Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Quiet Strength!

I chanced upon this TV programme while I was having my earlier than usual dinner last night.

I knew Media Corp has been sending a colourful bus to this estate about a month but I wasn't sure what kind of programme they were producing.

When I was watching till 19:19, I saw Grace and many things flowed thru my mind.

Grace and my youngest daughter, Jada , are just born just 11 days apart.

While they were infants, they would always bumped into each other at the Kim Pong playground.

They were just regular infants growing up in the hood.

About 3 years ago, I've moved out of my Kim Pong flat to another part of Tiong Bahru and later move again to yet another part of Tiong Bahru. And I only get to see Mary (Grace's mother) during my hurried walks from appointments to appointments.

We could not really make any meaningful conversation during those short interactions.

I guess I had the mentality that I could always catch up when I have the time.

Watching Grace on TV made me realised that time and tide waits for no Man!

Grace has grown so much and she is such a beautiful and adorable girl now!

Grace suffers from abnormal energy metabolism due to a congenital disorder and it affects her brain development. At the moment, she is still unable to walk and speak and most of the time, she is immersed in her own world.

Grace also requires a strict Ketogenic diet and could only drink a special milk formulae which cost $100 a tin!

Only a strong willed and close knitted family could survive this and still ooze the kind of unexplainable joy and serenity!

If you every bumped into Mary and Alex on the street, you would have no idea what they are going through! There are no dark clouds floating above their head! This speaks alot about their mental strength!

Next time you see this family walking around the hood (usually at the post war side), say something encouraging to them. I'm sure it would mean a lot to them.

To me, they are not only a HERO to Grace but to the community here in Tiong Bahru!

Click on 19:19 to jump straight to the section on Grace
2 Corinthians 12:9

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Straits Times : No more chats over bread and kopi

The Straits Times
By Kash Cheong
25th May 2013

Hua Bee, which has been operating for more than 70 years, will close in the middle of next month. -- PHOTOS: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

HUA Bee coffee shop, nestled in a corner of Moh Guan Terrace, is more than just a place to get food.

It is a neighbourhood icon close to the hearts of many Tiong Bahru residents, some of whom have set up a Facebook page called "We Love Hua Bee".

"I will miss Hua Bee," said retiree Ng Ah Bah, 78, who has been a loyal patron for the last 66 years.

The coffee shop, which has been operating for more than 70 years, will close in mid-June. It has only two stalls - one selling drinks, the other noodles.

Greeting your neighbour by name is common, so is chit-chatting over steamed bread and butter with coffee. Some customers even help clear the tables.

"When I was away on holiday and friends wanted to send me cakes, I told them to leave them at Hua Bee," said Mr Ng.

"When visitors can't find my home, I just tell them to come into Hua Bee and ask Tony."

For drinks stall owner Tony Tiang, who has helped to serve coffee and more since he was a child, closing the shop was a difficult decision.

Known as "Uncle Tony" to his regulars, the 58-year-old inherited the business from his father and uncle.

"I will miss my customers. Some of them watched me grow, others taught me English," he said. But renting out the place would be more profitable than his current business, he added.

The Straits Times : Calling it quits after nearly six decades

The Straits Times

25th May 2013
Mr Goh Chwee (third from right) speaking to his friends during a farewell dinner at the Hup Seng provision shop yesterday. He is renting out his shop to an aspiring cafe owner. -- PHOTOS: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

FOR nearly 60 years, provision shop owner Goh Chwee and his wife, Madam Ong Lee, both 76, have been familiar faces in their neighbourhood.

Their shop has served as a convenient stop for Tiong Bahru residents to restock everyday necessities such as sugar, eggs and milk.

They decided to call it a day earlier this year when they were offered $8,000 a month to rent out their shop space in Tiong Bahru Road to an aspiring cafe owner.

They jumped at the opportunity.

"I've been here since I was 18. Both my wife and I have worked hard and it's time for us to retire," said Mr Goh.

He is renting out his Hup Seng shop space to a "young Singaporean man" who will retain the old blue doors of the shop.

"I'll be splitting the rental with my wife. It's more than enough for us to enjoy our golden years."

To celebrate the friendships they had forged, the couple hosted a dinner for more than 30 family members and neighbourhood friends yesterday evening.

Administrative executive Eileen Nai, 25, who has lived in Tiong Bahru all her life, said many long-time residents feel a sense of loss whenever mom-and-pop shops are replaced by new cafes, which try to retain the original facade but can never recreate the community spirit which took years to forge.

"We are sad that we have to say goodbye to these familiar faces as it means closing yet another chapter in Tiong Bahru's history."


The Straits Times : Is Tiong Bahru losing its old charm?

