Time Out Singapore: Philip Chew

27 Apr 2015: We ask Philip Chew, descendent of Chew Joo Chiat, for five of his favourite haunts in the neighbourhood that bears his forefather’s name

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

Home to people from all walks of life – from wealthy expats to long-time local residents to migrant workers – Joo Chiat was named after a wealthy and generous land owner from the early ’20s: Chew Joo Chiat. While hipster-friendly places have been cropping up a dime a dozen in recent years, there is still plenty of old-world charm that can be found in the neighbourhood. And Philip Chew would know. As the great-grandson of Joo Chiat, he has lived in the district for decades – here are five of his favourite spots.

Chin Mee Chin Confectionery

‘One of my favourite coffee shops then and now is Chin Mee Chin Confectionery. It has not changed much and appears as though time has stood still. The furniture, such as the tables and chairs, is old fashioned – as is the display case for cakes. The coffee shop serves mostly regulars and worshippers at Holy Family Church, which is next door to the shop. The shop has very good homemade kaya, local coffee and cakes.’

Kwan Im Temple

‘The Kwan Im Temple at Tembeling Road was another favourite place of mine when I was young. Visitors used to be able to explore the temple from the front to the back of the building. There were many idols at each hall and each has a story to tell. Now, worshippers are confined to the front hall. The temple is very crowded during festive seasons and also on the first and 15th day of the lunar calendar.’

Koon Seng Road

‘I like the Peranakan buildings at Koon Seng Road. The houses were originally Peranakan residences. We used to visit a Peranakan friend living there. The premises have since been converted into other uses, just like those at Joo Chiat Road. I still visit the area because of the buildings’ distinct architectural styles. The façades of the shophouses have motifs derived from Chinese and Malay cultures, as well as European influences. Looking at the buildings evokes past memories and nostalgia.’

Nam Kiat Chew

‘Nam Kiat Chew is the name of a wine shop located at the junction of Joo Chiat Road and Crane Road. It was originally a provision shop before being converted into a wine store after the war. The shop owner, a lady, is now more than 90 years old and is the oldest resident in Joo Chiat. She is a family friend and I visit her whenever I walk down memory lane in Joo Chiat.

‘When it was a provision shop, its upper floor was an opium addict rehabilitation centre. A licensed opium shop was operating then at Joo Chiat Road. The addicts overcome their addiction by praying and drinking Chinese tea. Opposite the provision shop was a vacant plot of land, and in the evening, people would sit around a storyteller, listening to his action-packed tales. I still go back to the site occasionally to reminisce about the old days.’

Kway Guan Huat

‘Kway Guan Huat is a shop that makes popiah skin at Joo Chiat Road. It has been there since my pre-school days. We lived nearby and my family patronised the shop whenever we had a popiah party. Previously, the shop made and sold only popiah skins. Today it sells not only popiah skins but also popiah, kueh pie tie, sweet black sauce and other popiah ingredients as well. It’s interesting to watch how a popiah skin is made – a skilful and agile hand is needed.’

Time Out Singapore: Singapore HeritageFest 2015

14 Apr 2015: For five weekends starting April 17 – that’s World Heritage Day – revisit the past with Singapore HeritageFest. Gwen Pew rounds up three highlights

Photo: National Heritage Board

Photo: National Heritage Board

Jurong Heritage Trail: 25 Apr, various venues around Jurong

Set in Jurong this time, the latest heritage trail launched by the National Heritage Board (NHB) works the same as the others. Visitors can download a copy of the guide from NHB’s website or pick up a copy of the booklet from various locations (check the website for details), and explore the area in their own time. Over 30 sites are covered by this route, including Hong Kah Village, the Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute, Jurong Fishery Port and the Former Jurong Drive-in Cinema.

‘Many people think of Jurong as Singapore’s industrial town, but there are actually many more facets of history, culture and heritage that make up the Jurong story,’ says Angelita Teo, the festival director of the Singapore HeritageFest.

‘Through this heritage trail, we hope that more people will have a chance to discover the many different and lesser-known aspects of Jurong town, such as the social attractions, green spaces and industrial locations that were established during the development of Jurong from the 1960s, as well as places that still carry their legacies from their farming and kampong days.’

Monument Open House: 18 & 19 Apr, various venues

Since 1973, 68 buildings have been designated as National Monuments by the NHB. This open house gives the public a rare glimpse into a few of them – such as St Joseph’s Church and the Former Command House – with guided tours carried out by members of the community. ‘Each [monument] is unique in telling its story that helps us better understand Singapore’s past, and shapes our present identity as a nation,’ says Teo.

New World Singapore: 27 Apr-3 May, City Square Mall

Opened in 1923, New World Amusement Park was once the jewel of Singapore’s nightlife scene. The venue closed in 1987, but an exhibition at City Square Mall – which now stands on part of the park’s original location – lets visitors young and old relive its glory days. ‘The exhibition delves into certain details not usually known to the public today, such as the stories of Rose Chan, and to see her not just as a stripper, but also a dancer, entertainer, entrepreneur and stuntwoman ahead of her time,’ says Teo. ‘We will also bring back a few signature performances that were presented at New World back then, such as the Bangsawan dance, the cabaret dance and the Joget dance.’

