Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Armenian Street

In the introduction to my blog, I mentioned that Singapore is changing far too quickly. The reality of that statement hit home when I attended the Museum Roundtable Blog Committee Meeting held at Stamford House last week.

I parked my car at the public car park next to Armenian Street and took the opportunity to walk around the area. Although I do occasionally drive past this area, this was the first time in years that I actually strolled along this area. It struck me that many of the familiar icons and landmarks have disappeared from the area.

Most missed of course, is the National Library building. I heard that it has moved to a spanking new building in North Bridge Road. But somehow I am not too keen to go there. Maybe deep down, I have not forgiven our government for destroying something so dear to my generation; something that is so integral to our collective memory of our youth. It seemed like only yesterday that they were debating furiously whether or not to tear down the old building. I did not follow the debate closely because I believe that once our government has decided on something, it is near impossible to get them to change their minds. This reminds me about a documentary I saw recently on Channel News Asia. Entitled, Get Real, and hosted by Diana Ser, this episode explored our people’s readiness to discard old things. I did not catch the whole show, and thus not sure if they mentioned about discarding old buildings, but I suspect not – for obvious reasons.




This photo was lifted without permission from Victor’s Blog on Vanishing Scenes of Singapore
Gone also was the part of Waterloo Street that used to house the Indian rojak and mee rebus stalls. It is hard to find an adult Singaporean who cannot relate to how we used to be waylaid by the aggressive vendors when we made our way to the library from Bras Brasah Road. Long gone too were the second-hand book shops along Bras Basah Road where we bought our Minerva Guides. I wonder if they still publish this type of exam guides written in flowery English which none of us really understood.


Where have all the sarabat stalls gone? Gone to the SMU everyone.


I remember buying my first badminton racket from a sports shop there. It was a Dunlop Maxply, a branded product of the day, made of wood and cost me a whopping $30. You also needed to buy a press to clamp down on the face of the racket to prevent it from warping. When the racket strings broke, we would bring it to a sports shop located in Maju Avenue in Serangoon Gardens (facing the Paramount Theatre) for repair. I think the shop was called George-something. I remember seeing a tablet of the Ten Commandments in the shop –probably not the Old Testament Ten Commandments, but the Customer Service ten commandments. It was really fascinating to watch how they replaced the broken strings. After a while, we were able to do it ourselves using our geometry set dividers to hold the strings in place.


Gone too were the MPH Bookstore and the US Embassy with it adjacent USIS Library. I wonder how many Singaporeans reading this blog have heard of the USIS along Hill Street. I did not check what is standing there now. Maybe my new friends from NHB (National Heritage Board) can enlighten us. Good thing though, the Armenian Church was spared.

But to my pleasant surprise, the Wilmer Clinic is still there. This place really holds some special memories for me. When my siblings and I were still very young, my parents used to bring us there for consultation with a Dr William Heng. I remember especially a vendor selling toys at the entrance of the building. I dearly wanted a red fire engine but I guess my parents could not afford it. There was one occasion when I was terribly sick and had to be warded at the sick bay located above the clinic. I remember clearly 2 things about that evening when I woke up on the sick bed. Somebody had placed a wet towel on my forehead, so I must be having a high fever. I also saw my beloved red fire engine beside me.



My thanks to Shaun of NHB for helping me to take these pictures of Wilmer Place and Wilmer Clinic
By the way, I had some difficulty locating the Stamford House in spite of directions from Shaun of NHB. We met at a restaurant called the Moon River. That of course reminded me of Andy Williams’ signature song and his very popular TV show. He always began the show with Moon River and ended it with May Each Day. But I doubt any of the yuppies dining there that evening were familiar with these songs.

I will end by sharing with you the nice lyrics from his second song. Stanza 2 is specially dedicated to my friend Victor (whom I have yet to meet).

May each day in the week be a good day.
May the Lord always watch over you. And may all of your hopes turn to wishes.And may all of your wishes come true.
May each day in the month be a good day. May you make friends with each one you meet. And may all of your daydreams be mem'ries. And may all of your mem'ries be sweet.
The weeks turn to months, and the months into years. There'll be sadness and joy, there'll be laughter and tears. But one thing I pray to heaven above. May each of your days be a day full of love.
May each day in the year be a good day. May each dawn find you happy and gay. And may all of your days be as lovely. As the one you shared with me today.
May each day of your life be a good day. And good night.

