On trend at anold beauty

The Lion City’s old­est neigh­bour­hood is go­ing through a resur­gence as a hip Art­Deco sanc­tu­ary, writes Sarah Ni­chol­son

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - REVITALISED SINGAPORE -

‘‘ DO YOU know Tiong Bahru is also called Mei Ren Wo?’’ the el­derly cab driver asked as he whisked me from Changi Air­port to my bou­tique ho­tel on the edge of Sin­ga­pore’s old­est neigh­bour­hood.

‘‘ It means ‘ den of beau­ties’ in Chi­nese and that was Tiong Bahru’s nick­name be­fore World War II be­cause the rich­est men kept their mis­tresses there and the lo­cals al­ways knew who they were be­cause the ladies would look per­fect even when they were out do­ing their shop­ping.

‘‘ Some of those ladies still live in Tiong Bahru, they’re in their 80s and 90s now and have be­come icons of the neigh­bour­hood.’’

Tiong Bahru – the net­work of lanes bounded by Tiong Bahru Rd and Sin­ga­pore Gen­eral Hospi­tal to the west of Chi­na­town – was es­tab­lished in the 1930s when the Sin­ga­pore Im­prove­ment Trust built 30 low-rise build­ings con­tain­ing 900 apart­ments to ac­com­mo­date the is­land’s ex­pand­ing pre­war pop­u­la­tion.

The ele­gant struc­tures were a mix of Art Deco and Straits shop­house ar­chi­tec­ture, with cov­ered foot­paths be­side the fam­ily busi­nesses at ground level and round bal­conies, port­hole win­dows, geo­met­ric curves, metal trim, pan­els of opaque glass and shut­ters dec­o­rat­ing the floors above.

Only the very rich could af­ford Tiong Bahru in the decade be­fore the Ja­panese in­vaded Sin­ga­pore in 1942, but the pop­u­la­tion tripled in the years af­ter World War II, with the district los­ing its ex­clu­sive sta­tus to be­come a mid­dle-class kam­pong, or vil­lage.

The neigh­bour­hood lost a lit­tle more shine in the 1970s and ’ 80s when the boom years brought smart, high­den­sity de­vel­op­ments pop­u­lar with a new gen­er­a­tion of pros­per­ous Sin­ga­pore­ans who left the old set­tle­ment to live in mod­ern tow­ers close to swim­ming pools, ten­nis courts and new schools.

But young peo­ple with a so­cial con­science are re­turn­ing to Tiong Bahru to em­brace the kam­pong life­style in a neigh­bour­hood that has not only re­tained its orig­i­nal ele­gant ap­pear­ance, thanks to some in­sight­ful con­ser­va­tion laws, but a healthy dose of his­toric charm.

I heard about the spot on a visit to Sin­ga­pore last year when the young PR ex­ec­u­tive at a lux­ury ho­tel told me it was the place hip lo­cals went for cof­fee, with cafes like 40 Hands, The Or­ange Thim­ble and Drips mak­ing the best espres­sos in the Lion City.

And I was hooked af­ter read­ing a CNN story that de­scribed the area as ‘‘ Sin­ga­pore’s old­est and hippest hood’’ pro­vid­ing ‘‘ a mish­mash of old and new Sin­ga­pore’’.

CAF­FEINE COR­NER: The 40 Hands cafe in Tiong Bahru district is one the trendy spots to visit.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.