Sunday, August 31, 2008

More than 1 type of kampong in Singapore

My young friend PY of Oceanskies 79 once wrote an article about her visit to Sentosa where she learned about kampong life in Singapore in the old days. I pointed out to her that what she learned was essentially about a Malay kampong. Chinese kampongs like the one I grew up in were quite different actually. Come to think of it, not only were Chinese kampongs different from Malay kampongs, among the Chinese kampongs there were differences too. So I take this opportunity to tell you what I know was different. I consulted my good friend Chuck who grew up in the Hillview area next to a Malay kampong in nearby Bukit Gombak.

First of all there are the games. I believe that the games played by the Malay kids and us were quite different. In PY’s article, she mentioned games like gasing and congkak. But as you have probably read from my articles (you can click on the label Toys Were Us on the right side to read these articles) the games we played were quite different.

There were also a number of things in a Chinese kampong that you would not find in a Malay kampong. These were usually related to the difference in religious faiths; Malays being mostly Muslims. For example, in a Chinese kampong like Lorong Kinchir which I grew up in, pigs roaming freely was a common sight. Another thing which was mandatory in a Chinese kampong was the Tua Pek Kong temple and wayang stage. Depending on the size of the kampong, the size of these two features also tended to be different. During the Lunar 7th Month, opera shows would be performed. I have blogged about this before here.

This is what a kampong where pig-rearing was carried out looked like. Hard to believe that this was Singapore just one generation ago eh? Photo courtesy of Memories of Singapore

A typical Malay kampong house in old Singapore.


Another thing we had was the Chinese Medicine Shop. Practically all Chinese kampongs had one of these. Today, they are still a common sight in our HDB heartlands. Another thing I can think of is the village school. In our kampong, we had a small Chinese school called Chong Boon School (崇文). I spent one year there in fact doing primary one. But later I went to primary one again, but this time in an English school. In those days, they were not particular about ages and so even though I did two years of primary one, I was not over-age.

As I said before, even among the Chinese kampongs there were differences. This was mainly due to differences in economic activity. For example, compared to our closest neighbour which was Potong Pasir, we had more fish ponds whilst they had a lot of vegetable farms. We also had quite a bit of rubber estates. especially towards the Thomson end of Lorong Kinchir. Potong Pasir was to our south and separated from us by Braddell Road. It was mainly a Cantonese area. We used to refer to it as San Par. You can see some photos of the ponds of Lorong Chuan here.

To our west, was Kampong San Teng which is called Bishan today. They too were a Cantonese area and we referred to them as Pek San Teng (Pek San is the Cantonese pronunciation for Bishan). We were separated from them by the Kallang River. I am not sure about the economic activity in Kampong San Teng. What I do know is that they had a lot of cemeteries; and every Qing Ming we would go there for the ‘grave sweeping’ exercise.



I think the population of Kampong San Teng must have been considerably bigger than ours. As such their temple was much bigger and their annual wayang festival was a much bigger affair. My sister and mother used to go there to watch the Cantonese operas. But as far as the rest of us were concerned, the chief attraction of Kampong San Teng was the open air cinema called South Country Theatre (南国戏院) where we enjoyed many hours of watching black and white Cantonese movies. But I suddenly recall one English title. It is Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Please don’t ask me what was so special about this movie. I remember next to nothing about it. I think it was a cowboy comedy. My older brother Chun Chew (Zen) might remember more.

In case you are wondering what an open-air theatre looked like, here's a photo of one in Somapah Village from the collection of the National Archives of Singapore.


Well I hope this short article helps to enlighten my young friends a little about the kampongs that your parents grew up in. Below are some photos from the Lam family album.

Photo of me (right) and my younger brother James. On the left is the pond where we caught our fighting fish. Do you see our dog behind us (butt facing camera).

1951 photo of my mother carrying my elder brother David. I was not born yet. The fish pond like this one was very common in Lorong Kinchir and Lorong Chuan area. So were the coconut trees which helped to bring in some income for us.

You can see more photos of bona fide Singapore kampong scenes at these websites:

46 comments:

Victor said...

Your dog was obviously quite camera shy.

yg said...

come to think of it, the kampong in which i grew up was not a bona fide kampong.

in a real kampong, the houses are usually in isolation. ours, we had rows of attap houses, more like terraces. there were some isolated ones. these belonged to the folks who were already living there before some contractor built the rows of attap houses.

we were a mixed group - hokkien, teochew, hainanese and malay. there was a sprinkling of indians, eurasians and chinese of other dialect groups.

during the racial riots, we were one big community. the chinese, who were th majority, looked after and protected the malays.

