Monday, February 21, 2011


Our Thoughts...

Balestier. I have never thought it held such a historical significance in Singapore.
In fact i've never known a balestier for anything other than its food.
for me, balestier was just yet another sleepy(read boring) town, like clementi or choa chu kang or the various parts of singapore I've been to in my life which can be counted by the fingers of one hand.
it did not struck me as particularly interesting.
I had thought we drew the short straw when we got balestier.
boring! my mind immediately wandered to the bak kut teh and chicken rice stalls.
To say that our trip there was an eye-opener is an understatement.
my impression of the sleepy(again read boring) town of balestier has been changed.
We had done some research before heading over there but as we trudged from place to place with the help of an iphone GPS, we discovered(or I did anyway) the many hidden wonders of balestier.
Certainly this heritage trail was interesting enough. Well, its been really long since I went on a heritage trail or an excursion or something like that for that matter.
perhaps it was the preconceived notion that balestier was boring, or that i made this trip with a group of great people. Either way, I thoroughly enjoyed this trip and my impression of balestier has certainly changed for the better.


I have always thought that Singapore is a boring place with concrete skyscrapers without much historical significance. Perhaps the only places I thought had the "history" feel about them was the museums. Furthermore, my trip to the UK last year further cemented that thinking into my head; the UK had magnificent structures built hundreds/thousands of years ago, steeped richly in history. Compared to our own, ours paled significantly (Or so I thought). However, that may have whetted my appetite for the heritage trail as I was inexplicably excited to discover more about my very own heritage. Alas, when I found out that we were going to Balestier, my excitement level went down a notch. I was hoping to get the CBD or even chinatown/kampong glam/little india. To be fair, I didn't know much about balestier so this would be good exposure to me as a history teacher-to-be.

Walking down the streets, I was quietly pleased to be proving myself wrong. Balestier had so many hidden gems waiting to be discovered by the ignorant like yours truly. What was once "inconspicuous" started screaming out to me as if wanting to make themselves known that they won't be belittled. I began to look at landmarks like single-storey shophouses in a new light (pun intended). It was almost like a trip down memory lane, except that these weren't mine but that of the older generation who had lived through the (limited) transformation of Balestier. Singapore is rich in culture and heritage in her own ways and I am game on to go discover more hidden gems which may have passed me by.

The commercial reuse of the single-storey shophouses for example, is a stroke of genius as it allows the facet of our past to be preserved but at the same time, put to good use. This conservation is done through the URA keeping the front of the shophouses untouched and unchanged and allows younger generations like us to witness for ourselves and to live and breathe a slice of history.


I was really excited when I heard about the Heritage Trail Assignment. It really didn't matter where we were assigned, I guess I just enjoy learning about the history of places. Maybe it's because my mum is a tour guide and I caught on some of that passion from her. I guess what's more interesting for me is when I found out that the place we were trailing is somewhere so familiar to me - Balestier.

Before the trail, I rarely paid any attention to the shophouses I past by so often when riding to church. I often took it for granted that this is just another building, failing to recognise the rich history behind the facets.

I must have been really ignorant to the places my feet trot upon. Before the trail, I didn't even know the significance behind the road names like Balestier, Kim Keat, Irawaddy etc. Hidden places like the traditional bakeries, Sun Yat Sen memorial hall, the water kiosk at Boon teck Road, the old Shaw studios etc. would continue to be hidden had I not have the opportunity to go on this heritage trail.

Now, passing by these same buildings give me a totally different 'feel'. When travelling with my friends, I now like to point out to these shophouses and give them a mini tour of the sites I discovered! (Makes me feel like my mum actually)

I also no longer take the places I see for granted. At the bus stop where I always wait for my bus, I 'suddenly' saw one of those heritage stones with a brief history on Lavender and how it got its name. Well, I actually took interest to read it, after not noticing it for the longest time. The same applied when I was at Outram Park station where they had one of these stones on the Outram Prison in the past.

I've learnt that history is really all around us. The difference between one who knows and one who is ignorant is his level of curiosity and initiative to find out!

- Carmen

Singapore history and her cultural heritage were often destroyed and demolished to make way for urbanization and development. Before the heritage trail, I was not aware that there were actually so many places which still preserve the cultural heritage of Singapore History. After all, many people commonly thought that Singapore is a modern city with few preserved cultural heritage.

