Journey to the West may yield surprises

Journey to the West may yield surprises
Overview of the Joo Koon industrial area with mainly factories and complexes with businesses ranging from logistics and electronics to engineering and storage.

SINGAPORE - Ever since it displaced Boon Lay as the end of the East-West Line in 2009, Joo Koon has become a place name people recognise.

Still, even though many Singaporeans have flown across the globe, few have actually gone that far west to Joo Koon.

This might change now that there is at least one reason to visit - a FairPrice outlet as big as a two-storey warehouse.

The opening last December of FairPrice Hub, located next to Joo Koon MRT station, has brought new life to the industrial area.

The hub includes an office complex, eateries and the odd retail shop in the form of Japan Home and Buzz.

Its anchor is the 80,000 sq ft Warehouse Club mega supermarket under FairPrice. While anyone can go in, only those who become a member by paying $50 or $35 a year, can make purchases.

During weekends, families shopping for bulk groceries replace the office and industrial workers who populate Joo Koon on weekdays.

Mr Lee Kin Seng, Warehouse Club's deputy general manager, told The Straits Times: "During the weekdays, we see mainly housewives and factory staff from the nearby industrial and residential areas.

"However, on weekends, we see more families, including extended families and groups of multiple families shopping together."

On weekends, Warehouse Club has thrice as many visitors as on weekdays, he said, adding that it has more than 24,000 members.

The massive supermarket, which was started to cater to consumers who like to buy in bulk, has drawn many first-time visitors to Joo Koon.

One of them is retired telecoms consultant Ng Leong Kay, who drove 20 minutes from Choa Chu Kang with his wife to check out the new supermarket.

"This is the first time in my 62 years that I have set foot in Joo Koon," he said.

"It's all industrial, and there aren't many other shops here," he said.

Indeed, before the rise of FairPrice Hub, there was not much that Joo Koon had to offer the casual visitor, being one of the nine sub- zones of the greater Pioneer area set aside for industrial use.

Spanning about 239ha - equivalent to nearly 300 football fields - Joo Koon contains mainly factories and industrial complexes with businesses ranging from logistics and electronics to engineering and storage.

Unlike its more popular cousin at the opposite end of the line - Pasir Ris - there are no beaches, parks or chalets.

Instead, one sees squat, plain factories and industrial offices painted in grey or brown.

It is hard to imagine now, but Joo Koon used to be a sleepy seaside town known for its villages.

According to Street Names of Singapore, Joo Koon, or yu qun in Chinese, stands for "fortunate people", referring to the masses who would benefit from economic development in the area.

The area used to be home to pig, fish and vegetable farms.

Provision shops, bicycle repair shops and market stalls lined its roads, said Mr Tan Teck Yoke, 60, second-generation owner of dragon kiln Thow Kwang Industry.

"There used to be just two buses that plied the area. Bus 174 served Nanyang University and 175 went to Tuas," said Mr Tan, who has lived in Jurong all his life.

Many village children there attended Joo Koon Public School and Joo Hwa Public School, set up in the 1930s with money from residents, community leaders and businessmen to help put the farmers' children through school.

In 2002, as enrolment fell, the schools merged to form Yuhua Primary School, which stands at 158 Jurong East Street 24 today.

Heritage blogger and naval architect Jerome Lim, 50, said Joo Koon was also where Radio Singapore transmitted its broadcasts from in the 1950s. It also had staff quarters there.

In the 1960s, parts of the coastal areas near Joo Koon were reclaimed for the development of factories, under then-finance minister Goh Keng Swee.

Joo Koon later became an industrial area, home to warehouses and factories such as Stamford Tyres International, Volvo Penta and Hock Seng Marine Engineering.

Workers in the area are happy with the arrival of FairPrice Hub, as it means that chain food outlets taken for granted by the rest of Singapore - such as Han's, Pastamania or McDonald's - are now in their neck of the woods.

"It's better now with the new development as it means I don't have to eat bee hoon every day," quipped sales consultant Owen How, 26, who works at the Joo Koon branch of Motorway Car Rentals located at the MRT station.

"The eating places are quite far apart. I had only the canteen next to my office. The next nearest place is a market that's a 20-minute walk away," he said.

For now, Joo Koon is enjoying a spell in the spotlight - with its name on MRT train arrival signboards and the novelty of the warehouse supermarket.

But it might not last - as Joo Koon will not the last station on the East-West line by next year. That will be Tuas Link, the final stop of the planned 7.5km Tuas West extension.

This article was first published on February 27, 2015.
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