At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary about the cluster of semi-detached houses at the Teachers’ Housing Estate.
Located at the junction of Upper Thomson Road and Yio Chu Kang Road, this tucked-away housing estate has a sleepy atmosphere with not much traffic around.
Then you start to notice the road signs.
Omar Khayyam Avenue, Li Po Avenue and Tagore Avenue, roads named after famous Asian poets in history. Below each road names is a cute illustration of a quill.
You will also see the odd plaque with the words of famous poets inscribed on them as you walk around the estate.
One plaque, situated at the estate’s park, has the poem ‘Autumn’ written by 4th century Sanskrit writer Kalidasa, which deals with the feelings awakened in a pair of young lovers during the season.
Kalidasa probably never imagined that he would be immortalised in a quiet spot in Singapore 17 centuries later, but he is in good company at the Teachers’ Housing Estate.
PEOPLE BEHIND THE ROAD NAMES
Completed in 1968, the estate was developed by the Singapore Teachers’ Union (STU) to provide teachers with affordable housing back then.
Check out more pictures: Scenes from Teachers’ Housing Estate
As a tribute to learning and culture, all seven roads within the estate have been named after prominent poets, philosophers and educators.
Tagore Avenue is named after the Bengali poet, polymath and Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1864 - 1941), and Iqbal Avenue remembers Muhammad Iqbal, a Muslim poet and philosopher who lived in India from 1877 to 1938.
The greatest of Chinese poets who lived during the Tang dynasty — Li Po (701 - 762 CE) and Tu Fu (712 - 770 CE) — also have roads named after them.
Munshi Abdullah Avenue has the closest link to Singapore history as it honours Abdullah Abdul Kadir (1796 - 1854), the father of modern Malay literature, who also served as a private secretary to Sir Stamford Raffles.
A TEACHER REMEMBERS
Resident Rita Wong, 71, told inSing: “Ever since the estate was upgraded five or six years ago, people have been asking more frequently why the roads have been so named.
The plaques with poems and illustrated quills were installed during the refurbishment, she added, and the estate became part of the new Ang Mo Kio Heritage Trail in 2011.
The National Library Board (NHB) states that 256 terrace houses were built and priced between S$23,000 and S$25,000 in 1968.
That was a huge amount of money for teachers whose salaries were between S$325 and S$690 a month then.
Wong, who is a retired primary school teacher, remembers that there was a van that used to travel around the estate selling groceries, because there were no provision shops or markets within walking distance.
The Singapore Teachers’ Union Teachers’ Centre was added in 1973, and it boasted a swimming pool, squash courts and a library.
Such facilities were uncommon in the 1970s, but swimming pools, for example, became more common in the 1990s. The land where the facilities sit was leased to a private developer in 2010.
Apart from former teachers living there today, there are some expatriates in the neighbourhood as well.
Some of the original two- and three-storey units have also been extensively renovated.
There used to be monkeys or even the occasional python that strayed in from the nearby Lower Peirce Reservoir Park, Wong remembers, but not anymore due to the development of the area – the biggest of which is an upcoming condominium next to the estate.
Many aspects of the original estate have remained the same, Wong says.
In particular, there is a row of shophouses where longtime shopkeepers have been plying their trade for years.
Apart from a laundry shop, there is an egg-seller and a bakery, Thong Huat Breads and Cakes Manufactory, which was there when Wong moved into the estate 35 years ago.
The bakery still makes bread the traditional way on its premises, where old-style loaves have their burnt tops shaved away before they are sliced and packed.
“My grandchildren still play in the streets as well, like what my children used to do,” says Wong, who lives on Tagore Avenue.