The great Tiong Bahru Insta-venture
Think Tiong Bahru, and the first things that pop into most of our heads are cafes, bookstores and quaint alleys that make insta-worthy OOTD shots. But this estate goes beyond its hipsterville facade.
Despite being one of the first public housing estates to be built during the 1930s pre-war era, Tiong Bahru is still a place many live in and visit today. From quirky HDBs shaped like aeroplanes to an air raid shelter that survived WWII, Tiong Bahru was the perfect place to spend a Saturday exploring.
Undaunted by the #basic life of cuppa joes and hipster bookstores, The Smart Local teamed up with the Ministry of National Development (MND) and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for our latest #InstaWalk at Tiong Bahru on 14 January 2017
From left: Aik Soon, Audrey, Charlotte and Danny
Helping us get into insta-ready mode was our group of talented influencers, Lee Aik Soon (@aiksooon), Danny Ng (@daannyng) and our very own Audrey Lim (@tippytoess). Not forgetting our host, Charlotte (@apennyfortea)!
Watch our #iWalkTiongBahru journey here:
Onward to the mural-stickered streets of Tiong Bahru!
1. Tiong Bahru Adventure Playground
0910: Time to kick-start our adventure at the aptly named Tiong Bahru Adventure Playground. We gathered at a nearby pyramid structure which got some of us snapping away!
Our participants got their goodie bags full of snacks, gifts and a specially prepared guide book for the walk! It even came with ponchos in case of wet weather – though thankfully, the sun was out with us.
0925: Being in a playground had everyone running around like 5-year-olds again – except with some serious camera action this time. I mean, we did have an #InstaChallenge on our hands! Participants had to get shots that suited the walk’s three themes: Architecture, Art and Heritage.
With its oddly tilted cabins, this train-shaped playground was the perfect opportunity to get creative with angles.
2. Horseshoe Block 78
0940: Weaving through the estate led us to the horseshoe shaped Block 78, which houses 72-year-old Hua Bee Mee Pok that transforms into a Japanese restaurant, Bincho, at night. Hua Bee was also the set for Eric Khoo’s 1995 seminal film, Mee Pok Man! Discovering Bincho’s secret backdoor had us feeling like undercover spies, and really hungry ones at that.
Not only is Block 78 the largest block in Tiong Bahru, it also showcases how British architecture had been tailored to the tropics, such as the incorporation of back alleys and spiral staircases.
Fact checking for answers to our quiz!
0945: Time for our very first mini quiz session! We started off with an easy question, much to everyone’s amusement AND relief, of course.
Air Raid Shelter
0950: Our next stop was just a minute’s walk away – Singapore’s first purpose-built air raid shelter in a public housing estate. Our curious participants tiptoed and sneaked some peeks through the ventilation gaps!
URA’s Conservation Planner, Ivan Chin, feeding everyone nuggets of information
We also learnt that the bunkers were the size of thirteen 5-room HDB flats!
Meanwhile, group 2 wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to take a group shot.
3. Tiong Bahru CC and Pasar Mural
1005: On our way to the next pit stop, we stopped by Tiong Bahru Community Centre (CC) for a little history lesson. Here are some fun facts we learnt about this place:
#1: Tiong Bahru CC was the first community centre to be built in Singapore.
#2: To reflect the growing aspirations of residents, CCs were renamed ‘community clubs’ by the People’s Association. However, the spunky residents of Tiong Bahru felt that the word ‘centre’ was a core reflection of the estate’s heritage – which is why it’s still called Tiong Bahru Community Centre!
1015: Adventure was on our maps, and our visit to Tiong Bahru wouldn’t have been complete without a mural hunt. Just along Block 73 was our first mural of the day – Pasar and Fortune Teller by Yip Yew Chong. Gai-gai time!
Group 1’s guide, Ivan, having fun with the mural! Source: URA
Our Tiong Bahru explorers taking some interactive shots with the murals!
4. Home Mural
1025: Our Insta-venturers did have a mural maze on their hands, but before we headed off to our next mural, we made a pit stop to talk more about Tiong Bahru’s unique architectural features.
URA’s Executive Architect (Conservation Management), Yan Chang’s passion for Tiong Bahru’s facade had us all hooked, and windows have never been more interesting.
If you’re like me and love the ocean but hate being out in the sun, maybe it’s time to get some of Tiong Bahru’s iconic green windows installed in your home. Not only do they give off some aesthetic vibes, they’re functional too! The windows filter sunlight, and their green colour and rippled texture mimic ocean waves, making one’s flat more comfortable and inviting.
Interesting fact: These green-tinted windows were manufactured in England, and every home used to have these installed! The use of glass was also reflective of the modernisation in Singapore, and serves as a piece of conserved heritage in today’s time.
1035: All that talk about the architectural style made us feel a little nostalgic, which was the perfect mood to be in, as our next stop was Yip Yew Chong’s Home mural.
Some of our participants even whipped out their own props. Anything for the ‘gram.
