Saturday, November 29, 2014

Bus stops quiz

I like to take pictures of bus stops in Singapore. Here are 5 from my collection. Nos. 1, 2, and 3 are fairly common. But how about 4 and 5? Have you seen them before? Do you know where I took them?
No. 6 is a 1970s bus stop at Bukit Timah 7th Mile, near Beauty World. This photo is from the National Archives collection.

At Margaret Drive

I have seen another unique design in Jurong Island. But I dare not stop my car to take a photo for fear of being questioned by the security personnel. If you have such a photo, please share with me. There’s another one at Old Choa Chu Kang Rd that I have seen on Facebook. One of these days, when I am in the area, I will take a photo. Hope I’m not too late.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Memories of Queensway Shopping Centre

It is sad to see many parts of Queenstown that I have been visiting for decades disappear one by one. When I was living in Farrer Road, I often went to Queenstown for my shopping and leisure needs.

Even after I got married and moved to nearby Sixth Avenue, my family continued to go there regularly. Among the places that we frequented were the wet market at Tanglin Halt, Queenstown Library, the NTUC Fairprice Supermarket and Big Bookshop at Margaret Drive, Margaret Drive Hawker Centre, Tah Chung Emporium, the BP petrol station at Queensway and Queensway Shopping Centre. Most of these places have disappeared but Queensway Shopping Centre is still a landmark in that part of Queenstown; but I suspect that its days are numbered.

My earliest memory of Queensway Shopping Centre was in the mid-1970s when I was still doing my National Service. I remember going to a Malay barber who was operating from some makeshift stalls at the fringe of Rumah Bomba Circus just before returning to camp on Sunday evening. I think, at that time, Queensway Shopping Centre had not been built yet. Subsequently, after Queensway Shopping Centre was completed, these stalls moved into the complex and I continued to patronize the Malay barbers there. But when my favourite barber, a quiet, gentle old man by the name of Din retired, I stopped going.

Besides the barbers, I also became a regular customer of a tailor there called Benz Tailor until today. I cannot recall how I came to know this shop which is run by a gentleman by the name of Simon. 

During my NS days in Mandai Camp, our S1 (Manpower Officer), a Lieutenant Tay introduced us to a spectacles shop there run by his relative. Other than that, there are the famous photocopy shops on the third floor.

At one time when LDs were the rage, I signed up a membership with a video rental shop at the 3rd floor. Subsequently, the shop closed and moved out before I could redeem all my coupons. Also on the 3rd floor was Christian book store. I bought some books and CDs here. And I also bought some CDs from a shop on the ground floor; including this Bread CD.

There was also a Jumbo Coffee House on the 3rd floor which served pretty good western meals. You can see the name of the restaurant in big letters on the glass window facing Queensway. 

When I was working at the National Productivity Board in Bukit Merah Central, I had to pass by the Queensway Shopping Centre on the way home. Sometimes, I would stop here to buy some kueh tutu and muah chi for my children to snack at night.  It’s fun to watch them prepare the snack. Makes one feel like a kid again.

Another thing I remember about the Queensway Shopping Centre was the basement carpark. The layout of the parking lots were rather strange, like in concentric circles. The entrance is from Queensway and the exit is at Alexandra Road. Exiting the carpark is rather difficult especially if you drove a manual gear car as you have to stop for a long time for the heavy traffic at Alexandra Road.

Today, I seldom go to Queensway Shopping Centre. I feel out of place there with the many shops selling sports goods and shoes and the loud funky music. Still I will miss the place when they finally demolish it.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Here one day, gone the next (Braddell Rise School compound)

It’s finally happened! They’ve completely demolished the buildings that once housed my beloved primary school – the Braddell Rise School.

 Although Braddell Rise School itself had ceased to exist for a number of years now; having moved to Toa Payoh and adopted a different name, the old buildings had been retained and housed a number of different welfare homes such as the Minds Tampines Home, and the Society of Moral Charities. Hence, over the years, whenever I drive past this place; especially when I was on the MacRitchie Viaduct, I could catch a glimpse of my alma mater where I enjoyed many fond childhood memories.

