Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Penniless Boy Chew Joo Chiat book launch on 29 July 2017 at the Marine Parade Public Library

A Penniless Boy, Chew Joo Chiat book was successfully launched on 29th July 2017 morning at the Marine Parade Public Library. All the seats were fully occupied and overflowed to the cafeteria at the back. Many sat on the barrier boxes while others stood to one side as shown in the picture. I wish to thank all present for their interest and support.

Speech at the book launch

This book started modestly as my chewjoochiat blog. It was intended to put right all inaccurate accounts about my great grandfather, Chew Joo Chiat found in newspapers, books and websites. It was very annoying to read these fictitious accounts of him. I was even more frustrating and embarrassing to then realised that I too knew very little about my great grandfather.

It is by no means a comprehensive account of the man. At the moment I only have glimses of him and his achievement. There is still a lot more to do after this publication.

Joo Chiat is known for its food, Peranakan architecture, local bars and nocturnal activities. I am glad that the latter activity has since calmed down and more creative type businesses have sprung up giving it a more gentrified and bohemian feel.

Very few Singaporeans know about the man whose name is synonymous with the area. The reason is because during Chew Joo Chiat’s life time, he kept a very low profile and he was not prominent in Singapore society. I could not find his name in the book of Singapore Pioneers, One Hundred Years' History of Chinese in Singapore, Early History of Chinese Community and other books.

Chew Joo Chiat was from Xiamen.He came here for his Singapore Dream. Eking a living in the late Qing dynasty was very tough. He landed in Singapore as a penniless young man. But with grit, determination, good foresight and business acumen, he soon became a very successful business man.

My research showed that his business interests were pretty wide ranging – he was a planter, a property  developer , a ship chandlery business, a timber trader, founder of a bank amongst others. He was early pioneer who made significant contribution to the nation in the area of economy, commerce, finance and development.

Joo Chiat died on 5th February 1926 and left behind his name as a legacy in Joo Chiat. To quote a Chinese metaphor:  When a tiger dies, it leaves its skin. When a man dies, he leaves his name.

Refreshment and autographing books

                         Together with ESM Goh Chok Tong at Joo Chiat CC

Friday, June 30, 2017

Book Launch

My book 'A Penniless Boy, Chew Joo Chiat' will be launched on 29th July 2017 at the Marine Parade Public Library. It has been a long journey since March 2008 when I started to trace my roots, Chew Joo Chiat who was also my great grandfather.

The first stage of my journey was at the Lee Kong Chiang Reference Library.
Besides books, periodicals, journals and other printed matters, it had digitised newspapers on microfilms from early 1800 onwards. I made many discoveries about him. An article in The Straits Times 11.02.26 stated:

A striking example of the resourcefulness of the Chinese of making a fortune in Malaya, writes a correspondent, is recorded in the life Chew Joo Chiat ......
He was a Hokien and landed at Singapore from Amoy, some 50 years or more, a penniless boy..............” Chew's life story is a rags and riches story.

The book title 'A Penniless Boy, Chew Joo Chiat' is from the newspaper's article. I also discovered that Chew Joo Chiat was a jack of all trades. He was a housing developer, a planter (rubber, coconut and spices), a tin miner, a trader, a banker and many others.

From the library I moved on to the National Archives of Singapore (NAS). There were books and micro films too. I found building plans of shops and dwelling houses submitted to the building authority by Chew Joo Chiat. I also listiened to the recordings from past Joo Chiat residents at the Oral History Centre.

The search for my roots also took me to the Nanyang Chew Clan Association. It has moved from Chinatown to Lorong 24A Geylang. I talked the clerk in charge, who told me that all the records were lost when the clan association moved to Geylang. My visit there was in vain.

Ho San Kong Hoey is at 574A/576A Geylang Road. Its large signboard is facing the main road behind a bus stop. Every Sunday morning on my way to the church at Geylang, the bus I was on passed the premises, not knowing that it had connection with my roots until I visited Chew Joo Chiat's grave. On top his tombstone were two large Chinese character 禾山 (HoSan) which was the name of his village in China.I went to Ho San Kong Hoey to sign up as a member. The association had conducted tours to Xiamen. I interacted with the members and learned from them that the village had merged with Xiamen when Xiamen city expanded. All the villagers had been resettled to another location. Ho San village had been replaced by highrise buildings. A road named Ho San Road was there to indicate the site of the village.

                                                        The journey  to my roots

In 2015 I visited Xiamen with my wife and my younger son. From the hotel we took a taxi to Ho San Road. Ho San village had indeed disappeared. On both sides of the road were tall buildings with shops on the ground floor. The residents were from other areas and did not know the history of the place. Xiamen was my last destination and it concluded the search for my roots. See more... .....

The book A Penniless Boy, Chew Joo Chiat is a record of my journey to my roots. The aim is for all Chew Joo Chiat's descendants to know their roots and heritage in Singpore.