34 comments:

pfong said...

Chun See,

The building where the US Embassy used to be now houses the Malaysian High Commission. The excellent Char Kuay Teow in the coffee shop next to the embassy is still there though :-)

Anonymous said...

Oh, is it true that the MPH has 'disappeared' ? Only a few year ago I went there. The whole place was renovated where many customers were browsing around. Indeed the char kuay teow at the corner coffee shop, mentioned by pfong, was great. Since the stall is still functioning, I may pay a visit to it one day. In the same shop there was also a goh hiang stall which was equally good - serving great stuff, especially the stuffed pinky pork-intestine for dipping into pink coloured tasty sauce. The stalls may be there but the owners may be different after so many years. If so, the standard of the foods is questionable.

Anonymous said...

MPH was indeed truly gone. In its place for a year or so was a private school (AIT academy) which got into a lot of trouble and went bankrupt. I am sure you would have read about the poor foreign students who were left high and dry and could not claim their school fees thereafter.

frannxis said...

Now that you memtioned it, I do remember the USIS Library. A classmate brought me there. I think they offered free membership but not many books of interest to me at that time.

yes i remember! said...

Hello!
Wow, your blog is really something and this post about Armenian St goes back to my school days too! Thanks for this walk down memory lane.

I went to school near there and I used to 'hang out' at the Bras Basah 2nd hand shops (and bought some of those Minerva guides myself), MPH and National Library a lot, and I do know that sports shop you mentioned. I'm trying so hard to try to remember the name, but I just can't. You know what, about 10 years ago, I was actually working at Armenian St and yet I never thought about that shop till I read your post!

There were also a couple of book/stationery shops along Victoria Street that I loved too -- Shanghai Book Store/Co (? can't remember the exact name) and the other one was called Union, I think.

As for the char kway teow, it is indeed one of the best in Singapore. For the info of anonymous and anyone else interested, the stall is (as far as I know) run by the son of the old man who was the original(?) char kway teow man. The Ngoh Hiang lady stopped selling around the time when I was working there. There was (don't know if it's still there) also a wan tun mee stall, which was not too bad and was something to fall back on when the queue for char kway teow was too long.

Lam Chun See said...

I too cannot remember the name of the sports shop. But I think it was owned by a Sikh family. During my reservist days (80's) I had an NCO who was related to the family.

Victor said...

Chun See, thank you for making the dedications to me in this post. But I do not really deserve some of the credits (very paiseh). I better confess here that I also 'lifted' the National Library photo using an image search on the Internet. I don't even know who I should thank because the owner of the photo was not indicated. Sometimes I wonder if I am infringing any copyright laws by doing so, just like taking candid photos of people without asking them for permission first. The work that I do for my blog is getting more and more like investigative journalism.

I do remember a sports shop in Waterloo Street. I think it's called Uncle Choo. (This one is unlikely to be related to the Sikh family, though.) I remember buying a $20 pair of handmade beige bowling shoes from one of the shops housed in an old building there.

A few years ago, my younger son (now 9-year old) was suffering from a cough which lasted for months. We consulted several doctors but the cough persisted. On the recommendation of my brother-in-law, I brought him to Wilmer Clinic. I think that the doctor in attendance was Dr William Heng. If he's a long-time doctor there, then it must have been him. He is an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) specialist and I should also caution all readers that one can expect to pay specialist rate for consultation fees. I think the bill came up to about $200 for about 5 or 6 types of cough mixture and pills (vitamins included). That's why I was quite surprised when you mentioned that your family consulted the clinic but yet could not afford the fire engine toy. On second thought, I think the reason could be that your family always spent money wisely. Health definitely has a higher priority over toys. But in the end, you still got the best of both worlds.

I don't mean to advertise for the doctor here but despite the cost, the medicines were quite effective - my son was much better after just 2 visits. The doctor was also the first one who diagnosed that my son was asthmatic. (He still suffers from attacks now and then if we are not careful.)

As for the bookshops, as most of us know, they are now all in Bras Basah Complex, next to the new National Library Building. Even if the families who run them remain the same, they are probably 2nd generation shopowners.

Incidentally I know of a mama shop which used to be in Waterloo St opposite Waterloo School. The shop is now located next to Alexandra Village Food Centre. I recognise some of the shopkeepers who operated the old shop in the 1960s. They looked much older, of course. Like me.

