Sunday, May 06, 2018

Teck Seng's Place - Reliving Life in the Kampong (Village) @ Pulau Ubin [Singapore]

I went cycling at Pulau Ubin about a month ago and after the visit to Chek Jawa (a must visit), we were on our way back to the town for ice-cold coconut juice when i saw this re-constructed staircase by the side of the main road.

Obviously curious, i alighted from the bike and took a closer look at the wooden board on the floor; even though labeled as if it's a person's house, the opening dates (2nd, 4th weekends and public holidays) and hours (10.00 am to 2.00 pm) likely imply otherwise.

Climbing up the stairs for a closer look, we came to a house and it's not just any house. For someone who has lived in a kampong (Singapore and Malaysia's version of village), the design, the structure, the shape were familiar to me.

Renovated and refurbished by the National Parks Board (NParks), it aims to allow visitors to relive the village life back in the 1970s and the story-line told of a fictional provision shop owner, by the name of Chew Teck Seng, who owned the house from 1970 to 2005.

Having lived in one of the many villages in Singapore until i moved to a HDB flat at six years old, my memory was a bit fuzzy on how the kampong house i used to live in look like; i am still in the midst of finding the photographs from my dad's vintage photo albums but i can't helping a great sense of nostalgia as i walked through the house and its compound.

Double-seated swing -this was extremely popular when i was a kid and it can somewhat work like a see-saw; you can't go very high although i think it's safer than the single-seat swing that's hung over a thick tree branch.

Usually we don't see that many chairs and stools outside a house but i guess we have to give and take a little bit as the place is targeted as an attraction on the island.

Nice memories of the rubber cord chairs! Without any computers, tablets and with television showing limited programs, kids utilized their creativity back then; the rubber cords for the chair were seen as strings for guzheng where make-believe music came from.

Convenience of the modern world; the use of solar panels to power the house!

Living Room - the first thing that hit me was the sofa set! Such style was considered 'in' back then although as kids, we hated it as we were forced to remove the covers every now and then for washing and should we accidentally tear the fabric or spoil the zipper; good luck to our butt!

Alex fondly remembers the tabletop and I have no idea why the design was so popular then! What do you call the pattern? Mashed, murky green?

The Straits Times dated 21 July 1973 and it cost 20 cents which i thought was rather pricey as 20 cents back then could likely buy you a bowl of noodles. In comparison, the same newspaper (with color pictures) cost about S$1.10 now and a bowl of noodles starts from about S$3.00.

Radio; or Lay Lio like many of the older generation like to call them. Can you imagine that in just over 40 years, technology has displaced a lot of items? I can listen to a radio station using my phone which is way smaller than the battery-operated radio transmitter.

An area for family members to chit chat with guests over a pot of tea; likewise for the population then, television had changed the society in drastic ways with people preferring to watch television programs rather than chit chatting / playing games.

Games like kuti kuti and pick up sticks!

Rusty tricycle.

Photographs adorned the walls of a typical kampong house and it's no exception at Teck Seng's place but did you note who the gentleman was in the above photo? It's none other than our very own founding father; Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Bedroom of Tan Chin Chye - showcasing the living quarters of likely a working adult, the bed was simply a thin layer of mattress and a netting to keep out the mozzies.

The old school typewriter - i never had the opportunity to use such an equipment even though i did have an electronic one. The two things i remember are how expensive the ink cartridges were and those correction tapes cost even more!

Vinyl record player - strangely, i didn't even know such small record exist and thought only gramophone-sized records exist. Out of the six persons on the record, i recognized one of them; Lydia Sum!

Leather briefcases of the past. The label indicated Tay Soon Hoe and i don't think our Tan Chin Chye stole the briefcase as many of the items in the house were donated by past, present residents and friends of Pulau Ubin

A Newlyweds' Room - the races in Singapore are big on weddings and the ethnic Chinese is no exception with the room decorated in red with the most noticeable being the bright red mattress, pillows and bolster's cover!

Candles, kerosene lamps were placed as symbolic items to signify a child for the newlyweds. Many stickers bearing the word "喜喜" were also pasted in the room.

Wooden clogs - i honestly don't understand how people can walk in them! My mom wore them like a pro but had to give up wearing them when we moved to a flat as the noise can be an irritant for those living one floor below.

Spittoons - we kept one in our room then when 'emergency' hit us in the middle of the night. Walking out at night to the washroom can be quite unnerving since the washroom would likely be located outside the main house.

An old-school sewing machine!