Icemoon said...

Structurally any difference between a Malay Kampong house and a Chinese one?

I looked at Chun See's Kampong House and thought his looks like the Malay version (Pic 2).

Icemoon said...

Victor, guess whether the dog is Nappie or Barney? :P

Victor said...

Icemoon - With just a butt for identification, this is not an easy challenge. Let's see, Chun See had Ah Wong (champion fighter), Puteh, Hitam, David (pronounced ‘Debit’), Nappie and then Barney. Considering how young Chun See was in the photo (he must have been no more than 10), I would think it could be either Black or White but I don't have any proof in black and white.

Victor said...

Oops, on taking a 2nd look, the dog looked neither black nor white. So it is most likely to be Ah Wong or David (Debit).

Lam Chun See said...

Icemoon. You are very observant. Yes, our house was more of the Malay design. This type of design was called Pu Kar Lau in Hokkien and I believe ours was the only house of such design in our kampong. You can still see some of them in the Katong - East Cost area. Victor should be able to give exact location.

As to why my father chose such a design, I must ask my elder brother Zen to explain becos I was too young to know. Interestingly, a photo of our house appeared in a primary school geography text book.

We were also one of the few Cantonese families in our kampong.

But when it comes to dogs, I think you lose out to Victor. Nappie and Barney came along when I was already in Sec 3 or 4. In this photo, I couldn't be more than 9 or 10.

The dog in this photo was 'Debit'. It had a very short tale becos my father (or maybe my mother) was superstitious and decided to chop of its tail when it was still a puppy. The tail had a white patch at its end and the Chinese believed that was bad luck. I remember it was quite bloody.

Icemoon said...

Haha, I guess I got "tricked". You see, everytime I read the blog, there's always the photo of Chun See and Nappie on the top right.

How do you say Pu Kar Lau in Chinese? Or issit Pukka Lau?

Lam Chun See said...

YG. When I said "bona fide Singapore kampong scenes", I don't mean whether or not the kampong was a genuine kampong. I meant that these are old photos of kampongs in Spore and not some modern photos taken in a neighbouring country.

photo_trekker said...

To icemoon's question on the structural difference between a Chinese and a Malay kampung house, my opinion is that, generally, a Malay house is built on stilts.

Icemoon said...

Thanks for the explanation photo_trekker.

I have many questions at the back of my head, but one interesting one will be, how about the Chinese kampongs at Potong Pasir area? Are they sufficiently elevated against flooding?

peter said...

When a Malay house is raised on stilt, it is because they live close to the sea.

Inland Malay houses are raised on concrete pillars - reason is not because of the fear of flooding but for better ventilation. The floors are made of wood panels like long strips of parquet. Because they don't sealed the gaps between the wood panels, air can penetrate. Also above the ground means that heat will not permeate through the flooring - this is the concept use din modern housing like having a second level in a house and is the "coolest" place compared to other parts of the house.

The Pernakan Chinese adopted this Malay architecture and you can find plenty of them in East Coast Road. For the Pernakan homes, the "basement" is converted to another use - storage space and there is a door and grilled-fence around the basement to offer security. Got to the corner of Jalan Haji Salam and Beodk Avenue for an example (House # 3 I think).

Chinese houses in a Chinese kampung usually have a wooden gate (waist high and 2 full heights swing wooden doors, Malay houses don't have that except 2 swing wooden doors. If u watch P ramlee movies you see plenty of these Malay houses.

peter said...

I think chun see can tetsify whether this is true. Chinese attap houses got high roofs and no ceiling board. So when u look up you can see the attap and wooden poles. But for zinc roof, Chinese homes got ceiling board. The floor is screed grey colour cement (spelling correct or not????). The external walls use wooden blanks arranged in an overlapping fashion.

I used to stay in my amah's house and used the well-water to bath - very shiok but very cold....bidy cna tremeble....blurrrrr

Lam Chun See said...

Yes I think Peter is right about the roofs/ceilings. For our house, the roof was not zinc by tiles. The ceilings were made up of square asbestos boards with wooden strips at the edges. This was very common in those days. In fact, in my Ipoh house, the upstairs rooms are like this. We call it 'tin fa pan'. The lizard would crawl around this ceiling and go after the insects.

