The uncommon side of Commonwealth and Holland Village

From a very ‘Royal’ HDB to Singapore’s last remaining Hakka Cemetery, visitors can now explore the more uncommon parts of Commonwealth and Holland Village, thanks to a careful designed tour by the team at My Community.

An early morning view of Holland Village.

An early morning view of Holland Village.


Chip Bee Gardens & Holland Village

Upmarket cafes, a burgeoning nightlife, and a hangout for the expat community are often terms associated with these two centrally located areas. Yet take an early-morning walk around the former military accommodations of Chip Bee Gardens, and you’ll feel a certain sense of calm when admiring the well-kept exteriors of the series of six blocks of post-war apartments, together with the surrounding black and white semi-detached houses.

No trip to ‘Holland V’ or ‘The Village’ as it’s know by the locals, is perhaps complete without at least passing the institution of Thambi Magazine Store. Started in the 1940s, it is now proudly run by third-generation owner, Sam, and has an array of publications that can rival even the most established of bookstores.

The series of six blocks of apartments at Chip Bee Gardens once served as mess halls for the British army.

The series of six blocks of apartments at Chip Bee Gardens once served as mess halls for the British army.

My Community tour leaders interacting with Sam, the third-generation owner of the institution that is Thambi Magazine Store.

My Community tour leaders interacting with Sam, the third-generation owner of the institution that is Thambi Magazine Store.

As you make a light trek over to Ying Fo Fui Kun Cemetery, be sure to take in the carefully landscaped stretch of this undulating area that combines architecturally sound HDB flats with pockets of nature strung in-between.

A Hakka myself, I had previously documented my last visit to the cemetery. This time, I got to witness family members paying their respects to the dead with traditional Hakka rituals, a common sight seen during early morning weekends.

Along the walk, be sure to take some time to admire the greenery that punctuates well with the towering HDB flats of Holland Avenue.

Along the walk, be sure to take some time to admire the greenery that punctuates well with the towering HDB flats of Holland Avenue.

On weekend mornings, visitors can be seen conducting Hakka rituals to pay respects to the deceased at Ying Fo Fui Kun Cemetery.

On weekend mornings, visitors can be seen conducting Hakka rituals to pay respects to the deceased at Ying Fo Fui Kun Cemetery.

Not-so-Common(wealth)

While Commonwealth Drive is more typically associated with the Tanglin Halt neighbourhood, it is also home to a host of ‘Singapore firsts’, including the first-flatted factory that was launched in 1965 by Minister Lim Kim San to recognise the role of light industries in contributing to a growing Singapore economy.

Just a short walk away at Block 85 & 86 Commonwealth Close sits the backdrop of one of the most iconic pictures of Singapore’s success, that of our former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, proudly standing in front of what was the HDB’s pilot scheme of “Home Ownership for the People” introduced in February 1964.

The tour will lead you to the site where former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew famously posed against the backdrop of the exact HDB Flats that introduced the “Home Ownership for the People” pilot scheme.

The tour will lead you to the site where former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew famously posed against the backdrop of the exact HDB Flats that introduced the “Home Ownership for the People” pilot scheme.

Residents enjoying their bowl of mee pok and a cup of coffee at Commonwealth Crescent

Residents enjoying their bowl of mee pok and a cup of coffee at Commonwealth Crescent

While other highlights include sites such as the MOE Heritage Centre, and Queenstown Lutheran Church, perhaps the most understated one would have to be that of the ‘VIP Block’ of Block 81 Commonwealth Close, a humble HDB flat that’s been visited, many-a-time unannounced, by dignitaries including Prince Philip, Indira Gandhi and Spiro Agnew (former Vice-President of USA in 1970).

This colourful and towering 16-storey HDB flat, known collectively with Block 82 & 83 as ‘Chap Lak Lau’, sits atop of a distinct elevation and provides a picturesque view of the Singapore skyline that’s punctuated by a good dose of greenery. Tucked beneath this space is Ridout Road, a peaceful walk that takes one through some of the most impressive sets of colonial styled houses built back in the 1920s.

Built at a cost of $150,000, Queenstown Lutheran Church is the second Lutheran Church in Singapore and was opened back on 13 March 1966 as an extension of the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer at Duke Road.

Built at a cost of $150,000, Queenstown Lutheran Church is the second Lutheran Church in Singapore and was opened back on 13 March 1966 as an extension of the Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer at Duke Road.

Known collectively with Block 82 & 83 as 'Chap Lak Lau' (sixteen-stories), Block 81 provides a great view of the outlying parts of Singapore.

Known collectively with Block 82 & 83 as ‘Chap Lak Lau’ (sixteen-stories), Block 81 provides a great view of the outlying parts of Singapore.

Ms Tam Shook Hun, who has been here for over 50 years, recalls the many unannounced a visit by VIPs including Prince Edward and Indira Gandhi.

Ms Tam Shook Hun, who has been here for over 50 years, recalls the many unannounced a visit by VIPs including Prince Edward and Indira Gandhi.

One of the many beautifully maintained colonial styled houses that line the stretch of RIdout Road.

One of the many beautifully maintained colonial styled houses that line the stretch of RIdout Road.

Tour Dates & Volunteer Opportunities 
The Commonwealth & Holland Village Heritage Tour runs on the third Sunday of every month. You can sign up for it along with other tours at the My Community website, by emailing myqueenstown@gmail.com or by calling Queenstown Community Centre at 64741681.

My Community is also on the lookout for volunteers who are interested My Community is recruiting volunteers who are interested in community heritage and love guiding heritage tours, curating exhibitions or researching on community history. Interested participants can fill in application forms to participate in their volunteers’ workshop which takes place from 8.45am to 4pm on 24 & 30 April 2016 at Queenstown Community Centre and email volunteer@mycommunity.org.sg. The workshop trains prospective volunteers on basic oral history interviews, basic guiding and research techniques.

 

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