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Katong

Katong is a residential area in the east of Singapore near the seafront. It is a suburb of great prestige and possesses special historical charm for its Asian heritage and seaside town charm. Formerly located by the sea, land was reclaimed all the way to East Coast Park to provide more land for housing and recreational purposes due to shortage of land in the late 1960s after Singapore gained independence.

Katong is also the location of many villas and mansions of the wealthy elite in the late 19th to the mid 20th centuries, who made their fortunes in the Far East and built seaside resorts, villas and manors along the beachfront of Katong, beginning from Katong Park to the end of the East Coast.

Katong's rich cultural mix has contributed to its unique cuisine. Katong is well known for its restaurants serving Peranakan (Straits Chinese) cuisine, particularly a spicy Malay noodle soup called Peranakan laksa. Katong Laksa originated from Joo Chiat area. The hawker was nick-named 'Jangok" by the peranakan, because he had a few strands of hair at his chin. He was an itinerant hawker and lived in Tembling Road/Joo Chiat Terrace. Later he moved his business into the eating house at East Coast Road/Ceylon Road. Because the Katong people loved his laksa, it has come to be known as the Katong laksa throughout the world in Hong Kong and New York.

Etymology

Katong is the name of an exotic species of sea turtle now extinct. It also means the rippling effect of a sea mirage when looking at a shoreline. Tanjong Katong was a popular beach along the East Coast. Tanjong means peninsula or promontory in Malay. This coastal feature was located near the present Tanjong Katong Flyover across East Coast Parkway and had since disappeared due to land reclamation.

History

Katong's history has been rooted in prestige and wealth. Many wealthy English, Portuguese, Anglo-French and Chinese settlers bought parcels of land here beside the sea to cultivate plantations. They built business empires from trading in these early international commodities such as cotton, coconut and gambier.

The earliest cultivation took place in 1823, when Francis Bernard, son-in-law of Lieutenant Colonel William Farquhar, the first Resident of Singapore, started a coconut estate in the district.

Gradually, the crown of Singapore sold plots of land in the area stretching from Frankel Avenue, Siglap Road, to the Geylang River. From Geylang Road to the sea, land was granted to individuals in large parcels, ranging from 8 to 200 hectares. Pioneer estate owners included Thomas Dunman, Thomas Crane, Sir Jose d'Almeida, John Armstrong, Whampoa Hoo Ah Kay, Chew Joo Chiat and the Little family.

Most of the land was given over to coconut plantations because of the suitably sandy conditions, although cotton was also introduced in February 1836 . Unnfortunately, cotton planting was largely a failure and only coconut plantations remained.

In the first four decades of the twentieth century and especially after World War I, Katong developed from a weekend seaside retreat into a home for the wealthy, who built their main residence away from the hustle and bustle of town-life in the form of ornate and immense colonial seaside bungalows. Katong then took the form of a wealthy suburb. Large colonial, Chinese and Peranakan bungalows were built along Meyer Road, Mountbatten Road, East Coast Road (now divided into East Coast Road and Upper East Coast Road) while many upper-class family homes were built on increasingly expensive and smaller plots of land around Joo Chiat Road (formerly the family estate of Joo Chiat) and Tanjong Katong Road (which in English means "Road of the Turtle Mirage Promontory").

The Katong of today covers both sides of Tanjong Katong Road and the seaward strip along Mountbatten Road and East Coast Road, stretching from Katong Park up to Martia Road. Also included in this strip are the Katong Church and CHIJ Katong Convent.

The present Katong area stretches from Mounbatten Road, East Coast Road to Siglap. The Katong in Joo Chiat was formally an ethnic enclave of the Eurasians.

Many "town" Eurasians moved here in the 1920s and 1930s due to several reasons. They were attracted by the building of Saint Patrick's (1933) and also by the Holy Family Church also known as "Katong Church". Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in Katong (CHIJ Katong) was built much later on Martia Road and expanded its secondary school into Marine Parade after land reclamation of the East Coast in 1965.

The Eurasians wanted better homes after the Depression; however, the city centre of Singapore and its surrounding area was experiencing congestion and pollution with overcrowding being common. Therefore, they sold their estates in town and built their homes in Katong. The Chinese settlers followed suit.

Highlights

The area is traditionally associated with the Eurasian and Peranakan community. However, many high-rise apartment blocks now stand alongside the traditional shophouses and Peranakan terrace houses. In 1993, the Joo Chiat neighbourhood which comprises the historical centre of Katong, with its delicate and uniquely Singaporean architecture mixing Chinese, Peranakan and English colonial styles, was designated a national heritage conservation area by the Singapore Government. Many of the traditional houses in the area, which includes the ancient villa of Chinese tycoon Joo Chiat, have been conserved and are now luxury homes for the wealthy elite from throughout the world.

