Saturday, October 18, 2014

The New Paper : So hip, it hurts, residents say of Tiong Bahru

The New Paper
Ng Jun Sen
18th October 2014

Where got COOL?

Vogue magazine names Tiong Bahru as one of 15 hippest neighbourhoods in the world, but long-time residents disagree

TNP Photo

SINGAPORE - Known for its pre-war architecture and heritage hawkers, Tiong Bahru is hailed by some as a slice of old Singapore.

So rustic were its charms that the neighbourhood was given conservancy status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority more than a decade ago.

It was also named as one of the top 15 coolest neighbourhoods in the world by the fashion magazine Vogue in a recent report.

Part of its lustre also comes from the quaint new eateries, cafes and shops that have popped up in the neighbourhood in recent years.

Its appeal to visitors and locals alike is probably summed up by student and hobbyist photographer Lester Ooi, 19.

The self-professed "hipster" told The New Paper yesterday: "Nowhere else in Singapore will you find elderly folk sipping kopi beside youngsters sipping espressos."

Seng Poh Residents' Committee manager Desmond Tan added to the praise: "It is a cool place. People come here because of the buildings, which are so well-preserved that you can even find shops with their new signboards under the old ones."

Tiong Bahru residents, Mr Oei Khie, 72, (in grey) and Mr Koh Seow Mor, 54, (in red), explain the history of their neighbourhood to Swiss tourist, Mrs Catherine Buholzer, 59. TNP Photo.

Swiss tourist Catherine Buholzer, 59, said she had read the rave reviews about Tiong Bahru and included a visit to the area as part of her two-week holiday here. Said Mrs Buholzer: "It looks like an older area where Singaporeans lived before, like a slice of authentic, old Singapore."

But talk to old-timers in the neighbourhood and you get a very different picture.

When TNP told them about Vogue's listing, they were surprised.

"Where got?" asked a resident of 60 years, who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan, 89.

"I've lived here for so long and no one said (it was cool) before.

It's an all right neighbourhood, that is all."

Mr Tan believes part of the reason Tiong Bahru has lost its charm is the younger residents who have moved there because of its hip appeal.

Several are foreigners who have rented homes in the neighbourhood, he said.

"In the past, there was a large group of people practising qigong in the mornings at an open space near my flat.

Now, they are no longer here," he said.

Mr Oei Khie, 72, a resident of 15 years, did not mince his words over Tiong Bahru's uber hip rating.

"It's all bullshit," he exclaimed.

While the taxi driver was glad that people thought highly of his neighbourhood, he remained sceptical of the accolades.

That's because it is not the first time he has heard such praises.

Each time, he questions how people arrived at that conclusion.

Said Mr Oei: "There are books out there written about this place.

There's one book called I Ate Tiong Bahru. I've read it. It's 60 per cent nonsense."


He believes the recent changes to Tiong Bahru have led to it losing its original charm.

"The praises changed the neighbourhood.

People come here and set up Western cafes and restaurants meant for much younger people and (at prices that) are far too expensive."

Coffee at these cafes, for example, costs $6.50 a cup, he said.

The new cafes and eateries have also taken a toll on local businesses in the area, said char kway teow seller Koh Seow Hor, who has been working at Tiong Bahru Market for more than 40 years.

He said: "It's becoming more competitive, rents are getting higher and we're getting less profit as a result."

But wouldn't the rave reviews of Tiong Bahru's food places bring in the crowds?

Yes, but the younger and trendier crowds don't eat at food centres, he said.

"People who come for the cafes will not want to eat char kway teow."


In an article in its September issue, Vogue magazine highlighted the 15 coolest neighbourhoods in the world known for their "street style".

It wrote of Tiong Bahru: "There's a small nook of town dubbed Tiong Bahru that's the artisanal, coffee shop-filled foil to Singapore's endless skyscraper sparkle.

"Here, low-profile Art Deco-style buildings house eclectic boutiques like Strangelets, which sells quirky design objects, and Fleas & Trees, which offers baubles from emerging designers.

