Saturday, June 06, 2009

Singapore Scenes from the Hollywood Movies (by Peter Chan)

Victor Koo and Malcolm Young of Adelaide, Australia, were happily swapping DVDs and among Malcolm’s collection was a movie, “G.I. Executioner”. This movie was filmed in Singapore in 1971. I got involved when some questions were raised about the Singapore scenes in the movie and Victor asked me to watch the movie.

Malcolm was interested in one of the scenes which showed an overhead bridge and a Chinese temple somewhere in Singapore. Malcolm’s initial thoughts on seeing the bridge was that (in terms of size) it resembled the Singapore-Malaysian railway bridge that passes over Upper Bukit Timah Road - the one near the Railway Mall. He didn’t think that the bridge in the background would have been a POB (Pedestrian Overhead Bridge).

Now you probably asked what is so amazing about this bridge. Honestly, watching an old “B” movie with a routine Singapore storyline can be quite boring. The movie has a long line of terrible dialogue and the only selling point is nudity. I guess a girl shooting a gun while in the nude and being killed landing in a big net and hanging in the net nude is supposed to be the entertainment highlight of this film.

It was not until the end of the movie when I caught sight of the overhead bridge and the Chinese temple. Good heavens, it was the same bridge along Upper East Coast Road which I last saw in 1983 when I often would take my son for a double-decker bus-ride on SBS #12 to the terminus (future Max Pavilion). When information or photos are difficult to come by, it can be quite difficult to “pictorially” explain the bridge to others, although I knew exactly its location. I know for sure many younger people would never be interested.

Photo 1: A scene from the movie and the same place today. The Bailey bridge was after the future Temasek Secondary School. The man hailing the Yellow-top taxi stood in front of the Yuan Ming Si Temple. The bicycle’s position would be the future Kew Residential condominium

There were two reasons for my interest. First, my cousin Seow Boon, who was 7 years older than I, led me to scale the bridge when it was built in 1963. We were scolded by the contractors for this dangerous adventure. The other reason was because it was my “alarm clock” in the 1970s when I did my NS at Bedok Camp. As the bus drove under the bridge, it created a low droning sound which was of the right decibel to wake me up for the next bus stop outside Jalan Haji Salam

Photo 2: Upper East Coast Road in front of the Yuan Ming Si Temple. View towards Bedok Corner. The sexy dame was walking passed the future Kew Green condominium.


This was a Bailey bridge and was built across Upper East Coast Road to support the Phase 1 land reclamation in the Bedok area. It was a temporary steel framed bridge used as a method of supporting the conveyor-belt system which transferred fill material from the hills (between Upper East Coast Road and the Anglican High School in Upper Changi Road) to the sea off Upper East Coast Road. This project was undertaken by the Japanese contractor Ishikawa Jima Harima in 1966, as part of the S$50 million Japanese War Reparation to Singapore.

Photo 3: The Cut-Site (present Yokogawa factory) was opposite Aida Street, Opera Estate. The bucket-wheel excavator scrapped the hill and the fill material was transferred to the conveyor-belt to be transported to the fill area (circa 1969). Photo courtesy of Malcolm Young

There were a number of work-site accidents, one which took place at the foot of Parbury Hill. It was said that at Blk 68, there is a shrine under a tree to appease the spirits because there were many Malay cemeteries in that area. Bedok South Road itself took its shape from the original alignment of the conveyor-belt system as more fill material was taken from the hills off Siglap Hill and Aida Street.

I saw two Bailey bridges constructed in other parts of Singapore. One was from Bedok South Avenue 1 across Upper East Coast Road towards the Laguna Flyover, and the other was on Serangoon Road, near the present Boon Keng MRT Station. All the Bailey bridges had a connection with the land reclamation programs. The bridge at Bedok South Avenue 1 was in support of Phase 2, 5 & 6 of the land reclamation project from the Singapore Swimming Club to Marina Central. The Serangoon Road bridge was used to enable lorries to transfer fill material from the future Toa Payoh Estate to Kallang Basin.


Icemoon said...

Very informative article which we don't usually find in public domain. :)

I have a geography question. The cut-site in the photo must be near Jalan Puay Poon which followed (roughly) Bedok South Ave. 1 and Bedok South Road to New Upper Changi Road? This road must have cut across the hills (left side Siglap Hill, right side WWII massacre ground) to connect Upper East Coast Road to Changi Road.

Icemoon said...

I wonder in 1983 Peter balik-kampong already? If so, he would have drove past the bailey bridge on the way to town?

Eh, can a two year old boy appreciate bus rides? :P

Victor said...

