Monday, August 11, 2008

From My Inbox: Freddy Neo writes

Dear Chun See,

I came across your blog quite by accident through Google. Since then I've been stealing some time here and there to read your posts from way back in 2005.

Great stories of your yesteryears. I've been reliving my past through your posts. I especially enjoyed reading your account of village life at Kow Tau Kio.

There are many parallels and your stories have jolted my memories. For example, I was born in the same year as you, have nine siblings, (five elder sisters, three elder brothers and a younger brother). My father, brothers and I spent many weekend afternoons in the Pierce Reservoir fishing and roughing it out.

I was enlisted into NS on 11 January 1971 (recruit in Kilo Company across the Safti parade square from Romeo Company). By the way, we reported at CMPM, which was then in Kallang occupying the Nissan huts in front of the PA HQ, not Dempsey Road.

I was born in a kampong West Hill Road in Sembawang next to the British Naval Base. The house had no electricity, piped water or modern sanitation. My father worked in the Royal Navy in Naval Base as a Chief Clerk, so the house was quite near to his work place. But going to school for my older siblings was a real problem as the house was quite far from Sembawang Road. My father was from ACS which was then at Telok Ayer Street. He took his Senior Cambridge Examinations in 1930. My sister still has his certificate which shows that he scored distinction in Bible Knowledge (though he wasn't a Christian and remained unconverted when he died in June 1981). I was never in ACS though I've two sons who are now in the IB (International Baccalaureate) programme in ACS(I).

We moved to a terrace house at Jalan Batai in Sembawang Hills Estate in 1958 when I was 6 years old. Jalan Batai is on a hill facing the Lower Pierce Reservoir, near to the Upper Thomson Road side of Lorong Kinchir. Our immediate neighbours on the left were two spinsters, Pearl and Ruby Tan, who lived with their bedridden mother. We moved out of the Jalan Batai house in 1979. Two years ago a skeleton was found in the spinsters' house and I was quoted in the Straits Times relating about what I remembered about the sisters. Jalan Batai is in Sembawang Hills Estate.

From 1958 to about 1970, about one quarter of the houses in the estate were rented out to British Servicemen and their families. Our next door neighbour on the right were often British. Some of them were quite nice and allowed the children to play with us. Maybe I should contribute a piece on what it was like living next to them.

I remember the Thomson end of Lorong Kinchir well because my brothers and I used to visit a barber near to junction of Lorong Kinchir and Upper Thomson Road. It was near to the present AMK Ave 1 and Upper Thomson Road junction. The shop was at the left bank of Kallang River in the village the Hokkiens called Oh Kio. I am quite familiar with Oh Kio village which is at the source of Kallang River. We used to catch fishes at the streams in the forest reserve around Pierce Reservoir. I am not familiar with the Asia Fishing Pond. We fished at the Pierce Reservoir not at fishing ponds where you have to pay money.

You asked about a rubber factory in Upper Thomson Road. I know a rubber factory which was at the site of the present Thomson Plaza, next to Jasmine Road. It was dismantled in 1974 or 1975. I remember because at that time, I was in Singapore U and staying at my elder brother's house at 2D Jasmine Road. Very noisy when they were demolishing the factory. Is this the factory you were referring to?

I remember Kow Tau Kio as some of my classmates in Sembawang Hills Estate School lived there though I have never went inside Lorong Kinchir because I was warned that it was a hotbed of gangsters and any "alien" would quickly be identified by the villagers and walloped. (emphasis Chun See’s)


Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Freddy for your story. It is so nice to 'meet' someone who have at least heard of Lorong Kinchir/Kau Tiao Kio.

I suppose the reputation for being a hotbed for gangsters was an exaggeration, but maybe my elder brother Chun Chew (Zen) will remember more. But I do recall that in our kampong, we never needed to close our doors in the day time. I remember one incident where a burglar from another kampong was caught and walloped.

yg said...

i remember the building that housed the rubber factory. it was a dull building. you could not miss it if you took the tay koh yet bus that plied the upper thomson route. as you passed it, you could get the smell of the rubber sheets.

