Wednesday, August 20, 2008

“Tiong Ma-Lu” as the Cantonese would say (Part 2) – By Peter Chan

It was a strange phenomenon to see that every corner shop was a coffee-shop or a provision-shop except the one at the corner of Seng Poh Road and Eng Hoon Street. I recalled it was run by an English-educated shop-keeper who had a wife who was always heavily made-up with Elizabeth Arden cosmetics, bright red lipstick and dressed in a tight-fitting frock. Her husband sold sweets in big glass jars and office stationery. Next door was Kamy, the only music shop that sold cartridges, cassettes and single-records. It was here that I bought my first cartridge “The Carpenters” album. Further down Seng Poh Road was “Majid” and Yuen Cheong Provision Shop. Majid was Indian and the only shop selling fabrics such as Swiss Voile and was popular with Tai-Tais who came in chauffeur-driven Chevrolets, the Flamingo Night Club hostesses in Great World and the ladies who walked to the Seng Poh Road Wet Market. There was also a ladies hair-perm saloon and a dress-making shop on that street. If I am not wrong, Roland Chow, the famous hair stylist first started as a small saloon at Seng Poh Road. In terms of medical facilities, there was a Kwa Clinic; perhaps one of two clinics on Seng Poh Road.

For good reasons, property values vary between streets. Eng Hoon Street being more “commercial” earned a premium. Eng Watt Street was quieter and became homes of kept mistresses. Brighter academic students came from Moh Guan Terrace. If you check around, past government scholars and famous doctors came from Moh Guan Terrace. Tiong Poh Road boasted of fine artistes from educators to musicians. Even MM Lee’s wife, Madam Kwa Geok Choo was from the pre-war SIT flats. I guess the story should be very different today.

Fig 1: Hock Lee Bus #3 passed through Tiong Bahru Road from Outram Road. The building in the background is a boutique hotel today

Hock Lee Bus #6 served this estate from the Chulia Street terminus. I often waited at the Tiong Poh Road bus-stop for my grandfather because he brought home “The Malay Mail” newspaper, the English comics section was fantastic. The other bus-stops I believe were at Moh Guan Terrace in front of the Tiong Bahru School, Yong Siak Street after Bo Bo Tan Garden, Seng Poh Road (opposite Seng Poh Lane), and Kim Pong Road where there was a POSB branch. I knew this bus route very well because I went by bus with my grandfather to attend the Chinese night school at the Ning Yuen Wei Kun premises; Great Eastern Life Building today. For me, the fun began not in the classroom but behind Poh San Dance Studio. There was a small stream to cross and it required a fine balance with out-stretched hands on a narrow plank to get to Outram Road.

Fig 2: The open space between Block 59 and Block 66. Yours truly at the age of 3 years is standing at the spot which is now the red concrete steps. The car garages are now restaurants or catering kitchens. Block 82 Tiong Poh Road’s favorite red-brick façade as captured by photograhers can be seen in the leftmost photo

There were a few open spaces for play. The car park between Blocks 59 and 66 at Seng Poh Lane was a small playground with swings and slides at both ends. It was not elevated as it is now. Blocks 60 – 67 were car garages. Often I saw trishaw-riders at the car garages taking their breaks to play “Chiki” or smoked that long-awaited hand-rolled cigarette. The residents from Eng Hoon Street, Eng Watt Street and Tiong Poh Road had to compete for space; sometimes football was played in the midst of an archery game. Kite-flying was done on the roof-top of the post-war SIT flats at Lim Liak Street. Otherwise we walked over to the University of Singapore Medical School sports field next to the MacCalister Flats. Before the CTE acquired parts of the sports field, we walked through Keng Kiat Street, a route also taken by the Malaysian medical students who rented rooms in the pre-war SIT flats. We dare not go further to another sports field nearer to Jalan Bukit Merah because there was a Malay cemetery there.

I believe the Tiong Bahru pre-war SIT flats will stay the full course of its 99-year tenancy from 1967 because it is classified as a heritage site. Except for the block numbers which get me confuse, I prefer to reference the place by street names.

