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East Coast Road shophouse filled with Peranakan treasures

Brothers Raymond (left) and Edmond Wong at the Rumah Kim Choo shophouse in East Coast Road, which is filled with antiques and family heirlooms.PHOTOS: KEVIN LIM, OPUS

Step into the upper gallery of the Rumah Kim Choo shophouse in East Coast Road and you are greeted by a sight that evokes the feel of an old Peranakan house, or "rumah" in Malay.

Rooms are filled with antiques and family heirlooms, ranging from a bridal bed to Nonya kebayas, and ceramic ware to wooden cabinets that marry Chinese and European styles.

Mr Raymond Wong, 38, grandson of late matriarch Lee Kim Choo who started the Kim Choo Kueh Chang rice dumplings business in 1945, says this is part of an attempt to educate people on Peranakan culture and make it relevant to their lives.

The Rumah Kim Choo shophouse in 109 and 111 East Coast Road has a heritage gallery upstairs, and sells Peranakan collectibles as well as traditional food such as the family's signature glutinous rice dumplings.

Like the family's Kim Choo Kueh Chang store, Rumah Kim Choo belongs to Kim Choo Holdings.

Mr Wong's mother bought the two shophouse units during the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in Singapore in 2003, as she wanted to expand the business.

The building dates back to around 1928, but the Wongs do not know who the original occupants were. The people who were there just before them used to sell turtle soup, Mr Wong says. "Tanjong Katong", incidentally, means "turtle point" in Malay.

Few changes have been made to the original building since they moved in, says Mr Wong.

The old timber floorboards have been left intact. However, the windows have since been fitted with glass since the shophouse is air-conditioned.

Dr Julian Davison, author of Singapore Shophouse (2010), says the Katong area in the early days had holiday homes and beachfront bungalows. More shophouses and townhouses were built later on.

In the years between the wars, it was seen as a respectable middle-class neighbourhood and the shophouses in East Coast Road were occupied by members of Singapore's emerging middle class.

"After World War I, you see the beginnings of Singapore as a financial hub. The emerging middle class working in the city had money and didn't have to live in a squalid inner-city shophouse... Some moved into terrace houses in Koon Seng Road or buildings on East Coast Road."

The units occupied by Rumah Kim Choo are part of an area that has been conserved by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). The guidelines suggest ways of dealing with the "five-foot-way", the sheltered space below the shophouse.

Mr Wong, who grew up in the neighbourhood in the 1980s, has fond memories of the old kueh and putu piring sellers who used to ply their trade in the area.

"The Katong area is like a small Singapore on its own. It's so multicultural," he adds. "But rental has increased over the years and a lot of the old food is gone."

His brother Edmond Wong, 35, says: "We have seen a change in consumer behaviour. A lot of our visitors are now tourists... And a lot of Singaporeans visit the malls more."

 

Written by Toh Wen Li for The Straits Times. Click here to read the original story. 

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