Thursday, October 1, 2015

Chew Joo Chiat's second legacy

Joo Chiat, Singapore’s  First Heritage Town is fast becoming a tourist spot. There is a walking trail guide and map known as The Secret of Joo Chiat launched recently and supported by Singapore Tourism Board.

Joo Chiat a living legacy is the title of  a book by Lily Kong published in 2001. Many road names such as Joo Chiat Road, Joo Chiat Terrace, Joo Chiat Place,  Joo Chiat Lane, Joo Chiat Walk and Joo Chiat Avenue  are named after the late Chew Joo Chiat. In fact, he had the most roads named after him in Singapore. Buildings named after him were Joo Chiat Market, Joo Chiat Post Office and Joo Chiat Police Station. Joo Chiat Market had been demolished and replaced by Joo Chiat Complex. Joo Chiat Post Office site is now a drive way connecting Joo Chiat Road to a car park. Joo Chiat Police Station has ceased functioning. It will be a hotel soon but the building will be restored to its past glory.

The boundary of Joo Chiat District was reported in the Straits Times on 8 October 1948. It stretches  from Changi Road/Geylang Serai  junction to  Joo Chiat Road, Marine Parade Road, Telok Kurau Road, Changi Road and back to Geylang Serai to form a square.  Katong has no district then and  now. It encroached into Joo Chiat after the death of Chew Joo Chiat in 1926. 

Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple at Jalan Eunos is another legacy of Chew Joo Chiat. He owned most of the land at Kampong Eunos which was then a coconut plantation. His two coconut plantations at Joo Chiat and Kampong Eunos were adjoining, separated only by a narrow Changi Road in the early 1920s. After his death in 1926, the land at Kampong  Eunos was  divided among  his children. Chew Quee Neo, his youngest daughter inherited a parcel of  land facing Jalan Eunos MRT. 

In 1959 she donated her land to the Venerable Mahaweera, a young Buddhist monk to build a Buddhist temple. It was to fulfill her vow made earlier. In 1960 Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple was born with a humble beginning. A single storey worship hall was built and officially opened on 31st March 1961. 

In 1981 the temple started to erect a three storeys extension building. It was completed in 1983. 

                      Opening ceremony by Mr Devan Nair 

In July 1991 an old building was demolished to make way for a new shrine hall. It was completed in 1994.

                     Opening ceremony officiated by Dr Wee Kim Wee

Bangala Vihara Buddhist Temple had the honour of two former Presidents of Singapore to grace the two separate ceremonies. First was for the extension building on 23rd November 1983. Former President of Singapore Mr Devan Nair was the Guest of Honour who unveiled the Opening Commemorative Plaque. Next was the opening of the New Shrine Hall Building on 11th July 1999 by former Singapore President Dr Wee Kim Wee who unveiled the plaque.

Chew Joo Chiat second legacy through his daughter Chew Quee Neo has come a long way from its humble beginning. Today the temple has full facilities. There is a Shrine Hall, a multi-purpose Chew Quee Neo Hall, an administrative office, Rooms for
Sunday school,  kitchen cum dinning area, living quarters for monks, library etc. 

Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple has a colourful history. It celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2010 and it is looking forward for another 50 good years.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Ancestor land

厦门 Xiamen China

Last month my wife and I went on a free and easy holidays with my youngest son to 厦门Xiamen China. Hersan 禾山 village nearby  Xiamen was where my great grandfather Chew Joo Chiat was born in 1855. During his growing up years, China was ruled by the Qing Dynasty. Below is an old city map of 厦门Xiamen. The fortified walls had gates opening to the  north, south, east and west . 禾山Heshan village is not on the map as it is to the north of the city.

                                                                Picture credit to Ho San Kong Hoey Singapore.

Silk Air flight time to Xiamen was about 4 hours

Day 1
                                               Xiamen Swiss International Hotel

We arrived at Xiamen late in the afternoon and checked in at Xiamen Swiss International Hotel. It is directly opposite the tourists’ island 鼓浪屿 (Gulangyu). We took a cab to a hilltop restaurant overlooking the beach. The weather was hot like Singapore and the beach was very crowded.

