Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Nantah Arch

I was driving along Jurong West St 93 recently and came across a very famous landmark for Singaporeans of my generation; the old Nantah Arch. This simple but elegant piece of architecture was a familiar sight to many NS boys of my time who went to Safti and 6th SIR (Tanjung Gul Camp). It was the main entrance to the old Nanyang University prior to its redevelopment to the present Nanyang Technological University. On our way to Safti and Tuas, we would pass by this arch along the old Upper Jurong Road.

Recent photo of the Nanyang Arch in front of Yunan Park

Old picture scanned from the book, Singapore, An Illustrated History, 1941 ~ 1984, Information Division, Ministry of Culture

Today, I would like to share some information about the old Upper Jurong Road with my young readers. Again I remind readers that this is purely based on my memory and subject to errors of course.
Tuas Village used to be a nice quiet village famous for its seafood. It was also the terminal for Green Bus no. 175. I have been told that its present location is near to the Tuas Amenity Centre along Tuas Basin Link.

Tanjong Gul Camp - From Tuas, there was a dirt track which went through some really ‘ulu’ (rustic) terrain leading to 6th SIR or Tanjong Gul Camp. In fact this was the first army camp I ever stepped into. I was visiting my elder brother, David, who was posted to this camp as a recruit in 1970. According to my latest street directory, this camp is still standing at Pioneer Sector 2.

Jalan Bahar Camp – the buildings are still there today but look to be unoccupied. My friend Simon Chu did this BMT (Basic Military Training) here. This place always reminds me of my own BMT 5 km running test. We started from somewhere across the road and ran all the way to Chua Chu Kang cemetery and back. As we had to leave camp (Safti) rather early (in the army, it’s always a case of rushing to wait), I did not have time to ‘do my business’ properly. Finally, I could not take it anymore. Fortunately, there were lots of bushes nearby and I had toilet paper with me (but no entrenching tool though). Anyway, I passed (the test that is).

Benoi Road – We had our 10 km running test here. The start point was near the junction with Upper Jurong Road. The route took us to Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim, Pioneer Circus, Pioneer Road and back to Benoi Road. The Beatles song, The Long and Winding Road, kept playing in my mind as I struggled the grueling 10 km even though the roads were quite straight actually.

Nanyang University itself was a popular attraction for shutterbugs because of its unique Chinese period architecture. Below are 2 photos from my personal collection.

1970 photo of my brother James and cousin Richard Ng by the Nantah Lake

1969 photo of my old friend Simon Chu was taken next to the clock in front of the Admin Building. This photo was taken during our cycling trip which I blogged about earlier.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Rainy Days and Mondays

It was raining (as what the beloved Brian Richmond liked to say) cats and dogs this morning and so I had to fetch my daughter to NJC. The sky was dark and the traffic chaotic along Dunearn Road.

I asked my daughter if she knew that there was a song by the
Carpenters which had this line: Rainy Days and Mondays always get me down - which of course she hadn't. I was hoping the DJ on Gold 90 FM would play the song.

But at the bus stop outside Nanyang Girls' School, I saw something which lifted the blues. There were these school children with huge umbrellas, and they were helping to shelter other students who alighted from their cars, so they would not get wet. Now isn't that a thoughtful act. Bravo to these kids.

Unfortunately, because of the rain and the stressful traffic, I did not note their school uniforms. But I guess they must be either from NJC or Nanyang Girls.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

My Mother’s Broken Jade Bracelets – Lam Chun Chew

One day, when I came home from school, I saw my mum playing cards with her lady friends. The year was in the early 60’s. Suddenly, a skinny old lady barged in and called my mum; "Sam Soh*, I need ten dollars urgently. You can have my two jade bracelets." She took them off and handed them to my mother.

