Thursday, November 16, 2006

Places I Remember (4) – Lorong Chuan

Last week, I was rummaging through my old things, searching in vain for my father’s birth certificate and citizen certificate to donate to the National Heritage Board. But to my delight, I found 2 long-lost photographs of Lorong Chuan where I grew up in. These photos are especially valuable as they are amongst the few that do not have people posing for the camera. As I have explained before, in the old days, it was considered a waste of film to take pictures of places and things.
And so I take this opportunity to tell you a little about what Lorong Chuan was like in the 1960’s. I hope some of the residents living in the many HDB apartments and private condominiums along Lorong Chuan, as well as the children at the St Gabriel’s Primary School are reading this blog. The younger ones would be surprised to see what Lorong Chuan was like in the 1960's

Did you know that Lorong Chuan was quite picturesque in those kampong days? Of course it was surrounded by mainly farmland then. There was one particular stretch close to where the present St Gabriel’s Primary School stands, where there were some ponds. At the edge of the ponds were rows of trellises covered with climbers like cucumbers and gourds. In Cantonese, we called them ‘chit kua pang’. It was quite beautiful really. There was a certain rustic charm alike to those you sometimes see in old Taiwanese romantic movies. And so, when we bought our first camera, a Kodak Brownie camera, we headed down to this place to take some photos which I will share with you here.

Left – My sister Pat, aged around 17 or 18. Can you see the rows of trellises and some palm trees in the background. Right – Siew Tin, her best friend from Cedar Girls School. Would you believe after more than 4 decades, they are still in contact with each other. Indeed, blessed are the ties that bind.

On the left is the same bus stop where our dog Napie was knocked down and killed by a car. Directly facing this bus stop was one of two dirt tracks that led to our kampong, Lorong Kinchir. As you can see from this photo taken last month, there is some construction going on. No doubt another condo project ….. sigh.

Another notable landmark along Lorong Chuan was the crocodile farm where they slaughtered crocodiles for their skin. The stench from the farm was quite strong and well-known to the nearby residents and passers-by. In fact, when I was interviewed on the 938 FM Breakfast Show earlier this year, the host, Mr Keith De Souza asked me if I could remember this place when he heard that I used to stay at Lorong Chuan. Apparently, he used to live at Serangoon Garden.

Further down, on the opposite of the road was another dirt track called Plantation Avenue. We only got to know this place when my eldest brother, Chun Chew got to know a pretty lass from this kampong ….. who later became my sister-in-law. I don’t think I am permitted to reveal more details. I was surprised to learn that a short stretch of Plantation Avenue is still exists today.

The land on which we stayed was acquired by the government and we moved out of the area in 1974. But some of our neighbours were more fortunate. They sold their land to private developers at a much higher price. One of the new buildings that emerged was the Timex Factory. I believe it was later renamed Newton Factory. Today, it is occupied by a spanking industrial complex called New Tech Park.

Related Posts:

Places I Remember: Serangoon Garden
My Kampong Best Friends
Our Kampong


Victor said...

Your black-and-white photos reminds me of the scenes in old Cantonese movies in which famous actors of that time like Cheong Ying and Tse Yin starred with equally famous actresses like Tang Pek Wan and Yee Lai Chun.

Anonymous said...

I do recall using Lorong Chaun when it was first opened in the mid-60s; maybe 1965 or 64 to get from Bradell Road to Serangoon gardens' Ripley Crescent. It was just metalled and the bitumen was still fresh - black in color. At the junction where Bradell Road meets Lorong Chuan, there were semi-d single storey houses on top of a small hill; typical 1950s design. Then travelling through Lorong Chuan there were farms and small ponds on my left (New Tech Park?). I did notice that the land was higher on my right than on my left as I headed towards Gardens. After a left bend there were rubber estates and kampungs to my left again. As I came nearer to Gardens, there were more semi-d single storey houses on my right but the SHELL Station on my left. At the junction with Serangoon Way, I turned right to get to Ripley Crescent.