"Feeling jet-lagged? Tuck into Nimble/Knead, a concept massage parlour providing relaxation in a common Singaporean sight: corrugated shipping containers."

Other neighbourhoods featured include Shimokitazawa in Tokyo, Japan; West Queen West in Toronto, Canada; Sodermalm in Stockholm, Sweden; Canal Saint-Martin in Paris, France; Bushwick in New York City, US; Brera in Milan, Italy; Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia; Hackney in London, UK; and Kreuzberg in Berlin, Germany.

History of Tiong Bahru

Originally a cemetery, Tiong Bahru later became the site of a pre-war public housing programme to alleviate housing woes in Chinatown.

Following a modified form of the "Streamline Moderne" architecture style, the flats were designed to look like cars, trains, ocean liners and aeroplanes with sweeping, streamlined and aerodynamic lines.

These buildings were given conservancy status in 2003 and comprise 20 blocks of two- to five-storey flats.

Before World War II, two rows of shophouses at Tiong Poh Road marked the centre of the neighbourhood.

In 1945, they were converted into a wet market and five years later, a new market called the Seng Poh Market was constructed.

The market is now known as Tiong Bahru Market, and has one of the highest concentrations of "heritage hawkers" in Singapore.

Reports by Ng Jun Sen

Source: National Heritage Board, Urban Redevelopment Authority

4 quaint places in Tiong Bahru

BOOKSACTUALLY A bookstore at 9 Yong Siak Street that sells books not commonly found in other places, including those by local authors. 

THE DISPENSARY The former Chinese medical hall at 69 Tiong Bahru Road has been converted into a cafe and bakery.

STRANGELETS A design shop at 7 Yong Siak Street that sells a variety of products, such as furniture, bags and other interesting curios.

WE NEED A HERO The men's grooming salon at 57 Eng Hoon Street offers premium haircuts, shaves, brow shaping and waxing to its customers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Straits Times : Tomb uncovered in Outram, 150 years on

The Straits Times
By Melody Zaccheus
15th October 2014

Grave hunter makes surprise find in forested Tiong Bahru area

The lone grave in Outram discovered by Mr Charles Goh (right, with brother Raymond) has stayed untouched in its original spot since the 1860s. Mr Goh hopes it will be included in heritage tours of Tiong Bahru estate. -- ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH 

A FORGOTTEN tombstone in the heart of Outram has been found, on the heels of the rediscovery of an abandoned reservoir on Keppel Hill last month.

Wrapped snugly by creeping tree roots in a forested area, the 150-year-old tombstone was discovered last month by intrepid grave hunter Charles Goh, 46.

He made his latest find last month while bashing through the forest hunting for remnants from old cemeteries in the Tiong Bahru area. "I often walk by the forested area, but I had no idea that it housed an ancient treasure and relic from Singapore's first few Hokkien cemeteries," he said.

The construction safety manager had also stumbled across the lost reservoir near Mount Faber back in 2005, without knowing it, while he was tomb-hunting.

The lone grave in Outram has stood the test of time even as modern Singapore grew around it, staying untouched in its original spot since the 1860s. It is sandwiched between the defunct 1828 Tiong Lama and 1859 Tiong Bahru cemeteries.

Mr Goh hopes the tomb, which belongs to Madam Ho Koon Neo, will be included in heritage tours of Tiong Bahru estate.

Both cemeteries were exhumed after the 1920s to make way for the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and later housing projects.

Most of these exhumed graves now rest in Greater Bukit Brown, which Mr Goh and his brother Raymond, 50, a pharmacist, have been researching and documenting.

The brothers, who also co-founded Asia Paranormal Investigators, realised some relocated tombs and urns in Greater Bukit Brown had been haphazardly rehoused, leading them to believe that some reburials were done in a hurry.

Mr Goh said: "We then wondered if some graves had been left behind from the Tiong Lama and Tiong Bahru cemeteries."

