But I'm not like that."

Like others her age, she knows her neighbours by name. by their dialect group, by the number of children they have, and can sketch out their family trees as well!

Despite what Tiong Bahru has to offer, Australian Emily Hills, 29, "hated the place" at first. The white walls were too glaring. Six months later though, the arts lecturer is full of enthusiasm about "the people, the food".

Clutching a bottle of wine to her chest, she proceeds to dinner with friends, the smack of her flip-flops echoing in the back alley. It is a strange combination of old and new, but so Tiong Bahru.

The above article was extracted from VOICES at Central Singapore, Issue 54, September + October 2010.

VOICES is a Central Singapore Community Development Council publication. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Singapore's Only Typainter.

I was in a terrible rush for time on Thursday when I spotted this queer guy seated at the corner of Block 76 Guan Chuan Street.

He looked like he was writing a novel with a typewriter and Tiong Bahru Estate was probably his source of inspiration.

I cannot properly describe to you how frustrated I was on Thursday because I was very sure this guy would have been a good blog subject and I just did not have the time that evening to interview him.

And they say opportunity never comes a knocking twice? Wrong!

Today I was presented with the opportunity.....again! Yipeee!

As I was seated on some stairs across Block 76 Guan Chuan Street, frying my brain cells with the Blackberry next to my ears for the longest conversation ever, I noticed this guy setting up his table and typewriter!

And while I was still happily turning more of my brain cells into cinders, this guy was happily typing away in the hot afternoon sun.

After my telephone conversation ended, I promptly walked over to greet this guy.

Since he has put up the signage like those Lemonade stall in those Charlie Brown's comic strip, he is probably friendly and won't mind me interrupting him.

It was a very fruitful conversation and I was happy to that I open my mouth to speak to him.

Ricky is very willingly to share and is very sincere about it.

Ricky told me he pioneered typewriter art since 1973 and even won a national art award in 1975. (He has a lot more awards after that and has a folder to show you if you talk to him)

How he discovered his talent was purely out of a curious mind and probably some itchy fingers (sorry, just got to add this part in).

He is the number 6th child in his family and after his 4th brother was done with the typewriter for his studies, Ricky starting toying around with the typewriter and discovered a whole new possibilities for it.

He proudly proclaimed to me that in the future, typewriters will be manufactured purely for the artist and not for "typist" anymore.

"Typist?"....Wow, that sounded so 1970's. I wonder if you can still find this word in the jobs classifieds these days.

"Can you still find typing ribbons these day?" I asked.

"No!, I looked for them like when I'm in Japan." Ricky said.

''Japan? The land of never ending innovations and inventions?" I asked in a very skeptical manner.

"You will be surprised what you can find there, young man." Ricky said.

"But still, it is not easy, you gotta ask around and it may be time consuming." Ricky warned.

Since these ribbons are so hard to obtain, Ricky tried to reuse the ribbons for as long as possible.

I always thought there were only red and black ribbons but Ricky told me there were green, brown and one more colour which escape my fried brains now.

He also said he could see which characters could be overlapped to form certain effects and how you should control the roller.

He has perfected his skill that he know which could be overlapped to get the curly hair effects or the leaves on a trees.

What amazes me while he was working on his artwork was his ability to produce those sloping lines to show these Tiong Bahru art deco apartment features.........effortlessly.

This guy is truly passionate about his work and has probably spent a long time perfecting it.

He might be at the same spot again tomorrow afternoon even though he said he will finish his piece by today.

Judging from the numerous interruption he has been getting after I left him, I have my doubts that he could finish by today.

This could be your opportunity to go and see how he produces artwork and caricatures with a typewriter.

All the best and I hope you have a chance to interact with this artist and oh yes...he was once upon a time a Tiong Bahru boy as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

People are People

The usual lunchtime buzz at Tiong Bahru Market was broken by sounds of plastic bowls hitting the floor loudly.