Now one might ask me why I went to #27 Ripley Crescent. I attended my violin lessons there (friend not my choice but my strict father). My cousin also did the same for the same reason - so when we had to strugle practising the instrument in our bedrooms, we locked the door and slept on the bed. We use our toes to guide the bow across the violin. Thank goodness our fathers could not distinguish between music and trash. So long there was sound coming from the bedroom we were said to be "pracising". No wonder my neighbour's 8 year old daughter pracitices trash on the piano but her mum thinks she is actually practising - in fact her mum spoke to me the other daugher hepaing praises on her daughter but I knew she was not inclined towards music.

OK so much for the side track. Still recall Farleight Avenue where there were STC buses plying that place. came here to see my buddies during school days. In my mind I still cna picture the cinema somewhere at the roundabout but in those days many British Servicemen rented homes in that place.

Anonymous said...


1. Anybody knew what was the popular size/dimensions of black & white photos from the studios in the late 50s? I recalled that the photo edges were jagged and size was something larger than passport size.

Anyone to verify my observations?

2. Prices of black & white in 1950s/60s and the first color in early 1970s, and the prices for the dimension. I thought it was like $1+/copy for something larger than a passport size photo. BTW why do you call this size in the real technical photography language?

Anonymous said...

I was a kampong boy aged around late twenties, working shifts, holding a mediocre ops job and was then considered 'old hat' even by village standard. So how to find decent girl willing to this guy and had to plunged herself into this unattractive rustic world. My mother was worried of my bachelorhood, went to a famous temple in Waterloo street,prayed for divine help, and out popped the 'chiam', which led to drawing a answer paper which explained that I would marry a girl in a eastern direction nearby.
Later on during a cousin marriage dinner, I sat next to a girl who stayed at Plantation avenue, about two bus-stops east of Lorong Kinchir, who became my wife. Is it love at the first sight, a coincidence or the 'chiam' is mystically accurate ?

Lam Chun See said...


I still have a number of those B&W phtotos with jagged edges from my parents' time. I will scan and email a couple to you.

As for Lor Chuan, as usual, your memory is super. Yes, as you travel from Braddell Rd to Lor Kinchir, (pls refer to my sketch), the ground on the right is higher. But after Lor Kincher, from New Tech Park onwards, as you proceed towards Serangoon Garden, the ground on the left is higher, as it still is today.

Lam Chun See said...

Another bit of history about Lor Chuan which I left out here becos I already mentioned in a earlier post about our kampong is this.

Right after Lor Chuan was built but not yet opened to public, many Caucasion men used to practise their go-karting there. Maybe they were preparing for the Grand Prix in Upp Thomson Road. We kampong kids got quite a treat by watching them in action. I will always remember the smell of the exhaust.

Ngiam Shih Tung said...

I don't remember the crocodile farms, but there was definitely a smell along Lorong Chuan when I was growing up (1970s). I throught it was from the rubber tannery on the right-hand side of the road (going towards S'goon Garden). There's still a broken-down brick guard post along Lorong Chuan near the junction with the new S'goon Ave 2. I think that's from the old tannery.

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Shih Tung. I had forgotten about the rubber tannery. Going toward SG, it would be after the crocodile farm. There was a similar rubber tannery (I think tannery is not the right word, but I cannot remember the correct term) along Upp Thomson Road, between Ang Mo Kio Ave 1 and Bright Hill.

Anonymous said...

I think the rubber factory was diagonally across the road opposite the croc.tannery which emitted a very foul smell. The rubber factory was constructed of rust-red colour zinc sheets. I had not gone inside but it could be used to process rubber sheets. This rubber factory should be considered inside the Plantation avenue kampong. Although the tannery is gone, there is still a building the tannery site.

Anonymous said...

Yes now I recall the smell and the sight of a rusty looking rubber factory. Like many others, it was for "smoking" rubber. Latex collected from the estate were sent to the factory where it was turbned into sheets and hung to dry in the sun until the sheets turned yellow. If you know of Bukit Timah Plaza today at 7 miles Upper Bukit Timah Road and Clementi Road junction, there used to be a rubber factory called Lam Choon Rubber Factory. I saw the same kind of activities like you describe. Most of the fatcories were located to rubber estates.

