Friday, July 1, 2022


Chew Joo Chiat's descendants from his grand-daughter, Chew Poon Neo. She married Teo Geok Peck. Picture shows Poon Neo's grand-children from sons George Teo and Michael Teo/  Poon Neo was my father's (Ann Siong) elder sister. They were born in China and came to Singapore in 1915 with their parents (Joo Chiat's eldest son Chew Cheng Liam and his wife Yap Kim Neo).

                                           The group leader is Winston Teo, son of Michael Teo

A double tomb: Chew Joo Chiat tomb is on the right and his second wife, Tan Quan Noe is on the left. Her tomb is empty as she is buried at another plot of Bukit Brown.

                                                    Paying respect by cleaning the tomb

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Katong Laksa

Which One Is The Real Katong Laksa

Walk along East Coast Road from Haig Road to Still Road, you'll come across a number of Katong Laksa shops. I understand you can find Katong laksa not only in other parts of Singapore but also in China. Who started the Katong Laksa?

The origin of Katong laksa was started by one guy popularly known as “janggut”. Janggut is a Malay word which means beard. Actually the laksa seller had only a few strands of hair beside his chin. I know this guy personally because he lived on our land at Tembling Road nearby Joo Chiat Terrace. He also came to play poker at my home in Joo Chiat.

Janggut was an itinerant hawker, moving from place to place in Joo Chiat area. Later he found a niche at the 5 foot way of a coffee shop at East Coast Road /Ceylon Road junction. After business hours moved away his makeshift stall home. Some time in 1970, there was an exercise by the Ministry of the Environment, to move street hawkers into markets and food centres. Janggut's niche was affected. He could no longer sell his yummy laksa on the 5 foot way. He moved into the coffee shop and had a roaring business everyday for Katongites loved his yummy laksa.

After Janggut passed away, his children splits the business and competing with one another in Katong. That is the reason there are so many Katong laksa along East Coast Road. But they cannot claim the name of “Katong Laksa” as it belongs exclusively to George, who has registered 'Katong Laksa' with the Registrar of Companies. I understand that Janggut and George have a common ancestor. So all those that wanted to be known as “Katong Laksa” added words to their company chop such as 328 Katong Laksa, Katong(Tong Kee) Laksa, Singapore Katong Laksa, Original Katong Laksa (Janggut Laksa) and so on.

George's Katong Laksa has been operating for 25 years at the junction coffee shop between Telok Kurau Road/Changi Road. The coffee shop closed recently  and he has moved across the road between Lorong Sarina and Jalan Eunos. I visited him on Sunday and his laksa quality remained the same. 

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. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016


Tong Meng Hui (TMH)

The Tongmenghui aka the Chinese United League was a secret society and underground resistance movement organized by Sun Yat-sen in Tokyo, Japan, on August 20,1905. Its aim was to overthrow the Manchu Dynasty and to establish a Chinese republic. In 1906, a branch was formed in Singapore, following Sun's visit here and it was known as the Nanyang branch covering South-East Asia. The Singapore Nanyang branch Tongmenghui had only 250 members and my great grand-father Chew Joo Chiat was one of them.

Chew Joo Chiat's family suffered hardship in China. He came to Singapore to find wealth, to better the lives of his family back home. He was a patriot and supported the society, hoping the Qing Dynasty would collapsed and China would be restored to the Chinese. In1908 Chew had a ship chandler business which supplied provisions and hardwares to ships that called at Singapore port. His shipping business was probably used by the society to ship provisions and firearms to the resistance forces in China.

Chew was a man who kept a very low profile. It was a personal secret and nobody in the family knew his membership in the TMH. In 2013 a relative who visited the exhibition at San Yat Sen Memorial Hall at Tai Gin Road found out his TMH membership. He prompted me. By the time I went there, the exhibits had been removed. Later, Raymond Goh, gave me a copy. The list had his name in both Chinese and English as indicated by a red arrow..

                           Name list of Tongmenghui memebers

On Saturday 5 November 2016 evening, I attended the opening ceremony of Wan Qing Culture Fest 2016 at San Yat Sen Memorial Hall, at Tai Gin Road. Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was the guest of honour. I met him at the reception hall and I had a picture taken with him.

On that evening there was also exhibits of “One Night In Wuchang” 1911 Revolution and Nanyang. My purpose of attending the function was actually to see the TMH name list. Secondly, I hope to find Chew Joo Chiat's picture among the group photo. As he kept a very low profile, it was unlikely I would succeed.