All eyes turned toward the source and we all saw a lady in pink berating the "Ban Mian" auntie.

I could not make out what the argument was about as the lady in pink was speaking Cantonese but appears to be in a very condescending manner.

The "Ban Mian" auntie did not take it lying down and she also got into a fierce shouting match with the Pink Lady.

I was a bit surprised as the "Ban Mian" auntie had always been very polite and cheerful and I do visit her stall quite often.

She is one of those rare One (wo)Man Stall who opens early in the morning and closed only at about 9pm for 6 days a week.

I'm impressed with her diligence and her "Ban Mian" is also nice enough to make me a consistent repeat customer.

Initially, I was not sure what had happened today but since my wife was queuing up for her food just 2 stalls away (And she understands Cantonese), she could hear what the argument was all about.

It was some miscommunication between the Lady in Pink and "Ban Mian" auntie.

Apparently Pink Lady ordered some dumplings thinking that it only cost $2.50 a bowl.

Perhaps "Ban Mian" auntie misheard the order and upsized the order and charged Pink Lady $4 which effectively "upsized" Pink Lady's temper immediately.

Such disputes could easily be resolved by replacing the order or accepting the upsized order.

But instead of trying to resolve it, Pink Lady turned provocative and uttered something disgusting.

"You China People are very good at cheating people, Why don't you go back to China!".

I guess when crass people utter detestable remarks or make brain-less statements, you expect a reaction right?

Yes, the response was flying bowls! (It was probably done in a fit of anger)

Those bowls elicited more crazy remarks from Pink Lady who seems to be stuck in a verbal frenzy mode.

Ban Mian Auntie did the right thing after she cools down and ignored the Pink Lady.

She went about clearing up the mess and continue with her routine.

About 4 customers in the queue walked away...I'm not sure in disgust or in fright.

Maybe both because the pink lady chose to sit at the table right infront of the stall and continue to provoke the poor woman.

Is she trying to win the argument or was she trying to make Ban Mian Auntie come out with a chopper

Whatever she was trying to do, it reflected very badly on herself and she doesn't seems to know it.

I guess this Depeche Mode song, People are People, best sums up the way how some of us who treat another fellow human being:

People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get
Along so awfully

People are people
So why should it be
You and I should get
Along so awfully

So we're different colours
And we're different creeds
And different people have different needs
It's obvious you hate me
Though I've done nothing wrong
I've never ever met you so what could I have done

I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand

People are people...

Help me understand
Help me understand
Now you're punching

And you're kicking
And you're shouting at me
I'm relying on your common decency
So far it hasn't surfaced
But I'm sure it exists
It just takes a while to travel
From your head to your fists

I can't understand
What makes a man
Hate another man
Help me understand

Our forefathers once risked their life and limbs to eke out a better life in this far away land and they may have been bullied by the colonial masters, gangsters or people who speaks a different dialect.

Why then are some of the offspring of these earlier immigrants behaving in a manner which our forefathers would not have condone.

I guess "prosperity" has made some of us think that we are more superior than others.

This may indeed be a sad effect of "progress".

Sunday, September 5, 2010

"Holey" distractions

A few months ago, I saw a window that looked out of place.

Was this little window part of the original design?

I did not give it much thoughts until today when someone "sms" me to find out more about my previous blog on the painted over brick walls.

During our back and forth "SMSes" while I was in my church service (yeah, I wasn't paying attention today), I mentioned about a hole that was created in the facade and how that could even happened to a conserved apartment.

As I was ranting away with my fingers, it suddenly dawned upon me that this hole may have been created to insert those 1st generation aircon system many years ago and it may not be this owner's fault at all!

He may have merely inherited this infringement.

Holes hacked to accomodate the 1st generation aircons
Conservation status aside, can we actually hack holes through an apartment?

By the way, most owners nowadays will not bother to knock a hole in the wall to put in their aircon.

