Disappearing icons – Siglap HDB Flats

Wall mural at Blk 3 of a former PCF Kindergarten

Wall mural at Blk 3 of a former PCF Kindergarten

Tucked away in the heart of Siglap and in the centre of the area defined by the Joo Chiat SMC of today are four 5-storey low-rise flats. These were built in 1962 as one of the first projects by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) after a big fire destroyed the kampong houses that stood in the same area. That fire was sparked by firecrackers near the then-famous Siglap Market (now rebuilt into Siglap Centre) during the Chinese New Year celebrations of 1962. HDB moved quickly to build the flats to re-house the affected residents. The ground floor of the front two blocks were built as shophouses. These four flats were a major landmark of Siglap in those days, the tallest buildings in that area until condominiums such as Ocean Park, Fernwood Towers and the HUDC and flats in Marine Parade came up from the 1980s onwards. In fact, when these blocks were first built, it was next to the sea and Marine Parade did not even exist then as land reclamation that created Marine Parade only took place several years later.

The Siglap Canal which runs through the area, divides the four blocks into two segments

The Siglap Canal which runs through the area, divides the four blocks into two segments

Pigeons have made this part of Siglap their regular home too. Birds are a regular problems to residents in the area,

Pigeons have made this part of Siglap their home too. Birds are a regular problems to residents in the area,

An elderly lady struggles slowly down the stairs to visit the doctor below

An elderly lady struggles slowly down the stairs to visit the doctor below

These four buildings will soon be history with the Selective En-bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) that will see residents relocated to new flats mostly in nearby Chai Chee from 2015. The flats will be demolished and will likely make way for modern commercial cum residential buildings like its neighbours Siglap Centre and Siglap V. The demolition seems inevitable. Built over 50 years ago, the flats have no lifts. One of the blocks even had the staircase on the outside, exposing the residents to the rain and scorching sun when they go in and out of their homes. I had visited all the homes during GE2011. Three of the blocks are flats that are owned by residents while Block 4 is made up of rental units. Some of the units seem to be left empty as the elderly folks may have moved out to live with their children or are occupied by elderly folks who struggle daily with the staircases. The 2-bedroom flats are small by today’s standards and have served their time for their residents.

External staircase in Block 3 leading up to the 2nd floor. It is the only staircase leading up the flat, exposing residents to the elements whenever they go in an out of their homes.

The external staircase in Block 3 leading up to the 2nd floor. It is the only staircase leading up the flat, exposing residents to the elements whenever they go in an out of their homes.

Having my cup of The Halia (Ginger Tea) at Jamal Restaurant

Having my cup of Teh Halia (Ginger Tea) at Jamal Restaurant

I had grown up with these four blocks, particularly their shop units. Many residents of Joo Chiat SMC also have fond memories of this place. Hence on 11 October, instead of doing our regular house visits in Joo Chiat SMC, we decided to do a photo documentation of this area before it is forever demolished.

Wong Clinic was arguably the most famous clinic in the area in those days. It was the first stop for my siblings and I whenever we were unwell. We knew the late Dr Wong Kum Hoong well so whenever we ran a high fever in the middle of the night, my dad would call Dr Wong, who was living in Woo Mun Chew Road and he would make a visit to our house to dispense medication.  Dr Wong is well known and well liked by residents in Siglap. He worked right till his last day in August 2009, attending to patients in the morning and then going back for his regular routine of lunch and a nap before passing away suddenly. During GE2011 when I visited the clinic, the nurse immediately recognised me even though I had not visited the clinic for many years. She even joked about me running around the clinic in my pyjamas as a young child. The clinic has since been sold after Dr Wong passed on.

Wong Clinic and a more recent Siglap Family Clinic

Wong Clinic and the more recent Siglap Family Clinic

The small room where many of my children's and my official photos were taken

The small room where many of my children’s and my official photos were taken

Another shop that I had frequented often was Hawaii Photo Studio, operated by Mr Soh (Su 苏)since around 1965. Most of my passport and IC photographs were taken from here, in a small studio. Even my children’s photographs for official purposes were taken here until I could now use my digital camera to take our own photos which I would digitally edit to submit online. Mr Soh lamented the gradual decline in his photography business, which was the most profitable part of his shop. He has added other activities such as photocopying, selling of phone cards and other items to make up for the loss in revenue.

The shop though had kept Mr Su going all these eyes, enough to see his children for their education. He lives in East Coast GRC. At least one of his children studied in America and is now working with one of our local tertiary institution. He will hang up his trade when he collects the $60,000 compensation by the HDB next year.

Hawaii Photo Studio

Hawaii Photo Studio

Customers in Mr Su's shop these days mostly buy phone cards and miscellaneous items

Customers in Mr Soh’s shop these days mostly buy phone cards and miscellaneous items

Ms Ye operated the saloon since the 1960s, counting my mother as her regular client

Ms Ye operated the saloon since the 1960s, counting my late mother as her regular client

Next to Mr Soh’s shop is the hairdresser that my late mother had used for decades before she passed away two years ago. My mum would often ask me to drop her off at the Tiong Poh Beauty Saloon and then pick her up again when she was done, usually about 2-3 hours later. When I went into the shop, it was just about to close. Ms Ye, the shop owner immediately asked if I was “Auntie’s” son. That was how she referred to my mother. My mum had told her that I had entered politics so she was particularly on the lookout when I entered her shop wearing my WP T-shirt.

