Tiong Bahru

Two bookstores sit on the same street in Tiong Bahru. One of them stocks, in addition to the standard collection of international bestsellers, a bevy of titles from local authors. It is among Singapore’s most productive incubators for homegrown talent.

The aspiring writer within wishes I could say that this bookstore has left on me a deeper impact. But it hasn’t. The other, which specializes in children’s literature, is the one I remember more vividly.

My parents, from whom I inherited an eternity of sensitivity, were keen to introduce me to the books of Shel Silverstein when I was young. Their covers attracted me most back then: the bright apple green of The Giving Tree, the soft elephant gray of The Missing Piece Meets the Big O. On the bookshelf at home, they emerge unfadingly, slivers of color amid a grid of text.

Now when I flip through the books, as I did on a Saturday morning in Singapore, what strikes me most is the poignancy of their message. The writer within, who strives to tease out beauty from pain, still has much to learn about the limitations of love, the impermanence of relationships, the endless quest for self-fulfillment, and how all of these can be positive things. It takes but a minute to read through the books, yet it will take me a lifetime to make peace with their lessons.

Down the lane from both bookstores is a bakery with an outdoor swing. The swing hangs just barely above the ground, low enough that toddlers can safely play on it. I envy them their innocence as much as I wish they could always keep it; it’s a heartbreaking path toward maturity on which their unsteady legs have started to wobble. I hope their journey is rewarding.

Gentrification has transformed the area surrounding Singapore’s oldest housing estate into a hub of creative culture. A casual afternoon in the neighborhood might include a quick bite at Plain Vanilla or Drips Bakery and a leisurely read at BooksActually and Woods in the Books, or housewares-shopping at Strangelets and coffee at Forty Hands. Fuss-free local eats can be had at the Tiong Bahru Market hawker center.

Yong Siak Street, Tiong Poh Road, Eng Hoon Street, and surrounding area, Singapore

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