Memories of Siglap’s Only HDB Estate

I had the pleasure of meeting one of the authors of this recently published book, Hema just a couple of months before the publication of the book. She had read my blog post about Disappearing Icons – Siglap HDB Flats on this blog site whilst doing her research for the book. We chatted a bit about these flats as we both were residents near these flats. Am helping to give the authors a shout-out for this book.

It has been around 2 years since the last tenants moved out of the flats. It was once barricaded for a few months after the tenants moved out (which was a silly idea considering that there are precious few car park spaces in Siglap). Fortunately, the barricades have been removed and cars can now use the parking spaces here. Siglap residents are still awaiting news of what will happen to this plot of land, which will now be about a km from the MRT stop when the Thomson-Eastern line opens in a few years’ time.

by Hema Kiruppalini and Mindy Tan

Synopsis

This is a full‐colour spread of photos and stories that capture the sights and heartbeat of Siglap HDB housing estate.

“Sometimes, we don’t appreciate how precious some things are until they are gone. The quiet blocks of HDB flats at the junction of Siglap Road and Upper East Coast Road documented in this book are just one of them. Even those of us who are familiar with the Siglap area have long taken their existence for granted. They seem to have always been there, and will always be there, just like their residents, shops and other businesses. Alas, that is not so. Soon they will be gone….
Beyond lamenting its impending demise, Hema Kiruppalini and Mindy Tan have done the next best thing – to record and document the estate and memories of its residents for posterity.”

— Dr Kevin YL Tan, President, ICOMOS Singapore Past President, Singapore Heritage Society
“This book is a heartfelt and highly personalised account of Siglap HDB, the first and only public housing estate in the Joo Chiat constituency (1964 – 2011). For a generation or two of Singaporeans, Siglap HDB was a place of work, play and friendship, and more importantly a place to call home. How appropriate that one of the authors of Siglap at the Crossroads is a former resident. For her, this book is a labour of love – a small book that is huge on nostalgia, memories, anecdotes and experiences that bring alive the neighbourhood and her home. This book will be appreciated by former residents and the many who worked and recreated there. It will also be valued by those with an appreciation of a bygone Singaporean landscape. Gone but never forgotten, Siglap HDB is forever preserved in the storied pages of this narrative gem.”

— TC Chang, Associate Professor in Geography, National University of Singapore

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The Missing Lorongs and other fun facts of roads in Joo Chiat

Crane Road, formerly Lorong A – Photo from Property Guru

Having been a long-time resident of Siglap and Telok Kurau, I had always wondered why the Lorongs are named from G to N (minus “I” which would have looked like the number 1). Surely, there must have been Lorong A to F. My curiousity was piqued further today when someone told me about the history of Cheong Koon Seng, the ACS boy who made it good as a property tycoon and who donated generously to the community. I searched about Koon Seng and found that Lorong E, East Coast was renamed to Koon Seng Road in 1934. That started my search for the rest of the missing Lorongs.

And here’s what I found:

In 1934, apparently there was a major exercise to convert the names of roads in this part of East Coast into names of famous people and fruits. These were the roads that were renamed:

Lorong A – Crane Road, named after the Crane family who arrived in the 1820s and became the owner of a large plantation in Geylang and Katong (source: Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics, By Victor R Savage, Brenda Yeoh).

Lorong B – Pennefather Road, named after Colonel E.G. Pennefather was the Inspector General of Police from 1895-1905 (source NLB eResources).

Lorong C – Fowlie Road, named after Dr. P. Fowlie, a leading medical practitioner in the 1880s – 1890s, and was a municipal commissioner in the 1910s (source: Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics, By Victor R Savage, Brenda Yeoh).

Lorong D – Duku Road, named after the Duku fruit. In 1952, a few offshoot of Duku Road were created and named as Duku Place and Duku Lane (source: Singapore Street Names: A Study of Toponymics, By Victor R Savage, Brenda Yeoh).

Lorong E – Koon Seng Road, named after Cheong Koon Seng, one of the first 13 ACS boys. He was successful as a property auctioneer and started his own property firm Cheong Koon Seng Auctioneers & Valuers, later renamed to CKS Property Consultants in 1999 (source NLB eResources and CKS Property Consultants website).

Lorong F – Langsat Road, named after the Langsat fruit.

