Jul 31, 2009

Charlie and His Chocolate Factories at Tanglin Halt

I'm slowly beginning to love Tanglin Halt. It is just not your typical housing estate. I tell you why today.

Previously I blogged about a potential exploding gas tank in Tanglin Halt. This PUB gas tank stood menacingly at one corner of Queenstown Chap Lau. Towering above the 10 storey blocks, she terrorized more than a few residents and at least one visitor to the estate. Luckily she was removed during the late 90s or early 2000s before she could turn into another Chernobyl. For those who lived in fear, this was something to cheer for.

At the same corner of Queenstown Chap Lau but on a neighboring plot stood another landmark that did not give fear but joy to its resident at its inception. This was the Van Houten chocolate factory next to block 80. Living next to a chocolate factory has its privileges. From one resident,

"The chocolate factory started operations around 1964. At least twice a day, the factory would emit the most aromatic wafts of rich chocolatey smells into the air."
(source of quote: 10-Stories Queenstown Through The Years by Calvin Low. Incidentally Calvin was the author of the quote.)

Picture from source. I remember fondly their rectangular box chocolates. Every feast (from the box) was a sinful occassion and plagued me with guilt. It was not sinful because I'm weight conscious (I can never put on weight even with a slouchy office job). It was because their chocolates were irresistable and I often went back (to the box) for more. And this sinful act was committed not in my house, because we seldom buy them, but in houses of relatives. So one by one these egg-shaped chocolates ended up in my mouth. Today Ferro Rocher has largely replaced Van Houten chocolates as gifts or snacks during Chinese New Year.

Today, to experience the "rich chocolatey smells" from a factory, you probably enroll in a chocolate making course with your loved one. I have never attended such a course but judging from the happy face of the host artiste in those Channel / U variety 'edutainment' shows and drama serials, the aroma must be pretty irresistible. My only experience with a chocolate factory was a humble but gratifying one. See picture below.

Picture from source. With innocent childlike wonder, I dipped my strawberries and mash mallows into a fondue and they turned into chocolates.

Do you know these chocolate fountains are available for sales and rental? For a sale price of USD $169.99 , you can buy the above fountain and setup your own chocolate factory. Oh, fruits are not included.

According to my research, the Van Houten chocolate factory was next to block 80. But where exactly was it? The fact that block 80 is at the edge of the housing estate and beside the old Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate does not it any easier.

Google Map showing Block 80 and old Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate at Tanglin Halt Road and Tanglin Halt Close.

From my research, I also learned that the industrial estate had another chocolate factory. No, not Cadbury or Ferrero, but a company called Sheng Huo Enterprise. My first reaction was, who ever heard of Sheng Huo Chocolates?!

Nevertheless, I decided to embark on a 'second shot' mission to find out exactly where the two chocolate factories used to be located. I could not find any photos of the said Van Houten factory, regrettably. So my mission was focused on Sheng Huo.

Even though I can't deduce the location of Van Houten factory through various 'second shot' techniques, I decided to survey the plot of land between block 80 and Tanglin Halt Road.

Block 80, Tanglin HaltBlock 80, Tanglin Halt
Left: Taken from junction of Tanglin Halt Road and Commonwealth Drive. I think that is some road work or sewage work in the foreground. Block 80 is rightmost in the background.
Right: Block 80 in background center. Taken along Tanglin Halt Road.

For Sheng Huo, I was luckier. I found photos and even though I had no idea where they were taken in Tanglin Halt, I could apply the various 'second shot' techniques. These techniques work mainly because while the factories were demolished, the 10-storey Tanglin Halt flats (Chap Lau) are still standing. If you see a particular arrangement of Chap Lau in the background, that can often guide you to the photographer's location.

A simple example.

Opening of Great Malaysia Textile Manufacturing Company Limited at Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate
Block 79, 80, Tanglin Halt
Top: From National Archives of Singapore. Old Guard Dr Goh Keng Swee officiating at factory opening, 1967. But we are more interested in what is visible in the background - Sheng Huo Enterprise Ltd. Notice the Chap Lau further back.
Bottom: Today it is hard to get a good shot of Chap Lau as you go further into the industrial estate from Commonwealth Drive. In the background is block 79, similar to the Chap Lau in the 1967 photo. Tanglin Halt Road is running across.

What happens if Chap Lau cannot be seen in the old photo? Suck thumb lor!

So here is the more advanced example, when Chap Lau cannot be seen. This example uses pattern matching.

