The Electric New Paper :
Unesco site? Dirty Tiong Bahru’s not ready for that
LAST Saturday’s edition of The New Paper had a two-page spread that delighted an old Tiong Bahru resident like me. The headline was: ‘He wants to put Tiong Bahru on world map’.07 September 2006
LAST Saturday’s edition of The New Paper had a two-page spread that delighted an old Tiong Bahru resident like me. The headline was: ‘He wants to put Tiong Bahru on world map’.
‘He’ is Dr Kelvin Tan, president of the Singapore Heritage Society. He wants pre-war Tiong Bahru to be declared a Unesco World Heritage Site alongside the likes of the Great Wall of China and India’s Taj Mahal.
Wow! That proposition took my breath away when TNP reporter Ng Tze Yong telephoned me on Friday for my view.
Singapore was, but is no longer, a member of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. But the expectation is that Singapore will rejoin Unesco. Even if our nation does rejoin, I do not think we should try to get pre-war Tiong Bahru on Unesco’s World Heritage list. But if what Dr Tan wishes for does come true, I would be happy – and absolutely astonished!
In Tiong Bahru, there is a pre-war section as well as a post-war section that we oldies of the neighbourhood call the Lim Yew Hock flats. Mr Lim Yew Hock was pre-independence Singapore’s second chief minister after Mr David Marshall. The low-rise blocks of flats in the pre-war section, some with street-level shophouses, have a lot of undeniable old-world charm. The architecture is art deco – the 1930s style of rounded outlines and bold colours. The Lim Yew Hock section also has walk-up flats, but these blocks are angular and the shapes standardised.
The pre-war flats have many different configurations. Even long-time residents like me, who moved in before the Japanese occupation of the early 1940s, can be pleasantly surprised when visiting a neighbour, amazed by a very different interior layout.
I live on Tiong Poh Road, in a third-storey three-bedroom flat of 97 sq m. My father bought it in 1967 under the Government’s pilot Home Ownership Scheme. The price: $20,250 (repeat: $20,250).
Before we bought it, we paid monthly rent of just over $30.
The 99-year lease will run out in 60 years’ time. I will be 128 years old then, assuming I am still alive.
Last Saturday’s article in The New Paper quoted me as saying that I would be too ashamed to take a foreign visitor to pre-war Tiong Bahru, charming though its architecture may be.
Some of the streets, Tiong Poh Road included, are messy, there is litter and we see vermin often.
The cleaners work very hard. But obviously, there are not enough litterbins that are big enough.
Some among a transient population do not use the bins, leaving plastic bags of wet and dry rubbish on the sides of streets, even on staircase landings.
People who scavenge for a living take bags out of the bins, open them up, take what they want and leave the rest on the ground.
Cars are parked where they should not be, for instance, near popular eateries in the neighbourhood. The drivers seem to get away scot-free most of the time.
The littering and inconsiderate parking, regretfully, are disturbing signs of declining social values as well as inadequate estate management.
Post-war Tiong Bahru is much cleaner. Pre-war Tiong Bahru, recently declared a conservation area, is trying to tell Singapore: Hey, watch it, we’re slipping in some areas when we should not.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of SPH’s English and Malay newspapers division. For feedback, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org