Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My sentimental friend

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.

JohnHarper@Changi21Nov07 (10)

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.

JohnHarper@Changi21Nov07 (4)
(with Peter at Changi Beach)

JohnHarper@Birkpark23Nov07 (5)

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?

25 comments:

Brian Mitchell said...

Chun See and John

thanks very much for the account of your visit and I would love to have been with you guys exploring some of the old places (those that are stil recognisable). Yes it certainly will encourage my visit - which is tentatively planned for 2009 as part of a longer round the world trip (and even if that does not take place then a trip to Singapore alone will certainly happen). I too have found enormous satisfaction in making new 'friends' through this blog - many thanks to you all

Brian

zen said...

Some of us have strong urge to revisit former places which we spent in our youth. With a little difference, I found great satisfaction when I visited a row of shops in Jln Sultan in Segamat, Johor. It is a sleepy small town which time seems to crawl by, with no known attractions, except that I was borned in one of the shops(during the war years), as told by my late mother. I am sure John and his wife have a pleasant trip to Singapore recently. Earlier I told Chun See that his blog is quite unique in the sense that it is able to link up with our UK friends who have emotional ties with our country. I hope of meeting up with them - Cheers!

Lam Chun See said...

Brian. Look forward to your visit. But promise you won't get us arrested for espionage OK?

Kepala said...

I used to serve some part of my national service in the Gillman Barracks.

As you enter the main road, go straight up and you should hit a short/ small building, there should be a road curving to the left. About 20M down, the pool used to be on the left down in the valley..

I always enjoy visiting your site. Keep it up!!!

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Kepala for that tip regarding the pool. Next time I go, I will check it out.

As for Zen's point about going back to where we grew up, I read something interesting in Today, this morning. It's written by James Dobson of Focus on the Family and he wrote about how salmons swim thousands of miles to the very stream where they were born. We all have a bit of salmon in us don't we? Except that for us in Spore, many of those places are no longer around. My own birthplace is now the CTE!

chuck said...

Chun See,
Any idea if John is familiar with the food when having lunch with you? Can he recall them? I believe our local food also did not change over the years.

zen said...

James Dobson points out a basic instinct of humans or animals. I remember reading a Japanese writer expounding his view that because of the place where a new-borned baby draws his first breath, he would ultimately like to return to the place of his birth. Years back, my sister's father-in-law was quite insistant to bring his first grandson to visit his birth place in China, despite being ailing, but could not make it. Another similar case, my friend urged his wife and childrem to go and see an old house where he was borned some where in PJ, while on holidays in Kuala Lumpur.

Kepala said...

Chun See,

Hi, the next time you do a "tour", would be nice if I could come along. I am approaching 40 soon and memories of old do come back now and then.

Ben aka kepala

zen said...

Obviously Chun See has fanned the smouldering fire of nostagia that is hidden in most of us, including our UK friends. Very soon, if I am not wrong, GMY could be like a magnet drawing in a gathering of like-minded people.

Lam Chun See said...

We didn't talk much about food. He seems to like all local food.

Kepala. Sure it would be nice to go and recce the place again before they do something to it. (Actually, I don't quite agree with you description of the location of the pool). But how do I contact you? Why not you send me an email. Thanks.

Lam Chun See said...

Talking about 'fanning fire of nostalgia', last week I gave a talk to senior citizens at RSVP about blogging. You can read my post here. Many of them were quite excited and keen to start blogging.

Lam Chun See said...

By the way, you can read about Zen's trip to Segamat here.

Cool Insider said...

A very nice and sweet account of you playing host to our friends from abroad. It is lovely to hear about John's experience when strolling down the different memory lanes in Singapore, and how you have graciously hosted him and his wife together with Victor and Peter.

Perhaps this could even be a new business venture for you? Can start a new nostalgic tour business called "Walks Down Memory Lane" and employ people to specialise in those born during the 40s, 50s, 60s etc... ;)

OK lah, sometimes certain things are far more priceless than money alone...

Brian Mitchell said...

Zen and others have pointed to fanning the flames of nostalgia and there is a danger of living in the past. To tell the truth I resisted any contact or real thought about my time in Singapore for many decades on the grounds that nostalgia was a bad thing! Glad that Chun See's blog and the Memories of Singapore site and John Harper's blogs etc have persuaded me otherwise.

Brian

zen said...

Well Brian you may have visualised nostagia as something 'black' in the past. I remember a popular stout advertisement in Singapore some years back, where a famous actor appeared and commented: "What is there to fear of blackness?" - meaning the colour of stout. Similarly what is to fear of nostagia, just a benigh shadow that follows us thoughout our life.

Tom said...