My memories tell me that Yio Chu Kang Road( nearer to Sembawang Hills and before the old Jalan Kayu Post Office), Tampines Road (nearer to Upper Serangoon junction), Upper Thompson Road (former motor racing grand prix circuit), Mandai Road, Woodlands Road (near the SHELL lubricating fuel depot) and Chesntnut Avenue were sites of rubber estates. Today if you head into Chesnut Avenue Water Treatment Plant (where a short-cut from dairy Farm Road brings you from BKE to Upper Bukit Timah Road), you can still find rubber trees and some durian trees. No wonder there was the Nanyang Shoe Factory at Bukit Panjang which bought rubber from the rubber factories to produce slippers and shoes.

Anonymous said...

Just talking about STC (Singapore Traction Co.), since colonial days, would make commuters angry, though the fare was really cheap - 25 cents max. for a long distance trip. The irregular services were the norm for this company which later on folded up when the govt merged up all bus services, evolving into the present SBS and TIBS. I had to use STC bus to pick me up at Lorong Chuan at around 5.30 am to reach Clifford Pier, and made another connection to my place of work - Tj Pagar at 7 am (lst shift), a nightmare. Because of this hassle, I bought my 'old horse'(morris minor) to do a better job, sending Chun See to ACS enroute.

Anonymous said...

When public listed STC declared itself insolvent on the Singapore Stock Exchange (before amalgation with other bus companies, all investors lost their money. The government refused to bail out the company. One of my uncle and auntie lost their entire savings over 5 lots of STC shares. I saw my aunty crying and she wanted to jump down from one of the Macpherson Road flats.

They threw out all their "useless" share certificates - I retrieved one of them and is still with me today.

I also collected bus tickets - now got a few left from Green Bus, STC, Tay Koh Yat, Easy Bus, Keppel Bus, Paya Lebar-Pongool Bus, Changi-Bedok Bus as souveniers.

Unfortunately my late mother threw many of my collections away because she said that "people who picked up things from the road could lose thier hands due to dirt". I doubt it but in those days, grandmother stories were prevalent to frighten school kids from playing at the bus stops. For higher demoniation tickets, I would ask passengers for "donations".

Anonymous said...

Older folks of our time, were very gullible to chit funds, tontines and the likes run by questionable people or organisations. My parents contributed to a fund managed by a HAKKA association in Malaysia which was supposed to reimbursed all the expenses incurred when a member died. The association eventually disappeared together with members' money. Sometimes I wonder why my parents being educated people can still be conned, but I notice even educated people nowadays can still be swindled. Perhaps con-men are a step smarter.

Victor said...

Peter, you are indeed an avid collector of old things. Who would have thought of keeping used bus tickets till this day? Erm... actually the kids of those days did keep the tickets with nice numbers like "3333" or "8888", but only for a while. I don't know where are mine now. And "Easy Bus" only sounds vaguely familiar to me now.

However, I remember taking a tram ride with my mum. (Hong Kong still had trams in the 1980s. I don't know if this service had since been terminated. Can anyone confirm this? And does Amsterdam still have them?)

The trams were even older than the bus services that you have mentioned. They were powered by overhead cables, had wooden louvred windows and no air conditioning, of course. If I am not wrong, I think they operated till the early 60s (when I was about 5-6 years' old).

Peter, can you do me a favour? If it is not too much trouble and when you can spare the time, please scan (or take photos of) the share certificate, the bus tickets and any photos related to the transport service then. I will blog about these archaic bus services one day. Thanks in advance.

Lam Chun See said...

I remember one occasion taking such a tram along Bras Basah Rd in front of the former St Joseph's Institution. Must be in the 50's. Saw a photo of such a tram in a book in the library.

Last time I took a tram was in Hiroshima in 1985.

Anonymous said...


Need to be careful over definitions.

