Cantonese entrepreneur and kapitan, 邱炳浓 Khoo Peng Loong, built this block and completed it in 1946. Each unit cost RM$16,000. (source: Reader Lidasar). What can you buy with RM$16K today?
If you walked up the creaky stairs in 2007, you would notice that the wooden steps had a concave worn out look from 60 years of heavy human traffic.
At the top of the stairs, you could find these pair of wooden doors that belonged to Eastern Cafe 東方茶室 of the old No.1 Bank Road. In the old days, when the shop opened in the early morning, the swinging doors would be removed and tied to the shop pillars outside.
Upstairs was the Sarikei Wharf Workers Union. It appeared as if time had stood still with old mahjong tables and chairs, an old caretaker in white singlet reading Chinese newspapers and the nice view of the busy Terminal 1 wharf from a different angle. There were old dusty pictures hanging from the wall using the traditional way. Now this memory is gone with the dust.
Eastern Cafe was started by a Foochow named Law Kah Tung 劉家桐. His older brother, Law Kah Hung aka Lau Kong Hung 劉家凰 operated Kiew Lok cafe 僑樂園茶室 (No. 9 Repok Road). In the 1970s, Eastern Cafe sold apples and pears for those visiting relatives to and fro Binatang (Bintangor) and Sibu by express boats. Apples and pears were luxury items then and sometimes the apples your relatives bought could become powdery due to its longer than desired exposure in the tropical heat. With refrigeration nowadays, this problem is no longer an issue.
Later another branch, New Eastern Cafe 新東方茶室, opened across Repok Road at No. 1 Wharf Road and is operated by another extended family of Law. In 2008, Eastern Cafe was replaced by Wang Wang Cafe 旺旺 and is operated by an extended family of Law who used to sell fruits in front of Eastern Cafe. If there's any error in the history, please correct me.
Behind Eastern Cafe was an old-style shop facing Repok Road with barbers which had cut the hair of many adults and wailing kids with a mini "lawn mower". This shop is still operating but is now halved in size. Go and have a trim!
The renovation started in mid 2007 and is now complete. The renovation is nice but it could be even nicer if the traditional pattern (made of 4 hearts) of the balcony had been conserved and incorporated into the renovated facade.
In Singapore, such shop houses also conserve the wooden windows. They put a glass layer in the window hole to enable air conditioning. They look modern and yet traditional. Why does Singapore conserve such buildings? Well, as a society gets more affluent, people long for their roots and heritage. They search for something that they can relate to; something to anchor their identity to the place they call home.
The old world charm of the historic No.1 Bank Road is now gone with the wind.