not far from home

To satisfy my wanderlust, J and I took a leisurely walk from our home in Toa Payoh to the Balestier/Whampoa area this Saturday. Here is our "travelogue" in pictures...ok, and some text - because I cannot resist the lure of words.

(1) Though not known to be a "historic" district, Balestier has some pretty well conserved shophouses with that distinctive architectural mix of neo-classical, the baroque/rococo and peranakan, boasting a relief of monkeys, elephants, dragons, indian guards and cherubims!
balestier stitch
Other than this horrible stitch, the rest of the photos in this post are by J instead.

(2) Not just the architecture, the massive banyan trees in the area must surely also count as heritage.
Better than tree top walk 老树

(3) The reality is that Balestier is pretty "historic". Just behind the main road, along the quiet Ah Hood Road is 晩晴園 (literally, The Garden of a Clear Night?) or the Sun Yet San Memorial Hall. It houses an interesting exhibition on the early nationalist years of China's history (Boxer Rebellion, the Tong Meng Hui), Dr Sun's life (yes yes, romance supposedly blossomed too in the Nanyang for Taiwan's founding father - oh weak men!) and the role Malaya played in modern China's revolution.
晩晴園 Front Porch

(4) J was pleased to discover that Dr Sun was quite a designer ("You see, no wonder he was such a great man"). He was supposed to have designed this outfit, a variation of the western suit more appropriate for the tropical weather. The young Dr Sun and his fellow revolutionists had also designed the logo for the Tong Meng Hui and flag.
Designer 孫中山 小孫中山(Sun's Junior)

Of course, ampulets could not resist participating in such exciting history!

We even recreated that momentous meeting we had with Dr Sun's in Taipei last year, re-living that brief declaration of love and admiration.
In Love with Uncle Sun

(5) And we were pleasantly surprised when we encountered in the garden of the memorial hall a life size statue of Kuo Pao Kun! I guess the folks at the memoral hall and the donors of this statue probably felt that the late Singaporean playwright and thinker, too, had lived a life worthy of remembrance. Humble, magnanimous, a teacher and an artist. At the foot of the statue is an open book. On it are these words by Kuo Pao Kun:
I still subscribe after these many years to the idea that art is secondary to life. Life is primary; unless you take a serious look at life, there's no point in doing art. The very meaning of art is [that] through the process of art, you get deeper into an understanding of life and people.

Mr Kuo Pao Kun at 晩晴園

(6) Life and its people... - well, beyond the conserved facades of the buildings and the moving stories in the museum are certainly lives lived in these condominium blocks. Built mostly in the late 70s and 80s, J and I found these buildings architecturally disharmonious (er, ugly?), but strangely moving.
Diseased Dog at the Balcony Oldies Buddhist KaraoKe 80s Building Women's Favourite Building

That row of single-storey terrace houses, I think, were built in the 60s by the HDB (or its predecessor). In those early days of development, the building of the first public housing estates required the relocation of farmers, fishermen and squatters. In the Toa Payoh area, the squatters had resisted being relocated, complaining that they were not used to living in high rise buildings. Because the Barisan Socialis were supposedly taking advantage of the situation and stirring up greater discontent, the PAP government had quickly built these single-storey houses to address the squatters' vertigo.

(7) Of course, no tour is complete without some local cuisine; and every Singaporean already knows that Balestier rivals Katong in its gastronomic offerings. J and I settled for this delicious but overpriced chicken rice meal (S$22)...But next time we are definitely going to try the duck rice from this shop instead.
$22ChickMeal4two 鴨店

Well, friends, keen to visit the Balestier/Whampoa area soon? These buses will take you there: 130, 131, 139, 145. Or like us, you can take a walk from Toa Payoh. The easiest place to start is Toa Payoh MRT or Buss Interchange:
>> Cross the road from the Toa Payoh interchange to the Too Payoh Park or Swimming Pool
>> Cut across the park and walk to the back of the Swimming Pool. From there, take the overhead bridge across the highway (I think it's the PIE).
>> Take another bridge across a large monsoon drain at the back of the Singapore Police Force Recreation Club.
>> Once there (i.e. Jalan Rajah or Ah Hood Road), wander around the estate or head straight to Balestier Road (parallel to the highway)


tcn afen said…
which part of balestier is this?I usually cycle here. Bus 124 goes to Balestier too, just stop before the turn into Whampoa market and walk down.

There's this place that's famous for its steamed chicken, they used to serve everything in metal bowls with metal utensils and the skin just slides down your throat....ooooo.
ampulets said…
the main stretch of road, before whampoa market. Ah Hood Road is closer to the Thomson Medical Centre end of Balestier - it's a left turn from the main road. The chicken rice place you are talking about is in the Whampoa Market itself yah? We were at some branch of Boon tong kee...yah, the McDonalds of Chicken Rice.
there is quite a nice bah chor mee there too!
Neil said…
Yum yummy - the Chicken rice looked good enough to eat; did it taste good enough to justify $22?

Hope you are both well - and that we can catch up soon!
Unknown said…
the boon tong kee across the rd from novena church? essssspensiff !!

if u keep going along that road (away from novena square), there is a nice beef hor fun across the road from thomson medical centre. it's frm a zi char stall called bee kia. the har jeong gai is good tooo

(hehe my pinyin is quite horrifying)
ampulets said…
i'm going to be in the UK in june (minus J), newcastle though, and maybe a couple of days in london. you going to be in s'pore?

SB - nah, we were at the one at Balestier itself. hello, your pinyin is not even pinyin! in pinyin/mandarin, it should be xia1 jiang4 ji1. understooded?
Unknown said…
yes teacher =_= was that not-pinyin actually canto? if thts' the case then it is yutpin right? or something. or i dunno =P

i aim to learn canto soooon ..

oerm.. no! there is another boon tong kee across frm novena church. unless they moved? mcdonalds is cheapish. boontongkee is not =P

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