Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ribbon Plant

What we Cantonese call the Koon Yam Chuk (观音竹), is also known as the Ribbon Plant or Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena Sanderiana). It is extremely common in Singapore. Many people plant it in pots in their gardens and along the corridors of our HDB flats. Because it can also grow in water, many office workers like to plant them in vases on their tables. Some Chinese also buy the stalks from the wet market and place them at their family alters. Tropical fish enthusiasts plant them in their tanks to help remove fish wastes from the water.

But I wonder how many of us know that this plant also bears flowers. I certainly did not, and thus was pleasantly surprised to see some blooming in our garden not longer ago. I took some photos and share them with you here.

Guanyin bamboo (11)

Guanyin bamboo (1)

Guanyin bamboo (4)

Monday, January 29, 2007

Hiroshima 28

There's an article in this morning's Straits Times Life section of an interview with veteran Hong Kong director Ann Hui. She is well-known for movies like Boat People (1982), Summer Snow (1995). Both were powerful movies with a social message - the first about the plight of Vietnamese refugees and the second about a 40-year old housewife who had to take care of her Alzheimer's-afflicted father-in-law.

If, like me, you enjoy this genre of movies, I would recommend you an even older one by the title of Hiroshima 28 (广岛28)also starring Josephine Siao Fong Fong. The story is about a young Japanese woman who contracted the deadly leukemia arising from the effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 28 years after the event.

The show was directed by Lung Kong (龙刚 - hope I got that right). Those who are old enough to have enjoyed the Cantonese black and white movies of the 50s and 60s may recognize this name. He was a contemporary of people like Patrick Tse Yin and Cheong Yin Choi, and often acted as a baddie. I remember one very dramatic scene of him acting as a drug addict but unfortunately cannot recall the name of the show.

He was probably inspired by the story behind the Hiroshima Peace Crane

Photo of Hiroshima Peace Crane courtesy of Kamoda.

I took this picture in December 1985 at a place called Ura Bandai, near Lake Inawashiro in Northern Honshu, Japan.

Related story: To The Movies

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Day of Records

Yesterday was a day of records, of sorts. The Straits Times reported in its front page that the ST Index hit a record high. Over here in Good Morning Yesterday, we also saw a record in the number of visitors. Thanks to Daryl Sng who posted our (Peter and me) article about A&W to, this blog saw a 6-fold increase in visitors a day.

But sadly, on the same page of the Straits Times, there was a grim reminder that outside the blogosphere, outside our happy world of 'Yesterday Once More', there's another very present world of death and destruction.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Singapore's First Fast Food Restaurant

I doubt many young people know that Singapore’s first fast food restaurant was not from MacDonald’s or KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) but A&W. It was located at Dunearn Road near the former University of Singapore’s Bukit Timah Campus.

From 1974 to 1986, I lived at the HDB (Housing and Development Board) estate in nearby Farrer Road and visited this restaurant occasionally. But it is my friend Peter Tan, who used to study at the Singapore U. who could recall details of this place.

Thanks to Peter’s friend for this rare but somewhat faded photo of Singapore’s first fast food restaurant at Dunearn Road.

The shape of A&W Restaurant was like "Raffles Village" at Cuscaden Road - a Minangkabau long house type; with roof that was not tiled but made of attap leaves. The building was raised from the floor and had long glass windows so you could look out to the University grounds and Dunearn Road. There was a small car park for customers - made of granite chips and not metalled road surface. The signature item at A&W was the ceiling lights which we students wanted to "flick" but were afraid to do so.

When we studied at the Union House (of USSU or University of Singapore Students Union), we used to walk over to A&W at night for the food. There used to be a pedestrian path through the Bukit Timah Campus, leading from the Union House to A&W’s. In those days, there were no such things as spaghetti. The menu was plain and simple. Usually the loser of the snooker game - played on level 2 at Union House - had to buy the rest supper.

** I have been informed that there is an error in my sketch above. The location of the old Adam Rd Hawker Centre should be on the same side as the present location. Anyway, I intend to blog about this another time. Hope I can provide more reliable information then. LCS - 23Jan2007.

Here’s the spot where the A&W Restaurant used to stand.

In-between lectures, students dated at A&W ,,, cheap date and air-con for that root beer. Some said Michael Chiang (my classmate) conceptualized his book, "Army Daze" at this place and not SAFTI where he served his NS in the 1970s; but since MINDEF funded his project, he had to "change the script".

If students had more $$$, they would go down to Orchid Inn Hotel for lunch or the former Equatorial Hotel at Stevens/Bukit Timah Road corner but not A&W.