After consulting maps, he narrowed his search down to a forested parcel of land about the size of two football fields. Bounded by College Road, Jalan Bukit Merah and MacAlister Road, the forest is part of the SGH compound.

SPH Photo Superimposed on Google Maps

According to an 1884 land deed, the hilltop graveyard where Madam Ho's tomb rests was owned by a Chua Bian Kay.

The 1m-high tombstone states that Madam Ho, who married into the Chua family, was from Zhong Shan in Fujian, China. Her exact date of death is not listed, although her grave states that she died during the 1862-1875 reign of Chinese emperor Tongzhi.

The tomb also lists her children - son Gim Guan, daughters Huat Neo and Eng Neo, and grandson Choon Swee.

The Goh brothers, who have hunted down hundreds of graves including those of pioneers Seah Eu Chin and Chia Ann Siang, are appealing for Madam Ho's descendants to come forward.

They hope the National Heritage Board (NHB) clan associations and other volunteers can help do more research on the country's pioneers.

An NHB spokesman said the board looks forward to doing research on the grave with the brothers to "shed more light on the discovery".

Meanwhile, Mr Kelvin Ang, the chairman of Seng Poh Residents' Committee in Tiong Bahru, said residents who conduct heritage tours and talks on the conservation estate might consider including the tomb as part of their talks.

He added that the find proves "history is all around us". "Mr Goh's discovery adds to the historical knowledge of the area and, hopefully, as we go on, more stories can be built upon such finds."

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Business Times : The new 'new Tiong Bahru'

The Business Times
By Debbie Yong
4th October 2014

Debbie Yong looks at the latest wave of openings that is transforming the aged estate into a trendy cafe cluster popular among the young

CULTURAL IMMERSION: The businesses in Tiong Bahru are helping to highlight the area's rich history; Tai Kwang Huat coffeeshop, a pre-war unit is now home to heritage bistro The Tiong Bahru Club. PHOTOS: DEBBIE YONG, NANA AND BIRD

WHILE up-and-coming neighbourhoods such as Everton Park and Jalan Besar have been wresting over the spotlight as the "new Tiong Bahru", the neighbourhood that first popularised the idea of heritage-chic has quietly been revamping itself to suit the times.

New businesses have been slowly trickling into once-sleepy Tiong Bahru over the last few months, accelerating the pre-war housing estate's transformation from a trendy cafe cluster popular among the young into a complete lifestyle destination.

Among the latest entrants are the Clothes Curator, a three-month-old boutique specialising in loose-fitting cotton and linen apparel for women in their late-20s to 50s, as well as fortnight-old Curated Records, which offers vinyl records from independent bands of various genres. Deeper into the neighbourhood, The Modern Outfitters is a menswear store started by entertainer Dick Lee and young tailor Clinton Zheng; Nana & Bird Kids on Eng Hoon Street specialises in homewares and socially conscious, sustainably produced products for children, and is a sister store to their two-year-old Chay Yan Road flagship store; pop-up Crateful is a collection of locally produced food; while Bloesem, a creative art studio for home decor enthusiasts now has two units along Eng Hoon Street and Seng Poh Road.

Nana & Bird Kids on Eng Hoon Street specialises in socially conscious, sustainably produced products for children and home PHOTOS: DEBBIE YONG, NANA AND BIRD

Even decades-old businesses in the area have been prompted to spruce themselves up, in keeping with the neighbourhood's growing vibrance.

Cheng's Delicacies' owner Dawn Cheng says that the month-long revamp of her family's 25-year-old eatery on Yong Siak Street in June was carried out with the aim of making the place more comfortable for their existing clients, but it has unexpectedly helped to stretch their diner demographics. The Hainanese zichar and curry rice specialist's new cafe-like decor and attractive dessert counter now lures in youthful weekend shoppers with their coconut oil-seeped gula melaka chiffon cake and handmade traditional kuehs. "Before, we would get parents who bring their children here for dinner, but now we see younger diners bringing their parents and grandparents in for a meal," Ms Cheng observes.