Tom said...
Chun see I wish Iwas there with you and Peter when John and his wife were visiting Singapore, Ihope you all had agood time visiting places around changi, I
thank Peter for sending two photos
on to me they they are good photos
maybe I will be in the next set
of photographs, and I like the one
of changi beach it looks very good,
If my heath holds I will try and
come to Singapore and Iwould love to meet every one out there.

Lam Chun See said...

Tom. If you do come down, we will certainly bring you to Selarang Barracks. Unfortunately, you won't be allowed to go it becos it is now a drug rehabilitation centre. Unless you happen to bring in some some of the 'stuff' into Spore. But pls don't bring in too much becos in Spore we have mandatory death sentence of drug trafficking which means instead of Selarang, they will house you in Changi. Haha.

JollyGreenP said...

Arrived home this morning, what a wonderful trip it was! As you said in your blog Chun See it was like meeting an old friend although it was the first time that we had met. It was wonderful to meet Peter and Victor as well. Like Brian, I had for many years put all thoughts of Singapore out of my mind until 1989 when my youngest son kept asking me what it was like in Singapore, as I had had a windfall on my shares when Nestle took over Rowntrees I decided that I would show him and organised a holiday to Peneng, KL, Mamlacca finishing off with six nights in Singapore. Once again I was hooked! I have been back several times since then and can confirm that I am still madly in love with Singapore.

This latest visit was made particularly special meeting up with the "three musketeers", Chun See, Peter and Victor, wonderful people that I am pleased I have met.

It was amazing to see the changes where Lloyd Leas has been swallowed up by the prison. There was just the faintest of impressions of the kerbstones from Waddington Road end as the road dissapeared under the fence.

The swimming pool at Selerang where I honed my basic swimming skills was just visible through the fence at Selerang as an overgrown hole in the ground. I got the feeling of "letting in the jungle as it is described in Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book.

Changi Village still has the feel of the old village. Despite it having been rebuilt it follows the old line of the previous buildings. The side street that used to house the Wayang was very much different and the food court stands in an area that was always marked as being out of bounds to service personnel. The old primary school has been demolished except for the hall which now has a sign on it saying that it is the Changi Air Base Audotorium. The old secondary school building just up the slope from the primary school yard is still standing. When I first arrived in Singapore the class I was in was located in this building before the attap huts were built to house those of us born in the post war population bulge.

The trip out to Tengah was revealing despite everything being behind a fence that we couldn't see through. As we approached the main gate I spotted the water tower which was located near to the Sergeants Mess and outside the base across the road from the main gate the rough swampy land with the stream running by was now a wel maintained football pitch unlike the "Padang" sports field at Changi which now looks sadly overgrown and neglected.

Parts of the route we followed from Tengah did look very different but for some reason "Track 14" seemed to ring a bell in my mind as we passed it. I remember a Kampong there back in 1958 with some of the dwellings made out of old powdered milk "KLIM" tins.

Many thanks from Ann and I for the time that you spent with us and should you come to visit the UK in the future I will be happy to show you around the other place I like just as much as Singapore, the City of York.

Victor said...

It was nice meeting the JollyGreenP and his missus Ann in person. I thoroughly enjoyed the short few hours that we spent together.

Although I was only a toddler when you first arrived here, I too can identify with your feelings about how much Singapore has changed in the last few decades.

Will surely look you up if ever I have the opportunity to visit UK.

Lam Chun See said...

Wow! You only just got back to UK? Must be really tired out from your long trip. Looking forward to see some of your photos.

There's an old Chinese saying; if you are fated to meet, even 1,000 miles cannot keep you apart.

wrighty1 said...

hi bruno

i am from edinburgh i was sent by train to southampton,and was also on the T.T. Navassa to singapore,HQ COMPANY

TERRY McGINNIE

Tom said...

Tom said...
Hi Terry, how are you keeping , havent seen or heard from
you for along time,I was speaking
to your uncle afew months ago he
said you were living just over the border in England, am I right in saying that?.By the way welcome to chun see Friendly blog site, Good morning Yesterday, chun see will welcome you to and so will all the gang.Terry have you any old photographs of Singapore, or any body you know who may have some photos, if you have, I would like you to send some to me, my email is tb.brown @blueyonder.co.uk Terry its been along time I was called Bruno,and I still get called Hovis.

Lam Chun See said...

Welcome to Good Morning Yesterday Terry. If you have any stories and old photos of Spore or Selarang, do share with our readers here.

wrighty1 said...

hello m8
its great to hear from you,i am at my daughters for xmas,down in wiltshire,i am going back home on the 27 dec,and coming back down a weel later, i do not have a pc at home so i will bring some old photo's down and my son in law will put them on here.


terry mcginnie

Tom said...

Tom said ...
Wrighty1 would you ask your son to send your Photographs and your wee story, about what you did in Selarang,and places you remember,to
chun see Email,if you click on his view my complete profile then you will see his email.and Ghun See will put it on Good morning yesterday.