Sorry, the date on the new photos should be 29/8/2014
Still I am comforted by two facts. One, the buildings were not torn down to make way for another condo; but for the expansion of its neighbour, the Assisi Hospice. Two, they had not done this earlier. When I first blogged about BRS in November 2005,  I speculated that when they started building the MacRitchie Viaduct, they certainly would have to clear this piece of land. But to my pleasant surprise, they did not; and over the years, I was able to visit it a few times. And in fact just last year, I was there with my friend James Seah for a photo shoot for an article in the Straits Times.

Still, I cannot help but feel a tinge of sadness when I pass by this place now and take a habitual glance towards where BRS once stood and realize the harsh reality of life in Singapore. We simply have no room for sentimentality on the little island ‘paradise”.

PS – You can read more about my memories of BRS, as well as those of my classmates Kim Aii Chan and Lee Sock Gek in my book, Good Morning Yesterday.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Golden Hairpin

When I was very young, our family’s favourite pastime was watching black and white Cantonese kungfu movies at the South Country (Lam Kok) Theatre in Kampong San Teng. This was in the 1950s. One movie that I cannot forget is The Golden Hairpin (碧血金钗). After more than half a century, all I remember about this movie, other than the title, is that the lead role was played by a popular Hong Kong film star by the name of Cheong Ying Choi (张英才) .

And the reason I cannot forget this movie is that I never got to know its ending. You see; this movie was a bit like the Lords of the Ring trilogy. Hence, after watching the first episode, we had to wait patiently for months before the next episode became available. I remember that after watching 2 (maybe it was 3) episodes, I was waiting eagerly to catch the grand finale …… but it never came! I waited and waited; but I never learnt how the story ended. How frustrating! (But, actually, it was not difficult to guess the ending, because it was one of those typical “kill villain and avenge si-fu’s death” type of story.

Anyway, thanks to YouTube, I am now able to find ‘closure’ because I discovered that somebody has actually uploaded all 4 episodes. In fact, in the comments section, one viewer expressed his gratitude because like me, he too did not see the final episode. Unfortunately, after more than fifty years; I have totally forgotten the story. And hence, if I wanted to know the ending; I have to go back to the beginning. Well, like we Singaporeans are fond of saying; “Where got time?”.

Nevertheless, out of curiosity, I did watch a few minutes of the beginning and was thrilled to see the names of many actors that I had not seen for ages; such as Chan Hou Kow (陈好逑) and Si-ma Wah Lung (司马华龙).  Anyway, if you have more patience than me; here you are. Enjoy.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Remains of my kampong

I have often been approached by students; usually from NUS or NTU, to assist them with their projects. Usually they found me through this blog or my Goodmorningyesterday Facebook Page. 

Much as I enjoy speaking to young people about the Singapore of my childhood, I usually turn down their requests because I simply could not afford the time. Besides students, my fellow nostalgia/heritage bloggers and I also get requests from media professionals and documentary producers. Usually, I would tell them that the information they are looking for; for example what it was like to visit the New World or Great World Amusement Park, can easily be obtained from their parents or older relatives and neighbours. If for certain reasons, they are not able to do that, I would accede to their requests. Here are two recent examples.

The first was a Malay boy from NUS who wanted an oral interview about the Chinese operas that used to be organised in our kampongs. The second was also from NUS. He interviewed me for his project about the everyday life of Chinese kampong folks. As part of his assignment, he produced a short video of the place where my home once stood. I share it with you here.

PS - One thing I have always wanted to tell anyone who approached me for such assistance; but was too shy to say so openly, was this; if you want me to spend a few hours of my time to assist you with your project, shouldn’t you at least show your appreciation by purchasing a copy of my book? Even if you don’t read such books, you could give it to your parents as a gift, right?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A story Lee Kuan Yew told

I cannot recall for sure; but I think he told this story to a bunch of foreign correspondents at an event in Helsinki. Anyway, this story is based on a Chinese idiom; 塞翁失马,安知非福*. This story can be found in The Straits Times Bilingual Collection, Vol 1, page 86, under the title, Fortunes and misfortunes.  

But when I was telling this story to my children when they were young, I titled it, The Story of Sai Weng.