Other things I recall:

- Frosty root beer served in those icy beer glasses - could have been S$1.50 or 1.80 then.
- Promo item in those days was the bear (brown in color and the A&W sash). If you spent about $10, you can buy the bear for another $2
- Waffle served with ice cream.
- The place was popular with ACS boys on weekdays and courting couples on Saturday nights.
- There might have been a drive-in facility, I am not sure. But later on, A&W did open one at Jurong open air drive-in cinema for a short time before it closed shop in 1973 or 1974.

Photo courtesy of Luckypines

Lam Chun See continues ...........

Yes, I certainly miss that root beer and float served in heavy chilled glass mug. For a time, you could still get that in Malaysia, but last month, when I ate at the A&W Jejantas Restaurant at Sungei Buloh along the North South Highway, I was disappointed to discover that they too had changed to paper cups.

Personally, whilst I do enjoy the food at fast food restaurants, I really dislike eating from paper boxes. Did you know that in the early days, KFC used to serve their food in proper plates with normal fork and knife. If fact, you could even bring your date to KFC, as I did once to the KFC outlet opposite the Orchard Cinema, next to the Yuyi Emporium. But the first KFC restaurant I went to was probably the one at Kampong Java Road, near the entrance of the present KK Hospital.

Sadly, the A&W Restaurant, like many other landmarks in Dunearn Road are no more, and so we can only reminisce about it here.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Fun and Entertainment in the 1960s - Brian Mitchell

The title of this blog – from a Paul Anka song - got me thinking about my time in Singapore in the early 1960s and the entertainment we had then - because the very first record I ever bought, a 45rpm single, was Paul Anka’s hit song ‘Diana’.

I bought it soon after I arrived in Singapore at a night-time market which must have been on or near the Orchard Estate where I lived for a short while. I recall the busy market stalls lit by gas or kerosene lamps and it was one of my first experiences of buying at a market – I probably had to haggle over the price which I always hated doing! Shopping in Singapore for us brits was always an adventure, in the UK you hardly ever get the chance to haggle over price.

Music was of course important to us young teenagers and I recall hanging around the jukebox in the hotel we stayed at on arrival in Singapore (called The Ambassador and near the site of what used to be Singapore’s original airport at Kallang) playing Everley Brothers, Buddy Holly and Elvis records.

The cinema was popular of course. For us ‘Brit brats’ with fathers based at the RAF Changi airbase we had outdoor films, few of which I recall except for some Elvis Presley films. My most vivid memory is of seeing ‘Ben Hur’ at a very large cinema in Singapore City, the film had its exciting moments but none more so that in the chariot race scene when the audience were all up on their feet cheering wildly! Much better than seeing the film in the UK where everyone just stays in their seat!

We had no television then (when did it start in Singapore?) and the radio was difficult to listen to in the evening with all the static from electric storms. I enjoyed the cartoons in the Straights Times (I think) which included strips from the United States including Litl’ Abner and also Dick Tracey and Mad Magazine was much looked forward to, although this featured satires on US tv programmes none of which I had even seen!

We used to visit a record shop in Changi Village, not so much to buy records as to enjoy the air conditioning and to listen to the strange sounds they played – I think now it must have been modern jazz which at the time I was completely unfamiliar with. I don’t recall going to any music gigs other than seeing Cliff Richard and The Shadows play at a large indoor stadium somewhere in Singapore City – a big moment for both the brits and local Singaporean fans of the day.

We visited the Tiger Balm gardens of course and we had what seem now as rather strange treasure hunts where families would get in their cars to follow a series of clues and drive all over the island in search of some ‘treasure’. I can’t imagine now why that was enjoyable! And there were also hill climbs, not on foot, but timed car races up a hill, maybe it was Bukit Timah hill –I doubt in these environmentally aware days that this still goes on?

Scanned postcard photo of Tiger Balm Gardens (Haw Par Villa) in the sixties. Courtesy of Memories of Singapore

Perhaps the most popular outings of all for us kids from RAF Changi were the organised boat trips to beaches on Pulau Ubin, always an exciting time, away from the gaze of our parents!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Masuk Dalam, Masuk Dalam

Masuk Dalam! Masuk Dalam!” is Malay for “Move inside! Move inside!”
“Ow buay boh kwee”, is Hokkien for “There are no ghosts at the back” (后面没有鬼)

These are 2 common expressions that kids of my generation used to hear on the buses back in the 50’s and 60’s. They were uttered by the fierce bus conductors who wanted us to move to the rear of the bus and not crowd around the entrance.

Today, with the help of my friend Peter Tan who is about the same age as myself, I would like to continue from where Brian Mitchell left off, and tell you more about the bus taking experience of the ‘old days’.

It was the sight of a crowded old bus in Yangon last year, like this one, with people standing at the steps, that nudged me into starting Good Morning Yesterday. Photo from the collection of the National Archives of Singapore.