Ms Ye came to Singapore from Malaysia at a young age. She didn’t even have her birth certificate because in those days, her father did not bother to register the births of daughters. She came to work as a hairdresser. Her elder brother wanted to help her and applied to rent the then-vacant unit from HDB in the 1960s. She could not apply under her own name because she was not a Singapore citizen then, having difficulties with her registration because of her lack of a birth certificate. Her brother was already a Singapore citizen so he applied to rent the shop to let her operate. She has since successfully become a Singapore citizen, after which she inserted her name into the tenancy for the shop.

Tiong Poh Beauty Saloon

Tiong Poh Beauty Saloon

Mr Chang giving his client a clean shave

Mr Chang giving his client a clean shave

I will miss the two Mr Chang (张), brothers in the Sung Wah Barber. I chat more often with the younger Mr Chang who was not there that day when I went for my photo documentation of the area. The Chang brothers had lived in the shop itself, at the back section of the unit until the younger Mr Chang got married and obtained his flat in Bedok. The elder Mr Chang continued to live in the shop, all the way since the 1960s when he was just in his teens. He recounted how he started out as a barber helping his father in their shop in Geylang before they were evicted. They found an empty unit in the then new-Siglap flats and were successful in securing the tenancy. That began his 50 years of life in the shop. My son and I had our hair cut by the Chang brothers on several occasions.

Unfortunately, the elder Mr Chang was diagnosed with kidney failure 12 years ago and have been undergoing dialysis. Whenever he has to do dialysis, he would absent himself from the shop.

Mr Chang relaxing to read the WP flyer after a hard day's work

Mr Chang relaxing to read the WP flyer after a hard day’s work

Giving a clean cut to another satisfied client

Giving a clean cut to another satisfied client at Siglap 5 Salon

Speaking of barbers, the Malay Barber shop Siglap 5 Salon was busy with activities when we called on them at around 5 pm. Almost every chair was occupied and some were seated outside the shop having their cuppa ordered from Jamal Restaurant nearby. We were surprised to find clients from all over the country, including Mr Adnan from Bukit Panjang.

Mr Adnan had lots of stories to tell. His father had contested under UMNO’s ticket in Singapore when we were part of Malaysia. He renounced his citizenship after independence to go to Malaysia with his father but opted to return to Singapore subsequently. He recounted how he had to make various appeals before getting his citizenship back.

Another customer of the salon introduced himself as an old boy of St Patrick’s School like myself. He was a few years my senior in school. He lives in the vicinity like many of the St Stephen’s and St Patrick’s alumni whom I had met when I visited homes in Siglap.

There was a family type of atmosphere at this salon. Most people seemed to know one another. They were there not just for the hair cut but it seemed that some were there for the tea fellowship with one another as well.

Waiting their turn patiently at Siglap 5 Salon

Waiting their turn patiently at Siglap 5 Salon

Mr Liang excitedly telling us stories about the history of the shop

Mr Liang excitedly telling us stories about the history of the shop

Then there’s the provision and joss stick shops. Both are part of a unit, with the joss stick shop being the main tenant. The provision shop is owned by a resident in Block 2 who had hired Mr Liang to work in the shop. An animated Mr Liang told us many stories about his 3 years working in this shop. I noticed our Hammer magazine and brochure sitting amongst some goods. I recognised these from what our team had distributed / sold to them previously when we visited the area some months back.

Literature by WP sitting amongst the goods of the provision shop from our last visit

Literature by WP sitting amongst the goods of the provision shop from our previous visits

A shop locked in time, almost as it was 50 years ago. Shop owner Miss Liu looked out at the world passing by, waiting to close the shop to end another day.

A shop locked in time, almost like how it was 50 years ago. Shop owner Miss Liu looked out at the world passing by, waiting to close the shop to end another day.

The joss stick shop has a longer story to tell. Miss Liu, aged 81 had come to Singapore from China with her father when she was only 2 years old to escape from the Japanese. She successfully bidded to rent the shop in 1964 and has operated it since then. She is unmarried and has lived at the back of the shop ever since opening it 50 years ago.  She has no other place to live in and will likely seek a rental flat when she has to give up her shop. She recounted fondly about Dr Wong whom she would visit whenever she was unwell. She said that even before she could sit down, Dr Wong would already make his diagnosis and prescription, which worked for her wonderfully.

Mr Suren from Chennai, a worker in the framing shop. He picked up his skills in frame making on the shop.

Mr Suren from Chennai, a worker in the framing shop. He picked up his skills in frame making on the job here.