They will just go for the weakest point in the wall to get the aircon trunking through and the weakest point happened to be the air vents. (Trust me, no one police such things here even though it is a conservation area)

If everyone in this estate has the discipline and determination to at least keep the facade intact, many more people can come and enjoy these buildings without any blemishes for many more years.

Below are some example of how the walls should look like :

Anyway, if you are reading this, you may want to refresh your memory on the URA Guidelines for the Tiong Bahru Area. : TIONG BAHRU CONSERVATION AREA

And oh yes, I was so distracted with my sms that I did not know what the guest speaker shared in church today. :-(

Saturday, September 4, 2010


Walk down along the Yong Siak Street side of Block 78 and you would have noticed this "CON"venient "CON"servation effort to make these brick wall blend in with the rest of the block.

It looks like "vandalism" or "desecration" to me.

If the person assigned to do the job is not going to put in some REAL effort to conserve or preserve these brick walls, how can you expect owners who have recently acquired one of these conserved apartments to adhere to the URA guidelines wholeheartedly?

No wonder not many care about retaining the old stuff in these historic apartments like the green stained glass windows or door frame.

Just as it takes effort to restore those walls to it former glory, it also takes a lot of effort and patience to restore those green stained windows.

If the guardians of this historic estate can "short-cut" the process, what do you think the residents will do here?

I could still remember what my army officer said to me: "You don't do what I do, you do want I tell you to do!"

Tonight, that statement ring very loudly in my mind.

Friday, September 3, 2010

WOW! A book about Tiong Bahru!

If you have time to spare on 9th September from 5-9pm, take a stroll down to the White Canvas Gallery along Guan Chuan Street to meet up with the author of the book, Black & White Tiong Bahru.

Here's the flyer which the white canvas gallery owner, Colin, passed to me.

And I've reproduced the text on the flyer here for easy reading :

White Canvas Gallery invites you to learn about our first book project, Black and White Tiong Bahru.

Now in production, Black and White Tiong Bahru combines original imagery and research with insightful writing to create a dynamic portrait of this unique area.

On Thursday, September 9th, from 5-9 PM, artist/writer Stephen Black will show photographic work and discuss topics related to the book.

You are invited to join us for this casual meet-the-artist session.

Light refreshments will be served.

A resident of Singapore since 2002, Stephen Black brings to the project a perspective that is both localized and global.

Black has worked with Annie Liebowitz, Kazuo Ohno, David Sylvian and Kenzo. as well as CNN. Fox, Cartoon Network, and Fuji TV.

His book, Bus Stopping, is a critically acclaimed photographic look at Singapore.

Recently, he created text for Michael Lee's installation at the National Museum and also performed as a member of show in the Lit Up Festival at LASALLE College of the Arts.

White Canvas Gallery is located at :
78 Guan Chuan Street #01-41
Singapore 160078

T : 62208723
E :

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I love my armpit....wanton noodles.

I was fortunate to be the last customer for the armpit wanton noodles yesterday.

Though the owner refused to serve me the large portion ($3.50 a plate) and I had to settled for the $2.50 plate, the lady boss nevertheless gave me all the available wantons.

And it was a very large bowl of wanton soup with at least nine of them sitting in the bowl!

The $2.50 was well spent and I felt bad because it was really worth $3.50 or more.

Perhaps I was the last customer for the day and the usual no-nonsense, no smile, always gloomy lady boss was a little relaxed and cordial and she actually came and sat at the same table.

I never expected her to say anything and thought she just needed to rest her feet.

She started the conversation and I went Wow!

I not only got extra helpings of wantons, I also got some insights into how their famous arm pit wanton noodle came about.

It was a story about their dogged determination to eke out a living and the ability to adapt and innovate in the face of adversity.

As I was enjoying my once a week "die die" must have food, I asked Mrs lee curiously why I do not recalled eating this when I was growing up.

I remembered they were famous for their soy sauce chicken but I had never tasted their wanton noodles until they moved into the temporary market at Kim Pong Road about 3 years ago.

