I had some time off recently so decided to take the opportunity to do some more #EdwardExploresSG themed wandering. Obviously most of you would know about the wealth of big name attractions that Singapore has to offer (Marina Bay Sands, Art Science Museum, Gardens by the Bay to name but a few), and whilst these are all fantastic places to visit and shouldn't be missed, there is just as much wonder to be found in the neighbourhoods and areas outside of the CBD/Orchard area.
Furthermore, what with it being SG50 year and thus there being an increased interest and focus in local Singaporean history and stories, I thought it would only be apt for me to understand more about the local tableaux that together make up Singapore’s rich tapestry.
For those that know me well, they’ll know that Balestier is an area that holds particularly resonance for me. Whilst it tends to be famous for both its food offerings (of which there are many) and its light shops (of which there are many more), there are plenty more illuminating (sorry) places to be found along the way.
I actually approached Balestier from across the Pan Island Expressway (PIE for short) at Toa Payoh so got to walk across the bridge and witness this pretty spectacular view just as a flock of birds flew off into the distance.
Coming out onto the main road I was greeted by two stereotypically Balestier sights packaged together into one perfectly symmetrical building; budget hotels and light shops. Whilst fascinating in its symmetry (seriously if you put a long mirror right down the middle, its reflection would create exactly the same sight), I promise the road isn't all as architecturally drab as this, as you shall soon find out...
Whilst in recent times lighting and accommodation really have become the order of the day, the beauty of Balestier is that there are still many older, more traditional shophouses still in operation.
Sweetlands has been around since the 1970s, and whilst there were more than 200 similar bakeries dotted across Singapore during their heyday, they're now unfortunately a dying breed. Balestier is fortunate to lay host to two of the eight traditional bakeries still remaining in the country (Sin Hon Loong being the other) and the bakers here work gruelling hours all through the night to ensure that there is fresh bread on hand for the kopitiams to churn out stacks of kaya toast the following morning.
Lam Yeo has been filling the Balestier air with the aroma of freshly ground coffee for over half a century, and in the early days the sight of rickshaws and carriages stopping by to purchase their wares would be common. Whilst these may no longer be seen, thankfully Lam Yeo has managed to retain a committed customer base that still come to stock up on some of the ten signature blends that the store offers or even just to stock up on the immense coffee knowledge that Mr Tan Boon Heong has in immeasurable surplus.
On the subject of tradition and history, whilst many of the shops themselves may have changed over the years, if you look up you can still see many remarkably well preserved facades that give a small glimpse into what the area might have once looked like. This row of shophouses was built in 1926 by a female developer called Madam Sim Cheng Neo and was designed by architect Kwan Yow Luen, incorporating a stunning blend of Eastern and Western elements. Thankfully these facades are protected by the National Heritage Board and were carefully restored in 2000 to ensure that they remain in all their glory for future generations to come (whatever modern gizmos the shops underneath might be selling at that time.)
And in perhaps the starkest of all stark contrasts, just across the road is one of my favourite buildings in the area: Balestier Point. I know it's not much to look at (or in fact there's a whole lot to look at depending upon your point of view) but it's such a fantastic example of brutalist architecture that it's just impossible to ignore. Opened in 1986 by RDC Architects and inspired by Moshe Safdie's "Habitat '67", the consituent lego blocks are designed so that each apartment has its own private terrace and garden.
Balestier Point has received an Honourable Mention Award from the Singapore Institute of Architects and it sits on the site of the former Ruby Theatre that stood from 1958 until the early 1980s. Even if it might not be the prettiest building in the world to most, it still stands to highlight the amazing mixture of architecture and styles that make up the rich mosaic of Balestier Road and the surrounding area.
Well that's all for now, but I really do urge all of you to come down and check out all that the neighbourhood has to offer if you get the opportunity. Neither your eyes nor your belly will leave disappointed I promise.
Until next time! #EdwardExploresSG