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Tula’s Kampong

By: Verne Maree; photography by Ken Tan

Tula Goodwin and her husband Henry live together with their three daughters in a century-old Peranakan house in a Chancery cul-de-sac. On a weekday morning, it’s hard to believe how quiet this District 11 neighbourhood is; the chirping of birds is the only sound to be heard.

 

 

The word tula means “be quiet” in the language of the Shona people of Zimbabwe, where Tula was born and spent her early years before being packed off aged nine to England and boarding school. She’s not sure whether it came from her nanny, or from her younger sister being unable to pronounce Tula’s given name, Victoria. Either way, she has fully embraced the nickname – and as we enter the house together she tells me how much she revels in its peace and quiet.

The silence is short-lived, however, as three blonde bombshells hurtle out of their playroom to welcome mum home from gym. A couple of weeks into the long December holidays, it’s evident that three lively little girls could be a full time job in themselves; but that’s by no means the case, as I’m about to find out.

What brought you to Singapore from London in early 2008?

Singapore ticked a number of boxes for us. It was good for Henry’s career as a lawyer, and I liked the idea of living somewhere other than England and being able to travel around Asia. It’s the classic story; we planned a two-year adventure, and we’re still here eight years later. Not that it was all easy: I was heavily pregnant with Daisy, so Henry came here ahead of us and I followed later with a six-week-old baby. I remember having to bath her in the sink in the serviced apartment we stayed in before our container arrived!

How did you find this house?

When we lived in Espana, a cluster house complex in nearby Dyson Road, I used to walk past this house and wonder about it. One day, I saw a listing on a property website for an “original Peranakan house” in Chancery Hill Road. I just knew it was this one. So Henry and I took a walk down here and happened to spy the owner; she and her family had lived in the old house for many years before building a big, new one just across our garden.

homes in Singapore
“We love our large, even lawn. I planted the yellow-flowering plants and the Thai jasmine hedge.”

She showed us around and I immediately fell in love with the place – its peaceful, colonial feel somehow reminded me of Africa. Though it’s a hundred years old, it still has almost all its original features: high ceilings with suspended fans, wooden floor beams that you can peek through to the area under the house, which is raised on stilts kampong-style. Interestingly, we’re told that the two little steps at the back are where women used to enter the house, while men came in through the front entrance.

Another wonderful feature is a cool verandah that runs the length of the house. Effectively open on both sides, and with no glass in any of the downstairs rooms, the house is designed to catch the breeze and stay cool. That said, it was absolute hell during the recent haze. The kids had to be confined to either the playroom or their bedrooms.

Did you have to do much before moving in?

Yes, quite a bit! There wasn’t much of a kitchen, so we installed a proper one in the outbuilding; we repainted and sprayed the bathrooms white (they were bright pink and yellow), replaced the showers, loo seats and taps and added fans. We also replaced the harsh fluorescent tube lighting in the bedrooms with warmer, more attractive lights. And we turned what was a helper’s room into a bright playroom for the girls and a study for me.

What’s it like to live here?

It’s lovely to have a garden like this. I brought in the children’s slide and the swing, and our neighbours lent us their croquet set to play croquet on the lawn. It’s quite fun! After supper, the kids in the neighbourhood scoot and ride their bikes up and down the road; being a cul-de-sac, it’s pretty safe.

Having a vacant and overgrown field at the end of the garden enhances the sense of living with nature, but it’s a mixed blessing. All sorts of wildlife comes in: squirrels that try to nest in our ante-room, wild kampong chickens, a couple of cobras, non-venomous paradise tree snakes at the gate, even a monitor lizard who emerged from a drain during the unusually dry period last February.

There’s plenty of space for our dog Sumba to run around in. (He’s a rescue dog who was found on a construction site.) We named him after the Indonesian island of Sumba, having visited Nihiwatu resort on honeymoon in 2006; Henry chose it for its idyllic surf break. Funny to think that we spent the first night at The Fullerton Hotel here in Singapore, little knowing that we’d end up living and raising our family here!

homes in Singapore
“We’re lucky that all the bedrooms are of a good size. Margot’s tutu collection gives hers a pop of colour.”

 

How would you describe your style, and where do your furnishings come from?

I’d say it’s traditional, eclectic and colonial. Though it includes masses of things picked up both here and during our travels in Asia, I feel my style could translate to wherever I go. Henry thinks I have too many pictures of animals, however, and I admit there’s a lot of silver bits and bobs to clean!

Finally, tell us about your business.

Before Aggie was born, I started importing Masai-beaded belts, dog collars and leads, selling them in pet shops and at fairs. More recently, I set up a property, travel and lifestyle PR business with Fiona Vogel, an old colleague of mine from London who had been posted to Singapore. We’re called VogelGoodwin.

We’ve just been involved in the international launch of Hotel Jen – behind Tanglin Mall where Traders Hotel had been for 30 years. It’s under Shangri-La management, targeted mainly at business travellers and those coming via Singapore to Australia. I can recommend the coffee at its very nice artisanal café, Jen’s Kitchen on the Go.

With three children to bring up, plus a business to run, how do you manage your time?

It requires a bit of juggling, I must say, especially as I still pick up the kids and do their homework with them. Whenever possible, I aim for a four-day week, reserving Friday to do things with my girls. For calls to UK clients, I tend to wait until after the children’s bedtime. What’s so amazing about living in Singapore is that I have the great help of someone like Dolor. I don’t think I’d be able to do all this in London.

homes in Singapore
Family portraits by Katie Martin-Sperry

 

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This article first appeared in the March 2016 edition of Expat Living Subscribe

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