When we first moved into Sembawang Hills Estate in 1958, the newly built homes had the old style “squatting” toilet. It wasn’t until about 10 years later that we installed the modern toilet, which allowed users to be comfortably seated while “doing their business”.
The houses had no hot water system. I was told that today most homes in Singapore have a hot water system installed. To shower with warm water, we had to boil a kettle of hot water and pour it into a plastic pail of cold tap water. This mixture of warm water is then poured over your head with a cup or bowl. As kids, whenever we come home drenched by the rain, my mother always insisted that we immediately shower with warm water. If you are recovering from an illness, you’d probably prefer a warm shower too.
The middle of the house was not covered by the roof. It was an exposed, open top which allowed sunlight and ventilation through. In the event of rain, the top is covered by pulling a rope which dragged a sliding corrugated zinc panel into the “closed position”. In its “open position” the panel is allowed to slide backwards to the end, where it is now seated above the toilet and shower. We call this part of the house the “air well”.
A small drain ran through the “air well”. This drain is connected to a bigger drain outside the house. The exterior drain leads to a large monsoon drain along the boundary of the property. In the event of heavy rainfall, water could be seen gushing along the small drain in the “air well”. Occasionally, the drain overflowed and the floor of the “air well” is filled with rain water. However the surrounding areas (the hall, kitchen and rooms) were never flooded as they were elevated about 4 inches above the “air well” floor.
All the windows had grills on them as a safety feature. The front door of most houses had a door and a collapsible gate as well. Most of the terraced homes in the estate do not have space within their property for parking. The local residents parked their cars along the streets, outside their homes. The homes have either terrazzo or mosaic tiled floors. It is not uncommon for the hall and perhaps the kitchen to be tiled, while the rest of the house has plain cement floors.
Most homes had ceiling fans in the hall and in one or two rooms. I cannot remember any homes with air conditioning. I do recall a house that was "converted" into a barber salon which had air conditioning. This was in the early 60s. I think this salon was situated in Jalan Leban. I liked this place because it was so cool inside. As a kid this was probably the only place where I experienced air conditioning. There were 3 or 4 barber seats in the hall of this house which fronted as the parlour. I also liked the smell of the shaving cream. At the end of your haircut the barber would give you “cracks” or “slaps” on your back of your shoulder with clapsed palms. This was supposed to relax your shoulder muscles.