My mother gave her the money and she quickly made an exit. Later I heard my mum speaking to her friend through the phone, and asking her for advice regarding the two old oil-coated jade bracelets. Her fiend advised my mum to let a goldsmith chemical-wash the bracelets, and true enough the items became as good as new. My mother proudly put on her new jade bracelets on her left wrist and showed off to her kampong friends.
One Sunday morning, without any rhyme or reason, she took a short cut through the 'tua tao' (大头) grocery shop opposite our house (please see earlier post on Our Kampong), trying to exit from the shop’s rear entrance. Before she could exit, a heavy unhinged wooden door, placed near the rear shop entrance, came crashing down onto her. Luckily, it narrowly missed her, but grazed her left wrist, smashing one bracelet to pieces. She became ashen-faced, picked up the broken jade pieces quickly, and headed for home. After relating the incident, she went to a goldsmith to solder back the broken jade bracelet, using gold as the solder, saying that she would leave the good-luck charms for her grandchildren. Chinese believe that jade can expel evils. Should we believe this long-held belief?

* Because my father was number 3 in his family, the kampong folks called him Sam Kor and my mum, Sam Sor (三哥,三嫂)


I thought this funny cartoon from yesterday's Straits Times was somewhat incomplete ..

Your are hereby sentenced .......... to be hanged.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Nine O’clock Flower

Portulaca (12)@10-00

When I was growing up in the kampong, my mother’s favourite flower was the moss rose or Portulaca Grandiflora, which she called Kow Teem Fa in Cantonese (九点花) or ‘Nine O’clock Flower. She said that the flowers would start to bloom at 9 in the morning. I have never checked the accuracy of this statement.

The moss rose is a very easy flower to grow. It can be propagated by two ways. Firstly, by seed that can be collected from plants that are already growing. It can also be grown very easily by taking cuttings. To do this, cut off a small stalk that is not flowering or about to flower and place it in the ground. They will grow and multiply very quickly (see photo below).

Portulaca (10) - young plant

The moss rose, sometimes call rose moss, can be planted in pots. In fact you can buy them from the nursery in pots. But I think it is best to have a patch or cluster of significant size to give a carpet effect. A big patch of brightly coloured moss rose is really a lovely sight to behold.

We used to have a huge patch of the red variety growing in the front yard of our kampong house near the main road. Passers-by liked to admire our flowers and pluck them.

Red and pink are the most common colours found in Singapore. But I have also seen white and yellow ones in the nurseries. They usually bloom in the morning and close in the afternoon. They need plenty of sunlight.

Today, in my garden, we have a pot of this lovely flower. After nearly half a century, I finally decided to check the accuracy of my mother’s statement and took a couple of photos for you to enjoy.

Portulaca (7)@9-00
This photo was taken at 9.00 am

Portulaca (9)@10-00
This photo was taken at 10.00 am. Hey maybe we should rename it 10 o’clock flower eh? :)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Mount Ophir

Las Montanas' mention of Mount Ophir in his comment in the previous article reminds me of my own excursion there in April 1980. At that time, I was working as an industrial engineer at Philips Singapore. The trip was organised by our recreation club and we had a great time climbing up by the tough route.

It was a tiring climb. At some points, the slope was so steep, we needed to use rope to haul ourselves up. Sigh .... sure miss being young and fit.

We were rewarded for our efforts by the wonderful view from the top. I remember that it was very windy and cold at the peak where we spent the night. I built a basha (simple tent) and shared it with my good friend Roger Lee. He was quite tall and thus his feet stuck out of the basha. I could actually feel him shivering beside me the whole night. Being 'katek' (short) has its advantages too, yeah?

Mt Ophir1 (5 Apr1980)

Mt Ophir2 (5 Apr1980)
The lanky guy in red T-shirt with his hand on my shoulders is my friend Roger Lee.

Mt Ophir3 (5 Apr1980)
Me and Roger and another colleague from Accounts Dept (centre) next to our basha.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Segamat, My Birthplace – Lam Chun Chew

The little-known town of Segamat was pretty much in the news recently because of the massive floods in Johor, the southern most state of peninsular Malaysia. Located along the old trunk road linking Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, Segamat has a special place in my heart. I was born there in 1943, during the Japanese occupation of Singapore.

