Chew Joo Chiat 周如切 is my great grand-father. My family tree in Singapore begins with him. The purpose of this blog is for my children and grand children to know their root's humble beginning. Secondly, there are inaccuracies and gaps I discovered published in books, articles and websites about Chew Joo Chiat. I also want to talk about some lost landmarks in Joo Chiat.
Site map of the wayang (opera) stage and the Chinese temple at Joo Chiat Place
Last week I took a walk down memory lane to see the changing scenes. At Joo Chiat Place opposite Kim Choo Bak Chang shop there was a permanent wayang (opera) stage of timber and brick with tiled roofing. Its back was towards the road and the front was facing a Chinese temple. The original owner of the two builidings was Chew Joo Chiat's son, Chew Cheng Swee. The wayang or 'teochew hi' (Chinese opera) was performed during the birthday of the gods in the temple and also on certain Chinese festivals. The most popular opera troupes then were the 'lau sai toh' and the 'sar chiak soon'. I understand both had been disbanded some time ago due to poor patronage. The present generations prefer 'ker tai' (singing troupe).
Sugar Art Gold Fish Photo from Samm's blog post
Dough FigurinesPhoto from Samm's blog post
During school days I went to the Chinese wayang not to see the performance but to mingle with other kids watching Chinese artists making sugar art figurines and dough art figurines. For sugar art figurines, moulds were used to make the required shapes like gold fish, rabbit etc. As for dough art figurines no mould was needed. The artist made characters from Chinese stories such as Journey To The West, The Three Kingdoms as well as animals. They were very colourful too. The cheapest one was the figurine of a cockerel because it was the easiest and fastest to make. The sugar figurines were edible. The usual way was to lick it like an ice cream. It could not be kept as it would melt or attract ants and insects. The dough figurine was not edible and also could not be kept too long. When the dough dried up the figurine became brittle and pieces of dough dropped off. It became mouldy very fast.
Actual architectural drawing of the wayang stage
Acual architectural drawing of the Chinese temple
The wayang stage has been replaced by an apartment building block with shops on the ground floor. Joo Chiat Gospel Hall has replaced the Chinese temple.
Apartments block with shops on the ground floor The site was formerly occupied by a Chinese wayang stage
Joo Chiat Gospel Hall The site was originally a Chinese temple
Another such wayang stage was opposite No 65 Joo Chiat Road where Chew Joo Chiat had his residence. The wayang stage was built by him so that he and his family members could watch the 'teochew hi' (Chinese opera) performance from the third level front balcony. His residence is now an empty field. The wayang stage site is now occupied by a block of shophouses as shown the picture below.
The green field was the site ofChew Joo Chiat'sresidenceand across the road, theshophouses behind the street signboard was the site of the wayang (opera) stage
How many of us today can still remember the Joo Chiat Jetty? Before the land reclamation at the east coast in 1966, there was no Marine Parade Road. The beach was right in front of the Church of Singapore. I swam in the sea there during my school days. When I was in the upper secondary school, I went to the beach to study under the shade. I enjoyed the ambience which was quiet and breezy during the day. An Indian 'kachang puteh' man named Ah Pao was selling 'kachang puteh' in front of Tung Ling School (now Church of Singapore). I patronised his stall so often that we became friends. Most school children in Katong knew him too. He was an icon to those who frequented the beach.
Joo Chiat jetty was built in late 1950s. It started from the end of Joo Chiat Road and extended into the sea up to where the former Republic Theatre building now stands. The end of the jetty was a square with railings and lightings. In fact, it was a jetty cum restaurant. It functioned as a jetty during the day and seafood business at night. The seafood restuarant was very popular with the people who lived in the area. They, not only enjoyed a good dinner but also the sea breeze, and the waves providing music to their ears. It holds fond memories to those who partied there, especially the night revellers. Unfortunately, the jetty had to be domolished owing to the land reclamation scheme at the east coast in 1966.
Joo Chiat Square is located at the junction of Joo Chiat Road and Joo Chiat Place. It is a cemented vacant land as shown in the above photo. On 23 Decembeer 2006, Joo Chiat MP Chan Soo Sen launched Joo Chiat Square that will be a gathering point for the community for weekend activities every Saturday for the next several years.
