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 ;



14 Responses to “My Father’s Old House Near Nam Sang Hua Yuan”

  1. 1 Philip Chew Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    I was in the vicinity of Bendemeer House a few times in 1959. It was vacant and in a dilapidated condition. The garden had pools of water and mosquito was breeding profusely. One of Seah Liang Seah’s grandson was my colleague. It’s a pity that a legacy had been removed from the area.

  2. 2 Philip Chew Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Do you know where is Rumah Miskin? If not, ask you dad who should know. It was very close to Bendemeer House. The was also a Rumah Miskin Police Station.

  3. 3 laokokok Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 8:25 am

    The Rumah Miskin meaning Poor Man’s house? If I’m not wrong the Rumah Miskin Police Station was the former SANA house at Serangoon Road (near the junction there).

    So the Rumah Miskin area should be the Kwong Wai Sui Hospital. Actually the site was meant for the 2nd Tan Tock Seng hospital.

  4. 4 Philip Chew Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 9:31 am

    You are right about the site. I don’t know the reason for naming the area as such ‘rumah miskin’. Perhaps you would like to do some research and talk about it.

  5. 5 Abdul Aziz Tuesday, March 2, 2010 at 1:39 am

    Laukokok….a very hardworking research by you.A history untold to many young Singaporeans and now unfold……I remember when I was a kid at Kandang Kerbau Police Station I have heard of Rumah Miskin and The Police Station were knowned on that era as Rumah Pasong Rumah Miskin.(Rumah Pasong was old name for Police Sation).

  6. 6 Rickee Ng Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    Thank you very much for bringing back some childhood memories. Our family lived in a big attap house build on a plot amongst three rented from Mr. Seah Liang Seah. I am holding onto this precious layout map of our little Teochew kampong when the land where our house/s stood were repossessed by SG govt for re-development. Present day location should be very close to where Blk 29 Bendemeer Market/FC is.

    I remember then, until our family (the last to move) shifted to Whampoa Road in 1967 (I was 14 then), most other families in our kampong shifted to Aljunied HDB estate.

    I loved those childhood days of “Nam Seng Huay Hng”.
    1) To steal a swim or two in one of special pond or pool of the big house.
    2) Watching adults dancing at the large hall on the ground floor of the house.
    3) Plucking/picking all kinds of local fruits in the vast garden.
    4) Hike up and having fun at the little hill, known as “kaye suah” with an adjacent pond full of floating weeds to jump on.
    5) Taking shortcut through the property to watch hockey matches at the girls sports club on the other side of Serangoon Road.
    6) The best worming ground for my little ducklings.
    7) Catapulting the wiild pigeons during their flocking to that giant fig tree about 100 metres from our house.
    And much much more…………

    Initial, there were guards patrolling around the perimeter fence of Nam Seng Huay Hng. But sometimes before the earth trucks started rolling into the ground, currently Kallang Basin Industrial estate, the fencings were torn down and residents living around Nam Seng Huay Hng can enjoy the greeneries of whole garden.

    All mails to our house was addressed c/o 850 Serangoon Road, which is that big house with a crown atop the 4th storey. Even my birth certificate reflected this same address.

    I truely missed my free roaming wild childhood days of old.

  7. 7 Rickee Ng Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    Brief History of Tan Tock Seng Hospital
    The legacy of Tan Tock Seng Hospital began with the founding of the Chinese Pauper’s Hospital on Pearl’s Hill in 1844 by one of Singapore’s early Chinese leaders, Hokien merchant philanthropist Tan Tock Seng (1798-1850 A.D.) (7) The original building, designed by John Turnbull Thomson in classical western style, opened in 1849 and reflected the hospital’s mission of caring and humanitarianism through its Victorian style bungalows and open pavilion type wards. Singaporeans afflicted with typhoid fever, plague, cholera, beriberi, malaria and many other infectious diseases received care in the wards of the Pauper’s Hospital.

