Tuesday, June 30, 2009

National Day comes closer and closer

As National Day approaches on 9th August, many physical signs appear in our environment. One sadly overlooked symbol is our national flower, the hybrid orchid that is Vanda Miss Joaquin.

Glad to say that the flower sellers at Tiong Bahru Market have some for sale! This hardy hybrid (how appropriate for Singapore!) is in bloom, and according to the flower stall, only comes on the market in the weeks running up to National Day.

Here is a picture of the flower.

It works really well on the balcony, and in full sun. Which is what we have lots of in Tiong Bahru, during this SW Monsoon Season.

A lovely Red and White orchid, with pink accents, it really is quite apt for our nation as our National Flower. Its origins as a hybrid, discovered by an Armenian lady - Miss Agnes Joaquim, who lived in a Chinese part of Twa Por, that had a Malay area name, is also appropriate for what Singapore is so unique for. That is was described botanically by 'Mad' Ridley of our Botanical Gardens in 1893, is also encouraging, for Ridley was a man who persisted in trying out new things even when few around him believed in the possibilities of success (can you imagine a world without rubber?).

Furthermore, its geographical origin at Tanjong Pagar, not so far from Tiong Bahru, should endear it to us here - half an hour's walk away.

Twenty years of Town Councils

From the recent news report on the formation and the evolving role of Town Councils. Lets hope that the next 2 decades brings more positive evolution of this organsation and its relation with residents.

One possible improvement might be a way of scoping out the TC 'groupings' into more mentally recognisable units that are based on actual geography. That is surely how people identify with where they live.

SINGAPORE: It has been nearly 20 years since the formation of town councils in Singapore.

And Singapore’s Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong who was instrumental in setting up the Town Councils said they have been successful in getting the grassroots leaders to understand the linkage between what Town Councils can do and what the people must do.

In an interview with the Straits Times, one example is the service and conservancy (S&C) charges.

He explained that before Town Councils came into existence, each time S&C charges were revised by HDB, even grassroots leaders would join in the chorus to criticise the increase.

But having to decide with the Town Councils whether S&C charges must be increased, the grassroots leaders began to understand where the money was going to, where it would be spent, what provisions they were making for sinking funds and so on.

So that link between Town Councils and grassroots leaders in the housing estate has been successful.

Mr Goh said the next stage is to get residents to take a greater interest in the affairs of their Town Council.

The painting so far

On a more positive note, the hard working folks of the Tanjong Pagar Town Council have continued with the repainting work in the estate.

These pictures of the before and after shows the difference a paint coat makes. Its all much brighter and fresher! Who knows, we may all even save some electricity bills from not having to turn on the lights in the day time because we can now 'borrow' the light reflected off the walls.

Glad to know that our Tanjong Pagar Town Council is one that has been open to engaging interested residents even before the recent comments by SM Goh on the gap between Town Councils and their constituents. Kudos to Mr Loy and Mr Soh for their hard work!

And Kudos too to those residents who live here, and those are not living here, but who care about this neighbourhood, for getting together to contribute positively to the neighbourhood's future!

Hotel, Brothel, Smothel...

Another response to the letter on the hotel in today's Straits Times. Is it wrong to have a mindset that everything should have its place - which is a recipe for harmonious living? Is raising an issue of local concern in the public, in an objective way, not the sign of matured behaviour? To put it on record, the residents' concerns are not focussed on the monetary value of their neigbourhood, but about the way it should or should not evolve.

Read the comments on ST Forum online. Sigh.

Get with it, Tiong Bahru residents - it's a hotel, not a brothel

SADLY, Singapore still has a long way to go before it matures as a society, even if it has done well economically.

Hotel 81 - which is a hotel, not a brothel, by the way - in Tiong Bahru bears this out. Like the issue of housing dormitories for foreign workers in Serangoon Gardens, some residents are saying 'somewhere else, but not here'.

Presumably, it is okay in Geylang. It is also okay in Chinatown, and many other locations not considered inordinately prone to 'vice' (for the complainants have not, as far as I know, protested against the very existence of Hotel 81).

'But hey. I came to live in this pleasant neighbourhood. Put it somewhere else.'

Unfortunately, there is no social or government contract when you buy a property or choose to live in a particular location, for you to 'expect' things to be exactly how you want them.