Fig 3: The original opaque olive glass was provided by the SIT (circa 1939). This type of glass was used for the internal and external windows. Since the Pre-war SIT flats were multi-storey, there was a need for a common area staircase like in this photo. What was really unusual was a glass panel door that was similar to the windows. After 1967, each house-owner decided to do away with the windows and today we have a mix of aluminium sliding window panels, louver windows and wooden doors.
Read more about Tiong Bahru Bahru at the Tiong Bahru Estate Blog.


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter- as a former resident of Tiong Bahru, your blog and the accompaning photos brought back some nostalgic memories to me. I remember as a young boy the prefered clinic to visit whenever anyone in my family fell sick was the Kwa clinic located at Seng Poh Road opposite the bustling market.
The open space as shown in your photo at fig 2 had 4 garages of which 2 had been converted to restaurants. I used to bring my girlfriend to one of the garages at night and made love there. This place was also known as lovers' haunt
As a resident of Tiong Bahru yourself I wonder whether you had experienced this mode of transport during the 50s. It was a rickshaw which required a robust person to pull it all the way to the destination which could be as long as five kilometers. I had a most memorable ride with my grandmother when I was seven years old. The journey started from Guan Chuan Street and ended in Chinatown. The man or puller had to walk and alternate with running depending on whether he had the steam to continue. Poor chap, he had to constantly wipe off his perspiration with his face towel strung across his shoulder.

Anonymous said...

Hi Stanely,

I might not be as matured as you.

I cant recall the rickshaw but certainly the trishaw to "Chan Chee Par Sat" - was that Pearl Center? It was my uncle's idea because he was very lazy to walk home from Outram School. So he got me involved (the nephew) to take the trishaw ride. I was very young then but I could recall my grandmother scolding him because he foolishly spent 50 cents or $1 for that ride home. Now I understand why there were so many trishaw riders who hung-out at the garage.

Can u remember that a badminton court was created between the two blocks of garages? Each time the car needed to get from Seng Poh Road or Tiong Poh Road into the garage, we had to lift the nets with our rackets. Also I rmeember that the garage had wooden doors that could open on both sides. There was a gap at the top of the wooden door and one could climb up using the wooden crossed supports on the door to peep inside. How could you make love inside the garage? So warm and dark? Unless you did it on the concrete bench at the curved section of the garage.

I remember the coffee shops there locked their premises by placing wooden vertical planks that ran on a concrete rail on the floor. They secured the planks by running another plank across the vertical planks form the inside of the premises. This is similar to those you see in ancient China.

Lam Chun See said...

I think next Foyers gathering/makan session, we can have it at Tiong Bahru. They have a very big food centre above the market. I like it becos very spacious with broad passageways, plus a garden section in the middle. I heard many of the stalls there are quite well-known but I don't have details becos food is not big thing for me - as long as no need to queue is good for me :)

Victor said...

How come your "Recent Comments" column has changed from showing the posts/comments to just showing the comments alone?

Mine's still ok leh. (The widget was copied from you.)

Lam Chun See said...

I don't know why. After the recent Blogger upgrade, the recent comments disappeared. When I tried to reinsert the widget, keep gettign an error msg. So I found another website and followed their instructions and then kena this. Sian ah!

Victor said...

Chun See, I've emailed you my widget (amended for use on your blog). Just cut-and-paste. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Good idea chun See but not necessary the hawker center but the kopi-tiams. There got seafood at night. Daytime can have breakfast I never try but I see late at night hostesses from Tian AnMen Night club meet there for supper. I dont mind be guide.

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Victor. Looks ok now.

Anonymous said...

I was a little tickled by the black and white pic taken when the author was three. It is interesting that, back then, pulling the pants (or shorts in this case) up to the max must have been acceptable. Or was it what parents did to their kids for fear that the pants would fall and cause them some embarrassment. Somewhere along the line, it became a goofy thing to do. Chun See, fashion statements of the bygone days could be an interesting topic.

Victor said...

