Posted by: hyacinthus | September 4, 2007

Shophouse with a Tree Growing On Top?

Someone asked me what happened to the shophouse with a tree growing on top.

“Huh? What? A tree?”

Later, I realised what she meant and found a picture of it from my archive, taken some years back.

That was in 2004. Though the shophouse was rotting away with age, it had mellowed with some kind of charm. Makes it a good photography subject.

Today, it has a new lease of life and the tree… no more. Notice that even the white Club St road sign has been replaced with green ones with bigger words on it.

My dad told me when I was a baby, I was taken care of by my grandparents in a coolies’ quarters (a row of shophouses) at Cecil Street when my parents were away at work. They would bring me home after work. My mum lamented that she would have to make sure that I was cleaned thoroughly before bringing me back cos my grandparents would let me crawl everywhere on the floor which was dirty and dusty (shophouses were next to a busy road). With rapid development of Singapore’s Central Business District in 1980s, the row of shophouses where I spent early part of my childhood, is no longer around and replaced by IOB Building.

Edit: I’ve finally found the ONE and ONLY picture of the shophouse (before it was demolished) in my dad’s mountain of albums! Taken on 24 May 1981.

Edit on 7 September 2007: My dad found me another picture of the same corner shophouse, taken in 1971. One of these days, I’ll take a present day picture in the same angle, 36 years later… 

“I used to stay in the corner shophouse along Cecil St?”

It was evident in my baby photos and Cecil St was printed on my birth certificate.

But, I have absolutely no recollection of it. Perhaps, I was too young then to remember anything.

Anyone has any recollection of how it was like living in a shophouse?



  1. I think it should be quite fun, except that it’s kinda dirty. Citylights new shophouses are good-you can enjoy landed housing living whilst having condo facilities.



  2. And how in the world did the tree get up there? Or the soil? 🙂



  3. birds are the biggest culprit. no need for soil. the rotting shophouse was the nutrient source.

  4. Oh, that’s how the tree managed to grow. Why didn’t he authorities take the tree away immediately?
    P.S.- Was the tree hacked down or was it moved somewhere?



  5. My grandparents’ shophouse was in River Valley road, now transformed into the pubbing stretch of Mohammad Sultan.

    On hindsight, living in a shophouse was quite a quixotic childhood experience. I was that kid who at 3pm sharp would tug at my grandma to give me money to run downstairs to buy char kway teow and then run all the way up that treacherous flight of stairs again to slowly enjoy my noodles with her.

    I think my favorite part of the house was the kitchen. It was so long and when it rained, I would stand at the balcony behind to watch the raindrops drip and smell the damp air.

    Then there were the rooms which had sliding wooden doors and were pretty creaky. The hugeass living room was a dream for any floor-loving kid and I think very much loved by grandparents who needn’t clean their floors after we left. Ooh and the view from the living room balcony was quite a sight for a kid as well. Mine was facing the road so I got to while away my time staring at cars and what not go by.

    Gah, i’ve rambled. Thanks for reminding of times in a shophouse.

  6. Oh I used to lived in a shophouse facing Neil Road. The lower storey consisted of my uncle’s office and an open-air storeroom (we called it 天井) at the rear. The upper storey consisted of a long narrow corridor joining the kitchen cum toilet cum bathroom at one end to the livingroom and bedrooms at the other end. The lower and upper storeys were connected by a grand-looking creaky wooden staircase.

    Like the commenter above, I probably got my passion for cars through long periods of oogling at the Mercs and BMWs from my balcony!

    My shophouse is still there but it’s not owned by us – in fact we never did own it as we rented the place. If I ever get rich one day, I’ll buy it and use it for my retirement home 🙂

  7. I used to lived in a shophouse in chinatown for about 12 years. The shophouse was 3 storey high and it’s big enough to hold my grandfathers’ entire family. Life is living in a shophouse is fun and it’s big, really big. We have have 2 dinning rooms, 3 toilets and about 6 rooms and an attic. Me and my cousins used to run around the house playing catching and hide and seek. However living in chinatown was pretty dangerous with all the gangster and fights. I remember there was once my dad’s friend came running into our shophouse with a deep cut in the stomach. Apparently he was slashed by a parang.