Yummy food

Beach at Xiamen

We had dinner at the restaurant overlooking the beach

Day 2
We thought of going to Gulang Yu but could not get ferry tickets. The cruise centre was very crowded with tourists and school children on holidays. Since we had no fixed itinerary, I suggested to visit Heshan Road, hoping to find my great grandfather Chew Joo Chiat’s home village.

                                            Picture from Google Earth

My visit to Xiamen was partly to trace my family history in China. I was not prepared then but simply hope something would materialise. I was totally wrong. Chew Joo Chiat’s birth place,  禾山(Heshan) has been merged with Xiamen city. The place is now criss-cross by highways and multi-storey buildings. Searching for Chew Joo Chiat’s birth place was like looking for a pin in a haystack. Heshan village is not as before and after about an hour’s walk, we gave up.

                                                        禾山路Heshan Road 

                                                          Another view of Heshan Road

Mary needed rest to ease off the pain in her leg. A cab took us to SM City Plaza, a shopping mall nearby. 

                                               SM City Plaza Xiamen

The cab driver stopped us on the wrong side of the shopping mall. We had to walk a short distance to the building.     

                                           Mary could not walk and rested outside a restaurant.                

                                                         Mary could walk again

Day 3

We visited the Overseas Chinese Museum as it was near the hotel. See map 

 Entrance gate to the Overseas Chinese Museum

The Overseas Chinese Museum contains exhibits mainly from overseas Chinese. It show-case the story of Chinese migrant workers to south-east Asia during the Qing Dynasty. At the museum, I was hoping to find clues or pictures of my great grandfather Chew Joo Chiat but in vain. Majority  of the overseas Chinese then had no education. They worked hard as manual workers  such  as cooks barbers, tailors, dealers, hawkers and various other jobs. Some succeeded to be employers, teachers, doctors and lawyers, traders  etc. Many  entrepreneurs had made a name for themselves such as Tan Tock Seng, Lim Nee Soon, Tan Kah Kee, Chew Joo Chiat, Dr Lim Boon Keng and  others.

                                        Chinese migrant workers on board a Chinese junk

Zhongshan Road is the main commercial area in Xiamen. A large section of the road is now a pedestrian mall. We went hunting for souvenir and gifts for friends. As it was dinner time we had our meal at a seafood restaurant.

                                                   Dinner at a seafood restaurant

Day 4

We booked a ferry ticket in advance from the hotel for Wed 19 August 2015. Mary had problem walking and was given priority to jump queue. Although inside the barrier she could not move due to the pain and had to wait for the pain to go off.

                                            Passengers queue up to go to the ferry

Gulang Yu island is a tourist spot. It was once an international settlement in China beside Shanghai. Hence, there are many colonial buildings of Victorian era. We covered less than one percent of the island and returned to Xiamen due to Mary's condition. 

                                                  Gulang Yu Islang


                                            Anglo Chinese College Xiamen in 1898. 

                                                      Yang Villa built in 1935

                                                       Roadside artist

                                             Mary on wheel chair at Cruise Centre

Day 5
Home Sweet Home

                                                View from our hotel room

                                 Good bye Xiamen. Hope to see you again

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Rediffusion Talk Show SG50

Rediffusion on its SG50 celebration will film a collection of 25 stories shared by the nation’s pioneers through  interviews at the talkshows. The program will be filmed at 7 community centres.  At each talkshow pioneers would share their personal stories during the last 50 years.

 On Saturday 14 March 2015 the talkshow was held at Joo Chiat Community Centre Theatrette. The Theme -我最喜欢的广播员和节. I was one of the pioneer generation paticipants and also a past Joo Chiat residents.
It had an audience of about 80 people. The show started with a brief history of Rediffusion given by Ms Eeva Chang Mei Hsiang, a former Rediffusion DJ who bought over the Rediffusion.

                                                     Ms Eeva Chang Mei Hsiang

                                             Pioneer Generation Participants

                                             Interviewed by Ms Eeva Chang

                                                       Audience at the show

Each participant shared their nostalgic story. Some was quite emotional. The lighter part was singing old favourite in English as well as in Chinese such as “It’s Now Or Never” by Elvis Presley and a Hokien Song 望春風.