Portrait of Mr Abdullah the shop owner

Portrait of Mr Abdullah the shop owner side by side with his photograph

Next to the joss stick shop is Framer’s Choice, a framing shop owned by Mr Adbullah who had already gone home for the day when we dropped by. His worker, Mr Suren showed us around and said that they had already secured another location in Siglap, the Universal Frame Shop next to the Siglap Neighbourhood Police Post so that they can continue their operations in the vicinity. It certainly looked like a busy shop with the inside of the shop stacked with completed and semi-completed frames while the backyard had even more stuff stacked there.

The crowded backyard of the framing shop

The crowded backyard of the framing shop

Dishing out the good stuff at Jamal Restaurant

Dishing out the good stuff at Jamal Restaurant

Jamal Restaurant is a favourite food joint of residents in the vicinity. The owner, Mr Jamaluddin Sana was not around that day. He had told the press last year that he was uncertain if he could get another place to run his business. There’s a constant flow of customers for this place, with some coming from as far as Jurong when I was doing my interviews. I certainly had many of my meals at this place, especially when I need a place with good halal food to eat with Muslim friends.

A staff relaxing for a photo pose during a relatively quieter part of the day of the business at Jamal Restaurant

A staff relaxing for a photo pose during a relatively quieter part of the day of the business at Jamal Restaurant

Raffles Prime Enterprise - another original shop from 50 years ago operated by husband and wife pair, with one half repairing and teaching violin and another half altering clothes

Raffles Prime Enterprise – another original shop from 50 years ago operated by a husband and wife pair, with one half repairing and teaching violin and another half altering clothes

Soon it was getting late as I moved around the homes to see if I could catch up with any residents. The doors and windows of many units were shut. Perhaps some had already shifted out to live with their children. I found some playing with their grandchildren. The grandchildren came by especially during weekends. A young lady was waiting for transport to go out with her baby. She told me she will be upgrading to a 5-room unit and moving her in-laws together with her. Nearby in the playground, children were kicking a ball around and playing hide and seek. None of those that I spoke to lived in these four blocks of flats. They live in the private houses nearby and had chosen to play here because it has the biggest patch of empty land for them to play football.

The evening gave way to dusk as the sun sets. In less than a year, the sun will set permanently on this piece of Siglap when the residents and shops shall move out to make way for new developments. Thanks for being part of my growing up memories.

A rather crowded house whose occupants are happy to pay for an upgrade to a 3-room flat in Chai Chee to have more space for their stuff. The family of 4 has lived here for 26 years.

A rather crowded house whose occupants seemed happy to pay for an upgrade to a 3-room flat in Chai Chee to have more space for their stuff. The family of 4 has lived here for 26 years.

One of several quiet corridors in many of the levels, with elderly either at home or may be living outside with their children

One of several quiet corridors in many of the levels, with elderly either at home or may be living outside with their children

A full tray of cigarette butts on an ashtray on a table along a corridor.

A full tray of cigarette butts on an ashtray on a table along a corridor.

An enterprising moving company already targets the residents who will soon have to relocate to Chai Chee or to other parts of Singapore

An enterprising moving company already targets the residents who will soon have to relocate to Chai Chee or to other parts of Singapore

View of a busy neighbourhood of shops and private houses from the corridor of Block 2

View of a busy neighbourhood of shops and private houses from the corridor of Block 2

Children playing in the playground

Children playing in the playground

Another day will soon end at the four block of flats. In less than a year, the sun will set permanently on this piece of history.

Another day will soon end at the four block of flats. In less than a year, the sun will set permanently on this place and it shall become part of history.

Jalan Bintang Tiga Street Party#15

To hold a ground-up and volunteer-driven initiative continuously for fifteen years is not easy feat. What’s more remarkable is to keep it growing bigger and bigger each year.

The good folks at Jalan Bintang Tiga in quiet Opera Estate have done it again. I was first invited to this annual street party in 2011 after the General Elections. Since then, I have been invited yearly and have always attended except for last year when it was held during National Day itself. I had to be at the National Day Parade. Nevertheless, I made it a point that year to drop by before going to NDP to pass them some prizes which I sponsored for their games and to drop in after NDP to catch the end of the event.

The Agar Agar showing the age of the street party, another tradition and highlight of the party

The Agar Agar showing the age of the street party, another tradition and highlight of the party

Another tradition - A piñata showing the age of the party hanging high in the middle of the street.

Another tradition – A piñata showing the age of the party hanging high in the middle of the street.

The party had started 15 years ago because the street was closed for drainage works to prevent flooding. The residents had lobbied hard for years to the authorities to solve the persistent flooding problem. That was eventually agreed to and there were disruptions to traffic during the drainage widening period. Since the road was closed, the residents took advantage of the road closure to throw a street party with pot luck food to celebrate the completion of the works.

Kids balancing ping pong balls on spoons for a relay race
Kids balancing ping pong balls on spoons for a relay race

Since then, it had become a tradition to hold the celebration yearly around the time of National Day. The event eventually caught the attention of the press. Last year, the Singapore Kindness Movement chipped in to fund the setup of a tentage, live broadcast of the NDP via big screen, some of the food and hiring of auxiliary police to man the closure of the road.

