My aunt and I went on the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail last Sunday. It was very interesting and we learnt a lot about this old neighbourhood. On a personal note, I finally understand why my grandma and older relatives refer to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) as Si Pai Por! The present SGH compound used to contain roads named Sepoy Ave, Sepoy Lane and Sepoy Lines. These roads were named for the Sepoy camp in that area. Hence, Si Pai Por is dialect for Sepoy Plains.
We started our trail at Tiong Bahru market where we learnt about the history of Tiong Bahru and the origin of its name. I’d always thought that ‘Tiong Bahru’ meant ‘New Centre’ as in tiong (中, or centre, in dialect) and bahru (new in Malay), but it actually means ‘New Cemetery’ because the tiong is 终 which means ‘to die’ or ‘in the end’.
You can read an overview of the Tiong Bahru Heritage Trail on the NHB website, find out more about guided tours for this trail and the air raid shelter, or download the brochure here. Here are some photos I took along the trail but it’d be a lot more meaningful to go on a guided tour to discover Tiong Bahru for yourself!
This bird corner at Link Hotel replaces a popular one that used to be across the road at the Wah Heng coffee shop. The area which the original bird corner was found in is now part of Nostalgia Hotel.
I go to Tan Boon Liat building now and then to visit SKS Bookstore but never knew that there are graves just across the road! And not just any graves; these graves belong to Tan Tock Seng, his daughter-in-law and his granddaughter-in-law. I generally like visiting cemeteries so this was my favourite part of the tour because it was such a surprise to see the graves there, out of sight just above a busy road.
grave of Mdm Chua Seah Neo and Mdm Wuing Neo
Tan Tock Seng’s grave
We walked by the former Institute of Health which has since moved to new premises at Singapore General Hospital. One thing I like about the older buildings in Singapore, built before air-conditioning was commonly used, is the consideration for ventilation with air vents being a prominent part of the design of the building.
former Institute of Health
If you have ever watched any version of the popular Journey to the West series, you would be familiar with the Monkey God. The Monkey God Temple in Tiong Bahru was founded in 1920 and moved to the present location in 1938. There are more than 10 Monkey God statues in the temple and the oldest is almost a century old.
dragon pillar outside Monkey God temple
During the heritage trail, we also looked at the different architectural styles of the buildings found in Tiong Bahru, with quite a difference between the pre-war and post-war buildings. The pre-war buildings were built in the Streamline Moderne style, a late development of the Art Deco movement, with aerodynamic lines. The post-war buildings were built in the International Style with clean and simple lines.
Streamline Moderne architecture
International style architecture
fair-faced brick work
The Dancing Girl scuplture found in Seng Poh Garden was created by Lim Nang Seng, the same sculptor who created the (in)famous Merlion. It is supposed to depict a girl doing a joyful harvest dance.
Dancing Girl sculpture
Blk 78 Moh Guan Terrace is in the shape of a horseshoe and is the largest block of flats in Tiong Bahru. One of the oldest surviving coffee shops in Tiong Bahru, Hua Bee, is found in there. It was started in the 1940s and was the set for Eric Khoo’s 1995 movie, Mee Pok Man. Blk 78 includes a purpose-built air raid shelter and we went on a tour of the shelter after our Tiong Bahru Heritage Tour.
Hua Bee Restaurant