In the 2000s there was a widely-publicized and televised Everitt Road Saga, in which the neighbours fought a cold war with surveillance cameras and automated digital video cameras, floodlights and verbal potshots. This seemingly silly conflict was televised throughout Asia - China, India and neighboring South-east Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Burma and Vietnam. This has heightened the snob factor of this historically prestigious enclave, cloaked in a rarefied secrecy spanning over three centuries of wealth.

Residents

It was home to the earlier scions of the Englishmen Sir Arthur, Lord Meyer, Lord Mountbatten, Cathay Organisation film magnate Loke Wan Tho. Its illustrious residents include the ancestral family of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong. The incumbent president Sellapan Ramanathan lives in Katong in his primary residence instead of the Istana, Southeast Asia answer to the US White House. Since the 1990s, an increasing number of wealthy Americans have moved from Bukit Timah into Katong luxury residences - architecturally-unique conserved shophouses meant for glamorous millionaires. In addition, many other Peranakan shophouses have been conserved into high-end boutique hotels serving wealthy Asian, European and American expatriates moving away from the terrorist-prone zone of Holland Village, such as Sandalwood. Many Parisian and European fashion labels such as Agnes B. and Comme des Garcons have expressed interest in turning the quaint shophouses around Joo Chiat into exclusive closed boutiques, like those in the fashionable West Chelsea and meatpacking district of Manhattan. These closed boutiques are meant for the exclusive international VHNW very high net-worth private-banking clientele who fiercely guard their privacy, a unique niche economic group which shops on an absolutely different scale. Katong is preferred as these families do not engage in conspicuous consumption available in the densely-populated and very public Orchard and City areas.

Katong accent

During British colonial times, the civil service was the career of choice for many Peranakans and Eurasians. This led to Peranakan and Eurasian English language teachers passing onto their students a quaint and unique form of enunciation diametrically opposite of the more common "Singlish" creole. Thus words like "four" and "door" become pronounced as "foe" and "doe" in an odd sing-song manner - an influence from Chinese and Portuguese speakers.

"Katong Girls"

Besides its food, Katong is famous for her daughters - "Katong girls" - protected and privileged daughters of the elite families in Singapore.

Originally daughters of English-speaking Chinese families belonging to the landowning class in Singapore living in gated, isolated bungalows of Windsor Park, they moved to Katong to pursue a more expressive social life when the Women's Charter was introduced during the sixties, freeing up economic and social equality for women.

Subsequently, after they married and formed their own families, their own daughters were also schooled in single-sex Convents such as the Katong Convent throughout all their childhood and adolescent lives. Katong girls are very much sought after in the Singapore who's-marrying-whom scene and the prom / socialite scene because of their seeming purity, kindness, charity, combining all the good Christian values with the right Confucian ones. Katong girls are easily distinguishable from other pretty Singaporean girls through their upper-class English accent and virtuous upbringing. Traditionally, many follow an Arts/Humanities curriculum and are then sent to boarding schools and universities in England. Most mothers of South-east Asian heirs prefer their girls Katong, as they are deemed the most kosher in morality, values, upbringing, and general old-world classiness. Hong Kong crossover actor in Hollywood, Chow Yun-Fatt's wife Jasmine Tan is one of many such examples.

Education

Originally, Katong has been purely residential - it served as home for the wealthy whose children normally had private drivers to fetch them to town schools such as Anglo-Chinese School (ACS), Raffles Girls' School (RGS) and Methodist Girls' School (MGS). However, as the overcrowded city area became zoned by the PAP government initiative for international commercial businesses, many wealthy elite East Coast families began sending their children to Christian religious schools or Clan-based schools such as the Hokkien Huay Kuan-sponsored group of schools within or near Katong (see [Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan schools] http://www.shhk.com.sg/education/education.html ), before sending them overseas to England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia and the United States for their full education. 'Bukit Timah', a formerly poverty-stricken tin mining kampong recently gentrified by a flood of upstart millionaires, have tried to rival, but has yet come close to challenging the mystique and prestige of this quaint, historic town. The following are historically important schools within the Katong district.

Politics

Katong is part of the Joo Chiat Single Member Constituency whose Member of Parliament is Chan Soo Sen of the People's Action Party. Katong formerly was part of East Coast Group Representation Constituency from 1997 to 2001.

TV shows about Katong

References

  • Victor R Savage, Brenda S A Yeoh (2003), Toponymics - A Study of Singapore Street Names, Eastern Universities Press, ISBN 981-210-205-1

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