Like the recent online letter by Mrs Bendjenni Udiana Jamalludin about how some men dressed well but lacked social graces ('They were well-dressed but behaved like louts', last Saturday), Singapore can develop economically but fall well behind in social development. Perhaps more can be done in school to ensure the next generation 'grows up'.

Kevin Kwek

Is the Hotel 81 issue about changing mindsets?

One response to the residents' letter on the concerns over Hotel 81 in Eng Hoon Street. In today's Straits Times.

Hotel 81 in Tiong Bahru is a test about changing mindsets

ANOTHER furore seems to be brewing over a location for a budget hotel in Singapore. If this had been a major hotel development, I wonder if it would have invited such a reaction. If one goes to Tiong Bahru, one will notice many prominent hotels within a 2km radius. So why do we pick on a budget hotel to drive home a point of protest?

Hotel 81 is a local set-up, and its business caters to Singaporeans as much as to foreigners. It provides many employment opportunities for Singaporeans, especially during this economic downturn. Hence, to deprive it of a decent place to do business is to prevent a prospective employer from expanding its business.

From hospices to funeral parlours to pubs, Singaporeans are fast coming across as possessing a 'my-turf-is-my-turf' mentality. This siege mindset is harmful to the economy and will deter potential investors from doing business in Singapore. After all, if businesses are not located within the city, where else do we locate them?

Singapore is an island nation and space is a major constraint. We cannot build another island as we did for Jurong Island.

Given this constraint, we have no alternative but to change our mindset - be more open with the space we must share with others. The sooner we do this, the better we will be prepared for the future.

Because, in time to come, as the population expands and public buildings compete for more space, we can count our blessings if we find a hotel in our neighbourhood rather than something else.

Douglas Chua

The official reply

Hi! Sorry for the delay, here is the reposting of the official reply from the authorities.

June 24, 2009
Hotel 81 in Tiong Bahru hasn't got a licence yet
WE REFER to the letter, 'Don't tarnish image' (June 13). We thank the residents of Tiong Bahru for their feedback.
On the feedback that the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has allowed Hotel81 to operate in close proximity to the Tiong Bahru residential area, we would like to clarify that no licence has been issued for the hotel to start operations in Tiong Bahru. Before they begin operations, hotel developments must be licensed by the Hotels Licensing Board (HLB), and applications to the board are required to comply with the requirements of the relevant government agencies.
A licence will be issued only if the application meets all requirements stipulated in the Hotels Act. However, HLB can also revoke the licence if there is any deviation from the hotel licensing conditions, such as evidence of vice activity in the hotel.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) had granted approval for a hotel use at 1-9 Eng Hoon Street, as it is located in a mixed-use area where there are existing hotel developments in the vicinity.
With regard to the heritage value of Tiong Bahru, URA is mindful of maintaining the unique charm of the area. In fact, this was the reason why URA decided to conserve the flats at Tiong Bahru. Regarding the concern on illegal operations of workers' dormitories, URA has already served Enforcement Notices on the persons responsible for converting the residential premises in Tiong Bahru to unauthorised workers' dormitories. If the unauthorised use does not cease by the stipulated date, court actions will be taken against the persons responsible for the infringements.
STB and URA believe that the residents' concerns can be addressed through collaboration with law enforcement agencies, and other government bodies to ensure that the Tiong Bahru area retains its distinct charms.
Muhamad Rostam Umar
Director (Communications)
Singapore Tourism Board
Peter Tan
Director (Development Control, Central)
Urban Redevelopment Authority

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Enforcement on the way!

We just wanted to share what might be the beginning of good news for the neighbourhood - reports have come in from residents that they have seen Govt officers going round on inspections on the suspected (!) overcrowded units and some have heard that letters have been served on the landlords!

So, do keep an eye out on these happenings on the ground - and if you see units that have been cleared out, but later on - REVERTING to overcrowded units that are no longer RESIDENTIAL, but are now WORKERS' DORMITORY, please do send in your observations to the authorities using the email addressess in the blog, so that they can take further action!

Just in case there is ANY CONFUSION as to what is a workers' dormitory - here are the definitions by the Govt:

A workers’ dormitory is defined as premises used primarily as lodging for workers unrelated by blood, marriage or adoption or legal guardianship.

