Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Seasons Greetings

happy new year 2011
    Wishing All Bloggers and Viewers

        A Happy New Year 2011!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Joo Chiat Road Past & Present

Starting from last year, I noticed that many Singaporeans were interested in Joo Chiat. They were university and polytechnic students, IE trainee teachers, club members, company staff as well as new residents. They asked me for interviews and walk about Joo Chiat regarding their Joo Chiat projects. Their interests were Joo Chiat history, Peranakan culture and buildings conservation in the area. I was glad that Joo Chiat had generated so much interest and acceded to all their requests.
In February this year, the Rotary Club of Jurong Town invited Tony Tan of Betel Box Hostel and myself to give a presentation on Joo Chiat to their members at Tanglin Club. This was followed by a walking tour of Joo Chiat recently.

Joo Chiat Road has changed a lot over the years. I have many memories of Joo Chiat for I grew up there. Each time I passed the vacant land where my home once stood, my mind would flashed many years back recalling the sights and sounds of yester-years.

Pic 1 below shows my fomer house on the right with a trishaw parked there. Every morning before the cock crowed, house wives walked passed my house for their marketing at Joo Chiat market. The click clock sound from their wooden clogs was music to my ear. It also served as a natural alarm clock for me to get up for school and later for work at my office. Another sight and sound were from the itinerant hawkers setting up stalls on the recess fronting my house. House wives stopped over to have breakfast and gossip about friends and families. I could also hear some of them haggling with the roadside hawkers over their purchases. This part of Joo Chiat Road had charm and character as seen in the picture. There were cyclists and people walking on the road. A large tree by the roadside provided shade. The gable wall of the building had windows for lighting and ventilation and also for viewing.  Not any more now since Joo Chiat market had been demolished and all roadside hawkers had been resited. Furthermore, Joo Chiat Road is now a one-way street. The block of houses where I lived before together with those fronting the big tree had been demolished and is now a vacant land (pic 2).

Pic 1. Joo Chiat Road between Joo Chiat Terrace and Geylang Serai in 1968

Pic 2. Same site and angle as in pic 1 above. Old buildings gone and now a vacant land

Pic 3 Policeman directing traffic in 1968 at Joo Chiat Road/Geylang Serai junction

Joo Chiat Road junction where the four roads (Joo Chiat Road/Changi Road/Geylang  Serai/Geylang Road) converge, has changed. In the 1960s there was a policeman (picture above) to direct traffic at peak hours. Now traffic lights regulate the flow of traffic.

Pic 4. 1960 street map - credit to Singapore Survey Dept

There were also 2 wet markets at the corner of Joo Chiat Road and Changi Road. Changi market was facing Changi Road and Joo Chiat market was facing Joo Chiat Road. The 2 markets were separated by a narrow lane as in pic 4. Changi market was very popular with the people living in Geylang Serai, because things were cheaper there than in Joo Chiat market. In late 1970 the 2 wet markets were demolished for the construction of Joo Chiat Complex (pic 5) which is now the new icon at Joo Chiat Road and Changi Road junction.

Pic 5. Joo Chiat Complex facing Changi Road


Pic 6. Joo Chiat Road and Geylang Road corner                          
Above picture shows a 2 storey building at the junction of Joo Chiat Road and Geylang Road. The ground floor was a coffee shop with a few food stalls. One of them was the famous goreng pisang (banana fritters) stall and opened for business only for a few hours a day. Often there was a long queue of regulars. Behind the shop was a backlane. It was deserted during the day but at night both sides of the lane were lined with hawker stalls and crowded with people seeking yummy food, such as Indian rojak, soup kambing, mee rebus, soto ayam, satay and kueh kueh (Malay cakes) highly delightful to the taste. My favourite goreng pisang was pisang rajah. Its sweetness went very well with the slightly bitter taste of kopi O. At night the aroma of satay from the stalls made me yearned for them. Furthermore, it was very hard to resist the succulent taste of bbq beef, mutton and chicken.    