Was there a best kept secret dish that escaped me all these while?

Mrs Lee confirmed that they never had this dish until the bird flu epidemic hit Singapore and their business almost went belly up as people were staying away from chickens and there was also an acute shortage of FRESH chickens due to the mass culling.

That was probably the darkest time of their business as they were struggling for about a year with very dismal business.

Instead of caving in to the situation and remaining helpless about it, Mr Lee a.k.a Dennis, started experimenting and he came up with this winning dish.

A few of us accidentally discovered this gem when Mr Lee introduced it at the Kim Pong Road temporary market.

But as soon as the media caught wind of this new mouth watering dish in Tiong Bahru, we always have to queue up for it now!

The Lees never looked back ever since and this outsell the soy sauce chicken now.

And Mrs Lee was so proud of her husband and his culinary skill that she told me that even she has not mastered the way Mr Lee cooks the noodles.

Hers always comes out a little soft while Mr Lee's is springy.

And even if you "tah pao" some home and let it sit in the container for a few hours, the noodles won't turn soggy.

And if you do make a trip to this stall in Tiong Bahru, try to eat this without the chilli sauce for once.

You will be able to savour the unforgettable taste. (It was Mr Lee who asked me to go without chilli back in the Kim Pong days and I never eat this dish with chilli ever again!)

As I wrote this, I cannot help but went back for another go to satisfy my cravings....and I also ordered the soy sauce chicken....for old time sake.

Monday, August 23, 2010

I will give way to this anytime!

I was on my way home at about 2:15pm today when I was stopped by this funeral procession at the junction of Chay Yan Street and Guan Chuan Street.

Since I cannot go anywhere but to wait, I thought I might as well record this event with my phone camera.

For an event that is supposedly sombre in nature, this one is quite a colourful one.

And my youngest daughter who will wake up to the the sound of thunder miraculously slept through this procession of gongs.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Straits Times : Tiong Bahru's draw

The Straits Times
By boon chan
Jul 5, 2010

Tiong Bahru is turning out to be one of the most inspiring neighbourhoods in Singapore.

The artists (front, from left) Tia Boon Sim, Paul Wang, Don Low and Miel (standing) with their sketches of Tiong Bahru. -- PHOTOS: WHITE CANVAS GALLERY

First there was the documentary, Civic Life: Tiong Bahru, shot by London-based film-makers Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy last month.

Now, there is an exhibition titled Tiong Bahru Sketches: Outside-In at the new White Canvas Gallery which opened last Wednesday. It will be on till July 17.

The sketches are by four artists: Tia Boon Sim, manager at Temasek Design School; Paul Wang, a lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic; Don Low, a graphic designer; and Miel Prudencio, senior executive artist with The Straits Times.

Over 60 per cent of the more than 40 pieces in pen, ink and watercolour have been sold, according to gallery owner Maria Ng. They cost between $250 and $900 and were drawn over several weekends in May and last month.

Corner 71 (above), a pen, ink and watercolour on paper sketch by Tia Boon Sim

On the allure of Tiong Bahru, Ms Ng says: 'In a sense, you can't find another place like that in Singapore. In terms of location, it is very central but when you walk through the back lanes, it's a very kampung feeling.'

Backlane (above) a pen, ink and watercolour on paper sketch by Miel

Architect Kelvin Ang, 38, who is a resident there, agrees. He says: 'There's a stronger sense of community in Tiong Bahru because the design of the neighbourhood helps you to meet people - the small scale of it, the five-foot-way, the balconies and back staircases.'

He is a member of the Seng Poh Residents' Committee in Tiong Bahru and his two-bedroom walk-up apartment is featured in several sketches by Wang. He has bought two of the sketches, but not those of his own home as 'that would be too indulgent'.

