Tuesday, 4 November 2008

10 weeks and counting...

Sitting in my office near Tower Hill, London, bathed in flourescent light which illuminates my image on the window against a sky that has been black since 4:30 p.m., I cannot help but lose myself in daydreams of my soon-to-be-home in Tiong Bahru, Singapore.

Having just returned to my job as an Aviation Finance lawyer for the final stretch before departing for far eastern shores, both my partner and I have been firing emails back and forth laden with findings of the past, present and future of Tiong Bahru, the oldest housing estate remaining in Singapore.

We shall be living on Guan Chuan Street - so named after the Chinese pioneer, So Guan Chuan - one of the thirty-six local born and locally settled Chinese merchants who went on to set up the Keng Tak Whay in 1831, a sworn brotherhood that owned eight shop houses and that was sited in a pagoda on the premises of the Thian Hock Keng Temple.

Map from Singapore Land Authority.

Fast forward to today and Tiong Bahru is fast attracting young, upwardly mobile professionals eager to move into the newly decorated and often highly stylised low-rise art-deco apartments for which it has long been famous. Even the November edition of Wallpaper* Magazine has this to say:

By Singaporean standards, the Tiong Bahru estate is an odd duck. On the surface, the quarter is a charming mix of well-preserved mid-1930s, three-storey buildings and a string of early 1950s art deco-styled flats. A fading Buddhist temple hugs a street corner, while across the road, raucous hawker stalls dish out succulent roast duck rice and flourescent-lit convenience stalls sell bicycle parts. Squint a little and this could easily be Singapore 30 years ago, even though the skyscrapers of Raffles Place are just minutes away.

But over the past few years, the quarter's ageing residents and nuclear families have seen an influx of 30-somethings - among them a sizeable gay community. Attracted by the relatively low property prices and period architecture, architect Ken Wong and his journalist boyfried moved into the estate two years ago. "This is the only area where heritage apartments don't have purchase restrictions," says Wong, referring to government regulations that usually limit purchases of property to married couples or singletons over 35.

Savvy businesses are responding to this new demographic. Organic store Yes Natural (#01-27, 58 Seng Poh Road, tel:+65 6227 3280) offers organic treats; while Rice Fields (#01-06, 66 Eng Watt Street, tel:+65 6227 3456) stocks imported European stone, and swanky bathroom sinks and tiles. At night, Wine Wise (#01-86, 57 Eng Hoon Street, tel:+65 6227 2118) pulls in oenophiles, while Persimmon (#01-07, 50 Tiong Bahru Road, tel: +65 6227 2271) does a mean East-meets-West menu.

"This area is a modern urban village," says local health-care worker Tristan Lim. "There's a party at someone's place every other weekend." Welcome to the new Singapore.

Other exciting and intriguing new businesses catering for the new demographic's tastes are French delicatessen, Le Bon Marche (01-41, 78 Guan Chuan Street, tel:+65 6226 3269) and rather posh patisserie, Centre PS (pronounced Centrepiece) (#01-43, 78 Guan Chuan Street, tel:+65 6220 1285).

We cannot wait to sample all of the new delights in this area. I am particularly excited about being so close to my Grandad, to whom I uttered my first words in Mandarin just a few weeks ago. Sadly, after my groundbreaking introduction of my "nán péng you" (boyfriend) and my carefully constructed "wǒ huì shuō yī diǎn pǔ tōng huà" (I can speak a little Mandarin), I failed at the first hurdle when we parted ways at Clarke Quay and I mistook his assertion that he was going home with an offer to accompany him to drink tea. (What?! "huí jiā" sounds uncannily like "hē chá"). The road is long.

So, with ten weeks and counting, we have to embark on a whirlwind tour of seeing friends, family and favourite places interspersed with organisational activities such as renting out our London flat, shipping, and packing, all whilst still having full-time jobs. Punchy.

In a bit...

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