Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Sunday Times : Tiong Bahru roast meat shop to close

The Sunday Times
By Kezia Toh
27th April 2014

Eatery is latest casualty in rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood

Roast meat eatery owner Yip Kwok Ching is moving out after his landlord upped the rental for the shop unit from $8,000 to $12,000 a month -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Popular Tiong Bahru roast meat eatery, Hong Kong Jin Tian, will shut its doors after this weekend - in the continuing exodus of old-timers from the now hipster estate.

The eatery's owners, a couple who moved from Hong Kong to Singapore in 1986, say they are moving after the landlord upped the rent for the 1,100 sq ft to 1,200 sq ft shop in Eng Hoon Street from about $8,000 to $12,000 a month.

Owner Yip Kwok Ching, 62, says he is still hunting for another location to continue his business. The nearby Redhill market is one possibility.

His wife, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Yip, says: "Of course, we are not happy about leaving because we have been here for many years."

The couple started their eatery at a Tiong Bahru market stall in 2000 before moving it to the coffee shop five years later. It has been there since.

Mrs Yip, 56, says: "Newcomers don't know the going rate for the place and spoil the market for us. It affects traditional food such as ours."

Jacking up prices will not help pay the rent, she adds. Jin Tian charges $3 for a plate of roast meat with rice. Add 20 cents to the cost and customers will not come, she says. "It's very strange because customers are willing to pay $6 for a slice of cake across the road," says Mrs Yip, gesturing to the nearby Tiong Bahru Bakery.

Jin Tian's is, by now, a familiar story in the now popular retro enclave with its pre- and post-war flats.

Housewife Ang Soo Leong, a longtime resident, hopes another hipster joint is not sprouting up in its place.

Mrs Ang, 84, moved to the area after she was displaced during the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961. She says in Mandarin: "It is a pity that the old businesses are gone because they hold a slice of history. The new places charge such high prices, I dare not step inside."

The influx of new ventures began around 2010 when artisanal coffee joint 40 Hands opened in Yong Siak Street. Since then, chic boutiques, cafes and bookstores have sprouted.

Long-time business owners in the area are receiving sizeable offers.

Mr Rodney Goh, 59, of provision shop Pin Pin Piau Kay & Co in Seng Poh Road, says he gets offers to rent or buy his 1,500 sq ft space "every other day". Offers go as high as $2 million to buy or about $10,000 a month to rent.

Hardware shop-owner Michael Chan (above) and provision shop-owner Rodney Goh (below) say they have been offered up to $2 million to sell their space or $10,000 in monthly rent. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Mr Michael Chan, 66, who owns hardware shop Hock Eng Hin in Seng Poh Road, says he has received six serious requests to buy or rent his 1,300 sq ft space in the past two years, with offers reaching up to $1 million.

Mr Cheng Mook Boon, 65, who owns Cheng Delicacies, a 24-year-old Hainanese homestyle food coffee shop in Yong Siak Street, says he gets offers of between $6 million and $12 million for his 1,800 sq ft space.

The grapple for space seems fierce but there may be a sign of the market cooling down. The light purple doors of the coffee shop located opposite Jin Tian have been shuttered since January.

A previous tenant, Mr Loo Kia Chee, 55, who had been running his Hainanese curry rice stall since 1990 in the neighbourhood, says he left when the landlords asked him to rent the entire coffee shop for $20,000, up from $3,200 for a stall. He decided to move down the road, renting a stall for $3,000, while another tenant, a Teochew braised duck stall owner, has moved to Ubi.

Mr Loo says: "The coffee shop needs renovation. Taps are rusty and ventilation is poor, which would easily set me back by $10,000 to $20,000."

It has been nearly three months since the coffee shop closed and there is a "problem looking for tenants", says senior marketing director Jane Lee, in her late 30s, of property firm ERA Realty Network, who is marketing the space. The landlord wants a 50 per cent rise in rent, she says, jacking up the price to more than $20,000. The landlord declined to speak to SundayLife!.

Regular foot traffic in Tiong Bahru, unlike Housing Board estates such as Ang Mo Kio or Clementi, is also slower.

Ms Lee says: "It can be a dead town on weekdays. When the asking price is so high, it is difficult to find tenants."

This could be a signal of the softening of demand in the heated Tiong Bahru market. But it is more likely that the asking rent is "too high", says Associate Professor Sing Tien Foo of the National University of Singapore's department of real estate.

"The landlord might have made the call based on a high offer from someone before the current lease expired, but potential business owners may find the high rent is not sustainable," he says.

Older businesses in the neighbourhood may be taking a hammering in terms of rent and takings, but old-time stalwarts are unfazed.