This year, the Singapore Kindness Movement continued this sponsorship but minus the big screen because there was no NDP to broadcast as the event was held on the weekend after National Day. Over the years, residents have shifted out from the street, but many continued to come back for this annual event while new residents are pleasantly surprised and happy to attend the party. The party has become such a tradition that many new residents do not really know how the party got started but are happy to chip in to help to make the event a success.

A flour-y face: A boy with his face covered with flour after picking letters out from a tray of flour in a game organised by the Singapore Kindness Movement volunteers

A flour-y face: A boy with his face covered with flour after picking letters out from a tray of flour in a game organised by the Singapore Kindness Movement volunteers

One resident remarked to me today when he saw the happy faces of the kids that this is so much fun, but it is thanks to the tireless hard work of a few key organisers who persist to keep the tradition going. I replied to him the organisers must surely be finding great fulfilment to see neighbours being happy and that’s what keeps them going each year.

It is not just Jalan Bintang Tiga that have cooperative neighbours that live together harmoniously. During my regular visits to houses just a few streets away from Jalan Bintang Tiga this same afternoon, I came across two homes side-by-side where the residents that chatted warmly with my volunteers and I. One was an elderly man who was a long-time resident there while his immediate neighbours are a much younger couple who moved in 8 years ago. They chatted at ease with one another like old friends. Later as I went across to the house opposite of theirs, the elderly man came along and called his neighbour out. We continued talking about many things. Soon, other neighbours came along and joined in. One of them remarked that they feel fortunate that the neighbours on that street were nice to one another.

In our sometimes highly stressed environment, it pays to show a little kindness to those around you. In that way, you can help make a better environment for yourself too.

Grandma raising her little granddaughter up to hit the piñata in the game

Grandma raising her little granddaughter up to hit the piñata in the game

The MRT is coming through Joo Chiat SMC!

The details for the long awaited Eastern MRT were announced yesterday.

The line will link with the 22-station Thomson Line along the North-South corridor and will be fully underground. Two of the stations will be within the current Joo Chiat SMC: the Marine Terrace station next to St Patrick’s School, Ngee Ann Primary and CHIJ Katong Secondary and the Siglap station next to Victoria Secondary and St. Andrew’s Autism School.

Marine Terrace Station

Marine Terrace Station

Siglap Station

Siglap Station

(Source: pictures from http://erl-construction.blogspot.sg/2014/08/thomson-east-coast-line-tel.html)

The choice of location for the Marine Terrace station seems obvious given the proximity to three schools, many flats and a market there. There were much speculation earlier amongst residents in Siglap that the station could be at the location to be vacated by the low-rise HDB flats opposite Siglap Centre. I had thought that would be too difficult to put a line through the narrower and crowded East Coast Road compared to Marine Parade Road. A more likely location could be the empty plot of land next to Victoria school on the side of Siglap Road, or the football field of Victoria School may be shifted to put the station there. It would be nearer to the commercial area of Siglap which is now bustling with eateries. However, that plot of land was recently put up for public tender for private housing.

The areas around these stations are already mostly built up, so the likely changes will be in the form of en-bloc developments around them. Even so, some sites such as St. Patrick’s Garden were earlier sold en-bloc. The developers had already moved in to pick the choice sites. The to-be-vacated Siglap HDB site will quite likely be mixed shops and housing like their neighbours. The three stations further up, namely Bayshore, Bedok South and Sungei Bedok have more empty state land next to them. These will see more intense building activities and changes to the surrounding. Bedok Camp and the land surrounding it will likely be a hub for new business and mixed housing development.

I will be looking forward to 2023 when most of the stations will be up and to 2024 when all the stations will be ready. Meanwhile, let’s bear with the inconveniences as construction of the line and stations proceeds from 2016.

Note: The blog author lives in Siglap, minutes away from the new Siglap Centre.

Beauty in the eyes of the beholder

Daughter Week

Daughter Week

I chanced upon the above photo in a friend’s Facebook share today. Apparently, there’s such a thing as Daughter Week and it was early last month. An image struck me as I read the quote on the photo, “If you have a beautiful daughter…”. It was not an image of a beautiful and cute child like the one in the photo. It was the image of a lady, probably in her 30s that I had met yesterday in my weekly walkabout at Keris Estate, off East Coast Road.

Keris Estate is a quiet residential estate that was built over 50 years ago. I had blogged about the beauty of the landscaping by residents almost three years ago.

Yesterday, we came to a house that is almost in the original condition, as built over 50 years ago. As we called out our usual house visit line from the front gate, an lady in her 60s slowly emerged at the door. I introduced myself, as loudly as I could from the gate so that she could hear me from inside the house. She asked me to wait. And we waited. A minute later, the lady in her 30s struggled to the door, supported by the elderly lady and another elderly gentleman.

