Friday, 7 March 2014


Welcome to our group's Heritage Trail Blog. As part of our Trail, our group visited Balestier Road. We have the adorable Jenny, our exchange student from Hong Kong. The muscular Kennedy dressed in pink in the below photos. The car accident survivor, Tuck Wai, who missed this trip (but behind the screen typing all that you will see in this blog). Last but not least, our every-smiling Wayne, who could not resist the fresh loaves of bread.

From the course of this trip, we came to discover a different Balestier that we used to know: Balestier is not merely Boon Tong Kee and Bak Kut Teh. Balestier offers hints of our humble roots if we bothered to seek deeper. From the kiosk stands to the bakeries; from the temples to the shopping malls; they are all information from the past that still stands proudly today, waiting for us to discover.

We were all glad we made this Trail.

Site 1: Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple, 249 Balestier Road

Question(s): Who established this temple and why?

The Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple located at 249 Balestier Road, was built in 1847. The road was named after Joseph Balestier, who was the first American Consul to Singapore between 1837 to 1852.

Many Chinese faithfuls still visit this temple today

During his time in Singapore, Balestier, an avid botanist, owned a large piece of land that he had intended to use for sugar plantation. To that end, Balestier engaged many Chinese labourers to work in his plantation. However, the wet and swampy plantation made for a disastrous breeding ground for mosquitoes and tigers. It was then of little wonder why the death-rate of labourers in Balestier's plantation soared.

Hence the remaining Chinese labourers, in a bid to ward off the tigers, erected the Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple to dedicate to Tua Pek Kong ("Grand Old Man" in Hokkien). It is believed that this Taoist deity, Tua Pek Kong, is the guardian saint of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia.

To upkeep its structural beauty, the temple undergoes renovations every half a decade
Coincidentally, this temple also worships the Tiger Lord. Taoists believe that worshiping the Tiger Lord could help one seek redress when wronged, or could help one ward off their unlucky stars

Kennedy and Wayne

This area also has a the last free-standing wayang stage in Singapore that was built in 1906

A notice in Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple

Site 2: Art Deco Shophouses, 230 / 246 Balestier Road

What is the art deco style? Is there any significance in the name “Hoover”?

The art deco style is the geometric structure and design of these shophouses, especially the windows, which was constructed to emulate the European style in the 1920s and 1930s. This style usually features very simplistic yet fashionable design that appears very modern. In comparison to the other shophouses, one could see the stark contrast in the design as it would appear very much modern and unlike the perceptions of traditional shophouses. The designs of the shophouses were also attempts for the shop owners to flaunt their wealth.

The name, “Hoover”, which was seen in the names of some of the shops along 230 to 246 Balestier Road, like the “Hoover Hotel”, was named after the demolished Hoover theatre. The Hoover theatre was opened in 1960 by the Shaw Organisation but made way after 36 years for Shaw Plaza. The Hoover theatre holds much history for the people of Singapore then, with many patronising the cinema during its operational period. As a result, some shop owners decided to have the namesake of “Hoover”, which would still be able to evoke resounding memories of the past for many Singaporeans.

Site 3: Balestier Point, 279 Balestier Road

Question(s): Can you find out more about the design and inspiration of this building?

Jenny and Hong Wei at the foot of Balestier Point

The Balestier Point building was built in 1986, inspired by the original cellular housing project called Habitat 67 which was designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie in Montreal, Canada.

It was special as it was stacked like lego bricks. The building was built in such a way where the retail shops were at the bottom while the levels above it houses the residence. Another unique feature of the building is that the apartments have their own trerraces and gardens in the sky.   

The 'lego blocks' from afar

The 'lego blocks' apartments

As we ventured into the shopping mall, we realised that many shops were not operating even though it was a Saturday afternoon and the stores somehow looks like they only operate at night.

Residences' area
Retail shops in Balestier Point

  A Karaoke lounge within the mall

Although Singapore has a much lower population when this building was built, it seems like people do appreciate the mixed used of land even in the 1980s. We can relate this type of building method to current shophouses where land is used for both commercial and residential purposes. However, most of the shophouses that we see appear to have stores (commercial spaces) on the first storey, with residential apartments on the second.

Site 4: Sim Kwong Ho Shophouse, 292 – 310 Balestier Road

Question(s): Who was the developer of the row of shophouses? What is unique about the person?
Kennedy in the same colour as one of the shophouses

The developer of the row of shophouses was Madam Sim Cheng Neo in 1926. These were designed by an architecture firm, Westerhout and Oman.  From these photos, one can see the similarities of the art deco concept of these shophouses with the Hoover Hotel, although with a more traditional oriental touch. The windows were similar to the European-style concept but the design of the frames reveals a more oriental fashion, with the symbolic images of dragons.

The unique thing about the developer, Madam Sim Cheng Neo, was that she was a female business owner who owned other properties in that area, which was much less of a common sight during her time. This was because of gender demographics in the 1920s, where women would traditionally have to assume the role of homemakers. These extraordinary designs served the purpose of flaunting the wealth of the shopowners during that time. Hence, examination of these shophouses would reveal that Madam Sim Cheng Neo must have been quite wealthy to have been able to pay for such intricate designs for the shophouses.