    Seven years later in1857, the hospital moved to a new site at the junction of Serangoon Road and Balestier Road, because the government needed Pearl Hill for gunnery placement. The new hospital, also designed by Thomson, boasted two new wards, one for lepers and one for women. Its nickname was Rumah Miskin or “House of the Poor”. Hospital officials again moved the hospital to a new site between Moulmein Road and Balestier Road in the early 1900s.
    Extracted from…

  8. 8 Rickee Ng Tuesday, May 4, 2010 at 2:30 pm

    In 1909 government officials established a new quarantine camp along Moulmein Road, which was known as the Government Infectious Diseases Camp. The Pauper’s Hospital and the Leper’s Asylum were close by. (8,9) Between 1907 and 1931, the government added hospital buildings to the Government Infectious Diseases Camp and in July 1913 renamed it the Government Infectious Diseases Hospital. In November 1920, the Government Infectious Diseases Hospital became Middleton Hospital. One physician recalls treating children during the poliomyelitis epidemic of the 1950s at Middleton Hospital.

  9. 9 Nelson Lee Thursday, December 2, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Rickee’s description of a special pond or pool,a dance hall on the ground floor of the house, a little hill and ducklings in the pond with full of floating weeds have me reminiscing those childhood days. My family lived in the Teochew kampong on the right fringe of the estate, between the house and the Whampoa river. Inhabitants of the kampong were mostly settlers from Swatow, Guangdong Province in China. They came to Singapore during the second world war. The address on my birth certificate is 930R Serangoon Road which bears testimony to my familiarity of the place. I wonder Rickee remember those rubber trees around the house and a maze-like concrete fortress on the little hill behind the house. On the front-right of the house was a round steel-structured pavilion with a small lily/lotus pond near it. The pavilion was quite close to the main road, Serangoon Road. Regarding the duck pond which Rickee mentioned, it was there that I learned to swim, among the ducks. On several occasions, together with my neighbours, we went peeping at people dancing and noticed the dancers were usually well-dressed. Male were in jackets and ties with white long pants. The special pond which was situated at the far left end of the estate was a beautifully built pool with cornices and ornamentation around it, and with descending steps into the pool (at the two shorter ends of the pool). There was also an overhead bridge in the middle of the pool. I swam there countless times, albeit naked.

  10. 10 Rickee Friday, August 19, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Hi Nelson,
    We must be neighbours after all. Otherwise, we won’t be speaking the same subject with such vivid impressions.

    When I was young, very young (pre-primary), I was selling otar2 & nasi lemak in front of a coffee shop/provision, next to an older drinkseller named “sunny”, until I go to Primary 1 at McNair School.

    Maybe you or your family members have patronised my little stool stand where I had to run away everytime the “land-cow” came raiding illegal hawkers.

    Sounds familiar?

  11. 11 peter Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 11:32 pm

    Hi Nelson,

    I am an NUS-Architecture graduate and am currently writing research paper on Transformation of Singapore Green Spaces. Your entry on the Nam Sang Hua Yuan caught my interest and with your permission, I would like to cite your post on my paper.

    I would also like to request for the detail of sepia colored image credited under

    Periplus Editions (HK) Ltd

    It would be great if you could share with me this particular source as it is related to my research paper.



  12. 12 Nelson Lee Tuesday, May 20, 2014 at 9:10 am

    Dear Rickee,

    Sorry for the late reply. I have not revisited this site since early 2011.

    Yes, we were once neighbours. Although I have no impression of your stool stand, I remember the coffeeshop owner’s son, Kek Leng (Teochew for Indian) and the provision shop owner, Bak Chye.

    My dad, popularly known as Lee Tee and his 2nd brother, ran the only Teochew Porridge shop in the kampong, just across where your stall was. I am sure you or many of your family members would have known him.

    He was also a committee member of the Ma Zhu Temple that was worshipped by those who arrived by sea during the 2nd World War. The temple has been relocated twice, first to a Bendemeer HDB ground floor unit for a short period and to the present 3 storey pre-war house on Lorong 40, Geylang. I, together with my two elder brothers (Ah Meng & Meng Tee), were once on the committee after my dad’s passing. Some of our elderly neighbours and their children are still in contact and occasionally, attends the temple’s annual festivities.

    I can be reached by e-mail:

  13. 13 Nelson Lee Tuesday, May 20, 2014 at 9:19 am

    Hi Peter,

    My apologies for not revisiting this site earlier and your request. If you are still doing research and are still interested in citing my post, please do so.

    If there is any other things that I can help, you can reach me at the address in my above reply to Rickee.

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