Monthly Archives: May 2015

Craig Road beauties

A sure shot way to fire up the creative engine is to just throw myself at Chinatown. It works every time, irrespective of how deep a rut I’m in. This neighbourhood with its rows of beautifully conserved shophouses in varied architectural styles is an incessant source of delight and creative inspiration. When you watch the encroaching high rises craning their neck from above, you realise that this wonderful anachronism is the result of deliberate choices made in its favour.  Sure the rumble of tourists’ feet wandering these streets sound like ka-ching to the exchequer, but for people like me – this is where we come to chase our muse.

So when a sketchwalk was arranged at the intersection of Craig and Neil Road, one Sunday morning, I left my hearth and home to be in the company of these beauties :

InItaly Bar and Restaurant

InITALY Bar Ristorante on 38 Craig Road

I don’t know how the food fares at this eatery, but this building is an eye candy. I was only wondering, what if a Chinese fortuneteller had told Dr. Montgomerie who owned the 13 hectare nutmeg plantation around Craig Road in the 19th century, that one day, Spaghettini with caviar and chives will be rolled out from an exquisitely designed shop house standing at his property? Would he believe the soothsayer? The kind surgeon probably would’ve accused him of hyperbole.

Antique shop with cheeky signage

Antique shop with cheeky signage

Walking further down Craig Road, Tong Mern Sern Antiques Arts and Crafts Shop with its cheeky signage enticed me enough to make a stop. My friends had exactly ten minutes to spare till lunch, so I had to make my fingers work crazy fast on the sketchbook, leaving me no time to cross the little road, go inside the shop and ask the owner about their tag line, so it doesn’t haunt me till death. I still don’t sleep okay.

Neil Road architecture

This was sketched at the intersection of Neil and Craig Road

With a belly full of nimble dumplings, I came back for one last sketch. But before I leave, you must know that with Dr. Montgomerie’s passing, his nutmeg plantation was auctioned off and eventually fragmented into building lots that were leased off to wealthy Chinese developers. Craig Road and nearby Duxton Road and Duxton Hill were constructed, which in the following years became the living quarters of the poor and depraved. This posh locale with ridiculously high rent and property prices that we see today emerged with constant development and urbanisation over the last fifty years.

So, instead of rubbing shoulders with opium addicts and gamblers, I have a Korean tourist bending over my sketch and excitedly poking at the second building from left. Yes my good man, it is Hongdae Korean BBQ, now calm down, will you?



Allure of the Back Alley

I don’t know about other places but Singapore has one of the most alluring back alleys.

In my five years of life here, I’ve come across some beauties in Tiong Bahru, Geylang, Jalan Besar, Kampong Glam, Joo Chiat and Bras Basah. There must be countless more in many other neighbourhoods waiting to be noticed, admired, talked of, written about by some passersby who’s using it as a short cut to the next parallel road or to the car park this very moment. I hope he’d slow down and look around.

I know, I’ve always wanted to find a proper excuse to linger in these intimate spaces that have way too much character. Without startling the wayward neighbourhood cat or the dumpster diver, the only way to do this was to sit down and draw this beautiful mess.

Back Lane of Seah Street.  

This is the back lane of Seah Street.  To combat overcrowding, back lanes were retrofitted to already existing shophouses in the early 20th century, to provide access for fire fighting, drainage and ‘scavenging’ – which in this case refers to allowing night soil carriers to collect human waste from each house. Thankfully those days are behind us!

And so I did. As you can see, there’s a lot going on, each element adding to the overall characteristic of this grubby stretch – a large green dumpster, a chipped wooden door, a spiral staircase, air conditioners, ducts, vents,  cables, wires, pipes, switchboards, broken wooden planks, windows, wired fence, tinned roof, tiled roof, a bamboo pole sticking out with wet laundry, cracks, damp stains, spots, litter, cobwebs, weeds and what not. Don’t miss the bright red drum cylinder on the bottom right, used for burning offerings during the hungry ghost festival.

And this is only a small section of the alley that I captured in the 15 minutes I had. There’s so much life in here!

Abeautifully grubby back alley in Geylang

A beautifully grubby back alley in Geylang Serai.

And not all of it is still. While I was here, I met the back alley denizens. They were mostly in uniforms – chefs, cleaners, waiters, drivers, some sitting on their haunches, smoking, others unloading a truck of supplies or sweeping the litter or rushing out of the hot restaurant kitchens to get fresh air. It would’ve been business as usual except I was turning out to be a rather amusing distraction with my yellow stool, sketchbook and all.

At first they ignored me, only stealing furtive glances, but when they saw me staring forlornly at the squalor for a prolonged period, they warmed up.  Each of them came over to chat, but mostly to criticise my work. It seemed like the obvious thing to do. And they were brazenly forthright. Amid snorts, grunts and sterile stares, I may have snagged some approving nods.