Singapore Synagogues

Hi Everyone,

  So far during our travels we have experienced Chinese New Year in China and Ramadan in Indonesia.  In Singapore it was time to experience Jewish history.  Jews have been in Singapore since 1819 and there are 2 synagogues.  Monday I went to visit them and the National Library to finally take a look at the book The Jews of Singapore.   I took the MRT to Dhoby Ghaut and set off for Chesed El Synagogue.  Chesed El was the third synagogue to be built in Singapore, but since it was the farthest from the library which is nearer to the other synagogue. (The very first synagogue no longer exists having been outgrown and sold many many years ago.  Synagogue Street, where it was located, is still there.)     It wasn’t a long walk, but by then it was mid-morning and I was wishing I’d stopped for coffee near the MRT.  With help from my map and two friendly women, I found the correct road and climbed the hill to the synagogue.  I approached the closed gate and was told by the security guard that I couldn’t come inside the gate,  never mind go inside the synagogue.  Since I’m trying to see things not just for myself, but for everyone at home, being turned away was doubly disappointing.  Then he said something about no photos.  I understood him to mean no photos inside and assured him I wouldn’t take any; but he still said no.  So I walked back to the sidewalk and took some photos of the outside.  Then I crossed the road to see what the building with the Jewish star was across the street.  I looked in the window and then took some photos and that’s when the police arrived.  When you have totally no clue that you are doing something wrong; to have a rifle carrying (though very small) policeman and a larger plain clothed man confront you is extremely disconcerting and scary.  Not scary that they would shoot me; but when you’re alone, in a foreign country and officials ask to see your passport; it’s scary.  And of course, I don’t carry my passport so I can’t lose it.  Interestingly, even without showing them any ID, they believed everything I had to say about who I was and why I was there and that I was Jewish.  They asked me that right away and more than once.   They did, however, insist on seeing the photos I had taken.  Luckily none was of the second building, a small school which concerned them the most.   They explained, it was feared,  that photos being on the web with locations would help terrorists attack the buildings.  I was astounded for several reasons.  Being Jewish it was so very odd to be accused of wanting to hurt Jews or anybody for that matter!  Secondly, I had found everything about the synagogue already posted on the web and indicated on my Singapore city map.  It is an official historic landmark. The plain clothed man said he was just doing his job, and that being Jewish I should understand.  Maybe I do and maybe I don’t.  If dressed appropriately, I have never been stopped form entering any other religious institution that I can remember.  Photos though are always iffy, but more from respect than fear.  So I sort of told off this guy in a rather teary way, though then also said that I understood. And when I mentioned our website, he was very vague about telling me that I should or shouldn’t post the photos.  Two opinions from the same man and he wasn’t even Jewish.  Actually, my guess is that he was Muslim since the synagogue is in what is now a Muslim neighborhood. The policeman looked Chinese.   It was definitely becoming a lesson in politics along with religious history.  Then both of the men left me standing there somewhat stunned.  Meanwhile, across the street, an older gentleman was waving from behind the synagogue fence.  Oiy I thought, does he want to yell at me too?  I walked over and immediately apologized for causing trouble.  He waved away my apology, invited me in and said to take all of the photos I wanted.  Wow!  That was a turn of events.  I went in still feeling somewhat of an intruder having caused such a big to do!   I also began to wonder about my shorts and sleeveless shirt.  I certainly wouldn’t have entered a mosque dressed like that.  At least I had my head covered, albeit with a Red Sox hat.  And I wished that I had already skimmed

The Jews of Singapore so had more questions.  I did later that day at the National Library.    Anyway, I was told that this was a Sephardik synagogue different from the Ashkenazim I had grown up in when I asked about the platform in the middle of the room. He was a very nice man and if services weren’t at 7 something in the morning, I would go.  But the first bus doesn’t even leave the marina until 7:30 am.  And, though you can find photos and addresses for the Chesed El Synagogue on the web, I’ll not post them.  I’ll just post the ones I took inside. 

Chesed El was built as a private synagogue by Sir Manasseh Meyer.  It was on his property next to his home.  To have a service requires a minyan, traditionally 10 men.  Because of the location of Chese El there weren’t enough Jews in the area to make up a minyan so Meyer had to have them brought to Chesed El.  I  read one story saying he actually had to pay them and that eventually they struck for more pay.  Oiy!!!

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  The Bima with the Torah                                                                      Close-up of the decorative work                                This is where the Rabbi leads the service located in the center of the room.

So then I thanked the kind man who seemed as if he had seen it all already anyway, made a small donation, and left.  I wasn’t sure then how I felt about the whole thing, and still don’t.  I walked back to Orchard Rd and towards the second synagogue almost stopping at the Coffee Bean for a drink, but decided I didn’t need a Starbucks’ priced cup of tea.  Should have stopped there since it is mentioned as being started and owned by one of the Jewish leading lights of Singapore.  Instead I continued on to the Maghain Aboth Synagogue on Waterloo Road.   It turned out to be just across the street from the art museum.  When I walked out the door of the museum gift shop, if I had just looked across the street I would have seen it.  So I was surprised when I finally discovered that fact.  There was a gate too and a guard house.  So I went expecting another “interview.”  But no, they were lots looser.  It was just that some VIPs were coming in 5 minutes to visit the synagogue, and I sort of would be in the way so I should come back at 2 pm.  It was 11:00 am but I figured this was my day for synagogues so I would come back.  I continued walking and was soon at the Bras Basha Complex at my favorite used book shop.  I bought 2 books @ 2 Sing dollars each and continued to the National Library, just next door.   They have a small restaurant and I could order the mushroom breakfast omelet because it was before 11:30 am.  It came with toast and tea. 

clip_image008  Here’s my tea and I’m waiting for the omelet to be delivered.  Total cost 5.20 Sing which is what a small drink in The Coffee Bean cost.

