May 16, 2014

Adventures along the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail

(Daddy explores)

Back last month, I signed the entire family up for a Heritage Trail of Tiong Bahru and it was through the 2-hour walk around the neighbourhood that we stumbled onto some giant fishes and big cocks.

At the time of this post, the murals are still plastered onto the walls so if you are thinking of heading down, I have just the map for you to aid you in your quest HERE.

Back to the Heritage Trail proper, where all of us met at Tiong Bahru Community Centre, the starting point of the guided tour. Did you know that the original Tiong Bahru Community Centre at Eu Chin Street was converted from a stand-alone air-raid shelter in 1951?

The entire trail spans 2.5km and consists of 10 stops so initially, I was not too sure as to how the monkies will take the walk.

Infographic courtesy of The Straits Times

So as a precaution (and so that I would not have to carry the Diva for the length of the trail), we got the monkies to bring along their skate scooters.

And as it turned out, it was the wisest decision ever.

The guided tour did not exactly follow the exact route of the above map, as we soon found ourselves looking at a concrete spring door, which used to open up to reveal a stair down to the air raid shelter below.

This was at Block 78 Moh Guan Terrace, which is uniquely designed in the shape of a horse-shoe and hence also known as the "horse-shoe" block.

This block was once the only five-storey building in the estate, and it harbours an old secret.

I had long wondered where the air raid shelters in Tiong Bahru were, and they were actually located from the carpark compound behind the blocks.

Block 78 Moh Guan Terrace holds the distinction of being the first air raid shelter to be included as part of the design of a public housing project in Singapore, which can hold more than 1,000 persons.

It was a pity that the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail does not include entry to the air raid shelter - there is a separate guided tour for that - but luckily, I managed to sneak a shot through its air vents so that the monkies were able to see how the interior of the air raid shelter looked like.

The next stop saw us at Seng Poh Garden, where we came face to face with the Dancing Girl Sculpture.

In 1972, a landscaped garden at Seng Poh Road was planned and Sarawak-born sculptor, Lim Nang Seng was commissioned to create the Dancing Girl sculpture, where she is seen to be performing a harvest dance. And here is an interesting tidbit of information that I learned - he is the same sculptor who created the Merlion in 1972!

We then took a well-deserved water break at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre, which reopened in 2006 after an extensive upgrading, and probably has the highest concentration of 'heritage hawkers' in Singapore. The history of Tiong Bahru Market can be traced back to 1945 where two shophouses along Tiong Poh Road were converted into a wet market. In 1950, the Municipal Commission constructed a new market called the Seng Poh Market which occupied the site of the current Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre.

Then, it was time to step out of the enclave of Tiong Bahru flats and this was where things got really interesting.

We headed for the Bird Corner & Former Hu Lu Temple marker, where it commemorates the site of the demolished Hu Lu Miao (葫芦庙), whose name came from a gourd-shaped furnace used for burning incense papers located just outside the temple. But more than that, I am sure this corner (beside Link Hotel) should be rather familiar to all.

This was the place where a coffeeshop called Wah Heng used to be and its owner had erected a metal structure outside his coffeeshop in the 1980s so as to allow bird owners to hang their bird cages while they sipped coffee and chatted.

Things got a bit physical after that, where we had to cross the road via the overhead bridge - yes, skate scooters and all, but it was still manageable as the boys gamely carried their scooters all by themselves.

I think this marker was the most fascinating of the lot, not only for the boys but also for the wifey and me. The grave of Tan Tock Seng faces Outram Road and Tan Boon Liat building and it is one that I have often driven past but yet did not realize that it was the resting place of one of Singapore's early pioneers.

Tan Tock Seng was best remembered as a philanthropist. One of his notable philanthropic works was the donation of $7,000 towards the construction of a Chinese Pauper's Hospital in 1844, now known as Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

I think this marker fascinated the boys greatly. Sure, they knew about Tan Tock Seng Hospital, but they never knew that the hospital was actually named after a famous man in Singapore's history, or just how important a pioneer he was.

Tan Tock Seng's daughter-in-law, Chua Seah Neo, and granddaughter-in-law, Wuing Neo are also buried there as the land where the tombs are now located was acquired by Tan’s son, Tan Kim Ching in 1877 as a family burial plot.

We reached the Outram Precinct marker next, which recognises three significant institutions in Singapore's history - the former sites of the former Institute of Health and Coroner's Court. Across Outram Road, at the foot of Pearl's Hill, a civilian prison had been built In 1847 which has since been demolished.

As we made our way back to the heart of Tiong Bahru, our guide brought us to this little-known bungalow behind Hotel 81 Osaka.

Very little is known about the history of this bungalow, except that it once probably belonged to an affluent Caucasian. Now, it seems to be rented out as a storeroom of sorts. What a pity.

One of the last stops of our Heritage Trail brought us to the Monkey God Temple.

Founded in 1920, it is claimed that this was the very first temple in Singapore to be dedicated to the worship of the Monkey God.

Throughout the guided tour, we learnt that the unique pre-war architecture of the Singapore Improvement Trust's public housing project emplyed a modified form of the "Streamline Moderne" architecture style. The buildings were designed to look like cars, trains, ocean liners and aeroplanes with sweeping, streamlined and aerodynamic lines.

Post-war, the architecture of Tiong Bahru's post-war flats was then inspired by the "International Style". A characteristic of this style is the use of boxes in the interior space of the building. Lines are clean and simple, giving the building a modern yet functional look.

Expectantly, the monkies were all bushed after the 2-hour walk. But credit to them, they did not whine a single bit. I guess Ale is still a tad young to truly understand the history behind Tiong Bahru estate but the boys definitely picked up a fair bit of Singapore history... and the best part was they thoroughly enjoyed it!

As for the wifey and I, we too enjoyed our walking adventures on the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail. It was such an eye-opener, where we got the chance to not only exercise but also pick up many interesting bits of new information that we never knew about Tiong Bahru.

But is the Heritage Trail suitable for children? I suppose as interesting as the trail is, the history might be lost on younger children as it may be difficult for them to appreciate the heritage of the places. Children aged 5 and above may be more suitable for the Trail but that said, families need not go on the ENTIRE trail.

The National Heritage Board has come out with a Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail Brochure (which you can download it HERE) and it details all the 10 markers listed in the Heritage Trail, complete with history information. So what I recommend parents to do is to pick out some of the interesting sites to visit and intersperse them with a visit to the many quaint cafes around the estate.

If you are still interested to join in the guided tour, unfortunately there are currently none being scheduled at the moment. The tours are conducted by a group of volunteers, and you can visit their event page HERE periodically to see if any tours are lined up.

There is a nominal fee of $2 per person for the guided tour, with proceeds going to the refurbishment of Tiong Bahru Community Centre.

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Unknown said...

This resident of Tiong Bahru has yet to sign up for the heritage trail! Procrastination rocks :D

Cheekiemonkies said...

LOL! You should just go on the Trail at your own time!

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