I talked  about the Rediffusion in Joo Chiat. In the 1950s  Rediffusion arrived in Joo Chiat. Most houses had a Rediffusion voice box including the attap huts kamong behind my house.  Rediffusion had only 2 radio channel. Turn the knob left or right for English or Chinese which included Chinese dialects. My uncle liked Chinese songs and I listened to English songs. Sometimes our timing clashed. But when it came to Ong Toh’s action packed story we had a common interest. The kungfu story was very captivating. Whenever it was Ong Toh story time, I took down the Rediffusion box hung on the wall to the table top for closer listening for I did not want to miss any part of his story. 

                               Listening to Rediffusion's Ong Toh's story

I also shared about the hawker food in Joo Chiat.
Tau Kua Pow The best ‘tau kua pow’ was not at Joo Chiat Road/East Coast Road junction coffee shop (now Alibaba). It was at a small coffee shop opposite Joo Chiat market (now Joo Chiat Complex). The secret for good ‘tua kua pow’ is in the sauce.

Katong Laksa  The hawker  who  was selling Katong laksa  known as ‘jangok’ because he had a few strands of hair on his chin. The name Katong laksa was not coined by him. His customer gave the name for easy reference. He was an intinerant hawker selling laksa in Joo Chiat, Marine Parade and finally he found a place on the 5 foot way of a coffee shop at the corner of East Coast Road/Ceylon Road. His customers loved his laksa and was referred by words of mouth as ‘Katong laksa’.  Jangok was a squatter on our land at Tembeling Road. He carried his laksa stall on a bamboo pole. On one side was a charcoal stove with a pot of laksa gravy on top. On the side was the cockery, laksa noodles, etc. In early 1970s The Ministry of the Environment wanted to clear all itinerant hawkers in Singapore.  His hawker stall was affected. The coffee shop owner saw the benefit of a popular laksa stall in his shop and rented a small space next to a pillar for him to continue his trade. Today Katong laksa is found in many parts of Singapore.

Objective of the project:

Commemorate 50 years of Singapore through the stories shared by the nation's pioneers.
Allow younger generations to rediscover the history and heritage of Singapore.
The Rediffusion Talk Show can be viewed at:

Friday, January 30, 2015

Reason for Blogging

                                                                   Chew Joo Chiat

I believe I am the oldest blogger in Singapore. Many people including the Straits Times reporter had asked me why I blog about my great grandfather Chew Joo Chiat. I have two reasons to do so. First I want my children, grandchildren and those after them to know their roots who had a humble beginning and through hard work and successful business he became wealthy man. The Straits Times on 11 Feb 1926 reported “A striking example of the ressourfulness of the Chinese of making a fortune in Malaya writes a correspondent, is recorded in the life of Chew Joo Chiat ……………….  He was a Hokien and landed at Singapore from Amoy (Amoy is in China) some 50 years or more, a penniless boy but by hardwork and endowed with keen business foresight he left an estate estimated to be worth about a million dollars……..” The moral of the story “Chew Joo Chiat our roots had a humble beginning”. Inspite of his wealth he kept a low profile and frugal in his spending.

ST 2 April 1999 published an article from an interview stated that Chew Joo Chiat died in 1950s and he had only a daughter. The informations given to the reporter was incorrect as Chew Joo Chiat's tombstone in Englsh showed he died on 5th February 1926. His main tombstone in Chinee characters showed he had 2 sons, 3 daughters and 8 grandchildren. There were also factual errors in the internet websites and books etc. 
My second reason was to correct all the errors and tell my own story.

During my research  I found Chew Joo Chiat had many other businesses besides being a housing developer and owner of plantations such as spice, rubber and coconut trees. In his early days at the turn of the 20th century he was a ship chandler and a timber trader owning a sawmill at Beach Road. His office was at No 5 Philip Street. In the early 1920s he owned 2 tin mines, The Trengganu Corporation and The Ulu Pacca Corporation as well as 2 banks. He founded the Pacific Bank in 1919 and was its first chairman. He was also a major shareholder of Batu Pahat Bank. Again many questions were asked. What had happened to all his wealth? Well the juicy part will be in the book “The Story  of Chew Joo Chiat” which will be published in December 2015 or January 2016..


Trengganu Corpoation                                                                          Ulu Pacca Corporation

                                                               Batu Pahat Bank

                                                                 Pacific Bank