After lunch I went into the library to the 7th floor reference room.  I knew they had a copy of The Jews of Singapore and also a pictorial history of the Tanjong Pagar area.  Backpacks aren’t allowed but they have free lockable lockers.  I went into the reference room looked up the books’, call numbers.  The reference librarian told they were on the 11th floor.  I went up there, found the books and spent about an hour reading and freezing since I had left my shawl in my backpack.  Most tables were at least half full so I shared with two men.  The place was quiet!  I skimmed both books.  The Jews…told lots about the growth of Singapore and its history up to the present.   The Tanjong Pagar book seemed to be filled with mostly photos form the 1960s and I was more interested in the early history.  About 1:30 I gathered up my stuff, put the books in the “to be reshelved” bin, and went down to retrieve my backpack.  Then, since Commercial Straits Arts was just across the road, I went there to buy some more watercolor paper.  It isn’t easy to find art supplies when out cruising, so I wanted to stock up a little at a time.  I learned about the cotton content of the paper because the people who work there are very knowledgeable and patient.  I paid up, went outside and watched the sky open.  It was a downpour.  So I went back across the street to the library to the circulating books to browse the watercolor books.  There were absolutely no seat there.  All of the tables and chairs were full and the upholstered benches along the walls were occupied too.  I just sat down, yet again with 2 men where there was room for four on some very large benches.  I skimmed the books for a while until I guessed the rain had stopped.  The circulating library is in the basement of the National Library building so it was hard to tell what the weather was doing.  The place was packed but quiet.  It was good to see a library so busy and it still will be my biggest disappointment that I can’t have a card.

Back outside and the rain had mostly stopped.  I walked back to the Maghain Aboth Synagogue.  The guard opened the gate and told me I had to leave my stuff with him and just take my wallet and camera.  I joked that I would be sorry without my umbrella if it started to rain again.  He said there were umbrellas in the Synagogue to use to walk back to the small guardhouse. ( It did rain, and no there were no umbrellas, but the distance was short and I walked fast. )  I also had to show him my Virginia Driver’s License which I do carry and he wrote stuff down and gave me a visitor sticker.  Then I walked over, went in, took the photos, and came out.  There was no one inside to answer questions.  Too bad.  I might have to go back.  There is a small restaurant in the Jewish Community Building next door. 

clip_image009 clip_image011  This is the ladies entrance.

Both synagogues have the center platform where the rabbi leads the service.  They both have balconies.  They both have separate seating for the women since they are Orthodox synagogues.  You can see a Persian rug on the floor, very appropriate since many of the Jews came from India.

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       The front of the Synagogue                                                                        Looking across Waterloo to the Singapore Art Museum.  I would suspect the sink is so men can wash before they enter to pray.

By then it was about 3:30 and I was ready to head home which is how I feel about the boat.  I learned that Dhoby Ghaut was even closer than the Bugis MRT and didn’t require train changing so walked back to where I had started earlier that morning.  It was definitely an experience.  I guess that I expected more, but then maybe they did too.  After all, being Jewish maybe they thought I should want something more from the synagogues than quick photos.  I kinda did and kinda didn’t.  Maybe I’ll go back and learn a little more.  If we were to be here longer, I definitely would.  But two months goes so fast and you have too little time to be repeating too many things.  So we’ll see.  Afterall, it’s just a short walk from the Library. 

The following information comes from The Jewish Welfare Board

Singapore is a melting pot of both East and West. Caught betwixt and between the different cultures, this tiny but vibrant island commands an elite position in East Asia. From its colonial days, Singapore has positioned itself as a major port-of-call and has grown into a world-class financial center. Singapore has, from her early independent days, positioned herself to become one of the world’s biggest business and finance centers. And from Singapore’s colonial days, the Jews of Singapore have contributed productively to the nation’s success and development story.
The first Jews to settle there were of Baghdadi origin, mainly from India, who migrated to Singapore when Sir Stamford Raffles established Singapore as a trading post in Singapore in 1819, to find new opportunities.
A couple of decades after the Sultan in 1824 sold the 200 square mile area to England, the Jewish community was large enough to build a synagogue, in 1840, seating 40 persons on what is still known as “Synagogue Street” in the what is now the Financial District.
Within thirty years, the community had blossomed immensely, necessitating the building of a larger Synagogue. In 1875 the community purchased land on what was then called “Church Street” to build a larger Synagogue. In 1878, Maghain Aboth Synagogue was established. It is now the oldest synagogue in East Asia.
An interesting and influential figure at the turn of the century was Sir Manasseh Meyer. A rich Jew (who was then probably the wealthiest in the Far East), he was knighted by Queen Victoria for his part in raising the cultural level of the Singapore territory.  In 1905, due to an increase in population and conflict with some of the community members, he built his own synagogue, Chesed El, on his private estate. His son, Reuben, also endorsed a community centre in his name. Both synagogues have been gazetted as national monuments by the Singapore government.
The 1931 census records that the 832 Jews and the larger number of Arab residents were the largest house property owners in the city.
There were over 1,500 Jewish inhabitants by 1939, when World War II broke out, and the Japanese took over Singapore, The Rock of the East, in a daring surprise attack. Many of the Jews were interned by the Japanese, who were part of the Axis Powers during World War II. After the war, a number subsequently emigrated to Australia, England, the United States, and Israel. As a result, by the late 1960s the community dwindled to approximately 450.
As trade opportunities increased so did the wealth, influence and population of the Jewish community. Apart from their contribution to commerce, Jews have taken a considerable part in political life and in 1955 David T. Marshall, a Jew of Iraq origins, became the first chief minister of the Republic, while Dr. Yayah Cohen became Surgeon General.
Today, there are just over 300 hundred local Jews left, together with the many expatriates and foreign workers, the Singapore Jewish community holds steady at approximately 1000. Both synagogues are active. Despite the small numbers, our community has much to offer her members; a good Jewish education for the youth, weekly discussions, up to the minute gossip and Sabbath luncheons and dinners, which will help to keep the spark burning for generations to come.
The Maghain Aboth Synagogue is open throughout the year, with thrice daily services, while Chesed El conducts Monday morning services and opens throughout the High Holidays. The synagogue is the nucleus of the community. It embodies a sense of unity and perseverance.
The Jewish Welfare Board, a committee of volunteers elected yearly by the Community oversees and manages the community’s affairs
Our Rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai and his wife Simcha Abergel have been serving the community tirelessly and assiduously for over 15 years providing many new facilities and services never experienced before in Singapore, and continue to do so together with our most recent addition, Rabbi Netanel Rivni and his wife, who arrived in 2007.
In each of the last seven years, Chabad has sent a group of their students to help out with the Singapore Jewish community
With the efforts and influence of Mrs. Simcha Abergel and a team of dedicated parents, a Jewish Nursery Day School “Ganenu” was set up. With over 70 children, its students include children from the local community, and expatriates. Ganenu, in the coming will, God willing, see an expansion into primary school, starting with year one and adding as the years progress. Within a few years we should see a fully functional school, providing a Jewish education for all our children, for all ages.
In 2007, a new Jewish community centre opened next door to the Maghain Aboth Synagogue, the Jacob Ballas Centre, named for a local Jewish stock broker, once was chairman of the Singapore Stock Exchange. In this remarkable testament to a great man, all of the Jewish communities’ immediate needs are provided for. It contains offices and apartments for the Rabbis and the Yeshivah Boys, it also has a women’s Mikvah, a slaughtering room for fresh kosher organic chickens, a full service restaurant, a kosher shop and a social hall for Shabbat kiddushes and other functions.
The legacy of a number of Jewish people lives on as seen on the names of various buildings, roads and institutions. Some buildings bear the Star of David, concrete proof of a once wealthy Jewish family. Apart from their contribution to commerce, Jews have taken a considerable part in political life and in 1955 David T. Marshall became the first chief minister of the Republic.

