Remember that Hermans Hermit hit of the 60’s called My Sentimental Friend? Well, I met my sentimental friend last week. Although, it’s the first time we met, it seemed as though I have known him for decades. He is the one who wrote several articles for this blog, and who said in his last one:
“I feel that I have found several new friends via my writings and look forward to maybe meeting up with you, Peter and Zen next time that I manage to get to Singapore. At the moment I am not sure when that will be. On my personal list of 100 things to do before I die is "visit Singapore again!" It is such a wonderful place that I never tire of visiting it, talking about it and writing about it.”
His name is John Harper, and he came back, just as he said he would, with his lovely wife, Ann.
Together with two other ‘friends of Yesterday’, Victor and Peter, I brought John and Ann to see some of the places he wrote about, such as Changi/Lloyd Leas area where he first lived on arrival in Singapore, Changi Beach where he learned to swim, and Changi Board Walk area where he played. That was last Wednesday, 21 November. We had lunch at Changi Village. After lunch, we went to Gillman Village where John’s school, the Alexandra Grammar School was located. From there we proceeded to the place the British kids of his day loved, the Haw Par Villa, which thankfully had been restored to close to its original condition. The visit to Haw Par Villa was quite nostalgic for me too because I have not been there since I was a small kid. So it must be about half a century ago for me.
(with Peter at Changi Beach)
On Friday, I met them again, this time alone. We spent the morning at the Bird Park and in the afternoon, I brought them to Tengah Air Base, where John had lived for some time too after his dad was transferred there from Changi Air Base. Although we could not enter the air base, still the surrounding area brought back some memories for John.
It was really a joy for me to be able to share this time with my friends from the UK. I found it rather touching to see him struggling to remember some of the places that he used to love. Unfortunately, many of the places that John knew were either no long around, or have become restricted areas. For example, many of the places in Changi where he played have either become part of the Changi Airport complex, or the prison and drug rehabilitation complex, or part of the new RSAF Changi Air Base.
The Chua Chu Kang area has undergone even greater transformation. I tried to retrace the part of Chua Chu Kang Road that John would take on his way to school in Gillman from Tengah. Only a short stretch of the old CCK Road remained, and it was largely uninhabited. I managed to find a short stretch of this road next to where the former Keat Hong Camp was. This part is now known as Choa Chu Kang Avenue 1.
Some other places that John remembered, and which I was able to show him were the part of the Malayan Railway crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road and the steel railway bridges along Bukit Timah, near Hillview Road and Rifle Range Road. As for Gillman, it had changed so much that he couldn’t be sure where his school was. And both of us could not be sure where the swimming pool was either.
So to solve this and some of the other mysteries, I must wait for my other UK friends like Tom O’Brien, Brian Mitchell and Tom Brown to come visiting. Hope it won’t be long, because as we Singaporeans know only too well, places here have a way of disappearing overnight.
So guys … what are you waiting for?
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