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Monday, Oct 20, 2014

Singapore

So hip, it hurts, residents say of Tiong Bahru

The New Paper | Ng Jun Sen | Monday, Oct 20, 2014

SINGAPORE - Known for its pre-war architecture and heritage hawkers, Tiong Bahru is hailed by some as a slice of old Singapore.

So rustic were its charms that the neighbourhood was given conservancy status by the Urban Redevelopment Authority more than a decade ago.

It was also named as one of the top 15 coolest neighbourhoods in the world by the fashion magazine Vogue in a recent report.

Part of its lustre also comes from the quaint new eateries, cafes and shops that have popped up in the neighbourhood in recent years.

Its appeal to visitors and locals alike is probably summed up by student and hobbyist photographer Lester Ooi, 19.

The self-professed "hipster" told The New Paper yesterday: "Nowhere else in Singapore will you find elderly folk sipping kopi beside youngsters sipping espressos."

Seng Poh Residents' Committee manager Desmond Tan added to the praise: "It is a cool place. People come here because of the buildings, which are so well-preserved that you can even find shops with their new signboards under the old ones."

Swiss tourist Catherine Buholzer, 59, said she had read the rave reviews about Tiong Bahru and included a visit to the area as part of her two-week holiday here.

Said Mrs Buholzer: "It looks like an older area where Singaporeans lived before, like a slice of authentic, old Singapore."

But talk to old-timers in the neighbourhood and you get a very different picture.

When TNP told them about Vogue's listing, they were surprised.

"Where got?" asked a resident of 60 years, who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan, 89.

"I've lived here for so long and no one said (it was cool) before. It's an all right neighbourhood, that is all."

Mr Tan believes part of the reason Tiong Bahru has lost its charm is the younger residents who have moved there because of its hip appeal.

Several are foreigners who have rented homes in the neighbourhood, he said.

"In the past, there was a large group of people practising qigong in the mornings at an open space near my flat. Now, they are no longer here," he said.

Mr Oei Khie, 72, a resident of 15 years, did not mince his words over Tiong Bahru's uber hip rating.

"It's all bullshit," he exclaimed.

While the taxi driver was glad that people thought highly of his neighbourhood, he remained sceptical of the accolades.

That's because it is not the first time he has heard such praises.

Each time, he questions how people arrived at that conclusion.

Said Mr Oei: "There are books out there written about this place. There's one book called I Ate Tiong Bahru. I've read it. It's 60 per cent nonsense."

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