Pin Pin Piau Kay provision shop's Mr Goh says residents still go to him for necessities such as rice and toilet rolls.

And Mr Chan of Hock Eng Hin has moved with the times, displaying vintage crockery outside his 21-year-old shop. "Very popular with young people these days", he says. He also stocks home-fix tools to cater to new expatriate residents who prefer to do up their homes themselves and go to Tiong Bahru to look for tools.

It would be interesting to see how the neighbourhood transforms when these old businesses fade away, says Assistant Professor Walter Edgar Theseira of the division of economics at Nanyang Technological University.

He says: "The charm of Tiong Bahru comes from the mix of old and new, so would people still value the area when the old businesses disappear?"

What do you think of the gentrifying Tiong Bahru enclave? Write to

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Straits Times : Serenading Tiong Bahru

The Straits Times
Life! Section
By Amanda See
25th April 2014

Eight artists have written original songs and poems to celebrate the enclave and will perform there at this year's Musicity

Poet Jennifer Anne Champion (second from left) and singer-songwriter Marcel Lee Pereira (far right) with members of Monster Cat (from left) Meta Cat, drummer; Psycho Cat, guitarist; and Hentai Cat, singer; at Bincho, a Japanese yakitori bar in Tiong Bahru, where they will be performing. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

While doing research for her poem based on the air raid shelter in Tiong Bahru, home-grown poet Jennifer Champion discovered a nugget of family history - her step-aunt was born in the shelter at 78 Moh Guan Terrace on the same day the step-aunt's father died in the bombings during World War II in 1942.

Champion, 26, is one of the eight artists taking part in Musicity Singapore 2014, which opens tonight at Tiong Bahru. It will feature a panel discussion and shows by home-grown band Seyra, Champion and another Singapore poet Marc Nair.

This is the second edition of the global music programme, which debuted here in 2012. Founded in London in 2011, it celebrates a city's music and urban design through music and architecture. The event has been held in cities such as Oslo and Tokyo.

Recalling how she stumbled upon the family connection while watching a Channel 5 news segment on the air-raid shelter on YouTube, Champion says: "I didn't recognise my step-aunt from the video because we hardly meet and I know her only by her nickname. My dad told me we were related."

She adds: "Finding out something like this gives a personal connection to the place. Before that, I was writing the poem, Let It Shine, as a member of the public. Knowing that there was family involved gave me a certain responsibility to convey the story sensitively."

While the first edition of Musicity Singapore was held in places such as the ArtScience Museum and Gardens by the Bay, the artists will perform in various locations around Tiong Bahru this year.

Ms Carolyn Oei, festival director and organiser of Musicity Singapore 2014, says: "Tiong Bahru as a festival location fits perfectly with the overall objective of Musicity. Tiong Bahru is rich in heritage and stories and, at the same time, is so contemporary."

The event challenges the idea of performance by selecting, she says, "atypical spaces while still retaining the essence of experiencing a show".

She adds: "The intimate and interesting venues invite the audience to go closer to the performers and take in both words and music at a deeper level."

The eight artists have written 12 original music and poetry tracks based on different locations in Tiong Bahru. These tracks can be streamed through a mobile app when the user is at the site the tracks are tagged to. Ms Oei says this is to encourage people to enjoy the spaces the city has to offer.

Besides connecting with her step-aunt, who is her father's step-cousin, Champion also made another surprise discovery while working on Musicity. She is related to fellow artist Marcel Lee Pereira, whose grandmother married Champion's granduncle after her husband died.

Champion and Pereira will perform on May 9 at Bincho, a modern Japanese yakitori open-concept bar in Moh Guan Terrace.

The track that Pereira has composed for the event, titled The Place Where We Met, is based on the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre in Seng Poh Road. The song tells a love story in which a woman looks out to the sea every day as she awaits her lover's return.

Pereira, 33, a singer-songwriter who is also a sub-editor with The Straits Times' digital team, says: "I found out from my research that businessmen used to house their mistress in the flats in Tiong Bahru. It was likely that some of them would have been forgotten over the years, as a businessman would have to travel.

"I didn't want to write a song just about the food and vegetables in the market. I wanted to bring a human element to it, so I imagined who would be there at the market."

He will also perform in a fringe activity on May 4 with a busker who visits the food centre in his wheelchair on weekends singing Hokkien and Mandarin ballads.

Also performing with Champion at Bincho on May 2 are Monster Cat. The three-man band composed a track, The Rich Dream, for the event. The song was inspired by Qi Tian Gong Temple in Eng Hoon Street, which is dedicated to the monkey god.

