Archive for September, 2009

My Father’s Old House Near Nam Sang Hua Yuan

Try telling the taxi driver “Nam Sang Hua Yuan”, I think many of them will stare at you and said “Er…..where?”. I’m not surprise that many younger generation may not know this place “Nam Sang Hua Yuan” in Singapore.

What so big deal about this “Nam Sang Hua Yuan” or “Nam-Sang Hua Un” ? This is part of an estate owned by the late Mr. Hoo Ah Kay (胡亚基先生). You may probably came across his name in your old History book or Social Studies book.

I came to know about Mr.Hoo Ah Kay when I was in Primary 3. It was in this book “The Pioneering Years” (believed I’ve posted this book before);

Shown below was the Mr. Hoo Ah Kay’s house aka Whampoa House;

Above 3 pictures Credit :  EPB, Ministry of Education (1970)

Below is a photo of his house in 1910 (see the resemblance to the above picture);

Credit : PICAS, National Archives of Singapore.

In all articles about Mr.Hoo Ah Kay’s house and garden (simply known as “Nam Sang Hua Yuan” (南生花园), it was simply stated as a very big estate. Nothing was said why was it known as “Nam Sang Hua Yuan” or why he called it that name. Even my father was not aware of why is it called “南生花园”. I did some research and finally found out that it probably has got something to do with Mr.Hoo Ah Kay’s name. 胡亚基先生 real name was “胡璇泽” and he was also known as “胡南生”. So the “Nam Sang Hua Yuan” or “南生花园” was named after his name “胡南生”.

Below shows part of his house garden;

Credit : Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd

In fact when my father was staying at 922 Serangoon Road (around 1940s to 60s) , the Whampoa’s House was already sold to Mr. Seah Liang Seah in 1880. Mr. Seah Liang  Seah was a respected  member of the Chinese community. The Liang Seah Street was named after him!

Mr.Seah renamed the house as “Bendemeer House”, “明丽园”. I believed the English name “Bendemeer” was translated from the Chinese name “明丽园” (probably from Teochew dialect). The Municipal Council named the road nearby Bendemeer Road because of his numerous contribution to the community. Sad to say even after the name changed, the estate was still popularly known as “Nam Sang Hua Yuan”, “南生花园”.

The Seah Liang Seah estate “明丽园” was very huge, about 4.7 hectares of land. So how big is 4.7 hectares of land? And it’s also said to include the land opposite the Whampoa River too. That was where the 3 schools were built later – Bendemeer Sec. Sch, Bendemeer Sch and Beng Wan Sch. Take a look at the map below showing the estimated area owned by Mr.Seah Liang Seah;

Credit : Chief Surveyor, Survey Dept. Ministry of Law

The Bendemeer House was deteriorated over the years and was eventually demolished to make way for a new housing estate in 1963.

Below show the rundown Bendemeer House and estate acquired by the Government for redevelopment;

Above photos credit : PICAS, National Archives of Singapore

The estate is today’s Boon Keng Housing Estate. So where exactly is this Nam Sang Hua Yuan or Bendemeer House? It is said to be at Boon Keng MRT Station, Bendemeer Shopping Mall and Blk.27 and Blk.28 location. Let’s see the old map below;

now take another look at this 1956 map (by SIT);

See how undeveloped the area was at that time.

Below shows the area acquired by Government for redevelopment into Boon Keng estate;

Credit : PICAS, National Archives of Singapore.

Below shows the aerial view of Boon Keng estate now;

Credit : National Heritage Board

My father’s old house 922 Serangoon Road was rather near to the Bendemeer House. My father’s house was also owned my Mr.Seah Liang Seah and was rented from him for about S$18 a month. It was common at that time to sublet the property even though my father’s family was only the 1st tenant. It was a double storey house and the ground floor was rented out to 3 different families (each family for a few dollars a month). Imagine some families may have a few kids all squeezed into one room!

My uncles and my father used to go near to the Bendemeer House to play with the bats hanging on the fruit trees there. There was a cutout hole on the fence round the perimeter of the garden and they would ‘smuggled’ in to play. The servants there would chased them out and swore to punish them if they ever got caught.

Credit : PICAS, National Archives of Singapore

My father told me that opposite the Whampoa River, there were  a number of sawmill as the logs were collected from the river;

Credit : PICAS, National Archives of Singapore

The Whampoa River now is more of a canal;

Photos Credit : Simboyfat

So when we said Nam Sang Hua Yuan, we are referring to Hoo Ah Kay and when we said Bendemeer Road, we are referring to Seah Liang Seah. The Bendemeer Road runs alongside the Whampoa’s estate. How rich they were!

Note : From today onwards, I’ll include in (a scan copy in my father’s handwriting) “What my father wrote” after each post. My father learned the English Language himself by reading through the dictionaries and books. He also love learning the English Idioms. My father is Chinese educated.

What My Father Wrote ;




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September 2009