Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Keep Calm and Keep Drooling - Tiong Bahru Satay Man

I bumped into our famous satayman at the Redhill market this morning.

Had a quick chat with him to find out how he is doing.

Seems that he will be selling satay from Good Chance Popiah (Jalan Berseh branch) when he is ready.

He seems excited talking about his career upgrade and he just need to pass the food preparation course before he start selling there.

He said the boss of Good Chance Popiah will be putting up newspaper advertisements to inform people about the satay when they are ready. 

When asked why he did not consider Tiong Bahru market, he said the crowd at the market was not good enough according to Good Chance Popiah boss.

(Actually our satay man doesn't need a ready crowd, am sure he is heavy weight enough to pull in the people and revitalize the evening crowd at the market...oh well)

By the way, it won't be sold at the same price as before and they seems to have plans about making it into a chain and perhaps expand overseas as well.  And they will call it the Tiong Bahru Satay or something with the Tiong Bahru label.

Some of you may remember we almost lost our satay man to China a few years back when someone offered him a job there to sell satay. It's the same boss who is giving him the opportunity again.

This is also the boss who came and fetch him to NEA and help him pay the fine.

Mr Satay man also offered some insights into how he was busted 3 times for illegal hawking over a period of 2 weeks.

He claimed that on one occasion, someone set him up by ordering 400 sticks and left after eating just 1 stick. Thereafter 2 NEA enforcement officers and 2 policemen showed up.

He also mentioned a couple who heard about his plight and ordered 50 sticks of satay. And they gave him an Ang Pow to pay off his fine when they collected their satay.

So yes, our satay man is doing fine....just hoping against hope that he will reconsider setting up shop in the estate that he started serving those sinful fatty satay.

Meanwhile, keep calm and keep drooling till he get his certifications.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Business Times : Retail shakeout in Tiong Bahru

The Business Times
By Debbie Yong
14th May 2015

URA cracks down on those that use residential ground floor units for commercial purpose following complaints from the neighbourhood's residents

With rapid gentrification came a voracious demand for commercial space, luring many to lease ground floor residences under home office and showroom licences for use as retail shops. 

THEY came, they injected fresh buzz to a sleepy neighbourhood and now, they're being given the boot.

After years of flying under the radar, several businesses in Tiong Bahru estate have been asked to vacate their premises by the Urban Redevelopment Authority over the last two months, following complaints from the neighbourhood's residents.

The businesses were found to have been using residential ground floor units for commercial purpose, and were given one month to cease doing so or face enforcement action under the Planning Act, according to notices posted outside the units by the URA.

Among the businesses affected by URA's recent actions are a handful of startups and design agencies, homeware shop and studio Bloesem, apparel retailer Nana and Bird, and decade-old nail parlour and spa Hui Aesthetics, which had just spent S$30,000 to spruce up its rented unit last June.

Comprising a network of conserved low-rise housing blocks built in the 1940s and 1950s, Tiong Bahru has been undergoing a renaissance among youths, expatriates and tourists in the last five years. But with rapid gentrification also came a voracious demand for more commercial space, luring many new businesses to lease ground floor residences under home office and showroom licences for use as retail shops.

One business owner, who had to prematurely terminate the leases on two shop units, said that she received a warning letter from the URA a month ago, followed by a site inspection by several police officers last week. She vacated the units the following day.

"It was intimidating. I'm not a criminal - we're just trying to bring beautiful objects to the neighbourhood," she said.

Another affected retailer, who has been featured in several newspaper articles and guidebooks on Singapore since setting up shop in 2011, said that her two appeals to the authorities for an extension of the grace period to the end of her lease in July were both rejected. The sudden news and short notice period is particularly damaging for a small business, she said: "We're in Tiong Bahru because we can't afford to be in a shopping mall, and I'm now scrambling to find a new space, while getting in contractors to reinstate the current unit and negotiating with the landlord on terminating our lease."

When contacted, a URA spokesman said that the matter was brought to their attention by residents, and that the operators of these unauthorised commercial uses did not seek planning approval before starting, rendering them illegal. "As the premises are intended to be used for residential purposes and the uses have created disamenity to the neighbourhood, we have taken enforcement action on them."

