The Tiong Bahru Murals

Waking up to Singapore's 51st birthday, we took a heritage mural walk in the Tiong Bahru estate. It had been on my list for a long time but I never found the motivation to do it until today. A special day calls for a unique experience with the family and I really had some heavy craving for the Tiong Bahru Market Ju Kueh [Jian Bo Shui Kweh #02-05]. Perfect morning to kill two birds with one stone. 

Oh my! The multi-story carpark at the market was full! You might have guessed it right. There were no lots available in its vicinity and we had to park way back along Tiong Poh Road. That meant, our mural hunt shall take precedence over breakfast!

Yip YC is a fellow Singaporean, the artist behind these nostalgic murals [Read: The Everton Murals] depicting Singapore in her early years. I must say, I am proud of his determined pursuit to realise his dreams. He was inspired by Ernest Zacharevic's murals in Kampong Glam and set forth to put this street art project across for Singaporeans to reminisce. Although Zacherevic paints at a different level [with real props, making it 3-dimensional], Yip belongs to us. He brought us down memory lane with a local flavour in his paintings. A flavour only we can identify - talking about Fortune Tellers and Five-Foot Walkways.

Home - painted on a wall at Blk 74 of Tiong Poh Street, I was disappointed to find a DANGER KEEP OUT barricade around it! My first thought was, "Aww... I won't be able to photograph the mural in full view without those ugly orange barrier!"

This mural was inspired by the artist's home in Chinatown back in the 1970s. Retro and traditional, it reflects many homes in Tiong Bahru who kept the modernised furniture away even in today's context. As we stood there admiring the mural with the children, we played an "I Spy With My Little Eye" game. We found the cane hanging by the window, popular Chinese comedians Wangsa Yefung of our era, a stack of old one dollar notes which I still have in my collection of old notes and 福禄寿 ! The details were mesmerising really. I reminisced as I admired.

We incorporated a little imagination in our visit and got Faye to switch on the light for 公公, gave the cat a sayang [stroke in malay] and make a telephone call to her friend. It was all in the name of good fun and we were surprised she was in good spirits for this mural hunt experience.

Yip YC wrote,

Every object was familiar
Every details 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 moved fast!

When our old homes turned into dust
We longed for the beauty of our homes past

I cannot agree more as I work on a continued journey to convince my husband in making our next home, retro.

Pasar and Fortune Teller - is just round the corner from Home. It is situated between an alley, away from plain sight if you should be driving. It requires a walkabout for sure to locate this mural. I read from Yip YC's Tiong Bahru Murals' story that the fortune teller in this mural was drawn based on a black and white photograph he had. It would have been very special for this fortune teller to know that he had become a commissioned art but unfortunately, he had passed on years ago. I am sure his family will hold this mural close to their hearts.

What a sight this pasar [market in Malay]! I did not grow up in this scene and that is a regret because it really does look a lot livelier and richer in culture than covered markets next to HDB blocks. I have not heard about Seng Kee Laksa and Curry Mee before either. Have you? But I discovered the Ju Kueh on the table where two men were enjoying as they indulge in deep conversation and delicious street food. Oh we are moving closer to our own Ju Kueh breakfast at the less interesting multi-story market!

Yip YC wrote,

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 & fences were added

Within the fence, 
sweaty bodies inched through a maze of stalls
the air thick with smell of smoke & wet floors

Outside the fence,
sat the Fortune Teller
dressed in neat business shirt
deities in a suitcase
to tell your fortune

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

I fondly remember the Seng Poh market with zinc roofs and very very dirty and wet floors. We walked in for lunches, we walked in for suppers. We walked in with our slippers splashing dirty waters onto our calves and yet, we enjoyed our cups of sugar cane juices with delight in our sweltering heat. My favourite stall then was the Char Siew Rice stall. If you grew up in this estate, you would have known. Thankfully, they are still in operation in the new Tiong Bahru Market but really? The Char Siew 20 years ago tasted a lot better in an environment we had in the past.

Bird Singing Corner - Pillars! Oh Pillars. Two of them even! But well, a good artist can make do with pillars I'm sure. Just look at how Yip YC incorporated the pillars to this nostalgic mural. I had never participated in a bird singing experience before although I grew up seeing many bird singing corners in the estates I lived in. In fact, I normally avoid them because these uncles smoke. Oh that stench.

It is a rare sight now in Singapore but as we drove about through Bedok looking for lunch, I spotted a small corner with a bird cages hung high in a tree! Pity we couldn't stop for a visit and story-tell this hobby of the past to our children because all carparks were full. Hmmm and I thought Singaporeans must travel over long weekends.

The very first thing the children did when they arrived at this mural was to start counting the number of birds - inside and outside of the cages. Then we played a "Spot The Cat" game and well, guess who lost? *hahah* Little Faye. She looked so cute, scrutinising the wall where the uncles sat but the cat was in fact on the pillar. If you haven't noticed, Yip YC draws a cat in every mural he owned. Would you mind shedding us light on the story of the Cat Yip?

Yip YC wrote,

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!

Came 2003, 
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

There is no better day than Singapore's Birthday to celebrate the present. Without knowing our Past, what is Present?

We have a MURALS tab on the main page of this blog. There, you will be guided to other street art walkabouts we've undertook in Singapore and Penang. 


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