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Sunday, February 26, 2012

OH! Open House at Tiong Bahru: My experience today

Being a resident in Tiong Bahru since 1972, I thought I should know a lot about the estate, yet, I realised there are a lot more for me to explore today!

Joining the "OH! Open House at Tiong Bahru" this afternoon allows me to visit 6 homes, 1 temple, walk through many back lanes and view the works of 15 local and overseas artists.

For the official website of "Oh! Open House at Tiong Bahru, visit:

For photos of the artists' works, view them via:

OH! Open House at Tiong Bahru: My experience today

Today is the last day of the Open House "Occupy" Tiong Bahru.  The event started last Saturday, only run for 2 weekends (on Saturday and Sunday, 18-19 and 25-26).

It is curiosity that drive me to sign up.  I like to see art works in general, and being a resident here, it is interesting for me to see how the interior of the my neighbours' apartment look likes.  Most of the people prefer to keep their home private, so it is hard to have the opportunity to enter other people's house nowadays.

Since I miss the event in Marine Parade last year, this time, the event is so near and so convenient, I have no excuse to miss it. 

Entering strangers' house and look at the interior, their personal items and art collections, is something new for me to look forwards to.  As I do not like to walk under the hot sun and have to rush home for dinner around 7pm, the 4-5pm tour I booked in advance is the best slot for me!

Though the tour I signed up was scheduled to start between 4-5pm, it was delayed.  I think the reason could be that the response is so good that all tours are full booked. Hence, the groups took longer to visit all the sites as there are bigger in size. 

We have 18 participants in our group and we started at around 5.15pm, about one hours and 15 mins later than the actual schedule slot.  Fortunately, the waiting area this week is moved from ground floor to the air-con hall on the second floor of Tiong Bahru Community Centre.  Most of us have a good nap or good rest while waiting. When it is our turn to do the tour, the heavy rain just stop and we have a refreshing afternoon to start our walk!

As I saw a lot of tour leaders over last weekends were full of passion, I was looking forward to have an exciting tour with lots of anecdotes. I should not have this mind set to start with...

The volunteer guide who guided us is not a Tiong Bahru residents, the information she acquired is from her research, we are not able to hear personal experience and the main focus is on the artists and the history of some street name etc.  As the group is too big to hear her clearing, I wish I could have a copy of the written notes for future reference and hope that the feedback to the co-ordinator at the end of tour at 7.05pm would benefit both parties.

Even an old timer like me, looking at the neighbourhood from many front and back balcony of the six apartments is an eye-opening experience. With the unique art deco architecture and tastefully done interior of the apartment owners, it makes one yielding to stay in the apartment and admire the owner who own them.

Many visitors in our group feel that Tiong Bahru housing is rather unique: it is Singapore’s most eclectic neighbourhood! In the 1.5 to 2 hour tour, we learnt the name and the origin of Seng Poh Road, Eng Watt Street, Tiong Poh Road and other interesting facts and history of the estate!

The laid back rustic atmosphere of the pre-war and post-war housing, blended the contemporary art of the 15 artist, make it even more artistic for viewers like us to appreciate.  Art enhance the estate, and the estate make the art pieces more appealling to viewers!

For me and many of the tour participants, the welcoming owners or artists who are there at the door or inside the apartment during the arts walkabout are warm imprints that we will never forget.  I remembered Jason, the banker, offering us chocolates and Steven Black, the multi-talent artist,  giving us Ang Ku Kueh. Their kind gestures warmed both our stomachs and our hearts!  Many are humble and do not disclose their names and their smiling face made us feel comfortable and welcoming!

Some of the things I learnt in the walking tour include:

* the Swan sculpture placed in the centre of Tiong Bahru Garden, was sculpted by Mr Lim Nang Seng, the same artist of Merlion (the Singapore Icon now). 

* the Teochew Noodle stall inside the coffee shop next to the car park exit in Moh Guan Terrace was the Mee Po Man filming site.

Many participants do not know the different types of Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) and Post-war housing in Tiong Bahru. This visit to the 6 artistic homes may lead them to see Tiong Bahru apartment as their dream home.

Viewing the artistic interior design of the six apartments done by the owners or designers may create "Fairy Tale" images of the estate, and lead them to dream and have high expectation on Tiong Bahru Estate!  I know from my own experience that most of the apartments in Tiong Bahru are not the same as the six homes we experienced today!

Of all the artworks I view, the first whimsical mobile hanged by the window, made from plush and felt, in the shapes of traditional Singapore food is the one that I like most!

For more photos of the artists' works, please view them via:

The mobile is created by Tye Sok Kuan who is a well-known freelance illustrator known for her alter-ego, Sophie Black.

In this hanging mobile, Sophie Black is also the centrepiece.  I think most viewers would like all the yummy objects stringed around the smiling Nyonya, such as Ang Ku Kueh, Butterfly Kueh, Nine layers cake, Small Bao, Sue Mai, Kueh To To and many yummy and delicious local treats.

What I fall in love with is the bright and colourful hanging mobile theme with Paranaka ideas and the details stitches which is hard to match. To me it is like 3D painting using colourful treads as paint brush and felt as canvas!

I learn from this visit and meet some hosts of the homes. They were a nice mix of Singaporeans and expats and art is the one that transcends cultural borders. 

Tiong Bahru is not a big estate and the distance between each homes which host the exhibitions are not very far apart.  Nevertheless, all the apartment are without lift and walking up and down take time and energy. 

After the 2 hours sweaty walking tour, our thigh muscles were tire. The expected workout for me allow me to make excuses for not having much physical exercises next week!

How do I feel about the tour at the end of the day?  Well, like my tour mates, we feel intrusive, and on the other hand, was thankful to hosts who are so kind and so generous in giving us a change to peek, share and enjoy their way of living for a moment! 

Maybe it is a learning journey for us to be humble about what we received and learn to share the joys by being kind and generous to others in the future!

Dexterine Ho Soo Miang

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