Over the last decade, some 20 titles have sprung up from Singapore, riding the wave of its cultural renaissance and defying the fact the city-state was once known for its tight media censorship (Singapore still ranks 154 out of 180 in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index). Over the decade or so though, the Singaporean government has pumped in millions of bucks to grow its creative sector and nurture creativity among its citizens—and an independent magazine scene has flourished from this intersection.
Protective of Little India’s authenticity, home-grown LISHA Chairman relishes the challenge of cutting through the chaos to keep this historic district thriving.
The recent hot-button question of whether Little India needs a makeover is not new to Rajakumar Chandra. The chairman of the Little India Shopkeepers & Heritage Association (LISHA) has been grappling with this issue in his decade long place making efforts for this district along Serangoon Road.
While some see Little India today as crowded and disorganised, he sees vitality and authenticity. Over the years of working with the URA and other government agencies to manage and sustain this conserved precinct’s vibrancy – a dedication that has led to him being conferred a Special Recognition prize from the Singapore Tourism Board and a Place Champion Award from the Place Management Coordinating Forum 1 in 2016 – Rajakumar’s approach of place-making in Little India is based on a simple philosophy: “Once you move away life, you can’t bring it back.”
Ambassador-at-large professor Chan Heng Chee and her brother Chan Heng Wing recall what life was like growing up at No. 125 Joo Chiat Place.
Its washed out facade, tinged in a patina of ochre and powder blue, and the fading “Lucky Book Store” signage stenciled just outside the entrance hints at the past lives of No. 125 Joo Chiat Place.
A modern family home today, this 1920s Transitional-Style shophouse is part of a row of conserved residences bounded by Everitt Road, Joo Chiat Terrace and Mangis Road. In 2013, it was lovingly restored by CHANG Architects and owners Low Junri and Denise Wong. The result is an award-winning design that reflects the almost century-old building’s history as a bookshop and home of families, an effort that garnered URA’s Architectural Heritage Award in 2013 and a jury commendation at the 2014 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards.
Two former residents were the Chans who lived in this double-storey building in post-war Singapore. Professor Chan Heng Chee, the ambassador-at-large with the Ministry of Foreign Ministry (MFA) and her younger brother, Chan Heng Wing, senior advisor at MFA, still recall fondly the fun times growing up in the neighbourhood with their two other siblings, parents and grandmother. Racing down the five foot way that connected the row of shophouses, going around the neighbourhood hustling mahjong kakis for grandmother, and cooling down in the tropical heat with ice balls from the coffeeshop down the block, Joo Chiat Place was a playground for the siblings born four years apart.