A museum of Peranakan treasures

Katong Antique House is home to 100 years of Peranakan history

Katong, home to some good Peranakan eating places, is also where the Katong Antique House can be found.

The private museum, in a two-storey shophouse in the area, is home to 100 years of Peranakan history, with antiques that date back to the 1800s.

Brightly painted tingkats (enamel tiffin carriers) and enamel trays take a high perch in the kitchen where food like sambal belachan, kuehs, chap chye and ayam buak keluak were turned out regularly. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Two old glue-soaked canvas lanterns hang among lampshades at Katong Antique House. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

The artefacts are so loved by visitors that some would fly to Singapore to ask if they could buy them.

Ms Angeline Kong, 54, a volunteer who also helps to run the museum, said: "Many people have asked us if we are selling the things here... but no, we are not selling anything at this moment because the intention is to pass on the culture and be able to share their stories, which is uncle Peter's wish."

Uncle Peter is the late Peter Wee, a fourth-generation Peranakan who founded the museum.

He was passionate about keeping Peranakan heritage and culture alive among the younger generations. Peranakans are the descendants of immigrant traders who married local women, and settled in the British-controlled Straits Settlements of Singapore, Penang and Malacca, as well as Indonesia and Phuket.

A photograph of the late Peter Wee, founder of Katong Antique House, with his mother. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Mr Wee spent over 40 years amassing the precious collection of antiques that sits in Katong Antique House today.

Its halls are filled with heirlooms and artefacts that include intricately beaded slippers, colourful enamel tiffin carriers, and ornate cabinets and chairs.

Colourful chamber pots and pictures of old Babas (Peranakan males) and Nyonyas (Peranakan females) line the right wall staircase in the second hall. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Wood divination moon blocks, Chinese fortune sticks, mortars and pestles are kept in wooden glass cabinets at the second hall. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Mr Wee, a descendant of philanthropist Tan Keong Saik, inherited the East Coast Road shophouse from his maternal grandfather in 1966 and turned it into Katong Antique House in 1979.

He died in 2018, aged 71.

The museum's new guardians are Mr Eric Ang, 60, Mr Wee's former assistant, and Ms Kong, who was a close friend of Mr Wee's.

Guardians of the antique house Angeline Kong and Eric Ang in the first hall with a collection of kasut manek (beaded shoes) that is a glittering example of what skilled nyonyas can achieve. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

A collection of kasut manek (beaded shoes) that is a glittering example of what skilled nyonyas can achieve. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Mr Eric Ang arranging the wooden antique chairs at the upper gallery in Katong Antique House. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Both share the late founder's goal of keeping the stories and memories of Peranakan culture alive, so they maintain the private museum and run tours by appointment. Admission is $15.

Ms Kong says: "Friends came, visitors came, until Covid-19 came. We took the opportunity to renovate the place, which has not been renovated for almost 40 years."

Plastering being done on the upper floor ceilings to mend defects which had not been rectified for more than 40 years. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

A worker welding the metal structures on the upper floor of the gallery room. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Mr Alvin Mark Tan, a traditional oil painter and urban sketcher, putting the finishing touches on a mural of a Nonya Kueh Chang Hawker at the back alley of Katong Antique House. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

They redid the wiring and lighting, resurfaced the walls, and reorganised the museum so it is more accessible for the public.

Mr Ang cleaned up the museum and sorted out some pieces in Mr Wee's collection that were previously kept in cupboards, so they can be displayed to the public.

An antique Peranakan silver belt, purse and child’s pendant amulet mini tube container would have been passed down to the next generation as family heirlooms. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Intricately embroidered peony blossoms testify to the importance of mastering at a young age the skill of decorating a piece of fabric with needle and thread. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

The museum reopened in May after nine months of renovation.

Ms Kong, who is a Peranakan, says of the mission: "We want to keep the legacy alive."

Cherki, a 60-card game popular in the past, would have Nyonyas gather to play the game, gossip and chew sireh (betel leaf). ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Nyonya beadwork embroidery on display are craft forms specifically associated with the Peranakan community. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE