Wednesday, July 02, 2008

An unforgettable blind date

Victor’s post about the cinemas of old reminds me of an unforgettable blind date that I had a quarter century ago.

I think the year must have been around 1984. At 32, I was still single and my sister Pat was not happy. Her reputation of being a highly successful one-woman SDU was being tarnished by her uncooperative brother. SDU, in case you do not know, stood for Social Development Unit. It was formed by the government to match-make university graduates. It was the product of the Great Marriage Debate triggered by then prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew during one of his National Day Rally speeches.

My sister was really scary. She still is actually. She doesn’t ask for your permission before she arranges blind dates. She simply gives you the phone number and tells you everything has been arranged; just make the call. Even if you object also she doesn’t care. It was a real torture for me.

Anyway, I spoke to this girl on the phone. For some reason she did not want me to go to her house to fetch her - too far, I may not be familiar with that area etc. As she lived in the northern part of Singapore, we agreed to meet at the Imperial Theatre car park in Upper Thomson Road. I gave her a description of my car. I believe at that time I was driving a Subaru 1600GL which I bought for only $13,000 from an Australian colleague of my brother’s at Citibank. The car had only clocked a mileage of less that 30,000 km.


Map of Upper Thomson in vicinity of Imperial Theatre (From my 1981 Street Directory). Notice the Thomson Village, Kampong San Teng Road, and the Little Sisters of the Poor, which is still there but now has a different name.

At the appointed time, I arrived early and once I got there, I realized that I had inadvertently chosen the perfect place. There was no way she could miss me.

You see, the Imperial Theatre was a small theatre that we used to go to when we stayed at the kampong in Lorong Kinchir off Lorong Chuan. (Read story here). But since we moved out in 1974, we seldom went back there. And so I did not know that in the eighties, Imperial had become an Indian movie theatre.

When my date arrived, one show had just ended and another was about to begin. There I was in the car park, standing next to my car, the only Chinese in a sea of Indians.

25 comments:

pinto said...

Heheh, you never said what happened to your date. Not successful?

Your street directory scan shows a road labelled Kampong San Teng. Curious to see the roads around the area that existed pre-Bishan.

peter said...

Questions Chun See:

1. Was your blind date your wife now?

2. Did you watch the movie or chatted during the movie?

3. Did you purchase tit-bits for your date? Kachang Puteh, Pop Corn or Kana?

4. Did you follow-up after the movie?

yg said...

macritchie park is just a stroll away from the imperial theatre. so, after watching the hindi movie, did you two end up playing catching among the trees at the reservoir?

Lam Chun See said...

Wah so many questions! Like Victor says .. must charge.

1) Let's just say, she was not from Ipoh".
2) Imperial Theatre was just a place to meet.
3) Honestly, I don't remember anything else. It's more than a quarter century!

Lam Chun See said...

Let's change subject.

Kg San Teng Rd leads to a huge temple and then the road splits in two sections like a Y-shape. The one on the right passses by the South Country theatre and ends at cemetry. Today that would be around Bishan Lane thereabouts.

peter said...

Was there not a pond in front of the Kg San Teng Chinese temple? There was a time when we had to burn "paper boats" in that pond to send off the deceased; maybe after 1 month or 100 days according to Chinese funeral rites?

I believe today "Kg San Teng Road" leads into Raffles Institution or RJC

passerby said...

The former Kampong San Teng road after the Marymount Road junction as seen in the map here would be leading into the field and spectator's gallery of RJC right now. (The other part has been erased because of the flyover created there. Jalan Pemimpin was shortened to where it intersects with Marymount Lane, and Bishan Street 21 is a continuation of Marymount Lane now. And where "Thomson Village" is there's Shunfu Estate... I'm curious to know about Thomson Village.)

There is absolutely no sign of the road now I think (or is Bishan Lane one?), but the clans that operated the cemetery in that area run the columbarium that is next to RJC/RI right now, if I am not mistaken.

People like to make ghost stories because RJC and RI are essentially standing on an ex-graveyard. They're pretty boring though.

