Sunday, July 29, 2007

Our History Goes Back Further Than That!

Long time readers of my blog may recall an article by Lynn Copping about her memories of Pulau Brani. Lynn, a daughter of a British army navigator who was stationed in Singapore in the 60’s complained that; “Any items on Pulau Brani on the internet do not mention the army school .. nor the fact that the British lived there for about 50 years … as if we never existed.”

Well it looks like that we did it again. This time it’s the Strait Times. In an article dated 26 July 2007, about the proposed sale of a popular piece of property in Beach Road, it said;

And to borrow the words of Lynn Copping; “As if the Britannia Club never existed”.

Yes, young readers may not know it; the NCO’s Club was actually occupying what was once known as the Britannia Club, a popular club for British military personnel. In his book, Sampans, Banyans and Rambutans: A Childhood in Singapore and Malaya, writer and photographer, Derek Tait wrote:

“In Singapore City, there was the Britannia Club for Navy personnel and their families. It was on Beach Road and was run by the NAAFI (Navy, Army and Air Force Institution). It included a snack bar and restaurant, lounge bar and tavern, games and reading rooms, a swimming pool and a sports shop.

The Britannia Club on Beach Road in Singapore which was set up for members of the forces and their families for recreation and social purposes. It was also known as the NAAFI Club or the Brit Club and was opposite Raffles Hotel. Inside, there was a swimming pool and in the back room was a giant scalectrix set, great for the kids though I think it was mainly used by Naval personnel!. Around and above the swimming pool was a huge balcony where we'd all eat and get drinks. There were high diving boards too though a lot of people didn't have the courage to go on them! Certainly not me!”

Others like Derek, children of British military personnel stationed in Singapore in the 50’s and 60’s, who fondly called themselves ‘Britbrats’ also have strong memories of the Britannia Club. Again, quoting from Derek’s book:

Ellen Tait remembers:

"We often used the Brit Club. We'd all meet up there and enjoy the facilities. It was opposite Raffles Hotel, famous for it's gin-slings and also for the famous people who went there. Not that we ever ate in there, it was too expensive! Only the famous could afford the prices! Instead, we would have a swim at the Brit Club and they served meals as well, what a lazy and enjoyable life it was!"

Clive Baker remembers:

"The Brit Club was home from home for Singapore based service personnel, here you could get egg, bacon and chips with Daddies sauce, a couple of slices of real bread and real PG Tips type tea. Of course, there was also the fact that it sold really cheap Tiger beer and it was here that I was first introduced to what was to become a life-long habit, I still enjoy the occasional pint of Tiger Tops and it certainly is a good reason for going back to Singapore for the real McCoy, straight from the tap instead of a bottle!"

I asked my friend Tom O’brien of Memories of Singapore and he said:

“I do remember swimming at the Brit Club occasionally. I remember that the water was chlorinated differently, maybe even unchlorinated. They also had a room with a very large Scalectrix Track. On one occasion when the servicemen had one of their regular dances. A couple of my friends and I managed to get in. We were not allowed as we were 16 and still at school. I remember a group playing Honky Tonk Women by the Stones. Every thing was fine until one of my friends (I think it may have been Ken Thomas) tried to purchase a beer at the bar. Then we were rumbled and ejected.”

John Harper who has written several articles for this blog about his childhood days in Singapore also remembers the Britannia Club at Beach Road with fondness.

“The main things I remember about the Britannia is the swimming pool and visiting once a month in 1959 when we lived at Tengah. The pool had very good diving boards covered in coconut coir matting for grip when wet. From the diving boards you could look out to sea and there would be ships lined up at anchor in many directions. Whilst we were swimming we would always have a Coca Cola or a Pepsi during a brief interlude out of the pool. But we never had anything to eat there as we always went on to visit the Islamic Restaurant afterwards for a Bryani; one of my favourite dishes at that time.”

Hence, you can see that if things continue this way, a day may just come when British kids will know something about our history that our kids don’t; that this complex that our government wants to retain because of its historical significance was built originally by the British and it was once called the Britannia Club.

For young readers who want to know more about this place, please read Victor’s very informative article here.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Derek Tait for the above photographs of the Britannia Club.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Any Day Now

Sunbird 021

I was mistaken when I told you earlier that the sunbirds flew away after building their nest. Actually the female has been coming back regularly and sits contentedly in the nest. She must have laid some eggs.