Anonymous said...


I would certainly encourage you to write about your childhood experience with British service children - as you will have seen one of the things this blog has done is bring together two groups who lived on the same island together at the same time but had very little to do with each other. For a while I lived on the Opera Estate where we had Singapore Chinese neighbours who we knew a little - but once we moved from there our time was spent almost exclusively with other British kids. Your experience and thoughts would be very interesting I am sure

Zen said...

As I mentioned before, the golden era of gangsterism in Singapore was the fifties, a period before the PAP came to power. Almost every kampong had its mobsters operating. One gangster nicknamed eleven fingers (he had an extra small finger) came and borrowed money from mother in the middle of the night enabling him to escape to Malacca. The police was going after him for taking part in an armed robbery (he carried a gun). My mother being a kind woman relented on seeing his predicament. Another incident showing the audacity of gangsters in our kampong. My father drained off all the water from his two ponds leaving behind sand and clay. He allowed a contractor to transport them off for other uses. When a driver and his lorry came to scoop off the sediments, our kampong notorious gangster nicknamed Toa Ther (big pig) demanded 'protection money' from the driver for ever lorry load of sediments carried away or else..., saying that my parents authorised him to do so. The driver was frightened off, never to come again. Regretably gangsterism played an infamous role of village life then.

Lam Chun See said...

For your info, Zen has also written about gangsters here.

Zen said...

We kampong kids had not much of an opportunity making friend with British kids at that time, despite the fact that many British servicemen were living in some private estates like Serangoon garden and Sembawang (now Jln Lebang area, opposite Pierce Reservoir) surrounding our kampong. From time to time, our kampong ladies who worked as maids to these families, would bring small British kids back to their homes and we would eye these kids with curiosity. On one occasion, I happened to visit my uncle at Sembawang estate, and saw a pretty British girl in the neigbourhood. My cousin asked me to guess her age, and I replied she could easily be around sixteen years old. My cousin laughed heartily and replied that I was wrong. She was only twelve years old. I was taken by surprise, thinking to myself - how could it possibly be?

Lam Chun See said...

Freddy has written an article about living next door to British family. I will upload it shortly.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Zen. The ang mo girls mature very easily. MOST rather than SOME are very well developed by 16 if u get what I say. During the craze of Twiggy, many of the British girls wore mini-skirts. When the bikini arrived in Singapore, it was common to see them the Britannia Club in Beach Road.

Things changed after 1971. It was the turn of American girls who studied at the Singapore American School (SAS). When we played rugby against SAS, we could not but help wondering how come many of the American girls (14-18 yrs)looked like Farah Fawcett and WONDER WOMAN. By then it was "easy" to date American girls to go to the discos, unlike with the British girls in the 1960s. They were more "open-minded". Maybe our British friends can explain this.

Anonymous said...

One other place to see British girls in bikini was at the Singapore Swimming Club in Tanjung Rhu.

Today's younger generation might think we "oldies" were hum sup. One has to realise that our Singapore girls were very conservatively dressed in those days. You can never find Singapore girls in spaghetti strap; the nearest would be SQ stewardess.

Unk Dicko said...

Hi Chun See,
I'm enjoying these not so"hum sup" comments as much as the main post itself! Btw, the area under focus is very familiar to me too. My wife and her family used to live in Jalan Leban in the 60's. Her married sister was at Thomson Walk area. And I was a frequent visitor then. We used to take long walks to nearby Peirce Reservoir as we enjoyed the outdoors and nature.
Gangsters and samsengs were very much part of the scene in the 50's and 60's everywhere. In Geylang, my
kampong, so many interesting incidents that I can really blog about one day.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi there Uncle Dick. So you still enjoying your long holiday in China. So surprised to learn at Philip Chew's blog that you are friend of YG. But then shouldn't be too surprised, after all both of you were in the teaching profession right?

Still eagerly waiting for your story about your encounter with the princess of Gunong Ladang (Mt Ophir). This is worse that waiting for the grand finale of Lost.