More so, I had no idea that Balestier Road is a cultural heritage site. In fact, when I knew we were going to do a heritage trail at Balestier, I wondered what exactly is there for me to explore. However, after the trail, I realized that there are many hidden histories behind Balestier. It is definitely not just old, undemolished buildings. This heritage experience made me realize that Singapore’s cultural heritage is actually quite rich and diverse.

Through conservation and commercial reuse of historical sites, many of these sites avoided the fate of being destroyed and demolished. As Singapore has limited land area for use and a growing population, our government often had to redevelop land areas even if they are of historic value. This is sadly to say, the costly price we have to pay for urbanization. However, initiative of conservation and commercial reuse of heritage site can serve the dual purpose of preserving our heritage and effectively making use of limited land area. As evidently shown in our Balestier Heritage Trail, the government successfully integrated the preservation of Balestier as a heritage site, and at the same time, commercial activities are carried out in that area and there are also people living in that area, maximizing land usage. Other historical sites such as Jalan Besar also made use of similar way to preserve their traditional heritage.

However, although historical sites are being preserved in this way, many Singaporeans are still extremely unaware of these places as traditional heritage sites. They often regard places like Balestier and Jalan Besar as ‘old’ neighbourhood instead. Few people know the history and value of these sites and more so, appreciate the existence of these sites as a representation to Singapore’s history. This is an aspect in what conservation and commercial reuse is unsuccessful.

I personally feel that Singapore has done her part in trying to preserve her historical heritage. However, there is a need to educate Singaporeans so that there is value in preserving these sites, otherwise these historical sites would be no different from other places.

--Sebastian Thng

Talk about Balestier and the first thing that comes to mind is Bak Kuh Teh. In fact, that Balestier is more synonymous with its Bak Kuh Teh, Tau Sar Piah, Chicken Rice and the dozens of lighting stores that dot the area tells one just how much of our heritage Singaporeans really know.

Indeed, the "gar-ment" has done its upmost to promote our "Singaporean heritage", especially with all this preservation of historical sites and what not, but it would seem that for the average Singaporean, our understanding of our historical heritage is limited to the Social Studies textbooks and various excursions we take while in primary school.

Unfortunately, I must profess that I fall into that boat, my knowledge of Singapore's past being vastly limited to what I've learnt in school, and that's when I was awake to listen to my teachers. Talk to me about History and I can go on and on about the Greeco-Roman world and it's lasting impact on modern society, I can talk about Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, I even know more about Communist China, but when it comes to our little island, Sukarno's little red dot, I can put my hand up and say I know peanuts about our history.

And sadly, despite having been on this heritage trail, my interest in Singapore history still has yet to be kindled. I understand that I am largely to blame for this kind of perception, as it is my personal opinion, but looking at these various sites, I can't help but have the same feeling that I reflect the opinion of Singapore society as a whole.

Despite the conservation and commercial re-use of these sites, it almost seems as if they take a back seat to ever the forward-moving change of this city. Afterall, beyond the odd mention in our textbooks, these heritage sites just sit there quietly, camouflaged in the vast modern landscape that is 21st Century Singapore. In fact, it can almost be said that if not for the need to give tourists something historical to look at, these heritage sites would probably just fall off the map, such is the level of ignorance from the general populace.

Adding to that point, as I was walking along the trail, I was reminded of an episode of Discovery Channel's Living Cities: Singapore, where they touched on the struggles we face as a living, breathing, rapidly growing city in holding on to our past; when the machinations of economic growth and modernisation seem to be propelling us forward at breakneck speed, how do we grab our past tightly enough that we can bring it along. Important questions that we as Singaporeans need to answer.

In a way it's almost like saying, so what if our buildings are conserved, look at the art deco shophouses, they just look out of place. It would seem that preservation of our historical heritage needs to go beyond just saving these locations.

- Orson

Balestier. Not a place that springs to mind when you feel like having a good time. That was the sentiment shared by my entire group. We felt as though we had the worst luck of the draw, all thanks to Carmen. We got off to a slow start, being turned away from a palm reading because the temple was already closing (at 3 in the afternoon!), while we were waiting for the rest of the group to arrive. We hardly even saw anyone else on streets as we went about our trail, and even the cars seemed to be travelling slower. Again, this was at 3 in the afternoon. Balestier was like a huge time warp and we were sucked right into it.