But the opening to the nest is very small and I cannot see any eggs. I was much tempted to shine a torchlight into it and take a peep, but was afraid it might frighten her away for good.

This has been going on for several days. So, any day now, we can expect the babies to come into the world. Let’s hope that this time, everything will be fine.

Below are some pictures that I have taken. As you can see, the nest looks quite delicate and I am quite worried that the wind may blow it down one of these days.

The nest was built at the bottom of a pot of air plant (Bromeliade) which is hanging from a lamp fixture in a narrow balcony just outside one of our bedrooms (left side of nest). As you can see, it is practically within arm's reach.

Sunbird 036

Birds 001

Meanwhile, in our backyard, it is guava season, and I managed to catch a couple of yellow-vented bulbuls doing ‘naughty’ things.

Bulbul eating guava (1)

Bulbul eating guava (4)

Do you see his partner on the right? (above photo)

Bulbuls by guava tree (4)

Bulbuls by guava tree (1a)

Mynah eyeing guava (2)

This chap looks like he too wants in on the action.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

National Canoeing Championships 2007

The National Canoeing Championships 2007 was held over the weekend (21 & 22 July) at the MacRitchie Reservoir. Unlike the junior event I blogged about in April, this is an ‘open’ championship and participants do not represent their schools. Including the heats and semi-finals, there were a total of 115 races divided into the following categories.

1) Men and Women’s Open and Under-15
2) 250m and 500m distances
3) K1/K2/K4 (kayaking), C1/C2 (the kneeling type)

Below are some photos that I took. The highlights were the newly introduced K4 event – an Olympic event. Later if I can find the time, I will upload the videos.

An interesting bit of news. The Singapore Canoeing Federation president announced that Singapore will be hosting the World Kayaking Marathon in 2010 at the Marina Reservoir. Meantime, they will be stepping up the number of events locally. So the next few years will be quite exciting for the young kayakers. If you are in lower secondary, or have kids in lower secondary or even primary school, now is a good time to join in.

For those in primary school, the 4 secondary schools with active kayaking programme (that I can recall) are ACS (Independent), St Josephs, Hwa Chong, and Balestier Hill. Sorry, did not pay attention to the girls schools.

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (22)

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (1)

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (2)

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (3)

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (4)

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (6)

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (8)

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (10)

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (13)

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (17)

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (18)

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (19)

National Canoeing Championships 2007 Jul (21)

Monday, July 23, 2007


I have been always fascinated by the subject on trains. I could never forget the sights of level crossing, stations, rail-bridges and wooden black-painted staff quarters. But it was only in recent times that something else got me excited as I wrote my childhood memories; an outing with my father in the early 1960s. He showed me the route of a railway line that ran between Keong Siak Street and Bukit Pasoh Road in the early 1920s.

SKR passing under road-bridge at Neil Road

Being a passionate topography buff myself, I knew where and how I should dig for information but unfortunately much of the information didn’t even exist in our National Archives. Through good contacts, I reviewed various Singapore maps of different eras, interviewed people who worked for the British Military – there was a time when there was a military railway system in Singapore between 1948 and 1960, and of course my old friendly neighbor “Uncle Teo” (aged 88 years) who happened to take the train from the Bukit Timah Station to Saint Joseph Institution in Bras Basah Road (circa 1931). Putting the pieces together, I finally was able to assemble together the jig-saw on what was the first railway service in Singapore called the “Singapore-Kranji Railway”. The “Singapore-Kranji Railway” or SKR in short was later absorbed by the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) to become Malayan Railway and now called Keretapi Tanah Malaysia (KTM).

SKR on future Dunearn Road; passing Whitley Road. At the top is Stevens Road

Though most people or historians would have spoken about the route between Tanjung Pagar to Tank Road and Orchard Road to Newton, there was certainly a lack of information between Newton and Woodlands. In the past one year, my friend Bobby Teoh and I spent our spare time working the ground with cadastral maps, different surveying techniques and cameras to gather more evidences of what we believed was the original route. Bobby Teoh himself spent several weeks in Kuala Lumpur reviewing through old KTM files and photos abandoned at a railway yard in Klang. Our survey, analysis and conclusions show that the original routing included the following landmarks:

  1. Newton Station was somewhere between Gilstead Road and Newton Road. The site is in front of the former Singapore Family Planning Board. This building still exists but for different use