The elderly lady apologised for our wait, and shouted out that the younger lady wanted to come and see us. The young lady is apparently having some physical disabilities from the distance that we were at but managed to wave at us. I thanked them for coming to the door and said I would leave our reading materials in the letterbox for them.

After two hours in the humid weather, we were done with our house visits around the estate for the day. As we walked to my car, I saw the same elderly couple (I presume they are the parents) supporting the young lady walking on the street. It was already evening and the weather was cooler. The mother said they were doing the regular evening walk with the lady. The lady struggled to stretch her hand out to me and I shook her hand. She asked who I was and I introduced myself as the NCMP who had contested in this neighbourhood at the last General Elections. She immediately replied, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord”, to which I thanked her for her blessings.

She appeared to have Cerebral Palsy. She could not walk on her own and her speech was slurred. The elderly couple must have spent considerable time and resources to care for her all these years. I could see their patience in wanting to involve her in the daily routines of life, including getting her to come to the door to see who was visiting their house, and getting her to walk around the neighbourhood daily. These are simple tasks for the able-bodied, but require immense efforts for her and her caregivers.

This is parents’ love. I am sure they must have wished for a normal and beautiful child. Instead, the child has Cerebral Palsy, a condition that will take a lifetime to patiently care for. To them, I believe they still see their child as beautiful, a gift of life no matter how imperfect in the eyes of others. And these are the people society can provide better support for because of the deep struggles they have to go through on a daily basis just to attempt to do the ordinary things.

Let’s count our blessings, however imperfect and less than beautiful the blessings may seem to be.

A park with an address

No. 61 Lor N, a newly constructed park

No. 61 Lor N, a newly constructed park

Last weekend in our weekly house visits, I came a park with a regular house address, No. 61 Lorong N, Telok Kurau.

It was a beautiful park, with the address displayed brightly at the entrance. There are many parks in Telok Kurau and in Singapore, but that was the first that I have come across with a regular address.

According to residents in the neighbourhood, this park was completed at the end of last year, around half a year ago. Indeed, I checked online and found that a government tender was called in mid 2012 for the construction of this park. A neighbour said the place was abandoned for at least 2 decades and was a burnt out structure. Another said it used to store “木炭” (charcoal). They think that there could have been some uncertainty over the ownership of the land and hence after a certain number of years of abandonment without any legal claims to the premises, the land could have now been possessed by the government. In any case, residents now have a brand new park in their neighbourhood. One said it was quite well used, with many walking their pets there.

Another view of 61 Lor N Park

Another view of 61 Lor N Park

Residents immediately around this park were lucky. They have a brand new open and landscaped space in front of or beside them. Lorongs N and M which I had visited last week were packed with construction sites. Some were huge low-rise condominium developments which residents said will have many shoe-box (small-sized) apartments. When completed and when residents have fully moved in, there will be a lot more congestion to a previously quiet neighbourhood.

Indeed, Telok Kurau where I had once stayed in, is not quite the same as before. From Lorongs G to N (Telok Kurau streets start from G and end in N), many compact walk-up apartments and condominiums have cropped up over the last decade. Spacious bungalows and semi-detached houses have been torn down and turned into dense housing. This has caused parking problems on the roads and prompted the government to finally impose new rules to prevent crammed housing.

Construction site on Lor N

Construction site on Lor N

A soon-to-be-completed apartment

A soon-to-be-completed apartment

In the meanwhile, while many previously approved sites are being furiously constructed, residents have complained of mosquitoes, dengue, dust, noise and even cracks in their houses. Near many of the construction site, some drains have become clogged up. An unlucky resident whose three sides (back and immediate two neighbours) are being built into dense apartments complained of cracks and sunken ground, and the lack of help provided after chasing authorities and the developers. I dispensed some advice on what she could do and I hope she will get a satisfactory response to her woes.

Clogged up drain

Clogged up drain

A very large 200-plus units housing project that stretches from Lorong N to Lorong M

A relatively large 200-plus units housing project that stretches from Lorong N to Lorong M

Interesting homes along Changi Road and in Siglap

Walkabouts can be fun, especially when you enter into houses that are unusual.

David Wee and his wide collection of antiques and quant stuff

David Wee and his wide collection of antiques and quant stuff in the front of the house

In our walkabout today, we came upon several interesting homes. First was the house of David Wee, a Temasek Polytechnic graduate-turned-entrepreneur. David was wearing his TP T-shirt and he proudly declared that he still go back to the polytechnic once a while to help out. His was an interesting trade. He had started to collect antiques and quaint stuff. Besides selling them, he actively rents them for community events and other activities that require quaint decorative pieces.

We were attracted to the house when we saw from the gate, a vast array of old things such as signboard, fans, wooden tables, the frame of a sewing machine and cupboards packed with bowls, plates, cutleries, telephones and many more.

We were invited into the house, where we saw an even more impressive collection of old clocks, records, containers and more that he termed as the “Wee’s Collection”. His home along the busy Changi Road is also his store and office.

After graduation, David first worked in the community, doing mainly event management. He is now busy supporting events with his huge collection of ‘toys’, some of which he also trades.