I think there are some interesting articles on Kampong San Teng online if you look around a bit. It's because of all these tengs that Bishan eventually got its name, if I am not mistaken...

Lam Chun See said...

Now that I have 1981 and 1963 street directories, I think with a bit of homework can trace where all the fringes of the cemeteries were. I believe the present RJC is definitely not in the cemetery area. Maybe not even RI. It was Kg San Teng proper was, with market, temple, cinema etc. The actual cemeteries began east of Bishan Road up to the perhaps st 14 st 13.

As for the layout within the cemetery area. No way to trace back becos firstly, as I described here, it was very chaotic/unsystematic. Secondly, the old street directories do not go to such details. Unless you have the army topography maps.

Victor said...

Hmm... Chun See is still so shy after more than a quarter of a century. :)

"Bishan" is hanyu pinyin of 碧山. Its English name then was "Peck San". The columbarium next to RI/RJC is called 广惠肇碧山亭 (Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng).

Here is what "Singapore The Encyclopedia" says about Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng:

Charitable organization. Kwong Wai Siew Peck San Theng was established in 1870 by immigrants largely from the three prefectures of Kwong Chou (present day Guangzhou), Wai Chou (present-day Huizhou) and Siew Heng (also known as Shiu Heng; present-day Zhaoqing) in Guangdong, China. It has continued to cater mainly to Singapore's Cantonese community. In 1870, it founded a cemetery which, within a century, was expanded to hold 100,000 graves.

In the 1970s, many graves were exhumed to make way for the construction of Bishan New Town ('Bishan' being the Mandarin pronunciation of 'Peck San', meaning 'green hill'). The organizations's Peck San Theng Memorial Hall and Columbarium continues to provide funeral services for the local Cantonese population.

pinkiemama said...

In the old days, Kampong San Teng had not just of graveyards, but an old soya sauce factory, I think.

I vaguely remember an old compound with the name of the factory above the entrance gate, but the buildings were run down, even at that time (1973 or 1974).

And is Thomson Village the old Soon Hock Road kampong? Shunfu is after all Hanyu Pinyin for Soon Hock, right?

Lam Chun See said...

Pinkiemama. Yes Shunfu is hanyu pinyin for Soon Hock which is Hokkien; just as Yishun in pinyin for Nee Soon. At one time our govt got carried away with the pinyin thing.

In my comment above I forgot to mention, besides market, cinema, temple, there was also a school and Kwong Wai Shiu.

PChew said...

Hi, at 32 you had no girl friend or you did not want your parents to know? Hard to believe for a handsome man like you, ha, ha, ha..

By the way, I have a question for you at your 5S corner.

Lam Chun See said...

Victor. I really cannot recall other details. Only remember feeling rather stupid waiting there in the carpark and getting curious looks from the Indian cinema-goers. Maybe; just maybe a banana split at some coffe house.

pinto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pinto said...

There is a map of the old cemetary from PICAS.

I believe the orientation is: left pointing north and right pointing south.

This map is a very rough guide as it is not to scale. My comparison is a post-World War II map of the area (warning, it's a huge file), snapped at Memories at Old Ford Factory.

Anonymous said...

pinto your old map is good,it indicates a cemetery opp Soon Hock Road where Lakeside estate was later built(see 1981 map).
look like RI is situated on the former cemetery, to the south of Braddell Road, a cemetery at Toa Payoh,shold be in the vicinity Braddell MRT station.

Anonymous said...

I believe Pt 90 to be located the left of RI track and field.(where now the tennis courts are).So the map shows RI is situated on a former cemetery. right?

peter said...

O dear,how come from BLIND DATE article now changed to Chinese cemetery discussion?

Chun See, why did you have to wait in the carpark instead at the cinema foyer? You want to play safe for quick get away in case subject not "up to the mark"? Many boys in my time also like that: ask the girl's girlfriend to wait at bus stop and then boy stand 100 meters away to check out. That is the reason why the present MRT entrance at St Andrew's Cathedral and the Capitol bus stops were good places to arrange to meet during a blind-date.

peter said...

