Today is Children’s Day and there are lots of advertisements and dedications in the media. It makes me think about my own time growing up in pre-independent Singapore in the 1950’s and 60’s. Life certainly was very different then. In the first place, I am not sure if we even had a Children’s Day back then. I think we did.
From the home to the school, from games at home to public entertainment places and places of interest, from gardens to public parks, the environment our children live in today is vastly different from that of my generation, the ‘Boomer’ generation. Today’s children live much more intense and hectic lives. They are incessantly bombarded by sights and sounds and their hours are jam-packed with activities. And they have seen so much of the world even before they reached their teens. In comparison, I had never been on an aeroplane until my mid-twenties when the army sent me to Taiwan for my military training.
In order to prevent turning this essay into a full-blown book, I think I have to limit my reminiscing to just the public places that kids of my generation visited during their spare time. I shall not even touch on our favourite pastime which was going to the movies, or our occasional visits to the public pools.
Let’s see now. What were some of the public places of interest that were available to children of our time. I am afraid I can only come up with six. Here they are.
1) Haw Par Villa. This place with all the graphic depictions of Hades was a favourite with not just the local kids but also the children of British servicemen.
I think this photo of my elder brother David (front) with some cousins was taken at Haw Par Villa.
2) Van Kleef Aquarium. In those days, when we did not have a zoo (the nearest zoo was in Johor Bahru) or a bird park, the most interesting place to see animals was the Van Kleef Aquarium at River Valley Road. I remember it had two storeys of exhibits, the most fascinating being the tank of piranhas at the entrance to the second-floor exhibition hall.
This photo was taken at Van Kleef Aquarium. From left; my mum, her elder sister, me, an aunt (my oldest brother Chun Chew (Zen) may remember her name) and my elder brother David.
3) Changi Beach. The occasional trip to Changi Beach was always a great delight for us. I remember the route via old Tampines Road. The sight of the solemn grey walls of the Changi Prison which greeted us as we came to the end of Tampines Road meant that we were nearing our destination. My own favourite activity at Changi Beach was rowing the rented wooden sampans for an hour or two.
4) Hoi Pei. I bet young readers don’t know what place this was. It is the Cantonese name for Queen Elizabeth Walk at the Esplanade. Back then it was very different. Before all that land reclamation, this area was a straight stretch of coastline joining the mouth of the Singapore River to Nicoll Highway. Our parents brought us here occasionally to enjoy the sea breeze and the view of the open sea. I shall blog about this another time.
5) The three ‘worlds’. These were the famous amusement parks, New World, Great World and Gay World. Undoubtedly, they were favourites with kids of our time. I have blogged about the fun we had at these place previously. Subsequently, another famous amusement park was added at the Kallang Leisure Drome vicinity. This was where Singapore had its first roller coaster. The park of course was the Wonderland.
6) Finally we had the nature parks which are still around today. Besides the 3 reservoirs at MacRitchie, Pierce and Seletar, there was also Mount Faber and the Yunan Garden in Nantah.
I think this place is Mount Faber. From left, my younger brother James, my elder brother, David, my dad and me.
I have probably missed out a few but there you have it. Not much I guess compared to what our kids have today.
One thing has not changed though; and it never will. We had the same twenty-four hours a day. With such dizzily hectic life-styles, it is no wonder that kids nowadays are so stressed. No wonder half of them need spectacles by the time they reach primary school. And may I venture to speculate that this could be one reason why so many of our young men simply collapse and die when the time came for them to deal with the rigours of National Service training - apart from all that processed food and junk foods that they consume day after day.
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