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NHB launches Street Corner Heritage Galleries: Chinatown

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Street Corner Heritage Galleries: Chinatown will celebrate and document the rich experiences of 11 participating heritage businesses.

The Street Corner Heritage Galleries scheme is part of National Heritage Board‘s (NHB) ongoing efforts under Our SG Heritage Plan to strengthen partnerships with communities, and raise awareness of and foster a deeper appreciation for heritage in everyday spaces.

This is a three-year pilot scheme that was first launched in the Balestier precinct in March 2020, followed by the Kampong Gelam precinct in April 2021 and the Little India precinct in January 2022. The scheme will subsequently be rolled out to the Geylang Serai precinct in 2023.

Through our expanding network of street corner heritage galleries, we hope to raise public awareness and generate greater support for heritage businesses; equip the owners of these businesses with the necessary skills and experience to better showcase their heritage; and in doing so, activate the various precincts as “living showcases” of heritage businesses.

Mr Alvin Tan, Deputy Chief Executive (Policy & Community), NHB

Under this scheme, NHB works closely with interested owners of heritage businesses with at least 30 years of history. NHB and the heritage business will co-curate and co-create “mini-museums” at their premises that showcase the history and heritage of their businesses and trades, accompanied by historical documents, photographs, artefacts, etc.

Street Corner Heritage Galleries: Chinatown will feature 11 heritage businesses.

These are: Eu Yan Sang, Chop Wah On, Spring Court Restaurant, Mei Heong Yuen, On Cheong Jewellery, Tin Sing Goldsmiths, Kim Poh Hong Goldsmith, Bee Cheng Hiang, Lim Chee Guan, Tong Heng and Pek Sin Choon.

Traditional Taste of Bak Kwa: Lim Chee Guan located at 203 New Bridge Road, Singapore 059429

Famed for its snaking queues during festive periods, Lim Chee Guan was established by Lim Kay Eng who arrived from Fujian, China in the 1920s. Defying his parents’ wishes for him to be a doctor, Lim toiled in plantations and shops before saving enough to start a pushcart business selling bak kwa (barbecued meat slices) along Chin Chew Road in 1938.

Lim named the business “Chee Guan”, which translates to “ambition and integrity” in Mandarin. He made bak kwa using his mother’s recipe and adapted the marinade of the meat to suit local tastes. Lim also experimented with the preparation process, such as sun-drying the meat and barbecuing it over charcoal to give it a distinctive smoky taste.

In 1956, Lim relocated to a rented shophouse along New Bridge Road where half the shop was used for bak kwa production and the other half for retail. Lim and his family would spend most of their free time at the shop and this family tradition of helping out in the business is still practised by the second and third generations of the Lim family, who currently run the business.

To this day, Lim Chee Guan holds a special place in the hearts of its long-time customers, many of whom do not mind the long queues and in fact, regard queuing for the shop’s bak kwa as a Lunar New Year tradition.

Street Corner Heritage Galleries
Lim Chee Guan

From Silver to Peranakan Jewellery: Kim Poh Hong Goldsmith located at 01-48 3 Pickering Street, Singapore 048660

For more than 80 years, Kim Poh Hong Goldsmith has been crafting and selling jewellery to generations of customers. The business was founded at 58 China Street in 1938 by Tan Eng Geok, a silversmith who came to Singapore from Kinmen, China.

During its early years, Kim Poh Hong sold silver jewellery from local wholesalers, as well as handcrafted pieces by Tan. Its customers, who were mainly Hokkiens, would frequent the shop to purchase special items such as silver amulet holders for newborns and burial jewellery for the deceased. The shop also traded gold jewellery, notably reddish gold pieces preferred by Hokkien customers.

In 1943, Tan established Poh Huat Goldsmiths at North Bridge Road with friends and by the 1950s, both shops had become known for their workmanship and custom-made jewellery. Poh Huat was frequented more by Malay, Indian and Nyonya customers due to the make-up of the community in the area.

The Tan family bought over Poh Huat Goldsmiths in 1971 when the founders retired and subsequently merged it with Kim Poh Hong. When China Street underwent redevelopment in the 1990s, Kim Poh Hong relocated and eventually settled at Pickering Street in 2002.

Today, Kim Poh Hong is run by the third generation of the Tan family and has carved a niche in designing enamel and Peranakan jewellery.

Street Corner Heritage Galleries
Kim Poh Hong

Pictures courtesy of The National Heritage Board. Cover shows a photo of Pek Sin Choon.