Tanjong Pagar

Hi Everyone,

  More photos from Tanjong Pagar.

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These are the top floors of a restaruant/bar just down the street from MyArtSpace.  These giant Chinese opera masks must be amazing to see lit up at night. 

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“Here among the din of clanging trays, the shouted orders, the tropical heat, and the smells of fermented fish paste, ginger, and curry is a gastronomic and cultural experience that can be had only in Singapore.”    Only the Zhen Zhen Porridge stall was ever really crowded.  My guess is that weekday lunch is the busiest time and I’m in class. ( I just noticed the ghost woman in the left side of the photo. )  I had a roti here before my second art lesson.  But in Sungei Rengit the customer waits for the roti and here the roti was waiting for me so it wasn’t as good.  But I had a great lamb roti for lunch on Arab Street yesterday when Lang and I met there for lunch.  It’s all called hawker food.  “Well, they are called hawker centers, named after the hawkers (callers) who used to go around the neighborhood crying out to advertise the food that they had to offer (”get your fresh fishball noodles here!!”).

clip_image008 clip_image010 clip_image012  Interesting place; out of our budget even if we didn’t have a boat to stay on.  Lots of red, black.  But not only at The Scarlet Hotel. 

clip_image013 clip_image015 clip_image017  Museum brochure                              window reflection                              The Traffic building, very red!

“In November 2005, a second red dot design museum opened in Singapore. It is located in the red dot Traffic, an impressive colonial style building which used to be the headquarters of the traffic police. Today, the building painted in bright red is the creative centre of Singapore and the red dot museum is its main attraction. Apart from the red dot design museum the red dot Traffic houses creative companies such as advertising agencies and design studios.”   

The 1st weekend of each month is MAAD,  a Market of Artists And Designers. “An excuse to do something more exciting with your life. A space for exhibiting, performing, selling, shopping, chit-chatting, surprising and experimenting. A much cheaper and fulfilling alternative to a country club membership. A campaign to save, support and sustain Singapore’s creative souls. A chance to try something for the first time. A place that does not discriminate against pet-owners or small children.”    I will certainly try to go since it’s free. And I’d really like to see the inside of this building. And my nephew might be disappointed if I don’t since he has a Master’s in Industrial Design. 

