Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tom O’Brien Remembers Beauty World

Have you read the TODAY article titled To Singapore With Love written by reporter Juliana June Rasul where she interviewed my friends, Tom O’Brien and John Harper? Tom and John were children of British military forces personnel stationed in Singapore in the 1950’s and 60’s. In the article, Tom, who lived in Hua Guan Avenue, off Dunearn Road, spoke about how he used to go to the old Beauty World at Bukit Timah 7th Mile to buy his comics.

As I too have some memories of the old Beauty World and wanted to blog about it, I emailed him for more details of his memories of Beauty World of the 1960’s and this is what he wrote:

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I used to live at the top of Hua Guan Avenue at No. 70. At the bottom of the Avenue was an estate, I think called Hock Sen Gardens, where there were a lot of RAF Servicemen and their families. The RAF men were mainly based at Tengah. There were some shops there and a cafe, which I used to go to for a coke or soft drink. I was told that these shops are now selling antique furniture etc.


I used to go to Beauty World a lot, often walking through the Kilburn Estate, crossing over the railway line and onto Bukit Timah. In those days, 1967, we had quite a bit of spending power as the exchange rate was just over $14 to the £1 although this was drastically cut in Nov 1967 when the Pound was devalued. I remember that there was so much happening around Beauty World itself, with all manner of stalls and hawkers. It was like an Ali Baba’s Cave, you could buy anything.

Beauty World Sketch

I used to get my haircut at an Indian Barbers around the back of Beauty World (Shops in above sketch). I remember his magazines where all written in Tamil, so all I could do was look at the pictures while I waited my turn. Facing Beauty World from the main road on the right hand side is where I used to exchange the comic books, and there was also a place were I used to get my shirts and trousers made. I used to get some outrageous brightly coloured shirts made up, bearing in mind that it was the Hippies era and I was 14. We use to choose the material and then have it made up.

The stall with the comic books was nearby. It sold second hand books. These were small A5 size comic war books. I think that 'Commando' might have been one of the titles. He had a huge selection and we'd spend ages looking through them. Then if, say you bought 4, after you read them you'd take them back and exchange them 2 for 1. You usually ended up buying another couple as well.

On the corner was a cafe. I remember that it was partitioned by a wall of drink crates full of empty bottles. I think he might have sub-let part of his premises. Quite often we would call in there for a coke or 7-Up.

On my Mementoes page at
Memories of Singapore, there is a receipt for a reel-to-reel tape recorder purchased at Beauty World. I remember badgering my mother for the $100 that it was going to cost. I'd never had a tape recorder before and so I asked if it could be my birthday present (15). I remember my Chinese friend Donald Foo telling me off, because if I had asked him to get it, he could have purchased it a lot cheaper. I guess I couldn't wait to get this tape recorder. It lasted me along time.

I also remember my mother taking the family to the cinema in Bukit Timah to see 'The Jungle Book'. I can't remember where the cinema was or what it looked like.

SUNP0002

The area I wrote about above is now a public car park. On the right is Chun Tin Road. Just inside the fence is where there was a row of covered stalls and shops where I would have exchanged the magazines, and had my shirts made. Opposite the stalls (to the left) was the main building with various shop fronts facing the stalls, this is where I would have bought my tape recorder. At the bottom right corner was the cafe type stall. They sold bottled beer as well. This is where we used to call for a coke or other soft drink. As you walked down aisle between the shops, at the back near the steps turn left and further along on the right hand side, would have been the Barbers.

Old Beauty World (2) - Bus Stop

Above: A 60’s photo of Bukit Timah 7th Mile (Chit Ko Chio in Hokkien) from Memories of Singapore. Beauty World was to the left of this photo.


Below: 2 photos of the same area in October 2006.

PICT4145

PICT4142



........ to be continued.

28 comments:

Victor said...

Singaporean Dick Lee (renowned pop singer, composer, playwright and Singapore Idol judge) composed a musical called Beauty World in 1988. Although the musical had the same name, I don't think it was about recollections of the Beauty World you are talking about here.

peter said...

I frequently this place as a child. My mother went to the wet market and my popular stall was the "chow tau kueh" in dark black sauce and wrapped in CB leaf with a tooth-pick. There was also a large Chinese temple further down Jalan Jurong Kechil before Lam Soon factory.

When I "drifted" into the entertainment world as a musician, my band performed at a National Day Celebration hosted by the residents of Hoover Park at Chun Tin Road. We played at an open space next to Chun Tin Road (Tom's picture of the concrete building was the spot). We were paid S$150 for a 5 piece band in 1970. In the same year my band took off for Vietnam to entertain American military forces fighting in Vietnam at a place in Danang called "China Beach". "China Beach" was next to "Monkey Mountain". (I revisited Danang in the 1990s and nothing changed; the US military camps were still there). The music repertoire was typical Hippie, as Tom described like Deep Purple, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendriks, Credence Clearwater Revival. Anyway I remember Chun Tin Road as my launch pad to become a part-time musician, playing in the discos in Singapore and later as a lounge pianist at the Gordon Grill in Goodwood Park Hotel and at the Marco Polo Hotel.

peter said...

