Think you know Singapore’s Chinatown?
Let veteran architect, Eddie Chan Fook Pong, take you on a journey back in time through a Chinatown as you have never imagined it. Chinatown Unspoken is a historical story of Singapore set against a wonderfully colourful landscape. Eddie’s account roars through two decades of turmoil, with characters ranging from gangsters and soldiers to prostitutes and clans, samsui women and even government officials.
A tribute to the beloved neighbourhood where he grew up, Eddie takes an affectionate look at the bustling part of town that has bewitched him ever since he was a child. By interweaving his own personal experiences in his storytelling, he beautifully captures its vivid stories, giving readers a deeper look into what “Chinatown” meant to its inhabitants—and to Singapore at large.
Praise for the book
“This is a most authentic description of the sight, sound and smell of the old Chinatown. I can feel the pulses as it reminds me of the days past. I used to live at 9 Kreta Ayer Road, just five units away from Chan Fook Pong’s. Our friendship began from the early 1950s and this bond is now over 70 years old. He was always the more adventurous one, roaming the streets and befriending both the good and the bad.
Our childhood escapades took a breather when he graduated as an architect and went on to build one of the largest architecture firms in Singapore. We still keep in touch and I am glad that he has now decided to share his inner childhood thoughts with all Singaporeans: A life of fear and hunger endured during the Japanese Occupation; economic struggles during the formative years of Singapore’s independence; successful retirement despite the vicissitudes of life. His personal experiences recounted in this book makes it a notable read.
Reading Fook Pong’s book made me recollect some of the near-forgotten joy and sadness I experienced together with him and other friends.When we learnt to ride on rented bicycles and crashed into the dirty drains, we carried on in spite of the bloodied legs, finally returning home to furtively apply iodine to the nasty wounds, hoping our mothers would not notice. To find an open space to fly our own handmade kites, we risked life and limbs to climb up to the flat rooftops of the SIT housing blocks via the chimney stack. We witnessed gang fights in the narrow alleys and read about the death of the gang members in the newspaper the next day. We ate late night snacks of fishball noodles and fresh cockles while sitting on wooden stools next to the smelly drains, just a few streets from Death Street.
Thank you Fook Pong for this brief nostalgia for the intangible past.”
— Lam Lychow
Former Director of Engineering,
Television Corporation of Singapore (TCS)
“Environment frames character. There were kampong boys and town boys, and amongst the town boys, there were the upstairs boys and the downstairs boys.
Upstairs boys were more studious, under their mothers’ watchful eyes. They became professionals and bureaucrats. They were more likely to write, but few did.
Downstairs boys became gangsters, businessmen and politicians in those days. Therefore, I never expected downstairs boy, Chan Fook Pong, a true blue Chinatown kid, to write a book. It was a total surprise and learning experience for me to read Fook Pong’s cry from the heart, the story of his lost world.
Preserving buildings without knowledge of the sweat and smell of life lived real and rough is just façade treatment. Fook Pong’s story gives it substance. His becoming an architect and a jazz musician is not such a strange twist once I understood from reading his account of his early years.
I also learnt how his talent and intelligence, stirred up in grimy reality, can emerge, given the suffering patience of his mother, which made him turn the vital corner in his life to become the success that he is.
This book is a must read.”
— Tay Kheng Soon
Adj. Professor, Architecture, NUS