Sunday, July 27, 2014

Antique Row: Relic hunting in Singapore

Entrance to Uncle Cham's shop
(Polaroid Sun 600 LMS with b/w film)
It was love at first sight. Well, at least for me. I was jogging down Turf Club Road on a horribly hot, balmy Saturday morning when I ran down a slope, turned the corner, and stopped in my tracks. I call it the "Antique Row".

I name thee "Antique Row"
(Photo taken with iPhone 5s)
To many, I suppose the items strewn in an haphazardly organized manner look like junk. The things there are old. Really old. Yet these are things that would excite people who love watching "The Pickers" I never admitted it; it's not something you outwardly declare. Say "I love to poke through junk" out loud and people will think you're not right in the head and has hobo tendencies or something.

But yes, I love to look through junk or rather, really old things. I love it when people turn old things to make them look beautiful again.

Uncle Cham feeding his beloved chicken
(Photo taken with iPhone 5s)
Why did the chicken cross the road?
On my first visit, the place looked creepy. Like haunted creepy. I made Terence promise to go back with me. On my second visit, all I brought with me instead was my Polaroid and the Diana F+, and that was when I met Uncle Cham. Actually, what greeted me first when I turned the corner were three chickens running across the road. Only then did I see Uncle Cham.

He was sweeping the driveway and didn't look creepy at all. Feeling like a reporter again, I decided to talk to him and see what else I can find out about the place. A friend of mine only managed to find two online reports of this place, which I can't even locate on Google Maps! Surely a place as unique as this would have a history that is worth sharing?

Owned by the Singapore government
Uncle Cham says the building has been around for as long as he can remember. "It's been here since I was young, and I am already 68 years old," he said with a laugh. He set up his antique business here after rent in the King George's avenue area went up, and he's been here only seven months. I reeled when he told me he rents the first and last units in this row. The landlord is the Singapore government.

"First and last? You mean this entire place is broken up into units?" I asked. It never occurred to me that there could be multiple owners or businesses; it looked so seamless from the outside as the items just flowed from beginning to end. That's when he said that there are 13 units in total, and there are four tenants here--him included. Another tenant also operates an antique business while the other uses it as a store to keep 'junk'.

Under the radar recording studio
(Photo taken with iPhone 5s)
But not everyone here runs an antique business. He pointed to a nondescript door to the left of his shop and said, "That is a recording studio." He later revealed that "those guys" also operates a photography studio. The way he said it gave it a very "under the radar" kind of vibe. Hmm.

An equine past: Storage for horse feed
Uncle Cham is very proud of how he tries to keep things neat and tidy. He's been arranging items around his driveway since he moved here and he promised that I will always see him sweeping his driveway every morning. When I asked him what the building was used for in the past, he said, "It was a place to store horse feed." BUT OF COURSE! It made complete sense.

We're chickens and proud of it
(Polaroid Sun 600 LMS with gold frame edition colour film)
You can read more about the history of horse racing and the Bukit Timah Turf Club, which opened its gates to members of the public in 1960. It's anyone guess how old the building that houses the antiques is. It might have been built in the 1960s or even earlier in the 1940s, when the member- and owner-only turf club was reopened after the Japanese Occupation.

Uncle Cham is also very proud of his chickens. Two roosters and a hen which had just laid an egg in a basket placed on top of a green refrigerator outside his main door. He tells me how the brown rooster is always bullying the other (the white one). I gathered they were a gift but from whom, I didn't quite catch. They are obviously well loved; their feathers are shiny and their comb is proud and red. He says he feeds them every morning, which was why I saw them running across the road earlier. Uncle Cham even demonstrated how he called out to his chickens.

So. Why did the chicken cross the road?
To get to the other side in time for breakfast.

A place with no correct address
Many friends have asked me: Just how do you get to this place?

Inside Uncle Cham's: Clashing beliefs
(Polaroid Sun 600 LMS with gold frame edition colour film)
I was dying to ask Uncle Cham the address to his shop since the building can't be found on the map. He says to tell people that it's 2 Turf Club Road but even then, that's not correct. Number 2 belongs to a school further down the road. "It's actually number 21 but there are no signs!" he exclaimed. So here's what you do:

1. Head towards The Grandstand at 200 Turf Club Road.
2. Travel straight down pass Pasarbella and instead of turning right to the carpark (which will lead you to Giant supermarket as well), you continue straight down the road.
3. When you reach a fork in the road, take the road on the right. There's a sign there that says "One Way Only".
4. You'd find yourself traveling alongside a big field, an area that they call "The Cage", which houses first a paintball centre (Tag Paintball), then a tennis school (Tanglin Academy), followed by a driving range, and finally a cricket field.
5. After the cricket field, keep left and go down a short slope.
6. Turn right at the end of the slope and you'll see Antique Row.

The first driveway on your right will be Uncle Cham's shop.

I only had time to poke around one of Uncle Cham's shop, and I will visit his second unit and talk to the other shop owner further down Antique Row some other day. In the mean time, I hope you'd visit him and have a look around. You never know, you might find a preloved item that you'd fall in love with. Give junk a chance.

More about Antique Row by other writers:
(Thank you Minchua for finding the articles.)

Remnants of a horse drawn carriage
(Polaroid Sun 600 LMS with gold frame edition colour film)
I will single-handedly make you a believer
(Polaroid Sun 600 LMS with gold frame edition colour film)
Will you play with me?
(Polaroid Sun 600 LMS with gold frame edition colour film)

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