While other guests were busy on the ground floor, I went upstairs to check the name list of TMH. Instead I found another name list written in Chinese. Red arrow pointed to Chew Joo Chiat's name. As for the photo I had search in vain.

                                                        TMH name list in Chinese

                                                   With Dy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean

A Chew Joo Chiat's secret had been discovered. Has he another secret we do not know? Watch out for my next posting.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

A Lost Grave 120 Years Old

                                       Grave of Lim Heon Neo, wife of Chew Joo Chiat

The above grave is 120 years (1896) old. It belongs to Lim Heon Neo, Chew Joo Chiat’s first wife. She is also my great grand-mother. In 2010  I was building Chew Joo Chiat’s family tree, I did not know her name and date of death. As I was just starting the family tree, it did not matter to me then..

Search No 1..In 2011 the Singapore Government announced the construction of an 8 lanes dual carriageway cutting through Bukit Brown Cemetery (BBC) and works would begin in 2013. Searching for my great grand-mother’s grave had become urgent. No living relatives knew her for they were not born then. I went on line browsing through the Ministry of the Environment BBC death registry, hoping to get a lead. It was like looking for a pin in the hay stack. It was a useless attempt and I soon gave up.

Search No 2  Raymond and Charles Goh were Heritage Guide at Bukit Brown Cemetery. They had been documenting graves affected by the proposed carriageways. I was afraid Joo Chiat first wife’s grave might be affected and I sought their help to look for it.
The reply was almost immediate. Raymond  said that he had found Mrs Chew Joo Chiat’s grave nearby the proposed carriageway. On 10 December 2011 he brought me to the site. The tomb stone showed that the grave belonged to Chew Joo Chiat’s second wife Tan Quan Neo. She died on 19th April 1927. I was disappointed at first that it was not my great grandmother's grave.. But on hind sight I was glad that Tan Quan Neo's resting place was discovered.

Search No 3. In mid 2012 there was an announcement by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in The Straits Times that all the graves affected by the construction of the new carriageway at Bukit Brown Cemetery would be properly documented together with photograph of each grave. Works would be completed by the end of the 2013. The news gave me hope to find her grave as it could be affected.

On 5th December 2012 I wrote to LTA telling them the possibility of my great grandmother's grave being affected by the proposed new carriageway. I also stated that I was prepared to search through the photographs of the all affected graves.
My request was granted in early January 2013. I was mentally prepared on the strategy of going through the photo of each tomb stone. First I would be on the look out for the tombstone of a woman that showed Her San 和山 as her home village where my root originated. Next was to check for Chew door 周门 which would be below the name of the deceased. A  Chinese woman, when  married to a man with the surname Chew, it means she entered the door of Chew (her husband). The tombstone would indicate her name followed by her husband's surname. Her surname would be after周门. The final stage would be to check the deceased' s children/grand-children' s name on the tombstone. Once their names tally with those on Chew Joo Chiat's tombstone then I could safely say that the tomb on the photo belongs to Chew Joo Chiat's first wife.

At the LTA Hampshire Road Office, I browsed  through 36 photo albums. Each album had 108 photos. Altogether  I browsed through 3888 photos of tombstones documented. My search for Chew Joo Chiat's first wife's grave from the photos was in vain. However, I was glad that her grave was not affected by the construction of the dual carriageway. It means that I still have hope of finding her grave in Bukit Brown Cemetery. 

Break Through

Raymond Goh remembered that I sought his help to search for Chew Joo Chiat’s first wife's grave. On 21st May 2016 he sent me a message and we chatted:

Raymond: Managed to find Mrs Chew Joo Chiat (first wife) at the Hokkien Cemetery next to Bukit Brown. She passed away in 1896
Me: Hi Raymond, finding Joo Chiat's first wife's grave is the greatest news. Thank you so much. Now I can complete my family tree. Can you please show me her grave? Thank you once again.
RaymondSure, can bring you on weekends
Me: I am free on weekends. Please fix an appointment to meet at Bukit Brown Cemetery.
Raymond: Ok let u know, should be next Sunday 9 am
Me: Where shall we meet on Sunday 29 May ?
Raymond: Bukit brown Blk 1 just after the gates
Me: . See you then.
Raymond: Ok see u then

                                               Lim Heon Neo's tomb 

On Sunday 29th May 2016, I and my friend Ogawa Konamoto met Raymond at Bukit Brown Cemetery. Raymond drove us to the site which was at another Hokien cemetery hill, abutting Bukit Brown Cemetery. The cemetery ground was like a jungle with dense vegetation. There was no foot path or trial to follow. It was an uphill climb, stepping onto abandoned graves, up-shoot roots, vines and undergrowth.  At last we arrived at the site and I saw my great grandmother’s grave for the first time.

