IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Crowds eat away at Jalan Kayu's charm

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 13, 2013

A ONCE sleepy, leafy stretch of road which served British servicemen, then national servicemen from the nearby Seletar camp, Jalan Kayu now bustles with hungry diners from all over the island.

Even if the location is inconvenient.

Located just off Yio Chu Kang Road, Jalan Kayu is a painfully slim two-lane road, flanked by shophouses and landed homes.

And as Singaporeans come from as far as Jurong, the crowds have brought more business and a few headaches. Parking, unsurprisingly, is a massive one.

There is a single carpark with 135 car spaces, and 19 spots for motorcycles. But the first choice of most customers are free spaces on the roadside, which means outdoor diners sitting face-to-face with Toyotas and BMWs.

One empty lot in front of a stretch of unused shophouses has found new life as an unofficial parking spot, even if the dirt ground is uneven and strewn with crushed tiles and decaying planks of wood.

Customers agree Jalan Kayu is a fickle eating spot. Sometimes, especially on weekends, not a single parking spot is available.

"Then I have to turn back and make other eating plans," said Jalan Kayu regular Sunny Arfianto, 32. But the Bukit Panjang resident keeps making trip after faithful trip. The prata at Jalan Kayu, said the project executive, is comfort food.

For Ms Anson Lee, owner of Chinese seafood eatery 267 Eating House, the lack of parking space has affected her business. "Some of my customers call beforehand to ask if there's space for their cars. If there isn't, they won't come," said the 53-year-old.

Residents of landed houses are also struggling with the parking problem. Mr C.T. Thomas, who has lived there for 16 years, said cars hog his driveway at least once a week, blocking his way. He is forced to honk at them to make way.

"Some drivers will give you a very nasty look," said the retiree. "They take for granted that they can park anywhere."

This is a contrast from the old Jalan Kayu, known for its idyllic setting. As the main access route leading to the Royal Air Force base built in 1928 in Seletar, Jalan Kayu was a rest and recreation area for British servicemen.

The base was handed over to the Singapore Government in 1968. Now the area is being developed into the Seletar Aerospace Park, home to companies such as aircraft engine supplier Rolls- Royce.

The new aviation hub has contributed to the lunchtime crowd, with chartered buses shuttling employees out to places, including Jalan Kayu, for lunch.

Italian restaurant Spizza, which specialises in wood-fired pizza, has seen its clientele change at its Jalan Kayu branch, which opened seven years ago.

More expats have been coming in - some from the aerospace park nearby, said operations manager Sarjheet Singh. "Now it's becoming more upscale. One day, you might think of Jalan Kayu and not think of prata."

Property analyst Chris Koh has noted the transformation of Jalan Kayu with the new residential developments in the area. "Most people liked its kampung charm, but this has definitely changed."

The area east of Jalan Kayu has been renamed Fernvale and forms the western part of Sengkang. In September 2007, Fernvale launched its sixth Build-To-Order project.

The plan is to create a new town in Sengkang which would eventually house 90,000 public and private homes, a size comparable to the more mature estates in Jurong West and Tampines.

As of last year, the Housing Board noted that over 47,000 flats were sold in Sengkang. More executive condominiums, such as the 380-unit Lush Acres in Fernvale Link, which will be ready by mid-2016, are also in the pipeline.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority has further plans for Jalan Kayu, adding that more details will be revealed under its Draft Master Plan later this year.

Cake shop owner Jane Lim will miss the old Jalan Kayu, where shopkeepers strolled up and down chatting and offering their help. "My husband and some bosses from other shops will sit outside, have kopi and talk," she explained. "But I don't know how much longer it will last."

With heavy vehicles trundling through Jalan Kayu, and cars honking for parking spots, Mrs Lim hopes these are not signs of a rapid urbanisation that will strip Jalan Kayu of what remains of its rustic charm.

But some things have stood the test of time. Prata shop Thasevi - which has been there since the 60s, when one plain prata was just 10 cents - is still going strong. Its general manager Mohamed Yusoff said young national servicemen serving in Seletar used to earn only $60 in those days. "Sometimes, they would eat five to six pieces at one go," he recalled.

He is unfazed by the changes in the area. "People know us, so people will come. As long as business keeps coming, it doesn't matter how many things are different."

asyiqins@sph.com.sg

kcarolyn@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 13, 2013To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to http://www.sphsubscription.com.sg/eshop/