Possible Sheng Huo Location
Pattern matching 'second shot'. The 1966 archive photo shows the opening of Sheng Huo Enterprise Limited at Tanglin Halt Industrial Estate. Tanglin Halt Road running across in the 2009 photo. The stone pattern on both gate pillars are a perfect match. Gotcha!

From just two sets of 'second shot' photos, I have established the location of Sheng Huo along Tanglin Halt Road. Of course it doesn't take a genius to come out with the 'second shot' techniques.

Just to play safe, I checked the other gate pillars to make sure they are not identical, i.e. came from the same pattern template.

Sheng Huo Gate PillarSheng Huo Gate Pillar
Left: The other stone pillar in the 1966 archive photo.
Right: Another stone pillar from the gate nearer to Commonwealth Drive.

After my field trip, I did some quick research and ascertained the address of Sheng Huo Enterprise Ltd - No. 481 Tanglin Halt Road. According to SLA map, the location could very well be where my photo were taken.

SLA map showing possible location of chocolate factory. No. 482 is marked. I think the typical odd-even numbering is used because No. 482 is on one side whereas No. 475 and No. 479 are on the other.

From the time I read about the name Sheng Huo, its pronunciation has been a nagging question at the back of my head. Not knowing Sheng Huo Chocolate is bad enough, I can't take it when I can't pronounce its name from the English source. Sheng Huo Enterprise sounds like a 'cina company' and the name looks hanyu pinyin. For a long time, I thought Sheng Huo is read as 盛货. Hey, don't you think this is a nice name for business?

Then I discovered i was wrong. The answer turned out to be quite amusing and unexpected. I never thought it would be that simple.

Sheng Huo Chocolate Factory Official Opening
Congratulatory notices in Jan 1966 newspaper on opening of Sheng Huo Chocolate Factory at Tanglin Halt (生活企业有限公司东陵驿朱古力厂).

This article started off with the Van Houten chocolate factory at Tanglin Halt which I did not manage to find. Then I found the location of Sheng Huo in near proximity to block 80. Could they be the same factory after all? Perhaps there was no Sheng Huo Chocolate and Sheng Huo actually produced Van Houten chocolates in Singapore. So the "aromatic wafts of rich chocolatey smells" described by Calvin Low came from Sheng Huo.

Sheng Huo Gate Pillar
Fallen stone pillar from one of Sheng Huo's gates pointing to - can you believe it - block 80.


Victor said...

I'm also slowly beginning to love Tanglin Halt... but for another reason - it's food.

Lam Chun See said...

I think Sheng Huo is probably a contract manufacturer for Van Houten. During my time in NPB, I visited some local garment factories that similarly manufactured branded T-shirts.

Lam Chun See said...

But Victor, I don't you can take any photos of your favourite subject here.

Adelin said...

Okay, I'm hungry now.

yg said...

icemoon, you the can, man! from a stone pillar, you managed to fix the location of a long gone factory. i don't think sheng huo and van houten were the same. i remember going on a class excursion to the van houten's factory at tanglin halt and i don't recall any chinese name.

passerby said...

Oh wow, what a fantastic post - like yg I must respect your advanced sleuthing techniques in figuring out what goes where! And then old snippets some more...

I love it when all these old pillars and posts are left around, they leave behind such rich hints and suggest a real story behind it.

Anonymous said...

Hello 'Sherlock', nice investigative work!

In the NAS files, there is a record of a photo dated 28 Feb 1969, which shows a Caucasian gentleman handing over a donation cheque of $25K to Minister Lim Kim San. The caption indicates "... from Sheng Huo Enterprises Ltd, makers of VAN HOUTEN malcoa,"

Icemoon said...


you must recommend some nice food ok.

Chun See, yg and Anon,

based on what I have found, the 'contract manufacturer' is most plausible. but the queenstown book is a bit misleading because both Van Houten and Sheng Huo are mentioned and it is clearly stated Van Houten was beside block 80.


You can buy Van Houten chocolate and .. treat me. :P

Icemoon said...


I fully agree with you (on the old pillars and story part). perhaps those who have worked in the chocolate factory can share with us 'cocoa tales'.

too bad all female readers of my blog are young ladies. I assume most of the workers there were females.

Anonymous said...

Found this bit of information in "Van Houten's 180 Years of History".

Milestones 1918-1960: Van Houten builds new factories in Germany, France, the UK and Singapore.

Was there really a Van Houten factory here?

Icemoon said...