A residential premises shall be deemed to be a workers’ dormitory if the total number of workers staying in the residential premises exceed 8 workers.

The location for proposed workers’ dormitory should also be located away from residential area and areas where the use is likely to cause amenity problems. Workers’ dormitories are not allowed in the Central Area.

Therefore, under this guideline, no flat in Tiong Bahru shall have more than 8 workers each. This is not unreasonable, given that each flat has only one toilet and kitchen, as well as with the lack of air-conditioning, any more would really be less than humane.

By the law, Tiong Bahru SIT Estate is a RESIDENTIAL ESTATE that shall not be put to uses that are not RESIDENTIAL in nature. (Unless they are the ground floor units that have existing government permission for the various kinds of commercial use)

We grew up here... Singapore

Just wanted to share something that I came across, more cheerful like - on the Singapore that we grew up in - thru old pictures! First, I share one from my own collection... recognise this?

Check out this website.....


Old pictures have a way to connect people and make memories seem more real... yet.... in this age of digital manipulation, I wonder how much longer will people trust in 'photographic' evidence?

Think 'Bladerunner' - the famous scene where Harrison Ford breaks the news to the android that she is but an android....

Anyway, here is the link to the trailer...


Another interesting coincidence (?) - Blade Runner is set in Los Angeles of 2019, Terminator 4 is set in Los Angeles of 2018. John Conner too has a photograph he hangs on to. I wonder which is the more likely future for humanity?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The letter by locals.... and do you know where the units are?

Dear residents and supporters, it is good to know that both the mainstream papers have published the letter from some of the us who are concerned about the direction of the neighbourhood....

Lets keep the cooperation up!

The first thing that we can help ourselves would be to collate the units where we think there is illegal overcrowding of the units and compile them for submission to the authorities for action.

You can send the units you suspect of such overcrowding, to the blog address:

A collated list is better than sending them to the authorities individually. lets have a first list by the end of next week? Looking forward to your contribution!

The Straits Times
Forum Section
June 13, 2009

Letters page
June 17, 2009

Don't tarnish image

WE WRITE in response to recent reports regarding the declining quality of life in the conserved Tiong Bahru estate.

Since the gazetting of Tiong Bahru as a conservation site in 2003, committed residents have consistently collaborated with grassroots leaders and the town council to improve its heritage value.

We are deeply distressed that current developments will reverse much of this work, and are dismayed that government agencies have shown a lack of regard for the concerns of the community.

We are extremely concerned that the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) has allowed Hotel 81 to operate in close proximity to the Tiong Bahru residential area.

Without prejudice to the hotel, we naturally fear the exposure of our families to potentially negative activities, which may be linked to the availability of hourly- stay rates.

We also do not want the image of our estate tarnished.

We are disappointed with the lack of response from STB when queried by the media, and call on STB to explain immediately.

We similarly call on Hotel 81 to clarify its intentions - to many of us, having this hotel adjacent to residential property is simply not acceptable.

A second concern relates to landlords and agents in the estate who operate illegal workers' dormitories without any thought of the noise, litter and fire hazards.

We request that the Housing Board, Urban Redevelopment Authority, National Environment Agency and Singapore Civil Defence Force respond urgently to enforce the law to eradicate what is a persistent and festering problem.

These issues continue to adversely affect the heritage value of this gazetted conservation estate which should, in fact, receive special attention from policy- makers and enforcement agencies.

The estate has already suffered a loss of heritage - the treasured and historic Bird Corner now relocated to the Link Hotel - due to poorly regulated commercial development and conservation efforts.

As a community, we hope to continue collaborating with both the private and public sectors to maintain the quality of Tiong Bahru estate as a national heritage.

We do not want to see a heritage site - Singapore's first public housing project - irreversibly destroyed.

We welcome urgent engagement by the organisations concerned and are eager to contribute constructively to reach a resolution acceptable to all.

Margaret Chung (Ms)

(This letter carries 33 other names)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Another community website to link to.....

check out: http://tiongbahru.org/index.php

I was just introduced to this website for Tiong Bahru ....

More than just heritage - it covers many many topics ... including ... FOOD!


and PHOTOGRAPHY.... and more....

Yet another hotel in Tiong Bahru - ironically, on the street of Virtuous Clouds (Eng Hoon)

Uh Oh! I think that many of us are concerned BEYOND the issue of depressed property values. It is that this place may end up being devalued in all aspects - most importantly, as an area for residents who appreciate the community life that this estate has, which is family friendly.