Before the place becomes Joo Chiat Square, there was a Shell Petrol Station which was one of Joo Chiat Road's landmark since 1950s. Illegal car rental was very popular then, especially in the eastern part of the island. They were also called Pa Ong Chia in Hokkien. Unlike the pirate taxis, they did not cruise on the roads to pick up passengers. The cars were parked at the petrol station waiting for hirer. When business was at its peak, there were about 40 cars for hire. Car rental rates were $1.50 per hour or $15.00 per day on week days and $2.00 per hour or $20.00 per day for Saturday and Sunday. Car models were Morris Minor, Morris Oxford, Hillman Minx and Vaxhual. They were all British made cars as there was no Japanese car then.
To hire a car was easy. You only had to show your identity card or a driving licence for record purposes in case the hirer absconded. The cars were usually hired out for social uses. But there were instances that such cars were used for robbery. A friend of mine who had a 'pah ong chia' business there, had the unfortunate experience. He was not aware that a robber had hired his car to rob until detectives from the Criminal Investigation Department called on him. Pa Ong Chia business stopped a few years before Shell Petrol Station ceased operation.
Before the second world war, Joo Chiat Square was a vacant field. Every evening men gathered there to listen to story telling. They sat on improvised benches around the story teller just like the top photo. My grand uncle was an avid listener of Chinese stories. I was about 4 years old then, and every evenings I would ride on his shoulders to the story telling site which was within walking distance from my home. When the story telling started, there was complete silence and the audience were captivated. I was bored sitting beside my grand uncle with nothing to play. Anyway, I enjoyed the two way trip riding on his broad shoulders.
Joo Chiat Post Office was the only stand by itself 2 storey building at Joo Chiat Road. It was situated between No 159 and No 169, and was one of the landmarks in Joo Chiat Road. The building had since been demolished and the place is now an access road to the carpark at Tembling Road and Joo Chiat Place junction.
The building itself has an interesting history. It was build before WWII and was first used as a licensed retail opium shop. Joo Chiat at that time had migrant Chinese workers and many were opium addicts. Opium could be bought by individual to smoke at home, as my grand uncle did or by opium den operators to cater for poorer opium addicts. Smoking paraphernalia consisted of a long pipe with a small bowl fitted near the end of the pipe. An oil lamp is needed to heat and melt the opium as the addict inhaled the smoke from the pipe. The shop ceased selling opium since the Japanese occupation period.
After WWII the building was converted into a toddy (palm wine) retail shop. Toddy is an alcoholic beverage obtained from the saps of coconut trees. The saps collected were allowed to ferment for a day to turn it into toddy. It catered mainly to the Indian daily rated workers. A municipal labourer quarters was just behind the toddy shop. Majority of the occupiers were Indians who worked for the Municipality. The toddy shop opened in the afternoon, usually after the labourers working hours. Drinking toddy was a way of life for them, especially after a hard day's work in the hot sun as road sweepers, trench diggers, pipes layers and as mason. It was a common sight to see some of them falling to the ground, lying on the roadside and five foot ways, dead drunk.
The final occupant of the building was the Joo Chiat Post Office. The ground floor was used for postal services and the upper floor was supposed to be living quarters for the Post Master. I am not sure if he and his family ever live there. The above photo of Joo Chiat Post Office was taken in 1970.
I was brought up at Joo Chiat Road near Geylang Serai. In 1957 I moved to live at Kg. Eunos. Since then, many landmarks in the area had changed. The house where I grew up had been acquired by HDB and is now a vacant land. Joo Chiat Market was replaced by Joo Chiat Complex. Nearby was an open air Lily cinema. In its place, now stands a multi-storey car parks for the shopping complex. Nam Wah coffee shop where I used to have beer with friends is now Joo Chiat Hotel.
Some very old land marks in the area had been lost completely. Before WWII there was a railway line in the area. Guillemard Road was then unknown. The whole stretch was a railway track. It cut through a few roads before joining the railway track at Joo Chiat Lane. After passing Tembling Road (opposite the temple) it made a turn behing a two storey house and continued towards Everitt Road/Joo Chiat Place junction. From there it went all the way to Jalan Eunos quarry.
During the Japanese occupation there was no train service as some of the railway tracks damaged by bomb was not repaired. After the war the disused railway land was replaced by housing developments. The railway line in Joo Chiat is now history.