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.’

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Time Out Singapore: 5 fun facts about the OH! Open House artworks

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

21 Mar 2015: Back after a one-year hiatus, Singapore’s only art walkabout, OH! Open House, has taken over the colourful neighbourhood of Joo Chiat this year. We don’t want to give too much away if you haven’t been on the tour yet, so we’ve decided to leave out the precise context of the works and what they’re about – but we did ask five of the artists to tell us some quirky things related to them. So here we go, let your interest be piqued!

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

‘SS Nimby’ by Randy Chan, Fiona Tan & Zenas Deng

‘This project involved us knocking on the doors of residents in Joo Chiat asking them to lend us their most valuable possession – something that means a lot to them, or something that they’d bring with them if they were going to a desert island. One of the items we got was an earring from one of the migrant workers. When he left Bangladesh, he and his best friend each kept one of the earrings, so it took us quite a while to persuade him to take it off and let us borrow it. We’re very grateful,’ says Chan.

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

‘Crease’ by Mike HJ Chang and Mark Thia

‘Mark was sleeping in the hotel room the week prior to the opening day – he was pretty much living with the art works – and he had to uninstall the light box so he can sleep safely at night. He was very worried that the light box would fall and kill him,’ says Thia.

‘The lightbox was just above my pillow and head. It was heavy. I’m not sure I was worried about being killed, but I was worried about it falling onto my lovely head!’ added Chang.

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

‘Ordinary Things’ by Guo Yixiu

‘While I was arranging the flowers, Mrs Tan started to help me “beautify” them by adding wire leaves on them. She later shared that when she got married, she had actually made her own artificial flowers for her bouquet. That was so interesting seeing that we opt for the fresh ones now. I think there was a sincere enjoyment of craft work in the past,’ says Guo.

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

‘My Name is Joo Chiat’ by Hafiz Osman

‘I came up with the idea of making a tall bike because my girlfriend is taller than me. I told her the reason I’m making a tall bike is so that, for once, I’ll be taller than her. Another fun fact is that Andrzej [one of the owners of the home Hafiz did his residency at, and who helped him build the tall bike] claims that he’s the first person to ride on the first self-made tall bike in Singapore, as I needed a test dummy to try the ride after it was build. He is very brave! But I’m the first Asian man to ride it,’ says Hafiz.

Photo: Gwen Pew

Photo: Gwen Pew

‘Shauna’ by Sean Lee

‘I bought my first wig off a mannequin display for USD30. It had probably been left there for years,’ says Lee.

Check out and find out more about these works on the OH! Open House art tour, which is happening until 29 Mar.

Time Out Singapore: OH! Open House 2015 – Joo Chiat

Our favourite art walkabout is back! This edition of OH! Open House takes over the beautiful Joo Chiat neighbourhood, with artists presenting works after completing residencies in the homes of people who live there. Gwen Pew goes behind the scenes

OH! Open House 2015

24 Feb 2015:

Hafiz Osman’s tall bicycle sculpture

We drop by Hafiz Osman’s residency in Joo Chiat where he’s building his tall bike

Hafiz Osman (centre) with his hosts Andrzej (right) and Evie (left) Pyrka Photo: Mike Lim

Hafiz Osman (centre) with his hosts Andrzej (right) and Evie (left) Pyrka Photo: Mike Lim

It was a match made in heaven. Artist Hafiz Osman and the hosts of his residency, Andrzej and Evie Pyrka bonded immediately over their love of cycling. Hafiz first got into it around six years ago, when he started to make a little bit of money and decided to buy a bike. Evie is an avid cyclist, and her husband goes one step further – he builds his own sets of wheels in the workshop he created in the carpark of their bright, modern shophouse condo.

‘At one point, when we were still in Belgium, we had… How many bikes did we have?’ Andrzej asks. Seventeen, Evie replies with a wry smile. ‘Seventeen,’ Andrzej nods. ‘We had bikes everywhere in the house, except the bedroom because Evie wouldn’t allow it.’ But even that’s nothing, he says, because there’s a guy who currently lives down the road from them who has around 150 vintage bikes in perfect condition.