Pic 7 Same site as in pic 6. Joo Chiat Road and Geylang Road corner         

Picture 1, 3 & 6 credit to National Archives of Singapore.                                                              

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Another Walk Down Memory Lane

On Thursday 28 October 2010 I walked down Joo Chiat memory lane one more time. I acceded to a request for an interview by a seocnd year student in the Faculty of Real Estate, National University of Singapore. He is doing a project about building conservation and urban planning in Joo Chiat. We met at the junction of Joo Chiat Road/Dunman Road. After our conversations we walked along Joo Chiat Road towards Geylang Serai to view some of the conserved Peranakan shophouses and terraced houses. I also showed him the sites where some old buildings with archtectural significant and styles once stood but has now been replaced by modern buildings.

When we arrived at a block of 3 storey building bounded by Joo Chiat Road/a big drain and Onan Road, I pointed out to him that previously a bungalow with large compound occupied that entire block of building. The  property was then own by a Chinese towday known as towkay kelong because he had many fishing stakes off Marine Parade beach. In 1959 a fish jetty was built for the fishermen to bring their catch for sale to the
fish mongers in Joo Chiat and Changi markets. The jetty was directly opposite the end part of Joo Chiat Road.

Fish Jetty

We continued our walk. When we came to the vacant land between Joo Chiat Terrace and Joo Chiat Complex, I was overwhelm with nostalgia. On this empty land once stood the house that I grew up. Behind my house was an attap kampong  where some of my childhood friends lived.  We played marbles, gasing and flied kites together in the open ground near an old school. Chew Joo Chiat also had his residence on the same plot of vacant land. His house was a 3 storey building with a front balcony at the top level facing Joo Chiat Road. Across the road directly opposite his house, he built a permanent wayang stage (Chinese opera house) and engaged Teochew hi (opera troupe) to perform shows during his birthday. He watched the shows from the balcony with his family and friends. In 1980s all the buildings on the vacant land were acquired by the authority for development. But todate it remains an empty land.  Building conservation status in Singapore started in 1970. In 1993, more than 20 years later Joo Chiat area was granted the conservation status. Since the URA has no specific plan to develop the land for so long, why was it necessary to demolish Chew's residence then? The building could have been conserved to show case its historical significant. It is no use crying over spilt milk, but I am just thinking aloud.

Chew Joo Chiat's residence once stood on the empty land

Teochew opera

                                Elevation Plan of wayang stage

Foor Plan of Chew Joo Chiat's residence

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Malay Grandson

My Grand Father

I am searching for one of Chew Joo Chiat's grandson. He is my father's half brother and also my uncle. The differnece is, his mother is a Malay. Nevertheless, he is still my uncle and a close relative. He has a Chinese name but later changed it to a Malay name. The last I saw him was when his father (my grandpa) passed away in 1947. He came to pay his last respect to his father. His last known address was at Jalan Eunos. It is more than half a century ago and I am sure he had moved to a new address. He and his family deserve a place in Chew Joo Chiat's family tree which I am still building. Any of his family members or anyone who knows this family can contact me.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Peranakan Town

In the recent issue of the Peranakan magazine I was surprised to learn that there was so much talk about making Joo Chiat a Peranakan Town. It is most appropriate to give Joo Chiat this honour for the Peranakan culture is very much alive here. Joo Chiat district has rich heritage of Peranakan buildings with mixed motifs of different cultures. There are Peranakan antique shops, tailors making sarong kebaya, many Nonya food restuarants and the Peranakan community. Now there is a forging of ties between the Peranakan Association and the Joo Chiat community club to take the Peranakan culture to a wider community and eventually making Joo Chiat a Singapore Peranakan hub.

There are organisations in Singapore that keep Peranakan culture and traditions alive. The most outstanding are the Peranakan Association and Gunong Sayang. Less known is a small group of Peranakan senior citizens in Marine Parade formed in 2009 to actively promote their culture and traditions. They are members of Good Life, an organisation sponsored by the Catholic Welfare Association for senior citizens in Marine Parade. The group consists of Peranakan women age from 70 to 80 plus. They dressed in sarong kebaya to sing and dance at functions such Christmas, Lunar New Year and recently Singapore National Day. All the 3 events were graced by Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. During the Christmas party at Block 34, SM Goh went up the stage to dance rongeng with the elderly bibiks.

The group is now looking for volunteer musicians to accompany their singing and dance performance. Can anyone help?