Please bear with me for the long comment. Old people tend to be a little long-winded when they get nostalgic.

Simon Chu (Scotland) said...

Chun See
I like what you've written. I too did share a piece of the places you mentioned that are now gone forever except our memories.

Lam Chun See said...

Victor,

When my parents brot us to Wilmer Clinic, I was very young; probably below nursery age - that means nearly 1/2 century ago. Why my father chose such a 'branded' place, I really don't know. Maybe Dr William Heng was my uncle's friend. Incidentally, the Dr William Heng you went to 10 years ago was probably his son. When we were older, we went to a Chong's Clinic at Thomson Road.

By the time I bot that branded badminton racket, I was in Sec 4 already. My eldest bro n sis already working to help support the family. Those days it was customary for elder siblings to do that.

One day, we shd write a blog to pay tribute to their sacrifices. We have Mother's, Father's, and Teacher's Days, why not a Elder Brother/Sister Day??

BTW, the other famous badminton brand of that era was Flight Commander. Later, with the invention of metal rackets like Carlton and Yoneyama (now called Yonex).... , well, you know the rest of the story.

Lam Chun See said...

Maybe we shd test our Rambling Librarian and see if he knows anything about the USIS Library?

Anonymous said...

One of the second hand bookstore is still around... Sultana book store, located at the second floor of Peace Center.

Changed owner, but just as messy... however without the examination guides.

Diggo

Victor said...

I just checked the phone directory for Wilmer Clinic and indeed the doctor listed is Dr Brian Heng, probably the son of Dr William Heng like what you said. I don't think that there were many specialists in Singapore in the 1950s so Dr William may be a GP whose fees were probably quite affordable. I am sorry to have been caught up in that time warp.

Chuck said...

I think one of the sport shop name along Bras Basah is "Winston Sports". I used to go there to buy shuttlecocks from Hillview Avenue and ended up with deliciousIndian Rojak and tasty teh tarik at one of the many sarabat stalls along Waterloo Street. I really missed those sarabat stalls... wonder if any of those are still around....

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your wonderful memories!!!! I am not Singaporean but had the privilege of living there for just a year in 1984, and cherish the memories I have of the places you mentioned plus many more. I am so thankful I took rolls and rolls of photographs of Chinatown as it was disappearing even then!!

princess_fifi79 said...

hi...i was blog hopping when i saw ur blog...interesting with all the pics. Can link up?

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Princess_fifi79

I will be most honoured if you link up to my site. Hope the 'cheong hei (long-winded) posts and comments from me and my 'laudie' gang, Victor, Simon ++, do not bore you.

Chun See

Simon Chu (Scotland) said...

I will try to get all the names of the sport shops dotted along the Bras Basah Road...I have a friend of our age (early 50) whose father used to own a shop there and I will ask him for that...wait till I am able to contact him through email and perhaps he may like to participate in blogging?

Anonymous said...

I was a patient of Dr William Heng when I was a kid. One day my mother had the audicity of asking the doctor why he charged so much (at least 35 dollars and above - in the fifties)and his reply was: "Do you know that I am a child especialist(DCH) ? and furthermore my medicines are European types, not Japanese" All-in-all, in my opinion, he was a very effective doctor.

Anonymous said...

Back to the subject of irresistible foods like Mee Rebus and Indian Rojak at Waterloo Street, I would like to comment that there was something unique about the Mee Rebus which we seldom see nowadays - whitish thick gravy sprinkled with dried shrimps, and other ingredients on top, making the dish unbeatable. The talks about Sultans and VIPs frequenting the stalls there seemed credible. Also many said that these hawkers flew back to India and own properties there. Any doubts ?

Lam Chun See said...

I think the very fact that the Wilmer Clinic is still around after 1/2 a century is testimony of their effectiveness. Who knows, without Dr William Heng, I may not be around writing this blog today.

As for the Indian stalls, my favourite was the mee rebus, even tho I heard so much about the Indian rojak. The gravy is simply unbeatable and you just cannot find an equal anywhere in spore up to today.

I suspect, these Waterloo St foodstalls was one of the contributing factors to the high no. of visitors to the National Library those days.

Ingrid said...

i too have not forgiven the government for tearing down the library. it is where i have my fondest memories with my father who has just passed away.

peter said...

Sports shops in those places could be Champions Sports Shop - Sikh owned. They also sold weight lifting equipment. It was here I bought my first body building vitamins - Ben Weider. At the corner (on Waterllo Street side)was a guy who did restringing of rackets. Think it was S$5 for good strings.

