This is an overdue post as the OH! Open House Joo Chiat art walkabout neighborhood tour was held throughout the month of March. I’d wanted to join the OH! events in previous years but didn’t get around to it so I was psyched that I got to join this one especially since Joo Chiat is such a nice area with plenty of charm and unique architecture.
Once filled with coconut plantations and used as a weekend retreat by wealthy city dwellers, Katong and East Coast were developed into a residential suburb by the early 20th century. It became populated by a growing English-educated middle class, including Peranakans and Eurasians. The neighbouring Joo Chiat area is named after Chew Joo Chiat, a wealthy Chinese landowner in the early 20th-century. The area’s identity is especially shaped by its unique pre-war architecture – colourful two-storey shophouses and terrace houses with ornate facades, intricate motifs and ceramic tiles.
The premise of this art walkabout is being led by a volunteer tourguide, exploring the neighborhood of Joo Chiat for 2 hours including going inside people’s homes that serve as temporary gallery space for local artists. The tour started with an open space installation of an old boat filled with old knick knacks belonging to Joo Chiat residents.
One of the highlights of this tour for me is seeing the interior of one of these heritage shophouses with colorful exteriors. The private residence was transformed into an art space, overflowing with roses made out of plastic bags and giftwrap paper blooming from the tiled floors.
The tour also brought us inside one of the posh residences along Tembeling Road that sports a shophouse exterior but the interior has been reconstructed into a loft-like modern space with soaring ceilings and a three-storey high skylight.
In recent years, the neighborhood of Joo Chiat has become synonymous with bars and pubs, with many migrant Vietnamese ‘working girls’ hustling in these establishments. While this makes the area viewed as undesirable by many dwellers and homebuyers, it has also brought about authentic Vietnamese restaurants operated by migrant Vietnamese, serving food that’s inexpensive and super delicious.
My personal fave is Long Phung, which opens late; when I first started eating there several years ago, I’d be slurping Bun Mang Vit next to Vietnamese girls fully made-up and decked out in tight, body-hugging, short microdresses accompanied by (and PDA-ing with) middle-aged taxi drivers and businessmen (ie. patrons). Today, the word has spread that Long Phung has the best Vietnamese food in town so one’d better be prepared to stand in line and wait for a table. Fortunately, the wait isn’t long as the service is very brisk in the restaurant. Or do what I do, go get food late at night to avoid the queue.
Fragrance Hotel, otherwise known as Singapore’s “love hotel” chain, was also part of the tour and we all got to go inside the hotel rooms at the Joo Chiat location.
The tour concluded with a visit to a photographer’s residence, also situated on Joo Chiat Road. This second floor apartment has a side yard/balcony that’s enclosed by a glass ceiling and one of the stories told by the tourguide was how one evening the homeowner heard a loud crash coming through his side yard and found a Vietnamese girl injured on his balcony. Turned out she smashed through the glass ceiling and fell onto his space; she was trying to escape from something or something, and had jumped out of a window of the pub situated next door.
How wild does that sound!?
Here’s the side yard/balcony space and you can sorta spot the neighboring pub above the wood paneling.
In spite of what others may perceive Joo Chiat as, I like the neighborhood a lot. Not only is it full of character, it’s also a treasure trove of good eats! My fave jaunts there, other than late night visits to Long Phung, also includes having family dinner at Peranakan restaurant Guan Hoe Soon, noshing on wonton noodles at Fei Fei Wantan Mee (open 24 hours), getting Nonya rice dumplings from Kim Choo, and sometimes (!) picking up a slab of Super Stacked Chocolate Cake from Awfully Chocolate. Oh, and there’s this TDF pastry called Ugly Sue from Strictly Pastry that everyone *must* check out and try; it’s absolutely divine.
I enjoyed this OH! Open House Joo Chiat walkabout tour tremendously as it offered me the opportunity to appreciate Singapore’s neighborhoods and experience cool artwork. Can’t wait for the next instalment, wherever it may be. :)