Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Joo Chiat Walking Tour

The Straits Times has a Special Travel page every Tuesday. On Tuesday November 10 2009 it published an article about The Best Travel Experience Award won by Betal Box Backpacker Hostel at Joo Chiat Road. I know the Company's director Tony Tan and sent him a congratulatory message. I was curious to know how a small hostel like Betel Box could outdo the big guys in town. According to him his walking tours of Joo Chiat and Katong took about 4 to 8 hours and could go on to 12 hours including night tour. My elderly foreign friends joined his youthful hostel guests for the Joo Chiat walking tour on Saturday 13 November 2009. For me the Joo Chiat walking tour was my walk down memory lane. The tour group had briefing at Tony's hostel about the three main ethnic groups in the area. He also talked about the Eurasains, the Peranakan in Katong and the holiday bungalows by the sea along the East coast before the WWII.
We left the Betel Box Hostel for our first destination, the Kuan Im Temple at Tembling Road/Joo Chiat Lane junction. I remember the railway lines at Joo Chiat Lane which was disused after the war. On my way to school I used to do balancing act by walking on the metal rail. Kuan Im Temple was another nostalgic place. My grandmother visited the temple quite often and I had to tag along. I had a phobia for the 4 large idols (door gods), 2 on each side of the prayer hall. I liked the wall paintings of the inner halls. The first inner hall paintings on the wall was about filial piety. One painting showed a woman breastfed the mother-in-law during famine while her baby waited by the side. Another showed a son bare his body for the mosquitoes to bite him so that his father lying by the side would be spared. There were altogether 24 filial piety paintings. The inner most hall had wall paintings of hell depicting the 18 types of punishment for sinners.
Our next stop was at Kim Choo Kueh Chang. While Tony was explaining to the group about the meat dumpling and the story behind it, my mind was focusing on an apartment block across the road opposite the shop. Thereat once stood a permanent wayang stage and a Chinese temple facing it. The two buildings were built by my granduncle. Whenever there was a wayang performance I would be there, not to see the show but to watch kids playing tikam tikam ( a game of chance) and hawker selling beh leh ko (malt sugar) by twisting the candy. Another type of beh leh ko could be made into the shape of a fish and frog by blowing the malt sugar into a mould. I liked to watch artist making figurines from dough of various colours. The most expensive and difficult to make was the Chinese warrior and the cheapest was the cockerel figurine.

On our way to Joo Chiat Road we stopped at a fruit shop and Tony bought some mangosteens for the group to eat and experienced our local fruit. We walked passed the vacant land next to Joo Chiat Hotel. Chew Joo Chiat's residence and my former house were on the same vacant land. The place reminded me of my childhood. The lane from the main road and the kampong behind my house was my playground. The two gable walls separated by a lane was my canvas. As a kid I like to draw. Even at my present home I continued to paint on the walls until some time ago.

At Joo Chiat Road Tony took us to the 17th level of an HDB block for a panoramic view of the area. The sky was bright and clear and we could recognise the landmarks far away. Looking downwards we saw the Malay Village, Geylang Serai Market and the former Singapura Theatre. We moved to the right corner of the common corridor to see the eastern part of Singapore. The sea was within view and I could see my point block home at Marine Parade. There was also many ocean going ships anchored near the coast.

It was already passed noon and we had our lunch at Geylang Serai Market food centre. We spent about half an hour there before proceeding to Malay Village. There was nothing of interest in the village. It was almost deserted. We took a few photographs at the main building for souviner. We crossed the road to Haig Road HDB housing estate and Tony bought some Peranakan cakes from Bengawan Solo cake shop. Sheng Siong Supermart was nearby. Tony led the group there to show our foreign guests the live seafood such as fish, crabs, frogs, cockles and others. He bought some mooncakes for the group.

We gathered at a semi-circular gallery to sample all the cakes bought by Tony. He had a story to tell with each type of cake including the moon cake festivals. At this point our walking tour ended. It started at 9.30 am and finished at about 3.30 pm. I have never come across a walking tour that lasted so long (6 hours). It covered only Joo Chiat area. What about Katong? Maybe another 6 hours. It is truely the best travelling experience for the tourists.

Map of Joo Chiat Walking Tour

Elderly group joining the youngster for the walk

Walking tour started from Betel Box Hostel

Kuan Im Temple

Kim Choo Kueh Chang shop

Level 17 panoramic view of the area

Panoramic view looking east and the sea

Geylang Serai Market

Geylang Serai Market food center

Front View of Geylang Serai Market

Malay Village

At Sheng Siong Supermart

End of Joo Chiat Walking Tour