Kelvin's Balcony (above), a sketch by Paul Wang

Another distinctive feature of Tiong Bahru is the architecture. Mr Leong In Chau, 56, who has lived there for over 20 years, says the buildings are pre-war. He says: 'I like the architectural details so I live there.'

While he likes the sketches, he says with a laugh that he is not planning to buy anything as there are no drawings of his block in Eng Hoon Street.

In addition to the nostalgic charm of the low- rise walk-ups, there is also the draw of the food.

Tia admits: 'Everytime we go down to sketch, we would end up eating somewhere. We know every eating corner there.'

This is lovingly reflected in the depictions of famous foods and restaurants such as Tiong Bahru Chwee Kuey by Low, and Ting Heng by Wang.

Monkey God Temple (above) a pen, ink and watercolour on paper sketch by Don Low

Tia's passion for sketching extends beyond the Tiong Bahru project. She founded the Singapore chapter of Urban Sketchers, a global organisation started by Seattle journalist and illustrator Gabi Campanario in 2007. The organisation's aim is to show the world one drawing at a time. She has also organised sketch walks to neighbourhoods such as Little India and Geylang and the results can be seen at

Those who are keen to learn more about drawing on location can sign up for a sketch walk with the four artists on July 17.

Miel, 45, says: 'Those who sign up are expected to sketch with us and pick up sketching tips from us and we could also act as mini-tourist guides.

'But the piece de resistance would be this - learning where the best food is to be found after all that walking and sketching.'


view it


Where: White Canvas Gallery, 78 Guan Chuan Street, 01-41 Tiong Bahru
When: Until July 17


Where: Meet at the gallery
When: July 17, 2pm

Info: Call 6220-8723 or e-mail

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Straits Times : Film stars of Tiong Bahru

The Straits Times
By lisabel ting
Jun 23, 2010

Civic Life: Tiong Bahru comprises three linked stories about residents in the housing estate

Screen debut: (From left) Mrs Christine Chia, daughters Kimberly and Cherylin, and husband Chia Tee Kit will play a family whose grandmother is going to live with them in one segment. -- ST PHOTO: AIDAH RAUF

Abdul Hadi Indra Jasni, 16, has landed a role in an upcoming movie.

He has not seen the script yet and does not even know what role he will be playing. But he is still rehearsing diligently.

'It's my first time in a movie, so I'm quite nervous. I practise speaking in front of the mirror sometimes, saying out loud to myself, 'Be cool, be cool, go with the flow',' says the Outram Secondary School student.

The movie he will be in is Civic Life: Tiong Bahru, a short film by London-based film-makers Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy.

It is the 10th in a series of Civic Life films, which focus on local communities, exploring the relationships between residents and the environment in which they live and work. The film is a collaboration between the British Council and the National Museum of Singapore with support from the Singapore International Foundation.

Speaking to Life! over the telephone from London, Molloy says: 'The script will be finalised only in the last minute, as it has to be spontaneous.

'So far, we only have a rough idea of the movie's structure. It's going to be a triptych, divided into three stories.'

Previous Civic Life films, all under 20 minutes long, include Civic Life: Leisure Centre, which was shot in Dublin, Ireland, and Civic Life: Tyneside, which was shot in England.

The Singapore film is the first to be shot outside the United Kingdom.

While Lawlor and Molloy are both experienced film-makers, they say filming Civic Life: Tiong Bahru will present unique challenges.

'Filming in Tiong Bahru market will be technically difficult,' says Molloy, who was in Singapore with Lawlor in April to cast actors.

'There will be a lot of noise and numerous distractions such as people getting their food.'

They will shoot the film from Friday to Sunday at the market as well as at a nearby multi-storey carpark and several streets in the neighbourhood.

Molloy also says she and Lawlor will be more ambitious with the Singapore film, as compared to their previous films.

'Civic Life: Tiong Bahru will contain more close-up shots,' she explains.

'Close-ups are difficult to shoot as they require the actors to be intimate with the camera and it can be hard to draw this out from people.'