I know for sure one of the Peck San Teng "tengs" was directly behind Lauw & Sons Garden and Jalan Binchang. It was the only view of "ang mo chu" amongst the graves. Could be the 8th Teng or 10th Teng. This means Junction 8 was on cemetery ground.

Also the old Chinese temple with the pond in Pek San Teng is now the Kwong Wai Siew Pek San Teng Bdlg.

When Ching Meng Festival was over, we had to exit from another dirt road out of the cemetery area into Braddell Road. This was because of one-way traffic arrangement during the festival. I think that dirt road passes the present Blk 147.

Zen said...

Chun See did relate his blind date to me but not the finer details. Could it be like something shown in a bollywood movie where the girl played hide and seek - singing among the trees, with the macho guy search and search? but let us not pressurise him too much, lest his wife comes to know of this secret rendezvous. Frankly speaking young people were 'generally' quite reserved during the sixties or even seventies (as compared to now), with some notable exceptions. It is interesting to note that blind dates were quite popular at that time. I too had an 'accidental' blind date which I may relate in a future should there be a story-telling session in GMY.

Lam Chun See said...

>> how come from BLIND DATE article now changed to Chinese cemetery discussion?
>>

In this blog even a topic likenightsoil can turn into discussing about food.

Zen said...

Blind date turns into Chinese 'cemetery' and nightsoil into 'food', clearly indicate what 'tasteful' topics our viewers would like to be drawn into. So Chun See, the captain of his vessel called GMY, should navigate his ship skillfully towards 'the right direction' which incidentally is the battle-cry of his service oriented company named Hoshin Consulting.

Lam Chun See said...

Hey! What "secret rendezvous"? It was long before I met my wife!

peter said...

actually generation never had it so good like today's generation when it comes to dating (blind or otherwise).

Some of us never got to know the opposite sex because we "studied in a monastery". There were no girls in our class and if there were, they came into A level. By then too late - we had no social skills ready to talk to girls.

Cost was a major factor and if you ever got the chance to date a girl you had to spend lots of money - buy cinema, pay for taxi fare and meals. So unlike today where the girls feel dignified to pay for their own share or share the total cost for a date. What about girls who want to dance at a disco and not go for a cinema? Do we guys have the choice because we feel the current date is the most good-looking? Who ever in those days dated because they wanted to procreate? It was for the fun of it or to be seen with the most georgous looking chick on the block.

We lived in a conservative society. If the guy's parents ar ok, the girl's parents are not. They want to inspect you from head to toe and one had to be on good behavior; well at least just for the date. Must come home by what time and also must send the date home. So if one had no car and depended on public transport, this presented another set of problems.

In those days after you finish NS and studies, must get tertiary educaiton or go straight out to work. Some of us had to support our parents too. So where got chnage left for Starbucks or Dempsey Hill?


SO my sympathies to Chun See.

Pat said...

Since comments here mention Pek San Theng Cemetery & nightsoil ...

A recent letter in TODAY newspaper's forum page (excerpt at bottom) indicated that there was an old folks' home located at the peak of one of the hills at Peck San Theng Cemetery.

Does anyone know about the said old folks' home ? What was its name ? Did the facility cater only to Cantonese people ? Is it affiliated with today's Kwong Wai Shiu Nursing Home ?

Or was the cemetery's old folks' home actually a "dying place" for destitute people, like those "death houses" located within the Cantonese funeral parlours along the old Sago Lane (死人街: Sei Yahnn Gaai) ?


* VWO nursing homes in a dismal state (TODAY Voices - 21 Nov 2016):

EXCERPT: {{{ When I was a medical student in the early 1970s, I was in a welfare subcommittee. One day, I joined a few members to deliver rations to an old folks’ home in Peck San Teng, which became Bishan.

The van took us to the top of a hillock in a Chinese cemetery. Residents in the zinc-roof abode were lying on wooden beds with holes so that their excrement was collected in the metal pots underneath. Diapers were not used then.
}}}