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Kian Seng provision shop
Photograph: My Community

A final look at the old Tanglin Halt

Some of these neighbourhood gems will cease to exist when the aging estate goes through redevelopment

Cheryl Sekkappan
Written by
Cheryl Sekkappan
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Tanglin Halt: where trains once chugged past and Van Houten chocolate was manufactured. It's one of Singapore’s oldest HDB estates and has undergone many changes over the years. But the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS) announced in 2003 and 2014 has changed its face forever.

Under SERS, 31 housing blocks comprising 3,480 flats and 200 market and hawker stalls, shops and eating houses in the area are being demolished or repurposed. Beloved stalwarts like Evertop Hainanese Chicken Rice have already made the move. But civic charity organisation My Community wants to continue to preserve and promote the precious heritage of the area. Volunteer tour guide Victor Li shares: “You can see the slow decrease in the vibrancy of the area, but tours like ours help inject some of that back into the community.” Here’s one last look at Tanglin Halt as we know it.

RECOMMENDED: The most photogenic housing estates in Singapore and The lost landmarks and buildings in Singapore

Tanglin Halt Community Plaza
Photograph: Kashmira Kasmuri

Tanglin Halt Community Plaza

At the heart of the estate is Tanglin Halt Community Plaza, a piazza flanked by the honeycombed-shaped Tanglin Halt Food Centre and straight rows of shophouses. The stalls have been around for more than half a century, forming a hub where residents eat, shop and mingle. By the end of 2020, the food court and surrounding buildings will be cleared to make way for a brand new community plaza, changing Tanglin Halt for good. While you can, check out Museum@My Queenstown for a look at historical artefacts collected from residents, factories and shop owners in the area.

Commonwealth Drive blocks
Photograph: Kashmira Kasmuri

Commonwealth Drive blocks

It’s uncommon to see low-rise residential blocks in Singapore these days, which makes these three to four-story buildings along Commonwealth Drive all the more charming. Take a stroll down the meandering pavements and quiet back paths that connect each block. For some respite, head to the large overgrown garden and playground, or even the old railway track that residents now use as an exercise path. From there, you can look across to a large and flat plot of land where Singapore’s first 10-storey blocks – which many old taxi drivers would know as “chap lau chu” in Hokkien – used to sit.

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Tanglin Halt Road blocks
Photograph: Kashmira Kasmuri

Tanglin Halt Road blocks

The tall, pink residential blocks along Tanglin Halt Road were confirmed for SERS in 2014. Tour guide Victor Li shares stories of residents who would leave their keys with each other for safekeeping whenever they went out. Another long-time resident regularly had help from her neighbours to take care of her twin daughters when she was too overwhelmed by the daily demands of life. Many residents have since moved out or plan to move out by end 2020 to modern new digs at five replacement sites close by. But what may be lost is the close-knit community built up over the past 50 years living at Tanglin Halt.

Hock Ann Confectionery
Photograph: Kashmira Kasmuri

Hock Ann Confectionery

Alongside Tanglin Halt Community Plaza sits old-school bakery Hock Ann Confectionery. When asked how long they’ve been operating, the elderly owner wistfully says: “Very long.” The peeling shop sign, yellowing walls, and clunky cash register certainly confirms his statement. In fact, it’s been more than 50 years since the old couple in charge have been churning out fluffy sugar donuts, assorted buns and light swiss rolls. Step in for an affordable and delicious afternoon snack and try to catch a glimpse of them at work through the small window behind the counter.

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Tanglin Halt Market
Photograph: Kashmira Kasmuri

Tanglin Halt Market

Tanglin Halt Market, not to be confused with the food centre across the road, boasts two popular food stalls. Guangzhou Mian Shi Wanton Mee, which plays a starring role in local film Wanton Mee, has perpetually long queues and makes for a great late-night snack.  Tanglin Halt Original Peanut Pancake on the other hand, is one for the early risers. Stall owner Teng Kiong Seng makes a unique and tasty batter from a decades-old yeast culture that he inherited from his father. He and his wife may soon retire, so there’s no saying how much longer we can enjoy their yummy peanut pancakes.

Poh Onn Tong Medical Hall
Photograph: Kashmira Kasmuri

Poh Onn Tong Medical Hall

Poh Onn Tong Medical Hall is a customary stop on My Community’s heritage tours. Run by the Chong family who moved to Singapore from Malaysia in 1964, the shop has an unmissable, tall medicinal cabinet stocked with nine tins of herbs in each drawer. If you’re lucky, you might catch the shopkeeper Jasmine Chong hard at work weighing and cutting herbs the old school way – with traditional scales and a hand-operated mechanical cutter.

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Kian Seng provision shop
Photograph: My Community

Kian Seng provision shop

Madam Lim Ang Ah has been a proprietor at Kian Seng provision shop for the past 40 years. Till today, residents old and new go back to her to buy old school confectioneries and religious items. In the 1970s, it endeared itself to the community with its neighbourly spirit and innovative personalised services such as free delivery and shopping on credit. Head on down to support the business, and pick up some of the best, nostalgia-inducing jam biscuits in Singapore.

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