Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tracing The Roots By Younger Generations

On Saturday 20 September 2006 I gave a talk about our great grandfather, Chew Joo Chiat at my home. Many relatives were invited but only my nephew Andrew Chew and his sister Dawn  were present. I gave him the book “Joo Chiat a living legacy” before he left.

In November 2006 I  gave Andrew our family tree website to kindle his interest in tracing his roots.

                                       Andrew Chew

It took 8 years from 2006 to 2014 for the seed I planted to germinate.

On 19 October 2014 Andrew wrote to me:

Hi Uncle Philip 

Its been a while, how have you been? Recently there's a urge for me to trace back my roots as well. For a start, I think it is good for me to pay respect to our ancestor. Understand that you had been to Joo Chiat's grave before. Do you know how I could get there? (I only have a brief outline of a map I found online)

I replied 

Hi Andrew, it's a pleasure to show you Chew Joo Chiat's grave. It is at Bukit Brown Cemetery. l was there in August 2014 with my son and his family from US. Contact me when you are ready. Get more relatives to come along if they are interested.

We fixed the date Saturday 29 November 2014 to visit Chew Joo Chiat’s grave. He told me 6 other relatives would be visiting too. We arranged to meet at Toa Payoh Bus Interchange. 

On the appointed date I was surprised to see a dozen relatives including 2 of my cousins. They were 4th 5th and 6th generations of Chew Joo Chiat. We boarded bus service No. 157 which took us there. 

At Bukit Brown Cemetery everybody was happy walking on metal road until they reach the foot path that led to Joo Chiat's grave. We could see large tyre tracks of truck. It was muddy with puddles of water here and there. We moved very carefully forward until we reached the marker. We walked up the slope a short distance and was glad to see our ancestor's grave. It was my first attemp leading such a big group at BBC.

                                                   At Toa Payoh bus interchange

Walking towards the cemetery 

Inside cemetery ground

Chew Joo Chiat's grave

At Chew Joo Chiat's grave

On the way out of the foot path.

The group wanted to explore the area and Dominic who was there to assist me took them to see Ong Sam Leong'grave.

                                                    Ong Sam Leong's grave

We were fortunate that the weather was kind to us. After we left the cemetery ground  there was a heavy rain.

Comments below were collected by Andrew Chew and forwarded to me on Wed 3rd Dec 2014.

Just to consolidate on our thoughts after visiting the grave:

Joanne Lim: It's a great feeling to gather with our different generations to visit and pay respect to our great great great grandfather tomb and understand the history.

Lillian Chew: Today after visiting my great grandpa, I feel very happy and also give the chance give to meet my cousin, nephew and niece. We chat and laugh together and have our lunch together.

Mei Yan: A very enjoyable trip. Meet up with cousins and pay respect our great great great great grandfather.

Joseph Lim: It's a fruitful experience for the younger generations like us to learn more of our ancestor and the root of our origin.

Andrew Chew: Thinking on how our ancestor came to a foreign land and settled down, live and died here. It's nice that the descendants are able to visit the grave, each living and continue the path forward.

Ivy Chew wrote: helo thank you Philip. It was good  to meet the other relatives really unfamiliar. Thanks for arranging the trips and meetings. Look forward to the book.

Bellra Chew: Really thankful to Philip uncle fo  bringing us to visit our ancestor grave and sharing his knowledge with us. It's a very meaningful experience to be able to hear stories of the past and learn to appreciate our roots.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Chris' Family Tracing Their Roots

My son Chris and his family arrived here from California on Wednesday 9th July 2014 for a month’s holidays. The next day I was taken aback when he told me that they wanted to visit Chew Joo Chiat’s grave. I was lost for words. It was my joyous moment that my son had shown interest in his roots.
We arranged to visit Bukit Brown Cemetery on Saturday 12 July 2014. I visited the site many times and was quite confident of finding my great grandfather’s grave easily. I remembered a ‘No Entry’ sign board and a foot path beside it. When we arrived at the site I noticed the scenery there was different compared to before. Previously the foot path was narrow, wet and soggy, and both sides of the path were covered with trees and thick foliage (picture 1). That day the foot-path was dry and well-trodden. There was less foliage and a few graves at the sides of the foot-path were visible (picture 2). Chew Joo Chiat’s grave, a double tomb up the slope could not be seen from below.  