Unk Dicko said...

Yes, Chun See...YG and I go back a long way,back to the 60's. We know each other quite well as we are friends in the same circle and line of work.
Will REVEAL the next part of Princess Gunong Ledang story after the Olympics. Can't afford to miss ALL the action.

Anonymous said...

In the 60s I used to pass Upper Thomson Road frequently. If I'm not wrong the rubber factory in Upper Thomson Road consisted of cluster of buildings were painted in imposing red. The smell emanated from the factory could be detected when one travelled along Upper Thomson Road.

FreddyNeo said...

In the 50s and 60s almost all kampongs in Singapore had gangs operating. This was not peculiar to Kow Tau Kio. This was the reason the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act was passed. Most of the villagers in Kau Tau Kio were innocent and nice people like Chun See's family. In my primary school days, some of my good friends lived in the village. They too told me stories of gang activities, which I suppose frighten a young mind.

FreddyNeo said...

In the 50s and 60s almost all kampongs in Singapore had gangs operating. This was not peculiar to Kow Tau Kio. This was the reason the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act was passed. Most of the villagers in Kau Tau Kio were innocent and nice people like Chun See's family. In my primary school days, some of my good friends lived in the village. They too told me stories of gang activities, which I suppose frighten a young mind.

Lam Chun See said...

From my Inbox:

Hello Chun See,

The rubber factory in Upper Thomson Road is called Heap Huat Rubber Factory. It stank to heavens whenever I go past – this was in the 1960’s. There was a small pond besides the factory. Quite often you see people fishing there.

I remember Asia fishing pond. I used to fish there when I was a kid. There were other fishing ponds along Yio Chu Kang Road as well e.g. Ocean fishing pond. I also fished at Pierce Reservoir, which was illegal in those days.

I’ve never heard of Sembawang Hills Estate School. I remember Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School. I think it is in Jalan Kuras.

Thank you for bringing back all the memories of my childhood days.


Byte's Worth said...

I chanced upon your blog searching for "Lorong Kinchir". Great stuff and great recollection you have. Many thanks. I went to Chong Boon Primary. My family ran a small bicyle repair shop at No. 28 Lorong Kinchir. Our adjacent neighbour was the carpenter.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Teck-Koon. Welcome to Good Morning Yesterday. So happy to reconnect with an ex-neighbour from good old Chui Arm Lor. I remember your bicycle shop. Your shop should be directly facing the back of our house. We often go there to repair our bicycles and get the rubber tube to make our catapults. But I am afraid I cannot remember you. Do you remember us? We are one of the few Cantonese families in our kampong. But my eldest brother, Chun Chew who has a very good memory for people will probably remember.

I have been hosting this blog since Sep 2005 and have written many articles about the good old days including our kampong. Do check out my first article about our kampong here.

And if you don't mind, could you pls get in touch with me by email. I am finalizing my book about growing up in the Spore of the 1950s and 60s and any additional information about our kampong would be very helpful. Do you have any photos?

Looking forward to hearing from you.My email address is:

Anonymous said...

any one remember 10 jalan batai,sembawang hills estate singapore,names malcolm graham and joyce graham?

zai said...

I came across your site by searching Lorong Kinchir. My parents used to stay at 371A and 427 Lorong Kinchir (20). I suppose it is nearer to the Upper Thomson Road?

Casuarina Tree said...

I studied in Sembawang Hills Estate Primary School until I was in Primary 3 (1975) when my family shifted from a kampong in Yio Chu Kang Road to a HDB flat in town. It contained both my happy and sad memories of the past. Happy because they were the most carefree days of my life and sad because some of my family members whom shared those days with me had passed on. I remember some of my ex-classmates names: Audrey Lim Pin Pin, Liang Hee and Liang Hoe (twins), Ssi Kim and Lee Kong Yeow and my teacher Mrs Mah who was very fierce but she advised me to be good, study hard' on my last day with the school.

A Fox said...

There is a Facebook page on Sembawang Hills Estate School which is quite active and contains photos which include Mrs Mah.