  2. Cluny Station was at the Adam Road Food Center

  3. Holland Station was at the former public carpark where the Singapore Turf Club once stood. This public carpark is at the corner of Swiss Club Road and Dunearn Road

  4. Bukit Timah Station stood on the SHELL Station next to Pei Hwa Avenue

  5. Bukit Panjang Station is at the foot of Bukit Gombak and the Level Crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road. There is a KTM hut just behind the Bukit Panjang public carpark and the small canal next to Galistan Avenue

  6. Kranji Station next to Jalan Surau or the Kranji Water Reclamation Plant

  7. Woodlands Station at Admiralty Road West jetty (or the old Malaysian Naval Base area)

SKR Time-table for train service (circa 1905)

Newton Station dated 1920 - facing Bukit Timah Canal - right side will be future Newton Circus

Dunearn Road was actually the site of the old railway track. In some places, SKR ran on Dunearn Road whilst in other places it ran on what was formerly the narrow strip of land between Dunearn Road and the Bukit Timah Canal; e.g. between Chancery Lane and the Adams Road were nurseries and restaurants. In the early 1950s, the Public Works Department of the Colonial Government of Singapore decided to convert the former SKR land for a new dual road-carriageway – that was Dunearn Road from Rifle Range Road to Newton Circus. Whilst there were might be debate about “proposed railway line” and “actual line” between Bukit Timah Station and Bukit Panjang Station, we are certain that we have found the right places. Cheong Chin Nam Road and Upper Bukit Timah Road nearest to the Old Ford Motor factory was the original routing. I recommend readers to look-up this Internet site for additional information.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Tom Brown Remembers Army Life and Singapore (Part 2)

I would like to continue about what we used to do, in Selarang Camp.

To get used to the weather, we did a lot of outdoor sports, like football, running round the track, on the football pitch, volleyball. That was one platoon’s favourite game, and we took on anybody who would like to challenge us.

At night, if we were not on duties, we would clean up our kit for the next day. After that, it’s off to the canteen to have few Tiger beers. Wow! it was lovely to drink, but very strong. And Anchor beer was just as strong.

Then we would go out of camp happy to a bar, it was called the Changi Bar. It was a very good bar. It was located along upper Changi Road, further down to the right side as we get out from the camp gate.

Then we would get on a pick-up taxi to town, and ask the driver to take us to the Britannia Club at Beach Road. After that …… wait for it … it’s to the famous Bugis Street. The first time being there, I could not believe it - the place was so busy. I remember an Indian woman telling us who was good and who bad. I think she must have lived in that area.

Taxi back to Changi village to get something to eat at Freds sandwich stall. I remember; if we asked for an egg sandwich, he would go into his big box and bring out a long bit of bread, like a French stick. He would cut in half and put three fried eggs on it for 50 cents. And across the road, the Indian guy would make a minced curry and naan bread for 60 cents.

Finally, it’s back to camp to get a good night’s sleep. I will tell you more later on.

Below is a photo of the barrack where I stayed.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My Seven Wonders (of Singapore)

This post is inspired by a similar one done by Household Name.

My choice is based on ‘nostalgia’ value and I only chose those man-made structures which are no longer in existence. In this regard, the National Stadium only just made it because it is being demolished.

And here is my list, not in order of preference.

1) National Library at Stamford Road

2) National Theatre

3) Van Kleef Aquarium

4) Haw Par Villa

5) The Merdeka Bridge of Nicoll Highway

6) National Stadium

7) Nantah Arch at the former Upper Jurong Road

8) Special mention - An additional ‘wonder’ applicable only to ACS old boys: Anglo Chinese School Clock Tower

Photo credit:

Photos 1 – 4: My UK friends at Memories of Singapore.
Photo no. 5: From National Archives of Singapore
Photo no. 6: Fellow Friend of and Flickr member Acroamatic
Photo no. 7: Singapore, An Illustrated History, 1941 ~ 1984, Information Division, Ministry of Culture


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tom Brown Remembers Army Life and Singapore (Part 1)

At the request of Chun See, I would like to share my memories about my army life in the First Queens Own Highlanders (Q.O.H.) For readers who don’t know who the Highlander were, on the 15th of February, 1961 by amalgamation of two great regiments, the 1st. Battalion Seaforth Highlanders, and the 1st. Battalion Queens Own Cameron Highlanders, a new regiment, the Queens Own Highlanders (Q.O.H. ) was formed.

