Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year for 2012

                                             Wishing You A Wonderful New Year 2012

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Joo Chiat Road in 1920s

Joo Chiat area in the early days was coconut plantations. There was a dirt track starting from Geylang Serai all the way to the east coast beach. It was then known as Confederate Estates Road. The dirt track was later constructed into a proper roadway for motor vehicles. It was renamed after the wealthy land owner Chew Joo Chiat as Joo Chiat Road. With the opening of a new road to East Coast Road and the beach more people migrated to live there from other parts of Singapore resulting in housing boon in Joo Chiat.
                                                           Confederate Estate Road

                                                           Joo Chiat Road        
In 1920s there were many residential buildings along Joo Chiat Road. They were Peranakan styled terraced houses and bungalows with fancy names such as Noel Villa, Sandy Point Villa, Mafeking House and so on.  The facade had motifs and details symbolic of the Chinese and Malay cultures with European influences. Such buildings gave Joo Chiat Road a very unique character. The residents were mostly Peranakans except for the shphouses nearer to Joo Chiat Market. Coconut trees were still very visible along the both sides of the road. The roadside coconut trees got lesser as Joo Chiat Road progressed.

Chinese migrants and others could find accommodations at Gei Hin Kwang Hotel, Japanese Koyakan Hotel, Happy Hotel, Yumei Hotel and a few more along Joo Chiat Road. Clubs and Associations also held their meetings, ronggeng parties and anniversary there. Besides their legal businesses, they also had illegal business such using the hotels as brothels. A few were arrested and charged in Court.

Joo Chiat Road also had its ugly side. There were triads taking protection money from shopkeepers, hawkers and businessmen. There was an incidence of extortion reported in The Straits Times on 22 November 1923 as follows:

       ".......The complainant, a Hokien trader of 246 Joo Chiat Road, stated that he discovered a letter in the house early morning on the November 11 which was to the effect that he would have to pay a certain amount of money over at a shop, No 30 Joo Chiat Road, and if within 3 days the money was not paid, he would meet with some trouble. Two days later a Chinese called at the shop in question and said that he was the man to collect the money deposited by the complainant. He was told to wait and in the meantime the complainant was informed. The latter went to the shop and conducted the accused to a coffee shop, where he was subsequently arrested by a police corporal who had already been informed......."

We had just read the extortion drama above. But the mystery is, who was the Hokien trader which was mentioned in the newspapers article?  The address given 246 Joo Chiat Road was the residence of Chew Joo Chiat. See the newspaper cuttings above and below.

I assumed the victim was Chew Joo Chiat. The extorner must be very desparate by showing himself to his victim. On the other hand, Chew must be a very brave man risking his life to go to the extortioner. Furthermore, the arrest seemed to be very easy.  Only one policeman was needed to apprehend the bad guy. In today's context a team of policmen is required to lay an ambush in order to arrest the extorner.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Truth Must Be Revealed

The Straits Times on 2 April 1999 published an article that Chew Joo Chiat's great grand-daughter, Irene Tan was interviewed for the book published by the Joo Chiat Citizens Consultative Committee.
I found 3 grave errors in the newspapers' article.

Error No 1: "He (Chew Joo Chiat) is believed to have died in 1950s".

Fact No. 1: He died on 5 February 1926 according to his tombstone and his obituary.

Error No. 2: "He (Chew Joo Chiat) had only one child, the late Chew Quee Neo".

Fact No. 2: "He had 2 sons, Chew Cheng Liam 周清廉 Chew Cheng Swee 周清水 and 3 daughters, Chew Quee Neo 周桂娘 Chew Siang Neo 周羡娘 and Chew Su Lan 周素蘭

Fact No. 1 and 2 can be found on Chew Joo Chiat's tombstone. Chew Quee Neo's name and Chew's two other daughters' names were also inscribed on it.

Error No 3: "In his heyday, Mr Chew was dubbed the King of Katong because of his wealth".

Fact No 3: Chew Joo Chiat was never dubbed the King of Katong during his life time. There was no evidence to substantiate the claim. The name King of Katong first appeared in the Straits Times article from the interview with her. Its second appearance was in the book "Joo Chiat a living legacy". However, it had been copied by magazines and websites.

I shall be happy if it is true that my great grand-father, Chew Joo Chiat had been dubbed the King of Katong.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Cousins Tracing Their Roots

Chew Joo Chiat my great grand-father and also a Singapore pioneer was buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery on 11 February 1926. After his death his eldest son Chew Cheng Liam (my grandpa) and his brother Chew Cheng Swee observed the traditional Qing Ming Jie (情明节)or Tomb Sweeping Festival Day every year. They visited the tomb and paid the workers around there to sweep the tomb clean including removing the overgrown vegetations. Cooked food and cakes were offered on the alter fronting the tombstone, followed by burning of joss sticks and prayer. Lastly joss papers representing gold and silver were burned for the deceased to use in the other world.
After the death of his two sons, Qing Ming Jie Festival tradition for the family was continued annually by the descendants of his second son. I have no idea why his eldest son's family members did not carry on with the tradition.