Appaerntly, there was also a Lorong P, which is today’s St. Patrick’s Road. That makes sense, because St. Patrick’s road would have been just next to the beach before the beach area became reclaimed to be today’s Marine Parade. So the Lorongs would have been named from A to P, East Coast, and with East Coast Road as the main road running across the area. And Lorong P was renamed around the 1934 period with the other Lorongs being renamed because St. Patrick’s School (my Alma Mater) was built in 1933.

 

And in my search, I found that a number of the higher numbering Lorongs in today’s Changi road area were also renamed around the 1933/34 period, such as:

Lorong 201 – Marshall Lane / Road, named after Captain H.T. Marshall (some websites claimed Lorong 210 was renamed as Marshall Road, although most state it as Lorong 201)

Lorong 203 – Tembling Road, probably named after a fish.

Lorong 205 – Manggis Road, named after the Mangis or Mangosteen fruit.

Lorong 206 – Rambutan Road, named after the Rambutan fruit.

Lorong 207 – Nangka Road, named after the Nangka fruit.

Lorong 208 – Rambai Road, named after the Rambai fruit.

Lorong 209 – Pulasan road, named after the Pulasan fruit from the Rambutan family of fruits.

Lorong 210 – Still Road, named after Alexandra William Still.

p.s. Could not figure about Lorong 202 and 204 which seem to be missing from online searches, and there does not seem to be a Lorong 200 or 211. According to reader, Philip Chew the great grandson of Chew Joo Chiat, Lorong 202 was renamed as Carpmael Road. I could not find any information on this online but I do believe the information could be reliable as their family has been long-time residents of the Joo Chiat area.

 

Enjoy these fun facts!

 

Launch of book about Chew Joo Chiat

Catch the launch of the book about Chew Joo Chiat, of which the Peranakan-centric place of Joo Chiat is named after. This book is by Philip Chew, the eldest Great Grandson of Chew Joo Chiat, who has passionately collected these stories over the years in an effort to trace his own roots.

Am happy to have played a part in introducing Philip to the publisher a couple of years ago.

Launch of “A Penniless Boy, Chew Joo Chiat”

On the Food Trail

Joo Chiat and Katong are famous for the traditional food.  Some of the shops there were established before Singapore’s independence. Yesterday, I led an enthusiastic team of WP volunteers who wanted to do a documentary of the interesting food establishments in this food haven of Singapore. Too bad the time we had (and stomach space) did not allow us to cover more establishments.

Michael is the third generation in this Popiah-skin making family. Was just fascinating watching him spread the paste on the hot plates and take them off with his bare hands!

Michael is the third generation in this Popiah-skin making family established since 1938. Was just fascinating watching him spread the dough on the hot plates and peel them off with his bare hands!

YJJ-Popiah3

Yummy popiah from fresh handmade skin and tasty ingredients.

YJJ-otah2

A great variety of tasty Otahs at this Joo Chiat shop

Posing for a shot at the road named after the founder of WP

Posing for a shot at the road named after the founder of WP

Choices are aplenty for the Laksa lovers in Katong

Choices are aplenty for the Laksa lovers in Katong, all claiming to be Katong Laksa. You decide which is the best.

Peranakan delights!

Peranakan delights!

Colourful conserved shops on East Coast Road

Colourful conservation shops along East Coast Road

Kaya toasts and custard puffs made the same way as they were 50 years ago! Was a rare treat for me to have their Kaya spread at home when I was a kid.

Kaya toasts and custard puffs made the same way as they were 50 years ago! Was a rare treat for me to have their Kaya spread at home when I was a kid. Some of those serving in this shop may have been there from day one of their operations!

 

The grand finale at my home nearby - cooking beef stew using my dad's recipe.

The grand finale at my home nearby – cooking beef stew using my dad’s recipe. Started the cooking before we went off on our food trail and left it stewing for 2.5 hours before coming back to complete the cooking.

My finished product - Beef stew and black chicken herbal soup

My finished product for my guests – Beef stew and black chicken herbal soup. My culinary skills are still at below 10% that of my dad’s. Amazing that the group still found space to tuck in my cooking after visiting so many food establishments.

Getting to know your neighbours

They said it is good to know your neighbours. Having finished all the visits we could do to the publicly accessible parts of Joo Chiat SMC since GE2011, it was good to get to know our neighbours.

