Tiong Bahru holds a special place in the hearts of many. In the morning, the Tiong Bahru Market comes to life, packed with locals enjoying their kopi and tourists who have travelled from afar to savour a taste of Singapore. And just around the corner, the neighbourhood is scattered with quaint cafes, understated art galleries, charming stores, cosy housings and serene parks.
However, how much do we know about this delightful neighbourhood? With this question in mind, I decided to embark on a self-guided audio tour by Estate Frequencies. This audio-tour-podcast is a three-episode virtual auditory companion, designed to transport you through the historical journey of the district. It's almost like being accompanied by a knowledgeable guide. And what’s special is that apart from its informative narration, it also includes conversations with its long standing residents who have indelibly influenced its essence, as well as poems written by poet Marc Nair.
Without further ado, here are five interesting takeaways I've gathered about Tiong Bahru from the audio tour.
1. Housing in Tiong Bahru was designed to look like different modes of transportation
In the 1930s, under the skilled hand of architect Alfred G. Church, houses in Tiong Bahru were designed to echo the architectural style of 'Streamline Moderne'. One which evolved as a late development of the art deco movement. This design was inspired by the notions of technology and the swift pace of modern transportation. Buildings were designed to look like automobiles, trains, ocean liners and aeroplanes, characterised by their streamlined and aerodynamic features. Look closer and you’ll notice their rounded windows, reminiscent of portholes, and the sleek, curved corners that bear a resemblance to the bridge of a ship.
2. There’s a temple dedicated to Sun Wukong (Monkey God) in the estate
At the heart of Tiong Bahru along Eng Hoon Street is the very first temple in Singapore dedicated to the Monkey God. It is said that in the past, during the annual festival held to honour his birthday, the Money God would make an appearance through this temple's chosen medium. Currently, there are 40 other temples in Singapore dedicated to the Monkey God.
3. Singapore’s oldest singing bird corner lies in the neighbourhood
Situated near Link Hotel, the bird singing corner originally began as a pet bird shop initiated by the owner of a nearby kopitiam, aimed at drawing in more patrons. This unique spot quickly became a gathering point for avid bird enthusiasts from Singapore and neighbouring countries to showcase their cherished birds. It gained such popularity that even the Dutch airline KLM got involved, sponsoring hooks, number tags, and even bird-singing competitions.
4. Tiong Bahru Market was formerly a simple wooden building with zinc roofs
The present market as we know today was once known as Seng Poh Road Market – a marketplace opened on January 2, 1951. Back then, Seng Poh Road Market was a humble wooden building sheltered with zinc roofs. After its renovation and reopening in 2006, what’s now known as the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre is a two-story complex, where people come together to hang out and enjoy mouthwatering local food.
5. Tiong Bahru has the first and only air raid shelter to be included in a public housing project
The public housing structure at Block 78 Guan Chuan Street holds a unique distinction as the first and only one of its kind with an integrated air raid shelter. Furthermore, it holds historical significance as the sole surviving civilian air raid shelter from the pre-war era that can still be found today.