Lam Chun See said...

I think one of these days, I will write a detail description of our kampong house. Most interesting part is the well and the jamban (toilet)

peter said...

sometimes i wonder why got parasitic plants growing inside the well - i mean on the walls - when so dark down there. Also i like to make echo effect by putting my head inside the well and shout "Oi....wu lang boh...."

fr said...

I think some of the attap houses also got a skylight, a rectangular glass pane at the attap roof, to let light come in.

Not all floors of attap or zinc-roof houses were cement .. I have seen floor made of long planks of wood. I don't know why, maybe due to the unevenness of the ground.

Icemoon said...

lol .. Peter is so cute. But if a voice replies "wu, ji dao", he might probably pee in his pants. I assume that was a young Peter shouting.

Zen said...

Chun See has noticed sharply the difference between Chinese and Malay kampongs and it applies to of various Chinese dialect communities. It is because of such kampong setup that caused a deep racial divide in our society at that time. How to overcome such racial bias? the answer is: the Chinese needs to take the initiative by learning at least some conversation Malay. I observed sometime back our friend Chuck (who mixed with Malay friends in the kampong), at our work place, when conversing with a Malay lady stall holder during lunch time, displaying his Malay speaking skill, totally won over the lady's affection like a long-lost friend. The lady went out of the way to fry him a larger plate of mee goreng, more ingredients added, bantering wiht him at the same time, while paying less attention to other hungry customers. As for myself, I had very few Malay friends during my school days, hence no invitation to their kampong homes, but during my working days at Sembawang, the whole situation changed, I was able to make many Malay friends through my little knowledge of conversational Malay. Most of the young men eagerly invited me to their weddings without fail. I had even a newly moved in Malay stall holder (canteen), who I did not know well, invited me to sttend his daughter's wedding to a kiwi army officer. Basing on this observation, I gave a suggestion to the feedback unit to teach (at least) conversational Malay to all levels of our society to enhance racial harmony, and is happy to note the authority is moving in this direction.

pcwong said...

Back in the 70s when I was living in Serangoon Gardens, my family had a maid who lived near Lorong Kinchir. I remembered that their home was up a hillock ( or rather an incline) just off Lorong Chuan.

As for flooding, the last big flood on 2 Dec 1978 really flooded the entire Lorong Chuan area. I remembered the water level was up to roof top level for houses along Lorong Chuan (they were built below street level). Parts of Braddell Road was totally flooded, particularly the area in front of the SBS Transit head office/depot. I was shocked to see army assault boats plying along Braddell Road, helping with the flood situation. I saw all these a few days after the rains had stopped and Lorong Chuan was eventually opened to traffic.

Does anyone remember the row of shop houses along Lorong Chuan near the Braddell Road junction? There used to a bus stop in front too.

Zen said...

As to icemoon curiosity, I am not totally sure why my father chose to build a 'pu ka lau' at that time, despite of the fact that the cost of the building would come up to $5,000/- plus, a big sum at that time. I was then quite young, probably around ten years old. One thing was for sure, my father was afraid that white ants or termites would attack the wooden structure knowing that the spot was infested by termites. Another factor could be my father, during the wars, spent quite some time in Johor, subsequently married my mother (a Malaysian) in Segamat (also my birth place), had been influenced by Malay type of housing in the kampong. As for cantonese kampongs in Potong Pasir, there was no elevation, hence misery all round when floodings came. I knew of a friend who built a raise-up platform inside his house just to escape the severe floodings. Residents there depended on the Kallang river (sei kai hor) to drain away flood water. It was because of this misery that the folks there (in the sixties) voted for the opposition Barisan candidate to parliament, ironically the present MP is also from the opposition.

Lam Chun See said...

pcwong. In 1978, we already moved out of Lor. Kinchir and hence do not know about the flood. But before that there was one year where a huge flood resulted in one of the crocodiles escaping from the Lor Chuan farm and was spotted in the Kallang River at our kampong.

Yes I certainly remember the row of shops at Braddell Road you mentioned. Before Lorong Chuan was built, we used to cycle out to BR and park our bicycle at a bicycle shop next to the bus stop and then take the bus to Braddell Rise School. There was also a tailor shop there by the name of Golden Wheel (or something like that). Susequently they relocated to Toa Payoh Central and we continued to patronize them for a number of years .

Lam Chun See said...

