With a bit of help from my friend, Peter, I would like to tell you about the final stretch of Bukit Timah Road from Newton Circus to Tekka at Serangoon Road.
1970 Photo of the POSB at Bukit Timah Road. Photo courtesy of Peter Chan
1) Christian Cemetery
Did you know that the nice and peaceful Kampong Java Park, reputedly a favourite ‘haunt’ for love birds at night used to be a cemetery? The graves here were previously located at Singapore’s first Christian cemetery. Do you know where that was?
Answer - Fort Canning. In the year 1865, the bodies were exhumed and reburied in this Bukit Timah cemetery. The memorials and tablets can still be seen in Fort Canning, embedded in the north and south walls surrounding the old cemetery (see photo below). But the Bt Timah cemetery was later converted into a public park. The bodies were once again exhumed and reburied in the Chua Chu Kang Christian Cemetery. (Sigh .. in land-scarce Singapore, even the dead have to keep moving homes)
I recall seeing the road sign for New Cemetery Road whenever I traveled past this park in the old days before the Central Expressway was built. In writing this blog, I had a tough time confirming the exact location of this road. It could not be found even in my 1998 street directory. I checked two books on Singapore road names at the National Library and both did not list this street. Finally, with the help of National Library's ASK service, I was able to confirm that this road known as New Cemetery Road did not exist simply in my memory. I must say a word of thanks to the National Library Board’s reference librarian, Ms Hameedah M Ibrahim for her assistance.
Next to Kampong Java park is one of those irritating Area License booths. In those days, before the advent of the ERP system, we had to stop our cars by the booth, get down, purchase an area license and stick in to our windscreen. For the younger readers who are not familiar with this system, you can refer to the references in my previous post.
2) Kandang Kerbau Hospital
I think most of you would know about this famous hospital. It’s the predecessor of KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. For some reason, they decided to adopt a new name when they shifted to the present location.
Did you know that this hospital used to hold the world record for delivering the most number of babies. Read about this at NLB’s Infopedia (Reference 2). Most of the guys of my generation made our entrance into the world at this place.
When I visited my sister-in-law at KK back in 1972 after she gave birth to my eldest niece. I saw a huge silver Rolls Royce in the car park. Do you know who it belonged to?
Answer – President (Dr) Benjamin Sheares, our second president. Apparently, even though he was our head of state, he continued to practice his craft.
Further down, you will come to the Tekka Centre at the junction with Serangoon Road. This familiar market and hawker centre was for a time renamed Zhu Jiao when the government got carried away with it’s zeal to get Chinese Singaporeans to ‘chiang chua ji” (speak Mandarin). But for the sake of the tourists, they have reverted to the old name.
Across the canal, at the Junction with Selegie Road was one of the oldest cinemas in Singapore, the Rex Theatre.
3) Kampong Java Road
I can think of three landmarks that had been removed to make way for the new KK Hospital. First there is the Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurant. I think it was one of their earliest outlets. The first one by the way, was at Sommerset in Orchard Road. In those days, they served you the chicken on proper plates and with proper cutlery.
Next to the KFC were some squash courts. I cannot remember if it was to the right or left side. In the late 70’s and early 80’s squash was extremely popular in Singapore. I was the squash convener of the Philips (Audio Factory) Sports and Recreation Club. I had to search all over Singapore to book squash courts for our weekly games. I think the squash courts here were operated by the Singapore Sports Council. The design was terrible. The entrance into the court was very low and you had to crouch down to get in. I will blog about this game at another time.
Further down towards Thomson Road was the City Council Infirmary for Animals, which also housed the Veterinary Laboratory. This had been around since 1962. During our kampong days, we had to apply for dog licenses here. When our pets were injured, this was also the place to bring them for treatment.
Photo courtesy of Peter Chan
4) Farrer Park Swimming Pool
The next time you travel from Thomson Road to Keng Lee Road or Kampong Java Road, look out for the railings along the canal at the traffic lights junction. You will notice that they are painted red in colour. Do you know why?
It’s because in the old days, this place was a prominent landmark known as Ang Kio Tau in Hokkien. It got its name from the prominent red colour of the bridge railings. I guess, they have decided to retain the red colour as a tradition.
During my primary school days (early 60’s), I often went to Farrer Park Swimming Pool. We would tell the bus conductor, Ang Kio Tau. My brothers and I have some fond memories of the Farrer Park area. There was one occasion when we spent a few days of our holidays staying with our cousins in Dorset Road. My cousins used to stay in what was known as Dutch houses along Dorset Road. It was within walking distance of Farrer Park. The houses were of quite unique design, but unfortunately, I am not able to find any information about them on the internet or the Library.
In 1984, I started work with the National Productivity Board located at Cuppage Centre in Orchard Road. At that time we were part of the Ministry of Labour (name changed to Ministry of Manpower recently). Within NPB, there was a unit known as the Occupational Safety and Health Unit. They were housed in Halifax Road next to the Kampong Java Park. Occasionally, I joined my colleagues for a jog here in the evening. When NPB was transferred to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, my colleagues at the OSH remained in MOL and thus we parted ways. Later, MOL got their own building at Havelock Road, and we got ours at Bukit Merah Central.
5) Tennis Courts
Finally, we come to the other side of New Cemetery Road. Originally the Christian cemetery that I mentioned earlier stretched till Hooper Road. But this was later converted into a squash and tennis centre.
Along Hooper Road were some old houses also of quite unique design. I think some of them are still standing there, but may have been converted to offices. My father’s old friend, who we called Uncle Tham used to live here. My older brother Chun Chew (Zen) will remember more because he was good friend with one of the older Tham boys. But I remember attending a Christmas party at their house once when very young, probably below seven. I think they were Christians. It was quite an experience for me as a kampong boy to mix with such ‘civilised’ (English-speaking) people for a change. I remember Mrs Tham as a very friendly lady who spoke very good English. I also remember playing musical chairs and even got a box of picture/letter cubes as Christmas present. It was a wooden box with a sliding cover on top.
Coincidentally, when I moved to Lily Avenue in 1986, I discovered that Uncle Tham lived at the adjacent street; same house number as mine too, along Lemon Avenue. But shortly after, they moved away, and we lost touch.
I would like to end with a Quiz Question. Where was Singapore’s Jewish cemetery located?
I doubt anyone younger than 50 will know the answer. So I give you a hint: it was less than 2 km from Ang Kio Tau.
1) Singapore’s earliest Christian cemetery
2) Kandang Kerbau Hospital
3) ASK, the National Library's Enquiry Service
Ideas@Work: Tapping Employee Ideas for higher Productivity - My book on Staff Suggestions Systems Ideas@Work: Tapping Employee Ideas for Higher Productivity (165 pages, 6” x 9”, perfect bound) is now available in Sin...