Everywhere we went, stores were either closed or closing. The first bakery we went to was already down to their last few loaves of bread. These weren't of the Gardenia variety, but real rustic and hearty loaves of bread that few of us had ever seen before. At least, not at this stage of the baking process. The hawker centre we visited next was only sparsely populated by the elderly, chit-chatting and idling away their time. Wherever we went, we were only followed by a peaceful silence.

A peaceful silence that was punctuated by the jarring staccato of Jiahui's voice. If there was anything I hated about Balestier, it was probably the stillness in the air. It wasn't loud enough to mask her surprise at everything, nor the loud peals of laughter that ensued.

Balestier was an old place. Building after building, none seemed to reach skyward like those in the city area had. Sure, there were a few likely skyscrapers going up, but these stood out against a backdrop of a clear sky. The views from the top would be magnificent. The olden architecture was a reminder of a long forgotten time in Singapore's past, one that we seldom re-visit in our constant pursuit of perfection. Balestier was a gem, albeit an aged and unpolished gem.

Contrary to what my groupmates might think, and what the pictures suggest, the highlight of Balestier for me was not the food (granted, those were delicious bonuses). It was the opportunity to be in the presence of these old buildings, to soak up the sleepy atmosphere and the still air. To walk along the giant longkang with friends, like I imagine they did back when buses and cars were not so common. For me, the heritage trail had brought me back to the past, to a simpler time, for that short three hours.

- Daryl

When Carmen picked the envelope which contained the trail that we are supposed to take on, I was hoping that it would be somewhere that I've not been to, or at least somewhere which had good food. True enough, it turned out to be Balestier and it's probably a place that I've had passed by but never really ventured into. Yes, I'm that much of a countryside pumpkin. Excitement would be an understatement.

It was sunny in the west when we set off but unfortunately, it was raining cats and dogs on our way. That would take away some fun for sure. Luckily, I had the company of freshly baked bread to munch on throughout the trail, even though it was probably the leftovers. Nonetheless, they were so delicious and reminded me of days when I was still a kid.

As it was late in the afternoon, we did not experience the hustle and bustle that one would expect during the meal times. Balestier certainly boasts a plethora of food choices for the Singaporean. As we walked down the street, I truly enjoyed appreciating the intricate carvings on the various shophouses, some painted with colors that could not withstand the test of time and of course some that were very eye-catching and that you knew that it got a fresh coat of paint, probably for the impending festivity.

I can safely say that everyone had an enjoyable time marveling at the colonial architecture, the temples and of course the food! The trail was a rejuvenating one and despite the rain at its start, we all had fun rediscovering history and it is heartening to see that attempts to preserve our heritage is being carried out. The renovation for Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and the Masjid Haijh Rahimabi Kebun Limau would be a case in point. (:


To begin with, you can approach any average east-sider and expect to draw a blank/blur/confused look when you enquire about Balestier, unless they might know that's one of the best places to find the best tau sah piah in Singapore.

Other than that, Balestier is a hot bed of many things you might not actually see around in Singapore anymore. For instance, the free water dispenser at the corner of Balestier and Boon Teck Road. These water dispensers used to be common and were provided by Clans and Religious centers for the servants and drivers of the rich, while they waited for their employers.

Before I bore you out with the repeated emphasis on the nostalgic feel of the place, no seriously the place has a feel somewhat like in Malaysia, those kinda old shophouses in Penang, Ipoh, etc and that doesn't really fit into the modern landscaping of Singapore these days. In lieu of rising land prices and scarcity, how long will Balestier remain a "protected" area? A quick check online shows that throughout Singapore, there are currently 71 areas that have been accorded the "protected" by government status (though one wonders for how long?) So I personally feel that while these areas still possess the bulk of their original elements, we should really make it a point to check them out, document the experience first hand so that it will never be lost forever and inevitably to future government "developmental" upgrades/plans.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Starting out on our journey

We had mixed feelings, after we randomly picked out the Balestier route for our Heritage Trail assignment. Some of us thought, "What's so nice about Balestier?", others were elated not about the place, but the good food we could find along the Balestier stretch. It turned out, Balestier was no where near boring! The Shophouses and sites, stood the test of time to tell of our past.