Site 5: Balestier Market

Question(s): When was this market built? By what other name is it known as? 

The Balestier Market was built in the 1920s as a marketplace for the resident-farmers to buy and sell their home-grown products. The market used to be a lively place in the mornings until 2004, when many of the stallholders decided to retire, apart from the competition from the nearby Whampoa Market. Today, Balestier Market has been renovated and houses new cooked food stalls, although many of them are still vacant.

Balestier Market is also affectionately known as the Or Kio Market ("Black Bridge" in Hokkien dialect), as my grandmother would refer to it. Balestier Market was given such a name in the past because for one to get to this market, one had to cross a black bridge that linked Whampoa River to Balestier. It is then of little wonder that some shops along Balestier are named Or Kio.  

Site 6: Single-storey Shophouses, 601 – 639 Balestier Road

Question(s): What is unique about these shophouses? Who owns them?

These Single-storey shophouses along 601 – 639 Balestier Road was a common sight in the 1950s, as they were the simplest form of architecture in kampongs ("villages" in Bahasa Melayu) during those times. However, as Singapore progresses further as a first-world country, such sites have become rarer by the day. Today, as we look at these stretch of shophouses, they certainly reflect uniqueness in different dimensions.

621 Balestier Road
Firstly, these shouphouses have been preserved by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The URA has outlined specific guidelines stating that the layout and architecture of these shophouses are not allowed to be changed. Now, that is unique! Given how scarce land is in Singapore and consequently leading to the authorities squeezing out every square inch possible out of this little red dot... to the extent that most Singaporeans sleep tightly together on sky-level apartment blocks and for some, worse: they have to drive underwater (think Marina Coastal Expressway).

The other dimension of uniqueness that this stretch of shophouses possess is that this is the only stretch of shophouses in Singapore that houses four Tau Sar Piah confectioneries in a row.

Kennedy as the poster boy
The owner of 601 – 639 Balestier Road is the Ngee Ann Kongsi Foundation, a Teochew welfare foundation. Besides this stretch of shophouses, Ngee Ann Kongsi Foundation also has under its name, shops along Orchard Road. The most notable being Ngee Ann City.

Site 7: Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, 12 Tai Gin Road

Question(s): What is the original name of the building? How did this building become associated with Sun Yat Sen? 

The original name of Sun Yat Sun Nanyang Memorial Hall was Sun Yat Sen Villa, otherwise also known as Wan Qing Yuan.

At the end of 19th century, Sun Yat Sen was in the Nanyang (modern day Singapore and Southern Malaysia) area in preparation for the 1911 Chinese Revolution, in which its aim was to overthrow the Qing dynasty and establish the Republic of China. After the Republic of China was founded in 1911, the Wan Qing Yuan was managed by the Chinese Chamber of Commerce (later renamed Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry). 

Built in the late 19th century, the Wan Qing Yuan is a building of Palladian fashion. In February of 1906, Zhang Yongfu, who was a rich rubber trader and a supporter of the Chinese Revolution, gave this house to Sun Yat Sen in order to help him with his Revolution attempts in China. In 1911, after the success of the Revolution, the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCC) took over the house.

By December 1964, in memory of Sun Yat Sen and his revolutionary activities overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, the SCCC decided upon renovating the premise, with renovation works completed in 1965. In 1996,  the SCCC then renamed the premise to the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall in honour of Sun Yat Sen

Within it, the Memorial Hall showcased the Chinese Revolution and the pivotal role that Nanyang played during the period. Visitors today would also be able to see a small park located diagonal to the Memorial Hall, as an attempt by the management to upgrade the facilities within the premise to attract more visitors to the Memorial Hall.

During our visit, we spotted several contemporary buildings and apartments that, we reckoned, was independent of the Memorial Hall. This led us to reason that more villas could had been here originally, but were demolished to give way for urban planning, and hence, only the historic Memorial Hall remained.


Wan Qing Yuan: The original name of what is known today as the Sun Yat Sun Nanyang Memorial Hall
The Memorial Hall in Palladian style: one of the several architectures of villas during colonial times

A sculpture in honour of the man himself: Sun Yat Sun 


The scenic Sun Yat Sun Park that is located diagonal to the Memorial Hall

Site 8: Maha Sasana Ramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple, 14 Tai Gin Road

Question(s): Who founded this temple and when? What is unique about this temple? Can you find out more about the Burmese-themed roads in this area? What are some of the road-names?

The Maha Sasana Ramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple was founded by U Kyaw Guang, a traditional Burmese doctor, in 1921.

Maha Sasana Ramsi
What is unique about the Maha Sasana Ramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple is that the local Burmese community would gather here in large crowds during Buddhist or Burmese festivals. 

There are also several Burmese-themed roads around the vicinity of the temple, and there surfaced two school of thoughts to why these nearby roads were named as such. One believed that these roads were named after Burmese cities and dynasties by a very respected man in the area; the other believed that they were named as such because they were situated near the Burmese temple.