5. Aeroplane Flats
1045: We’re almost halfway there! Just around the corner from the mural are blocks 81 and 82, also known as the ‘Aeroplane Flats’ of Tiong Bahru. Built by the Singapore Improvement Trust, these blocks are the precursors of the HDB flats of today.
With their curved roofs and elongated balconies, these flats are the epitome of 1920s art deco movement. Inspired by technology and modern travel, buildings designs were influenced by the machine aesthetic, with sweeping, streamlined and aerodynamic lines.
6. Qi Tian Gong Temple
Getting that ‘gram is no monkey business
1105: The time had come to embark on own Journey to the West. Yup, our next stop was none other than Sun Wukong’s temple. This place houses over 10 statues of the legendary monkey god.
1115: Pop quiz time! We decided to add a challenge to this one: the first participant to get into their best Sun Wukong pose while shouting out the answer would get the prize! Everyone was in stitches trying to perfect their poses – a cute merlion keychain was up for grabs.
The proud winner with her prize
7. Block 55 – and snacks!
Influencers Audrey and Danny catching up
1120: After all that monkeying around, we made our way through Block 55, the very first of 20 SIT flat built in 1936.
These flats were three-storey, low-rise flats with distinctive features such as corners that form a gateway on the streets. Block 55’s angled front also serves as a marker that one has entered Tiong Bahru’s estate. Housing developments in Tiong Bahru represent the architectural model of the pre-war era, which is why URA has conserved these blocks till today.
This was secretly everyone’s favourite stop because…
And let’s face it, cupcakes and lattes are cool, but nothing beats sinking your teeth into a fluffy kueh dadar or some old school carrot cake. Our quick pit stop at Tiong Bahru Galicier Bakery was a well-deserved treat!
8. Yong Huat Upholstery
1130: Tucked away in an alley was Yong Huat, a humble upholstery shop manned by Mrs Tay, whose husband founded the shop in 1969. We even got to watch them fix up some old chairs!
A happy Mrs Tay who was glad we dropped by to visit
It was humbling to see Mrs Tay so passionate about her craft, and it’s something millennials can definitely learn from.
9. Bird Corner Mural
1145: Ah, back to our mural hunt! Up next was Yip Yew Chong’s Bird Corner Mural, which was the most fun backdrop of them all. Participants joined the bird-watching uncles and took some creative shots, like these:
No props? No “prop-lem”. We borrowed a red chair from the kopitiam opposite for participants to have fun with. Now, time for some kopi!
10. Tiong Bahru Market
We were not the only ones photographing the area that day!
1200: Cue the tummy rumbles – lunch time is coming. But our explorers stood strong and determined. Our next stop was Tiong Bahru Market,and some participants who lived nearby started sharing their favourite dishes.The ‘thick-cut’ carrot cake is an apparent must-try! Now that’s my favourite kind of fun fact to know.
Yan Chang shared that the British built a shed for roadside hawkers to sell food, which was eventually demolished in 2004 due to the hot and stuffy conditions the hawkers were conditioned to. A temporary market was then built to accommodate these vendors, and Tiong Bahru market opened its doors in 2006.
We then headed to the market’s multi-storey car park to catch the scenic view of the neighbourhood’s newer buildings juxtaposed with its pre-war flats.
Participants havign fun with the Mama Goat mural by Ernest Goh, created in 2014 for the Chinese Year of the Goat
Our favourite part of the market was catching the cheeky family of goats hidden around the area!
11. The Dancing Girl
A bird? A plane? A…dancing girl?
1230: We bade goodbye to the goats and headed towards our final destination – the Dancing Girl!
Everyone came together in confusion as we stared at this peculiar sculpture in the middle of Seng Poh Garden, sculpted by Lim Nang Seng – who also designed the Merlion!
It was really interesting to hear everyone’s interpretations too. Some of us saw a swan, others a lion’s head and someone even thought it was a human’s face. Yan Chang told us that according to some, the artist got creative with his limited time and budget and left out her head. Cue the oohs and aahs, because we were all definitely cracking OUR heads trying to figure it out.
Here’s Charlotte and Group 2 channelling their inner dancing girls – heads intact
1240: As our adventure came to a close, we commenced our prize giving ceremony for the lucky ‘grammers who won the #InstaChallenge.
Participants picking their best shots for the contest
And kudos to Group 2 for winning Best Group Photo:
Old school charm in a new light
We learnt about URA’s conservation efforts to protect and retain these conservation buildings while ensuring that the buildings continue to serve useful functions, such as living spaces for residents. Truly, Tiong Bahru reflects the Singapore story and left us more aware and appreciative of our heritage and development as a nation.
See you at our next #InstaWalk!
Hopefully our day at Tiong Bahru has inspired you to check it out for yourself! And if you’re feeling the FOMO, chill. Just follow @thesmartlocalsg and @MNDSingapore on Instagram for updates on our next #InstaWalk at Jurong!
Till next time, explorers, and remember to be your insta-best.
This post was brought to you by the Ministry of National Development.