A Singapore sojourn
Published on: Sunday, September 29, 2019
By: Sylvia howe
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I am staying in the buzzy fuzzy metropolis for four days, and am enjoying myself.

Last night we watched the Grand Prix on the TV in our room – saved money, stayed in the cool sipping a beer, and avoided the crowds. We hadn’t twigged it was on, which I regretted as I would have bought tickets for Toots and the Maytals, a reggae band I have always loved.  Never mind, we went to Blu Kousina instead, a Greek restaurant on Dempsey Hill. Good food, ice staff, ENORMOUS helpings – not cheap, but we have learnt that we don’t need as much as we think we do at first glance. 

I made a new and delightful discovery when I went to Tiong Bahru.  The place is unique – Singapore’s oldest housing estate, built in 1930s Deco style and maintained in its low rise, brick and white-walled Streamline Moderne style glory.

Porthole windows, outside spiral staircases, rounded corners, stainless steel railings are features, with flat roofs and racing stripes indicating speed. Blocks 81 and 82 along Tiong Poh Road were known to as the aeroplane flats because they appeared, from a distance, like the wings of an airplane. It name means new cemetery (Tiong, to die in Hokkien and you know what bahru means), and many bodies were exhumed in order for the building to begin in a city running out of space for its less wealthy inhabitants. Mistresses and dancing girls working at the Great World Amusement park (1929 – 1978) were housed in some of the flats, so the area was called Mei Ren Wo (Den of Beauties) or Er Nai Chun (Mistress Village).

I enjoyed a peaceful salad, beer and carrot cake at PS Cafe Petit, a cosy little French place for a glass of wine or a cup of coffee too. This apparently is in front of one of Singapore’s last remaining air raid shelters, which could hold 1600 people or so, sheltering against war time attack. It was used used when the Japanese forces conducted air raids on 8 December 1941. There may be others but so far they have not been found although when the largest block, 78 Moh Guan Terrace, was built in 1940, they had shelters in their basements. Block 55 along Tiong Bahru Road was the first, completed in December 1936. Apparently the Bakery at 56 Eng Hoon Street is the place to try too, but when I was dropped there, it was closed. 

Local food is available – of course – at the Market just down the road (chwee kueh, prawn noodles, a chicken rice stall with a Michelin Bib Gourmand…). More than 20 stalls have existed here for more than 30 years, and some 15 date back to the 1950s.

Greek food at Bakalaki, 3 Seng Poh Road, all day breakfasts and more at Flock Café 78 Moh Guan Terrace, coffee and brunch at Forty Hands, 78 Yong Siak Street.  The Hua Bee Coffee Shop was started in the 1940s is at Block 78. It’s one of the few remaining in Singapore that still serves coffee with a slice of butter in the cup. 

I’m not going to make a long list here – it seems to go on and on – but if you want Japanese, seafood, pub grub,  Nyonya and much more, look no further. Add books, yoga, flowers, upholstery at Yong Huat, homeware, records and art.  

The oldest temple to the Monkey King in Singapore, one of 40 all over the city, is in Eng Hoon Street. With its many statues of the God, iit s said to be the oldest – founded in the Twenties moving to its present location in 1938.  It is dedicated to Sun Wu Kong, the Monkey King from Journey to the West, Wu Chen-en’s 16th century tale. 

I had a lovely massage from Sabahan Vie at Nimble and Knead, 66 Eng Watt Street too and then pottered off to Seng Poh Garden, a charming square with tables and chairs, and a statue of a dancing girl by Sarawakian sculptor Lim Nang Seng who died in 1987. 

This place has a quiet calm during the day, and the buildings are kept up very well. It has life, charm, and history. Don’t miss it – catch it before it gets too trendy, while there is still a noisy Chinese restaurant on a corner and lights from inside apartments show  families watching television together. I am delighted I found it, and shall go back!

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