Allow us to be your 'virtual guides' down this memory lane where our Burmese Community once settled.

Yours Truly; Daryl, Sebastian, Jocelyn, Jia Hui, Orson, Dennis, (Prinya & Carmen)

Joseph Balestier was the first man who developed this area in 1834 and hence, Balestier Road was named after him. Balestier used to be an area filled with sugarcane plantation and was named Balestier Plain by the founder himself.

So what's so great about this Joseph Balestier guy? Well, he was actually the first American Consul to Singapore. Besides that, we see that 'behind every successful man is a good wife'. In Balestier's case, his wife's background is worth mentioning.

He was married to Maria Revere, the daughter of Paul Revere. Paul Revere is a hero in the American History as he is best remembered for his 'Midnight Ride'. Paul Revere, prior to the Revolutionary War, was able to warn his fellow statesmen about the planned attacks by the British. He is also associated with the famous Liberty Bell in Philidelphia. This 'bell legacy' carried on with his daughter. In 1843, Maria Revere presented the Revere Bell to the church of Saint Andrew. The bell was rung right after the curfews at 8:00pm in the past to warn residents to be alert wasn't a safe place then.

#1 Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple, 249 Balestier Road

So our very first stop on this heritage trail was the Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple. As we were making our way from the dark, forsaken recesses of Pulau NTU, the heavens decided that it was a good time to shower us with its blessings. Needless to say, none of us were thrilled with the prospect of walking in the rain, but as fate would have it, the sky cleared as we reached our destination.

Anyway, this single-storey temple was built in 1847 by the Hokkien labourers working on Balestier's sugar plantation. At that time, the area was rather swampy and infested with tigers and malaria mosquitoes. In fact, workers' deaths caused by tiger attacks had reached its peak in 1843, imagine getting eaten by tigers! To help deal with such dangerous working environments, the workers established the temple, dedicating it to the deity Tua Pek Kong (Grand Old Man), who they believed was the guardian of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia, who was capable of bringing prosperity, curing diseases, calming the ocean and averting danger. Till today, devotees come to the temple to pray for peace and tranquillity. The temple also houses a variety of other deities, including a tiger-lord who is believed to help people seek redress from injustices.

Just to divert from the temple for a bit, an interesting thing we noticed was that some enterprising businessman had set up a stall next to the temple, selling of all things DURIANS! I mean, sure we could understand the selling of fruits to be used for offerings, but durians? What a peculiar place to sell the King of Fruits.

- Orson

#2 Art Deco Shophouses, 230/246 Balestier Road

Situated just across the road from the Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple is the row of shophouses famous for their Art Deco style. In fact, looking at the shophouses, they are a stark contrast from their surrounding buildings, almost as if someone had transplanted these buildings from 1930s America and stuck them in the middle of Balestier Road. Truly, they stick out like the proverbial "sore thumb". Though if we ignore that they look so out of place in the Balestier "skyline", one cannot help but admire the clean, sharp styles that these buildings are famous for.

The Art Deco architecture style was developed in Europe and the United States during the 1920s-1930s. What distinguishes this style is its simple, clean shapes and streamline looks. The Empire State Building in New York is perhaps one of the best known examples of this style. In Singapore, this style was very prevalent/popular during the 1930s-1960s, mainly because that despite being very simple, it gives off an subtle air of sophistication. The shophouses, including the Hoover Hotel and Hoover Restaurant were built in 1950s, and are the remnants of this once popular architecture style.

An interesting footnote, the restaurant and the hotel are namesakes of the old Hoover Theatre that stood where Shaw Plaza is today. In fact, the Hoover Theatre was the second theatre to be opened in Balestier, opening in 1960, after the Ruby Theatre which opened in 1958! Today, there remains a Hoover Theatre situated inside Shaw Plaza, as a tribute to the old theatre.

- Orson

#3 Balestier Point, 279 Balestier Road

Depite having won a Singapore Institute of Architects Honourable Mention Award in 1987, Balestier Point is now an old and dusty grey building. Built in 1986, Balestier Point was an award-winning residential cum shopping development which derives its inspiration from the original cellular housing project called Habitat 67 designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie in Montreal, Canada.