Some examples of the road names are: 

Other road names include Akyab, Bassein, Bhamo, Irrawaddy, Martaban, Prome and Rangoon Road.

Site 9: Water Kiosk at corner of Boon Teck Road

Question(s): What does this water kiosk provide? What does it suggest about life in Singapore in the past?  
Around the bend of Boon Teck Road, we saw a water kiosk which dispenses water and tea to any thirsty passer-by. There were two containers at the water kiosk: one is filled with water whilst the other is filled with Su Teh ("tea" in Teochew dialect).

The two pots that dispenses water and tea
The significance of this kiosk was to provide the poor with clean water and tea for free. In the past, clean water was a luxury that was hard to come by. Rickshaw coolies, who were generally poverty-stricken unskilled Chinese immigrants, often got by without potable water despite their physically-taxing job nature. Realising this, Thong Teck Sian Tong Lian Sia Temple provided this kiosk for free for these coolies and passer-bys of Boon Teck Road.

Although residents and patrons of Boon Teck Road today could easily and conveniently afford potable water, Thong Teck Sian Tong Lian Sia Temple preserved the tradition and still continues to provide clean water and tea as it had in the past.

An act as generous as such reminds us of our country's humble past and highlights the nobleness of charity and helping the poor. This epitomises the conventional Chinese wisdoms that one should return unto the society what one has received from the society (取之社会,用之社会); and that one should, whilst drinking, always remember the source of the water (饮水思源).


Carrying the charity spirit forward

Site 10: Sim Kwong Ho Shophouse, 418 Balestier Road

Question(s): Do you notice anything unique about the architecture/décor of the shophouse? Do you know the film history associated with this building?

Sim Kwong Ho Shophouse


The sight of the Sim Kwong Ho Shophouse, albeit only for a little while, made us feel like we were in Europe. It had a contemporary European disign and colour. on the walls of the Shophouse included images of dragon-like creatures, bats and angelic fairies amongst others.

Information on Sim Kwong Ho shophouses

Of course, Singapore's pioneer Malay director, who eventually left for Kuala Lumpur, filmed his first movie here. Specifically, this shophouse provided the scene for the male lead, Amran, to rescue the beautiful female lead, Azizah, in the movie "Penarek Becha".

Site 11: Former Shaw’s Malay Film Studies, 8 Jalan Ampas

Question(s): What is the meaning of the name 'Jalan Ampas'? Can you share what you know about the Shaw Brothers Studio here? You might have noticed the "odd" side of Balestier Road are named after Burmese cities. What about the "even" side? What do the names suggest about the communities that might have lived there?

Jalan Ampas got its name from the sugar cane plantations. The name serves to remind us of the area's vanished sugar cane plantations.
How its name came about

Extracted from the Heritage Trail Board
Having reached, we realised that the place was already locked up and we were not able to enter. Thus we were only able to sneak a few pictures from the 'hole' of the gates.

A view through the 'hole'
A picture of the Shaw Brothers' logo (under the word silence)

These pots of plants take the place where the old Shaw Brothers Studio used to be

The studio was closed when we arrived. It is rather sad that a place which created countless memories for many Singaporeans has closed down. It could have been preserved and be made into a museum for the later generations to visit and witness how the past local studios looked like. The studio used to be a major force in the Asian cinema rivaled by Cathay Keris. It created legends like P. Ramlee and many others. It catered to the local market, which was a relatively untouched market, by producing Malay films. At the beginning, they used Chinese directors but slowly transited to using Indian directors as the audience preferred a Bollywood style of film production.

Thankfully, lady luck was on our side and a man who stays inside the area opened the gates and allowed us to enter and take some pictures.

According to the Uncle, this was where the filming studio was

Trademark of the Shaw Brothers

The uncle also added that opposite the studios, there used to be more filming studios. However, the place had been demolished and the picture below shows the new high-rise building that was built on the grounds where the other Shaw studios used to be located. 

Where the old studios used to be
Our hero for the day

As we can see, the odd and even sides of Balestier Road seem to have names differing in 'themes'.

Examples of the "odd" side:

"Even" side:

From these road names, we can infer that Balestier Road seems to be a dividing line for the Malay community and the Burmese community. This also means that Balestier, in the past, was the a major melting pot for the two communities

Site 12: Lam Yeo Coffee Powder, 328 Balestier Road

Question(s): Visit this landmark and try and find out more about the shop and business.

Lam Yeo
An old-time coffee powder producer with a very auspicious unit number ("328" translates into "prosperous business" in the Cantonese dialect), Lam Yeo Coffee Powder was started in 1959 by Mr Tan Boon Heong's father after losing his job as an assisstant editor in the similarly-named Nanyang Siang Pau.


This is perhaps the easiest site to locate amongst the list as we were led by our noses to the fragrance of Lam Yeo.


We found that the interior of Lam Yeo has not changed since the elder Mr Tan's times.

Today, the junior Mr Tan runs the operations of Lam Yeo as the second generation successor.