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Guide to Tiong Bahru

By: Photography by Ken Tan

Looking to move to a new neighbourhood? Nothing would be better than to hear from the residents themselves. We speak to US expat Caitlin McNeal, about the ins and outs of living in Tiong Bahru.

Name: Caitlin McNeal
From: San Francisco, US
Occupation: Professional expat

What street do you live on?
Chay Yan.

What does it mean?
It refers to rubber plantation merchant and philanthropist, Tan Chay Yan.

What’s the name of your neighbourhood?
Tiong Bahru.

Exact words you tell a taxi driver to get home?
“Tiong Bahru – behind the wet market.”

Closest MRT station?
Tiong Bahru is the closest and Outram Park is a close runner-up.

How long have you lived here?
Two years. It’s our fourth place in Singapore.

Why here?
It’s amazing, from its close proximity to the CBD to all the quirky shops and great cafés.

When you walk outside, the first thing you see is:
Our smiling guards. They not only take their jobs seriously, but they add to the neighbourhood feel.

The closest store to your front door is:
Plain Vanilla, a fabulous bakery! Their brownies are to die for – or, if chocolate isn’t your thing, pick up the ginger lime tea cake.

Your street would make the perfect backdrop for a remake of:
Gossip Girl, where Dan Humphrey lived. Or, any movie or TV show that features Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City.

Your neighbours are great, but you wouldn’t mind a little less:
Nothing comes to mind. I actually love the diverse neighbourhood. Our building is mostly owner-occupied, which gives our condo a real “neighbourhoody” feel. We’ve received welcome baskets and notes from our neighbours, which never happened elsewhere.

The unofficial uniform of your street is:
Hipster attire – skinny jeans and thick-rimmed glasses.

If a celebrity moves in next door, it will most likely be:
Lena Dunham; she’s young and seems the epitome of hipster. Or Sean Penn, but I’m not sure if that ages us!

When you’re in need of a dose of culture, you:
Peruse the great little indie bookstore, Books Actually, or wait for coffee shop turned upscale bar Bincho to open.

If you’re missing home, you:
Head to Foodie Market to buy some US meat!

A mandatory stop for out-of-town guests is:
Stopping at the wet market and showing guests our favourite fishmonger. (Look for the guys in blue and yellow!)

You’d swap houses in a second with:
A renovated walk-up.

A common myth about your neighbourhood is:
That it has only bakeries and coffee shops. There is also some great, low-key nightlife: Bincho’s for drinks, PS Café Petite for wine (look for Joel, Eric and Dette!) and the newly opened Tiong Bahru Club.

If you’re ever woken up at night, it’s almost always due to:
A local funeral procession; other than that, the neighbourhood is very quiet.

A massive late-night rager on your street is likely to be:
A Chinese festival in the HDB apartment blocks. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does you can hear it from every room.

Your favourite neighbourhood joints are:
PS Café Petite, Tiong Bahru Bakery, Foodie Market, Open Door Policy and 40 Hands.

You won’t find better local food than at:
The wet market. There is a great wanton mee stall called Zhong Yu Yuan Wei Wanton Noodles (#02-30). Get there early before it’s sold out! And Loo’s Curry Rice is probably the most popular in the neighbourhood; I’ve never not seen a line there.

The strangest thing you’ve ever seen on your street is:
TV crews – probably a dozen or more times so far.

We love a good bargain. The best deals in your neighbourhood are:
The cheese and frozen berries at Foodie Market. Try to get there on Friday at 11am when they receive their new stock.

The guiltiest pleasure in your area is:
Nimble and Knead massages. Make sure to check out the discounted “siesta” prices.

One thing you’d never change is:
The low-rise HDB apartments; they are the heart of Tiong Bahru.

But one thing you wouldn’t mind seeing go is:
The influx of tall buildings, both HDBs and condos.

The city gives you $5 million to soup up your street. You use it to:
Build better footpaths and crossings! This was never a problem until I had a pram to push.

Why should your neighbourhood be featured in a guidebook?
It’s one of only a few neighbourhoods in Singapore that ooze culture. Even Vogue named Tiong Bahru one of the top 15 coolest neighbourhoods in the world in 2014.


This article first featured in the March 2015 issue of Expat Living. You can purchase a copy for the full article, or Subscribe now so you never miss an issue!

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