Zen. Would you be able to answer Peter's comment/question about attap houses? Maybe you can tell us about the kampong at Plantation Avenue. I remember they too had a temple and wayang stage. I suspect from the name and the fact that there was a rubber factory along Lorong Chuan that there was a big rubber estate thereabouts.

pcwong said...

There were also plantations at the end of Lorong Chuan just before the Shell petrol station. Now it's all semi-ds and terrace houses.

And all that lush greenery and forest of what is now Ang Mo Kio and the CTE that border Serangoon Gardens also had a few commercial fishing ponds for the hobbyist angler.

I also spent school breaks at my aunt's house which is located in small kampong near Recreation Road, off Upper Serangoon Road (between Serangoon Central and Boundary Road). That kampong was mainly a Chinese enclave but I do remember the cement floor and high A-roofs of he attap houses. The layout of the kampong consisted of individual houses as well as long wooden houses with cubicles of various sizes.

Icemoon said...

Thanks Zen for the clarification. Seems that kampong life is not so rosy after all, no wonder yg said in his kampong article:

"although we oldies always hark back to the good old carefree days in the kampong, it does not mean that we all would like to embrace that kind of lifestyle all over again."

Lam Chun See said...

I also wrote something similar in the concluding paragraph of my post on that Humble Profession

"It’s been about one year since I started this blog. Occasionally I find young people commenting that they wished they could be living in my kampong days. Frankly, I doubt they would want to do that if they fully appreciated the conditions that I have deliberately described in a nostalgic and light-hearted way."

yg said...

actually there was a small kampong on sentosa when it was pulau blakang mati or even earlier, when it was pulo panjang.

we went for picnics a few times before the government decided to develop it into a resort island and i recall seeing a number of chinese families with the surname 'yeo' living on the island.

Icemoon said...

I realize yg is very careful with the names of old Sentosa - Death Island and Long Island. I learnt from laokokok that Javanese call Pulau Saigon "Pulo" and Indonesians call it "Pulau". Is this the case for Sentosa also?

Icemoon said...

Actually I'm interested to know how did yg find out about the surname. Did kampong houses show surname like Japanese residence? Or was it some census he had access to? Or was it a walk through a cemetery on the island, if there was one.

Zen said...

Generally Peter's description of Chinese kampong houses is correct, but I would like to add that those were quite decent dwellings, especially with wooden gates. One should go into poorer people huts or sheds - uncemented, hardened yellow layer of soil acting as floors, leaking attap roofs, staying next to pig-stys or cess pools (or near to 'sei kai hor for example), wooden toilet without even a bucket-just a hole in the ground, open-air bathing cubicle where peeping tom could view from a tall tree and the list goes on. All these hellish conditions, made these poor folks, after moving into HDB flats with modern amenities, relunctant or refuse to revisit the past. On the contrary, people like us, after experiencing the adventurous kampong life during happier time like: tree climbing, swimming and fishing in ponds, catching spiders in bushes, looking for fighting fish hide-outs, bird watching, self thought-out games - all these are worth reminiscing minus of course the toilets, but then town dwellers at that time also could not escape the bucket toilet system.

yg said...

no, i did not have any access to census or to check the names on tombstones. i remember seeing at least two names in english on sign-boards outside the houses. some were in chinese characters and i got one of my colleagues, whose surname was also 'yeo', to verify it. my former colleague was a teochew and i wondered if those families living on pulau blakang mati were also teochews.

Zen said...

Chun See - Talking about the kampong at Plantation Avenue, off Lorong Chuan, the place was quite similar to our kampong, two bus stops away, along Lorong Chuan, nearer Serangoon Garden. It had normal 'facilities' like a few groccer shops, coffee stalls, repair garages, a temple which reared a large python, a wayang stage, maybe a small TCM shop which I did not see perhaps further in. Children mostly attended Sin Min Chinese Primary School at Yio Chu Kang Road (my wife attended primary school P L MGS at Boundary Road). The difference was that they had a rust red coloured rubber processing factory which you blogged earlier near the the main road, with a crocodile tannery just diagonally opposite the the factory. There could be a rubber estate near by - remember the Chinese primary school Chong Boon which you attended? I noticed rubber trees near the school. My mother-in-law related a frightful incident that happened sometime around 1970, whereby a couple of armed robbers sought refuge in a house inside the kampong. Wily CID detectives (mostly Malays and Indiands)dressed as technicians 'reckie' the house several times by hiding inside a PUB van. When they were sure of the fugitives presence, made a sudden raid napping all of them in one swoop, catching the criminals by surprise.

peter said...