* Sometimes written as 塞翁失马,焉知非福
Long ago, there was an old man who lived at the border. His wife had died more than 10 years ago, leaving him with a son, whom he brought up. The old man had a mare which he took good care of. When the mare became pregnant, he became very busy and happy. He planned to sell the colt when it had grown so he could use the money to get a wife for his son.
               Unfortunately, when the mare was about to deliver, it suddenly disappeared. The old man and his son searched everywhere, but could not find it. The old man was very sad. After some time, however, he was himself again and behaved as if nothing had happened. His neighbours came to comfort him. The old man, moved by their concern, said: “I do appreciate your concern. However, do not vex yourselves over my problem. Although I have lost my horse and cannot afford to have a daughter-in-law now, no one can say for sure if this is good or bad.”
               Several months passed; and on one clear and windy night, the old man heard the familiar neighing of a horse from his bedroom. He hurried out and saw 3 horses coming towards him. When he realized that one of the horses was his very own mare, he shouted for joy. There was also a small horse which apparently was the mare’s offspring. He hastily brought them to his stable. When the neighbours, who had been awakened by the noise, learned what had happened, they came to congratulate him. The old man was extremely happy. After some time, however, his face darkened briefly and sighing, he said calmly; “Let’s not be too happy. This could be a misfortune.” His words caused laughter, and everyone said he was over-suspicious.
               The old man’s son loved the young colt and rode it often. One day, while galloping along a mountain track, he fell and broke his leg. Many surgeons were consulted, but he could not be cured, and eventually became a cripple. The neighbours came to comfort him. After thanking them for their concern, the old man said: “Though my son has become a cripple, there is no need to grieve, for who knows what good may come out of this incident.” The neighbours were puzzled  by what he said.
               One year later, the imperial court decided to wage war against a neighbouring state. All the able-bodied young men were conscripted into the army and most of them never returned from the battle field. The village became deserted and quiet. Only the old man’s son who had been disqualified because of his disability escaped conscription. Thus even in the midst of the chaos of war, he got married and soon had a son. The old man and his family lived in peace and happiness.
            Many people who witnessed this admired and said of the old man: “When the old man of the frontier loses his horse, it may be good fortune; when he gains another horse, it may be a misfortune.”

The End

At the end of every story, there’s a language tip like this. I learned my hanyu pinyi partly from here.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Never too old to blog

Did you see the article in the Straits Times today, where I was featured together with my fellow senior nostalgia bloggers, Philip Chew, James Seah and Victor Yue? There’s a photo on page A4 of me and James. And do you know where this photo was taken, what’s that thing that I am holding in my hand?

Answer. I was holding my primary school report book. The school, as regular readers of my blog, as well as those who have read my book, would know, was the Braddell Rise School. The reporter wanted to take a photo of James and me as a location that could be linked to our fondest memories of the old Singapore. For James, it would be Bukit Ho Swee; whereas, for me, it was my kampong at Lorong Kinchir off Lorong Chuan. Unfortunately, both these places no long exist, and so I suggested we met at Mount Alvernia Hospital and took our photo at the site of the former Braddell Rise School. I told her that I had studied in BRS from 1960 to 1963, and had literally seen the hospital next door sprout from the ground. The BRS buildings are slated for demolition soon to give way for a new wing of the Assisi Hospice. Fortunately, the demolition works had not started yet and so we could sneak in for a photo-shoot.

I requested that the report make mention of my book Good Morning Yesterday ….. for obvious reasons. Many people know me to be a blogger, but many do not know that I am also an author; and even fewer people know where to purchase it. I myself am not sure, since it has been two years since the book was released, and many bookstores no longer carry it; but I am quite sure that the Kinokuniya branch Orchard Road does – at least that was what my distributor says.

Another place where you can purchase my book, at least for this weekend, is at the 50Plus Expo organized by the Council for Third Age (C3A). The expo will be held from 28th to 30th March at the Suntec City Hall 401-404. For the 3rd time in a row, I have been invited to speak at the Forum, and so has my friend James Seah. My book will be on sale at the Booth C27 (Spring Publishing Pte Ltd). If you would like to attend the 50Plus Expo, please register at the C3A website.

