Friday, 8 May 2015

Shophouses on Bakit Pasoh Road in Chinatown

The Street of Clans

Bakit Pasoh Road - locates at a quiet south-west corner of Chinatown near Outram Park MRT station - was off my radar because there's nothing of note that I was aware of. When Ee Hoe Hean Club has an open-house day for its 120 years anniversary, I thought I would go down there and check it out.

"I'm 120 today! I'm 120 today!"
The club is 120 years old, but the building is a tad younger at 88 years old.

Ee Hoe Hean Club (怡和轩俱乐部) was a millionaire's club. In those days, I imagine the member numbers would be small. Today, millionaires rub shoulders in Singapore streets so much it leaves their Armani suits in tatters (some streets more than others. There're nearly a million millionaires, within an in-your-face spitting distance, in Singapore, depending on share and FX markets condition).

While the club provided some interests for me, the Bukit Pasoh street lured me out of the club with its shophouses candies.

This shophouses' distinctive architectural styles were born in the Malay Peninsula (which includes southern Thailand). It was an instant love affair at the 1st sight.

I grew up in Saigon. For those who are young and neglect to study the Vietnam War - one of the important landmark history of the 20th century - it goes by the name of Ho-Chi-Minh City today. To me, it was and will always be Saigon. Why don't they follow what the Russia did with Leningrad and Stalingrad and revert the city back to its historical root? They followed the Russian in everything else politically. Well, maybe the Vietnamese Communist is waiting for the Soviet style of political collapse for the opportunity to rename the capital of the South. By following the Chinese economic reform - to the letters - the chance of Soviet style collapse is diminishing. Sometimes, it pays to adopt your enemy's way and avoids your ally's way.

Saigon also has shophouses that split the ground floor and higher floor(s) into business and living quarters. Especially in the 5th district (Saigon's "Chinatown") where I grew up. Probably because of poverty, the shophouses are quite spartan and utilitarian. Nothing that as showy and charming as the Singaporean shophouses, especially after been tarted up by the conservationists. Yeah, remove those wrinkles, do those facelifts, slap those war paints on. A 160 years old can make it to look like a 60 years old. Bewdiful bambino! Don't move, let me shoot you from all angles.

The Saigon's shophouses lack 2 salient things that make Singaporean counterparts so much more sexy and useful respectively. The 1st is the ornate facades, and the 2nd is the 5-foot-way. This shaded arcade wasn't just for the benefit of the public, it added extra 5 feet (times the width of the shopfront) of areas for the living quarters. Win-win.

Five-foot-way, Tanjong Pagar Road, Singapore
5-foot-way in Tg Pagar Rd
Shophouse is a concept that's prevalent among the Chinese communities in SE Asia. The idea was such that the business owners could spend all their precious time on their businesses instead of wasting time travelling between business and home. Time's money. Workers, too, sometimes lived upstairs, for the same reason. In short, the shop owners wanted to live, sleep, and breath their businesses, and shophouses were the obvious solutions.

However, only the relative prosperous Chinese communities lived in the cities of the Malaya Peninsula that had produced a distinctive architecture that derived from a mix of Peranakan and Colonial cultural influences. The political stability in this peninsula played in no small part to the prosperity of the overseas Chinese communities here.

"Bukit" is Malay word for "hill", and Pinnacle @ Duxton is towering at the top of Duxton Plain.

Bukit Pasoh St, Singapore
Pinnacle @ Duxton can be found at the end of the rainbow coloured shophouses on Bukit Pasoh St.
The hill's alive with the shophouses...

The whole Bukit Pasoh Rd neighbourhood is living in the long shadow of the Pinnacle@ Duxton, literally (ok, since Singapore is so close to the equator, the long dawn and dusk shadows wouldn't able to cast on Bukit Pasoh Road). But the mammoth 3-monolithic Singapore government's public-housing showcase that stands atop Bukit Pasoh hill is hard to ignore. And a good landmark for taxi drivers if they don't know where Bukit Pasoh Rd is.

Apart from EHH Club, there were also clubs galore in the neighbourhood.

Kowe Siong Club, Bukit Pasoh St, Singapore
Keow Siong Club (or Overseas Chinese Trades Club) in Transitional style

And plenty of clan associations to be found here...The middle photo shows the Gan Clan Association building located in Teo Hong Road, which merges into Bukit Pasoh Road. The street is nicknamed "Street of Clans" for this reason.

Clan association, Bukit Pasoh St, Singapore Clan association, Bukit Pasoh St, Singapore

Next to EHH Club building is the New Majestic Hotel. Don't forget to enter and gape at the interior. It has an "art-deco" manicured lawn to go with its art-deco shophouse style. Not a common Singapore shophouses' architectural style (as far as I could tell).

New Majestic Hotel, Bukit Pasoh St, Singapore
New Majestic Hotel

Sculpture, New Majestic Hotel, Bukit Pasoh St, Singapore
Staircase, New Majestic Hotel, Bukit Pasoh St, Singapore
Sculpture and staircase, lobby, New Majestic Hotel

Street view from lobby, New Majestic Hotel, Bukit Pasoh St, Singapore
Above: View of Bukit Pasoh Rd from the lobby of New Majestic Hotel.
Right: Side of New Majestic Hotel.
Side, New Majestic Hotel, Bukit Pasoh St, Singapore

Another interesting thing I noticed was that there're more balconies in shophouses here than elsewhere I had previously seen. In fact, shophouses' balconies are quite rare and they distinguish themselves from other stretches of shophouses. The balconies make this the best place to hang out...don't ya agree?

Shophouses with balconies, Bukit Pasoh St, Singapore
This group of sloping hilly shophouses are in the more ornate Late Style.
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?

At the top of the hill (or bukit) is the white Goethe Institute building.

Goethe Institute, Shophouses with balconies, Bukit Pasoh St, Singapore
Erected in art-deco shophouse style with balconies (of course).
Spiral staircase: another common Singapore architectural sight.
Goethe Institute, Shophouses with spiral staircase, Bukit Pasoh St, Singapore

For tourists who love to see shophouses, especially while in around Chinatown, this neighbourhood provides a good mixture as well as some more interesting and fine examples.

As it's often the case, areas that are full of heritage buildings are turned into trendy districts that are now packed full of restaurants, boutiques that cater for fashionable locals and tourists.

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