Before the present North-South Highway (known in Malay as Plus or Projek Lebuhraya Utara Selatan) was completed, towns like Ayer Hitam, Yong Peng, Segamat, Seremban and Kajang were quite familiar to Singaporeans who travelled north. Ayer Hitam was especially well-known because it was the place where the tour buses liked to stop. Many older Singaporeans would remember, I’m sure, the dirty coffee shops there; and the many shops selling souvenirs, fruits and vegetables; and not forgetting the many flies. But with the completion of N-S Highway, many Singaporeans no longer have the chance to even pass through these towns. As such, other than its famous durians, younger Singaporeans know little about this sleepy little town called Segamat.

One day in 2002, I suggested to my brother, Chun See and my sister, Pat that we should pay our Aunt (my father’s elder brother’s wife, we called her tai pak leong) a visit in Segamat, as she is now quite old - around eighty years old and was staying in her son’s flat. And so we set off on the morning of 31st November 2002, at about 9.30 am in Chun See’s Toyota Corrolla. Pat brought along her good friend Mdm Chan (a retired nurse). Earlier I had called my Segamat cousin, who was a car mechanic to expect us in the afternoon.

We stopped for lunch at an old coffee shop in Ayer Hitam. From Ayer Hitam, we continued northwards along the old trunk road and arrived in Segamat at mid-afternoon. The journey was smooth. We drove into the town’s main street and checked into the first hotel we found, a rather old one. The room rate was really cheap, something like S$18.00 per night. Later, we found that a better hotel was just down the road. I telephoned my cousin and he came to lead us to my aunt’s flat which was on the town’s outskirt. My aunt was surprised and happy to see us coming all the way from Singapore to visit her. We told her that all of us were getting old and I, apart from seeing her, would also like to see the place where I was born. This was somewhere in a row of shop houses along Jalan Sultan, which my mother had described to me. Before departure, we gave her S$200 for her pocket money and Mdm Chan also gave a small ang pow of S$10.00 to her grandson. She thanked us profusely and insisted that her younger son should take us for dinner in town.

My younger cousin and his wife took us to a small restaurant which resembled a Singapore coffee-shop. The service was terrible. There were only two tables occupied. After serving one table, it took them forty five minutes to come to us. Of course we did not complain for fear of embarrassing my cousin. My cousin’s wife told us that she was quite familiar with Singapore as she had worked in Jurong for a period of time before her marriage. After dinner, my cousin took us to a pasar malam (night market) which was similar to those in Singapore, with nothing much to buy.

The next morning, we had breakfast at an Indian coffee shop. Chun See loved the putu mayam which reminded him of our kampong days. I tried the roti prata to see how it was compared with our Singapore variety – but I cannot recall my verdict. Chun See (being the 5S consultant) observed that the level of cleanliness of this shop was better than that of Singapore. When we reached Jln Sultan, Chun See began to take many photos. We went over to the nearby Hakka Association to take more photos, as my late mother used to mention the association.

I was born in one of the shop-houses along this street (Jalan Sultan) next to the Segamat River..

The Hakka Association building still stands where it did more than half a century ago.

After saying goodbye to our relatives, we set off for home. We had lunch in another small town called Yong Peng. The food was good, and the restaurant was air-conditioned. Again we noticed that the cleanliness of the place, including the toilets, was excellent.

We stopped over at Johor Bahru and did some shopping before heading for home. All in all, we had a nostalgic trip back to a place where our parents met during the war. All of us, me especially, are in a sense, the ‘products’ of this little town.

Lam Chun See continues.