 So here again are the details.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Meeting my new old friend Judith Johnson

Last month, I met another of “my new old friends”, Judith Johnson, and her husband, Robert. I brought them to see two places that held strong memories of her years in Singapore, the Changi Airbase in Loyang Avenue, where her school, the RAF Changi Grammar School used to be located; and Chiltern Drive when she used to live. She gave me a CD of old photos of Singapore, a few of which were from my former kampong in Lorong Chuan. I have been very busy these past weeks and have not had time to organize them and share them with readers. She also gave me a DVD of her dad’s cine films, segments of which contain scenes of Singapore in the early 1960s. Finally she also gave me a CD containing photos of the Joint Air Traffic Control Centre at Paya Lebar Airport, which her dad helped to set up, to hand over to the relevant organization.

Our first stop was the Changi Airbase West in Loyang Avenue.   Although she was not able to obtain permission to enter the premises, we were, nevertheless, able to view the buildings close-up from the nearby golf course. She shared with me many stories of her time in this school; especially of how naughty the boys (Brian Mitchell, are you reading this?) used to be.

After a short drive around the Changi Village vicinity, we proceeded to visit the house that Judith lived in at 10 Chiltern Drive in Braddell Heights. Judith was fortunate in that the house was still standing, and did not look very different even though it had undergone major renovation. Unfortunately, there was nobody home, and we were not able to enter the compound for a closer look.

1961 photo of Judith's house
2014 photo of Judith's house
Judith showed me the place opposite her house where there used to be an “ugly square cement structure” from the top of which she could see my kampong. She brought out her iPad and showed me photos that her dad had taken of our kampong. I was a bit disappointed because I could not recognize the place in the photos.  As you can see from the map below, it was probably quite a distance from where I stayed. From her description of the farms and ponds that she saw; including the trellises where the gourds were planted (described in detail in my book, Good Morning Yesterday), I concluded that she was referring to the area presently occupied by St Gabriel’s Primary School. Nevertheless, I am truly thankful to be able to get hold of these precious photos of my kampong. These photos were taken around 1961, which was prior to the construction of the Lorong Chuan in 1963. This new Lorong Chuan linked Braddell Road to Serangoon Gardens; and separated my section of our kampong from the section shown in Judith’s photos.
The "ugly cement structure" opposite Judith's house in 1961
This place is now a playground. The building in the background is St Gabriel's School, I believe.

The Lorong Chuan in this 1963 map is a dirt track which we kampong folks referred to as Chui Arm Lor (Water Pipes Rd) in Hokkien. Actually it continues all the way to Upper Thomson Road (refer to my book for details). X marks the spot where my house stood; and Y is the area shown in Judith’s photos. I can tell by referring to an old topographical map of this area which showed the ponds and the streams.

After taking several photos of Chiltern Drive, I brought them to the entrance of the Australian International School at Lorong Chuan and pointed out to the spot where my house probably stood. From there we drove to the Saddle Club travelling along stretches of Braddell Road and Thomson Road that Judith would have traveled on her way to her riding lessons. We proceeded for lunch at Toa Payoh before I brought them to their last destination at Geylang East Central where they had arranged to meet the family of her amah, Ah Moy, who unfortunately had passed away just two years ago. I understand that they had quite an emotional meeting.

I am glad to have met my “new old friend” Judith Johnson. I am glad to have played a small part in helping her recall found memories of her childhood years in our little island; and I have been richly rewarded by her gift of many precious old photos (of very high quality) of the Singapore of my childhood days; including a few of my kampong. I share some of them with you below. I will upload others to the Good Morning Yesterday Facebook Page.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Tracing my amah Chew Joo Keng (Margaret)

Like Judith Johnson and IngridKivikoski, Shona Trench would like to contact her amah Chew Joo Keng (Margaret). Shona writes:

“Hello, I am a British expat, living in Singapore now for four years, with my husband and two teenage children. I was born here in 1961, as my father was a photographer in the RAF and was based at RAF Seletar. I just wondered if you would be able to help me?

Would you know how I might be able to contact my Amah? Her name is Chew Joo Keng but we knew her as Margaret. It would be nice to meet her after all these years (50!) if she is still living in Singapore.

