Days are numbered for Tanglin Halt shops and homes

Mr Tan Yew Hock, 72, has been selling fruit at the market for more than 30 years. His children are not interested in taking over his stall.
Mr Tan Yew Hock, 72, has been selling fruit at the market for more than 30 years. His children are not interested in taking over his stall.ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN
Mr Tan Yew Hock, 72, has been selling fruit at the market for more than 30 years. His children are not interested in taking over his stall.
Mr Tan Yew Hock, 72, has been selling fruit at the market for more than 30 years. His children are not interested in taking over his stall.ST PHOTOS: ONG WEE JIN

Residents will find it hard to say bye to estate, which is to be redeveloped

Anyone walking past Thin Huat provision shop will find it hard to miss the aromas of ground coconut, dried chilli, ginger and ikan bilis laid out in baskets in front.

The rusty shutters and sunken concrete floor are telling of the shop's age, not to mention the lone ceiling fan that wobbles and creaks as it ventilates the room.

Nestled in a block of two-storey shophouses in Tanglin Halt Road, this is where 60-year-old shopkeeper Ang Kah Hee and his family have been selling the same goods since his father began the business 44 years ago.

Many residents rely on the shop for items such as rice, chickpeas, biscuits and coffee powder, which are sold cheaply by 100g; they can even get their groceries delivered for free.

But all this will come to a halt in the next five years, when the bulk of the estate will be vacated for redevelopment.

Last month, it was announced that 31 blocks in Tanglin Halt are slated to be torn down under the Housing Board's Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (Sers) - the biggest such project.

About 3,400 households will move to new flats in nearby Margaret Drive, Dawson Road and Strathmore Avenue by 2020.

The Tanglin Halt wet market and Commonwealth Drive Food Centre and the surrounding shops will also be cleared in seven to 10 years to make way for the area's revamp, affecting 157 market and hawker stalls, 50 shops and four eating houses.

A new neighbourhood centre with a market and food stalls will be erected at the vacated site, but other plans are still pending.

While market and hawker stallholders will get new stalls, shop tenants will not get replacements.

Mr Ang does not have to vacate his shop until 2024, but his family plans to wind up the business before that. "We depend on regular customers, so we cannot keep the shop if they all move away," he said. "Besides, we're getting old and to rent a shop elsewhere would be too expensive." He pays about $2,800 a month in rent for the two-storey shophouse.

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"We would prefer to stay. We share a feeling for this place," said Madam Chong Siew Choo, 58, who runs the Poh Onn Tong Chinese medical hall next door which her father opened in 1964.

Some wet market stalls will also fold when the time comes, partly because there are no successors. "My children won't take over. I'm already 72 years old and can't even move one box now," said Mr Tan Yew Hock, who has been selling fruit at the market for more than 30 years.

While Mr Tan feels that the compensation of $18,000 for market stallholders is "not enough", others like fishmonger Tay Hang Chiang are satisfied.

"I just want to get the money and retire," said the 61-year-old.

Regular customers said they will miss their close rapport with these shop and stall tenants.

"The fishmongers will say 'eh, today the prawns are very fresh, come and take'," said technician Mohamed Feroz Mohamed Hussain, 43, who lives with his wife and one-year-old son in Block 66, Commonwealth Drive, one of the blocks that will be demolished.

But residents can count on some of their favourite hawkers to remain in the area.

"My wife and I can't bear to give up the business," said Mr Teng Kiong Seng, 70, whose peanut pancake stall at the market's food centre is highly popular.

MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC Chia Shi-Lu said many residents he spoke to are excited about the move. He said: "Some of them, especially the elderly who live alone, were worried that they wouldn't be able to physically manage the move themselves.

"But I reassured them that we will have grassroots leaders to help arrange for movers and make sure that they are coping all right."

The move comes in time for residents eager to get a new flat.

"I was planning to sell my flat last month and even got an agent," said customer service officer Sarah Rahman, who lives in a two-room flat in Block 41, Tanglin Halt Road, with her father, husband and three children. "It's very cramped now, so we want to upgrade to a four-room flat."

But for many long-time residents, saying goodbye to a place that holds their childhood memories will prove difficult.

"Those days we'd always play baseball and run around in the muddy fields outside. There were goats and cows, and we'd catch fish in the longkang (drain)," said Madam Angeline Joseph, 58, who runs her mother's nasi padang stall in the Commonwealth Drive Food Centre and grew up in Block 45, Tanglin Halt Road.

Resident Eugene Wee, 42, who runs the stall Chef Hainanese Western Food in the same hawker centre, recalls yo-yo competitions in the area.

"I also remember riding bicycles with my brother around these hexagons," he said, referring to the shape of the three blocks that make up the food centre.

The founder of civic group My Community and its subsidiary My Queenstown, Mr Kwek Li Yong, said the area's distinct architecture gives residents a sense of place and identity. "Tearing them down will effectively eradicate the social memory of people who have lived there for years."

As Madam Chong said: "There will always be only one Tanglin Halt."

yeosamjo@sph.com.sg