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“The Jinrikisha Station in Neil Road was constructed in 1903 to ease the heavy load of the (rickshaw) Station in Middle Road. It stands on a triangular plot at the junction of Neil Road and Tanjong Pagar Road and has a curved corner at the junction of these two roads. An extra story was added to the roof, a lantern-shaped structure. Today the Jinrikisha Station building is a seafood restaurant. The Middle Road Station (Office of the Registrar of Vehicles) until recently served as the Work Permit Office of the Ministry of Labour.
   The jinrikisha was invented in Japan in 1869. It meant ‘man-powered carriage’; in the Jinrikisha Ordinance it means ‘a wheeled vehicle for the conveyance of passengers drawn by one or more men.’ The jinrikisha was introduced to Singapore in 1880 from Shanghai. It became the main mode of transport in Singapore and the cheapest. In Malay the jinrikisha was called ‘kreta Hong Kong’. The jinrikisha provided additional employment for a section of the Chinese immigrants in the Colony. The owners of the jinrikisha came from South China primarily from Foochow and Canton. There were about 1000 owners in the 19th century and each 1 to 20 jinrikishas which had to be registered and licensed. These owners hired them out to pullers on two shifts: 6 a.m to 2.p.m. and 3 p.m. to midnight; sometimes the shift ran from 5p.m. to 3 a.m. the following morning. The jinrikisha took the largest proportion of the traffic in the Colony; it was also the cheapest and the most convenient for commuters. The distance the jinrikisha carried its passengers extended from several hundred yards to about two miles. By the early 20th century the jinrikisha became the pride of the road and it was patronised by shoppers, hawkers, colonial officials tourists and even prostitutes. the jinrikisha and their pullers became part of the scene near hotels, markets and in business districts; they could be seen plying in South Bridge Road, New Bridge Road, Collyer Quay, Raffles Place and Tank Road. The pullers particularly competed for the right to operate the lucrative Raffles Hotel pitch. In 1923 about 400 of the pullers fought for this right. The Duxton area in Tanjong Pagar used to be the battleground where pullers from different clans fought one another often to protect their monopoly of the jinrikisha trade. The jinrikisha pullers were hard-working and suffered to earn a meager livelihood. They were exploited by their prosperous owners who collected a very high percentage of their earnings. The owners made a fortune; the cost of a jinrikisha was $25 and its licence $12 per annum. The fare generally was 3 cents for half a mile or 20 cents for one hour; between 1904 and 1916 the rate was 50 to 60 cents per day for a first-class jinrikisha (a puller and a runner behind it for the safety of the passenger) and 15 to 32 cents for a second class one. The Europeans were selective; they looked for pullers who were strong, experienced and had muscular legs! The pullers lived in lodging houses in different parts of the town; these were known as jinrikisha depots. They had inadequate ventilation, they were foul and thick with filth; they were breeding grounds for cholera. These depots had one or more large rooms; the average had two to three rooms and the largest six to nine rooms in the building. The pullers slept on wooden beds in tiers, on canvas or straw cots in the centre of the room and on the floor in the passageway. In the early 20th century one of the major occupational groups residing in Tanjong Pagar were the jinrikisha pullers and one of the depots was located at 135 Tanjong Pagar Road.
The pullers were bachelors in their early twenties. They were young men in search of a livelihood and experience. They generally returned to China with their hard-earned savings every 6 to 10 years. Though life was tough the pullers kept up their morale with a quasi-kinship that bound them to each other. Some of them married young women between the ages of 16 to 20; most did not marry because they did not see a future in Singapore and therefore did not raise a family here.
The jinrikisha traffic increased as the years went by and the population of Singapore grew. As the jinrikisha was a means of transport on public roads the Singapore Municipality established a Jinriksha Department in 1888 to register the vehicle. The necessary Ordinance was passed for its periodic inspection; it also provided for fines and even seizure of the vehicle in certain circumstances.
The Jinrikisha Department coped with the ever increasing number of pullers by renting houses in Beach Road, South Bridge Road and Fort Canning for the inspection and registration of jinrikishas. It became necessary to build a new headquarters. A multi-storey department was built in 1899 at a cost of $34,000 at the junction of Middle Road and Prinsep Street. The quadrangle was used for inspecting vehicles and the ground floor for impounding them. The building had quarters for officers and the Registrar’s Court.
The implementation of the Ordinance was not an easy task; there were grievances by both the owners and their pullers and these led to four major jinrikisha strikes in 1903, 1919, 1920 and 1938.”
Jinrikisha Station
by : Mr Dhoraisingam S. Samuel   from  hopefully it’s accurate.  It is pretty interesting. 

Ruth Johnson



3rd Art Class


Hi Everyone,

    Our instructors say, “It’s okay; learn from your mistakes.”  I’m definitely learning a lot because most of what I do is mistakes.  This is very much the work of a beginner.


My Philippine supermarket dresses.  I had photographed them “having a party” on the boat.  But there is so much detail I was so far over my head trying to paint them. And I didn’t draw enough of the detail first and then I drew it so light I couldn’t see it when I started to paint.   And I thought we were supposed to finish the painting during the class time so I rushed which didn’t help.  It still isn’t done and it will be interesting to see what it finally looks like.  I will have to try a second attempt.  In these art classes each person does her own thing.  I use the pronoun her because there are only women.  Older, younger, locals and visitors like me.  They were all painting with oils, many pointing out to me how much more forgiving oils were because you can paint over areas to “fix” things.   Try that with watercolor, especially when the paint is still wet and you make a huge mess.  The teacher comes around and gives guidance.  There were times when I dreaded when he would come to me because though I don’t know how to do things right, I know when they are wrong.  But it is the point of taking classes and he just reminds me what to do and that helps me to remember hopefully preventing the same mistake in the future.   After class I had lunch with a lovely young woman from Manchester, England living here for several years because of her husband’s work.  She, however,  is having a difficult time finding work so she is taking these art classes and also volunteering at an afterschool program helping kids with homework.  She showed me how to get from our art class to the Chinatown MRT.  I had been taking the Tanjong Pagar MRT which involved changing trains and the Chinatown line is direct to Harbourfront.  Chinatown was jam packed with tourists.  It was hot and by the time I got back to the boat, I was pooped.  But it is a good experience and all of the women are very encouraging of each other.

clip_image004  The studio.  Unfortunately they charge for studio time so you can’t just hang out.  It’s fair since they have to pay their bills too.

clip_image006  You come up the really slow elevator to the 4th floor, walk out the double doors onto this balcony.  It would be wonderful to just sit there.  There is no charge for that so I might just do it one day.  Unfortunately this area isn’t open before class.  Our teacher comes about 9:45 to unlock the 4th floor and class starts at 10 sharp.  It ends at 12:30 so there is no time to waste.

clip_image007 The view from the balcony.  The long building across the street with the first floor archways was a “stable” for rickshaws.  More about that in another email. 

clip_image008 The ground floor cafe. Randal and I ate there when we came to find out about the classes. If you stand next to the tree and looked up you would see the balcony outside the studio. 