But one retailer, who was told by the URA that residents had complained about the consequent increase in vehicular traffic, said that her store draws only 5-8 walk-in customers on weekdays, and up to 20 on weekends - a far cry from the crowds that patronise the area's many licensed eateries. More gravely, some licensed businesses have flouted conservation rules by completely augmenting the facades of the conservation units, while she had retained much of her unit's original form.

This isn't the first time that tensions have arisen between residents and new businesses in Tiong Bahru. Residents have repeatedly complained about the excessive noise, traffic pollution and the displacement of heritage trades by Western-leaning businesses that don't serve the needs of the area's aged inhabitants. The estate was also plagued by a prolonged rat infestation in 2013, which many blamed on the doubling in the number of neighbourhood eateries to about 30 over the last five years.

The URA and Housing Board have since been turning down some new applications to turn shop premises into eateries in recent years.

Tan Chiew Ling, co-owner of Nana and Bird, feels that better change can be enacted through dialogue. "If Singapore wants to champion local businesses and creativity, it cannot be done via a top-down approach and without a platform for discussion. We hope that residents and business owners can be brought together to tackle complaints, find solutions and discuss better ways to happily co-exist."

Chris Hooi, chairman of a residential task force convened in 2013 by the area's Member of Parliament Indranee Rajah, said that while some progress has been made, "it will take a while to facilitate a balance between the two sides". "Tiong Bahru is not a new estate where you can easily plug in new things, like new carparks and large refuse centres."

Pino de Giosa, an antique dealer drawn to Tiong Bahru's distinctly local yet genteel vibe, hoped that the authorities would allow a "limited spectrum" of non-intrusive businesses, such as art galleries and boutique concepts, to operate within residential units, rather than adhere to a blanket rule.

Other business owners, however, hoped for more consistency in the URA's enforcement of its zoning and licensing rules.

According to the URA website, property owners may apply for a change of use for their properties, but approvals will be assessed against the zoning rules in the URA's 2014 Masterplan and should "not cause any inconvenience or disturbance to the community in the area".

Ground floor residential units in Tiong Bahru range from 800 sq ft to 1,400 sq ft and typically command sales prices of S$1.2 million to S$1.8 million or some S$6,000 in monthly rental - a 50 per cent premium over upper floor units. Commercial units, particularly those approved for F&B use, can go for double.

As to whether the exodus of these unlicensed businesses will dent the neighbourhood's appeal, SLP international executive director Nicholas Mak said that it would depend on two factors: the number of shops affected, and the size of their following.

The general increase in rents and sale prices in the area is due to many other factors, such as its popular wet market and food centre and its proximity to the MRT network and the central business district, he said. "In the end, it is the authorised businesses that are really giving the revamped Tiong Bahru its current flavour, not just the unauthorised."

Recalling a similar phenomenon where errant property agents would market industrial units for commercial use some years back, Mr Mak further cautioned potential tenants of commercial units to do their relevant checks with authorities on their appropriate use before signing on a lease. "Tenants should not go in blindly, landlords should be aware and agents should not misrepresent. The three parties need to share some responsibility."

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Straits Times : First heritage survey gives conservation efforts a boost

The Straits Times
By Melody Zaccheus
7th may 2015

Comprehensive study of existing sites will also aid Govt in land planning

The first survey of Singapore's heritage sites and structures will kick off within "the next two months", a move that could help the authorities map out its conservation and preservation efforts. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

THE first survey of Singapore's heritage sites and structures will kick off within "the next two months", a move that could help the authorities map out its conservation and preservation efforts.

The project, which will be a comprehensive study of existing heritage sites, will also aid the Government in its land planning and take about 16 months to complete.

The survey will study places of architectural, historical, cultural, social or educational significance, and include sites or structures completed in or before 1980.

The effort, announced by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong in March, is expected to cost approximately $1 million and will have two components, said the National Heritage Board (NHB).

The first involves "desktop research" that will tap maps, newspaper records, archival material and other publications to consolidate data about a place.

The second involves field work that will document and photograph the geographic coordinates, typology and physical condition of the structure or site.