This photo is of Margaret, my sister Karen, and me (I'm the baby)
We lived at Seletar Camp, 13 Oxford Street. I had an older sister Beverley too.

My parents names are Campbell Bryan, and Irene Bryan. Our house is still at Seletar Camp, it's a B&W terraced house. We love being here, and exploring Singapore, Dad too, although it obviously has changed in the last 50yrs.

Shona Trench"

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gotong Royong

Not long ago, I came across a book entitled, Citizens, Conversations and Consultations. I think it was published by the Peoples Association to commemorate the institution known as the Citizens Consultative Committee. In it, I saw some photos of soldiers helping out in a gotong royong. They reminded me of the time I was involved in a similar project when I was serving my full-time national service.

What is Gotong Royong? It is a Malay term for an event where the members of a community put their hands together to carry out a project for the benefit of that community (my own definition). Typical projects involve building a road, or clearing a stream and so on.

The year was probably 1977 and I was a platoon commander in 30 SCE in Mandai Camp. Our project involved building a short stretch of road to join Kranji Way to Neo Tiew Road. At that time, Neo Tiew Road was a thriving kampong. We often passed through this kampong when we went to Area D (Sungei Gedong) for our training. Our combat engineer battalion was an appropriate organization to help out in such a community project because we had both the manpower and the equipment for such work. For example, in our battalion, we had a heavy plant company.

It was quite a common practice in those days, when there were still many kampongs in Singapore, to involve the army units in such gotong royong projects. However, it is very unlikely that our army boys today, would be called upon such a project. Firstly, Singapore is so well-developed now, and our government departments are well-equipped to carry out such work more effectively. Furthermore, the population of NS boys has decreased considerably. And with full-time NS reduced to only 2 years, the army camps themselves are facing a labour crunch and have to outsource many non-combat functions like transporting of troops and cooking. Still, I think they would benefit from occasional involvement in such a project.

Operation Broomstick. Source: Citizens, Conversations and Consultations
Operation Broomstick. Source: Citizens, Conversations and Consultations

Below is an example of a gotong royong project at Bukit Panjang. Description and photo from the National Archives Picas collection dated 28 June 1973.

Singapore’s “Keep Our Water Clean” campaign got off to a good start when 300 young men began a two-day operation to de-silt the Sungei Pang Sua in Bukit Panjang. Joined by Member of Parliament for Bukit Panjang, Lee Yiok Seng (on the bank with rake), the men, 200 of them national servicemen, spent eight back-breaking hours shoveling mud and weeds from the river which carries rain water to Seletar Reservoir.

Related article on Gotong Royong in Remember Singapore.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Retracing the Iceball Trail - Edmund Arozoo

Last month, I had the pleasure to meet with another 'new old friend'. He is Edmund Arozo. Like me, Edmund grew up in a kampong and we shared many common memories. Like me, he too received a 30-cts allowance a day during primary school to pay for bus fare and recess. He recalled how he sacrificed his bus fare home one day in order to enjoy an ice-ball; and walked the few km from school to home. Here is his story.

Your whole life flashes in front of you when you experience a near death moment. Memories come flashing back. Memories of all the good times and bad – and times that one had forgotten or chose to forget come back vividly. Having been in that position almost two years ago there is one strange memory that strangely stood out in my mind and often came back to me after that.

It takes me back fifty or more years ago when I was in primary school at the then Holy Innocents School (which later became Montfort School). Those were the days when the Ponggol Bus Company or aka the “Yellow Bus” Company serviced routes in the Serangoon and Ponggol District. My generation of users of this service would remember the wooden louver windows these buses had in those early days!

Well, the average daily “pocket money” for school kids our age then was 30 cents. 10 cents for bus fare to and from school, 10 cents for a plate of Char Kuay Teow or Mee Siam etc, 5 cents for a drink and 5 cents for Karchang Puteh or sweets.