Stacked like Lego bricks, local firm RDC Architects attempted to balance the privacy of homes with the density of community living by separating the shops from the homes in this mixed-use development, where commercial and residential spaces are combined into one. A unique feature of this development is that all the homes have their own terraces and gardens in the sky. This takes advantage of our tropical climate to create high-rise greenery. However, we do have to take note that all these features are considered passe now due to changes in our modern landscaping. Up till the early 1980s, this site was the old Ruby Theatre, the first movie theatre in the area that opened in 1958 showing mainly Chinese films. Perhaps the only reminder of the Ruby Theatre today would be the many namesakes in the area such as Ruby Plaza up the street and Ruby Apartments directly across the road.

Currently, Balestier Point is regarded as a development with en bloc potential, and given the types of shops in there, such as the sleazy “Kai Xuan Men” as well as a few “Lup Sup Bars” (LSB), I'm not surprised if the government is actually encouraging private developers to come in and do something about it. However, it does offer another view of the Singaporean night-life which is otherwise confined to places like “Clark Quay”, “Mohammed Sultan”, etc. For tourists who wish to have another look at Singapore's hidden night life, Balestier Point is another alternative.

- Prinya

#4 Sim Kwong Ho Shophouse(i), 292-310 Balestier Road

Designed by the architect firm of Westerhout and Oman, this row of shophouses was built in 1926 by a female developer called Madam Sim Cheng Neo who also owned several other properties in the area.

Located just opposite Balestier Point,It is often referred to as the “Sim Kwong Ho” building as the name is inscribed on the front of the building. According to residents in the area, there used to be a dog centrepiece feature that had gone missing, but they have no idea when it disappeared.

The corner unit (No. 312) used to house a 1960s-styled, old school coffee-shop with high back to back seats along the walls, with formica-topped narrow tables that was a common characteristic among all the old-generation of coffee-shops, very unlike the kopitiams that we see today. This coffee shop had been operating for at least 60 years before the third generation of owners stopped the business. Now it is merely another normal modern coffee-shop with stainless steel stalls and plastic furniture.


#5 Balestier Market

According to the Balestier Heritage Trail Booklet which accompanied us on our trip, Balestier was a rural area and this market was built in the 1920s to cater to farmers nearby who needed a place to sell their produce. It was also known locally as the Or Kio market, which translates to "black bridge" market, as there was a black bridge along Whampoa River that connected Ah Hood road (off Balestier Road) to Lorong 8 Toa Payoh. Many shops in the area are also named after the bridge.

However, despite renovation in 1999, it eventually lost out to its "big brother", the bigger Whampoa market. Also known affectionately as the Tua Pah Sat, it literally translates to the big market. Many stallholders decided to retire when the market closed in 2004. Today, it is the only remaining 'rural' market on mainland Singapore but is now converted to some sort of coffeehouse, selling delicious local fare.

Along with the closure of this historical landmark, it led to the disappearance of a piece of history, such as the wet dirty floors, farmers selling their produce and small metal huts with pitched zinc roofs. It is such a shame that future generations will never see this again.


#6 Single-Storey Shophouses, 601-639 Balestier Road

Along the route of our trail, we passed by many single-storey shophouses. These could be found in many parts of pre-1965 Singapore, especially in the suburban and rural areas, serving the population with its utilitarian yet elegant form. However, it is rare to find them nowadays and only a handful remains, mostly in Balestier, as most have made way for more modern creations that makes more efficient use of scarce land in Singapore. These were built by early developers for sale as shops and homes for new settlers moving outwards from the city area to the rural areas.

These terrace houses show the earliest forms of buildings to be constructed in the rural areas. Though simple, the designs in the form of Art Deco pediment above the five-foot way beautified it, giving it an elegant touch, setting it apart from its simplistic design.

The Ngee Ann Kongsi owns the entire stretch of shophouses from 601 to 639 Balestier Road. It is a foundation founded in 1845 to look after the welfare of Teochew immigrants in Singapore, by funding education and other charitable projects using the income generated from its business ventures and rental of properties.

