SANDRA JOHNSON is a business owner living here, but originally from Toronto, Canada. She stays in an apartment in Cairnhill, and gives us the lowdown on the Singapore neighbourhood of Cairnhill Road.
What’s a common myth or misconception about your Singapore neighbourhood?
That it’s only full of modern high-rise condominiums and shopping malls. It’s true that those things are plentiful in this neighbourhood, but there are also many historical buildings and shophouses as well.
Any particular advice you give a taxi driver for getting you home?
If you want to avoid a traffic jam at the U-turn, it’s best to take Scotts Road to Cairnhill Road.
Closest MRT station to Cairnhill Road?
Somerset (red North South line).
How long have you lived in this apartment?
Three and a half years. We moved to this Cairnhill for the convenience and its close proximity to the shops and restaurants we frequent. I love walking and I’m able to get most of my errands done on foot.
The History of Cairnhill
In 1840, during the early days of British colonial rule, Charles Carnie, the owner of a nutmeg plantation on the Orchard district, built an estate on top of a hill across 27 hectares. The locals referred to the area as “Carnie’s Hill”, which has evolved into the name Cairnhill Road.
Cairnhill started to develop into a residential area after the failure of Charles Carnie’s nutmeg orchard. His house was acquired in 1884 and redeveloped into a bungalow for the manager of Chartered Bank (now Standard Chartered Bank). Terrace houses also began to appear along Cairnhill Road in the early 1900s.
One of Cairnhill’s most prominent houses is Tan Chin Tuan Mansion, which was built around 1926 by rubber tycoon Tan Kah Kee. It was later purchased by Tan Chin Tuan, a banker who became Chairman of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) in 1966. The mansion’s distinguishing features include a tower with a bell-shaped turret and a large porch supported by several round columns.
When you walk out of your place, what’s the first thing you see? Ideally, one of the many adorable dogs that live in the neighbourhood, but otherwise cars zooming by on their way to Orchard Road and beyond.
What’s the closest store to your front door? Paragon, which is full of many great shops, is across the street.
If your street was chosen for a remake of a film, which would it be? Possibly Crazy Rich Asians.
We’re sure your neighbours are great, but is there anything you wouldn’t mind a little less of? A little less traffic during the weekends would be great.
What’s the unofficial uniform of your street? Yoga pants and running shoes – or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, well-dressed people out and about in the city.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on your street? It’s quite tame around here to be honest!
What are your three favourite places to eat or drink in the neighbourhood? Din Tai Fung at Paragon for the delicious dumplings, Blue Label Pizza at Mandarin Gallery for the great food and playlist, and Wild Honey for the unique iced latte.
Where are the best places to shop in the neighbourhood? There are too many to name on Orchard Road, but I think the Design Centre has some unique finds and stocks an array of local labels and products, and ION has a good selection of shops that I like. I usually do my grocery shopping at the new CS Paragon, FairPrice at 111 Somerset, or Marketplace at Tanglin, which is also not too far away.
Key fun or interesting things to do in this Singapore neighbourhood. I like walking and taking photographs on Emerald Hill. There’s always something interesting to see, and the colours are particularly striking at dusk and after a rainstorm.
What’s one thing you’d never change? The location, the view and the interesting history of this neighbourhood. This area used to be a nutmeg plantation, and there is a commemorative nutmeg statue at the entrance to Orchard Central.
Beyond the ’Hood
What are your favourite Singapore spots for taking out-of-town guests? It’s been a while, but it used to be Raffles Hotel, Marina Bay Sands, Orchard Road, Boat Quay and the Asian Civilizations Museum.
When you’re in need of a dose of culture, where do you go? One of the many lovely museums here, or to Joo Chiat, or to a live performance of some sort.
This article first appeared in the February 2022 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!