Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Katong/ Joo Chiat Walk

This series of posts is specially dedicated to the thoughtful Eastcoastlife who has so kindly got me a copy of the Uniquely Singapore: Katong/ Joo Chiat Walking Guide when she learnt that I wanted to do a walking tour of the Katong area.

On the afternoon 3 Feb 2007, with the helpful walking guide given to me by Eastcoastlife, I started my leisure stroll of the Katong/ Joo Chiat area.

As I was drafting this post, I conducted a search using Google and found a description of Katong, Singapore, on Wikipedia:

According to the information found on Wikipedia:
Katong is a residential area in the east of Singapore near the seafront. It is a suburb of great prestige and possesses special historical charm for its Asian heritage and seaside town charm.

What about Joo Chiat? It so happens that Wikipedia also has a write-up on Joo Chiat itself and here's a snippet of the write-up:
Joo Chiat is best known for its colourful rows of traditional Peranakan shophouses, dating back to the 1920s and 1930s, that line its narrow streets. The area is named after Chew Joo Chiat, a wealthy landowner, who built shophouses and residential units on land he bought after World War I. In the early days, the colonial government granted land to entrepreneurs.

On the Uniquely Singapore: Katong/ Joo Chiat Walking Guide is a quote by Mr Foo Kee Seng, a long-time Katong resident, and according to the quote:
Actually Joo Chiat is part of Katong...In the old days, no Joo Chiat. Joo Chiat is only a road, not a constituency
Here is an update, Mr Philip Chew who has done research on Joo Chiat has informed that Mr Foo Kee Seng's remarks (found on the Uniquely Singapore: Katong/ Joo Chiat Walking Guide) are not substantiated by research. In fact, the opposite is true of Mr Foo's recall. "In the early days, Katong area was from Tanjong Katong and westwards towards Katong Park and Grove Road (now Mountbatten Road). By 1928, Katong had encroached into Joo Chiat. Katong is therefore part of Joo Chiat." (Reference: The Singapore House 1819 - 1942 by Lee Kip Lin, page 117).

It looks like the Katong/ Joo Chiat area has a very rich heritage and history way beyond my current level of comprehension. After my walk, I do agree that there is a special historical and cultural charm that the Katong area possess. I cannot help but take more than a second look at many of the buildings that are standing on the grounds of Katong.

Here, I would like to invite you to join me virtually on this walk of the Katong/ Joo Chiat area, minus the sun and the sweat.

Former Joo Chiat Police Station, now Katong Village.

My tour of the area started from 86 East Coast Road, which was the site of the former Joo Chiat Police Station that was built in 1928. Notice its architectural style, according to the Walking Guide, the style of this building is similar to many government buildings built at that time.

I had the pleasure to have brunch with my two of my friends at Hong Kong Tea House located within Katong Village. Eastcoastlife has a nice post on Hong Kong Tea House which operates 24-hours-round-the-clock for all to check out. As such, I conclude that one can never go hungry when one is at Katong.

While having brunch at Hong Kong Tea House, I found myself attracted to the tall ceilings of the pre-war building. I thought to myself, in those days where there was no air-conditioner, tall ceilings seemed to be good solutions for good ventiliation in the hot, tropical climate of Singapore.

Inside the building at 86 East Coast Road.

When I started on my walk, I looked just across the road of 86 East Coast Road and saw glimpses of the former Red House Bakery. I have heard from many people about the Red House at that part of Singapore but have not been in it before it was closed in 2003. It looks like I have missed experiencing a part of life in Singapore when I was younger.

I've learnt from the Walking Guide that the Katong Bakery & Confectionery that had once operated there was once famous for its Swiss rolls and curry puffs. I've also learnt that the bakery was the first to bake three-tier Western-style wedding cakes in the 1920s. I wondered: How was it like to enjoy the curry puffs in Red House Bakery several decades ago? This place must have hold a special place in the memories of many of the folks who had spent their time there previously. Would anyone onboard like to share with me your memories of this place?

75 East Coast Road, Former Red House Bakery.

Just beside the former Red House Bakery stood a row of stalls that are famous for their Nonya Laska. One can be awfully spoiled for choice of Laksa if one were to be at that part of Katong.

One of the stalls that sells Laksa. Notice the architecture of the building.

As one walks from the row of Laksa-selling stalls towards Joo Chiat Road, one would pass by 113 East Coast Road. Now Rumah Bebe stood there. This location used to be occupied by the Tay Buan Guan shop. From this humble shophouse location, I was told by the Walking Guide that Tay Buan Guan department store grew to a multi-storey shopping centre. If you are at the present Rumah Bebe, do look out for the faint TBG print on its shopfront, which stands for Tay Buan Guan.

Almost just across the road stands Katong Mall. There is a heritage marker right in front of the mall, and it gives a nice introduction to the Katong/ Joo Chiat area.

There were a lot more places in Katong area to be covered. I was already attracted to the idyllic Katong area and its interesting buildings by then.

After sipping some water outside Katong Mall to quench my thirst, I continued my walk about the Katong/ Joo Chiat area. My next stop was the Joo Chiat Community Club along 405 Joo Chiat Road.

At the back of mind, I wondered why on Earth the Walking Guide would feature a Community Club. But after reading the guide, it did make sense. The Joo Chiat Community Club used to be just a humble wooden hut with simple facilities, but that wasn't as important as the fact that it continues to be one of the meeting points for the Katong/ Joo Chiat community even after it has been extensively renovated. I suppose I could say that the significance of a place is often measured by how it has served the people of the community?

