Kay Poh Road… A Busybody Road?

Kay Poh Road is neither a busy road, nor a busybody road. It is a relatively significant minor road currently home to half a dozen condominiums. Located off River Valley Road, it, however, has a history dated back to the early 20th century.

In 1903, the Municipal Commission approved Wee Kay Poh’s request to construct two new roads between Irwell Bank Road and Jervois Road. The new roads would be named Kay Poh Road, after the requester himself, and Seow Kee Road respectively. Seow Kee Road was renamed Shanghai Road in 1915, and both roads live on till this day.

Kay Poh (The Pioneer)

Wee Kay Poh (黄继宝, 1871-undetermined) was a prominent Chinese businessman who graduated at Raffles Institution and served apprenticeship at Messrs. A. L. Johnston & Co. When he was 20 years old, he married Khoo Liang Neoh, daughter of Chinese merchant Khoo Boon Seng, whose influence and network might have helped Wee Kay Poh in starting his own business.

By 1896, the 25-year-old Wee Kay Poh had risen to become the managing partner of trading firm Chop Poh Hin Chan. In the 1900s, he advanced his career further, being appointed as the managing partner of the Singapore Opium and Liquors Farm.

Wee Kay Poh was also into properties and landownership. In 1900, he purchased a 500-acre parcel of land at Bukit Timah Road for $77,000, and acquired another land at Race Course Road for $4,900 three years later. Overall, Wee Kay Poh had owned properties at Tanjong Katong, River Valley Road, Waterloo Street and Change Alley. At 6 Kay Poh Road, he built himself a grand residence which might be where the current condominium The Montana is standing.

Wee Kay Poh’s close relationship with the colonial government also saw him invited to the King’s birthday ball every year as one of the distinguished guests. He had donated generously on several occasions, such as the erection of Queen Victoria’s memorial and the Indian famine relief fund.

Kay Poh (The Road)

At Kay Poh Road, several buildings were built along it by the 1910s; In 1917, a Kay Poh Road’s building and freehold land of about 15,000 square feet (or 1,400 square metres) were sold for $2,300.

In 1952, a mysterious murder case occurred at a house at Kay Poh Road. A 34-year-old newspaper vendor and school teacher Ho Ah Beng was shot three times in his head and stomach. There were more than 30 occupants in the house, but none witnessed the crime and murderer. The case was apparently unsolved.

In 1976, the Internal Security Department (ISD) raided a Kay Poh Road apartment and seized many illegal items such as home-made grenades and denotators, communist pamphlets, checklists and documents as well as photographs of communist terrorists’ training at the Thai-Malaysian border. The apartment had been rented and used by the factions of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) to regroup in Singapore for their new phase of subversion and terrorism.

One landmark at Kay Poh Road is the Kay Poh Road Baptist Church. The Cantonese-speaking church was established at Sophia Road in 1949, before moving to Tras Street two years later. As its members grew, the church decided to purchase a site at Kay Poh Road in 1961 where it stays till today.

Kay Poh (The Busybody)

A misnomer of Kay Poh Road is its inaccurate association with kaypoh (“busybody” in Hokkien), a word popular in Singapore and Malaysia in describing those who are nosy, like to gossip about others, or spread malicious rumours, behind one’s back.

But even kaypoh has a wrong origination. It is unknown when the mistake first occurred, but its inaccurate Chinese translation of 鸡婆 (literally “chicken woman”) has since been widely and commonly used. The pronunciation of chicken in Singapore Hokkien is kuay instead of kay. Hence, the actual correct translation of kaypoh should be 牙婆 (literally “tooth woman”).

Kaypoh, in ancient China, was one of the 三姑六婆, which means, in Chinese, nine types of women who were involved in disreputable or immoral professions, or dodgy trades (two types refer to nuns and priestesses who did not really belong to the dishonourable types but were under social discrimination then).

The kaypoh‘s job was to help wealthy men or powerful officials get their concubines, mistresses or courtesans, either through coaxes, threats or by force. This was a role widely despised by the society, and while it was eventually phased out, the word kaypoh managed to live on, with its meaning evolved from a female human trafficker to a busybody or gossipmonger.

Published: 23 November 2021

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1 Response to Kay Poh Road… A Busybody Road?

  1. Benedict V Peter says:

    My school – Raffles Institution – moved there from Bras Basah Road when I was in secondary 4. We had a lot of fun ‘re-naming’ the school “Kay Poh Rd Sec. School”.

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