Monday, 9 November 2015

Walking Down On A Memory Lane at Tiong Bahru

Since Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail was launched on 14 Apr 2013 by NHB in efforts to capture the life of its rich history of Tiong Bahru neighbourhoods within Singapore and it's been two years since they started the trail including the Air Raid Shelter, the pioneer Tan Tock Seng's grave and Daughter-in-law's grave and the former Malaysia immigration building that was once my Malaysia passport being issued in 1980s till 1994. It was 2 hours Heritage walk throughout the Tiong Bahru estates.
Bounded by Seng Poh road, outram road and Tiong Poh road, the area were given conservation status in 2003. It is the first public housing estates in Singapore and comprises 20 blocks of 2 to5 storey per-war housing flats built in SIT in 1930s. There are also 2-storey transitional style shophouses along Tiong Bahru road that built in the same period as the flats and 1 to 4 storey Art Deco Style shophouses along Outram road built in the early 1940s.
Photo2013: Tiong Bahru Community Centre
We were supposed to reach at the Tiong Bahru CC  in the morning at 10am on 8th Nov 15 which located between Blk 72 Seng Poh Road & Blk 77 Eu Chin Street to meet the guide May. To start of the history of Tiong Bahru which means "New Cemetery" (Tiong meaning "to die" or "tomb" in Hokkien dialect and Bahru meaning "new" in Malay). The area in Tiong Bahru which contained a burial ground for the Cantonese and Hakka communities before the 1930s, and the name of the road came about as there was already an existing cemetery for these two communities at Tanjong Pagar.
Tiong Bahru CC is currently under renovation at the back of the CC where I took a picture of basketball court in 2013.
Former Spore Restricted Passport Centre
Before we passed by this building, my hubby (who grew up and lived in Craig road/Havelock road over 3 decades since 1950s) told me earlier that it was the former Singapore Restricted Passport (SRP) Centre before guide May told us after we passed by the building. As I walked along my four friends and told them before guide May does.
The building was known as “Singapore Restricted Passport” centre. Younger generation may not be aware of it but it’s our blue passport for travel to West Malaysia only that my family and I travelled to JB and KL to visit my relatives and their close friends in 1970s to 1990s.

JB Pass holder
To travel to West Malaysia, the Singapore restricted passport and the Singapore Certificate of Identity or JB Restricted pass were needed. This JB card holder (Pass) was issued in JB Immigration department. For e.g. if he wants to travel to Malaysia, all he needed to produce SRP (Malaysia passport) and a card holder to pass the immigration Woodlands and JB checkpoints to ease smoothly. The Singapore Restricted Passport Centre was set up in South Quay, later in 1976, SRPC moved to Outram Road where the present YMCA and Etonhouse PreSchool still stands today and SRPC closed its doors on 31 December 1994.
Guide May holds a plastic filled with vintage coins which one of the coins was once used during WWII in 1940s
Guide May's vintage coins
My Vintage Coins
When I looked at guide May's coins inside plastic folder and was surprised to see the "square" shape coin that she had and so I have too. But I noticed one of the coins "five cent" is the "2nd edition" issued and there is NO "1st edition" five cent coin inside. And I have one vintage five cent coin. The oldest 1943 One cent coin is made of bronze copper and was used during Japanese Occupation and also I have 1967 One dollar coin can fetch high value if its sells.
Guide May showing Seah Eu Chin's descendent in the news
Guide May showing newspaper cutting on Seah Eu Chin's descendent and the poster on the wall indicated the life of our pioneer Seah Eu Chin and the road name after him.
Eu Chin Street marker hung on wall of Blk 77 (Photo:2013)
Street named after him hung on wall of Blk 77 Eu Chin Street and the streamline modern architecture is indeed awesome and painted in white. As you can see the air-con units which were installed and hung at the corner and only selected corner units which did not have frontage at the rear are allowed to install their air-con units. The front facade are not allowed to build planter racks and awnings.
Bottom floor beneath used to be ARS
The floor beneath used to be ARS and was build a basement of the shelter of the Tiong Bahru Gor Lau in Hokkien dialect (five-storey flats) at Block 78 Guan Chuan Street. Now, it sealed up with concrete flooring tiles that was used to be concrete spring door, which used to open up to reveal a stair down to the air raid shelter below. Well, my block also built a basement of AIr Raid Shelter Chap Si Lau in Hokkien dialect (14-storey flat) which can hold almost 2000 persons. 
Mary Pereira & her Brother with guide May (centre) (photo foreground)
Guide May told about the siblings of Mary and Andrew who took shelter at ARS and told the story about them. Mary Pereira's brother Andrew shared his memories of the shelter in 1942 at the Cakap Heritage. During the Japanese Occupation, Andrew Pereira's mum went into labour, by luck there was Professor J.S. English, Singapore's first professor of obstetrics and gynaecology, was in charge of the medical unit in the shelter. With his help and his wife, Andrew's mum delivered his sister Mary Magdeline Pereira just after midnight on Jan 22, 1942. Later the Pereira family learnt from a historian after the war that a 'C R Pereira', their father was recorded to have died on Jan 21, 1942, lies buried in a mass grave in Batu Pahat, Johor.