Decade-old nail parlour and spa Hui Aesthetics, too, spent S$30,000 to spruce up their space three months ago. Even though owner Jade Shen Jie didn't expect the neighbourhood to develop so quickly when she moved into the venue a decade ago for its lofty ceilings and sleepy village feel, she isn't surprised that it has. "We're not quite as old as some of the businesses that have been around for decades, but we aren't new either, so I've been able to watch the neighbourhood's growth from the middle ground," she observes. "I like the buzz that the new businesses bring - we visit them often to buy cakes and flowers - yet I couldn't help but shed a tear watching some of elderly tenants move out of the old coffeeshops."

But she adds: "At least the architecture of the buildings was left untouched thanks to the government's conservation efforts. But the businesses within have to evolve to suit the times - that is inevitable."

"We knew from talking to residents that there was a lot of anxiety and hype over what we would open here," says Jerry Singh, who took over the lease on Tai Kwang Huat coffeeshop, a pre-war unit prominently sited across from Tiong Bahru Market in July. "We wanted to create something that would restore and celebrate the space's rich history," he adds of his three-day-old heritage bistro, The Tiong Bahru Club. The coffeeshop's landlord Lim Ah Boon, who ran a fruit stall in the space for 45 years, put up the entire unit for rent when he had to undergo an operation last year. He now helps out at the bistro daily. "I'm not getting any younger and my two children don't want to take over, so this was the only option. Of course I miss the place, but what's the point in thinking about the past? We have to move on," says Mr Lim.

And move on is exactly what marketing executive-turned-baker Tricia Lim did when she took over the corner coffeeshop that used to house Hong Kong Jin Tian for close to two decades . "I didn't want to do another local-inspired concept, that's become too common these days," says the New York-trained baker, explaining her cafe Whisk's minimalist, European-inspired decor.

And while adapting their concepts to suit the neighbourhood is a personal choice, not all of the new businesses have been keeping to the stipulated conservation guidelines, says Tiong Bahru resident and active community contributor Carolyn Oei. Several have altered building facades by installing glass-door shop fronts. "It might be time for the re-establishment of a business association to complement the residents committee and to make things more cohesive," Ms Oei suggests, adding that she hopes to see new more residents, whether residential and commercial, become more active in volunteering their time to conduct heritage walks or writing in to the authorities requesting recycling bins for the betterment of the neighbourhood, as current residents regularly do.

Echoing her thoughts, Ms Shen adds: "The new businesses that come in should hopefully be a place where, anyone - whether you're a resident, an expat or a tourist - can walk into and get a feel of the local culture."


Vinyls for a lifetime
Curated Records
55 Tiong Bahru Road #01-53
Tel 6438 3644
Hours: 11am-9pm daily

SAY IT WITH MUSIC: Mr Lim (above) settled on his existing unit hoping to add colour to the historic neighbourhood, which did not have any music-related shop, he further plans to host autograph and meet-up sessions with independent local musicians and bands in the shop.

FORTNIGHT-OLD Curated Records is the realisation of a childhood dream by Tremon Lim, who left a publishing job of six years in May to start the independent records shop along bustling Tiong Bahru Road.

It was a dream that the 30-year-old thought was done and dusted at one point in his life but the yearning was revived again a few months ago, thanks to a visible vinyl resurgence of recent years, says Mr Lim.

The little nook of a shop packs in over 1,200 records into its brightly lit 280 square foot space, mostly from independent bands and performers in genres spanning electronic, rock, folk and pop music. It's "the stuff that most large record shops don't bring in", he explains, because "regular bands may move much faster, but there's no point selling what everyone else is already selling". Prices range from S$27 to S$49 per record.

Mr Lim was initially scouting for a store in the City Hall area close to the existing cluster of record shops in the area, but settled on his existing unit hoping to add colour to the historic neighbourhood, which did not have any music-related shop.

Besides expanding his repertoire to include used records, Mr Lim further plans to host autograph and meet-up sessions with independent local musicians and bands in the shop.

"People who come to Tiong Bahru are the types to appreciate and want something to hold and keep for a lifetime, and vinyls are exactly that," he says.