The Straits Times
By Melody Zaccheus, Debbie Lee And Cheng Jingjie
25th May 2013

Hip outlets are taking over shops that have been there for decades
Tiong Bahru Bakery, owned by The Spa Esprit group, is one of the hip new businesses in the pre-war estate. -- PHOTOS: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
THE Hua Bee coffee shop has been operating at a pre-war estate in Tiong Bahru for 70 years. The nearby Hup Seng provision shop has been around for more than half a century.

But in the next few weeks, they will be consigned to history, with their owners opting to rent their shops to two new food outlets.

Their departure from the estate follows a slew of other takeovers in the past five years where older mom-and-pop businesses such as hair salons, textile shops and medical halls have made way for cafes, bakeries and eateries.

Not everyone has welcomed the changes. "A cup of coffee from these new cafes costs 10 times more than one from a coffee shop," said retiree Paul Tng, 65, who has been making sketches of the estate for the past 20 years.

Bounded by Seng Poh Road, Outram Road and Tiong Poh Road, Singapore's first public housing estate features 20 blocks of low-rise pre-war public housing flats as well as Transitional style and Art Deco shophouses.

The area was awarded conservation status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority in 2003 for its "rich history, unique architecture and familiar streetscapes".

But in recent years, its demographic has changed. Attracted by the estate's old world charm and its proximity to the city, a younger crowd with greater purchasing power moved in.

With them came new hip shops and cafes. The Spa Esprit Group, for instance, owns four businesses there - Tiong Bahru Bakery, cafe 40 Hands, bistro Open Door Policy and We Need A Hero, a men's grooming shop.

And the trend is expected to continue, said property analyst Nicholas Mak, head of consultancy at SLP International, pointing out that a five-room flat there now averages between $800,000 and $1 million. Shop rents are also higher. "As property prices increase, people with more middle-class taste will occupy the area, increasing the demand for new cafes and restaurants."

Dough and Grains owner Khoo Chee Wee, 40, who bought over a zi char restaurant for about $2 million last September, said: "I do my best to build rapport with residents. I don't want the old neighbourhood to completely disappear."

But retiree Mildred Choo, 63, who has lived in Tiong Bahru for six decades, said the estate's old charm is gone for good. "I've been here a long time and I feel like I can't keep up with the times."

But several residents told The Straits Times that the new shops are lively additions.

Said Mr Rodney Goh, 58, who operates a minimart: "People used to say that Tiong Bahru was a senior citizens' estate, so change is good; at least it will not become obsolete."

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Tuesday Report - Where We Connect 2: Episode 8 (Tiong Bahru - Last Episode)

Por Kee Eating House Tiong Bahru

Loo's Hainanese Curry Rice @ Blk 57 Eng Hoon Street

Zhong Yu Yuan Wei Wanton Noodle @ Tiong Bahru Food Centre

Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh

Koh Brother Pig's Organ Soup

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Straits Times : High-end childcare centre in low-rent area

The Straits Times
Pearl Lee
21st May 2013 
Location is very convenient for parents working in CBD: Firm
The 1930s bungalow where train drivers would spend the night before a morning shift is now being converted to a high-end childcare centre. The new Modern Montessori International pre-school will open in July and include facilities such as a swimming pool and an eco-garden. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG
IT SITS opposite a vacant housing estate, just metres from two blocks of rental flats for lower-income households.

Yet the site has been chosen to house a new high-end childcare centre, complete with a swimming pool.

The 1930s bungalow on Spooner Road and the area that surrounds it were part of the Malaysian railway land that was handed to Singapore in July 2011.

Train drivers used to stay the night in the 1,014 sq m building before beginning their morning shift.

Now, it will be put to a very different use after pre-school operator Modern Montessori International entered a successful bid to rent it from the Singapore Land Authority.

The firm's new boutique childcare centre - its fourth so far - will open in July and include facilities such as a swimming pool and an eco-garden.

Parents who want to enrol their child will pay $1,200 to $1,500 a month.

But the new high-end facility will contrast starkly with its surroundings, with the nearby blocks either catering for lower-income residents or vacated for future developments.

Opposite the pre-school is a Housing Board estate that has been left vacant for years as the area - including Spooner Road - is earmarked for future residential use.

While some may question the decision to open a boutique childcare centre in the neighbourhood, Modern Montessori International's chief executive T. Chandroo said he was attracted to Spooner Road as it is near the Central Business District, and the high-end residential enclave of Sentosa Cove.

Calling it a strategic location, he said: "It is extremely convenient for parents who drop off their children at our centre on their way to work in the Central Business District."

The Spooner Road area was once part of a railway yard owned by Malaysian operator Keretapi Tanah Melayu. The two blocks, which used to house staff, were converted to rental units after they were handed over to Singapore.

Interested parties were then invited to bid to rent the bungalow for either childcare or eldercare uses. Dr Chandroo said that the site had other advantages: "Tiong Bahru and Kay Siang Road are located to the north-east from our centre.