                                                picture 1

picture 2

I was disorientated by the change of scenery and had problem finding the grave. We walked to and fro the foot-path a number of times plus climbing up a few slopes. I was very sure of the ‘No Entry’ signboard and the foot-path beside it. Fortunately I remembered an additional clue. Along the foot-path on the left hand side was a tree trunk with a patch of red paint. My great grandfather’s grave was directly opposite it on the right hand side. We found the tree with the red paint (picture 3). The girls were tired and waited at the foot path. I and Chris walked up the slope directly opposite the tree. Within a minute we saw Chew Joo Chiat’s double tomb. We could not find it earlier because we were facing the wrong side of the grave. Furthermore, the tomb was completely covered with vegetation except for the front tombstones. 

picture 3

Chris announced the good news to the girls and led them to the site.

picture 4, 5 & 6

All of us were very happy and smiling. Chris said “mission accomplished”. We took a few pictures standing beside Chew Joo Chiat’s  tomb (picture 7 & 8). It was our momentous hour discovering and getting connected  to our roots as the 4th, 5th and 6th generations.

                                          picture 7 & 8

Picture (9) shows the double tomb. The tomb on the left belongs to Chew Joo Chiat’s second wife Tan Quan Neo who was a Peranakan. For some reason she was not buried in the tomb reserved for her.     Instead, I found her grave at another location quite a distance away from the double tomb.

                                             picture 9

Sunday, December 29, 2013


There is only one original photograph of Chew Joo Chiat. It is in the home of one of Chew’s great grandson. Ancestor worship has been passed down from generation to generation and the duty now falls on him.  Chew’s photograph is a full body portrait. It was taken in a photo studio as shown above. It shows him dressed in a western attire - coat and pants with a bow tie complete with a topee or hat on the table. The photo gave the impression that he was an educated man with an illustrious career and standing in society.
After Chew Joo Chiat’s death his photo was put in No 73 Joo Chiat Road for ancestor worship by his eldest son Chew Cheng Liam. When Cheng Liam died in 1946, his photo was placed next to his father. Ancestor worship was continued by the next generation. Now the duty falls on the fourth generation living at Chai Chee.
I saw Chew Joo Chiat’s half body photo in books, magazines, newspapers and webpages. It had been crop and used without permission. In one instance I noticed credit for the photo was given to a person who copy it. In fact, that person should not take credit for himself. Many people are not aware of copyright.

         Half body photo Chew Joo Chiat crop from the top photo

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Is There A Katong District?

On National Day 9 August 2013, The Straits Times published a special section called Secret Journeys Singapore, National Day Special 2013. There were more than 10 interesting articles.  I could relate with one of them very well. The story 'The Past is Still Present' by Serene Goh.

She took a trip down memory lane at Katong. She talked about  Katong Odeon Shopping Centre, Chin Mee Chin Confectionery and the old eateries where there were zi char and tau kwa pow stalls. She was yearning for the old Katong and she reminisce the family raised terrace house at Onan Road and the St Hilda's Girls' School at Ceylon Road.

I enjoyed reading her article for it evoked memories of yester years. In the old days hawkers came to your house. Now you go to them at coffee shops or food courts. At that time all zi char hawkers used opeh (palm leaves) to tah pow (wrapped) their take away orders. The best tau kwa pow was not at Joo Chiat Road/ East Coast Road junction coffee shop but at a coffee shop opposite Joo Chiat Market.  The author's family house at Onan Road and my house at Joo Chiat Road were at opposite ends of an unnamed lane. I had a few friends living at Onan Road raised terraced houses. One used the premises as a dwelling cum temple. The other, a butcher sometimes kept his caged pigs under the floor boards.

In the article she also talked about Katong District and said it was loosely bound by Changi Road and Geylang Serai, Marine Parade towards the south, Tanjong Katong in the west, Still Road in the east.


Katong is normally referred to by words of mouth for areas on both sides of East Coast Road. There is no Katong Road on the map or street directory. How come there is a Katong District? Katong encroached into Joo Chiat from Tanjong Katong in 1928 (ref: Singapore House by Lee Kip Lin). According to an old Katong resident Foo Kee Seng, Katong had extended to Telok Kurau Road (NAS Oral Hisitory recording 1998). Katong has moved eastwards towards Siglap but never northwards to Changi Road and Geylang Serai.