It took me quite a while before I found my next stop, 341 Joo Chiat Road, the site of the former Joo Chiat Maternal and Child Health Clinic.

The Walking Guide had said that the building is of a prominent red colour. I realised that I was too obsessed with looking out for a red-colour building that I did not even bother to check the number-signs found on most of the buildings in the area. It turned out that the building is now white.

I learnt from the Walking Guide that the former Joo Chiat Maternal and Child Health Clinic was established in 1907 to counter Singapore's high infant mortality rate.

Now, for some treat to the eyes. As I strolled further down the road, I reached two rows of pre-war shophouse along Koon Seng Road. It was quite obvious that the architectural designs of these shophouses are show Peranakan influences. Notice the ornate designs and the fusion of Eastern and Western inflences.

Nearby, at one end of Koon Seng Road, the following building caught my attention. There was no mention of it on the Walking Guide but I took photographs of it nevertheless.

There are more places to visit, so for now, let's take a break to recharge ourselves for more of the Katong/ Joo Chiat area. Do come back for more.

(to be The Katong/ Joo Chiat Walk, Part 2)


Uniquely Singapore: Katong/ Joo Chiat Walking Guide. Published in Mar 2005 by Singapore Tourism Board.

Some posts or wesites related to Katong/ Joo Chiat area:
Uniquely Singapore: Katong (by June Yong)
Uniquely Singapore - The Katong Laksa Wars (recommended by Tony)


Lam Chun See said...

Next time, don't forget to tell us about the old Odeon Katong theatre and what's become of it. Then closer to Geylang is the Hollywood Theatre.

oceanskies79 said...

Chun See, maybe you can fill us in on those. I did not visit the old Odeon Katong theatre...nor the Hollyland Theatre.

Lam Chun See said...

OK lah. Share some nostalgia with your readers.

During our time, movie watching was the most popular pastime. So even tho I not familiar with that part of Spore, I do know of these 2 cinemas.

Of course they have probably been converted to shopping centres or churches by now. That's why hope you could share some pictures/info.

Hollywood: I remember 2 movies.

1) 爱的天地 starring Judy Ong (翁倩玉 - not sure if I got the Chinese name right) She was very famous in Japan. Very good singer. I loved her Chinese version of one Japanese song 祈祷. This movie was about how a great lady who dedicated her life to teach young kids - something like that lah. Anyway, one of the mushy Taiwanese movies. There was one unforgettable scene. There was a man, her headmaster I think, who wrote a Chinese idiom on the blackboard. You know lah - many Singaporeans of my generation, our Chinese all half-past-six one. So as the guy wrote the Chinese characters, the audience started to read them, one by one. Suddenly there was silence. Why? Becos he came to one quite difficult word which most of us don't know how to read. Everyone so malu and dare not read anymore.

2) 刘三姐 This was a very popular movie from China. Broke some box office records if I not mistaken. But story is very communist-stereotype. Rich oppressive merchant exploits peasants; peasants revolt etc. But what the audience loved was the music (山歌) and the beautiful scenery.I think you can still get the dvd/vcd in our shops for a few dollars.

As for Odeon Katong. Sorry cannot remember much.

oceanskies79 said...

Hi Chun See, thank you for filling in and sharing about the popular past-time of the past.

If I get to visit the area near the Odeon Katong theatre, I shall take photos and find out a bit more.

Anonymous said...

Wow. So many thing to say...
Ok, with regards to the many cinemas that used to be in the district.
Singapura: its opposite Joo Chiat Complex and MacDonalds has just moved out from the ground floor. The upper floor (?used to?) host a secondhand furnishings store and you can still see how high the ceilings were and the wall that used to be the screen space.
Hollywood: I believe that its the building that is right next to Lion City Hotel. This is now Sheng Siong Supermarket. Before the renovations that was completed 1 month ago, you can still see the old screen space but these days, an additional floor has been added which abit of a shame.
Odeon Katong: the space is now occupied by Cornerstone Church.
Republic: this iconic building is still in its bright colours right by Marine Parade Road but now house a tuition centre.
You can find wonderful pictures in
but the sentiments has to come from the people that used to frequent these places...

Philip Chew said...

Joo Chiat area was not known as Katong during Chew Joo Chiat's life time. Katong's beginning was between Katong Park and Tanjong Katong where the British Raj had their holiday homes fronting the sea. Because Joo Chiat was very closed to Tanjong Katong, locals who moved into Joo Chiat after the death of Chew Joo Chiat in 1926 referred to the place as Katong.

Philip Chew said...

Mr Foo Kee Seng's quote "Actually Joo Chiat is part of Katong...... In the old days, no Joo Chiat, Joo Chiat is only a road, note a consistuency." is not substantiated. In 1928 Katong's boundary was still at Tg Katong. After that year it encroached into Joo Chiat area. So Katong should be part of Joo Chiat and not the opposite. Quote from the book The Singapore House 1819-1942 by Lee Kip Lin page 119 "By 1928 Katong had grown to the extend that the Inspector-General of Police, H.Fairburn, remarked 'The development of the area from Katong to Joo Chiat, which had been to so rapid in the past two years, promises to continue, and from every point of view one sees the necessity of providing for a sub-divisional station to that suburb. The suburb at present possess no police station.'

oceanskies79 said...

Philip: Thank you very much for highlighting the discrepancies between the quote by Mr Foo and the actual historical situation. I appreciate that. This will help correct a number of misconceptions. Cheers.

Tom said...

Hey Ocean,

Thanks for the post. During our visit to Katong, we used your guide as a reference. It is indeed very informative. Do check out our post on the things to do in Katong and tell us what you think!

Happy Travels!