Shifting Boundaries

Shifting Boundaries

And what are they saying to us? Those living in the real Joo Chiat were of course surprised to find themselves in Marine Parade GRC suddenly at the last GE. Some Kembangan and Chai Chee residents reminded us that they were part of Aljunied GRC and East Coast GRC respectively for the longest time. Then, some wise men in a special committee took out their pencils and erasers and moved them out of their GRCs, just a couple of months before the last election. One even proudly told us he voted for us when JBJ stood in Chai Chee in 1976. Wow 1976, that’s pretty rich history!

“Yeah, they sure know how to change the boundaries at every elections”, some residents would tell us. I guess this is where the hash tag #youwinliaolor comes in pretty handy! 🙂 The ‘pencil and eraser’ is certainly mightier than the sword.

Yeah, it is good to know your neighbours. Who knows if neighbours may suddenly become family one day. Welcome to Singapore!

A Touch of Scotland in Siglap

A map of Siglap in 1954 from the National Library

A map of Siglap in 1954 from the National Library

Tucked away in a section of Siglap in the eastern part of Singapore are several streets with very distinctively Scottish names and influence. The area was built around the 1950s, quite likely by the Frankel brothers or from land bought from the Frankel brothers, who had owned huge swathe of land for coconut plantations in eastern Singapore (I am not certain about the developer as the results from Internet searches are inconclusive). The area is bounded by East Coast Road, Siglap Road, Frankel Road and Siglap Drive. The original houses in this area are either single or double-storey high, with bungalow land being spacious. Some of the bigger plots of land have since been redeveloped into smaller units and some single storey houses have gone to three or four-storeys high.

Lothian Terrace, a short road linking with the busy East Coast Road

Lothian Terrace, a short road linking with the busy East Coast Road

I am very familiar with the area, having lived in the vicinity all my life and even made maps of my neighbourhood as a child. I became curious about the street names during GE2011 when I started to visit every home there. I had since revisited the homes again post-GE at a more leisurely pace over the last two years, most recently in the past two weeks. I decided to do some research on the names because they sounded special.

First is a small street with just 9 houses named as Lothian Terrace. Lothian is a region of the Scottish Lowland which includes Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh. The name of Lothian most likely derives from the Brittonic name *Lugudūniānā  or “Country of the fort of (the god) Lugus”, mentioned in early Welsh literature. A legend is that the name came from King Lot, who is king of Lothian in the era of the legendary King Arthur. Lothian Terrace is the entrance to this area from the busy East Coast Road.

Busy junction of Burnfoot Terrace and Siglap Road with various commercial shops nearby

Busy junction of Burnfoot Terrace and Siglap Road with various commercial shops nearby

Shops at Burnfoot Terrace, the only street with shops in this area.

Shops at Burnfoot Terrace, the only street with shops in this area. Notice the jagged lines on both sides of the road to stop cars from parking here.

Perpendicular to Lothain Terrace is Burnfoot Terrace, a name which had captured my imagination as a child. Burnfoot is a housing estate in the northern part of Hawick, by the Boonraw Burn, in the Scottish Borders (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnfoot,_Scottish_Borders).

Burnfoot Terrace is constantly packed with cars as patrons of the shops along East Coast Road and at Siglap Centre will park on this road. You can count on the traffic wardens to constantly patrol this road to issue tickets for illegal parking.

Lothian Terrace leads into Ettrick Terrace. Ettrick Terrace in Scotland is in the Scottish Borders Council and the Selkirk Burgh. A notable building in Ettrick Terrace is a former jail that has been converted into a public library (http://www.visitoruk.com/Selkirk/old-prison-I1621.html).

Bowmont Gardens

Bowmont Gardens

Ettrick Terrace leads into three perpendicular roads. First is the longest of these streets, Bowmont Gardens.  Bowmont Gardens appears to be a suburb in Glasgow, Scotland.

Parallel to Bowmont Gardens and also entering via Ettrick Terrace is Jedburgh Gardens, home to some rather spacious bungalows and semi-detached houses. Jedburg is a historical and small town in Scotland 16 km from the border with England. Its population is only around 4,000 today (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jedburgh)

Junction of Jedburgh Gardens and Ettrick Terrace

Junction of Jedburgh Gardens and Ettrick Terrace

 

 

 

Beautiful houses and plants on Bowmont Gardens

Beautiful houses and plants on Bowmont Gardens

A newly renovated house at the Junction of Ettrick Terrace and Yarrow Gardens

A newly renovated house at the Junction of Ettrick Terrace and Yarrow Gardens

A little further down parallel to Jedburgh Gardens is Yarrow Gardens. Yarrow is a flower, with the scientific name as Achillea millefolium. It is a flowering plant that is leaf-shaped and native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. In older times, yarrow was traditionally used to staunch the flow of blood from wounds (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achillea_millefolium).