I am standing in the back row, 3rd from the left.

I joined the Camerons as a regular soldier and had to do 14 weeks training. It was very hard. I thought I was in hell - up in the morning at 6 am, breakfast at 7 am and muster parade at 8 am. The corporal was always shouting at you. Drill parades, weapon training, three mile runs with full battle order on.

After I had done my training, my pals and I were sent to the battalion station in Dover, south of England. When I got there, half the soldiers were doing national service. I asked myself; “What the hell have I got myself into?”

Anyway, things got better because the UK government were doing away with national service. After a year in Dover, we moved to Edinburgh, my home town. Then we were all told, “You lot are going to Singapore for three years.” I said Wow!

After a little while in Edinburgh, we were put on a train to Southampton, and then onto a troop ship called T. T. Navasa. It was to take six weeks to Singapore. The year was 1961. I was 19 years old.

This is the ship that brought me to Singapore

When we got to Singapore, we were told the dockers were on strike for more pay. Then the company sergeant major said; “One platoon will unload company kit from the ship.” We were not used to the weather. The sun was very hot. I said to my self, “No wonder the men are on strike. The weather is too hot, and pay not good.” Anyway, we loaded the kit onto the waiting trucks and onto Selarang Barracks in Changi.

What I remember most of Singapore at that time when we came out of the docks were:

- The smell coming from the river,
- Seeing trishaws for the first time,
- The were rows and rows of washing hanging out,
- The streets were very busy, and
- The girls giving us a wee smile as we passed along the streets.

Next time I will tell you, about my life in Selarang Barracks and Singapore.


From my In-Box
More about the Queen's Own Highlanders

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Our Hot Property

Lately, thanks to the property boom in Singapore, I have been receiving many calls from property agents saying they had clients who were keen to buy our house.

But the property agents were not the only ones showing an interest in our house. A few weeks ago, a couple came calling without even making an appointment. In fact, they went right ahead to set up home in our balcony. Unfortunately, I was too slow with my camera and could not capture any evidence of their trespass.

After a few days, before their home was not even completed, the pair of yellow-vented bulbuls mysteriously stopped their project and never came back, leaving a mess of leaves, twigs, moss and other stuff on my balcony floor. I don’t know what caused them to abandon their project. I don’t think it was lack of resources. Maybe they didn’t like my hardworking maid disrupting their project every morning when she cleaned the balcony. Or they were upset with my intrusion into their privacy when I mounted my camera on a tripod just a few feet from their nuptial bed. In any case, my family was quite disappointed at this rejection.

Fortunately, my house is located in the prime district and before long, another couple came looking for a home. And they built their nest on the very same air plant that the yellow-vented bulbuls did. (By the way, hope some of you plant experts out there can tell me the name of this air plant). This time, I was better prepared. I had recently purchased a Canon zoom lens, and so I was able to spy on the pair of sunbirds (maybe it's only 1 bird, a female - I am not sure) from a bit further away.

Now I have plenty of evidence of their illegal building activity to present to you. But as I said before, good camera, great subjects, but …….


You can see from this first photo that the nest is just outside my son’s bedroom window. You can see also that construction work has only just begun.




And here is the final product.

Sunbird5 - Nest

But sadly, it appears that our property not so hot after all; because after the nest was completed, the sunbirds also left without moving in to their new home. I have not seen them since Sunday – two days ago.

Never mind. There will be a next time. By then, hopefully, my photographic skills would have improved. To encourage them, perhaps I should move this air plant to a more secluded spot.

By the way, any tips on how to improve my photos would be most welcome.

Earlier 'bird nests' stories:


Saturday, July 07, 2007

Where Have All The Wayang Stages Gone?

When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, wayang stages were a common sight in Singapore. We called them hee-tai in Hokkien or hei-toi in Cantonese (戏台). They were usually located next to Chinese temples. For example, in my kampong at Lorong Kinchir, off Lorong Chuan, we too had one.

wayang16_wayang stage

I guess what any Singaporean of my generation will remember most about wayangs are the sights and sounds of those festive occasions when opera shows were being staged. Usually, this would be during the Seventh Month in the Chinese calendar, or the Hungry Ghost Festival. Besides the fire crackers, there was the opera music. In our case, with the loud speakers blasting away, the operas could be heard clearly from our house which was situated about 200 to 300 metres away from the stage.