Clocks galore

Clocks galore

More clocks and stuff

More clocks and stuff

Even more stuff - decorative dolls and collectibles

Even more stuff – decorative dolls and collectibles

A couple of houses down, we came upon a house full of fish tanks. The owner was watering the plants and she invited us in. The tanks belonged to her father, who rears fish as a hobby. There were many glass tanks, cement tanks and jars. The jars were for the fishing fish. It turned out that she is the cousin of David, whom we had just met. Unfortunately, some of the fishes had recently died, so the collection was not as big as before.

Some of the glass tanks on the front porch of the house

Some of the glass tanks on the front porch of the house

Cement tank of fishes

Cement tank of fishes

More tanks

More tanks

White House Letter Box

White House Letter Box

Next was a house that the owner had termed as ‘The White House’ along Siglap Avenue. Besides being white and quaint, it had a letterbox shaped as a white house. Often, owners are not at home when we visit on the weekends. No one was at ‘The White House’ and so our literature went into the ‘White House Letterbox’.

Finally, after 2 hours in the hot sun, we knocked on the last house and was invited in for refreshing drinks by the owner. Amongst other businesses, the family collects and trades old art collections, mainly large statues. Several were human-sized pieces from the 17th and 18th century from Myanmar and Thailand. She patiently explained each piece to us and how one can tell where the pieces originated from. I certainly learnt quite a bit from the conversation.

Team WP done with the day's walk

Team WP done with the day’s walk

A hometown kampong spirit in Opera Estate

Earlier this month, we made our weekly house visits to my familiar home ‘kampong’. Opera Estate is where I had spent the first 27 years of my life before I moved out to my matrimonial home.

Much has changed in the two decades since I have moved out. Single storey houses have been torn down and three storey houses have come up in its place. Houses have changed hands and neighbours have come and gone. These were the streets I had spent my childhood afternoon roaming around, making maps of the place, kicking football around, and zipping around in my old trusted bike.

In the middle of Jln Terang Bulan street where I used to live in, I had noticed many plants had sprung up by the road. I found that a family that had moved in several years ago had planted these in the area outside their house. They even helped their immediate neighbours establish their gardens outside their homes and help them tend to these gardens.

One of the neighbours calls the head of this household the informal ‘village chief’ of the street. She told us that this family would prepare delicious home-cook food for them once every few days. Once, when she wanted to renovate her house and had to move out, this ‘village chief’ knew exactly which house along the street was vacant and able to rent to her for that few months.

Garden in the middle of Jln Terang Bulan

Garden in the middle of Jln Terang Bulan

A patch of garden outside a house helped to be maintained by the informal 'village chief'  of Jln Terang Bulan

A patch of garden outside a house inspired and assisted by the informal ‘village chief’ of Jln Terang Bulan

Another garden patch in the same vacinity

Another garden patch in the same vacinity

A copper tooling piece by Mr Wong, fully lit up. He installs the lights himself into his art pieces when they are done up.

A copper tooling piece by Mr Wong, fully lit up. He installs the lights himself into his art pieces .

Directly across the road, I found an elderly couple living in a house full of colourful and beautiful art pieces on their porch. We were invited in to have a look at the copper-tooled art pieces by Mr Wong, who is in his 70s. He does the art pieces purely for leisure and was happy to explain his works to us.

Marina Bay by Mr Wong

Marina Bay by Mr Wong

I had the opportunity to meet Mr Mustafa again at his home. During GE2011, he had taken down one of my campaign posters hanging at a nearby lamppost and hung it on his gate. He recounted to me a story which my dad, who still lives on the street, had told me during GE2011 as well. As my dad went past the house one day, he stopped and starred at the poster. Mr Mustafa noticed that my dad was starring hard and wondered if he was unhappy that he is a WP supporter. So Mr Mustafa smiled, pointed to my poster, gave the thumbs up and said, “Vote for this guy!”. My dad then replied, “Hey, that’s my son!”. They had a good laugh over that incident. After GE2011, I gave a brand new signed copy of my poster to Mr Mustafa, which he proudly pointed to me that it is still in his house.

A friendly Golden Retriever enjoying a grooming session with his lawyer owner by the road on a lazy Saturday afternoon

A friendly Golden Retriever enjoying a grooming session with his lawyer owner by the road on a lazy Saturday afternoon

This was the ‘kampong’ that I grew up in. The memories are precious because of the nice neighbours and things we did as we grew up. I am glad that even as new neighbours move in and buildings change looks, the kampong spirit is still strong. People could tell me about their neighbours and about nice things that their neighbours had done for them. I am reminded of the yearly Jln Bintang Tiga street party that has been held every year for the past 14 years, just one street away. I had been invited for the past 3 years to this annual street party and had blogged about it. It was a party organised because neighbours got together to solve a community problem, threw a party to celebrate the solution and continued to party every year even as new families move into the neighbourhood. This is the kind of hometown kampong spirit that we should maintain in Singapore.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2014 from WP Team Joo Chiat

Team Joo Chiat 2013 in photos

Team Joo Chiat 2013 in photos

We had a great time in the greater Joo Chiat area (Joo Chiat SMC and traditional parts of Joo Chiat) in 2013; the weekly house visits, WP Hammer magazine sales, attending parties, casual chats with residents and the carolling. Thanks for all the hospitality and feedback.