A standing KDK fan on the floor - i think this wasn't vintage as the logo seemed rather recent and the fan was operating fine! Guess it's needed to cool down pampered generation like ours who couldn't stand the heat!

Bedroom of Tan Chin Cheng - guess this housed a school going kid who would likely be a teenager studying in Bin Kiang school which opened from 1952 until 1985.

A section of the bed that wasn't covered with mosquito nets; in Singapore, the weather can be a killer and when the heat was unbearable, kids like us would choose to sleep outside the net and use the palm-leaf fan to fend against the mosquitoes!

Common school bag in the past.

Wardrobe was changed into a glass one where more items related to the fictional character can be put on display; like the rattan sepak takraw ball.

Abacus for learning mathematics in school and you know what's the favourite kind of book for a boy in that era? Comic books! To be fair, my generation was also into comic books when we were teenagers even though by then, we were into comics from Japan that had been translated into Chinese.

Bedroom of Tan Ah Gu, the Patriarch - i am suspecting this room to belong to the father (and mother) of Chin Chye and Chin Cheng as Ah Gu grew up as a farmer's son back in China.

Decked out in furniture and equipment, my suspicion appeared to be confirmed; a sewing machine used by the wife to mend and even make clothes for the family, a thermos flask and a flashlight for that occasional power failure.

Wow! A charcoal iron! Contrary to beliefs by some friends, i have never see its use throughout my life! I am born in the 80s, for goodness sake! 

Bed for two persons.

Tools used by Ah Gu to repair the kampong house as and when necessary. Why laid out like that? Maybe for display as any decent folks would use a toolbox.

Retro light switch!

Passage leading to the last room in a typical kampong house.

Sound proofing wasn't an option back then as the intention was to ensure sufficient air flow into the house so that heat would not be trapped within. With such wide openings also come with risks like peeping toms, creepy crawlies and even snakes!

Kitchen - even back in my own kampong house, we had a spacious kitchen and during important festivals like Chinese New Year, my 4 uncles and 3 aunts (some with children) would congregate together for reunion dinner in the kitchen!

Cooking was surprisingly not done in the kitchen as back then, charcoal and wood were commonly used as fuel and their smoke can be extremely stinging to the eyes! Not to mention how oily the entire place would be after cooking.

Tiffin carriers - as it may not be as convenient to find food, families would usually prepare food at home and bring them to work. Nowadays, i would just buy from mixed vegetables rice stall.

A cupboard for all the plates, bowls etc. Have you noticed the legs of the cupboards? I think the saucers would put underneath the legs so that water can be poured in to prevent ants from climbing up; necessary if you put food in those cupboards.

Mortar and pestle and molds for the local delicacies like kueh bahulu, curry puffs, png kueh and my favourite ang ku kueh! Pity, even though my mom is a fantastic cook, she has never been good in kueh making.

Many would have thought this would be charcoal grill for satay; in actual fact, a Chinese family would use this grill to make love letters! The only problem; when a family has a lot of kids, the piping hot love letters would be gone in no time! 

Retro clock! 

Double A (Alex and Andy) waiting for me to complete my photoshoot; unlike me, both of them had never lived in a kampong before and didn't know the extent of nostalgia visiting Teck Seng's Place had on me.

The green pot on the dining tables was a common fixture in the kitchen and kids like us would open them whenever we came back from outside; in the hope that we can find yummy red bean soup or delicious green bean soup in it! 

Other tools like weighing scale, sickles and machetes and oil-paper umbrellas! 

What's hated the most in a kitchen? Rats and with the hatred came with a cage to capture the rats! According to my mom's ex boss, using poison is not as effective as throwing a pot of boiling water over them, alive. 

Back of the house where cartons of empty bottled soft drinks were kept. As kids, we loved these sugar-laden drinks but were denied them except on special occasions like birthdays, festivals. 

Most kampong houses would not keep a sampan; however, its proximity to the sea might require the occasional need to supplement the family with fishes. 

Visit to the rather clean washroom before we left.

Parting look of the kampong house - i think my parents would enjoy visiting Teck Seng's Place and reminisce about the days in the village; for better or for worse. 


House No 363B,
Pulau Ubin, Singapore


Additional Information
Want to explore the last kampong in Singapore; the rustic Pulau Ubin but didn't want to cycle up and down for a couple of hours and work out a sweat? 

If time is limited and / or you prefer to travel in the comfort of a guide, i have just the person for you; Uncle Lim whom i chanced upon in my visit to Teck Seng's Place! He can help to do the arrangement on your behalf and if you are interested, write to him at

Sharing Uncle Lim's website here for your reference too!

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