Each of the three interconnected stories in the film deals with a different aspect of life in Tiong Bahru. All three happen over one day and will involve between 50 and 70 Tiong Bahru residents in total.

The first story, which stars Abdul Hadi, is about a recently married young man who works at his parents' coffee stall in Tiong Bahru market and is talking to them about taking it over.

The second story explores the relationship between an old Tiong Bahru resident and her granddaughter, while the final tale is about an elderly resident who is leaving Tiong Bahru to live with her son, his wife and their two children.

Logistics operator Chia Tee Kit's family play the characters in the third story.

The 48-year-old says: 'I've lived in Tiong Bahru my whole life. I remember running around these streets when I was young. I feel quite attached to this place, and I'm really glad I have the opportunity to take part in the film.'

His two children, Cherylin, nine, and Kimberly, 14, will also appear in the film.

Although he agreed immediately to participate in the film when the Tiong Bahru Residents' Committee approached him, his wife, Mrs Christine Chia, was harder to convince.

Says the 49-year-old housewife: 'At first, I told my husband that I didn't want to appear on film, but he said that by doing this we would be contributing to the community.'

Civic Life: Tiong Bahru will be screened at the National Museum of Singapore every Tuesday in October.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Business Times : 60% of lease top-up bids approved since 2007

Business Times
21 June 2010

More owners expected to seek lease top-ups as stock of buildings on earlier govt sales sites gets older

(SINGAPORE) As the stock of buildings developed on 99-year leasehold sites sold by the government since the late 1960s gets older, more building owners are expected to apply to the authorities for lease top-ups.

Two such cases are currently under evaluation. But since 2007, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) has processed 56 applications for lease extensions of which only about 60 per cent were approved. The other 40 per cent were rejected.

SLA's spokesperson said in a written response to queries from The Business Times that in land-scarce Singapore, leases are generally allowed to expire without extension. Such a policy makes it possible for the government to recover land upon lease expiry, and reallocate it to meet fast changing socio-economic needs.

'Nevertheless, lease extensions can be considered on a case-by-case basis,' she said.

In evaluating requests for lease extensions, the government takes into account several factors including the long-term planning intention for the site and surrounding land, and whether the proposed use would optimise land.

SLA said that lease extensions granted since 2007 involved various uses such as commercial, residential, industrial and conservation properties. The period of the lease top-up depended on specific circumstances, but any top-ups together with the unexpired term of existing leases will not exceed 99 years.

'This is in line with our current policy that all new state leases (for sites which are capable of independent development) should not exceed 99 years,' said SLA.

Knight Frank chairman Tan Tiong Cheng sees a lot of soundness in the government's approach.

'To extend or not to extend? The answer lies in whether it fits into the long-term planning for the area. The government does not have to reveal its plans, so it has adopted a case by case approach,' he says.

He cites the example of the government selling land for recreational use in Marina South on short-term leases of 20 years. 'The government did not extend the leases when they expired and took the sites back because it had bigger plans for the area,' Mr Tan said.

'It's a similar situation with the government's plan for a new Central Business District on reclaimed land in the Marina area which can accommodate modern, big floor-plate office developments. What happens to ageing, pencil buildings on small plots in the old CBD? Should the government agree to reset their leases so that they can be redeveloped into new tiny office blocks for which there may not be much demand? The State may prefer to take back the sites when their leases expire and amalgamate them for a bigger development.'

In the meantime, leaving these buildings as they are may introduce urban blight. But if these owners propose to redevelop their buildings into apartments, thus furthering the government's plan to increase inner-city housing, they may get their lease extensions. The first such case was Natwest Centre, which is currently being developed into The Clift.

Market watchers say building owners who apply for lease top-ups often do have redevelopment proposals, or plans to sell the property on the assumption of redevelopment.

