Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Link Hotel Discovers the Past - People, Places & Events (by Peter Chan)

Blocks 53 & 54 are a pair of refurbished buildings which sit at the peripheral of the Tiong Bharu Conservation Area - the first public housing project in Singapore.  These buildings have history in them though not on the same scale like the Palladian architecture of City Hall or Fullerton Building.  It is a post-war low-cost S.I.T. housing developed by the British Colonial Government, though many would link this type of housing to the Lim Yew Hock Government which never was the case.  Precisely how this rumor originated, I am not certain of its source but back in the 1950s this could have been politically motivated.   

Photo 1: The view from Link Hotel of Tiong Bharu Road – 1930s S.I.T. block (left) and 1900s Straits Chinese shophouses (right).  This was the same bus stop I journeyed to school at Grange Road.

I recall different trades took up space on the ground floor whilst on upper levels were the residential units.  There were three trades that spring to mind as I speak. 

One was a tailor shop where I had my first long pants tailored-made at the age of 9 for the Chinese Lunar New Year.  I must have “purposely” forgotten the name of this tailor shop probably because of hot arguments with my father over styling.  Coming from the old school of thought, he insisted that that trousers should have a small fold at the ankle level, pleated and loops for holding up the belt which I felt were not cool.  Even my primary school uniform shorts were tailored-made and were knee-length, making them looked like a pair of bermudas rather than “shorts”.
Photo 2: Tiong Bharu Estate layout (c 1948).  Do you recognize that 1950 telephone set?

Not expecting to grow taller at any time soon, I used a pair of scissors to shorten the school shorts.  When I was questioned by my father I had a ready answer: shrinkage due to poor textile material and frequent washing.  So out came my suggestion if he ever thought of going to the tailor: Never buy Japanese textile materials especially from that tailor shop at Block 53.    

Photo 3: This was before Block 53 became Link Hotel (left) and a Hock Lee Amalgamated bus on Tiong Bharu Road going towards Bukit Ho Swee (c 1955). 

The other thing I detested was the visit to the Chinese street barber, whose make-shift space was the staircase.  In my opinion, this barber took the easy way out by using the clipper to trim-off my “kalipok curls” and I ended up with an ugly inverted “bowl-shape” head to show.  When I reached the age of 13, I found my “new freedom”; no more visit to that barber.  I went to the air-conditioned Indian barber shop diagonally opposite the Eng Hoon Street temple, paying 50 cents instead of 30 cents for a hair-cut.  
Photo 4: Former resident tries the “Five Stones” game.

The last shop was Lucky Studio which carried more pleasant memories for me.  I took my IC and passport sized photos here, and the last visit was for my graduation family photo-shoot.  In those days, there was no instant photograph development service.  You come back a week later to collect. 

Photo 5: Previous tenants of Blocks 53 & 54.

Today Tiong Bharu Estate is re-born with a different kind of charm.  The resident demographic remains cosmopolitan -- young and old, foreigners and local residents all happily co-exist side-by-side and call Tiong Bahru home.  This is a suburb of contrasts: mornings see the elderly congregating and lingering over a simple breakfast of Cantonese cheuk (rice porridge) and others, over cups of kopi and espressos.

You can only be young once.  Thank God I was a teen thru the 1960's. Good times & great music then.  Here’s one a big hit at the height of the Vietnam War done Acapella style.

Nearly 40 years later, I shared my memories with the Link Hotel management (the current occupants of the former Blocks 53 and 54).  My two friends Lam Chun See and Yeo Hong Eng also got to do their bit at a special event to mark the hotel’s fifth anniversary and Christmas Light Up.  Chun See displayed his “Good Morning Yesterday” book whilst Hong Eng show-cased his vast collection of heritage paraphernalia. 

Photo 6: Many like this when she comes around.

Most theme nights are developed around fancy dress, food and decorations but that evening, Link Hotel took guests for a walk back to the 1950s in a slightly different way.  Old photographs showed the spatial geography and heritage paraphernalia found in the Tiong Bharu area. 

Photo 7: Where East meets West over Kopi, F&N Orange and red wine.

Beside the desire to promote one of Singapore’s heritages and bring back the old charms of the Tiong Bharu area, Link Hotel went one step further.  Guests included former residents and neighbours of the two blocks.  The guests gathered together to reminisce the past and updating notes of their well-being.  For me I was kind of half expecting to see that Chinese street barber again but I guess people do fade away with time.

All too soon the evening ended.  Too much food and drinks but still we made it home safely.

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