My earliest memories of Segamat were from my secondary school days. I joined my mum and her youngest brother, our Eleven Uncle, on a trip to Segamat. I cannot remember if my dad came along. Very likely he did. The year was 1967, because I was in Sec 3 then. The purpose of the trip was to exhume my maternal grandparents’ graves and rebury them properly. Apparently they had been buried quite haphazardly, without a proper grave stone even (probably due to the war) in Segamat. Now that all my uncles were settled down and doing well in life, my mother had insisted that they performed this duty.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Day With My Dad – Lam Chun Chew

1948 photo of me and my dad at a place known as the Tiger Swimming Pool which was located next to the sea near to the Haw Par Villa.
You must be thinking that I am going to blog about an outing which my dad brought me to when I was a kid.
Sorry, you have been tricked. Actually, I want to talk about how I brought my dad out for a day of sightseeing.
Ironically, whilst I can remember dates from more that half a century ago, I cannot even recall the year which this outing with my dad took place. Fortunately, they print the date of processing of the film on the prints and so I now know that it was in May 1992.

One day my father rang me up and asked me to go with him to see the Tang Village at Yuan Ching Road, Jurong. I knew he felt lonely and agreed to take a day off to accompany him to sightsee the place. I told him to meet me at Yishun Central and we went to see a movie, an action one – the Wong Fei Hung type. After the show we went for lunch, eating chicken rice and headed to Jurong.

Tang Village 1

I also cannot remember the entrance fee we had to pay. But apparently my father enjoyed every minute of the viewing the Tang artefacts, streets, brothel, a gambling den, horses and camels, court-room enacted with judge and all. We had tea in a eating house where acrobats displayed their skills. Finally we viewed a sword-fighting display by two actors suspended by wires. The fighting took place along the wall making it looked like a scene from a wuxia movie. That must have been the highlight and my father took many photos of the action. At this juncture of his life, my father loved to take photos and you can see a few of them here.

Tang Village 2

Tang Village 5

Tang Village 3

Tang Village 4

After my siblings and I started working, my father could afford to visit many places in Europe, USA ,Canada, South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, China and Japan. He was immobilised after having a stroke at the age of 76 and passed away on September, 11, 2001. I think all in all, he had led a full life without much regrets.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Ipoh Snippets

For the benefit of my fellow Singaporeans who cannot follow my banter with my Ipoh friends in the comments of my previous post, here are a couple of photos of Ipoh town.

The first photo shows the old Odeon Theatre that Aiyah Nonya spoke about (I think). There are lots of makan stalls here at night. Wish some of the foodies here have the chance to try Ipoh food. Mo tuck ting ah!!


The second photo shows the Sam Tet (pronounced Sam Tuck, 三德) Primary School.. According to my sister-in-law, another veteran science teacher, all students at Sam Tet are schooled in 3 essential skills: sik tuck, fun tuck and orr tuck - Can Eat, Can Sleep and Can Shit.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Oldest Periodic Table on the Blog

Although I am a management consultant who, for years, have been advising companies how to implement the Japanese technique of good housekeeping known as 5S, at home it is my wife who dictates all matters relating to 5S. And she is particularly ‘ruthless’, as one Japanese author puts it, when it comes to applying the first ‘S’, Seiri, which means Clearing – to discard things you no longer need. Anything that is deemed to be no longer needed around the house is ‘buanged’ (buang is Malay for throw). Her motto seems to be; Throw first, ask questions later.

Hence, it is a bit of an irony that my wife still has in her possession a number of very old science text books, including possibly the ‘oldest Periodic Table on the blog’. Here are some photos for you to enjoy.

1) Periodic Table

This old thing published is by Tekno Product of Petaling Jaya, Selangor. But I suspect this could be a ‘pirated’ copy because in the bottom left corner of this periodic table, the small print regarding its copyright has been typed over with a series of ###s. But I can still make out the year 1966.

Periodic Table1

2) Nelkon

Ah .. most physics students of my generation are familiar with the name Nelkon. His A-level textbook is a classic. This book was first published in 1958 and the one you see here is the 3rd edition (SI edition), dated 1970. But for O-level, Nelkon had a competitor by the name of Whitley, if my memory serves me well.