 The loosely bound area in the article is actually Joo Chiat District but its eastern boundary is Telok Kuara Road and not Still Road. (ST 8 Oct 1948)

Incidently ST 23 June 2013 published an article "Changing face of Joo Chiat" by Walter Sim and Lim Min Zhang. They said "Joo Chiat estate, loosely bordered by Still Road to the east, Changi Road to the north, Haig Road to the west, and East Coast Road to the south, .............."

Joo Chiat District  
ST 23 June 2013 

Katong District
ST 9 August 2013

The above two areas refer to the same place according to their loosely bound borders. Both articles are from the Straits Times but each gave a different district name. It should be interesting if the newspapers can offer an answer.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Chew Joo Chiat seaside house

I always reminisced the good old days where things moved slowly with plenty of nature around. During my school days there was no Marine Parade Road. So the houses that faced the sea, each had a house number and  Marine Parade as the address. I visited the beach quite often with classmates  and Joo Chiat kampong  friends. We went there to swim, dug the beach for sea shells, built sand castles and played in the sea. It was also there that I learnt to swim and swallowed a fair amount of water from the sea.

One end of Joo Chiat Road was opposite Geylang Serai. The other end stopped at Marine Parade beach. I remembered  the beach were dotted with bungalows on  both sides of the road. At the junction of Joo Chiat Road and Marine Parade was a large house with metal gates. Each side of the gate had a golden lion head with a ring in its nostril. The metal rings were handles for opening and closing the gates. I was told the house belonged to a Ong family. I remembered the building well because I went to the beach to study for my O Level examinations. My favourite spot was outside the wall fence shaded by plants. It was quiet and the sea breeze was excellent. Opposite the house across the road was Tung Ling English School. It was a private school. Since then the school building had been upgraded a few times and is now used as a place of worship by the Church of Singapore. Two doors away was a compound house. It was a residence but after the war it became a coffee shop.

I remembered two itinerant hawkers thereat. One was an Indian migrant  named Ah Pow. He was selling ‘kachang puteh’ with a makeshift stall. I knew him well because of my regular patronage and we were like friend. He was single and lived with other Indian migrants in a shophouse at Joo Chiat Place.  The other hawker was a Chinese. He was the famous Katong laksa hawker known as ‘Jangot’. That was before he had a stall at Ceylon Road coffee shop. He lived with his family at Tembeling Road, close by Joo Chiat Terrace. I knew him because he was a squatter in my grand father’s property. Furthermore,  he ever come to my house at Joo Chiat Road to play poker.

My grandmother told me that her father-in-law Chew Joo Chiat owned holiday houses at Marine Parade. One was built over the sea. Those houses built over the water were all destroyed by Japanese bombs during the war. Recently I was curious to know where all Chew Joo Chiat’s seaside bungalows were located although I knew the old buildings were no longer there. I made a search at the National Archives of Singapore and found a 1934 building plan submitted by his son-in-law Lee Tian Seck for alterations and additions to the building. Its address was 119 Marine Parade.

                                                           119 Marine Parade

Chew Joo Chiat’s grandson Lee Beow Guan in his oral history recording said his mother Chew Quee Neo inherited most of her father Chew Joo Chiat’s properties. My grandma also told me the same story. So 119 Marine Parade originally belonged to Chew Joo Chiat. According to the site plan the building was sited at the junction of Joo Chiat Road and Marine Parade. The site is now occupied by a new condominium Parc Seabreeze.

                                                       Parc Seabreeze

Now I know my favourite spot for studying during school examinations was at the fence of a Marine Parade bungalow that once belonged to my great grand-father Chew Joo Chiat.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Joo Chiat Past & Present

I started mychewjoochiat blog in 2008. Over the years many new residents wrote to me about Joo Chiat area especially about the past. They wanted to know more about the site where there were residing. I have posted Joo Chiat 'then and now'. I shall continue to post the same topic with pictures but at different sites. I am starting with he oldest building in Joo Chiat which was built in 1916.  Joo Chiat Road was then known as Confederates Estates Road. It was renamed as Joo Chiat Road in 1917.

