Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Sunday Times - Cool, edgy vibe in Tiong Bahru

The Sunday Times
13th February 2011
By Natasha Ann Zachariah

The opening of art galleries and design studios has added to the bohemian charm of the neighbourhood


Amid the mom-and-pop hardware and provision shops in Tiong Bahru, art galleries, indie stores and design studios have been popping up recently, lending new charm to the bohemian neighbourhood.

The laid-back, chilled-out vibe of Yong Siak Street was one of the factors enticing bookstore BooksActually to move from its Club Street location.

Books Actually @ Yong Siak Street - ST PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM

Mr Kenny Leck, 32, co-founder and owner of the indie store, says: 'The feel of the place fits in with our store concept and it's an area that's familiar to me and my staff.'

Cheaper rent and a bigger space were also incentives. The new single-level store, which is set to open at the end of this month, is 2,200 sq ft and he pays one-third less rent than the previous location.

Tiong Bahru was gazetted by the Urban Redevelopment Authority as a conservation area in 2003.

The pre-war walk-up apartments found in Eng Hoon Street, Chay Yan Street and Seng Poh Road among others, feature architectural touches such as air wells, rounded balconies, back lanes and spiral staircases, uncommon to public housing in Singapore.

The colonial-era buildings, which go up to five storeys, have some ground-floor units that have been designated for commercial usage.

Another recent addition to the street is 40 Hands, a 50-seater speciality coffee shop set up by Perth native Harry Grover and his brother, which opened in October last year.

The 30-year-old barista tells LifeStyle that he had offers to start his first shop in malls such as Wheelock Place in the Orchard Road area, but felt that Tiong Bahru was a 'cool neighbourhood'.

'It's a bit run-down, but it's definitely edgy and it's such a hole-in-the-wall location.'

Art galleries have also added to the chi-chi factor of the area. There are now three galleries in Guan Chuan Street.

White Canvas Gallery opened in October 2009 and owner Maria Ng says the neighbourliness of Tiong Bahru residents gives the place a 'kampung feel'.

Ms Ng, 45, who also runs a private art gallery five doors away, says: 'Everyone knows everyone here. It's so informal, even for an art gallery. You don't need to be dressed up to walk in.'

White Canvas Gallery @ Guan Chuan Street - ST PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM

For others, the versatility of the interior space was a pull factor.

Artist and author Joanna Wong, 51, bought a ground-floor unit last year to set up her own private art gallery and studio, Jo's Creations, to work on her oil paintings.

The ex-banker paid $838,000 for the unit and knocked down the interior bedroom walls to create a more open concept.

The gallery opens next weekend and she says: 'It's a great area to showcase my art- works and books. It's also such a cosy village, with no tall Housing Board flats in your face.'

Jo's Creations @ Guan Chuan Street - ST PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM

Real estate analyst Tejaswi Chunduri of online portal says that Tiong Bahru is a hot location to buy or rent property as it is well-served by basic amenities such as schools, public transport and food centres and is located close to town.

She adds: 'From a business perspective, it is more affordable when compared to the same offerings in nearby areas such as Tanjong Pagar, where rent can cost at least $450 more a month for a 1,200 sq ft unit.'

Convenience and price aside, another draw is nostalgia for Tiong Bahru.

For independent curator Terence Yeung, 40, living here now with his designer wife brings back memories of the days when his parents lived there and dated each other.

They were childhood friends who lived only streets apart - his mother in Moh Guan Terrace and his father in Seng Poh Road - and who later became sweethearts.

Mr Yeung, who moved into the area seven years ago, says: 'The character of the place, the space and its people hold a certain charm in everyday living.'

One of the first design businesses there, architectural materials showroom RICE, which moved to Eng Watt Street from Kallang five years ago, welcomes the new businesses to the neighbourhood.

Mr Alan Tan, 38, director of the 10- year-old boutique stone and Italian tiles provider, believes the area's design for commercial units, which are spread out over five streets, allows each business to add its own style to the mix without being too overwhelming.

'We complement one another well and we are a close-knit community, but we each have our own character,' he says.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Straits Times : Tiong Bahru's London debut

The Straits Times
Life Section
5th Febuary 2011

By alison de souza

As it debuts abroad, a short film set in Tiong Bahru is showing the world a side of Singapore that is different from the usual images of high-rise buildings and placid prosperity.

The 19-minute Civic Life: Tiong Bahru, about a day in the life of three Tiong Bahru residents as they make decisions that will affect their families and communities, made its British premiere at a small arthouse cinema in London on Monday.

British university lecturer Sean Wood, 53, felt it provided a new perspective on a place many do not know well. He said: 'Singapore is a Far Eastern country that doesn't get as much in the press as China and South Korea. But with this film, you get a sense of the textures of the society. It's not so perfect and pristine and there are people with real lives and anxieties.'

Schoolteacher Dee Hinton, 60, got updated on the country of her birth. Her father served in the British army and she was born in Singapore, where she lived till 1966. She said what she saw on screen was 'far more modern and sanitised than the Singapore I knew' but the hawker centre scenes brought back other memories. 'The food - I could almost smell it.'

The film's portrayal of family dynamics also struck a chord with Ms Hinton. 'That's how families ought to be. I feel that, by and large, the Brits are very bad at looking after old people. In Singapore, that's part of the way of life,' she said.

Civic Life: Tiong Bahru is part of a series of short films by Irish film-makers Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor on the relationship between community and place and on themes such as identity and belonging.

Since 2003, they have shot nine Civic Life films in various cities in Ireland and England, each one a community-based project involving local cast and crew.

Tiong Bahru is the 10th instalment and the first set outside the British Isles. Shot at the historic estate and market in June last year, it involved a cast of more than 150 local volunteers. It was shown in Singapore last October.

Molloy and Lawlor's efforts seemed to go down well with the London audience, who were guests at a special screening organised by the Singapore International Foundation and attended by the Republic's High Commissioner to Britain, Mr Michael Teo.

During the question-and-answer session, Lawlor said: 'Initially, you think everyone in Singapore is a millionaire or something, which they're not.'

For those more familiar with Singapore, the film was especially easy to relate to. Mr Benjamin Foo, a 30-year- old Singaporean studying for his master's degree in London, said: 'The stories in the film, such as the grandmother thinking of moving in with her son, are very real and are things that have happened to people around me.'

Tiong Bahru, which was shown at a film festival in Rotterdam last week, will hit the screens at a festival in Dublin later this month and at selected British cinemas later this year.