On certain days after our morning school sessions when the urge for a “cool” after-school treat was high a group of us, living close to each other, would decide that if we walked home we could use the 5 cents saved to buy the refreshing “ice ball” – shaved ice shaped into a ball (like a snowball) and sweeten with various coloured sweeteners and a dash of evaporated milk. This was handmade and looking back was pretty unhygienic but it was a special treat for most of us to quench our thirst.

Well the walk from our school, which was next to the Church of the Nativity, back to our homes in Jalan Hock Chye, off Tampines Road, covered a distance of about a mile. We were usually hot, sweaty and thirsty by the time we reach the “kaka” (Muslim Indian) shop that sold iceballs. However walking the last few yards home sucking on an iceball was simply “heavenly” then.

I was in Singapore recently and a strange urge came over me – I wanted to walk the iceball trail again! (I did not think it was the progression of a second childhood coming on).

Well on 10th August 2012 I and my wife caught a bus from Upper Thompson Road to Houggang Central to do the trail. Sadly my old school is no more there but the Church of the Nativity is still there and that was my starting point. With camera in hand I recaptured memories of various roads and lorongs that were landmarks then. Fifty years has seen lots of improvement on what was then on a whole a rural environment. Some lanes like St Joseph’s Lane have gone but it was nostalgic to recap what was and still is present. Very few landmarks of old remain. I knew we were getting close to our destination on approaching Lim Ah Pin Road. By then we were thirsty and welcomed a cool soya bean drink at a shop opposite Lim Ah Pin Road before heading for Kovan MRT station. This station used to be the terminus for the STC bus company that ran services into town and other parts of the island in those days.

Sadly too Jalan Hock Chye is no more around, being replaced by Hougang Avenue 1. However other landmarks are still there to pinpoint precisely where we used to get our iceballs. The Kaka shop used to be directly in front of the start of Jalan Teliti which is still there; and where my old home used to be is where Block 230 now stands and diagonally across there was a small lane that is now the present Jalan Hock Chye.

Well fifty years on I am glad I still could do the ice ball trail again and to all the old Monfortians who did the walk with me then – life was very simple then but very much cherished. However no ice ball for me at the end of the walk this time – had to settle for an ice kachang as a substitute!

Related post: Iceballs

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tracing my amah Rukiah

Like Judith Johnson, Ingrid Kivikoski would like to contact her amah Rukiah and her daughter, Senipah. Ingrid wrote in her email:

I lived in Singapore from 1958 to 1968. I lived on 214 Dunearn Rd when it was flats owned by K.P.M/R.I.L (Dutch Shipping Company) which then became Orchid Inn in the late 60's. I went to school at "De Hollandse School" on Orange Grove Rd (which is now the Tennis Pavillion of the Shangri La I believe) & frequented the Singapore Swimming Club every weekend as well as The Dutch Club (which are both still there!!!).

I would dearly love to find our amah, Rukiah or her daughter, Senipah - or their children. I only have their first names though. I think they lived in a kampong near our flat but I don't know where exactly. Below are some photos of Rukiah.

Many thanks.

Ingrid Kivikoski (nee Schroder)"

Rukiah and her daughter Senipah

Senipah at her wedding in 1966
Senipah at her wedding in 1966

Rukiah with my brother in 1958 at the back of the flats at 214 Dunearn Rd

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Tracing my Amah – Judith Johnson

Judith Johnson, who shared her memories of Braddell Heights here; has approached me for assistance in tracing her amah, who was with them during the 1960s when she stayed at this house in 10 Chiltern Drive, Braddell Heights. If you have any information, please contact me. Thanks.

“Her name was Ah Moi, but unfortunately I don't know her maiden name.  After we left, she married Tan Jee Yong who used to work at the Sea View Hotel (during a notorious strike and eventual liquidation).  Ah Moi and he used to write to my parents in England - I have some of the letters.  He eventually found work, after the Sea View Hotel's closure, at the Singapore Recreation Club in 1965 (formerly Eurasian Club).  They had a son, Tan Kia Heng, born 18th June 1964. Their last known address was 63, Jalan Daud off Jalan Eunos, S'pore 14.”

Judith’s father, David James Cutts (Sqn Ldr), was in charge of the Joint Air Traffic Control Centre at Paya Lebar Airport.

Judith, with her mum, Margaret and brother, Jeremy