Time Out Singapore: History of Queenstown

We dug up our history textbooks and found out some Queenstown ‘firsts’.

Old photo of Block 39 Princess Estate - aka Forfar House.

Old photo of Block 39 Princess Estate – aka Forfar House.

10 Sep 2013:

First HDB blocks

Built in 1956, Block 39 of the Princess Estate – also known as Forfar House – featured 106 units across 14 floors. It was the tallest public housing block at the time (until a 20-storey block was built in Selegie in 1963).The iconic building was designed to look pretty as well as reduce wind pressure at the same time. It was demolished in 1996 and Forfar Heights now stands in its place. Queenstown was also home to the first multi-coloured ‘aesthetic’ HDB blocks, built in 1973.

First branch library

Queenstown Public Library officially opened in 1970 and was the first full-time branchlibraryinthecountry.Eightyears later,itwasthefirstlibrarytobefullyair- conditioned, and in 1987, it also became the first library to have an online service. The two-storey standalone building was refurbished in 2003, expanding the building’s area by almost three times.

First school for students with special needs

The Lee Kong Chian Gardens School evolved from an institute set up by the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS), and was officially founded in 1970 for students with special needs. Today,the school provides all four Special Education (SPED) programmes for its 350 pupils.

Time Out Singapore: ‘My Queenstown Festival’ Preview

As Queenstown district turns 60 this September, Gwen Pew recounts the area’s vibrant history and checks out what you can learn from the My Queenstown Festival.

A sketch of the former Margaret Drive Hawker Centre by Urban Sketchers' Tia Boon Sim. Image courtesy of the artist and Epigram Books.

A sketch of the former Margaret Drive Hawker Centre by Urban Sketchers’ Tia Boon Sim. Image courtesy of the artist and Epigram Books.

10 Sep 2013: Once an idyllic village called Boh Beh Kang – meaning ‘the endless river’ because locals couldn’t determine its source – the area that became modern day Queenstown lay in a swampy valley between two hills and used to be home to about 350 Hokkien- and Teochew-speaking immigrant families. The villagers were forced to move out in the 1960s, however, as the British government made plans for the district to be developed into a self-sustaining town to help alleviate the number of people living in cramped conditions around Chinatown (as part of the Singapore Improvement Trust during that era).
The name Queenstown was chosen in 1953 in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, and the Princess Margaret Estate (also known as Strathmore and Dawson) was completed in 1956. Schools, police stations, hospitals, sports complexes and other social facilities were soon built, and the town went down in history as the first satellite estate in Singapore. While its heyday has passed and many of its iconic buildings and structures have now been demolished – the derelict Queenstown Cinema and Bowling Alley was torn down this June – residents with fond memories of the district will nonetheless be commemorating its diamond jubilee this month. A number of performances, parades and other activities will be taking place over two weeks, but first, here are four other things that you’ll be learning about at My Queenstown Festival.

Bukit Ho Swee Fire Exhibition

31 Aug-30 Sep
On the afternoon of 25 May 1961, what has been deemed Singapore’s deadliest fire broke out in the Bukit Ho Swee settlement. It claimed four lives, injured more than 80 people and destroyed some 16,000 homes. In this exhibition, visitors will be able to read more about the details of the fire, as well as the relief and relocation efforts that took place afterwards. Photographs, fire fighting tools, a recreation of a burnt housing structure and other artefacts will also be shown.

Queenstown Community Centre Concourse 365 Commonwealth Ave.

Romance, Hopes and Dreams

13-29 Sep
Marriage ceremonies have always been an elaborate affair for everyone involved. In this exhibition, visitors can learn more about the traditional customs practised by the various communities in Singapore’s multi- cultural society and find out the differences and similarities between Malay, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian weddings.

Dawson Place Shopping Centre 57 Dawson Rd.

Tales from our Shores

13-29 Sep
Ever wonder how Redhill got its name? Hint: it has to do with the blood of a clever young boy who helped keep out aggressive swordfish from the area (and no, it wasn’t the fish that killed him). Find out the full story and more about legends surrounding other areas of the town in this exhibition. Other characters include the two sisters whom Sisters’ Island is named after and a slave who rose to become the commander of the King’s army – there’s plenty here to let your imagination take flight as you pass these places on your daily MRT ride.

Mei Chin Market and Food Centre Blk 159, Mei Chin Rd.

Urban Sketchers

13-29 Sep
Local art group Urban Sketchers – most well-known for their beautiful ‘We Love…’ book series – capture their memories of Queenstown with pen and paper. Their masterpieces, which depict places such as Queenstown Library and the former Margaret Drive Hawker Centre, will be on display to bring these demolished buildings back to life, along with additional historic images. Their newest title, ‘We Love Queenstown’, came out at the end of last month.

Queenstown Community Centre Concourse 365 Commonwealth Ave.