Thanks for solving the mystery of the overhead bridge across Upper East Coast Road, Peter.

peter said...

1983 I had just moved into to the Nallur Road area from the Holland V area. As usual, I like to explore "new places or at least places I have been there but for a long absence". So what can a married man do when he has to baby-sit a toddler when the wife sleeps to mid-day on a Sunday? Since I had never taken a bus for more than 10 years and with a new double-decker passing my new place, why not then? After all exploring Nallur Road, Talian Teck Teck and Siglap Road had become boring.

Icemoon, don't forget infants can explore things/remember things from the day they are born. So 2 yr+ toddler can be very inquisitive. So one way to keep the toddler quiet in the house whilst the wife sleeps, is to take the toddler out for "kai kai". There were many things father and son(s) did together - finding out how golf courses are built, what happens at the bus terminus or where people spend their time.

I find that both my sons are "closer" to me than to their mother because of the rapport I developed (by accident) from the day they were born. This is one clue when your time comes to become a parent. Now I can "wash my hands clean".

Icemoon do u ride bicycle? Victor n I did a crazy thing over the week-end. Loretta if you are reading this, why don't join us?

Icemoon said...

You must have moved many times. AFAIK, twice in Bedok, once in Bukit Timah, once in Ulu Pandan, once in Holland V?!

> Since I had never taken a bus for more than 10 years

Gosh, could the last one be the bus to Bedok Camp in 1973? lol

So one way to keep the toddler quiet in the house whilst the wife sleeps, is to take the toddler out for "kai kai".

Was that how you explored Sheares Bridge from Tanjong Rhu??

Yeah, I can ride bicycle. Amazingly cycling skill is something you never forget even when you don't own a bike.

Lam Chun See said...

I think have to add Tiong Malu.

Icemoon said...

I think that was his grandfather's house and he was there on weekends. Eh, he also visited his uncle near Sunset Ave where he saw the railway bridge. Such colorful childhood.

But I think he spent most of his pre-teenage years at Chestnut. The Brits gave him fish and chips, haha.

peter said...

Holland V and Ulu Pandan - 1 location
Bedok and now - 2 different locations
Childhood - i location

so in total i moved 3 times but I wander far and wide. Dont forget I was travelling salesman and not holding an office job (9 to 5).

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. How can you forget the time you stayed in Farrer Court just after you got married?

"Chun See. We could have been neighbours except when I got married in the late 70s, I rented a unit at Block C Farrer Court (1504 on the 15th floor, old numbering system). This was a HUDC estate. I think that block was nearest to the hawker center (there was a good beef ball noddle stall I think)."

If your wife reads this, you surely die.

peter said...

alamak....poor memory. That one rented....

peter said...

Exploring Sheares Bridge was BEFORE Married

Brian and Tess said...

fascinating to see what happened to the hill I remember well from my time living in Aida Road in 1960. The sheer scale of the operation to shift earth for reclamation is difficult to imagine. In fact I used to think that the hill would not last very long as it used to shed a lot of sand every time it rained! On my visit to the Opera Estate in March both the hill and the swampy area near it were long gone and replaced by newer buildings.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. Are you sure that that bridge was a Bailey Bridge? From my past encounters with infantry people, they tend to be a bit 'blur' about things related to combat engineers. For example, there was this bn CO during my reservist days, a major, ..... better not go into details.

From your photo, it is hard to tell. I tried to view this scene in Victor's dvd on my tv set, but the top segment is cut off.

peter said...

HDB people refer to this as Bailey bridge.....I am not sure who put up this structure but I can tell you the one at Serangoon Road was by 3rd or 4th Battalion Royal Malaysian Army Engineers. My bconclusion is if CE put up and not ordinary contractors cannot be something else. BUT on the other hand, I remember vaguely the one in Serangoon Road had "X" on the pillars although got no rail guard at the top. I do remember when going back to bedok Camp, there were also those "X" steel frames on the supports.

Malcolm Young said...

Certainly a well put together and accurate article.
GI Executioner does show many scenes of Singapore in 1971, and it's amazing to compare them with what they look like today.
As for the Bailey Bridge, well I guess it depends on how one is defined. Wikipedia gives a good summary and some interesting photographs. At the very least, this bridge at Bedok would be a temporary structural steel bridge, as you can see what looks to be a fairly substantial (probably 12m length) steel I beam spanning across the road.

Anonymous said...


Did Aida Rd face a field of oxen, with jungle behind and a Kampong nearby? Was there a small swamp/pool that was later drained and found to be a mass grave? What would have been the nearest cemetery?