See you again in 2014! Have a great year ahead!

Here’s our song for you.

Joo Chiat, an ‘Arty’ neighbourhood

Yesterday, our walkabout team decided to visit old Joo Chiat, which stretches between Still Road and Joo Chiat Road. Although this area was redrawn into Marine Parade GRC during the last General Elections, residents there still strongly feel they belong to Joo Chiat. After all, this is the area which Mr Chew Joo Chiat, whom the place was named after, had built and had lived there himself. It contains the rich history of Joo Chiat with the Peranakan houses and historical buildings, and won Singapore’s first Heritage Town Award in 2011.

Conservation Peranakan houses on Joo Chiat Terrace

Conservation Peranakan houses on Joo Chiat Terrace. The big signboard on the first house belonged to a F&B business and the house is now undergoing renovation to be converted back to a residential unit.

Architectural Heritage 2012 Award

Architectural Heritage 2012 Award

It turned out to be a wonderful and enriching experience. The first segment of houses we visited turned out a house that won a Architectural Heritage Award in 2012 by the URA. The owner was kind enough to invite us in to take a look and to take pictures.

From the outside, it looked like an ordinary 2-storey Peranakan house. Inside, it was very clever use of limited space. Peranakan houses are long and narrow. The toilet at the master room at the back of the ground floor was long to match the structure. Cupboards were neatly hidden into the walls. Art pieces lined up the walls throughout the house. The back of the house has a spiral staircase leading up to an extended four-storey structure.

Living Room at ground floor

Living Room at ground floor

Entrance to master toilet at the ground floor

Entrance to master toilet at the ground floor

Family area at the landing of the second floor

Family area at the landing of the second floor

Kitchen and dining area on the second floor

Kitchen and dining area on the second floor

It also turned out that the owner’s mum stays just a few doors away. The family has lived in Joo Chiat Terrace for decades and had grown to love the place. Three of the family members have since bought houses on the same street to live near one another. Her mum’s house had an interesting hand-drawn picture of a cat besides the house number. It turned out to be the neighbourhood cat who would come back each night to sleep at the house.

Hand draw house unit number depicting the neighbourhood cat

Hand draw house unit number depicting the neighbourhood cat

The neighbourhood cat on Joo Chiat Terrace

The neighbourhood cat on Joo Chiat Terrace – see the similarity with the canvass drawing

A couple of doors away was another hand-drawn sign, this time warning people to beware of the dogs. We later found another hand-drawn piece of dogs in the house directly opposite this house. Seems someone had started a trend of drawing on canvass door signs and information.

Dogs on canvass

Dogs on canvass

Another dog painting on canvass

Another dog painting on canvass

While I was there, the neighbour had dropped by as well. From what I could tell, there appears to be good neighbourliness as neighbours gathered in the narrow walkway between the houses and the road. We had the good fortune that someone had turned up with some home-made kuehs (Peranakan cakes), which we happily accepted the offer to have one each.

House where there will be a party for The Children's Society the next day. I forgot to ask what the sign "Jln Intan" meant but I presumed it could be where the owner had previously lived at.

House where there would be a party for Singapore Children’s Society the next day. I had forgotten to ask what the sign “Jln Intan” meant but I presume it could be where the owner had previously lived at.

I could feel an air of generosity in the neighbourhood. This was confirmed by the residents when they told me there will be a party the next day by the resident of unit 69, a Mr Alvin Yap for Singapore Children’s Society. When I met Alvin at his house later, he told me he does this every year for different groups of children. There will be a choir performance and activities for the children.

Peranakan potteries on the window of unit 69. Inside the house, there are many more Peranakan furniture and art pieces.

Colourful pots on the window of unit 69. Inside the house, there are many more Peranakan furniture and art pieces.

Plants outside a home

Plants outside a home

Plants are a common theme in the houses, despite the limited walkway space. Some homes have cleverly used plants to shield the house from the road just a few steps away from the door.

Just round the corner opposite the Joo Chiat Park is a freshly painted wall mural on a corner house owned by a lawyer. He told us he had invited Penang street artist Ernest Zacharevic to do the piece. He had found Ernest through his Facebook and liked his style of art. He felt the side wall of his house was too boring. As it faced the park / playground and the road, it was the perfect spot to have an exciting mural.

The mural depicts two children playing on horses. The children faces are those of real persons, neighbours of Ernest in Penang. Ernest originally wanted to paint realistic horses but the house owner felt it should be more playful. So Ernest took actual drawings of horses by children and used it for the mural.

Wall mural by famous Penang street artist Ernest Zacharevic

Wall mural by famous Penang street artist Ernest Zacharevic

Check out this minion's brains

Check out this minion’s brains

At the back corridor, some artist felt inspired to paint 3 Minions on the bollards. These were so creatively done, taking into even the cracks on a bollard to create an exposed part of a Minion’s brain.