The 1916 building is at the junction of Joo Chiat Road/East Coast Road

                             Photo credit to Lee Kip Lin and NHB   Picture taken in1993

                             The 1916 building has been upgraded. Picture taken on 12.0-6.2013

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Joo Chiat Road Memory

In August 2011 my son and his family flew in from US to visit us. I took the opportunity to show my grand daughter Joy her Joo Chiat heritage. I walked down memory lane with her. It was a sentimental journey to relive the past. The vacant land between Joo Chiat Terrace and the Joo Chiat Complex evoke fond memories. On that piece of land once stood a block of 2 storey shophouses where I lived. Chew Joo Chiat's 3 storey house and my house were two different blocks of building separated by a narrow lane which was also my childhood playgroung.

The narrow lane led to a kampong behind my house. The community consisted of   Chinese, Malays and Indians and they lived in harmoney with each other. I had two closed Malay playmates and I learned to speak Malay from them. I also learned how to play dum (Malay board game) with them. Ramli's father made very good chepak (leather slippers). The chepak was made to order. I ordered my first pair and found them so confortable that I stopped using other type of slippers. He also made songkoks for sale and he supplied them to shops in Geylang Serai. Yusof's mother spoke good hokien and teochew. She not only spoke Chinese dialect but also played si seks (4 coloured cards) and mahjongs with her Chinese neighbours. Yusof became a police detective and Ramli a postman in southern islands.

I lived in Joo Chiat Road from 1935 to 1957. It was also my growning up years. The Pacific War ended with the return of the British to the island. Singapore was then under the British Military Administration aka BMA. There was food rationing and black markets were thriving. Many people was out of job. There was a sudden mushroom of hawkers, especially cigarettes stalls. They were at street corners, roadsides and pavements.

Joo Chiat Road from Joo Chiat Place towards Geylang Serai was a very busy place. There were 2 wet markets side by side. One was facing Joo Chiat Road and the other was facing Changi Road. Lining both sides of the road were shops selling a wide variety of consumer goods including Chinese medical shops, clinics, dentists, tinsmiths, photo studios etc etc.

There was also an open air cinema known as Lily Cinema. It showed third run Chinese, Malay and Indian movies. It had wooden benches without back rests. An unwritten rule allowed movie goers to reserve seat by tying a handkerchief to the bench. During a popular movie show the benches were full of handkerchives. Late comers were frustrated at such a sight resulted in quarrels and fights.
My house was at Joo Chiat Road and my bedroom was facing the road. Each morning about 5.00 am onwards I could hear the 'click clock' noise from the wooden clogs worn by housewives on their way to the markets. As the morning got brighter the noise increrased in intensity as more housewives charged to the markets. I got used to the noise disturbance and made it my alarm clock each morning to get ready for school and later for work.

My house frontage had a recess from the road. Food hawkers set up stalls for breakfast. Housewives gathered to socialise and gossip. Some remained until the announcement of 'chap jee ki' result. I observed their faces. Very few smile but majority frown with disappointment.
Nearby my house was a sidelane crowded with hawkers selling fresh fish from the kelongs, vegetables and fruits from our local farms and cooked food such as mee siam, bachor mee, prawn mee soup and others. Our family owned the land. Each hawker paid a fee including water supply. On week-ends and public holidays I was on duty. Occasionally I barter with the hawker for a plate of mee siam, or a bowl of mee.

During the night a popular hawker stall selling satay and porridge aka choke in Cantonese occupied the frontage of my house. Every night after the open air cinema show ended, streams of movie goers walked pass my house. Many stopped by to have supper. Due to its popularity the hawker stall had become an icon in Joo Chiat Road.
My next door neighbour was a tyre shop. The owner had a Ford car and every morning drove his car to his other shop in town. In the morning on my way to school I had the opportunity to watch him starting his car. Today we started the car engine by the turn of a key. It was very laborious then. First the driver took a crank rod from the car. The metal rod had a 'z' shape with one end longer than the other. Next he walked to the front and pushed the longer end through a hole under the radiator to connect it to the main shaft. He used the shorter end as a handle to crank start the car engine in clockwise motion. He could never start the car engine with one go. Strength was needed to crank up the car engine and doing it continuously a few times could be very tiring. Once the car engine started, he pulled back the metal rod and put it back to the side the car. Finally he drove the car away. It was a daily ritual for himFinally he drove the car away. It was a daily ritual for him.

I lived in the second house of the 2 storey block of shophouse. Chew Joo Chiat's house was next to the building in the foreground.