The buses you see in HK are trams - belonging to the ealry 19th century. Trams were here in Singapore until post war they were replaced by electric buses (not trams) run only by STC. Trams resemble more like train coaches unlike electric buses. I think they are still around even at the HK PEAK. I love to take them when I worked in HK as it was faster than taxis along Des Voux Road. Trams can only run on this road and not other roads because this was where the old coastline was. Furthermore during winter season, you catch the cool breeze whilst clothed in thick woollens but summer time, it was bad. It's a good time if you have time to catch the sights of roasted goose meat, ducks, roasted pork and chickens hung outside brightly ligheted restaurants or that jewellery shop.

The other attraction was the Star Ferry plying between Wanchai/Central to Kowloon side. For 10 cents Singapore one-way, you catch the sights of Cherry Chung look-alikes and the smell of the sea (do so only during winter). Just heard they are moving the landing point on Kowloon side old clock tower to somewhere else. Most males like to patronise 5-foot way vendors selling Playboy or Penthouse after a ride on Star Ferry - not sure why.

Sure no problem, I shall send you jpegs of a) STC share certificate, b) bus tickets, c) I got one picture of overhead cables running down Bras Basah Road at the Rendevouz Hotel, and d) bus terminus at Maxwell Road Wet Market taken in 1958 by my father.


Anonymous said...


Trams needed to run on "railway tracks" and this made it different from electric buses which had tires and overhead cables. The HK example runs on overhead cable + tracks.

Victor said...

Peter, thanks for the info. I just did some research and this is what I found in a Straits Times article dated 6 Nov 2004:

"Trolley buses were common from the 1920s to 1962. The earliest buses on Singapore's roads were trolley buses which were brought in during the 1920s to replace electric trams."

So according to the article, it seems the right term for that mode of transport is trolley buses. I will save the other details of the article for my blog post.

Anonymous said...

After WWII, my parents returned to Singapore from Segamat, and stayed in an SHB (Singapore Harbour Board) quarters at Nelson Road. In 1945, I was 2 years old and witnessed (quite vaguely) a cultural show put up by Japanese prisoners after their surrender at a concentration camp not far from the quarters. A few years later, my mother took me for a first rickshaw ride, and the puller had a quarrel with my mother probably over the fare. It was during this period that I had a first ride on a trolley bus and I saw the conductor busily trying to adjust the two poles behind the trolly bus, probably to have better electrical contact with the overhead wires that power the trolly bus. This is all I can remember.

Anonymous said...

I used to see sparks coming off the overhead cable when ever the trolley bus made a U-turn

Some places I recalled seeing those overhead cables:

1. Bukit Timah Road - next to KK Hospital and Rex Cinema

2. Junction of Outram Road and New Bridge Road.

3. Clifford Pier - opposite to the Asia Insurance Bdlg

4. Geylang Road - think it was the old Changi Market

5. Bras Basah and Victoria STreet junction

Seems that they tap electricity from the street electric poles. In those days, high-tension electric cables were overhead and not underground.

Anonymous said...

The resident of the SHB apartment at Nelson Rd., was a supervisor of the port, an achievement for a local at that time. This gentleman sublet his room to my father, was interestingly an opium smoker, as I found out when he smoked in one of his rooms, emitting a terrible odour which easily stunned a cat. His son was working in the British Army as a white collar worker, loved me very much, and would often bought a bar of chocolate for me when he came back from work. One day a neighbour huge dog, for no rhyme or reason, pounced on me, luckily this uncle was there to shoo it away. After this incident, my mother while bathing me, found out that I had a fever. Later on our family shifted to Geylang Lor.14, because my mother (bad tempered) had a a nasty quarrel with one of tenant's three daughter, and all the three ganged up against my mother who cried bitterly. This was the last straw and we had to move on.

Anonymous said...

Chun Chew:
SHB at Nelson Road. I thot there was the United Engineers building at Kuching Road, a police station (Kg Bahru) and a row of shophouses in that area? I thot SHB quarters was at Blair Plain, near the East Wharf or what is now the Tg Pagar Distripark? Can you refresh my memories?

I recall dropping off my grand-uncle who worked in a shipyard that was next to the Sentosa Cable Car and opposite to a block of 4 storey apartments on the side of Mt Faber. There was a row of red brick buildings (like St James Power Station) facing Teluk Blangah Road in my mind. What was the name of the shipyard and the gate number of that place?

