History's on the walls in Everton Road

History's on the walls in Everton Road
Careers manager Angeline Sim, 39, took her children, Alexander, one, and Dana, seven, to see the murals because she wanted to show them some aspects of Singapore’s history.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

A small section of Everton Road has become memory lane.

An amah, or housemaid, handwashes her kebayas and sarongs in a metal tub. Around the corner, a boy reads an Old Master Q comic while drinking Green Spot, as another gets an old-school haircut. Coffee in a Milkmaid can " hangs" from a pipe.

The lifelike images of Singapore's past are the work of Mr Yip Yew Chong, 46, who has lived near Everton Road and walked along that same road every day for about 20 years.

He was inspired last year after seeing the murals in Kampong Glam painted by Mr Ernest Zacharevic, a Lithuanian whose street art in George Town, Penang, has become a tourist attraction.

But the self-taught artist started thinking seriously about his own project only after he quit his accountant job three months ago to pursue other interests.

He told The Sunday Times: "Maybe it's my age. This is around the time when you start to feel nostalgic. So I thought painting the murals was a good way to express myself."

In July, he found the managing agent of a terrace house which had peach-coloured walls - a perfect canvas for him.

In the 1930s, the building used to be a motor garage run by Malacca-born businessman Choa Kim Keat, after whom Kim Keat Road in Balestier is named.

The agent introduced Mr Yip to the property owner, Mr Choa's great-grandson, retired civil engineering professor Victor Choa.

Dr Choa, 73, said: "I was initially worried that it'd look 'modern', so I asked to meet him and see the sketches first.

"I was won over by his passion. The outcome is beyond my expectations. It blends in so well with the surrounding area."

Mr Yip also sought permission from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and when the green light came, he got down to painting. He took nine days, with the finishing touches completed last Friday.

Along the way, he received friendly advice from passers-by who pointed out historical errors.

For instance, an elderly woman told him how the grooves on a washing board should not cover it entirely. H e repainted it for that extra touch of authenticity. Even the dustpan depicted is cut from a Knife Brand cooking oil tin, much like how it was done in the 1970s. He has also included a bottle of Scott's cod liver oil and blue tins of Jacob's crackers - culled from his own childhood memories.

"The barber shop scene is close to my heart. As a child, I enjoyed sitting there, reading Lao Fu Zi," explained Mr Yip, who lives with his wife and two children, aged 16 and 18, in a five-room Housing Board flat.

He took up painting from a young age, adding that the interest "just came naturally".

This was his first time doing a mural and the toughest challenge was "painting the faces", he said.

"I'm better at painting still life."

He also had to get the colours right, as they can look different under the sun as the day turns.

Nearby residents, such as Mr Yeo Hock Yew, 67, a retired shipping manager, say they appreciate the way he brought to life local heritage lost in time.

"Maybe we should have done this earlier but it's OK, it's still not too late," Mr Yeo said.

Mr Yip has no plans to do similar murals elsewhere.

He said: "I may be getting a new job soon, and I'm not sure I'll have the time to paint then."

He posted a preview of the mural late last month on Facebook, and that was enough to persuade one family into making a trip from their Bukit Timah home.

Careers manager Angeline Sim, 39, and her teacher husband took their two children, aged one and seven, there last Friday.

"Street art here is usually the graffiti sort, but these are nostalgic.

We thought it'd be good to show our children some Singapore history," said Mrs Sim, who was impressed by Mr Yip's attention to detail.

"The green chair near the barber shop - it's the exact tint of green that I remember."

goyshiyi@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Sep 6, 2015.
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