Not far from here people live and work in those lovely shophouses.  I could easily live in a neighborhood like this and am getting spoiled rotten the longer we stay!  Of course if we stayed 6 months I could have a library card.  And I like the area around Little India too.  So much to like about Singapore

Ruth Johnson


Shophouses correction and addition

Hi Everyone, again

I just came across this article in the magazine database I access with my Roanoke County Public Library card.  It’s an article from the International Herald Tribune about shophouses.  It won’t go on because it’s copywritten, but I thought it does explain a good bit about shophouses.  The ventilation comes from a central airwell and not the windows.  Maybe you could change that Audrey on the blog.  Anyway…if you’re interested you can read this.  If not, don’t worry, there’s no test.



Shophouse fulfills a Singapore dream.(Finance).Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop. International Herald Tribune (Feb 6, 2009): p.14. (995 words) From Military & Intelligence Database

Full Text:COPYRIGHT 2009 International Herald Tribune

Byline: Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop

SINGAPORE — After renting one of Singapore’s historic shophouses for almost two years, Marcel Heijnen, 44, dreamed of buying a similar place but thought he could never afford it.Then, despite all the odds, the Dutch expatriate and his girlfriend Dawn Mok, now his wife, found what they were looking for on their first day of house-hunting in late 2001.”The price was 710,000 Singapore dollars, which was actually quite cheap for this type of house, because the previous owner was desperate to sell it,” the graphic designer recalled. That was about $473,000.”But we had to decide immediately because the house was going to be repossessed by his bank unless he sold it, so we had to make a decision nearly on the spot.”He added: “I remember thinking it felt large. It just felt right.”Shophouses, the two- or three-story row buildings used for residential or commercial purposes, or a mix of both, were introduced to Singapore in the 19th century by Chinese merchants and Arab and Jewish developers.The traditional structures typically have a narrow frontage, sometimes as little as four meters, or 13 feet, but are quite deep, sometimes extending all the way to the alleys between blocks. Many also include a kind of central airwell, a feature incorporated from traditional southern Chinese urban architecture, to provide ventilation and light.Along the front of each row of houses runs what is called a “five-foot way” – a covered walkway, sometimes more than five feet wide, formed by the overhang of the upper floors, a design legacy attributed to Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore as a British colonial outpost.The city-state demolished many of the houses as part of its modernization in the 1960s and ’70s, but some remain, though not always in good condition.Renovated units usually have colorful facades, often with European-inspired neoclassical motifs and louver windows, and are in demand among home buyers.They typically sell for around 2.5 million to 3 million dollars on the east coast and as much as 5 million to 8 million dollars in the prime areas like Emerald Hill, off Orchard Road, said Susan Ye, managing director of the Isabel Redrup Agency, which specializes in the historic properties. They typically rent for 6,000 to 13,000 dollars a month, she added.The Heijnens’s house, which dates from the 1930s and which they own freehold, had been renovated and extended by its previous owner so the couple had to do only minor renovations when they moved in, spending about 50,000 dollars to attach a new bathroom to the master bedroom, install a kitchen and recondition the floors.”The house had actually been used as a shop and storage space for Chinese antiques, so the space was very bare. But one of the advantages of the previous owner’s trade was that he had replaced the first floor flooring with wood that he had salvaged from an old bungalow. Our floors are probably older than our house,” Heijnen said.”He also used his contacts in the trade in Indonesia to have some woodcarvings made for the fanlights above some of the doors and windows,” he added. “These carvings are not original to these houses, and we can see from our neighbors that window mesh would have been put in those fanlights, but they still look very nice.”The 280-square-meter, or 3,000-square-foot, house is typically narrow – just 4.8 meters wide and 23 meters deep – and stands on about 125 square meters of land. A visitor immediately steps into Heijnen’s office, before moving on toward the large kitchen and dining area at the back of the house.Upstairs there is a living room, with the master bedroom and bathroom at the rear. His wife’s office is on the third floor.One of the downsides of these long and narrow row houses is that they can be fairly dark inside.To remedy that, the Heijnens decided in 2004 to create a large airwell, a vertical shaft from the ground floor through to the pitched roof. This major structural work, which forced the couple to leave the house for two months, also provided an opportunity to make some repairs to the previous owner’s renovations. In all, the work cost $120,000.The couple also had to seek permission from the Urban Redevelopment Authority to keep some of the detailing on the facades, including some old decorative tiles from Malacca and wood carvings. The items had been installed by the previous owner but were not in keeping with the original facade, which is covered by a conservation program.Heijnen said their architect managed to persuade the authorities to allow them to keep the detailing and to permit the construction of a short staircase to the attic.”It’s quite nice to know that the authorities here are slightly flexible, because they do want these old properties to be preserved,” he added.Since then, the couple bought a plot at the back of their house for $35,000. Although small, the additional space allowed them to replace the kitchen wall with floor-to-ceiling sliding doors, which let in a lot of additional light.”The house has been a slow labor of love, evolving with us,” Heijnen said. “The best points of living in such a house is the character, the feel of the place and the very high ceilings. We also love our neighborhood and I like it that when you step out of the house you’re onto the sidewalk. Some people might think it’s not safe, but really it’s not an issue in Singapore.”He added: “Maybe one downside is the layout, which is O.K. if you don’t have children or guests. But because the house is narrow, you don’t have much space you can close off, so just about everything becomes a walkway to the next space.”The couple is mulling more renovations because the large attic space above the living room could be converted into a second bedroom. “I wouldn’t mind knocking out the ceiling and opening it up,” Heijnen said. “More for the visual space than to create a mezzanine.”