The band's 28-year-old singer and co-songwriter, who goes by the name Hentai Cat, says: "This was a very interesting way to approach creation. I think all art is dependent on circumstances and location. It's surprising to me sometimes how much our songs are about Singapore and living here," he says.

Tiong Bahru resident Jane Teo welcomes the event. The 21-year old student says: "My neighbourhood would be more lively and I get to see these performances up close."



Musicity Singapore 2014 will present 10 ticketed performances, including today's opening night hosted by presenting sponsor Keppel Land. The other shows pair a singer or band with a poet.

All the show venues, except for TBB Tiong Bahru Bar, do not usually host live performances.

Who: A panel discussion on the topic of sonic architecture, as well as performances by home-grown band Seyra and poets Marc Nair and Jennifer Champion.

Where: 1 Kim Tian Road

When: Today, 7.30 to 10pm

Admission: $40 (sales have ended)
Marc Nair
Who: Marcel Lee Pereira and Marc Nair

Where: The French Bookshop, 55 Tiong Bahru Road

When: Tomorrow, 7.30 to 8.30pm

Admission: $20
Home-grown indie-folk music group Seyra (above) and poets Gideon + Allee, comprising Gideon Goh and Allee Koh. -- PHOTO: MARC NAIR

Who: Seyra and Nabilah Husna

Where: The Fab Lab (73 Eng Watt Street at 8.45pm)

When: Tomorrow, 9 to 10pm

Admission: $25

Who: Monster Cat and Jennifer Champion

Where: Bincho, 78 Moh Guan Terrace

When: May 2, 6.30 to 7.30pm

Admission: $30
Home-grown indie band The Sam Willows will also be performing. -- PHOTO: MARC NAIR

Who: The Sam Willows and Gideon + Allee

Where: Tiong Bahru Community Centre Music Room 2, 67A Eu Chin Street

When: May 2, 6.30 to 7.30pm

Admission: $20
Nabilah Husna

Who: The Sam Willows and Nabilah Husna

Where: The French Bookshop, 55 Tiong Bahru Road

When: May 3, 6.30 to 7.30pm

Admission: $20
Home-grown indie-folk music group Seyra and poets Gideon + Allee, comprising Gideon Goh and Allee Koh (above). -- PHOTO: MARC NAIR

Who: Seyra and Gideon + Allee

Where: Tiong Bahru Community Centre Music Room 2, 67A Eu Chin Street

When: May 3, 9 to 10pm

Admission: $20

Who: Marcel Lee Pereira and Jennifer Champion

Where: Bincho, 78 Moh Guan Terrace

When: May 9, 6.30 to 7.30pm

Admission: $30

Who: Monster Cat and Marc Nair

Where: The Fab Lab (73 Eng Watt Street at 7.45pm)

When: May 9, 8 to 9pm

Admission: $25 (sales have ended)

Who: The Sam Willows, Gideon + Allee and Nabilah Husna

Where: TBB Tiong Bahru Bar, 3 Seng Poh Road

When: May 10, 7.30 to 10pm

Admission: $20

To book tickets, go to For more information, go to

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Straits Times : Insight into heritage of Tiong Bahru

The Straits Times
By Amelia Teng
20th April 2014

Volunteer guide Choo Lip Sin, 43, taking people on a guided tour of Tiong Bahru estate as part of the Tiong Bahru Heritage Fiesta 2014, which runs until May 7. -- ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Cafe owner Jason Soon has lived in Tiong Bahru for 14 years and in that time he has noticed more cafes and eateries "popping up" and more flats being built.

But it was only yesterday that he got an insight into the area's past. The 34-year-old was one of 34 participants who explored the 78-year-old estate, one of Singapore's oldest, as part of the second Tiong Bahru Heritage Fiesta. The trail - spanning 2.5km and 10 stops - was launched a year ago by the National Heritage Board.

But this time, the entire event, which runs until May 7, was organised by volunteers from Tiong Bahru Youth Executive Committee, Seng Poh Residents' Committee and the Tiong Bahru Heritage Volunteers, among others.

Mr Kelvin Ang, chairman of Seng Poh RC, said: "We hope to make this an annual and sustainable event."

As part of this year's event, volunteers will lead the tours over three weekends. There will also be air-raid shelter visits and an open-air movie night at Seng Poh Garden later this month.

Among the things to look out for are five animal murals on the estate's walls - of common pets in the past like a chicken, and goldfish - by photographer and visual artist Ernest Goh.

"Every street in the estate is named after prominent businessmen and people," said Mr Soon, regarding the historical nuggets he picked up yesterday. "The architecture of the pre-war flats is very interesting - their design was so detailed, down to even the colour scheme and the window grilles."