We lost the authentic heritage attraction of old singing birds to one hotel,

and end up with new 'birds' being brought in by another hotel (no pictures needed, we can all imagine) on the street of Virtuous Clouds....

The Straits Times
June 8, 2009
By Jessica Cheam

Tiong Bahru residents worry that Hotel 81's presence might give area a sleazy image

AN ALMOST completed, nondescript building in one corner of Singapore's bustling Tiong Bahru estate is raising eyebrows within the community.

Several residents are concerned about the latest addition to their estate - a new hotel built by budget accommodation chain Hotel 81.

The prospect of an hourly-rate budget hotel in their estate has got them worried that the development might give a sleazy image to the neighbourhood, and depress the values of their properties.

When contacted, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), which approves the use of buildings as hotels, confirmed it had 'granted approval for a hotel development at 1-9 Eng Hoon Street' on Sept 12 last year.'

The proposed hotel development on the subject site is acceptable from the planning point of view as it is located in a mixed-use area where there are existing hotel developments in the vicinity,' it said.

Although a sign proclaims the name of the hotel to be 'Hotel 81 Osaka', it is unclear if the hotel will be an hourly-rate one or one that charges only a full-day rate.

Hotel 81 declined to comment when contacted.

The budget hotel chain has aggressively expanded in the past few years to a network of 30 hotels islandwide.

Most are located in the red light district of Geylang and other areas such as Joo Chiat and Balestier.

The chain has one hotel in a residential area - Hotel 81 Kovan.

Residents said they are hoping the hotel will at least be one that offers a full-day rate.

'Short-term stays lead to other social problems,' said resident Eugene Yip, 38, an advertising executive.

Another resident who declined to be named pointed out that there are already a growing number of female hostesses from China living in Tiong Bahru, due to the estate's proximity to bars - such as the Tiananmen karaoke lounge - in the Havelock Road area.

'At the moment, they live here and solicit their business elsewhere.We don't want them to start touting for business here too.We don't want it to go the way of Joo Chiat,' he said, referring to the district in the east which in the past saw an influx of bars, massage parlours and prostitutes together with hourly-rate budget hotels.

Recently, The Straits Times also reported the rise of illegal dorm use in the estate, where landlords have been cashing in on the demand for cheap housing by converting conserved pre-war flats into dormitory-style housing for foreign workers, leading to concerns over noise, littering and overcrowding.

The laidback, historic charm of Tiong Bahru has in recent years attracted a growing number of young professionals and expatriates.

It is gradually being gentrified.

'Many owners have invested heavily into rejuvenating their flats, and want to keep the estate clean,' said Knight Frank realtor Alvin Yeo.

So while mid-tier hotels, such as Link Hotel Singapore, have sprung up, residents want to know how chains like Hotel 81 get approval to set up hourly-rate hotels in residential areas.

The Singapore Tourism Board's hospitality arm, which gives the approval for the type of hotel licence, refused to comment when contacted.

The estate, which was designed in the 1930s in the Art Deco style, was gazetted in 2003, where 20 blocks of pre-World War II flats as well as 36 units of shophouses have been conserved to keep the charm and identity of the estate.

It has even been suggested, among Singaporeans, as a nominee for Singapore's first Unesco World Heritage Site.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Good Neighbours!

Dear Neighbours and Friends,
This evening at the monthly Seng Poh RC meeting, I was informed of a really lovely award that we can all participate in. Its the Good Neighbour Award!


Here's the blurb from the HDB website.

Good Neighbour Award

The Good Neighbour Award is co-organised by the Housing & Development Board and People's Association. Supported by the Singapore Kindness Movement and the Singapore Press Holdings, the Award aims to recognise residents who go the extra mile to be good neighbours.

Residents can show appreciation for their neighbour's efforts in making the community a better one by nominating him/her for the Good Neighbour Award.

The nomination exercise will be from 1 May to 31 Aug 2009. Please download the nomination form for submission...........

There are prizes to be won - $100, $80 and $50 vouchers... but more importantly, its an opportunity to celebrate neighbourliness!

You can also pick up a form at the local CC.

But what makes a good neighbour?

This spiffy website shares some ideas....