Heritage bistro
The Tiong Bahru Club
57 Eng Hoon Street, #01-88
Tel 64380168
Hours: 8am-10pm (Mon-Fri), 8am-midnight (Sat-Sun)

CELEBRATING OLD TIMES: The club's food to the decor, made up of old kopitiam kitchenware and vintage knick-knacks (above), provide a reminder of the rich history of the area PHOTOS: DEBBIE YONG

THE club rules are stated clearly above the bar: No outside food, no mischief making, and no flirting with the cashier. But then there's also a catch: there are no real penalties for bending the rules, nor are there any criteria to qualify for membership - or any membership fees to begin with.

What this three-day old "club" really is is owner Jerry Singh's tongue-in-cheek jibe at the idea of an exclusive country club set right in the heart of historic Tiong Bahru. Membership, incidentally, is handed out in the form of cardboard discount cards that you have to pencil your own name onto.

The "heritage bistro", in Mr Singh's own words celebrates all that is old, from its food - a hodge podge of plates that pay homage to the culinary culture of past and present immigrants to Singapore - to the decor made up of old kopitiam kitchenware and vintage knick-knacks scavenged on Mr Singh's global escapades.

Interior of the Tiong Bahru Club  PHOTOS: DEBBIE YONG

Besides retaining the former Tiong Bahru coffeeshop's old tiled blue floors and metal shutters, don't be surprised if you see an elderly uncle helping to direct customers to seats and hand out menus. He's actually the coffeeshop's landlord who ran a fruit stall in the space and still supplies the fresh fruit platter on Tiong Bahru Club's dessert menu.
Truck Stop chicken wings PHOTOS: DEBBIE YONG
Food-wise, expect Asian-inspired starters such as the crispy fried Truck Stop chicken (S$10.80), named for the rest stops built for truck drivers plying India's treacherous North-South highway; satay served on mini tabletop charcoal grills (S$11.80); and a duet of Thai sausages (S$10.80) made up of a fat-chunked Isaan-style sausage and a spicy lemongrass and chilli speckled Chiangmai-style sausage.

Mains comprise a multi-racial mix of Eurasian, Malay, Indian, and even Spanish and Italian-inspired fare such as pastas, fish fillet, soto ayam and fried rice, along with "a curry for every culture," says Mr Singh of his four options of Thai, Indonesian, Indian and a searing Eurasian devil's curry (S$16.80 to S$18.80).

On weekends and public holidays, there's the Good Morning brunch offerings of nasi lemak and bacon-wrapped egg cups or chorizo and beans.

End your meal on a sweet note with their selection of traditional kuehs such as kueh ko swee, ubi pisang and pulut udang all produced in a central kitchen. Wash it all down with sodas, coffee, tapped beers and easy-drinking wines or pick from a selection of over 14 flavours of chai teas from Chaiholics, a two-year-old tea cafe and retail brand also run by Mr Singh.

The legal-trained former manager in a global mining company left his corporate job in 2011 to start Chaitime, a tea chain "positioned somewhere between TWG and Starbucks" that currently has two outlets in the Marina Bay Financial Centre and Chevron House. The brand was renamed Chaiholics this June.

The Tiong Bahru Club is the first of a Singapura Club series of dine-in restaurants he hopes to eventually run. A slightly larger second outlet, the Namly Club, will open along Namly Avenue in Bukit Timah later this month serving up the same menu in similarly vintage surrounds, along with a retail corner where customers can pick and purchase proprietary Chaiholics teas and gift sets.

Meanwhile, Chaiholics, which already has an outlet in Cardiff in the United Kingdom, will soon launch a second outlet in London, presided over by Mr Singh's UK-based Singaporean business partner. The duo plan to open a further 30 Chaiholics shops in key cities around the world in the next two years.