There was a practical reason for what Fighting Fit has observed, i.e. pants/shorts pulled all the way up to the chest level, especially for kids of those days. It was because the usually poor parents then wanted to save some money. So they always made/bought pants/shorts that were one or two sizes bigger than what their kids should be wearing. That way, their kids could wear the pants/shorts for a longer period before they outgrew them. It was not a matter of fashion but necessity.

Lam Chun See said...

FF. I have a similar photo of my brother. Same 'fashion'. As for your suggestion of a 'fashion blog' ... perhaps. But on and off, I recall commenting about the photos I put up. For example when I put up a photo of myself at Wing Loong holiday bungalow, I mentioned that the Ah Pek T-shirt I was wearing was made popular by Bruce Lee in the movie The Big Boss. Likewise, I when wrote about Greasy Kids Stuff, I highlighted Brian Mitchell's fabulous 'karli pok' hair do.

Anonymous said...

victor, yes, parents still buy pants that are a little too long for the kids now so they won't outgrow the pants so quickly. But the method now is to roll up the material around the ankles.

"karli pok" hairdo. I remember us trying to our best after spraying Vitalis Superhold (or something like that)--standing in front of the mirror for about 10 mins. That daily chore eventually became unnecessary (or impossible) for two reasons: 1. fad passed, 2. hair thinned. Which came first? Can't remember.

kelvin said...

Dear Peter and Mr Lam, thank you so much for sharing your stories, and for creating this platform to do so! If you all are having a gathering to talk about old times in tiong bahru, i would be honoured if i could join in to listen to all of you!

Peter, you may have heard or read about the proposed repainting of the neighbourhood... and the discussion about what would be the right colours... could you share about your memories of what colours the flats were painted in your youth? :) We are going to discuss it at the CC this weekend, and some folks would like to know this piece of information....

Hope to hear from you soon!

Kelvin Ang

Anonymous said...

Ok I hope my memory is good.

1. Your present colour scheme for pre-war SIT flats were different from my time. There was no such thing as mustard colour for the trimmings. The beigy colour is still too "dark" shade than the past. The past I mean
up to 1980. Of course HDB painted the estate every 5 years, so the beige colour was either darker or lighter than the last painting job. Your mustard colour in the past was a slightly darker beige than the other beige to give an impression of the trimmings.

2. Post-war SIT flats at Lim Liak were never the same colour than pre-war SIT. In fact I believe was white background in the 1960s and light grey for the trimmings. When you compare post-war and pre-war, post-war seem more "modern" in its colour scheme. Those at Kim Tian after King's tend to follow post-war but use light blue for the walls and slightly darker sky-blue for the trimmings.

Much earlier in the 1950s, SIT (before HDB) used black colour as a skirting on all ground floor units and above was beige colour. Now you use the mustard colour. back then the black skirting was not so high, probably about 1 1/2 ft in height.

The round pillar at the ground floor sometimes gad 2 tone or single colour depending when the painting job was made. If single tone was beige also. If 2-tone was beige at the top and grey at the bottom.

The common staircase in the backyard was beige also.

If there were window grills like the jail-type in the old days, it was painted grey.

I got an old photo dating back to 1973 for the front of our flat.

I saw the latest where there are different colours covering even the bare wall. It reminds me of pop art. Its horrible when you flash colours like that. Looks like someone got idea from AirAsia.

kelvin said...

wow peter! thanks for the clear recollection of the colours!I found an old photo where the base of the pre-war flats had a grey portion, which we think is a 'shanghai plaster' surface.... so, that would be something nice to recover. at the back of my unit, when the new paint peeled off, i also see a yellowish beige powedery 'limewash' kind of paint. So i thought that might have been one of the earliest colours. The idea of a dark skirting sounds very useful and practical.... I will bring up you recollections tomorrow at the commuunity meeting on the paint scheme. As i type, the town council is hacking away the m/s door frames from all our ground floor doorways.... Thanks again! I would love to see the photo from the early 1970s!

Lam Chun See said...

Kelvin. I am afraid I won't be able to contribute much if we have such a gathering becos all I know about Tiong Bahru is the King's Theatre which I already blogged about. But I do know that there are many famous hawkers stalls in TB; but again; food is not big thing for me.