Lam Chun See said...

Let guess .. Keppel Shipyard?

Anonymous said...

This sparked so many memories.

I remember the rubber factory along Lor. Chuan. We used to take bus home to Serangoon Gardens (I think it was no. 104). Just before that stretch, we'd start to hold our breath until the bus was well past the factory. Those were the days before air con buses.

And those were the days of bus conductors giving you a paper ticket. I had a 4444, which we didn't consider inauspicious or anything. My childhood buddy and I got up a bus, paid the fare and the conductor gave him the tickets. He saw the numbers but out of fairness, he gave me a choice to pick one ticket, with the numbers faced down. I took the 4444. He went "Shucks!" Ah Hoe, if you are reading this, yes, I still remember that. Unfortunately, we moved house so many times, cos landlords wanted more rental, I no longer have those special tickets.

Lam Chun See said...

Yes, I remember Bus no. 104. But can't remember if it's the one going to Serangoon Road/town or Newton Circus.

My brother David and I used to walk from our school in ACS Barker Rd to Newton Circus to take the bus back to Lor Chuan. Sometimes, if we were too lazy to walk, we would take no. 8A to Novena and change bus (maybe we just wanted to gawk at the Anderson and Raffles Girls). The bus stop was in front of a tailor and a Sri Dewa barber. Sometimes we would cut our hair there. At the end of the haircut, they used a portable massager to massage our backs .. damn shiok.

Anonymous said...

I know! What happened to those quickie 30-sec or 1-min massages after a haircut? They suddenly went out of style--like humongous sideburns and bellbottoms. The barber used to rub your shoulders, put his palms together like praying style, then gave chops between the shoulder blades. And we just sat there and went ahhhh...(sound vibrating with the chops).

I guess quickie massages have taken on a new meaning now--haircuts are not part of the deal.

Anonymous said...

There's still one place where you can experience the old style Indian barber - at the corner of Upper East Coast Road and Woo Mon Chew Road. I like the special alcoholic oil he uses to massage your next with his fingers and then the karate-like chops. Heard that Geroge Yeo (minister) cut his hair there from childhood until now. The barber has been there since the 1960s. The building was built in the 1930s and still going strong. For tales about "Siglap area of the 1950s", talk to the Malay man who runs his photo-framing store next door to the barber shop.

If this kind of barber who gives massage not good, walk across the road, you will Indonesian massage (by ladies for men and ladies).

Anonymous said...

Peter: The British built pre-war days or after WWII bungalows for senior officers, and flats like the one I mentioned at Nelson road for junior officers (I am one of them). I joined SHB in 1963 and it became PSA in 1964. In 1969 PSA built flats for their staff located at Blair plain, Tj Pagar, and point blks behind the railway station. I have no idea of the police station and other buildings mentioned by you. The dockyard your grand uncle worked was the Keppel Dockyard which was eventually demolished giving way to the present complex comprising of cruise centre, harbour front, cable cars, Vivo city, condo etc. I must say that your memory is really good, equivalent to that of an elephant.

Victor said...

Chun See said:

maybe we just wanted to gawk at the Anderson and Raffles Girls

So I see that your sex drive was normal when you were younger. Then HSL, now DOM? :p

Anonymous said...

I wish I could remember the STC bus service # (Service #17) between 1967 and 1970. Some of my classmates would take this service from Capitol Cinema all the way to Toa Payoh Estate and make a round-trip. This service was popular because you could "catch" girls from the town convents, MGS, SCGS, RGS, Anderson, Whitley School and Swiss Cottage Secondary at one go.

Seems the better looking ones were from CHIJ. They seem more "polished" and rather good in communication skills. Second was SCGS. Any body think otherwise?

Anonymous said...

Talking about girls, our strictly boy school was located near to a Chinese Girl School, and some of the girls were actually quite pretty. We guys could only speak a level of Mandarin only we could understand among ourselves. Few brave souls tried to strike up a decent conversation with the girls with disasterous results, because the girls looked puzzled and giggled.