Source Citation:Kolesnikov-Jessop, Sonia. “Shophouse fulfills a Singapore dream.(Finance).” International Herald Tribune (Feb 6, 2009): 14. Military & Intelligence Database. Gale. Remote Access. 18 Feb. 2009


Sentosa Island, Singapore

Hi Everyone,
  Bugis is one of those words that would make an American kid laugh and a parent frown when hearing their child say Bugis, Bugis, Bugis.  In some ways that would be an accurate assessment.  According to Wikepedia,  “Bugis Street, in the city-state of Singapore, was renowned internationally from the 1950s to the 1980s for its nightly gathering of transwomen, a phenomenon which made it one of Singapore’s top tourist destinations during that period. Underground digging to construct the Bugis MRT station prior to that also caused the upheaval and termination of nightly transgender sex bazaar culture, marking the end of a colourful and unique era in Singapore’s history.  An attempt by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board to bring back the former glamor was unsuccessful.”     It goes on to explain where the name Bugis originated.  “According to knowledgeable long-term residents of the area, before the arrival of the British, there used to be a large canal which ran through the area where the Bugis, a seafaring people from South Sulawesi province in Indonesia, could sail up, moor their boats and trade with Singaporean merchants.It was these people after whom the thoroughfare was named. The Bugis, or Buginese, also put their sailing skills to less benign uses and gained a reputation in the region as being a race of bloodthirsty pirates.”  When we were in Makassar,  which is in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, our guide Ruslie said the same thing about the Buginese seafarers.  But what Bugis means to me is National Library, the Bras Basah Complex with lots of great used books stores, Commercial Straits Art Co, Art Friend, the Singapore Art Museum and lots of places I haven’t yet discovered. 

  I spent most of Thursday visiting most of those places. 

clip_image002  Before leaving the boat I made sure I had (top to bottom) my Singpore map, blue MRT card for the Singapore subway system, white One15 Marina card for buses to and from Sentosa Island, the MRT map, the street atlas page with the library and other good places high-lighted in yellow, the Sentosa Island and the one15 bus schedules and the Vivo City Mall directory in case I absolutely couldn’t avoid going to Vivo City Mall for printer paper.  I also had my phone..not in the picture.  Randal and I left the marina on the 9:15 Blue Sentosa Island bus.  It dropped us off at the entrance to the mall and we walked to the MRT entrance.  Randal was going off to do his thing and I to do mine, but we both were headed the same way on the MRT.  I got off at the Bugis MRT and by 10:15 I was at the National Library Central Library.

clip_image004  from Wikepedia

I spent almost 2 hours browsing the really large watercolor collection choosing the ones with “The Beginner” in the title.   I was in the part of the library with the circulating collection and it was quite busy which was nice to see.  But it was quiet and roomy and very comfortable.  The staff was very helpful too.  I would have stayed much longer, but the Singapore Art Museum has free admission hours between noon and 2 pm. 

Before I went off to the museum I had to,  HAD TO  stop at the Commercial Straits Art Co. just across North Bridge Street from the library.   Luckily the library and the museum are free!  Then it was off to the museum which was just a fast 10 minute walk.

The regular admission to the museum is 8 Sing dollars, about $5.50 US.  That’s not tons of money, but free is better.   is the link to the museum page that shows photos of the building which had originally been a Catholic School.

clip_image006  photo from Wikepedia

Much of the collection was too modern and performace related for me, but I really liked the 3rd floor gallery with the current exhibition of local artists.  is a link to the The Angkatan Pelukis Aneka Daya (Association of Artists of Various Resources) known as APAD, founded on 29 July 1962.  The exhibit included some wonderful watercolor paintings.  I did stop at the Museum shop and spent just $4 US.  As I was finally leaving the museum I thanked the man at the desk for having the free hours.  He asked me to do a quick survey and then gave me a free museum bag!

By then it was about 2:15 and I still had to buy computer paper and get some food!  I walked into the Raffles City Mall which has an MRT stop attached but in the entire mall there was not one place to buy computer paper.  At least that’s what a very knowledgeable local told me.  She said the electronics shop on the 3rd floor might…..  I just left and continued walking back towards the library and went next door to the Bras Basha Complex where along with used book shops they have stores that do sell computer paper.  I bought some, the 100 gram weight and put it into my new museum bag.  Then it was off for lunch at the Toast Box which I had eyed earlier in the day.

clip_image008  Kaya Toast  photo from

It looked exactly like this.  It tasted just like toast with butter and marmalade.  I was starving and the toast and tea at the Toast Box were just as wonderful as High Tea at Raffles Hotel which I doubt we’ll do since men must wear long pants and Randal has vowed never to do that again.  It took longer to convince the cashier that I wanted to order tea with no milk or sugar than to gobble down my toast and tea. The British drink tea with milk and sugar so it is supposed that all westerners do the same.  I knew the toast would have enough sugar without adding more to the tea.    “Kaya, also called srikaya (from the word meaning “rich” in Malay based on its golden color) or coconut egg jam, is a coconut jam made from coconut milk, duck or chicken eggs which are flavored by pandan leaf and sweetened with sugar. The spread originated in Southeast Asia, most likely Indonesia or Malaysia. This is reflected by its tropical ingredients santan (coconut milk) and pandan leaf. Kaya is sweet and creamy, available as a golden brown or green colored spread depending on the amount of pandan and extent of caramelization of the sugar. As with other jams, kaya is typically spread on toast to make kaya toast and eaten in the morning but is enjoyed throughout the day. It is also used with glutinous rice to make kuih seri kaya.”  Wikepedia  

Then it was time to Go Home!  I found my way back to the Bugis MRT.  At HarbourFront caught the 3:15 bus back to Sentosa Cove and was back on the boat before 4. 