"Moving along to the south- west, we are able to extend our services to residents from the Harbourfront area."

The Straits Times : Nearby flats 'a slice of Singapore's residential history'

The Straits Times
Pearl Lee
21st May 2013

These low-rise blocks in Kampong Silat, opposite the site of the new childcare centre, are the island's second oldest surviving public housing estate. -- ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

THEY may look unassuming but the 13 low-rise blocks that sit opposite the site of the new childcare centre represent a slice of history.

Kampong Silat is the island's second oldest surviving public housing estate.

It was built by the Singapore Improvement Trust - the Housing Board's predecessor - between 1949 and 1952. This makes it younger only than the Tiong Bahru estate, which was built in 1937 and 1938. All of its residents have moved out, after the site was selected for the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme in February 2007.

The now-vacant area is earmarked for future residential development.

Dr Yeo Kang Shua, honorary secretary of the Singapore Heritage Society, said the area shows a piece of Singapore's residential history.

He added that people should not assume that the flats there will be torn down just because they have been earmarked for future residential use.

But Dr Yeo, who is also an assistant professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design, said: "If we have to destroy the building, then I will opt to at least preserve the building through documentation, such as through measured drawings and oral history."


Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Sunday Times : Conserve facade, owners of pre-war units told

The Sunday Times
By Melody Zaccheus
12th May 2013
Some new residents living in conservation flats in Tiong Bahru who have had work done to the exterior of their flats may find themselves in a bind.

This, after the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) stepped up efforts to ensure renovation guidelines for the exterior of the 20 pre-war conservation flats and some shophouses are adhered to.

Notices were posted across the estate earlier this year informing and reminding both old and new residents to seek permission from the URA before works on the facade of their units are carried out.

Some of the guidelines, for instance, do not allow new awnings and planter racks to be added.

Letters have been issued to residents for flouting the guidelines.

The ramped-up effort comes a decade after the flats were awarded conservation status for their "rich history, unique architecture and familiar streetscapes" in 2003.

Residents said the delay in enforcing a standard look has resulted in some confusion.

Retiree Chan Chi Tin, 65, said it will be tricky to settle on a standard appearance for the blocks as older residents made alterations before the flats were even conserved.

Financial analyst Ben Gan, 29, who moved into the estate five months ago added that the approval process for his conservation flat meant that renovation took six months instead of three.

"It's a tricky balance for the agency. It needs to work towards a uniform look to preserve these one-of-a-kind pre-war flats while managing the expectations of owners," he said.

Built in the 1930s by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), the HDB's predecessor, these Art Deco-style flats make up Singapore's first public housing estate.

They come with separate rear service blocks, internal air-wells and signature spiral staircases.

These blocks are located in Tiong Poh Road, Seng Poh Road, Chay Yan Street, Eng Watt Street, Eng Hoon Street, Guan Chuan Street and Tiong Bahru Road.

A URA spokesman explained that efforts were ramped up "as more people move in and out of the estate".

"We thought that it was timely to create more awareness and remind owners about our conservation guidelines for the Tiong Bahru conserved blocks," she said.

Architect and art and design educator Tia Boon Sim, who has been sketching the neighbourhood since 2010, agreed.

The course manager at Temasek Polytechnic's School Of Design said she has noticed a 20 per cent rise in the number of units flouting guidelines, especially with more yuppies and young couples flocking to rent and buy units in the upmarket enclave.

According to the URA, the external facade and all key architectural elements of the flats must be retained and restored but owners have the flexibility to adapt the interiors to suit their needs.

Its spokesman added that guidelines are highlighted to home owners through several means, including information in HDB home renovation permits.

The agency also conducts periodic inspections of the conserved buildings and takes a case-by-case approach for home owners who flout the rules.

Owners who carried out renovation works before the blocks were gazetted for conservation can retain them for now, said the URA's spokesman. However, they are required to comply with the prevailing guidelines the next time their homes are renovated.

But some residents argued that more room should be given to customise the appearance of these flats, which come with a hefty price tag of about $1 million.

"Some of the modifications beautify the old buildings," said retiree Tony Tan, 65, who has lived in Tiong Bahru for 30 years.

While owners are allowed to replace the original mild steel- framed glazed casement windows on the facade of their homes, their size and proportions must remain the same. Vents must also be retained though owners can choose to seal them on the interior with plasterboard, glass or perspex.

Save for some corner flats, air-conditioning units are not allowed at the front of these blocks.

Graphic designer Alice Farmer, 33, who has lived in Tiong Bahru for two years, said she has kept renovations to a minimum. "Part of the appeal of these flats is that it's a heritage site. We should therefore continue to preserve the character of the estate."

These windows on the highest storey do not meet guidelines, says the URA. Some residents felt that awnings (below) and planters add colour to the estate. -- ST PHOTOS: MUGILAN RAJASEGERAN