Mubaruk Ipoh


Guys my age who went to university or the polytechnic should also remember this name. It stood for English Language Book Society and their books were very cheap. Notice the words, Low-Priced Edition on the cover? This one was first published in 1960 and this is the “ELBS edition reprinted 1976”.



4) Eastern Economy Edition

How about this one? Any of you guys remember this other publisher of popular text books. This one has the following declarations in the opening pages.

This Eighth Indian Reprint – Rs 32.00 …… This Eastern Economy Edition is the only authorized, complete and unabridged photo-offset reproduction of the latest American edition specially published and priced for sale only in Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Korea and Thailand.


My wife, who teaches science and biology in Methodist Girls’ School, told us that she is so used to these classics that she still refers to them now and then. And she is not shy to show them to her students. I think that is a good thing. For one thing, her students will learn to appreciate how fortunate they are to have textbooks nowadays that are so beautifully illustrated with colourful diagrams and photographs and even cdroms – and learn to take better care of them. They should also be thankful for having a teacher who is so passionate about the subject she is teaching.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A Sea Trip To Kuantan – Lam Chun Chew

Sometime in 1949, my mum was yearning to see her elder sister who was the oldest in the Ng family. My aunt, whom we called 'tai yee ma' (大姨妈) in Cantonese, was married to a datuk and was residing in Kuantan, a town on the eastern coast of Malaya (old name for peninsula Malaysia). My uncle, my mother’s younger brother, was then staying with us in the kampong. My dad decided to take a sea trip instead of the land route, which I believe was not very convenient at that time.

The traveling party comprised of my parents, my uncle and myself. I was six years old at that time.We traveled in a coastal steamer which carried cargo but some cabins were reserved to carry passengers. It was December period, and seafarers called the monsoon wind as 'fung kong'. With our ship tossing around in the choppy seas, some of us staying in the cabin near the ship's bow vomited.

Not all were bad experiences though. The unforgettable sight of flying fishes leaping above the waves made me quite excited. I heard splashes at night and thought sharks were following the ship, but pleasantly found out in the morning that these lovely creatures were in fact dolphins.

Our one way trip took about two days with the ship hugging closely to the coastline. On the return trip, we were smart enough to book cabins at the stern, with no rocking about. Some passengers tried to save money by sleeping on an elevated platform on the deck, which offered little privacy. Though I was a small eater, when traveling by sea, with cold wind blowing across the deck, my appetite increased two-fold, despite the simple meals consisting of only vegetables, soup and rice.

My aunt had an emotional reunion with her siblings when we arrived at her home, a big colonial style bungalow, on high concrete stilts, not unlike those British residences in Singapore. The funny part was that, we had all our meals under this house. My Hainanese cousins, many older than I, gave us a rousing welcome. I particularly loved the breakfast which consisted of mouth-watering nasi lemark, and different varieties of delicious kuehs.

My mother bade a tearful farewell and reminded my aunt to visit us in Singapore; which she did a few years later. It was her last trip before she passed away. When she was in Singapore, Chun See had only just been born - a cute toddler, as you can see from the photo below. It must be around 1953, because in the photo, Chun See looked about a year old, and our youngest brother James was not even born yet.

The kids in this photo are (from left) - Me, my sister Pat, and my brothers, Chun See and Chun Seong (David)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Don’t Fall Off That Mountain

I had lunch this afternoon at the hawker centre at Beauty World Centre and sat next to an old man in front of a yong tau hu stall. It was a very small, square table and I felt a little awkward eating in silence, face-to-face with a stranger. I was hesitating whether or not to start a conversation with him. Unlike my friend Victor, who likes to interview complete strangers - be they China ladies or bare-footed Indonesian maids - for his blog stories, I am always bit shy to initiate a conversation with strangers.