You can see from this email that I didn’t have my camera with me.  I have found it almost impossible to buy AA batteries that last longer than 20 photos and many batteries won’t work at all. The fact the Duracell is going to be made in China is not encouraging.   The local Giant brand wouldn’t take even one photo.  So I’m going back to my old Kodak with the lithium rechargeable.  Also,  I knew that no photos would be allowed in either the library or museum.  And though I know everything on Wikepedia isn’t accurate, by their own admission, the photos are not copywritten and they do have info you can’t find easily about local kinds of things. 

clip_image010  Remember the game, “In my bag I have..” and you would go through the alphabet naming everything in the bag.  All my bags were full by the time I got home.  That was another reason I didn’t take the camera; I had enough to carry.  But from now on I will.  I miss it when I don’t have it.

clip_image012  Water, sweater for the AC in buildings and MRT, umbrella for the afternoon rain, stuff I bought at the art store, freebies from the library, a “thing” from the museum shop and my museum gift bag that carried the photocopier paper home.  I had the small sketch book thinking I would have time to sketch.  Next time.  It certainly felt heavier than it looks.  By the time I have the umbrella, sweater, water bottle, pocketbook, maps, keys, camera in my backpack, it already weight a ton. 

Ruth Johnson


First art class

Sentosa, Singapore

Hi Everyone,

Had my first watercolor art class today. There were 5 of us.  Three of us were taught in English and 2 in Mandarin though I think they too understood English.   Very humbling to actually try to paint watercolor that looks like real watercolor and not like watery acrylic.  The class started promptly at 10 am and ended 15 minutes late at 12:45.  An acrylics class was to begin at 1 pm so our instructor Shan had to make us stop and clean up.   We all would have sat there for several more hours trying to fix our mistakes….which you mostly can’t do.  But as Shan says, you can learn from them.  shows pictures of the studio and the building housing it and the Art Cafe.

Our Instructor  (from the MyArtSpace website)


Wen Shan

“After graduating with a diploma in fine art, Wen Shan spent 2 years in
Paris to learn French and major in life drawing. He passed the Test de
Connexion de Francais and mastered the fine art of life drawing at
Atelier Beaux-Arts de Mairie de Paris. The capital of the arts offered him
ample opportunities to meet artists from different parts of the world and
to be inspired by the dynamic arts scene.
As an instructor, Wen Shan’s primary role is to inspire and maintain
participants’ interest in art. He believes that critical thinking, self-critique
and learning from mistakes are important approaches in learning art.
Wen Shan offers guidance to learners in developing their own style and
statements through self searching and appreciating masterpieces.
To sharpen his sensitivity of seeing, Wen Shan keeps his hands busy
with still life, portrait and life drawing.”

Shan was informal, encouraging and professional.  He didn’t let us get away with mistakes.  He told us what was wrong and how to fix it, or in my case a few times, fixed it himself.  The students were all supportive of each other too.  There were 4 women and one young man and from what I could see we were all beginners.   I’ll take some photos of them next time if they don’t mind and of the class/studio too.  During the class we are all pretty focused on just trying to do our painting.  The time just flew!

Shan gave us a few instructions and then told us to draw the still life composition.  When we had been drawing for a bit Shan demonstrated the correct way to get the objects placed correctly on the paper.  He helped us see the relationship between the 3 objects,  the positive shapes of the objects and the negative spaces between the objects. 

clip_image003 Our subject.

Then came the even harder part, painting with watercolor.  We worked with only one color and changed its lightness or darkness by varying the amount of paint and the amount of water.  Something that sounds so simple as painting with one color and water truly takes a great deal of skill.  And lots of practice!

clip_image005  First  we had to practice washes.  Mine aren’t so good.  The ones on the left are too uneven. The ones on the right were to go smoothly from light to dark and dark to light.  My transitions aren’t good. 

clip_image006  It actually looks better in this photo than it does in real life.   I don’t usually paint on such large paper and lost track of my paint and what I wanted to do.  I painted the larger areas too slowly and the small areas too fast.  The bottle shadow is totally wrong.  BUT…I did see what I was supposed to be trying to do so I will practice.  It was interesting painting with only one color and water. 

It was a really good first class and I am eager to return next Saturday.  I had no problems getting myself back and forth from the class.  I left the boat at 8 am and caught the 8 15 Sentosa bus to the Harbourfront MRT, switched trains at Outram Park and got off at the Tanjong Pagar MRT.  I stopped to buy a new umbrella at the small wet market near the MRT and, even with stopping to take photos as I walked, was still over an hour early.  The studio didn’t open until 9:50 so I just wandered around.  That was fine, it’s an interesting area,  but that left no time to talk with the other students.  Actually only Janell (I think that is her name) and I were early.  The others were actually 10 to 15 minutes late!  Because I had to pay for a few supplies after class I didn’t get to chat with the others then either.  Next time.  If you look at the Wikepedia article about the area of Tanjong Pagar they do a pretty good job.  I need to do some more research before I write about it. 

Ruth Johnson


Art Classes

Hi Everyone,

I signed up for watercolor classes today!  I had discovered the classes searching the Internet;  had an email exchange with the director ; and today Randal and I went to see the studio. offers intro classes and then some follow-up sessions.  I’ll take 6 sessions, each lasting 2 and a half hours.  The first one is this Saturday at 10 am.  It takes about 40 minutes to get there, so I’ll leave the boat at 8 am just in case!  The studio neighborhood seems great for exploring. It looks to be part of Chinatown.  To get there we took the Sentosa bus to the HarbourFront MRT stop and took the MRT one stop, to Outram Park on the NE line.  There we changed trains and took the EW green line train one stop to the Tanjong Pagar MRT station.  “fm tanjong pagar mrt station , walk towards maxwell road and / or  tanjong pagar road.we are near maxwell food centre, behind fairfield methodist church.”   Those were Kathryn’s direction.  It was a 10 minute walk from the MRT station to the wonderful building where MyArtSpace is located on the 4th floor. 

