Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Charms of Katong Part 2

A continuation of previous post... our trail continues...

What made up of Katong? 
1) ethnic communities (Malay, Straits Chinese, and Eurasian)
2) famous heritage food and establishment (laksa, kueh chang and tau kwa pau)
3) heritage properties
4) most popular beach in Singapore

Katong is a place where the new meets the old. I would not say this is the only place that has such properties. There are a couple of places in Singapore which has the similar properties.
Left: Nice furniture at Ali Babar, a coffeeshop by day and a hawker bar by night
Top Right : Some new buildings spotted with modern architecture
Bottom Right: Katong 112, a relatively new shopping mall opened in 2011
6th stop: Rumah Bebe (Former Tay Buan Guan Shop)
This shophouse was part of Tay Buan Guan, the only tell tale sign are the words TBG print on the two pillars in front of the shop. Why do I say this is part of Tay Buan Guan? This is because the original department store was a 4 storey shop but this shop is 2 storey high as like the rest of the shophouses next to it. The department store, opened by Tay Leck Teck in 1948 used to be a very trendy shopping centre in those days whereby you can purchase almost everything under one roof and was first of its kind in Katong. He had opened 3 shops at East Coast Road after the World War 2, which I believe Rumah Bebe location is one of them before he expanded the business to the land bounded by East Coast Road, Joo Chiat Road and Fowlie Road. However, after the development of new shopping malls such as Parkway Parade, business begin to dwindle.

Now, Rumah  Bebe occupies this shophouse since 1995 opened by a nonya named Bebe Seet. It is now a Peranakan heritage store and museum.  You can learn to make kasut manek (beaded shoes worn by the Peranakans) here.

I simply love the facade of this shophouse, its vibrant colours and motifs. And I love the way the owner preserved the heritage of this shop. I mused about what 1928 on the entrance means? I do not think it is related to TBG as it was be re-establish only in 1948. Neither is it the establishment of Rumah Bebe since it is only there in 1995. So what does it really mean? Could it be the year which the shophouse were built?

As much as I wanted to take photos in the shop, no photography is allowed.

113 East Coast Road
Tue-Sun:9.30am – 6.30pm
+65 6247 8781
Left : Check out the letterbox and address sign! Such Peranakan feel!
Top Right: Shop front
Middle Right: Bicycle - part of the decoration for the shop front
Bottom Right: the only remains to remind that this was previous TBG
7th Stop Rumah Kim Choo
Next to Rumah Bebe are 2 shophouses that belongs to Rumah Kim Choo. Kim Choo was originally opened by Madam Lee Kim Choo in 1900s. Her traditional bak zhang (rice dumpling) becomes an instant hit. 60 years later, Rumah Kim Choo was opened by her daughter-in -law, Helen Lim.

There are 2 shops here, one dedicated for Peranakan food, the other the Peranankan costumes and accessories. Rumah Kim Choo also acts as a 2 storey Peranankan museum , full of Peranankan antiques, music, clothings and one of the largest Peranankan porcelain plate collections in Singapore. I even saw a pidangan (wooden frame for sewing kasut manek) on display. I do not know whether that is for sale, for display or whether it is still in use.

Now this shop is run by Raymond and his two brothers. They have since expanded it by opening a boutique gallery, giving talks, conducting in-house guided tours and collaborating with the arts community to produce Peranakan-inspired plays and art productions.

109, 111 East Coast Road ( These are the ones next to Rumah Bebe)
60 Joo Chiat Place 

Contact customerservice@kimchoo.com to find more about the products and services 
The shops are located next to each other. On the left, you could see the rice dumplings with nylon strings hanging from the 'roof' of the stall.
Look at the setting! I love these chairs and tables. Even the wood craved couplets. In Peranakan culture, almost everything comes in pairs, even doorways. 
Left: Antique Gramophone
Top Right: framed up  Peranakan tiles
Bottom Right:(Right to left) Spring , Summer, Autumn and Winter
I bought Nonya bak zhang (rice dumpling) for lunch that day as it was my favorite bak zhang of all. I believe this is the best around. Then I smelled some fragrant aroma and realised it was coming from the pancake. I did not hesitate and bought one without asking what was it made from. Nom nom nom ...
The pancake had a slight pandan smell and tasted a little like durian. I am not sure what is inside though but I like the honeycomb texture which reminds me of the honeycomb cake I have made. :) 
8th Stop Former Joo Chiat Police Station.
Adan did not bring us to the next 2 places because they are being cordoned off. They are located quite near Rumah Kim Choo.

This Police Station was built in 1928 to serve the Katong and Joo Chiat communities. The building is built similarly to many government buildings built at that time. It was said that Singapore's most infamous triad gang members were locked up in the jail here.

It was converted to Katong Village before it was recently closed down and sold to a hotel company.

9th stop Former "Red House" Bakery
This was the former Katong Bakery & Confectionery. It was also know as the red house bakery due to its red facade. It was opened in 1925 and was famous for its Swiss rolls and curry puffs. It was closed in 2003 as it is deemed unsafe. Now it is being rebuilt as private condos with its original red painted facade intact.

What was interesting about this bakery as Adan pointed out, this is a wakat property, but yet its history interweaves not just among Muslims, but also among Europeans and Chinese. It was put in trust to the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore by Sherrifa Zain Alsharoff Mohamed Alsogoff. A Jewish man, Jim Baker, started the bakery , then a Hainanese seaman Tan Siang Fuan, took over the bakery in 1931.

Below is a snapshot which I had taken during our visit in Katong. If you would like to see how the bakery used to look like, you may want to visit The Gingerbread Mum, she blogged on Chin Mei Chin as well as Holy Family Church, Kuo Chuan Avenue, IKEA Katong and Katong Convent!

The Red House bakery would be revived in 2016. Read about it! I can't wait!

Artist impression of The Red House
Since this was supposed to be a Literary Trail for Sherlock Sam and the missing heirloom in Katong, this trip has definitely brought a highlight and awareness to the Peranakan culture. I think it is important to preserve this culture which is so unique in South East Asia.

I have yet to explore this area again. If I do next time, I would visit Masjid Khalid, Canadian International School, Euasian Community House, Tembeling Road and Koon Seng Road. As mentioned, I am not very familiar with this place, I think it is a gem waiting to be explore!

As I was doing research on the writing of Katong, I am confused between the boundaries of Joo Chiat and Katong. Does any one knows where is the boundaries of Joo Chiat and Katong respectively? It seemed to me they are the same area although I read that there was Joo Chiat first before Katong.

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Credit: Most of the stuff written here comes from the handout prepared by AJ Low (Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez), Authors of Serlock Sam

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  1. Sounds like such a fun trail!! Oh my memories of Red House. Re opening in 2016? Wow! I can't wait! Hope they'll still have those rickety chairs!

    Nonya zhang is also my favourite! I don't eat any other :)

    Hey my grandaunt used to conduct classes, teaching people to make those beaded slippers! Sadly, I don't own any ;(

    Love the write up :)

    1. Thanks, Adora, for your kind comments! It is a fun trail! I guess all of us enjoyed it very much!

      I would love to learn this dying art of making beaded slippers! But I think the course fee wouldn't be cheap, isn't it?

  2. Replies
    1. Yes. You should if you get the chance!

  3. I feel so ignorant asking... but where is Katong?

    1. Katong is in the east part of Singapore. It is near Marine Parade and Geylang. The trail I mentioned on these two posts starts from Marine Parade Library (The building has a community centre as well), along Still Road,and walk all the way along East Coast Road.
      I am still finding out where exactly is the boundary of Katong.


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