Aiyah got my year wrong. Should have been 1969 and not 1970. That's when we played at Chun Tin Road.

My band mates were Abdul Razak (drums), Joey Seow Peng Yew (rhythm), Chew Nee (bassist), Spencer Chan (saxophone) and myself (keyboard). Hope some of them will contact me as we lost touch for 30 years.

peter said...

There was one place where we could tailored our clothes like what Tom described. It was "Liftings Shirt" (next to Metro High Street)somewhere down North Bridge Road where the Funan Center now stands.

The fashion then was bell-bottom pants (even for the school uniform) with 25" as a minimum and long pointed collars and 2.5" collar in height. A shirt like this cost S$15 and pants S$20. "Hot" shirt texture were jersey materials and for pants - corduroy. The teenaged girls never went to tailors but to Bibi & Baba at the old Supreme House basement (remember Skillet Coffee House). Bibi & Baba was modelled after the same fashion house in Carnaby Street in Chelsea.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter, I know the Lifting shop that you mentioned. I wrote in my earlier post on Kampong Iron, that my brothers and I took liked that brand. We used to patronize the shop at People's Park Complex ground floor. Haven't been there for ages. Must have changed considerably.

Lam Chun See said...

Does anyone know about the Kilburn Estate that Tom mentioned? I can't find it in the street directory. Peter?

zen said...

Peter - Great to know that you were one of the veterans in music scene during the sixties, which I consider the golden era of Singapore Pop Music. Local part-time musicians were not only talented, but also had great stamina and a sense of purpose. Take for example my office colleague (a drummer in a R&B band) who played part-time in PUBS during week-ends and turned up at the office on Sundays to work overtime in order to support his father and siblings - a salute to you guys.

peter said...

Killburn Estate was an old name given to an estate comprising leasehold houses (25 yrs) built between Rifle Range Road and the present Sime Darby Center.

Rifle Range had an ammo dump built by the British during WW2 and the houses were for the British married personnel. Later the ammo dump was moved to a bigger ammo depot at Kranji Ammo Base(present water treatment center).

There used to be an abandoned black wooden building as railway quarters for KTM workers working at the nearby Bukit Timah Station behind Blackomore Drive

chuck said...

Hi Peter, glad to know you were with a band many years back. During that time, I am sure you have heared of this band - Pest Infested during the seventies. The lead singer is Ernie Koh and he is my neighbour. The drummer if not mistaken is Henry. I remembered they once held a concert in a hill near the Gombak Radar Station. They called that hill - 'Heaven'. That is the hill where I chopped of Tembusu trees to make my lastic. Wonder if there are any more Tembusu trees as it is now a restricted area

zen said...

Chuck - Now we are inspired to sing the Green Green Grass of Home.

peter said...

Hi Chuck
I think Ernie Koh was a kampung boy who lived in Chestnut Drive area. Could have been from Boys Town English School. He should be in his late 50s and plays R&B music. There was also another Eurasian, the Jansen Brothers if I can recall.

For use to make a living we had to play commercial; e.g. Santana, The Stylistics, Chicago. We rotated with Heather & the Thunderbirds at the "London Scene" in the basement of the Marco Polo Hotel (then called Hotel Malaysia). Then we played at "Moonshine" at the Ocean Park Hotel Katong before the group broke up (because of NS). We played 3-4 sets of 45 mins each on Friday and Sat nights.

I came back later to make a living whilst monnlighting at the university - that was the era of Jacintha AbinshiXXX (cant remember the spelling), Dick Lee, Tina Tan (the model who became the owner of Link Boutique today) and Chris Ho, the DJ. Brian Richmond was spinning the disc at the Goodwood Park Hotel.

I jammed during varsity when they had lunchtime concerts and with a guy called Joe Peters (best double bassist in Singapore) who later formed the NUS Band and the NUS Music Department in the 70s. Actually this was how I got my first job in the IT industry whilst playing as a musician. It was fun playing 3 months here and there - the "Jade Lounge" at Ming Court Hotel with David Ng/Julai Tan Quartet, The "Rang Mahal Restaurant" at the Oberoi Imperial, a Japanese club/restuarant called the Okoh at Supreme House and on the ground floor of Hyatt Hotel (if you walk through the main entrance today, the lounge was on the right side. Sadly many musicians died or became taxi drivers because there was no future in the local industry. You must have heard about Joe Chandran and the experiments - he became spiritual - after his stint at the Los Horizon disco at the Shangrila.

Hope this bit of history interest our readers!!

zen said...

When people get old, all their physical and mental faculties deteriorate. Even younger Singaporeans find the going tough, let alone the older folks. Talks of retraining, new attitudes- among others, are easily said than done. Anyway, is there any other choice ? except bitng the 'bullet'.