One striking feature must be the numerous Tau Sar Piah shops along this whole stretch. This boom started from the success of the original Tau Sar Piah shop, Loong Fatt Confectionery, at 369 Balestier Road, owned by Mr. Lee. In fact, Balestier is famour for its Tau Sar Piah, among some other things like lightings and the ducks.

To be honest, I have never noticed the uniqueness of these single-storey shophouses. To me, they are just like other buildings. After doing research and going on the trail, however, I have only just realised the significance of these shophouses. I believe there are many other hidden gems which we take for granted scattered around other parts of Singapore.


#7 Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, 12 Tai Gin Road

Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (SYSNMH) is a national monument which was built in the 1880s. It was formerly known as Sun Yat Sen Villa and is also now known as Wan Qing Yuan (晚晴园).

In the 1880s, Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall was reportedly to have been built by a wealthy Cantonese businessman Boey Chuan Poh for his mistress, naming it ‘Bin Chan House’ (Mingzhenlu) after her. Interestingly, the bungalow he bought occupied a site that was also part of a sugar plantation owned by John Balestier, the first American consul appointed to Singapore in 1837. However, it was later sold to Teo Eng Hock in 1905, who was a Straits-born Teochew rubber magnate. Teo intended for his aged mother to spend her sunset years at the bungalow, and thus aptly renamed it Wan Qing Yuan which meant Serene Sunset Garden/Villa.

In support of China’s republican revolutionary movement, he offered the leader, Dr Sun Yat Sen, the bungalow, to be used as the headquarters of Dr Sun’s Chinese Revolutionary Alliance in Southeast Asia. Dr Sun briefly stayed at this house while touring Asia to garner support for the cause, using the villa as a base to plan the overthrow of the 267-year old Machu Qing dynasty which eventually led to the creation of the first Chinese Republic. The bungalow was also where the Tong Meng Hui Nanyang Branch was founded and made as its Southeast Asian quarters. Subsequently, the bungalow became known as the Sun Yat Sen Villa.

In 1942, during World War II, the Japanese used the villa as a communication centre and in 1945, it became the headquarters of the Singapore Branch of the Kuomintang. In 1951, after the end of Kuomintang activities in Singapore, the villa was handed over to the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry to manage. Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall was restored in 1965, and turned into a Library and Museum. In 1966, on the centenary of Dr Sun's birthday, the villa was opened to the public. In 1999, Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall was closed for refurbishment. A fully restored and enlarged villa, complete with a memorial hall detailing the life of Dr Sun Yat Sen, re-opened in November 2001 on the 135th anniversary of the famed revolutionary's birth.

Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall is a beautiful two-storey Victorian villa with open verandahs at the front and sides. In front of the building, in the centre of the garden, is a seated statue of Sun Yat Sen, the leader of China's nationalist movement, measuring 3.5 metres tall and weighing 16000 kilograms. It is now a museum which displays items pertaining to Dr Sun’s life and work. A magnificent 60m-long bronze relief depicting the defining moments in Singapore's history runs the length of one wall in the garden.

A heritage institution under the National Heritage Board, Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall reflects the role Singapore played in modern Chinese history by tracing Dr Sun’s revolutionary activities in the Southeast Asian region, highlighting the impact of the 1911 Chinese Revolution on Singapore as well as Singapore’s contributions to the Revolution.

When our group was on site, it was disappointing that the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall was closed for a major revamp and is only scheduled to re-open to the public in October 2011. The renovation works will focus mainly on the creation of new galleries, the development of new exhibits as well as landscaping works to the SYSNMH compound. Even though we could only take photos from outside the locked gates of the memorial hall, Carmen desperately wanted to break in to take photos! After all, there was no one and it sort of looks like a forsaken villa and there was no apparent renovation works.

Nevertheless, t’s heartening to know that our heritage is preserved even at an age when change is a constant.


