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Bertha HarianBertha Harian

News Reports

Where’s my Katong?

This post has nothing to do with the news of the day. It’s personal and, therefore, totally unreasonable. You’ve been warned.

Two days ago, I spent a whole afternoon in my old stomping ground, Katong. I stomped and stomped. In frustration and rage.

You see, I am a Katong Girl. And I felt like I was in Holland Village.

As a young girl with a ponytail, I accompanied my late grandmother to Katong when she made her visits to nonya relatives. They were all on streets with names of fruits…Our visits would always include a visit to Tay Ban Guan, where she bought me my first Enid Blyton book. It would end with a pork satay treat at a coffeeshop on the main East Coast Road, at 10 cents a stick with a side of peanut and pineapple gravy. It was…expensive…

Of course, Tay Ban Guan has long been gone. And who knows what Red House is going to be like after its very extensive renovation? Definitely no bakery – not the dark and dingy one at any rate.

I went to Tanjong Katong Girls’ School, which is no longer along Tanjong Katong Road. My friends and I used to prowl the vicinity after school hours, marvelling at the wonders Katong Shopping Centre offered. It had Island supermarket on an upper floor which produced ice cream from a machine. Pioneer generation of supermarkets!

Island is long no more although Katong Shopping Centre is still there, filled with maid agencies and transfer maids. The only reminder of years past – it still has those stationery shops which let students do photocopying.  

I know Aston’s moved in some years ago. Brotzeit has set up shop as well, turfing out the tau kwa pau seller who has been moved from coffeeshop to coffeeshop in the area over the decades. Now that coffeeshop which was his last stand has gone German.

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That day, I walked along East Coast Road from Joo Chiat Road with a slightly enraged heart. There is only the 328 coffeeshop which sells laksa which feels remotely Katong-like. There is an upmarket Prata Place and all manner of upmarket American beer-and-burger joints. There is a Lower East Side, which is semi-Mexican, several Japanese restaurants, ice cream parlours , pancake places, pizza posts, and someone called Irene is selling Australian food. They all have fancy names, The Kitchenette and even a Rabbit, Carrot and Gun?

No need now to say “that coffeeshop along XX Road which has what and what’’.  I mean, I ask you, do you really notice coffeeshop names and use it when you recommend places to others?

Oh! Oh! There is an Alibahbar – a corner coffeeshop done up to look more high class. It seems to want to retain its coffeeshop credentials with local fare, except that it also sells French cuisine. Sniff..

It was in the afternoon about lunchtime. I would like to report that they were almost empty of patrons, except for 328 Laksa. Seems people preferred to eat at the basement coffeeshops in Katong Shopping Centre and Roxy Square – where I believe the “original’’ Katong laksa is. What a far cry from the days when the eateries would be filled with office workers at lunchtime! Patrons start filling up  the F&B places in the evening…and, at the risk of appearing xenophobic, most are non-Asians.    

The “lower class’’ section is further down East Coast Road towards Holy Family Church. I mean no disrespect with the term lower class. It’s a stretch which sells food at lower prices by people who didn’t give their eateries fancy names and which still has some old coffeeshops living and breathing. Chin Mee Chin is still around although Cona’s has long gone. So sugee cake can still be eaten in Katong.

More “locals’’ gather there. There is like some kind of invisible line drawn across East Coast Road. Maybe it’s a function of rents.

 My late father used to work in Joo Chiat Police Station which now houses some kind of Hong Kong eatery. He was known as the tua kow or Big Dog of Joo Chiat.The family could never walk through Katong when he was alive even after he retired without some stallholder or other coming up to shake his hand and press bags of fruit on him.   

He would turn in his urn to see Katong now.

Now even the not-so-old places has gone, like Chevy’s. Police broke up the last ever set of the band last Saturday, cutting off music mid-way. Seems residents nearby were complaining about the noise. You would think that the patrons lamenting the end of Chevy’s were rioting. They were, of course, drunk. But they were not disorderly.   

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I know I sound like an old woman, standing in the way of progress and change. I sound like a xenophobe; not at all cosmopolitan. The change over Katong has been happening over time but it seems to have escalated over the last two years or so.

Some semblance of “home’’ must remain in pockets of Singapore – or you will find us retreating into the HDB heartland and setting up barricades against “outsiders’’.   Already, I prefer spending more time in my more immediate neighbourhood, than venturing further afield, although gelato joints have started sprouting up….Sigh.

Heck! I AM an old woman…


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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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