Tiong Bahru is one of the “hip” places to explore in downtown Singapore. Contrary to high-rise buildings and HDB apartments scattered around the country, this residential estate is a conservation area filled with a heritage that resonates the “old-style” Singapore.
I didn’t grow up in this country but strolling around Tiong Bahru did remind me of my childhood neighborhood in the Philippines – bright spaces and bungalow houses, potted plants lining the streets, small convenience stores operated by locals, box television and bulky telephones, and how neighbors share a good conversation by hanging out together over a cup of coffee just outside the house.
Nowadays, my generation unconsciously spend to hang out in trendy cafes while the much younger ones usually have their eyes glued on their gadgets. My mom came to visit for the first time a few weeks back and she was quick to notice that people don’t chat much to each other here because they are so busy scrolling on their phones. I guess that’s the drawback of modernization.
Walking around, we found Yip Yew Chong’s murals in the backstreets of Tiong Bahru. Inspired by his own experiences and precious recollections, the Singaporean artist drew his memories and gave the empty walls a reflective account of history.
Here are three murals by Yip YC you’ll find in Tiong Bahru. Each one has a written poem alongside it.
BIRD SINGING CORNER
When the birds at the pet shop sang cheerful melodies
An idea sprouted to boost sale of the kopitiam’s kopi
Beside the kopitiam, hooks were hang
While bird lovers sipped kopi
Their pets sang to their hearts content
What a symphony under the Angsana tree!
When the songs were contested
Bird lovers came, from as far as overseas
The famous Tiong Bahru Bird Corner
All visitors must see!
The last song was sang
The last bird cage unhang
The kopitiam shutter rolled to its end
The Angsana tree wept, its heart sank
In memory of the old Tiong Bahru Bird Singing Corner
PASAR AND FORTUNE TELLER
On every street, hawkers plied their goods and food to make a living
When the Mata came, they ran leaving behind everything
In 1951, they consolidated the Seng Poh Market was created
Over the years, zinc roofs, taps and fences were added
Within the fence sweaty bodies inched through a maze of stalls
The air thick with smell of smoke and wet floor
Outside the fence sat the fortune teller
Dressed in neat business shirt deities in a suitcase to tell your future
In 2004, the market was demolished to make way for the better
In 2006, the Tiong Bahru Market opened its doors to welcome the future
Every object was familiar
Every detail was memorable
But we loved things to be new
Even though old things were not due
Our dazzling new homes kept our memories masked
We’d move so fast!
When our old homes turned into dust
We longed for the beauty
Of our homes past.
The last mural is my favorite. I remember this scene from my own childhood, too. Every morning, my uncles and the neighbors would chat over coffee, sitting on a makeshift bench under the trees. All while sharing a newspaper or taking turns on a crossword puzzle. There also used to be a time when it’s safe to leave the house open just so people can look out for each other. Now, these scenes are long gone and CCTVs are installed at every corner for security.
With everything going digital quick, this is a nice way to reminisce the simple things we used to enjoy in the past.
There are also other murals dispersed around Tiong Bahru Market that were done by different artists. This Mama Goat is a work of visual artist and photographer, Ernest Goh. Turn around a corner and you’ll also find Papa Goat. They are vivid and really lifelike but on a closer look, they’re actually deco wall stickers.
Our last stop was at an independent bookstore that curates a great selection of books you cannot find elsewhere, including a lot of locally published titles.
I bought “Tokyo On Foot” from our recent trip in Japan and I loved it! So now, I’m thinking of collecting a good coffee table book from my travels as a souvenir. I picked up “La Kopi” by Alvin Mark Tan, his first sketchbook dedicated to Singapore and I instantly knew that this would be a good reminder of my time here.
Let me know which mural is your favorite in the comments below! And I’ve got more street arts to share, so stay tuned!