I wanted to buy a badminton racket but out of my budget - think that was Silver Grey (Ong Poh Lim signature on the Y neck area) but luckily Yonex came along with the first lightweight racket. Anyway with new rackets still cannot clear 1st roudn of school championship. So ended my inteerst in badminton....bedminton is much better

Anonymous said...

For those who are missing the famous Armenian Street char kway teow, it is now relocated to Blk 303 Anchorvale Link in Sengkang!

suburbanpeasant said...

Chun See
William Heng is my mother's cousin. Do you know why the clinic is called Wilmer?

A quiz for you.

Another one: which famous person is related to William Heng.

This is easy

sohkiak

Lam Chun See said...

"Do you know why the clinic is caller Wilmer?"

Could it be that he was a fan of the Flinstones?

Eh ... I can't think of any famous person named Heng unless you are referring to one of our new ministers. Or the director Russell Heng.

peter said...

Ivan Heng? Heng Swee Kiat? O god, don't keep be suspended!

Tah Chung said...

This area is so rich in history and the neo classical architecture is enchanting.

1 Bras Brasah Bookshops :
There was a period in the 70s when roller skates was the fad and my parents brought me there to buy a pair of roller skates. As I was writing this, I was transported back into the shop and recalled the sight and sound within the shop, the smell of rubber and steel of the new skates, and the joy of owning a new pair of skates (it was about $15 to $18 if my memory did not fail me).

2 Armenian Street Coffee Shop :
The ngoh hiang store was selling this fried prawn cracker that was served with salad which balance the deep fried stuff nicely. The hawker asked me to try and said I do not have to pay if it was not nice. I became a fan after that.

3 Loke Yew Street :
This was the street between the coffee shop and American Embassy. I ever followed my grandpa to visit his friend in one of the houses upstairs. The staircase was pitch dark and there was a switch on both ends of the staircase to on the light. After some time, the light will go off by itself. I think we all like Quiz right? So here you go.....Who is Loke Yew?

4 Quiz 2 : Along Armenian Street, there was an unconspicuous bookstore (hint!) with a significant past relating to one of a great personality of China history. What was the name of the bookstore and who was this person?

Icemoon said...

Loke Yew is the father of Loke Wan Tho. I cant seem to find that Sun Yat Sen bookstore.

Tah Chung said...

Icemoon,

The bookstore is now in Cantonment Road.

Icemoon said...

Ooh, I think I have seen it in the Cantonment Road area but books and guides never mention where the library was shifted to. Thanks Tah Chung for the info!

Tah Chung said...

Is that a library that you could walk in to read books? I would surely want to visit it if possible. From the shop name, it seems to be a book publisher.

After watching 十月围城, the thought that some of Dr. Sun's great plan that changed history may have been hatched in this store under high secrecy, gives the place a sense of mystery and excitement....haha! imagination running wild!!

Anonymous said...

Hi.

i have found memories of the wilmer clinice that used to be located at armenian street. i may be only in my late 20s, but when i was just a boy my father used to bring me along with him for his consultation.

i think that doctor's name is william right? anyways i have only vague recollections of the clinic.

by the way, your blog is a nice read Mr.Lam.

Leong K Y said...

I visited my dad yesterday and he given me 2 old medical records/cards of my sister and myself from Will’s Pharmacy (Wills” Clinic) Ltd.
50, Armenian Street, Singapore 6 Office Tel:- 30016 & 33888 Residence Tel: 35704. Both records dated back to 1961 and 1964.

Peter Ng said...

suburbanpeasant gave us these 2 questions and MIA, leaving us high and dry.

I managed to find the answers here https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=DTOJAAAAQBAJ&pg=PA147&lpg=PA147&dq=dr+William+Heng&source=bl&ots=yVarBxRbsD&sig=KKHiZso6XOBAgvjUyDdiWBWCSrA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CDIQ6AEwA2oVChMI0r-8xvW0yAIVhweOCh38hAFx#v=onepage&q=dr%20William%20Heng&f=false

> William Heng is my mother's cousin. Do you know why the clinic is called Wilmer?

William heng's wife is called Merle. Wil + Mer = Wilmer

> Another one: which famous person is related to William Heng.

William Heng's father is Heng Mui Keng. Most of us would know the road name better than the person though.