25 years and counting
Cheng's 27
27 Yong Siak St
Tel 9748 9135
Hours: 10am-3.30pm, 5.30-9.30pm daily, closed Tuesdays

REVITALISED The Chengs (Hugo, Dawn and Glenn) gave their 100-seater eatery a sprucing up in June PHOTOS: DEBBIE YONG
THE Chengs regularly get offers between S$6 million and S$12 million for their home-style Hainanese coffeeshop along Yong Siak Street - but they aren't budging.

In fact, the family has just given the 100-seater eatery that they've been running for 25 years in the same space a much-needed makeover in June.

A new kitchen exhaust was installed, chipped marble tables were replaced with spiffy new wooden coffeeshop tables and plastic chairs, and a new dessert counter showcases their range of home-made cakes, traditional kuehs and their signature savoury pumpkin pie.

The renovation - along with a name change to the trendier-sounding Cheng's 27 - was prompted by 25-year-old younger brother Glenn's joining the family business earlier this year, according to older sister Dawn, 40. Their parents Cheng Mook Boon and Lim Toi Ang, both in their early 60s, still help out in the kitchen. The elder Chengs first started Cheng's Delicacies in Pekin Street in the early 1980s, but moved the eatery to Tiong Bahru, where the family also lives, in 1989.

Gula melaka chiffon cake tinged with coconut oil PHOTOS: DEBBIE YONG
Their regular menu of Hainanese curry rice and cooked dishes such as vinegared pork belly and deep fried prawn rolls remain, alongside more trendy creations such as a gula melaka chiffon cake tinged with coconut oil that's popular with the weekend hipster crowd. Desserts start from S$5 and savoury dishes from S$7. Youngest brother Hugo is also working on an online store for their desserts to be launched in a month.

A bit of polishing
Hui Aesthetics
57 Eng Hoon Street, #01-80
Tel 6323 2821
Hours: 10am-8pm (Mon-Sat), 11am-8pm (Sun)

Hui Aesthetics has doubled their capacity with four brand new pedicure stations and three manicure stations. PHOTOS: DEBBIE YONG

OLD is gold, they say, but even gold needs a little bit of polishing sometimes. After a decade of business in Tiong Bahru with nary a tweak to its decor, nail parlour and spa Hui Aesthetics underwent a little nip and tuck in June. Instead of its previous dark and wood-decked Balinese-inspired decor, the front half of the shop now has a brighter, whiter design palette that incidentally - though unintentionally - parallels the design aesthetics of their trendy cafe neighbours, says Hui's founder Jade Shen Jie, 46, who is also the wife of local Chinese television host Guo Liang. Its four brand new pedicure stations and three manicure stations are double their previous capacity. Manicures and pedicures cost an affordable S$25 and S$35 respectively, inclusive of nail art. One-hour massages start from S$100 and facial treatments range from S$98 to S$250.

Passion for pastry
58 Seng Poh Road #01-15
Hours: 9am-7pm (Tues-Thu), 9am-11pm (Fri-Sat), 9am-9pm (Sun), closed Mondays

DIFFERENCES ARE IN THE DETAILS: Ms Lim settled on the Tiong Bahru venue to site her 45-seater Whisk for its high foot traffic and eclectic mix of aged aunties, uncles and youths.

IT DOESN'T matter if hers is the umpteeth iteration to open in the by-now cafe-saturated neighbourhood, or that its all-white decor and flash bulb-studded signboard looks somewhat out of place in the aged estate. Tricia Lim of month-old Whisk Cafe believes that the differences are in the details.

Before setting up shop, for instance, she spent time checking out the baked goods of neighbouring cafes to make sure none of her offerings overlap with theirs, says the 30-year-old.

To formalise her passion for pastry, the former PR and marketing executive left her job in 2011 to enrol in a six-month course at the French Culinary Institute (now renamed as the International Culinary Centre) in New York - and she hasn't looked back since. Besides training under her long-time idol and globally renowned pastry chef Jacques Torres, Ms Lim also spent time apprenticing at the Dominique Ansel bakery in New York, famed for creating the cronut.