I was very keen to visit my great grandpa's tomb but non of the descendants from my grandpa knew the site. The opportunity came in 2008 when I made contact with an uncle (Chew Cheng Swee's son). During the 2009 Qing Ming Festival my uncle and his son showed me the way to Chew Joo Chiat's tomb. On looking at the tomb, many thoughts passed through my mind. One was how he being a pauper had succeeded to become a millionaire. My final thought was how many of Chew Joo Chiat's descendants know of their roots especially their family tree in Singapore begins with him. I am building Chew Joo Chiat's family. There are now about 200 and is still adding.

In September 2011 I guided my two young cousins Ivan and Gregory to our great grandpa's tomb. It was not an easy task to search for the site based on my memory of two years ago. Luckily my memory was still good and I managed to find the route to the tomb. Our search was made easier by directional sign with arrow pointing. They were provided by courtesy of the Asia Paranormal Investigators to the tomb sites of most Singapore past pioneers. By following two more such directional signs, we found the tomb. There was a notice hanging at the side of the tomb that gave the name of the deceased, his date of death plus a brief of his family history.

Chew Joo Chiat's tomb was covered with overgrown vegetation and creepers, except for the tombstone and the cemented frontage. The main tombstone had only Chinese characters. The names of his children and grand children were carved on it. I saw my dad's name there. Two small side tablets, one on each side written in English with red paint showed his date of death. We took many pictures and video clips. They will become family teasures in future when the destruction of Bukit Brown Cememtery is completed. The authority had already planned to construct a dual four-lane road through Bukit Brown in 2013. Later on the cemetery would become a housing estate for the living.

I am now passing the baton to my two young cousins. My next visit will be with my immediate family members. My daughter has shown interest. I may get one of my sibblings to come along. I hope the authority will preserve Bukit Brown Cemetery as Singapore's heritage site so that my relay team as well as others can keep on running.

Bukit Brown Cemetery gate at Lorong Halwa

Narrow path leading to Chew Joo Chiat's tomb

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tracing Chew Joo Chiat Family Tree

It is difficult to build a large family tree where there are many extended families. I know of many relatives when young but have lost contact with them over the years. It is easy to start a family tree beginning with your own family members. I know all their particulars and have all their photos too.

Bonding of cousins                                             

Meeting of the cousins
Re-establishing contact with lost relatives was not easy. It was nearly 50 years ago that I last saw my 3 uncles and an aunt. In 2008 I discovered their whereabout on a sad occasion. My youngest uncle died and I saw his obituary in the newspapers. I attended his wake. My 2 older uncles recognised me and we had a chat. My surprise was to find so many young cousins whom I had never meet. They were about my children's age. In fact, we did not know that each other existed until that day. Fortunately they were keen on Chew Joo Chiat's family tree. Our grandpa died before they were born. So, they depended on me for feedback on family history.  We met thrice at different restuarants for get together and bonding.


Chew Joo Chiat's tombstone

I had a hazy idea concerning the number of Chew Joo Chiat's children. An uncle from his maternal side recorded in National Archives oral history said that Chew Joo Chiat had 6 sons and 4 daughters. It was later published in the book 'Joo Chiat a living legacy'. My grandma when she was alive gave me a different figure. In 2009 I visited Chew's grave for the first time. I found from his tombstone he had only 2 sons and 3 daughters. Their names were also inscribed on it. So, tombstone is another avenue to trace and verify family members.

Blogging also helps to find lost relatives. A number of people with Chew surname who read my blog asked me whether we were related. From them I discovered relatives in Australia, Ireland and Malaysia besides US, UK and Singapore. I also found out that one of my grand aunt married the late Tan Siew Sin, former Finance Minister of Malaysia.

Family history could also be traced from newspapers, books, journals etc. My research was done at Lee Kong Chiang Reference Library.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Joo Chiat A Heritage Town

Congratulations to Joo Chiat for  becoming Singapore's first Heritage Town. The National Heritage Board is funding the area's plan to showcase more of its legacy. Thanks to Miss Sandra Helen Vatsaloo and her team's hard work and impressive submission that won the award. Three cheers to Joo Chiat!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Then & Now Joo Chiat (2)

Many prewar buildings in Joo Chiat had been demolished and replaced by modern ones. Fortunately an old building built in 1916 situated at Joo Chiat Road/East Coast Road junction still stands. It is now under URA conservation.                                                                                                                                              


In the 1950s Joo Chiat Road/Joo Chiat Lane junction was like a market place every morning. Unlicensed hawkers set up make shift stalls to sell fish, pork and vegetables. Housewives took the opportunity to meet and gossip while doing marketting. By midday all the hawker stalls simply disappeared into thin air. Such was the unwritten rule understood by the unlicensed hawkers.  

Then -  Photo credit: National Archives Singapore

Joo Chiat Lane looks so much different now compared to the 1950s photo. The lane is very clean and uncluttered with hawker stalls. At the background a temple building has extended upwards and broader. It belongs to the well known Kwan Im Tng Temple at Tembeling Road                                    

Monday, January 17, 2011

Then & Now Joo Chiat (1)

In the early 20th century, the main thoroughfare between Geylang Serai and the East Coast was known as Confederate Estates Road. It was a dirt road suitable for bullock carts. Later it was taken over by the Municipality who constructed a proper road for motor vehicles. In 1917 the Confederate Estates Road was renamed as Joo Chiat Road
Below pictures show Joo Chiat Road's transformation from a coconut plantation to its present state.