Bollards turned into Minions

Bollards turned into Minions

 

 

 

 

 

A few short steps away, a terracotta warrior with a pair of sunglasses guards the entrance to a beautifully decorated house. Houses along that same row were artistically decorated too, with one that almost look like an art gallery in the entire ground floor.

Snapping picture of a terracotta warrior guarding a beautifully decorated corner house

Me snapping pictures of a terracotta warrior with sunglasses guarding a beautifully decorated corner house

Opposite these houses is the Joo Chiat Park. Children were starting to come out to play as afternoon gave way to evening. A resident told me one of the neighbours had lobbied the government hard for years until they finally decide to turn this vacant land into a park cum playground for the benefit of children in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, the resident who lobbied for the playground was not at home and I would have to verify this story another day. I could see why this playground was necessary as Joo Chiat has narrow roads with few areas for children to play at safely.

The Joo Chiat Playground on Joo Chiat Terrace

The Joo Chiat Playground on Joo Chiat Terrace

It felt good seeing the spirit of neighbourliness in this community; from people casually chatting with neighbours, organising events for the community, painting wall murals and putting up art pieces to spice up with neighbourhood, lobbying the government to setup a park and more. This part of Joo Chiat is indeed an arty neighbourhood with its unique character.

Good evening! Workers' Party on a house visit.

Good evening! Workers’ Party on a house visit. Visiting an old house with mainly the original design

PartyBrochure2

Even doors tend to be more interesting in this neighbourhood

PartyBrochure

One of the homes with owner out for the afternoon

A walk around the (Telok Kurau) park

The weather was cool. The showers had come and gone. The clouds sheltered us from the sun. It was the perfect weather to visit houses in the afternoon.

I picked the area around Telok Kurau Park for yesterday’s visit. It was after all, an area I had spent 13 years living in, and my children grew up playing at the park.

It was a pleasant surprise that the very first house that we visited turned out to be the home of a pair of cute twin boys whom I had taken photos with 2 years ago when I also visited the same park. The twins were then babies with their grandpa who lived just across the park. I wouldn’t have recognised them if not for their dad who told me I had met his children before and had blogged about the encounter (http://joochiattoday.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/telok-kurau-park/). The twins are now running around like active boys and not shy to interact with me. And how they have grown!

Photos with the twins, two years ago and now

Photos with the twins, two years ago and now. They posed showing off their muscles.

Newly completed covering of drains

Newly completed covered drains

One thing that I noticed was the covering of the drains. Works are still on-going and most parts of the few streets around the park had the drains covered. I recall drains were a big complain of Telok Kurau residents during GE2011. There had been floods during heavy rainfall previously. Some drains were badly clogged or cracked. I wrote a few times to PUB since then over drainage issues and was pleasantly surprised at their speed of response.

Today, the drains are mostly covered and I supposed also widened to better handle water flow. That has allowed more space in front of the houses. Residents have started to creatively landscape the extra spaces. One resident confidently told me that there are less mosquitoes now. He believes the exposed and clogged drains were the main problems for mosquitoes in the past.

Many pots of plants already laid out along this recently completed covered drain

Many pots of plants already laid out along this recently completed covered drain

Work in progress on covering this drain

Work in progress on covering this drain

Resident hard at work creating a new garden patch outside their house after drain has been covered

Residents hard at work landscaping a new garden patch outside their house after the drain had been covered

A multi-coloured plant, formed by gardener grafting different plants together. Freshly planted by a resident of Joo Chiat Walk.

A multi-coloured plant, formed by gardener grafting different plants together. Freshly planted by a resident of Joo Chiat Walk.

Examining the fresh plot of plants as the resident explains his and his wife's hard work and investment on this plot outside their house.

Examining the fresh plot of plants as the resident explained his and his wife’s hard work and investment on this plot outside their house.

Stagnant water in a sunken and clogged drain in a photo taken 2 years ago. This drain is now repaired and covered.

Stagnant water in a sunken and clogged drain in a photo taken 2 years ago. This drain is now repaired and covered.

There’s the gate along Lorong J which had fascinated me during my first visit here in GE2011. It has musical notes on it. I was told by someone that it is the tune of the Chinese song, “我的家庭真可爱” (that is “My lovely family”), though I am not sure.

Musical gates

Musical gates

There was also the home of an amazing animal lover we met whom we chatted with for some 20 minutes. She has lots of tales of animal rescues and advice for us on how we should handle strays. I had met her previously during GE2011 too. This time, it was more leisurely and we could talk for longer. A minute after we had left, she and her daughter came running with drinks which we gladly took to quench our thirst from some 2 hours of house visits.

Photo taken at the animal lover's home

Photo taken at the animal lover’s home

We ended the evening chatting with residents at the park. It was wonderful catching up again with people I had met during GE2011 and making new acquaintances.

Chatting with residents in the park

Chatting with residents in the park

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.