For my AEC project, one of which I had to do was the Heritage Trail. We were required to explore an area individually and share about our experience. For my trail, I contemplated between Joo Chiat and Chinatown. In the end, I chose Joo Chiat.
Usually, when we hear “Joo Chiat”, the few words that come to mind might be “Peranakan” , “Katong” , “old shophouses”. Well, those are also the reasons why I wanted to do Joo Chiat. My grandmother was a Peranakan, those beautiful and elegant ladies you’d see in a Kebaya. She’s those Peranakan ladies that could cook, bake, and sew. Up till now, at the age of 73, she still possesses those skills. Even before finding out that she was a Peranakan, I love the designs and the ethnic clothing of Peranakans. There was always this unique pattern. My father used to drive past Joo Chiat area a lot and I’d stare out of the window in awe, admiring the old shop houses, and the area which was once occupied by many Peranakans and Europeans. Another reason was because, my grandparents met in Joo Chiat, where my grandfather’s family owned a laundry shop, while my grandmother sold cloth there. They both lived at Geylang Serai as neighbours as well.
History of Joo Chiat
Because of this assignment, I learnt a few things about Joo Chiat.
I found myself pondering about questions I never thought I would ask. One of which was how Joo Chiat got its estate name. Apparently, this estate got its name from a man named Chew Joo Chiat. Mr Chew was a successful China migrant who was a ship chandler and a timber trader before becoming a plantation owner. He cultivated gambier, nutmeg and coconut, and rubber. He was also a housing developer and has many other businesses. He owned many plots of lands which resulted in him to be named the “King of Katong”. By 1917, the area started to be named after him because he agreed to open up the area for public use, hence, Joo Chiat Road, Joo Chiat Lane, Joo Chiat place, and Joo Chiat terrace. Don’t be surprised, the post office, police post, and the market was also named after Mr Chew.
Back in the 1820s, that area that would become known as Joo Chiat was a plantation for cotton and coconuts. The area too consisted of many seaside houses and bungalows built by rich people. When people were drawn to the east in the 1900s, they opened up new residential area and amenities for the residents. In 1950s-60s, landmarks like Roxy, and Odeons cinema were constructed, and subsequently, in the 1980s, Sri Vinayagar Kalamandapam temple, the Kuan Im Tng temple were all constructed. Fortunately, in July 1993, Joo Chiat was a designated conservation area and shophouses and some landed properties were preserved. In February 2011, the National Heritage Board designated Joo Chiat as Singapore’s first Heritage Town.
About my adventure
On a busy weekend, I ventured Joo Chiat from Still Road. Getting to my starting point was a slight issue for me as I was not familiar with the area. I found myself along Still Road, starting from the Church of the Holy Family. What’s Special about this church? This was the first church which held the first Christmas mass in Singapore. This is also a pre-WWII Catholic church and is still conducting masses today.
I continued walking down from where I was and found myself at the conserved terrace houses along 150 East Coast Road. Those are the kind of houses which you had to climb up the stairs to get to your house. The designs were really retro, and would be nostalgic to some as well. This is probably my first time seeing such houses other than on TV. It’s really nice because it’s not like what you see every day, it’s not a modern terrace house or a 40 storey tall HDB flat.
Continuing my trail, I came across the stretch of shophouses at a very busy junction at ALIBABAR Hawker Bar. Further down, we can see many shophouses of various colours. It was eye catching and I was so excited upon seeing them. Rumah Bebe was the unique shade of blue, was once the famous Tay Buan Guan, now sells Peranakan Arts and Crafts such as beading, embroidered shoes, bags, kebayas, batik sarongs and porcelain. I was told by my grandparents that Kim Choo restaurant which was nearby sold really good rice dumplings, but unfortunately, I was not able to try them.
Walking on, I saw a red building of about 2 storeys. That’s The Red House and was the ‘Former Red House Bakery’. It was once a seaside house until it became famous for its swiss rolls and curry puffs. The bakery was first credited for being the first in Singapore to build the traditional western 3-tier cake back in the 1920s.
My next stop was the Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple. This temple was founded by Tamils of Sri Lanka in 1929 and over the years, more shrines were added. This temple is located at 19 Ceylon Rd. Fun fact, Sri Lanka was once called Ceylon, hence the name of the street.My next destination is my ultimate favourite which I anticipated excitedly to be there. This stop was the houses and shophouses along Koon Seng Rd and between Joo Chiat road and Tembeling Rd. Koon Seng Rd houses were the ones famous for the colourful Peranakan houses, with the delicate and fine design. Walking around the area boost my mood, seeing all these old and nice shop houses. It was my second time there. The first time I was there, I was told that back then, they did not have unit numbers, people would find houses base on the family names which would usually be written in gold colour on a black coloured board, hung above the main door.
After admiring all those beautiful houses, I proceeded on to Kuan Im Tng Temple. Kuan Im is the Goddess of Mercy. It isn’t a very big temple, but big enough to have a variety of Statues to worship. I was greeted by the ‘Xiao Fuo’ also known as the Happy God. On the left side, I observed paintings depicting legends and histories. In the temple, there were a few people praying and asking from the Goddess. Since it is not a big temple, there wasn’t much to see. I ended my heritage trail at Kuan Im Temple.
Overall, this trip was really exciting for me as the process of me finding out about Joo Chiat was really interesting. I gained additional knowledge of the area and get to know my grandparent’s past and their experience of Joo Chiat.
Bibliography (information taken from)
Trail inspired from Singapore day by day: 20 smart ways to see the city by Heidi Sarna