Of course during such occasions, there were lots of food and games stalls which were a delight to us kids. The one ‘stall’ that I remember well was the ice-cream stall with tikam-tikam. The tikam-tikam is actually a mini ‘wheel of fortune’. You have an arrow mounted on a board which is divided into a number of sectors. Some of them had hand-drawn pictures of the prizes that you can win. I cannot remember exactly how it functioned, but I believe that for every purchase of an ice-cream, you get to spin the arrow, giving you one chance to win these prizes.

The wayang stages were constructed of wood. For some of the bigger ones, the stilts were made of cement (see picture above – courtesy of National Archives of Singapore). When there were no operas, the empty stage provided a nice playground for the kids. We often played under the stage.

Besides the one in our kampong, I have also seen wayang stages at the nearby Plantation Avenue, Braddell Road, Potong Pasir and Kampong San Teng (Bishan).

The one at Plantation Avenue was near to where my sister-in-law (Chun Chew’s wife) lived. It was just a short distance off Lorong Chuan and looked very similar to the one in our kampong.

The one along Braddell Road is shown in the picture below (from the National Archives of Singapore). I used to pass by it daily on my way to school in Braddell Rise School. Today, it would be on the Toa Payoh side of Braddell Road between Kallang River and Toa Payoh North Flyover. At the time when Toa Payoh was being built, a lot of construction traffic entered Toa Payoh from here. Just across the road from this wayang stage were some shop houses. There was a small char kueh teow stall which sold wonderful fried kueh teow. In the evenings, my father often bought some back for us to enjoy. We used to call this place Lina Buay in Hokkien. I think my older brother Chun Chew (Zen) would be able to add more details.


Braddell Road
Braddell Road today. The present location should be somewhere behind the bus stop on the left.

The ones at Potong Pasir and Kampong San Teng were for Cantonese operas because these two areas had mainly Cantonese residents. The Kampong San Teng one was very big because of the size of the temple there. My sister Pat, and her buddy Siew Tin were avid fans of Cantonese opera Their idol was a famous male singer by the name of Siew Chan Wan. I remember attending one such performance at Kampong San Teng with them. By the way, the temple was situated just next to the South Country Theatre which I blogged about here.

Besides these, I don’t remember any other wayang stages in Singapore until I joined the army for my National Service. During the early seventies, our army training was often held in rural areas like Hong Kah, Bukit Batok, Marsiling, Mandai and Tampines. During our topo training, we often passed by such temples and wayang stages.

I remember one occasion during my Section Leaders training when we had an exercise which was called either Fighting Patrol or Recce Patrol. We started after lunch from Safti (Pasir Laba) in Jurong towards Bukit Batok. Our RV (rendezvous point) was a wayang stage along what is now Bukit Batok East Avenue 2, near the junction with Old Jurong Road, just opposite the entrance of the Bukt Batok Nature Park. We had our dinner there and then made our way back to Safti. I recall that at that time, what troubled me most was not physical exhaustion, but an ache in my neck because of wearing the heavy steel helmet for such a long time.

After I left the kampong in1974, I lived in the Farrer Road and Bukit Timah Sixth Avenue. I remember three other wayang stages in that vicinity. The first was at Farrer Road. I will blog about it at a later date because I want to tell you more about this area where I lived for about 12 years. The other two were at Jalan Lim Tai See near Jalan Haji Alias and Beauty World.

I was quite surprised to see the one at Jalan Lim Tai See because it was located in a high class residential area surrounded by semi-detached houses and bungalows. In fact, it was just a stone’s throw from one of the most expensive areas in Singapore - Queen Astrid Park. My guess is that this area was probably a kampong before, and when they built the new houses, they kept the Chinese temple and the wayang stage. Today, the wayang stage is gone, but you can still see the Yun Shan Temple. And just one street away is a small mosque by the name of Masjid Al-Huda.

As for the wayang stage at Beauty World, it was situated along Jalan Seh Chuan. There is a huge Chinese temple there now, but the wayang stage is also gone of course.

Beauty World 2006 (31)

And so that’s as much as I can recall about the hee-tai’s of the past. I hope my young readers have gained some knowledge about yet another of the many things that have disappeared from the Singapore landscape during the past few decades. I am sure some of the older readers will remember others in other parts of Singapore which I may not know about or recall.


Wayang at Pulau Ubin
Victor blogged about tikam-tikam here.
Thinkquest1 and Thinkquest2