The name Hougang, commonly pronounced “Au Kang”, comes from a Teochew and Hokkien phrase for “at the back of the river”. This is a reference to Sungei Serangoon, the river at the end of Upper Serangoon Road that flows out to Coney Island. If you don’t know a huge amount about this area in the northeast, the new Hougang Heritage Trail will help get you acquainted. Launched in October, it consists of 18 heritage sites with 10 trail markers; these cover everything from pirate tales to the military history of Singapore. Here are half a dozen interesting stories you’ll find on the way.
#1 Crocodiles in Hougang!
Hougang used to offer a unique tourist attraction in the form of the Tan Moh Hong Reptile Skin and Crocodile Farm. Often referred to simply as the Singapore Crocodile Farm, the business was established in 1945. By the 1980s, it had about 600 crocodiles. Entry to the farm remained free for the public right up to its closure in 2012. Other smaller crocodile farms also existed in Hougang.
#2 Special HDBs
In the 1980s, some HDBs began to take on a distinctive look that set them apart from others. In Hougang, this included introducing curved buildings, in the form of rounded balconies and curved columns. Other blocks were also decorated with murals – for example, Block 316 (pictured), was painted with a sweeping rainbow motif.
#3 War History
Hougang played an important role during the Japanese occupation in World War II. Buildings such as the Church of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (today a National Monument) became places for medical assistance and refuge. Singaporean war hero Lim Bo Seng, whose family owned land and businesses in the area, was almost captured when 200 Japanese soldiers surrounded the family home in Wolskel Road; he happened to be in another location at the time.
#4 Making Fast Food History
The very first McDonald’s opened in Singapore in 1979 – in Liat Towers on Orchard Road. But the franchise’s first move into the heartland only came in 1984, with the opening of a restaurant in Hougang. It was the first time a fast food outlet had opened in a housing estate on the island. Still operational today, it’s located at 208 Hougang Street, and is one of more than 100 McDonald’s venues across Singapore.
#5 First of its Kind in Singapore
Hougang Plaza opened in 1993. It was considered the first all-entertainment complex in an HDB estate. Up until its demolition in 2013, the plaza provided residents with recreational facilities that included a bowling alley, billiards hall and cineplex.
#6 Oldest Temple in Singapore
The Tou Mu Kung temple began life as a shrine in Lim Loh village in Hougang; it was built in 1902 and remains the oldest temple in Singapore dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods. These gods were worshipped in particular by Chinese labourers working in tin mines, as they were said to ward off diseases. The temple is now a National Monument, and it continues to host celebrations during the annual Nine Emperor Gods Festival (next occurrence: 4-13 October 2021). Chinese opera was performed at the temple during these celebrations until 1998.
Find out more about the Hougang Heritage Trail here.
This article first appeared in the December 2020 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!