And as it turns out, Joo Chiat is a hotspot for cyclists, which serves as the perfect starting point for the piece Hafiz plans on creating. ‘I want to make a tall bicycle,’ he tells us on the first afternoon of his three-day residency at the Pyrkas’ home. What’s that, you ask? It’s essentially a bike that’s literally twice the height of a normal one. ‘Joo Chiat has a very diverse population. You get expats [like the Pyrkas], the locals, and the migrant workers whose dormitories are also here. And I feel like the bike is something that can bring all these groups together. While I’ve been on a tall bike in Paris, there isn’t one in Singapore as far as I know. So I thought it’d be fun to get everyone together and build one.’

His works have always been very community-centred – the last project he did with The Art Incubator, for instance, involved getting his neighbours together when his home in Hillview went en bloc – so he’s looking to continue developing that theme through his current work. ‘For me, this residency is more about getting to know the people rather than the space,’ Hafiz says, adding that he’ll be going to a barbecue with the Pyrkas’ fellow bike enthusiasts later that evening. ‘I want to be able to relate to and work with my hosts.’

He plans on showcasing both the tall bike and a documentation of the process of its creation at OH! Open House.

See Hafiz Osman’s work at Sandalwood Condo, 162 Tembeling Rd.

Loneliness and hotels

We chat with Mike HJ Chang and Mark Thia on their installation at Fragrance Hotel

Mike HJ Chang (left) and Mark Thia (right). Photo: Mike Lim

Mike HJ Chang (left) and Mark Thia (right). Photo: Mike Lim

‘I like hotels because there’s a sense of loneliness about them,’ Mark Thia says matter-of-factly. ‘You often stay in them when you’re travelling, and you’re by yourself with no one to call and only the TV for company.’

His collaborator, Mike HJ Chang – who grew up in the US and used to stay in a lot of motels – agrees. ‘I like hotel rooms because of the decorations,’ he explains as he admires the bare, dirty-pink walls of the tiny Fragrance Hotel room that we’re all crammed into. It’s the third time he’s doing a residency – or staycation, in other words – there. ‘There’s something nice about how generic everything looks, how there’s nothing unique about them. I like the idea of the person in the next room looking at the same scene as I am.’

It’s not the first time that Thia and Chang have collaborated on a project. Despite admitting they work in different ways, they share a very similar vision. ‘I work very quickly, and Mark works very slowly. He’s borderline OCD,’ Chang laughs. ‘But we understand each other’s taste and sense of aesthetic. That’s why when OH! approached me for their project, I asked if I could bring Mark on board. Collaborating makes it more challenging.’

The duo had already been discussing their piece for a few weeks when we met them, although the exact details have yet to be firmed up at this time of writing. They’ll use a room without windows, with artworks on the walls: a lightbox with a photograph of light piercing through fog on one, a sculpture on another, and a video playing on the TV. The lights will also be turned off, making the experience not especially comfortable for guests, they describe. But it’s not meant to be. ‘We want to look at the idea of loneliness by creating a mood that’s eerie, melancholic and even creepy,’ says Thia. ‘Just like how motels feel to lone travellers.’

See Mike HJ Chang and Mark Thia’s work at Fragrance Hotel, 219 Joo Chiat Rd.

Occupy Joo Chiat

Randy Chan

‘My work, “NIMBY the Ark, a Refuge for Collective Memories”, is literally a tongue-in-cheek update of Noah’s Ark – a maritime vessel in a corner of Joo Chiat. The vessel contains personal objects donated from the residents of the neighbourhood that one will want to bring along as if it were their last day on Earth.’

Guo Yixiu

‘In my work, I sought to challenge our conception of space. Audiences enter the back of the house via a “garden” recreated with objects commonly found in all households. And upon departure, a welcome doormat is placed at the entrance of the door, facing not inwards, but outwards towards the public space.’

Alecia Neo

‘Joo Chiat is a melting pot of religions. My work taps on finding faith and how individuals seek out and develop rituals to find new purpose and meaning in life. I draw parallels between my experience in Bali with various Hindu cleansing rituals and encounters with spiritual men, and astrology reading.’

OH! Open House is at various venues in Joo Chiat every weekend from Mar 14-29.