The Yarrow Parish in Scotland is near the Parishes of Selkirk, where Ettrick Terrace is located in.

Along the middle of Bowmont Gardens in Siglap is Wilton Gardens.

Junction of Bowmont and Wilton Gardens. An LTA enforcement officer was there to summon cars that day, especially those that park here to patronise shops at Frankel Road

Junction of Bowmont and Wilton Gardens. A LTA enforcement officer was there to summon cars that day, especially those that parked here to patronise shops at Frankel Road

Wilton is a parish in the Scottish Borders comprising the part of Hawick north of the Teviot. Formerly a separate burgh, it was merged with the burgh of Hawick in the 19th century.  A search on Google found a nice park in Wilton known as the Wilton Lodge Park, with reviewers in Tripadvisor praising its well-kept gardens as an ideal place for a family picnic (http://www.tripadvisor.com.sg/Attraction_Review-g186505-d3513940-Reviews-Wilton_Lodge_Park-Hawick_Scottish_Borders_Scotland.html).

A house proud owner had planted nice flowering plants in the public sidewalk at the junction of Bowmont and Wilton Gardens. Many owners had planted on the roadside, beautifying the whole estate.

A house proud owner had planted nice flowering plants in the public sidewalk at the junction of Bowmont and Wilton Gardens. Many owners had planted on the roadside, beautifying the whole estate.

At the end of Bowmont Gardens is Cheviot Hill. Cheviot Hill is named after the highest hill on the border between Scotland and England. It is on a range of rolling hills associated with geological activity believed to be caused by the collision of the continents of Avalonia and Laurentia several hundred of million years ago, resulting in volcanic activities that created a granite outcrop surrounded by lava flows (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheviot_Hills).

An old photo of Cheviot Hill in Siglap can be found here: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/pictures/Details/840b6282-9d39-4f8e-add6-2aa2256e60b8.

Cheviot Hill and Carlton Road junction, with the Global Indian School in the background.  The region is home to several Indian schools and popular with Indian expatriates.

Cheviot Hill and Carlton Road junction, with the Global Indian School in the background. The region is home to several Indian schools and popular with Indian expatriates.

Along Cheviot Hill are two short streets, Carlton Avenue and Dryburgh Avenue, each with just a few houses on it.

Google search for “Carlton Hill, Scotland” threw up Calton Hill as the main results, with different sites referring to similar places with either of the spellings.

Calton Hill is a hill in central Edinburgh, Scotland. It is included in the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. The headquarters of the Scottish Government is in Calton Hill. The hill is also the location of several iconic monuments and buildings, as well as the location of the Old Calton Burial Ground, which is the resting place of several notable Scots (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Calton_Burial_Ground).

Standing at the junction of Dryburgh Ave and Siglap Drive during weekend house visits, with rain clouds fast gathering behind us.

Standing at the junction of Dryburgh Ave and Siglap Drive during weekend house visits, with rain clouds fast gathering behind us.

Dryburgh Avenue is a street in Glasglow. I remember this name distinctly because I had an elections poster on Dryburgh Avenue in Siglap which I had missed out on taking down after GE2011. A kind resident called to inform me to remove it to be in compliance with our elections laws.

A famous Dryburgh who had lived in Singapore was Margaret Dryburgh (1890–1945). She was born in Sunderland, a region in North-East England near Scotland. She came to Singapore as a missionary and became a teacher and later a school principal. She was captured during the Second World War while fleeing Singapore by boat after our surrender to the Japanese. She inspired fellow prisoners by leading worships, singing and concerts, as well as through her composed songs.  The plight of Dryburgh and her fellow inmates in a Japanese prisoner of war camp inspired the 1996 film, Paradise Road. She died due to dysentery in a prisoner of war camp in Indonesia (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Dryburgh).

Margaret Dryburgh was certainly an inspiring figure who had contributed to Singapore and had brought joy to those around her.

Next time you come across interesting street names in Singapore, try do a little research and you may find some interesting nuggets of information.

