Residence of Tan Teng Niah
The Residence of Tan Teng Niah, located only a minute’s walk from Little India MRT Station, is a fantastic place to stay while exploring Singapore. While the choice of psychedelic colours on the exterior post-restoration is debatable, one cannot dispute that this eight-room Chinese mansion screams for attention in the vicinity of Kerbau Road.
The structure has a long and illustrious history, dating back to 1900, when Tan Teng Niah, one of the area’s few prominent Chinese entrepreneurs, built it for his wife. This former Chinese house is one of the few that survived in Little India.
The building was designed by the Singapore Institute of Architects’ Honourable Mention Award winner in 1991, according to media reports. It is said to be a mix of Southern Chinese and European architectural elements. This was several years after the restoration in the early 1980s.
The best thing about this house is the beautiful tiled roof, which features a bamboo pattern. The gliding nameplate at the doorway with the calligraphic inscription “Siew Song” or Elegant Pine, and the swinging door (also known as pintu pagar in Malay), is also noteworthy.
Chinese Industries in Early Little India
After the success of their livestock business, a few Chinese merchants relocated to Little India. They were also involved in the manufacture of rattan products, pineapple plantations, and rubber smokehouses. The cattle trade in the region was linked to a variety of industries, such as brewing, tanning, and harness manufacture. These enterprises, despite their apparent dissimilarity to the cattle trade, had a substantial commercial connection that made sense.
The moist environment of the region provided the necessary quantities of water for rattan crafts. The cattle were fed on scraps from the rattan recycling industry, as well as dregs from pineapple skins at the factories. Bullock carts were readily available, and they facilitated the transportation of goods such as rubber sheets manufactured in the rubber smokehouses.
Tan Teng Niah, for example, owned a rubber smokehouse and his legacy would be carried on at 37 Kerbau Road as the Residence of Tan Teng Niah.