AIr Ventilation window
A 1,500 sq meter Shelter is located at Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street, which was built in 1939 with barely windows in pitch dark, is the last remaining pre-war civilian air raid shelter public housing building to have been equipped, reinforced with concrete floors, it can hold over 1000 persons for the war but it was not the main target for the Japanese bombing.
Entrance leading to the Air Raid Shelter
It was a hot day, as we went in and the air quality is somewhat stuffy and allow the light flow into the rooms of the shelter can be seen in each room with natural ventilation.
 Something above the ceiling
A wooden bunks on the left which was reserved for use by ARP (Air Raid Precaution) Wardens and their families.
 Closeup: A pole attached to the ceiling
Something above the ceiling is what looked like a pole that used to open up. The sirens were useless – no-one could tell if they signalled the beginning or end of yet another attack or what was happening, I guess.
Light flows into Ventilation brick opening window
Many local residents who lived and suffered panic attacks during the course of the bombings – hardly surprising, when you imagine a dark, dank environment with fighter planes screaming overhead and both children and adults screaming in the vicinity. It was indeed blessed to be safe in this air raid shelter not targeted. A red brick wall lined up the room inside the air raid shelter in every corner of each room.
Concrete ceiling
The "square" holes in the concrete ceiling would have been contained the glass blocks to allow natural light into the shelter.
Holes in wall with wire hanging down
Reserved for ARP Wardens & Families
The living quarters of the residents inside the shelter, the air and light ventilation as well as the area which was reserved for Air Raid Precaution (ARP) wardens and their families. The local residents must have felt at the time of crisis. This area was particularly devastated by the aerial attacks, and plenty of people emerged from the shelter time after time to find that their home had been razed to the ground in the meantime.
What's looking down here
Used to be the "waste" toilet down there
Inside the air raid shelter, what's surprise to be found that there were very old style toilet (waste dispose) on the ground for "waste product" by squatting down that had been sealed up with concrete flooring.
Air Raid Shelter Louvred Door
The air raid shelter door is made of wooden with louvre window above, a blind with horizontal slats that are angled to admit light and air, but to keep away from rain, direct sunlight and noise. The slats may be adjustable or non-adjustable, usually in blinds, windows and doors or fixed together. Well, I notice that there are two louvred doors of the Air Raid Shelter and only opens one of its door for Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail.
Air Raid Shelter built on housing estate
The air raid shelter sits under the 5-storey housing estate at Blk 78 Guan Chuan Street and the rear staircase above is at the back door to escape in case of fire and who knows. Blk 78 Guan Chuan has a dark secret and built uniquely designed of the horse-shoe block and local residents at Tiong Bahru and Havelock road called it - Horse-shoe block in those days.
To those who were remembered of a time when air raid sirens blared and the building were razed to the ground and the damaged bare red brick and long, narrow corridors buried deep beneath the earth. I remembered and was told by my uncles and my mum about my late grandma (b.1912-1999), my late great grandma (b.1870s-1940s) and her 10 children (10 of 16 children were born before and after WWII) including my mum who was five year old then, were suffered during WWII and how they fled or hidden away from the Japanese.
Back Door of Bincho Bar
Guess..what she was doing?
Back Door to store items?
Used to issue manual ticket for parking
Those were the days, there was no electronic parking system or ticket parking system installed in the old neighbourhood estates. Local residents parked their car and walked over to the cashier station to pay for parking fees manually and issued a paid ticket or receipt by cashier.
Hua Bee Restaurant
Blk 78 has another secret beside air raid shelter, that houses Hua Bee Restaurant, was once filmed location of "Mee Pok Man" poster (photo courtesy of James Seah) of Eric Khoo's 1995 film show. The new Yakitori-ya (traditional small grilling stall), the newly "Bincho" co-exists with an old-fashioned or the old school coffee shop that has a Mee Pok and drinks stall. The Mee Pok stall at Hua Bee, the same name of the coffee shop, has been operating there for over 70 years and its timber sliding folding door.
 Side door of Bincho