Then I was reminded of a line from a book by veteran Hollywood actress, Shirley MacLaine. The book was titled, Don’t Fall Off That Mountain, in which she recounted her many travels to different parts of the world, including the mountainous regions of Nepal. What she wrote was: “The more I travelled, the more I realised that fear makes strangers out of people who should be friends”.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that this gentleman may well know the answer to a question about the old Beauty World that I have been asking. And so I broke the ice by asking him, “Ah chek, do you know about the old Beauty World from across the road?”

“Oh yes of course.” he replied. “My yong tau hu stall used to be located there. But now I am old already, and I let my wife handle the operations.”

As we spoke, I found out that they had relocated to the present premises in 1983, and it was not because of the fire which I blogged about earlier. It was only a small fire and it happened in the 1970’s.

I told him that I used to take the pirate taxis to Safti on Sunday nights from Jalan Jurong Kechil. “Do you remember the ‘par ong chia’s?” I asked. “Oh yes’ of course.” he replied. “That must be in the 1970’s because not long after that they were gone (apparently stopped by the government).”

“How about the Green Bus number 174 and 175 which were always so crowded on Sunday nights?” I then asked. “Yes I remember 174. It goes from Nantah (Nanyang University) in Jurong to Si Pai Poh."

After that he got up to help his wife (who must have glared at him for wasting time) clear the dishes.

And so I end this post with another question for the young readers.

Where is this Si Pai Poh that the old man spoke about? That’s Hokkien. In Cantonese, it would be Sei Pai Por? More important - how did this name came about?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Cars in 1960s Singapore

(Written by Brian Mitchell)

Chun See’s blog on his daughter passing the driving test – and that picture of the Morris Minor - got me thinking about cars in Singapore when I lived there 1960-62 (but first just to tell you that my first car here in the UK in 1965 was a Morris 1000 van, and I later had a light blue saloon just like in the picture).

Our family had never owned a car in the UK – not so unusual in the 1950s and we lived in London where public transport was plentiful. So I was pretty excited not just by going to Singapore but being told we were certainly going to be car owners when we were there! I guess the normal practice for a Royal Air Force officer was to buy one second hand from someone whose tour of duty had ended and sure enough we were soon the proud owners of a rather old, but grand, Humber Hawk - a huge tank of a car, leather seats and all.

This was OK but I pretty soon saw a number of my friends whose families had large American cars, one family had a huge Nash (there were about six kids) and across the road from our house sat another US monster with huge fins. Our Humber Hawk looked pretty out of date and tame in comparison.

We did not have the Hawk long but worse was to come. Our next car was a tiny grey little Standard. Our family of five hardly fitted into it and not only did we travel around Singapore in it but we also travelled across the Causeway to KL and a hill camp beyond (incidentally this was not too long after the ‘Emergency’ and I still recall the gates and fences, unused but still present, around villages on the road up through Malaya).

Eventually before our return to the UK my father decided to get a new car and ship it back to the UK - prices being much lower in Singapore. So we began a tour of the car showrooms, including visiting the Jaguar one for the unveiling of the ‘E type’ (in your dreams were we going to end up with that one!) but at the first sight of a Volvo I knew my father had seen the car he wanted, it was duly bought and arrived back at Liverpool docks in the UK some months later.

Now I guess the Japanese cars dominate Singapore as so many other places but I always associate my time there with those wonderful old American gas guzzlers even if we never actually owned one!

Lam Chun See continues

I happen to have a photo of my father and uncle with a car that looked like Brian’s Humber. I have always wondered if that car was a Hillman. But even Brian could not be sure if it was the same ‘Humber Hawk’ he talked about. Hope some of you can throw some light. But the car next to it is definitely a Morris Minor.

As for the place, Brian thinks it’s an airport. In that case, most likely it’s Kallang Airport. However, I have a few other similar photos which would suggest that this photo was taken at place called Port Swettenham in 1957. Now I leave the younger readers to figure out for themselves where is Port Swettenham.