When we first walked in I thought, “No way can I take classes with these people; they already know how to paint.”  But Angie Chan who runs welcomed us (as she was turning on the lights having just arrived herself)  and assured me that beginners were truly welcomed and encouraged.  Actually MyArtSpace wasn’t open on Wednesdays, but since we were there she called the manager to see if he were coming in. He would be there in 5 minutes!  Chankerk, the manager and also one of my future teachers was also very encouraging.  He in turn called the director to make sure I was eligible for the price specials (the first 3 people to sign up kind of thing) and I was.  He told me how the school works and added up the costs.  Not cheap for a “just for fun” artist so I needed to think.  Randal and I went downstairs and ate an early lunch at the ArtCafe.  Randal said, “Go for it!!” so after lunch I went back upstairs, signed on the dotted line and put our money where my mouth is.  I do keep saying I want to take lessons so now here’s my chance. 

It will be a lesson in independence for me too.  I have to go by myself, meet lots of new people by myself, and I’m not used to that anymore.  I especially am not used to traveling around by myself on public transportation.  I walked all over JingAn and Bijao in China where I truly couldn’t get lost.  But really, it’s pretty easy to get where you are going here too because the MRT makes sense, almost all people speak English and when they give you directions they know  what they are talking about.  Before we left the Tanjong Pagar MRT station we weren’t sure where to go so got out a map.  A Singaporean saw us, volunteered to help and gave us excellent directions.  (We had left this morning before Kathryn’s email had arrived.)  So it won’t be hard; I’ll just leave myself lots of time.  I promise lots of photos from this experience; just didn’t take the time today.  I’ll use all of that time I get to classes early to take street photos. 

After that we went to the Homely Hardware Supercenter.  That’s not a typo, their word for homey is homely.  There probably isn’t really a word homey, at least not to describe how comfortable a home is.  I think a homey is someone who lives in South Boston, or is that a Southy.  Anyway, I though Homely Hardware warranted a few words here.  It had taken us several trains and a fairly long walk to get there.  It was pouring when we left so flagged a taxi to take us to the MRT.  The driver was a several generation Malay, the original inhabitants of Singapore.  We talked politics thanks to Randal bringing it up.  He was hoping Obama could settle the issues in the Middle East, a very tall order. 

Though we were pooped and carrying too much stuff from the hardware store we stopped at VivoCity in Harbourfront to go to Giant Supermarket where you have to put a coin in the slot to get a shopping cart.  You get your coin back when you return the cart. Usually we just use those quickie shopping baskets so we don’t buy too much to carry.   I took the cart so I could put my backpack with half the hardware stuff in it into the cart.  But using a cart meant we bought more than we could easily hand carry.  It was mostly fruit and veggies, but other things too.  We went out to the taxi stand and it was pouring again.  The walk from the marina drop-off point to the boat was a bit soggy, but we’re cruisers so we should be able to do wet.  It was almost 5 pm.  We were wet, tired and hungry.  But we had food and towels and no plans but to sit and sit and sit.  We had started the day with a 40 minute walk around Sentosa Cove, fast becoming a daily routine.  Yup, we like Singapore.

Ruth Johnson,


walk around Sentosa Cove

One Degree 15 Marina

Sentosa Island, Singapore

Hi Everyone,

  Yesterday morning Randal and I biked around Sentosa Cove.  But we decided the path was better for walking than biking so this morning went out to walk around the very upscale area along the water’s edge with views of the Singapore skyline and the working harbor area.  I’d love a tour of one of the homes. Lots of new homes and condos being built.   Maybe we could pretend to be buyers!  But probably not.

There is a lovely flat paved path but it’s too narrow, winding , and short for biking at a speed where you actually get exercise. 

clip_image002  Walking path with the homes on the left side and the water’s edge the right.

clip_image004  One of the homes we passed along the way.  They all seem to have lap lanes and wonderful views of the water.  The path goes right by, not very far at all from the end of the pool so there isn’t so much privacy if people were sitting outside or even inside with the blinds open.  Each home does have a small fence to delineate a boundary.

clip_image005  Another home that we passed.  Lots of glass and stone and concrete and light.

clip_image007  Lots of yards had clear glass fences like this one with the sun reflecting the view of the water and the walking path.  The decorations were for Chinese New Year.  There was almost always a pool behind the fence.

clip_image009  There were incredibly beautiful homes along here and this was their view.  The skyline is visible behind the cranes and cargo ships.

clip_image011  One Degree Fifteen Marina with the `city skyline behind.  The marina is located 1 degree 15 minutes north of the equator.

Last night we had lots of visitors on the boat who had emailed us asking for a tour.  The Diesel Duck is still pretty unique in the cruising world and Randal still loves bragging about how wonderful they are.   After the multiple tours which actually lasted a few hours and during which we met new people,  we were invited to join them at a small party at the end of the dock hosted by the sailboat “Charisma.”  As I type Randal is giving an impromptu tour to a German man living in Singapore with an aviation related computer business; his programmers are mostly in Jakarta where he says there are aviation industry people willing to learn computer programming. The world is definitely smaller here.   Several of the people we met last night have work that takes them all over Asia and the Middle East. 

Yesterday we also took the bus to Vivo City Mall to see what else was there besides the Giant Supermarket. Lots of upscale stores where I will try to find a new bathing suit eventually.   We ate lunch, visited PageOne book store where I bought a watercolor instructional video, bought a few things at the Cold Storage fresh foods supermarket and then took a taxi back to the marina.  We still haven’t quite figured out where to catch the $1 bus or the free One 15 bus back from the mall.  We’ll learn.  Tomorrow we’ll go into the city to for boat projects and just to explore.  At some point we’ll start in on the museums and bird park, but for now it’s just wander around the different areas of Singapore and enjoy big city life.

Ruth Johnson