    The government chase us away to HDB flats because of fire safety reason. I miss the time I spent living in a shophouse. Those are sweet fun memories.

  8. @Excelsvr
    I don’t know. Probably, it’s on private land and is not causing any danger?

    Mohd Sultan has very nice conserved shophouses and I like them very much. But, it’s beyond me to afford it. I have an entry (tagged with Shophouses) with pictures of the Mohd Sultan shophouses. Perhaps, yours is one of them 😉

    @w, Seraphim and Ferris
    Really appreciated the stories and it warmed my heart reading it 🙂

    Somewhat, the good feeling of a close knitted big family living together under one roof is rare in today’s society. People are getting more individualistic (or rather they prefer to have their own personal space). Newer flats and condos are getting smaller (unless one can afford to buy really spacious ones or stay far from town).

    Talking about personal space, my parents dislike that I spend time working on the Computer or watch Korean serials in my room. Of course, I will always make time for them in some weekday evenings and every Sunday.

    To them, it’s not enough cos minus my sleeping, leisure and working time, there’s hardly any time.

    I understood how they felt and will try my best to spend more quality time with them.

  9. Hi hyacinthus,

    nah…not that shophouse. It’s on the other side…I’m gonna harass my mum to dig pictures out for me. I’ll share them if she can find it.

    And I’m enjoying your entries : ) It’s heartening to have you point out perspectives on our everyday landscapes which we might have missed or neglected over time in our daily rush.

    Will be back.

  10. that’s nice!

    I think she’ll enjoy it like my dad… looking through the old pictures and reminiscing the o’ times.

    Happy to know that you enjoyed the entries. See you soon! 🙂

  11. […] info By hyacinthus Categories: D01, Shophouses and Singapore The corner shophouse taken by my father in […]

  12. wow this is so cool

  13. I remember some parts of my childhood spent in a Chinatown shophouse. My uncle & his family used to run a tailor business (those western suits type) at the shophouse then. My grandfather was a businessman from China (Canton) and bought the shophouse which was used by the eldest son (my uncle…my dad was the youngest child). Unfortunately for my dad (& me, of course 😉 my dad, being the youngest did not get to inherit it…it went to my uncle (eldest son)…Bah! I heard it was sold back to the government during the 80s when the governement basically “sanitised” the entire Chinatown to become a “touristy” location.

    Anyway, I remember my parents often bringing me to visit them at the shophouse, and we had fun there, running around the stairs, playing hide & seek. Also remember back then, the place was FANTASTIC during the Chinese New Year period! Lots of people, sounds & Food! Maybe, I was a wide-eyed child then, but now, its a shame & a shadow of its former liveliness & authenticity.

    We had some experiences there as well…heard my nephews saw images (i.e. ghosts) at the back near the kitchen area…and come to think of it, the 天井 (kind of air-well, mentioned above) areas were pretty eerie… there was little light in that area, and it was damp with lots of dark corners…I remember when I was young, I would avoid going to the toilet near that area, because of those stories and the darkness, unless absolutely necessary, and when i did have to wee wee there, I made sure it was damn fast!

    On hindsight, I guess its probably good that I did not grow up in Chinatown though, given the gangland status back then…my dad used to tell to point to me about these tatoo-ed body trouble-maker types..most of them now being old men & haggard & scrapping by still around Chinatown areas you see today.

    Its fun to look at old photos of those shophouses and probably for me, its kind of important lessons in life as well…that 1) all things change, 2) don’t be too proud & 3) choose your paths carefully, because my dad still likes to point out to me this or that guy that he recognises as a gangster in his hey-day but eventually becomes a haggard old man pathetically scrapping by in dumps somewhere in Chinatown.


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