Beautiful nature

I captured a few interesting photographs of nature with my mobile phone during house visits in Joo Chiat SMC today and decided to share these. There are beautiful wonders of nature in our midst if we look hard enough.

Colourful butterflies hidden in the bushes

Colourful butterflies hidden in the bushes

 

A plant that grew out of a small hole in the concrete ground along the pavement, a beautiful picture of resilience.

A plant that grew out of a small hole in the concrete ground along the pavement, a beautiful picture of resilience.

 

This is not from my travels. African palm (also common in South America) growing right in Joo Chiat SMC

This is not from my travels. Giant African Palm (also common in South America) growing right in Joo Chiat SMC

 

A Bottle Tree in the garden of a house

A Bottle Tree in the garden of a house

 

Pineapple outside a house - Huat ah!

Pineapple outside a house – Huat ah!

SG50 Joo Chiat – The way we were

The area in and near the current Joo Chiat SMC has many interesting buildings and shops that date to before Singapore became independent nearly 50 years ago. During GE2011 and after GE, I had visited many of these places, some with great stories to tell.

Last week, instead of our usual house visits, we decided to revisit some of these places to photograph them to tell stories about what life in the Joo Chiat area 50 years ago may be like through these old institutions.

Shops

New Star Barber - established since the 1960s

New Star Barber – established since the 1960s

Our first stop was a barber shop along East Coast Road in Siglap that many long-time residents would know of. The New Star Hairdressing Saloon is everything you would expect an Indian barber to be. New Star was established by Mr Pakiri Kothandapani in the early 1960s when he migrated to Singapore. The current location of New Star was not where it was in those days. It was right across the road, in the middle of a row of three Peranakan-styled shophouses for the longest time until they had to move out when the landlord wanted to redevelop the shops.

Former location of New Star, now occupied by a Pet Shop. The building was rather run down and was redeveloped around 10 years ago with the original façade maintained in line with building conservation laws on heritage buildings.

Former location of New Star, now occupied by a Pet Shop. The building was rather run down and was redeveloped around 10 years ago with the original façade maintained in line with building conservation laws on heritage buildings.

New Star was an attraction those days, one of just a few barber shops in the vicinity and it was air-conditioned, a big deal 50 yeas ago. I received most of my haircuts there since I was young until I became an adult. Even my son went there for his haircut a few times until other more convenient barber shops sprung up everywhere. I would meet many of my classmates at the barber shop whenever I went. I recall reading once a news article on New Star where Mr Kothandapani had said that even former minister George Yeo used to go there for his haircut.

Old radio and poster, together with a photograph of Mr Kothandapani

Old radio and poster, together with a photograph of Mr Kothandapani

Mr Kothandapani was not at the shop when we visited. His son, Mr Parathi, 51 is now running the shop. Mr Parathi was born in Singapore. Mr Parathi said that his dad, now 84 was not so well these days. They live just down the road from the shop. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he had studied at my alma mater, St. Patrick’s too and was one year my senior. His primary school was Opera Estate Boys’ School.

The shop may have been relocated across the road, but many of the familiar icons of the shop were brought over and continued to be used. The old radio that blasted Tamil music was still blasting away when we visited last week, with an old Brycleem poster still sitting on top of the radio. They looked exactly like what they were when I was waiting patiently for my haircut turn as a kid. Those days, I sometimes had to wait up to an hour for my hair to be cut. The bottles of lotion still looked the same. These were the lotion the barber would douse me with after each haircut, leaving my hair with a distinct smell for a few hours. Nothing seemed to go to waste. Even the cupboards were relocated from the old shop.

Wong Clinic and a more recent Siglap Family Clinic

Wong Clinic and a more recent Siglap Family Clinic

Other old shops in the neighbourhood include those at the two Siglap HDB flats, which I had documented in an earlier post. More than half of these were started when the flats were built just before Singapore’s independence. The most iconic of these is probably Wong’s clinic. It was one of just a few clinics in the neighbourhood in those days. Dr Wong was famous for making swift medical diagnosis. He passed away suddenly in 2009 and the clinic has since been sold. However, a nurse from the early days had remained in the clinic at least up till 2011. I had met her during GE2011 and she recounted to a reporter how I used to go to the clinic in my pyjamas as a child. That story was featured in the Straits Times.

