My grandfather's road...really

Above: Mr Chew Joo Chiat's great-grandson, Mr Philip Chew Peng Kia.

Your grandfather’s road, is it? Only a few can claim that their family names adorn road signs on our island. Here are their stories.

Chew Joo Chiat

THE great-grandfather of Mr Philip Chew Peng Kia (above) died in 1926, long before he was born, but his legacy lives on.

You may have heard of him yourself: plantation owner and philanthropist Chew Joo Chiat, who lent his name to Joo Chiat Road, Joo Chiat Avenue, Joo Chiat Terrace, Joo Chiat Lane and Joo Chiat Place.

Mr Philip Chew grew up on the streets of Joo Chiat when he was younger before moving to Eunos in 1958.

"His living legacy is everywhere in the Joo Chiat area, where so many roads are named after him," said the 77-year-old.

He added: "I never knew him, but he's all around me. I'm very proud that several roads have his name. It tells me that he really left his mark on Singapore.

"When I was living at Joo Chiat Road, most of the people there knew I was related to Chew Joo Chiat. But they didn't make a big deal, so I didn't either.

"Still, occasionally, I'd joke with friends, saying, 'This is my grandfather's road, you know?', and they'd burst out laughing."

Mr Philip Chew's grandmother raised him in a two-storey house, which used to stand on the now-vacant plot of land between Joo Chiat Complex and Joo Chiat Terrace.

His grandmother used to tell him about his famous ancestor.

Chew Joo Chiat came to Singapore from China in 1877, a 20-year-old without a penny to his name. He later rose to wealth, owning coconut and rubber plantations, as well as properties in various parts of Singapore.

'Inspiration'

"He's one of my biggest inspirations," said the younger Chew fondly.

"He was a pauper when he first came to Singapore, but he died a millionaire. So I grew up depending on myself to give my family a good life. I don't depend on the family wealth," he maintained.

Joo Chiat Road was once a simple dirt track, plied by bullock carts. Back then, it was known as the Confederate Estate Road, and was owned and maintained by Mr Chew Joo Chiat.

It was later upgraded to a proper road by the municipality, which acquired the land from Mr Chew's ancestor.

In 1917, the road was renamed Joo Chiat Road to honour him for his generosity.

Speaking about the Joo Chiat area during his childhood, Mr Philip Chew warmly recalled the grand Peranakan mansions, "which had fancy names like Noel Villa and Sandy Point Villa", and the bustling makeshift market that would appear every morning at the junction of Joo Chiat Road and Joo Chiat Lane and disappear by mid-day.

Now, Mr Philip Chew, who was a public health officer before he retired 19 years ago, is a self-made family historian. He is actively tracing the Joo Chiat clan, which has about 400 members, and he is still trying to find more.

He has also dedicated time to building Chew Joo Chiat's family tree, as well as that of Joo Chiat's brother, Chew Koh Beng.

Although he now lives in Marine Parade, Mr Philip Chew pops by the neighbouring Joo Chiat area almost every week. Mr Chew also tells his four children and five grandchildren about their ancestors so that they can stay in touch with their roots.

"One of my grandsons told his teacher, 'Joo Chiat Road is my great-great-great grandfather's road'. He was so proud of it," Mr Chew recalled.

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