#8 Maha Sasana Ramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple, 14 Tai Gin Road

Maha Sasana Ramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple was founded by U Kyaw Gaung in 1921. He was a Burmese practitioner of traditional medicine and brought a 10-tonne, 11-feet high marble sculpture of the Buddha to Singapore from Saygin Hill, a quarry north of Mandalay. The sculpture was then placed at the temple’s original location at 17 Kinta Road, just off Serangoon Road, only to be moved to its current location on Tai Gin road in 1990. It is the oldest Theravada institution and the only Burmese Buddhist temple of its kind in Singapore. . The temple houses the largest pure white marble statue of the Buddha outside of Myanmar, and has become a religious landmark for Burmese and Singaporean devotees to make merits and take part in merit sharing activities alike. At the Maha Sasana Ramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple at Tai Gin Road, the figurines of 'spirits' on the walls are called 'tha-djar-min' in Burmese. He is the King of celestial deities. He is also the Guardian of Buddha Sasana (meaning Buddha's teachings). The Lion figurines are called 'chin-thay'. Up till this day, descendants of U Kyaw Gaung still live in Singapore and continue to be the trustees of the temple.

During Buddhist holidays and Burmese festivals, the temple would see a large congregation of the Burmese community in Singapore. There is a fair and celebration in the temple during the Burmese New Year, Thingyan, which falls in the month of April each year. However, the unofficial “Little Burma” in Singapore lies in the civic district. The usual congregation place for the Burmese community is at Peninsula Plaza where there is a supermarket, shops selling Burmese products and even a restaurant with menu in the Burmese language.

There are some other roads in this area which are Burmese-themed. They are Akyab Road(named after a port in Burma) Bassein Road (named after a river town) Bhamo Road (named after a Burmese town) Irrawaddy Road (named after the Irrawaddy river) Mandalay Road (named after the royal capital of Myanmar from 1860 to 1885) Martaban Road (road was named in 1929 to continue the Burmese theme in the area) Pegu Road (named after a river town) Prome Road (named after one the oldest cities which was a commercial town and port in 1952) Rangoon Road (named after the administrative capital of British Burma). It is believed that the suggestion to name the road after Burmese towns and kingdoms came from an old and respected Burmese resident in the area. Others speculate that it could be because of the proximity to the Burmese temple’s original location at Kinta Road or even named after various British conquests in parts of Burma! This is because the British colonised Burma from 1824 to 1948.

Our group was in awe of the magnificent architecture of the temple. Just right at its doorstep, one would already be able to see the lights emanating from inside the temple. Its accessibility to the public has been enhanced with its shift from Kinta road to its current location. What’s more is that it is just a stone’s throw away from Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, and that its visitors can always drop by this temple to pay a visit to the largest pure white marble statue of the Buddha outside of Myanmar. (:


I had no idea we had a burmese budhhist temple at balestier road. This Burmese temple was actually founded by U Kyaw Gaung in 1921 when he brought in from Mandalay a 10-tonne, 11 feet high marble scupture of teh Buddha. The temple was first located off Serangoon rd and was moved to this current location in 1990.

Actually I did not really find the temple interesting, what I found most interesting about this trip to Balestier was that quite a number of the sub-roads linking to Balestier was actually named after Burmese towns and kingdoms. Although it is not known what resulted in the roads having burmese names, we can only guess that its due to the rich burmese culture within the area. These roads were actually named in the early part of the 20th century and thus could not be due to the fact that the Burmese temple was nearly. It was more likely that the temple was moved into the area due to the Burmese road names rather than the other way round. Of course this is just a speculation (on my part).


Tau Hway Break!

Look how Daryl's face lit up when he knew we were going to have a break and some food!

Jia Hui is really enjoying her Tau Hway and Egg Tarts! Doesn't looking at how she eats make you want a bite of it too?

On the way to Jalan Ampas, we stopped by the Rochor Beancurd House for a well-deserved Tau Hway break after all the walking! Even during our break, we were learning the heritage of this famous Rochor Tau Hway.

The founder of the Rochor Beancurd house came from a very poor family and as such, could not afford education but had to start earning a living at a very young age. However, he was a very sharp kid and came up with the idea of a mobile Tau Hway stall. He started off selling his Tau Kway on a cart and would often put his younger siblings on it to help look after them while selling his beancurd. Soon, his Tau Hway became very famous and even up till today, Rochor Beancurd house remains a familiar name to almost every Singaporean.

However, you might also want to note that there are many different 'Rochor Tau Hway' around and not all may be the authentic. Our best advice? Let your tongue do the tasting and the distinguishing!