I am not sure whether anybody know this web site http://www.freewebs.com/roverjag/

It is made by my friend Derek Lehrle. He was working in this secret communication station when he was based in Singapore in the 1950s. Goto to his web site and you can find more kampong houses in the photo gallery as well as a description of Yio Chu kang area. I leave you to guess who collaborated with Derek to find his old camp.

Happy reading

peter said...

Alternatively google search for "RAF CHIA KENG"

Icemoon said...

Wow, I saw the old aerial with labels like Yio Chu Kang Road and cemetery. Then I surfed further and saw the Google Earth version. Didn't know the cemetery is the Japanese Cemetery. First time I see the old entrance of the cemetery.

The investigative skill to find the old camp is vintage Peter .. lol

Icemoon said...

But how come the British camp had chinese name leh?

Zen said...

Chun See - I forgot to relate an interesting episode that happened in Plantation Avenue. One day a land owner decided to earn more money. He rented out his plot of land for a funeral parlour operator to build a small wooden warehouse for storing his coffins and related wares, whereby causing a big uproar to fellow villagers who protested vehemently saying that this senseless act would seriously affect the fengshui of the kampong, hence inviting ill fortune for everyone. However, the lessor did not give in, but after a year or so, when I paid a visit to the kampong, I found the parlour operator had already vacated, with much relief to the residents.

Lam Chun See said...

Zen's description of attap houses has jolted my memory. I recall visiting one neighbour who lived on the hill slope somewhere behind the temple. The floor of their attap house was not even cemented but bare earth. I also remember being tasked to buy noodles from one of our neighbours and seeing him produce the noodles from his home. Very interesting.

Ah .. now I have an idea to write about the cottage industries in our kampong.

peter said...

RAF Chia Keng took after a name of a Chinese village nearby. There used to be a Chinese village along Yio Chu Kang Road, just before turning left into Serangoon Gardens on the left side of Yio Chu Kang Road. It was called Chia Keng Village. The wet market at the corner of Yio Chu Kang Road and Upper Serangoon was called Chia Keng Market. If my memory serves me, the bdlg looked a bit like the Macpherson Road Market, opposite the Macpherson Road Post Office.

We "took cover" at this place when we did "Ex. Red Beret" in 1974, so the place was etched in my memory. During the exercise we crossed over from Tampines Road to Anoy Quee via Yio Chu Kang Road (through the kampungs my friend not the main road)

peter said...

I meant to say, Amoy Quee SAF Camp (used to be RAF Amoy Quee in the 1960s), near the APPLE Computer factory.

Zen said...

icemoon - I forgot to provide some information to satisfy your 'fertile' mind - that is whether kampong families indicated their surname at the homes (like rural Japanese) - as far as I can remember- mostly no, in contrast with ancient chinese practice. However, some homes installed family ancestor wooden tablet, displaying photo of deceased grand-parents on the wall above the tablet, placed on a small table at an auspicious corner. Such tablet was incribed with the family surname. My grandparents were an exception, they put up an arch in front of our land, and at the top it was written: Kong Lam Yuen - meaning the estate of the Lam family, something quite unique in our kampong at that time.

Zen said...

icemoon - Common sense dictates that you can't possibly replace RAF- chia keng, a precise indication of the location, to say RAF - London.

oceanskies79 said...

A noteworthy blog-post. Thank you for sharing with me the differences between Malay and Chinse kampongs, and the differences between the different types of Chinese kampongs. Now I could appreciate what I have not experienced before better. Cheers. :)

Icemoon said...

Thanks for the information Zen. How would you write Kong in chinese? I suppose the other two characters are 林院 or 林园? Or might be 林苑?

Ish Singh said...

I just realised that i have a few family members who use to work at Kampong San Teng Cemetery as jagas(guards)...did you recall any sikhs/indians living there?

Thank you.

Chun See Lam said...

Ish Singh. I have very vague (very young then) memory of and Indian or Sikh jaga at either South Country Theatre or the Pek San Teng Temple. What made him easy to remember was his reputation for being able to speak Cantonese, the main dialect of that region.

But what I am very sure about is that we have an Indian; probably Sikh jaga at our school, the Braddell Rise School, which was very near to Kg San Teng. In fact my school mate Aii Chan made mention of him in my book, Good Morning Yesterday.