Lam Chun See said...

By they way, did you know that the stretch of Upp Bt Timah Road separating the old and new Beauty World (see the last 3 photos) used to be a 2-way street in the 60's? Then it was converted to 1-way street in the Northward direction. Then (last year?) it was re-converted back to 2-way after the Anak Bukit underpass/flyover was completed.

Chuang Shyue Chou said...

Do you remember the old A&W drive-throughs at Bukit Timah?

Lam Chun See said...

I think A&W was the first fast food restaurant in Spore. It was along Dunearn Rd near the Shell station between Adam Rd and Kheam Hock Road. Next to the canal. That stretch was called the Floral Mile. Maybe can be topic for another post.

peter said...

A&W was as Chun See the first fast food chain in Singapore. Owned and operated by the British group called Bowater Group Ltd thru' the Temengong Pte Ltd. 2 outlets in Singapore - Bukit Timah and Kallang Park.

Before Bukit Timah Canal was widened it was directly opposite to NUS Bukit Campus. As students then in the mid-70s we used to patronise it day & nite (only 24 hours place). For those who studied at the last minute at the Union House (besides playing snooker whilst studying), A&W was a cool relief for that root bear and ice-cream waffle. If you needed to date a campus girl in-between lessons, that was the place. Ask any law student from that era because it was the "mooting place" for future lawyers!

Chun See: Floral Mile was that stretch of nurseries between Whitley Road (Whitley Sec School, Swiss Cottage Secondary)and ACS Baker Road.

Chuang Shyue Chou said...

That would be really excellent! A post reminiscing the old A&Ws. Do you happen also to have photos?

Chua Meng Seng said...

I stayed in Beauty World from 1968 to 1980....
From the old photo.... the bridge next the bus stop lead to a big house....
The bridge is where the vendor trades their piglets and chicks..... as well as performing some sterilization for the chicken... as I could recall....

I could remember that there were many foreigner staying at the Hoover park which is on the left the road...

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Meng Seng for sharing that bit of history with us.

Oldyonfoldy said...

Hi Chun See,

Just want to say how much I appreciate your blog. I live in Chun Tin Rd as a young boy since 1968 and still living in the same house. It is great to read about the good old days.

I remembered Beauty World as a really quaint shopping paradise with so many different type of shops. A bit dark. My parents ordered their groceries from a "Kek Ai" in there and they delivered them on a bicycle. After school, my friend and I would drop off at the bus stop just outside BW. There, I had my first taste of Yong Tau Foo.

At the corner of CT Rd and Yuk Tong Ave was an old "Kerling" shop. The owner retired and went back to India after so many years. I used to use his public phone to call my Dad to pick me up - but I would only ring 3 times and hang up. Saved 10c so that I could buy fish "satay" from the chinese cinema opposite. I saw Snake Woman there. Had to step over floor covered with Kuah Chih shells.

There was also a bakery Joo Ann Foo along CTR beside the kerling shop. The owner's daughter, Margaret, went to Ngee Ann Technical College with me.

I better stop here. Thanks for the great memories. I voted for your blog :)

Chua Meng Seng said...

You reminded me of the Snake Woman movie which was made by Thai..
And I like the "fish satay" too ...
And also reminded me of my childhood day of buying the tasty egg cream puff from Joo Ann Foo...
I am glad that you are still staying at Chun Tin Road, whereas, for us, we have to resettle to Jalan Jurong Kechil after land acquisition.
Beauty World still brings me lots of memory as I lived and learnt and grown up there ....
And not forgetting that I was knocked down by a scooter along the slope in the Beauty World Town..which is now the sloping road leading to the present carpark.. I am glad I was not seriously hurt...

Lam Chun See said...

I don't know. The name Joo Ann Foo brings to my mind a photo shop. You know, those small photo kiosks that develop your films in one hour back in the pre-digital cameras age.

yg said...

chun see,
joo ann foh is the name of a photo shop at holland village. i don't know if it is still around. used to send my films there for developing and printing.

Oldyonfoldy said...

Correction - its not Joo Ann Foh which I mixed up with. That was indeed the photo shop at HV. The Chun Tin bakery is Jin Ho Bakery!

Chua Meng Seng said...

So JIN HO is the correct name of the Bakery shop... and Joo Ann Foh is the photo shop..
Thank you for the correction...
So I am still miss the Cream Puff from JIN HO.. and not forgetting the Kaya and the freshly baked bread..

Eck Kheng CCMC said...

Joo Ann Foh is still in operation. It's now run by the son of Paul Ng who, as a young man near his son's age today, tended shop in the 1970s when I first patronized them.

Oldyonfoldy said...

I chanced upon this research on the history of Beauty World which is extremely informative, esp the pre-70s info.

http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_1344_2009-02-13.html

Anonymous said...

hi, any of you heard if there were any hotel or building collapsed back in (maybe in 1950s) along Jalan Jurong Kechil?