DTZ executive director (consulting) Ong Choon Fah says many leasehold buildings are becoming physically obsolete. Some are also drawing undesirable occupier profiles. 'If government is willing to top up leases, that will give these property owners an incentive to redevelop,' she said.

The properties for which lease top-ups have been granted since 2007 are said to include the former Ong Building site, which is being redeveloped into the 76 Shenton project comprising 202 apartments, and the former Overseas Union House site, which is making way for a new 18-storey office project, 50 Collyer Quay.

But not all successful applications have their leases topped up to 99 years.

Lease upgrades approved in connection with CBD office redevelopments have sometimes been for less than 99 years to try and synchronise future lease expiries of all the sites on the same street block. The idea is to have all sites on that stretch revert to the state around the same time to accommodate more comprehensive planning and redevelopment for the area.

Analysts recall the case of 71 Robinson Road, whose lease was topped up in April 2007 not to the usual 99 years but 85 years and 10 months to match the remaining lease term for SIA Building next door. The latter's lease was reset to 99 years in 1994. Leases for both sites will now expire in 2093.

SLA's spokesperson said that for commercial uses, lease extensions may be granted if they help to achieve a certain planning intention - such as substantial intensification in land use - significantly earlier.

Analysts say that may explain why a few office building owners in the CBD reportedly had lease top-up applications turned down when they planned only retrofitting works, which are deemed as additions and alterations. On the other hand, those who supported their applications with planning approval from the Urban Redevelopment Authority to redevelop the site into a bigger office block have succeeded at lease top-ups.

Copyright © 2010 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The New York Times : Breathing life, cash into HK's old walk-ups

The New York Times
Special Report : Great Homes and Destinations
27 May 2010

A handful of small-scale developers are renovating old-style tenements and creating real-estate gems

Mr Bell, an interior designer, worked with Dare Koslow, an American advertising executive, who wanted to recreate his New York SoHo apartment in Hong Kong - so when he had to sell his loft in 2003, it gave him the impetus, and HK$1 million, to create it here

WHEN Sean Clifford returned to Hong Kong for a friend's wedding in 2005, he couldn't believe the kind of rental returns he estimated he could achieve in a year after renovating an apartment in one of the city's old walk-up buildings.

'I went out and looked at property, and I was shocked,' he recalled. 'It was a 25-30 per cent return on your cash if you took an apartment and renovated it' in an appealing way.

The New York native, who had worked here from 1997 to 2000, started buying up old flats with special features like a rooftop or terrace.

He began with just HK$2 million (S$360,320). Now he has about 30 apartments, marketed under the brand name Soho Lofts, that he estimates are worth around HK$300 million.

Mr Clifford is one of a handful of small-scale developers who renovate apartments in the old tong lau-style tenements and walk-up residential buildings built in Hong Kong from the 1940s through the 1970s. By stripping them down, removing most of the interior walls and restoring them, sometimes with period features, the developers create real-estate gems from apartments that have decayed along with the buildings that house them.

Victoria Allan, the Australian founder of Hong Kong property brokerage Habitat Property, is reworking an eight-floor building in Kennedy Town, Hong Kong Island's westernmost neighbourhood along Victoria Harbour.

After six years and a blizzard of governmental paperwork, she has now gutted the building and expects the work to be completed by year's end.

In addition to adding elevator service, each floor will be an open-plan, one-bedroom apartment spread over125 square metres - net, not gross, as is often quoted in Hong Kong. The views look across the street and over the harbour to the new Stonecutters Bridge.

Ms Allan, 40, originally from Perth, felt that there was a lack of interesting upscale apartments in the city. 'The whole idea behind it is to find space that I liked - to have something quite cool and a more unusual layout for Hong Kong, and a quirky location,' she said, adding that she is taking one of the apartments.

She and a silent partner, whom she declines to identify, spent HK$8 million in 2004 to acquire the top seven floors of the building, which were available as a single purchase. It then took five years to move out the tenants and to buy the commercial space on the ground floor.

