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.

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