Pictures and video of Lunar New Year 2010

Pictures and video of Christmas 2009

Friday, July 2, 2010


"Chew Joo Chiat came to be known as the undisputed King of  Katong in the 1930s" said Chew's grandson Lee Beow Guan in the book JOO CHIAT a living legacy. The book was published in 2001 by the Joo Chiat Consultative Committee in association with the National Archives of Singapore.

The National Library of Singapore used the title The King of Katong in a poster to advertise my talk there on 30 August 2008. The topic of my talk was 'how I traced my family history' and not on the King of Katong in particular. The next organisation to use the phrase 'King of Katong' was the Joo Chiat Grassroots Organisations in its 5th issue Apr-Jun 2010 quarterly newsletters to Joo Chiat Constituency residents. Copy of the newsletter is shown below.


As Chew's great grandson, I am very proud of him being known as the King Katong. But my intuition told me it could not be true. I am a very close member of Chew's family and I have not heard of it mentioned by my parents or grand parents when they were still alive. In the case of how Joo Chiat Road got its name, the matter was talked about from one generation to another. My grand son was so proud of his heritage that he told his teacher about it. My conscience was pricking me without probing the matter further. Finally I decided to investigate and went to the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library to do my research. I browse throught the micro films, books and publications of Joo Chiat. The result was zero. Therefore, Chew Joo Chiat became the undisputed King of Katong was not substantiated.

Below are some of the articles about Chew Joo Chiat and the roads named after him, but there was no mention that he was known as the King of Katong.



My purpose of this post is tell the true story of Chew Joo Chiat. I noticed some websites still state that Chew Joo Chiat was a wealthy Peranakan land owner when he was a Chinaman.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Recently I met Ah Heng, an old Joo Chiat neighbour. We talked about the good old days of more than half a century ago. He was a teenager then living in a kampong behind my house at Joo Chiat Road. As a teenager he did many odd jobs for a living until he landed a job as an assistant cook to Ah Hong, a live-in Peranakan cook to Chew Joo Chiat's daughter who was also my grand aunt. I remembered Ah Hong for he catered 'toh panjang' ( a long table displayed with Peranakan cuisine) lunch at my wedding.

Ah Heng was lucky to be his assistant. Ater a few years he was very skillful at cooking Peranakan food that Guan Hoe Soon, a restaurant at Joo Chiat Road employed him as the chief cook. He left the restaurant's service soon after he got married. The newly wed couple started a Peranakan food catering business inside their house at Pennyfather Road. His food business was a success for the residents of Joo Chiat and Katong loved to eat his cookings. I was one of his regular customers. I remembered often seeing a long queue of people at his door steps waiting to collect the sumptious food in a tingkat (a tiffin carrier) home for dinner. Those who came in motor vehicles some time double parked on the road causing traffic jam at Pennyfather Road as well as the side roads resulting in complaints to the authority. His food catering business at his house was illegal. He closed shop and moved his business to a licensed premises at East Coast Road between Jago Close and Chapel Road. Business was good but age caught up with him. A few years later he retired from the business.

My wife comes from a Peranakan family. When we got married she had no cooking experience at all. Today Peranakan cuisine is her speciality. In the past Chinese New Year reunion dinner she produced a varity of Peranakan cuisine, such as buah kulak, kiam chye arh, itek sioh, babi pontay, sambal udang, bak wan kepentin, arti babi bungkus, ngo hiang, nonya noodle with pineapple salad, curry chicken etc. On new year's day visitors arriving at my place in an unending flow from morning to night. They were served with nonya mee siam, laksa and a few other items.

Years ago I remembered my wife's nephew was the life of the party. He gathered all his young cousins to play a game of dices called 'si gor luck'. He always played the banker while the others bet on the numbers. There was so much excitement and noises when he rolled the dices. All the people who crowded around him shouted in unison 'si gor luck!' which were the winning numbers.

This Tiger Year we shall miss all our guests who visited us annually as we shall be leaving home for a holiday. I am sure they too will miss us. We broke the tradition for the first time to be away from home on Chinese New Year's day. I felt sentimental when viewing past video clips that showed guests at my place on new year's day. I love the crowd, the noises they made as well as their laughters. Below are video clips showing guests during the past Chinese New Year and my wife's Peranakan food.

2009 Chinese New Year guests

My wife's Peranakan cuisine