First a bit of history of the Buses of Those Days.

I must warn that what I describe here is purely from memory and not research and thus cannot vouch for the accuracy of dates and names.

Prior to around the mid-60’s, there were several small bus companies operating in Singapore. These were mostly family businesses and poorly managed. As such the service was terrible. For example, many of the conductors and drivers were gangsters. Some names that come to mind are: Tay Koh Yat, Easy Bus, Keppel Bus, Kampung Bahru Bus, Green Bus, Bedok-Changi Bus, Changi Bus, Hock Lee Bus, Ponggol Bus, Paya Lebar Bus and STC.

Later, presumably through pressure from the new PAP government, they were amalgamated into 4 companies; UBC, ABS, STC and ABC. Conditions improved, but were still unsatisfactory. Sometime in the early 70’s, the government sent in a Government Team of Officials to clean up these companies and formed a single bus company called SBS (Singapore Bus Services). I believe, our present minister for National Development, Mr Mah Bow Tan was a member of that GTO. I read their report when I did my university final year project at the SBS (more about that another time).

1960 Photo of Paya Lebar Bus at Jalan Kayu Village (Courtesy of Peter Tan)

Bone Shakers

As you might expect, the buses of those days were all bone shakers. For example, whenever it rained, nobody would take the seats next to the windows. Why? Because the windows, which were usually the sliding type were often jammed and could not be raised and thus rain would splash onto the seats. Unless you were a ‘Hercules’ you wouldn’t dare try to draw it up; especially if there were school girls around. Imagine how malu (embarrassing) if you were not strong enough to do it.

Breakdowns were a common occurrence. Whenever a bus broke down, all the passengers would have to debus and wait at the roadside for another one to come along. When it did, you can imagine the mad rush and the packed condition.

Two brands of buses that I can recall are International Harvester and Isuzu. When I was studying at the Prince Edward campus (Those days, the University of Singapore’s Engineering Faculty was housed at the Singapore Polytechnic at Prince Edward Road), there was a bus terminus across the road. Next to it was a big car park which would be turned into a open air hawker centre in the evenings. Every morning, the drivers would rev the engines of their Isuzu buses for ages, and the noise was a great disturbance to our lectures.

About these dinosaurs, Peter recalls:

"Buses in the 60s had wooden floor panels unlike the metal ones we see today. Sometimes there were gaps between the panels and we could see the transmission and the road below us. Standing passengers stood along the aisle and you know what some school boys would do when they need to get down from the bus ... leave you to imagine .. "

Packed Like Sardines

As expected, buses were often very crowded. Sometimes the bus was so packed that you didn’t need to hold the overhead railings to maintain your balance. The situation was not helped by the fact that many kiasu passengers were reluctant to move to the front and rear sections for fear that they would not be able to make it to the single entrance/exit which was usually at the centre of the bus. Consequently, we often had to cling on the side rail at the entrance of the bus with one foot on the steps and our bodies hanging out of the bus like in the photo above. Sometimes, the bus conductor used his metal ticket punch to knock our fingers in an attempt to dislodge us.

One thing we liked about this dangerous practice was that we were able to enjoy a bit of natural air-con ….. plus we needn’t pay the bus fare. Another dangerous thing we liked to do was to imitate the ticket inspectors by jumping off the buses before it came to a complete halt. We would hit the ground running.

Undated Photo of bus along North Bridge Road (Courtesy of Peter Tan). Notice that there is only one entrance/exit near the mid-section of the bus. Passengers were reluctant to move to the front and rear of a crowded bus because they did not want to push they way to the exit when it was time to get off.

The Ticketing System

Besides the bus driver, there was a bus conductor whose job was to collect the fare and punch the tickets. The tickets of various denominations were mounted on a metal pack with thick rubber band (like those for pyjamas). He carried a canvas satchel for the coins.

Bus conductors of those days were usually rough characters. In fact many were gangsters. Of course, they were not as disciplined as the bus conductors of today. For example, the driver often parked his bus at the roadside next to a coffee shop, with all the passengers inside, so that they can buy their breakfast. Sometimes, they would simply drive into the bus depot, again with all the passengers, to top up their petrol tanks.

Occasionally, a bus inspector would board the bus and made random checks. After he had inspected your ticket, he would make a small tear to authenticate it.


Besides the above, Peter also has some fond memories of his bus rides:

I recall one botak conductor from Green Bus who could balance on one leg when the bus was swaying from side to side. He boasted he was the "Monkey God" and indeed he could really imitate one.

I often took Green Bus to Tek Kah to get to school. What I liked most was when the bus had to be changed at the depot because the bus was konking-out (due to steam coming out from the radiator, or gear cannot change).

