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.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Joo Chiat Road

Joo Chiat Road is in the news again. The Sunday Times on 22nd June 2013 published an article "Changing face of Joo Chiat". It was stated that Joo Chiat has shaken off most of its sleaze that has come to be associated with it. The karaoke pubs and massage parlours which had proliferated in the last decade bringing scantily clad women and intoxicated patrons to the area. 

The sleaze has scaled down due to a number of factors. One was the enforcement actions by the police vice squad. It was reported in the newspapers on June 24th 2011 exactly 2 years ago 20 naked Vietnamese hostesses were caught during a police raid at Joo Chiat Road on Wednesday night. They were found by policemen serving the customers naked in a lounge with some having sex. Another factor is the ecomonic restructuring in Joo Chiat.  It was reported that the seedy establishment at its peak in 2004 had 44 karaoke bars and 38 massage parlours. According to the newspapers report there were about 15 such bars and 3 massage parlours left.

                              Joo Chiat Road KTV lounge

                Police raided a karaoke lounge at Joo Chiat Road

Vices in Joo Chiat is not new. Before the war there was prostitution in the area. Hotels doubled up as brothels to provide accommodations for the flesh trade. Some were caught and convicted in courts as shown below.


In the 1950/60s there were more hotels/brothels in the area. Girly bars lined both sides of Joo Chiat Road and Joo Chiat Place. The bar girls were mostly from Malaysia. Cigarettes were very cheap then and almost everyone smoked inside the bar filling the room with thick white smoke. Above the bars were rooms for massage and other services from the bar girls.

Operators of the vice trade were very innovative. They opened up man's hair saloon shop usually opposite the girly bars. Services in the saloon were hair cut/wash and body massage. Beer and stout were also available though illegal. If a client wanted privacy there was a curtain to go round the barber chair for seclusion. Who knows what went on behind the curtain.

There were licensed massage parlours too. Each room door had a rectangle glass window as a requirement. It was to allow the licensing inspector to see inside the room from a distance to prevent hanky panky business.

Then music lounge was introduced in Joo Chiat. There was a little stage with 3 piece live band and singers. When karaoke came to Singapore, the bigger bars updated to karaoke lounge with bright neon lights at the shop front. That was when the sleaze was seen openly on the five foot ways, roadsides etc.

New businesses such as Art Galleries, Design Studios, High-end Fashion and Décor shops have moved into the area.  All  Joo Chiat residents wanted to have a peaceful environment. Hope the sleaze in the area will die a natural death..

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.

Monday, January 7, 2013

An Unknown Singapore Pioneer

Chew Joo Chiat

Chew Joo Chiat was an unknown Singapore Pioneer. He helped in the economy and development of Singapore, especially in Joo Chiat area. He was a housing developer in Geylang opposite Paya Lebar, building shops and residential houses before the turn of the 21st century. He was a planter owning spice plantations producing pepper, nutmeg and gambier. His coconut plantations produced copra. All the products from his estates were exported to Europe and America. In the early 1920s there was a migration of population moving to the east coast area known verbally as Katong. Chew Joo Chiat saw a housing need. He cleared his plantations and divided his lands into parcels of building plots. He became a housing developer once more. He also owned three rubber plantations and the largest was 64 acres. They were at Bukit Timah, Mandai and Changi, all with factories producing rubber sheets for export to Europe and America. As a planter and housing developer he provided jobs to the people. The goods exported overseas brought in foreign exchange to the country. Therefore, he made significant contributions to Singapore across the various sectors such as in economy, commerce and history. But he was an unknown Singapore pioneer.
In 2008 I chanced upon a list of past Singapore pioneers buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery. The list of names were compiled by the Asia Paranormal Investigators (API). Chew Joo Chiat’s name was not there. I wrote to them in April and May 2009. Raymond Goh replied favourably. After some verifications Chew Joo Chiat’s name was put on the list of Singapore pioneers buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery.

The Sunday Times dated June 10, 2012 published an article "New book features famous Hokkiens"
A new book to celebrate Singapore’s prominent Hokkiens will be available from November. Published by the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan (SHHK), the 400 pages book will feature 150 Hokkien Singaporeans.

I checked SHHK’s website for the list of 150 famous Hokkien Singaporeans but Chew Joo Chiat’s name was missing. I was not only disappointed but was also overwhelm with anger and frustration. How could a well known Hokkien son who had contributed so much to the country be excluded from the list? After my intervention I was informed by the manager of SHHK that his name would be in the publication. 

Recently the Minisry of Education was going to produce an educational video entitled "More Than A Name" and asked me for permission to use Chew Joo Chiat's photo. I gladly gave my permission.

                                   Shooting movie at Chew Joo Chiat's tomb

A documentary ‘History From The Hills’ about past Singapore pioneers buried at Bukit Brown Cemetery in 8 episodes will be telecast in okto channels starting Wed 9 January 2013 at 10.00 pm. Chew Joo Chiat’s story will be featured in the 4th episode on 30.01.2013

Finally Chew Joo Chiat has been recognised as a past Singapore pioneer.