Wah. are all the anons the same person?

they make much better researchers than me.

Icemoon said...

Will all the Chap Lau residents fall in? lol

Anonymous said...

'Mr Holmes' - here are some information.

Re: Digitised version (headlines only)of the Straits Times. One has to visit the library to view the complete text.

i) 1964 - Dr Goh Keng Swee laid the foundation stone of Malaysia's first chocolate factory the Sheng Huo Enterprises ...

ii) 1966 - Multi-million N.Y. firm W.R. Grace & Co. major shareholder of Sheng Huo ...

iii) 1967 - Singapore-American joint venture company in the Republic has installed one of the most modern temperature controlling units in its $1 million plant extension ...

iv) 1972 - Free Van Houten chocolate samples to all. By kind courtesy of Allied Chocolate Industries ...

v) 1981 - Allied Chocolate appointed Mr Eddie Shang Wei Teh as alternate director to Mr Shang Chee Yeo ... (note: Shang Chee Yeo was director of Sheng Huo)

Saw an old photo of a Van Houten chocolate bar wrapper. Indicates: Made for the Royal Factories of C.J.Van Houten & Zoon N.V. Weesp Holland by Allied Chocolate Industries Ltd 481 Tanglin Halt Road Singapore.


Icemoon, You are the real star of the show. I am only a supporting cast ... Rgds 'Watson'

Icemoon said...

Thank you, my dear Watson.

Eh, 481 Tanglin Halt Road was Allied Chocolate Industries Ltd?! Oh, maybe brought over later.

Woo .. Malaysia's first chocolate factory was in Singapore. Can I say Malaysia Boleh?

Lam Chun See said...

Your title is really neat.

Icemoon said...

Thank you Chun See. Hopefully I won't get sued by the movie producer.

yg said...

allied chocolate industries was the one we visited. the factory was not far from the main road of commonwealth drive. could allied chocolate have been allied with sheng huo?

Adelin said...

I'll get a box for you the next time we meet for your birthday.

Icemoon said...

I think allied chocolate either allied with or swallowed sheng huo.

i wonder what happened to van houten.

Icemoon said...

Thank you Adelin!! I've not tasted van houten 'easter egg' chocolates for a long time.

hmm .. maybe i should blog about diamond factories next.

Adelin said...

oooo, diamonds... but I prefer gold.

Unknown said...


Yes, I heard of the factory when I moved into Blk 77 in the early 90s. I remember when I just moved in, every night we could smell the strong aroma from the 3 old school bakeries (selling white loaves and french loaves) downstairs and the nearby blocks. But for some reasons all 3 disappeared before I could take pictures of them.

Roger said...

Yet again there was another report yesterday in the papers that chocolate is good for your heart. So, living next to a chocolate factory is like having your daily fix of chocolate.

Anonymous said...

To set the record straight Sheng Hou and Allied chocolate was the same company. The name was changed from Sheng Huo to Allied Chocolate when a joint venture was formed with WR Grace, the owner of Van Houten at that time. The address was at 481 tanglin Halt Road.

Icemoon said...

Thanks to Anon for the clarification!

I guess this answers why yg visited Allied and not Sheng Huo. I love Van Houten chocolates, hehe

BigHeadRabbit said...

Hi Icemoon,

By the way blocks 74 to 80 should be vacated soon in a few months, judging from the progress of the en bloc across the road.

For those fans of old kopitiam, the one at blk 75 is still open till 6pm (daily I think)...going there coming Saturday morning for breakfast. Real classic, visit it while its still there :)



Icemoon said...

Hi BigHeadRabbit, thanks for informing us. Honestly, I didnt know blk 74 to 80 may be going soon.

Is there a enbloc across the road? Blk 50-54 across the road looks quite new and they even have a multi-storey carpark...

BigHeadRabbit said...

Hi Icemoon,

Yes, those blocks across the road, directly in front of Blk 75's car park exit are for the en bloc :)

Looks to be 90% completed :)



BigHeadRabbit said... of where the new blocks are

:) for convenient reference


Matthew Ng said...

I keep telling visitors that there was a chocolate factory there when I was a kid..
A school trip or something like that allowed me to visit that factory when I was small.

Icemoon said...

Yes Matthew ... now the sight and smell are gone :(

Anonymous said...

I work in Sheng Huo Enterprise late December 1965
Like to clarify
Sheng Huo and Allied Chocolate are the same factory
Allied Chocolate got it name when the company was listed in the Singapore stock exchange