The 45-seater Whisk is a physical manifestation of the online home bakery EatLoveBake that Ms Lim has been running since her return to Singapore two years ago. After scouring the island for over a year, Ms Lim settled on the Tiong Bahru venue for its high foot traffic and eclectic mix of aged aunties, uncles and youths. She spent a "six figure sum" doing up the 1,000 square foot space, which is partially owned by her banker parents.

Besides macarons in various flavours, her signature bakes such as carrot cakes, orange-scented cheesecakes and lemon tarts with less meringue to suit the local palate are also on offer from S$2.50 for a macaron to S$7 for a slice of cake. Seasonal specials such as a brown butter pumpkin cinnamon roll topped with a maple cream cheese frosting will be created intermittently, while savoury dishes such as sandwiches and quiches for lunch as well as easy drinking wines for evening diners will be introduced in the coming weeks.

The baby stroller-friendly space also offers mini-"babycinos", or petite cups of foamed warm milk topped with cocoa and marshmallows for the little ones.

Win-win situation
Clothes Curator
2/F, 69 Tiong Bahru Road
Tel 6438 9622
Hours: 12pm-7.30pm (Mon-Tues, Fri-Sun), closed Wed

SHARING WINS: Combining the two national past times of eating and shopping is a no-brainer, says Ms Tan.

WHAT'S a budding entrepreneur with limited resources in a neighbourhood with rising rentals to do?

What every kampung dweller of yore would have done: share. Sequestered away on the second floor of year-old The Dispensary cafe in Tiong Bahru is the Clothes Curator, a four-month old clothes boutique run by former ad agency art director Iris Tan.

The Tiong Bahru resident of seven years was looking for a space in the neighbourhood to run her own business, but landlords were asking for frightful amounts in monthly rent for retail units in the rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood.

She then chanced upon The Dispensary, and struck a deal to carve out a 320 square foot nook on the 2,200 sq ft cafe's upper floor as a petite boutique. Aside from two labels, Tata and Exotic by Hong Kong designer Carmen Wong, the rest of the mainly cotton and linen apparel in loose fitting forms and handmade jewellery and accessories are individually handpicked from South Korea by Ms Tan and her business partner, who also owns Oka boutique in Far East Plaza. Prices range from S$40 for a t-shirt to S$189 for a dress.

The second floor space with no street-level visibility was no deterrent, says Ms Tan, who says most of her customers either heard about her through social media and by word-of-mouth recommendations from other shoppers. Or they are cafe patrons who chanced upon the store accidentally.

Combining the two national past times of eating and shopping is a no-brainer, according to Ms Tan.

"When the women are shopping, the men can have a coffee or read the papers - it's a win-win situation for everyone," she laughs.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Home-Based Businesses

Photo taken from

Back then, it was not uncommon to walk into someone's home to buy some titbits.

When I was studying at the Tiong Bahru Primary between 1978 - 1983, there is an old lady who would parked her make-shift stall at Block 80 Chay Yan Street, just outside unit #01-14. (I think she resided at #02-16B)

I always looked forward to buying a refreshing SNG PAO (Ice Sticks) after school. My fave was the Sour Plum flavour as there is a preserved sour plum at the bottom of the stick.

There were quite a few home based businesses and hairdressing / tuition & piano lessons were the common ones.

Fast forward to today, the "home" based business has evolved and gotten more sophisticated in Tiong Bahru.

Just walk around and you will notice home-based art galleries, home-based clothing retailers, home-based nail spa, home-based offices, home-based antique shops, home-based art studio, home-based cobblers, home-based bakery, home-based hairdresser, home-based grocer, home-based home furnishings, home based lighting retailers, home-based yoga, home-based bicycle shop, home-based book shops,  home-based "hotels" etc etc.

Some of the home-based businesses looks so legit that one cannot be faulted to think that they are operating out of a legit commercial space.

In fact, some realtor are also trying to package residential units as "commercial" units. Not sure if these realtor are really ignorant or they have just conveniently overlooked it

Am just hoping the home-based businesses in the Pre-War Tiong Bahru estate don't eventually displace the home makers.