SINGAPORE: When Venkatachalam Gomathi, 57, a resident of Tanglin Halt, was working late at the office, her neighbor struggled to check if her daughter was home alone.
It’s one of her fond memories of the 97-year-old aunt next door.
Venkatachalam, who has lived in Tanglin Halt with her husband for 25 years, said, “And during Chinese New Year, her children would come and give my daughter a hongbao… Very good. Then slowly, one by one, they all left.
Ngern Kah Cheng is at Tanglin Halt even longer. The 72-year-old has been selling braised duck noodles there since 1969.
Her first stand was next to a garbage collection center, and she had to stop serving food every time the truck came to collect the garbage.
Her brother, Ngern Jwee Chye, 68, later joined her as a hawker at Tanglin Halt market and discovered the “kampung spirit” of the area. “Everyone takes care of each other,” said the laksa salesperson.
Her sister’s husband, Chua Ngen Leng, 72, added: “Back then our customers were young people. Now they have become fathers and grandfathers. They bring their grandchildren here to eat. It’s been almost three, four generations.
There is a collage of memories that many residents and visitors will have of Tanglin Halt after the demolition of its 31 apartment blocks, seven shopping blocks and two markets and food centers starting at the end of this year.
It’s the biggest project under the Selective Bulk Redevelopment program since 1999, and the On The Red Dot program is finding out what will soon be missing.
On the list are famous food stalls that helped inscribe Singapore’s hawker culture on Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Wei Yi Laksa and Prawn Noodles, which Jwee Chye set up at Tanglin Halt Market in the 1990s, is now considered one of Singapore’s most popular laksa stalls. Queues start at 6 a.m.
“A lot of traditional dishes were slowly disappearing, so after my mom taught me, I added my own flair,” he said. “She had no education, but when it came to cooking she was number one.
Another stand is Tanglin Halt Original Peanut Pancake, opened in 1965 by the current owner’s stepfather.
Their pancake is distinguished by a distinctive flavor and a denser, chewier texture than what Singaporeans usually eat – and costs just 80 cents a piece.
But owner Teng Kiong Seng is now in the mid-1970s and has yet to find a successor, nor does he know the future of his stand after the market is demolished.
However, he hopes to continue making his famous snack until he is around 80 years old.
WATCH: Taste these traditional snacks at Tanglin Halt before they leave (2:22)
Gabrielle Kennedy, 23, a market customer, said: “Each stand being so different, they represent different cuisines, different cultures, and that is exactly what Singapore is. So if that were to go away, that would be very sad.
FROM ICONS TO ARTIFACTS
Some of Tanglin Halt’s icons are already a distant memory: the now-defunct railway line, the Van Houten chocolate factory, and the Setron TV factory, which made Singapore’s first locally made televisions.
The rows of 10-story blocks with diagonal staircases of Tanglin Halt – completed between 1962 and 1963 as one of the first five districts of Queenstown, Singapore’s first satellite estate – have also become an iconic image.
Doctor and food blogger Leslie Tay remembers visiting her maternal grandparents there and what her mother “always” told her: Their unit was “so crowded” that it “fell apart. married quickly to get out of the house ”.
He now feels “pretty sad”, although Kiong Seng told him that they “shouldn’t be complaining”. The peddler said: “Transforming the whole area and modernizing the buildings is a must… It is part of the future development of Singapore.”
Yet when faced with giving up everything, many residents and business owners have sentimental feelings about their personal relationships in the neighborhood.
“It’s a shame. I’m very emotionally invested in this place,” said Alice Tan, 71, owner of Alice’s Hair and Beauty store, which has been in existence for 50 years.
Everyone, including the customers, gets along well. So I feel a sense of loss and unhappiness. When I leave, I don’t know how I will accept it.
However, all will not be lost. Museum @ My Queenstown, located at Tanglin Halt, contains artefacts from industries and buildings of yesteryear that were once part of the neighborhood.
The non-profit organization My Community opened the museum in 2018 and has also collected old stories and photographs from residents, which will be kept in the new museum on Margaret Drive.
CHIEF OF THE VILLAGE
Tanglin Halt even has a village chief, as Alice Lee, 73, is affectionately known as – or what Leslie called the ‘Queen of Queenstown’.
She has lived there for 53 years now and is one of the main volunteers of the Queenstown Residents’ Committee.
Asked about the history of her nickname “village chief”, she said: “I used to help (residents) keep their keys in my house. Whenever they needed their key, (if they) had lost a key or whatever, they would come to my house.
“One of the uncles lost (his) key. He must have called the keymaker at midnight to come and open the door. They charged 80 Singaporean dollars. From there I said you can come to my place and collect your keys.
WATCH: The Full Episode – Tanglin Halt: Saying Goodbye to Some of Singapore’s Oldest Apartments (23:10)
Residents could also have a beautiful view from its windows, which overlook the greenery. Every day at 5 p.m., she takes a photo of the landscape. “The view is different every day. Heaven, everything is different, ”she said.
“So I can keep (the photos)… for memories.”
Watch this episode of On The Red Dot here. The program airs on Channel 5 every Friday at 9:30 p.m.