Charms of Coffee shop
The coffee shop operates only in the day, while Bincho is a dinner-only restaurant, except on the weekend, when the yakitori restaurant is also open for lunch.
So curious as I am about the Mee Pok at Hua Bee which, incidentally, is the same coffee shop and stall in Eric Khoo's 1995 filmed "Mee Pok Man", I headed there last year for my breakfast. The traditional coffee shop is one of those places that is stuck in those times. The pale blue tiles, the slightly dilapidated pistachio green shutters and marble tables all add to the colonial charm.
 Timber Shutter sliding door added to the charm
Bincho Bar
Co-exist with the old school mee pok stall, the classic coffee & toast, evergreen marble tables, beloved rickety wooden chairs, a modern open-concept yakitori bar with hues of copper headed by the affable Chef Asai Masashi.
As we walked along the Seng Poh Garden where the Dancing Girl sculpture locates.
 Photo 1980s: Dancing Girl (then)
I have blog about the Tiong Bahru pre and post-war estates and a sculpture here walking along the Havelock road where I stayed with my in-law's house Blk 22 that they had lived more than 3 decades since 1960s.
Dancing Girl (now)
This sculpture erected by the National Day Celebration Working Committee of Tiong Bahru Constituency and was unveiled by the Minister of Defence Mr Lim Kim San on 1st Aug 1970. 
Concrete tiles flooring of Dancing Girl
A beautiful landscaped garden at Seng Poh Road was initially planned and a Sarawak-born sculptor, Lim Nang Seng was commissioned to create the Dancing Girl sculpture, where she was seen performing a dance and Mr Lim who created the Merlion in 1972. You can see the shape of the Dancing Girl on the tile floor that surrounded by the cobblestones on the ground, the cobblestones that I saw in Macau. These cobblestones that can make of the shape of the fish, flower and other nostalgia designs that lies beautifully on the pavement or the walkway, the garden and the wall of the buildings and if our Singapore would do this. It was cut into maybe 2x2 inches small and carefully pressed on the ground, a combination of black and white or other colour marble square stones.
King's Theatre at Yong Siak Street signage
Although no one even young generation heard or seen of the old theatre in Tiong Bahru and mostly long-time residents in Tiong Bahru estates and Havelock estates would remember the theatre in 1960s. I recalled my in-law mentioned one theatre along Tiong Bahru which near to his home in Craig road where they lived in 1950s-1960s. In those days, they had no TV on their own as they were too poor and couldn't to buy it and only afford to watch the show for 50cents in early years. Later they bought a B/W TV in late 1966 after they shifted to Havelock road from Craig road that linked to Neil road and Tanjong Pager where the Tiger Balm factory were. Located along Yong Siak Street and its signage where the former site of the King's theatre was once located and it was near to Kim Tian road.
Tiong Bahru Qi Tian Gong Temple (Monkey God Temple)
Located at the junction between Eng Hoon Street was named after Koh Eng Hoon (1823-1880) a Malacca born merchant who founded a company called 'Chop Soon Bee and Tiong Poh Road was named after Khoo Tiong Poh (1830-1892) a Hokkien merchant who owned in the shipping business, which stands the Tiong Bahru Qi Tian Gong temple that founded in 1920.
Fa├žade of the temple
 A pair of Dragon & two pairs of 'Fu Dogs'
The most magnificent pairs of Dragon and two Chinese antique pairs of 'Fu Dogs' located outside the temple and Chinese Fu Dogs are said to the most powerful protection for your homes, business and even at temple. They also known as Guardian Lions, Lions Dogs or temple lions. The male lion is holding a ball under his left or right paw should be placed on the left side while the female lion holding a cub under her right or left paw is placed on the right side.
 Unique design of Dragon
Dated back and founded in 1920, the first location in the 'taro garden', which is the present Tiong Bahru estate. The original site is an attap hut located across Eng Hoon Street. In 1938, the temple moved to 44 Eng Hoon Street that stands today. Tiong Bahru Qi Tian Gong temple is dedicated to the monkey god, who is featured in the novel Journey to the West Monkey King 'Sun Wu Kong'. There are more than 10 monkey god statues in the temple, the oldest of which nearly one hundred years of history, is also the first statue in the temple. Tiong Bahru Qi Tian Gong temple can be said as the first temple in Singapore dedicated to the monkey god. My mum's old neighbour who lives at the corner end and also houses the monkey god in their living hall which they hold the birthday of their monkey god in their traditional way yearly over the years without fail.
Singapore local brand shoe company