The Katong stretch of shops along East Coast Road has many more shops dating to our independence. The most iconic building would be the Red House Bakery. The building has now been hoarded for many years and restoration work is supposed to be done on it as it has been deemed to be unsafe. In its heydays, the Red House Bakery and the Tay Ban Guan Supermarket behind the bakery were the places to be in.

Serving Hammer outside of an old-school confectionery

Serving Hammer outside of an old-school confectionery on one of our Sunday’s Hammer sales

A favourite food place of my parents was Chin Mei Chin Confectionery, where my parents would say is the only place with true Kaya spread. It was not opened when we went by last week. However, we have a file photo of the confectionery from an earlier visit to the place. It is one of the very few old-school confectionery left in Singapore.

 

Parkway East Hospital, which once was St. Mark's Hospital. One of my sibling was born here.

Parkway East Hospital in Telok Kurau, which once was St. Mark’s Hospital. It was originally established as Paglar Maternity and Nursing Home in the 1930s. One of my siblings was born in St. Mark’s.

Houses

Kampong House on Palm Drive

Kampong House on Palm Drive. The external toilets are on the left of the picture, partly covered by plants.

We visited what may be the only remaining kampong-styled house in the area. I had twice come to this house during GE and post-GE house visits but there was no one at home then. It sits on a really huge land without any fence. The toilets were outside of the house. I imagine this was how kampong houses were like in the past and where neighbours walk freely into each other’s homes because they were not fenced up.

This time round, a lady responded to my greetings at the door. It turned out that the house and the land around it belong to a Malay lady who lives there with her youngest son. Three other children have grown up and are living elsewhere. She said that the house, built over 70 years ago had belonged to her father who has since passed on. The house was next to an even larger parcel of an old Muslim graveyard belonging to MUIS. The graves have since been exhumed and the land will likely be developed soon.

The Katong and Joo Chiat area has many heritage houses with distinct character. Here are some of them.

Peranakan houses in Joo Chiat area

Peranakan houses in Joo Chiat area

Peranakan styled houses in Onan Road leading to what was Tay Ban Guan Supermarket (now replaced with a low-rise condominium)

Peranakan styled houses in Onan Road leading to what was Tay Ban Guan Supermarket (now replaced with a low-rise condominium)

Circular staircases at the back of old buildings in Stangee Road area

Circular staircases at the back of old buildings in Stangee Road area

Schools

The east has many schools with a long history. The following are some of them.

St Stephen's School, since 1957

My alma mater, St Stephen’s School, established since 1957 -Schools such as St Stephen’s and Opera Estate provided education to many in the Siglap neighbourhood. The building in this photograph is a new one, built on a slope that we had fond memories playing on, and where I once broke my arm rolling down the slope while playing catching.

St. Patrick's School, since 1933

St. Patrick’s School, since 1933. Up till the 1970s, there was a beach right next to the school. With land reclamation, Marine Parade estate has now occupied that space where the beach once was.

Telok Kurau Studio, where Telok Kurau Primary school once was

Telok Kurau Studio, where Telok Kurau Primary school once was. The most famous student from this school is Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Another building of the former Telok Kurau Primary School

Another building of the former Telok Kurau Primary School.

A kindergarten celebrates its 60th anniversary even as our country celebrates our 50th birthday. My elder sister and my son had their kindergarten education here.

A kindergarten on Frankel Street celebrates its 60th anniversary even as our country celebrates our 50th birthday. My elder sister and my son had their kindergarten education here.

Places of Worship

The area is dotted with places of worship too. Here are some of them.

Masjid Abdul Aleem Siddique, since 1953

Masjid Abdul Aleem Siddique, since 1953

A temple just besides Masjid Abdul Aleem Siddique

The 大觉寺 temple just besides Masjid Abdul Aleem Siddique. Within another 50m of these two is the headquarter of a Christian organisation, the Navigators. Various religions have co-existed peacefully with one another for a long time.

The Kwan Im Tng temple in Joo Chiat, since 1919

The Kwan Im Tng temple in Joo Chiat, since 1919

The Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple in Katong. Established in 1923 by the Singapore Ceylon Tamils’ Association, it is currently under renovation

The Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple in Katong. Established in 1923 by the Singapore Ceylon Tamils’ Association, it is currently under renovation

Our Lady of Perpetual Succor Church

Our Lady of Perpetual Succor Church in Siglap, where I had also received my kindergarten education. Many Catholics in the neighbourhood attend this church.

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