I’m over at Going Places Singapore, a brand new online magazine that gives readers an “insider look into familiar neighbourhoods, favourite spaces, and lesser known places.” (Going Places Singapore is published by the Urban Redevelopment Authority [URA].)
My piece, “A Love Affair With Balestier,” co-written with the very talented Arti Mulchand, celebrates one of Singapore’s most famous neighborhoods.
Balestier Road was named after Joseph Balestier, the first United States Consul of Singapore. He first developed the area in 1834, when he leased 1,000 acres of land for a sugarcane plantation, and named the area Balestier Plain. But the business struggled, and then in the 1840s, he lost his son and wife. Defeated, he sold his property, and left Singapore. A mark had been made though.
Historically, Balestier had been a swampy area infested with tigers and malarial mosquitoes. In a bid to ward off these dangers, Chinese Hokkien immigrants built the Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong temple in 1847, in a bid to venerate and seek the protection of the deity Tua Pek Kong. Years later, Tan Boon Liat, grandson of philanthropist Tan Tock Seng, funded the creation of a free-standing wayang (theatrical performance) stage in 1906. It is Singapore’s only such stage that remains today.
As the area developed, some bigger villas were built, including the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall (formerly called Sun Yat Sen Villa or Wan Qing Yuan) in the late 19th century. The colonial Victorian-style villa was named in honour of Dr Sun, and it served as the home for the Singapore branch of the Tong Meng Hui, or the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance. Housing developments in nearby Kim Keat and Whampoa blossomed between the 1920s and 1950s. Today, some unique traces of the past remain – Jalan Bahagia, for instance, is one of few places you can actually see HDB terrace houses, built in the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) days.
Continue reading here.