The photo of Bata building in North Bridge road is seen in ST newspaper taken in 1950 and today is one of the Singapore brands in Bata's Asia Pacific business unit. In 1932 it was built and put into operation at Prince Edward road and it was not long before the war. During the WWII, the Bata factory was not spared by Japanese and in the next few months after the WWII in 1946, it was resumed in business again, developed sales, services and production in Singapore and other countries.
Bata shoe coin bank in 1960s
The Bata shoe coin bank that I keep for decades in memories of school days as a primary school kid, my mum bought me a new white shoe.
Forlorn of Bird Corner
Back in early 1980s when the owner of the coffee shop "Wah Heng" at on the corner noticed the crowds that gathered to hear the birds at the pet shop across the road and installed a metal structure outside his shop to attract business.The building that housed the coffee shop was ‘redeveloped’ into a hotel called "Link Hotel" and the bird corner was demolished in 2003. Although the owners of the hotel - "Nostalgia Hotel" that now stands on the site reopened the bird corner in 2008. 
Old timers at bird corner
Sadly, the bird owners have never returned, and the bird corner stands empty and forlorn. I think it is due to the area now don’t have amenities near it so all have move to area between blk 44A (formerly a wide mud-track direct from Havelock road to Tiong Bahru road) and 38A Beo crescent market is where the Bukit Ho Swee fire in 1961 about 54 years ago (more than 5 decades ago).
And sadly, no birds chirping and singing to be heard after it relocated just next to the block. Once a coffee shop "Wah Heng" nearby where the old bird corner located at Blk 53 that close to Blk 22 Havelock road and Blk 29 Havelock road (demolished in 2013).
Photo1990s: Blk 50 to 54 Havelock road
Actually the bird corner was once situated at the end of demolished blk 53 Havelock road where it had been around more than 5 decades since 1960s, the area where my late parent-in-law of blk 22 Havelock road is just opposite the road where the blk 53 was and the rest of the blocks were demolished in 2000s and the bird corner was preserved and relocated. You may interest to read here in my blog. This photo above is taken from Blk 22 (8-storey) in early 1990s where I stayed with them. Actually there were 5 supermarkets near Blk 54 Havelock road at that time and one of them is NTUC supermarket at old Blk 50 still stands today..
Grave of Tan Tock Seng
I have been passing by outram road to People's Park many times since 1980s where my classmates grew up and lived in Chinatown estates and in 1990s I heard there is a big grave at the Pearl's hill in where the grave of Tan Tock Seng was and relocated along Outram road. He was the early pioneers in Singapore dated back in 1819 shortly after Sir Stamford founded the trading settlement and he built a hospital little known as "Chinese Pauper's Hospital" in 1844 located atop of the Pearl's Hill and the late Tan Tock Seng donated with the sum of $7000 as part of construction to the hospital.
Graves of Chua Seah Neo & Wuing Ye Ho
The interesting is his daughter-in-law Chua Seah Neo and grand-daughter-in-law Wuing Ye Ho are also buried at the slope of York Hill in Outram road was bought by Tan Kwee Wah a descendant of Tan Kim Ching (grandfather) and Tan Tock Seng (great grandfather) at a discount price of $11,000 and it meant for the school - Gongshang school (1930-1985) till it become an English medium school and subsequently moved to Tampines.
Punggol Zoo by Guide May
Little known is that Tan Tock Seng's daughter-in-law Chua Seah Neo had connection with Punggol zoo, owned by W. Lawrence Soma Basapa (1893-1843), a rich Indian trader in early years before she passed on in 1882. Guide May shared the photo of Punggol zoo, was the private zoo in early years before Singapore Zoological Gardens (Mandai Zoo) was built in 1973, Mandai zoo was not the first zoo in Singapore.
Group photo of my friends & our guide May
Throughout the guided tour, we learned from its historic in the area, the unique pre and post-war architecture of the Singapore Improvement Trust's (SIT) public housing project that modified the form of the "Streamline Moderne" architecture style. The buildings were designed to look like the shape of the horse-shoe, cars, trains, ocean liners and aeroplanes with sweeping and streamlined of the buildings.
I hereby thanks our Guide May for her excellent informative, interesting guided walk and sharing the story of its rich history of Tiong Bahru estates.


  1. Dear Ms Lina,

    I am Rachel Lie from Raffles Girls’ Primary School. I am from the New Media Club and we are working on the school newsletter. One of the articles in the issue is about the grave of Tan Tock Seng in Tiong Bahru. We have found your photo of it on which is suitable for us to use and we would like you to grant us permission to use the photo in our newsletter. We will acknowledge the credits in the newsletter.

    Rachel Lie

    1. Hi, Rachel
      Your permission is granted. Thank you