Now that the value of the site has appreciated, the partners have mortgaged the building to cover the renovation costs, which are expected to run around HK$25 million. 'I'm sure it's a different approach from what a major developer would do,' she said. 'The idea is to have a really usable apartment, and to restore an old building.'

The partners probably will rent the units for at least HK$45,000 per month, although selling them also is a possibility.

Although the partners could have torn down the building and constructed something like a 20-floor tower, a common approach in Hong Kong, current zoning regulations would have restricted the footprint to 60 per cent of the site. And they would have lost the charm of the original building, which has a pleasant curve to the sea-facing side and an Art Deco feel as well as an overhanging balcony that is not counted as part of the footprint.

While Ms Allan chose to invest in Kennedy Town, a 15-minute drive from the city's financial centre in Central, Mr Clifford hunts for properties exclusively in Hong Kong's Soho. The area, south of Hollywood Road, has a cluster of bars, restaurants and specialty food stores that draw the young professionals, particularly expatriates, whom he targets as tenants.

Mr Clifford, 47, paid HK$30 million to buy No 4 Shelley Street, a walk-up building right next to the Mid-Levels escalator that brings a steady stream of people to Soho. He has been renting out the apartments in the building, which is now for sale. The units rent for as much as HK$55,000 per month for a top-floor 750-square-foot apartment, complete with roof, that he calls 'The Rock Star'.

With an eye on developing an entire building from scratch, Mr Clifford has put No 4 Shelley Street on the market, in a public tender due to close at the end of June. Colliers International, the agency in charge of the sale, estimates the building will fetch HK$160 million.

Mr Clifford often works with Andrew Bell, an Australian who left advertising to work in interior design. 'We are very focused on our target audience, and we don't deviate at all,' said Mr Bell, 54. 'It's a young Western or American expat, probably earning more than they ever have before, and he wants to be in the middle of what he sees as exotic Hong Kong.'

Mr Bell specialises in recapturing the apartments' period charm by replacing features like the old wrought-iron windows with modern reproductions. 'I feel it is a pity that this low-rise area is not regarded as valuable except by a few people,' he said.

But that appears to be changing. Mr Bell also works with Dare Koslow, who owned a loft in the SoHo district of New York City before he moved to Hong Kong. Mr Koslow, an American advertising executive, wanted to recreate that apartment in Hong Kong - so when he had to sell his loft in 2003, it gave him the impetus, and HK$1 million, to create it here.

'I had this available cash around SARS time in Hong Kong,' Mr Koslow, 47, said, referring to the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome that ravaged the Hong Kong economy. 'It was coincidentally the ideal time to buy.'

Mr Koslow now owns 25 apartments, having bought, renovated and sold another five to help with financing. He has a full-time job as the regional brand marketing manager for the mobile phone company Vodafone but he spends much of his free time redeveloping walk-ups.

'It's become an addiction, actually,' Mr Koslow said. 'And at the time I started doing it, there were not that many others doing it.'

Mr Koslow currently is mired in a drawn-out struggle with the Urban Renewal Authority, a quasi-governmental entity that wants him to move out of his current place on Bridges Street, also in Soho, so it can 'regenerate' the area. Mr Koslow says he already is doing that, combining two flats to carve out a 1,500-square-foot apartment with bare beams and an industrial-chic style.

Both Mr Koslow and Mr Clifford say their apartments command such high rents or prices because they are an alternative to the boxy high-rise apartments that have become the norm in Hong Kong.

'Every day there is a new one going up - they're all white boxes, with tall glass faces,' Mr Koslow said. 'They're all exactly the same and so boring and bland.'

Small-scale developers are renovating apartments like this one in old tenements and walk-up residential buildings in Hong Kong.

The developer Dare Koslow’s home on Bridges Street.

A Hong Kong home that has been redecorated by the interior designer Andrew Bell, who specializes in recapturing period charm by replacing old features with modern reproductions.