The public carpark entrance at 78 Moh Guan Terrace splits the horse-shoe shaped building in half, and the sight of each side is as distinct as olive oil and balsamic vinegar, yet together they are the perfect match of two diverse cultures, reminding what Singapore’s hipster neighbourhood of Tiong Bahru is about.
On the right hand side of the building, young expatriate mothers sip cappuccinos and nibble on flaky croissants, while just a few meters across the road, older locals show-off their effortless chopsticks skills on what seems to be their daily routine of eating spicy pork noodles. Built during the Japanese invasion between 1939 -1940, the heritage complex is the only one in the area with an air raid shelter in its basement, however, old and young isn’t the only paradox of this trendy Singapore location.
The homely neighbourhood typical characteristics of low-rise, unpretentious buildings, showcasing narrow outdoor spiral staircases, and bamboo poles exposing freshly cleaned laundry, is also filled with hipster coffee shops, restaurants, independent designer shops, organic grocery stores, eccentric bookstores, yoga schools, and art galleries.
It was in the back alleys of the charming district that I came across Yip Yew Chong’s street-art. Since 2015, the young, self-taught artist has been painting murals across the island representing old scenes of Singaporean culture, and they are as real as it gets. Amongst Tiong Bahru’s wall art, some of the themes include typical scenes of a public housing living room, an old-school Malay market, an iconic, local fortune teller, and the bird singing corner, referring to the old days when locals would gather in Tiong Bahru with their birds for a traditional bird-singing session.
According to the Chinatown-born artist, Tiong Bahru was where he spent most parts of his childhood, hence his fond connections with the area. While painting the walls in the vicinity, he received great support by the local residents, which according to him would bring him occasional treats and pop by for a quick chat. In order to complete the paintings within deadlines, Yip worked for up to 12 hours straight over the weekends, dodging the hot sun and seeking salvation in occasional showers, while holding a full-time corporate job.
So far, the talented artist has painted over 30 murals across the city, colouring the streets of Singapore and gently reminding residents of their important heritage.
As I sat on the floor next to one of Yip’s murals, pretending to be part of the scene of a public housing cozy living room, my mind wondered to the past and the times when my entire family would sit around the tv and watch Brazilian novelas (South American soap operas). Times before mobile devices, times when people actually spent quality time together. I couldn’t help but feeling a deep nostalgia; a longing to go back in time and join the real life versions of Yip’s creative work.
For information about Yip’s murals’ locations, visit yipyc.com.
Tip: Don’t miss out on some of the best food in town, so when in the area, visit Forty Hands, Plain Vanilla Bakery or Tiong Bahru Bakery, my local favourites for a coffee, pastry or a delicious brunch.