 Visibility was poor due to obstruction by vines, twigs, plants and leaves. Only the 3-piece tombstone and the front altar stood out. Behind the headstone, the shape of the tomb could not be figure out as it had blended with its surroundings. I had the tombstones and the altar cleaned. Raymond applied some white powder into the grooves of the Chinese characters to make them more visible to read.

The tombstone showed Joo Chiat first wife’s name was Lim Heon Neo 林香娘 
She had 3 sons Chew Cheng Liam , Chew Cheng Swee, Chew Cheng Hao, and 3 daughters Chew Sian Nian ,Chew Lan Nian  and Chew Sit Nian周舌 Her date of death was based on  the reign of Qing Dynasty Emperor. According Raymond she died in 1896. A friend said she died on the third lunar month.

Finally I am able to fill up Chew Joo Chiat's family tree with his six children's names instead of four as shown on his tombstone. It is assumed that two of his children Chew Cheng Hao, 浩 and Chew Cheng Sit周清舌 died before him.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Chew Joo Chiat's second legacy

Joo Chiat, Singapore’s  First Heritage Town is fast becoming a tourist spot. There is a walking trail guide and map known as The Secret of Joo Chiat launched recently and supported by Singapore Tourism Board.

Joo Chiat a living legacy is the title of  a book by Lily Kong published in 2001. Many road names such as Joo Chiat Road, Joo Chiat Terrace, Joo Chiat Place,  Joo Chiat Lane, Joo Chiat Walk and Joo Chiat Avenue  are named after the late Chew Joo Chiat. In fact, he had the most roads named after him in Singapore. Buildings named after him were Joo Chiat Market, Joo Chiat Post Office and Joo Chiat Police Station. Joo Chiat Market had been demolished and replaced by Joo Chiat Complex. Joo Chiat Post Office site is now a drive way connecting Joo Chiat Road to a car park. Joo Chiat Police Station has ceased functioning. It will be a hotel soon but the building will be restored to its past glory.

The boundary of Joo Chiat District was reported in the Straits Times on 8 October 1948. It stretches  from Changi Road/Geylang Serai  junction to  Joo Chiat Road, Marine Parade Road, Telok Kurau Road, Changi Road and back to Geylang Serai to form a square.  Katong has no district then and  now. It encroached into Joo Chiat after the death of Chew Joo Chiat in 1926. 

Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple at Jalan Eunos is another legacy of Chew Joo Chiat. He owned most of the land at Kampong Eunos which was then a coconut plantation. His two coconut plantations at Joo Chiat and Kampong Eunos were adjoining, separated only by a narrow Changi Road in the early 1920s. After his death in 1926, the land at Kampong  Eunos was  divided among  his children. Chew Quee Neo, his youngest daughter inherited a parcel of  land facing Jalan Eunos MRT. 

In 1959 she donated her land to the Venerable Mahaweera, a young Buddhist monk to build a Buddhist temple. It was to fulfill her vow made earlier. In 1960 Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple was born with a humble beginning. A single storey worship hall was built and officially opened on 31st March 1961. 

In 1981 the temple started to erect a three storeys extension building. It was completed in 1983. 

                      Opening ceremony by Mr Devan Nair 

In July 1991 an old building was demolished to make way for a new shrine hall. It was completed in 1994.

                     Opening ceremony officiated by Dr Wee Kim Wee

Bangala Vihara Buddhist Temple had the honour of two former Presidents of Singapore to grace the two separate ceremonies. First was for the extension building on 23rd November 1983. Former President of Singapore Mr Devan Nair was the Guest of Honour who unveiled the Opening Commemorative Plaque. Next was the opening of the New Shrine Hall Building on 11th July 1999 by former Singapore President Dr Wee Kim Wee who unveiled the plaque.

Chew Joo Chiat second legacy through his daughter Chew Quee Neo has come a long way from its humble beginning. Today the temple has full facilities. There is a Shrine Hall, a multi-purpose Chew Quee Neo Hall, an administrative office, Rooms for
Sunday school,  kitchen cum dinning area, living quarters for monks, library etc. 

Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple has a colourful history. It celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2010 and it is looking forward for another 50 good years.