Because my school was in Bras Basah, sometimes we saved 10 cents by walking to Queen Street (where Rochore Center is) to board #1 Green Bus. Otherwise if we wanted to catch the sight of Convent girls we stood at Capitol (Stamford Road) for a STC and got off at Selegie Road and walked over to Rex Cinema (facing KK Hospital) to catch Green Bus.

When my school relocated to Grange Road in 1972 for a short period of time, I took the Amalgamated Bus Company’s #200 via Sixth Avenue to Holland Road (facing Chip Bee Estate) and then a #12 via Queenstown to River Valley Road. To our delight, we discovered that there were also pretty girls studying in the Queenstown area.

Those were the days when X films were banned in Singapore but available in JB (Johor Bahru). So we took UBC (formerly Green Bus) #170 to JB to watch at the Rex Cinema. Then we stayed longer for the evening and went to Mechinta Night Club down at the Lido beach to watch a striptease show.

Undated Photo of Green Bus Terminus in Johor Bahru (Courtesy of Peter Tan)

Green Bus had its depot at 6 ½ miles Bukit Timah Road, where the present McDonald’s HQ stands, opposite Bukit Timah Plaza. There were 2 sections. 1 section was where they kept the buses (nearer to the railway track) and the other section (closer to King Albert Park) was the workshop. When it was time to change buses, Green Bus entered through Clementi Road and stopped at the workshop area, we got down and switched buses, and exit into Bukit Timah Road.
Other landmarks I remembered for bus stops and terminus are:

  • The Changi Bus kiosk in town (North Bridge Road opposite to Captiol Cinema where St Andrew"s Church is, got this photo for you),

  • The STC terminus up at Siglap Hill (you still see an unusual U-shaped road built specially for STC to make a turn from Changi Road into town,

  • The STC Workshop at McKenzie Road (the red brick faced workshops and open-air depot nearer to Rex Cinema),

  • The STC terminus for Nissen bus at Upper Aljuneid Road,

  • JB Green Bus & Singapore-Johore Bus terminus,

  • Tah Kok Yat terminus at Satay Club (which is the road nearest to Shaw Tower in Beach Road),

  • Hock Lee Bus terminus at Chulia Street (right in front of OCBC Center today),

  • STC teminus at Shenton Way (after the old Singapore Poly),

  • Paya Lebar Bus kiosk at where City Plaza is now.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Banding Island

I doubt many Singaporeans have heard of this place called Banding Island in Malaysia. Also known as Pulau Banding, it is actually an inland island located right in the heart of Peninsular Malaysia, in Tasik (lake) Temenggor in the state of Perak, and sits squarely on the highway that joins Kota Bahru and Kuala Trengganu in the east, and Gerik and Kuala Kangsar in the west.

I first visited this scenic island in 1997, when I decided to take the long way to get to Ipoh; i.e. via the east coast and stopping in towns like Kuantan and Kuala Trengganu. We stayed overnight at the Banding Island Resort, the only hotel on this tiny island. It was raining much of the time and so we did not get to see much of the attractions. Since, my kids were too young to have any recollections of this place, we decided to visit it again during our recent annual pilgrimage to Ipoh last month and spent Christmas Day on the island.

Compared to 1997, when the highway were not fully completed and much construction was ongoing, the drive this time was much better. I particularly liked the 100 plus km stretch between the North-South Highway exit and the small town of Gerik. The road was new and traffic was light. Even though the speed limit was only about 80 or 90 kph, I must confess that at some stretches, I could not resist going up to 110 even. From Gerik, it’s another 40 km or so eastward to Banding Island. Here the terrain is hilly and the road winding, so of course one has to drive much slower. In total, the distance from Ipoh to Banding Island was slightly less than 200 km.

If you are looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of Orchard Road, I would recommend a short holiday in Banding Island. The road signs are excellent, and if you drive, it should not be a problem getting there. However, be forewarned that there isn’t much to do there except nature walks and fishing. The hotel organizes some excursions for fishing (mostly tomans) and visit to Orang Asli Village and jungle trekking to see the Rafflesia flower. Besides the Banding Island Resort, which charges RM140 per night, there are no other decent accommodation. There are some ‘floating chalets’ but the condition is very run down and I don’t think Singaporeans can take it.

Below are some photos that I took during our trip.

Banding (44)
A section of the North-South Highway just north of Ipoh approaching the tunnel.

Banding (59)
A view of the lake from our hotel room. The bridge joins the western end of the island to the mainland.

Banding (56)
Another view of Tasik Temenggor from our hotel room.

Banding (9)
This is another bridge which joins the eastern end of the island to the mainland.

Banding (15)
The ‘floating chalets’ I mentioned can be seen at the top of this photo.

“When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.”
(Carl Boberg, 1886)

Link: Banding Island Resort