Photo Essay

In October 2007, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced as many as 228 buildings being identified for conservation, including heritage sites such as Katong. Darien Chua discovered the history behind Katong, an area rich in Peranakan (Ethnic Chinese from Straits Settlements) history.


I began at 112 Katong, a brand new shiny mall where the former nostalgic Katong Mall was. It’s a gleaming example of how old buildings paved way for new ones in an urban landscape constantly changing. 112 officially opened its doors to the public on 18 November 2011 to a fine tune of $60 million spent in redeveloping the mall infused with Peranakan concepts. An example as seen in the picture below would be the use of mosaic tiles, a staple in Peranakan-influenced architecture and buildings.


Another influence (and the most noticeable of them all) can be found in the center of the mall: a “branch” attached to a lotus root, which stems from the lotus flower in Chinese culture, signifying purity.


The ultimate expression of preserving the Peranakan way of life can be found at the Katong Antique House. As its name suggests, the space is a collection of pretty much everything Peranakan the owner, Mr Peter Wee, can get his hands on.


Pictured: Fourth generation Baba Mr Peter Wee, 67, alongside some of his treasured collections in the Antique House.  According to Mr Wee, it took him 40 years of effort to collect all of these things.


Besides antiques, photos of Mr Wee’s family can be found framed and hung on the walls, preserving his own family heritage.


Above are some elaborately-designed cabinets that are usually found in Peranakan homes. “Both of them cost me 50 thousand in total!” Mr Wee exclaimed.

IMG_4962 Meet Jeremiah Chia, 23, who has stayed in Katong all his life. Over a bowl of Katong laksa, he challenged my thoughts when I asked him why should the Peranakan culture be conserved by answering, “Why not?”. Katong laksa is a ubiquitous dish found in Katong with many stalls claiming to be the original. The Katong laksa wars was one of the most talked about food tussles a decade ago.


A preview of the assortment of Peranakan delicacies available at Kim Choo Kueh Chang, including dumplings. Multiple kuihs (cakes in Malay), sauces and other delicacies form that quintessential Peranakan dessert experience.


Some of the kasut manek, beaded Peranakan shoes, famed for their intricate detail, on display and available for sale at Kim Choo Kueh Chang.