If information is limited, interviews with the community and other stakeholders will be conducted.

The board will use its findings to work with the Urban Redevelopment Authority at each stage of land planning. This includes the 10-year Concept Plan or the five-year Master Plan. Significant buildings and structures identified through the survey could undergo further research for possible preservation or conservation.

NHB chief executive Rosa Daniel said the exercise is a step forward in enhancing the country's capabilities in research, documentation and commemoration.

"As Singapore's population grows, it is important to ensure that, in tandem with intensified development, there are increased efforts to preserve our heritage," she said.

The NHB said it adapted the heritage survey from similar ones done in other cities. It cited Hong Kong's 1996 survey in which over 8,800 historic buildings built before 1950 were identified. This was followed by in-depth research and assessment to identify buildings of heritage value.

Singapore's version will be guided by members of a newly formed eight-member Heritage Advisory Panel comprising architecture, geography, sociology, anthropology and history experts.

They include Professor Brenda Yeoh, dean of the National University of Singapore's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences; Mr Eric Chin, the director of the National Archives of Singapore; and Mr Zahidi Abdul Rahman, principal architect of Zahidi A.R. Arkitek.

The heritage community welcomed the survey as it represents the first step towards a more long-term strategic plan for heritage issues.

Dr Kevin Tan, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Singapore, said that for the survey to be effective, the criteria for what constitutes a heritage building should be "crafted as widely as possible". For it to be truly comprehensive, he believes surveyors should comb every square metre of the Republic.

Heritage enthusiast and editor Choo Lip Sin believes the survey will help the authorities make more informed decisions. He hopes there will be space for public input to be factored into the exercise, "beyond what the authorities value as heritage".

A separate survey on the country's intangible heritage, spanning cultural activities and traditional trades or businesses, will be launched at the end of the year.


Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Sunday Times : Home, a quiet SIT flat in a peaceful estate

The Sunday Times
By Rachel Tan
3rd May 2015


Mr Donald Wyatt, 80, outside his home in Tiong Poh Road, where he has lived since 1942. (Left inset) Mr Wyatt, on the right, with his older brotherGeorge at the flat in 1950. (Right inset) Mr Wyatt in the top row, second from left, with his football team - The Barefoot Football Team - in 1948
Mr Donald Wyatt has stayed in the same four-room apartment in Tiong Bahru since he was seven. He is now 80.

Born in colonial Malaya, Mr Wyatt and his family came to Singapore in 1942. 

His mother was a nurse while his father was a teacher.

Two months after arriving in Singapore, they moved into a Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) flat along Tiong Poh Road, where he has lived ever since.

"During the Japanese Occupation, life was very quiet in Tiong Bahru," said Mr Wyatt. 

"Many people did not venture out into the streets."

In the 1950s, while Tiong Bahru was properly maintained by the municipality, slums ringed the estate.

"They were terrible," said Mr Wyatt, who worked for the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Association as the manager of its regional secretariat for Asia, before retiring in 1999.

"The slums were the breeding ground for many diseases, including tuberculosis and malaria. They were overcrowded and appalling."

Tiong Bahru was one of the first places where the colonial government built SIT flats in the 1930s. 

At first, the Wyatts rented their flat for $20 a month. 

Mr Wyatt bought it in 1967 for $19,000.

This week in 1965, the authorities were encouraging tenants of the SIT flats to buy them, using easy payment terms.

Mr Wyatt lives there now with his wife and youngest son, 29. He has four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

He recalls visiting the Tiong Bahru Market in the 1940s with his aunt and grandmother, when it was just a crowded collection of makeshift stalls. 

"The food sold there was provided by locals who planted their own vegetables and reared pigs," he said.

Today the SIT flats of Tiong Bahru give the leafy estate its distinct look, the market is an established landmark for local fare, and hipster cafes, restaurants and boutiques have arrived in recent years bringing crowds of visitors.

"I can live with it," said Mr Wyatt, who prefers the new Tiong Bahru to the one of his childhood. 

"It's very peaceful. 

The old Tiong Bahru was more disorganised."

Asked if he has ever thought of moving, he responded with a laugh: "Not really. 

There are too many memories here."