Friday, October 09, 2009

Edward Williams also remembers the Pierce Reservoir

When we were young our parents brought us to Pierce Reservoir as an afternoon or evening outing. Sometimes our dog would come along too. It was good for the kids to run around the lawn where rows of canna plants stood. The canna plants were grown in “plots” with each having a colour of its own. It was such a pretty sight to behold. There were many varieties of trees at the reservoir, but the one that we liked best was the Frangipani. We picked the sweet smelling Frangipani flowers and made letters and words with them on the lawn. Although there are several colours of Frangipani flowers, we only saw the white ones. The fragrance of the flowers permeated the lawn where we played hide and seek, using the plots of canna plants as a shield.

Walking along the water’s edge, stopping to peer into the clear water for signs of little fishes … these were the simple things that were a treat for us. Sometimes we sat by the water’s edge, ate dry plums, and threw the seeds into the water, just to watch the ripple effect on the surface.

Photo of a family at Lower Pierce Reservoir courtesy of Flickr member Soapstar

I have seen people fishing at the front of the reservoir. I gather that they had a license for that. In later years I believed fishing in the reservoir was disallowed.
We walked to the front end of the reservoir towards the part where huge pipes stood. These pipes seemed to come out of the ground and spanned across a man-made channel about 25 to 30 yards wide. Most times the channel was empty but I assumed that they will be filled with water during a heavy rainfall. To a little child, these pipes were massive structure that must have carried huge amounts of water from the reservoir to another place. The older kids and adults were able to walk on these huge pipes across the channel to the other side.

As we grew older our parents no longer took us to the reservoir. We went there with our friends in the neighbourhood. We’d fish there, which was illegal in those days. Twice we were chased by the forest ranger. We don’t know if forest rangers were employed in the 60s but he certainly looked like one – dressed in khaki shorts and a matching shirt with a topi hat. Well that was official enough for us, and we ran for our dear lives! He could be one of the locals jealously guarding the reservoir out of a sense of civic duty. Later on we found another route to the interior of the reservoir, from Old Upper Thomson Road, close to 8 mile stone. This part of the reservoir was more secluded, away from the prying eyes of the public front entrance.

Besides fishing we climbed the trees and fantasised ourselves as Tarzan. I was a scrawny kid then but it did not stop me from thumping my chest with my fists and calling out like Tarzan in the movies. Of course no wild animals heeded my calls and I was left to fend off the bad guys on my own.

There are many fruit trees in the forest reserve. In one of my hikes, we saw several tall buah duku trees. It was by chance that we spotted remnants of the fruits on the ground, probably discarded by monkeys after they have eaten it. Once we picked chempedak fruits which we thought were almost ripe. At home I wrapped the fruits with old newspapers and put them in a cupboard. Two weeks later the smell of the fruits became evident as they ripened. However I was disappointed to discover that the fruits were not as tasty as I had hoped for.
In the 60s you don’t see many monkeys in the forest reserve, especially at the front entrance of the reservoir. If you ventured deeper into the forest you may get an occasional view of monkeys. I once spotted what appeared to be a wild boar, from a distance. I think they were virtually extinct by then. A friend of mine has seen an anteater, another animal thought to be extinct.

This photo of a monkey helping itself to the rambutans was taken by Chun See at MacRitchie Reservoir.

Spiders were the creatures that I dreaded most. I am talking about big, colourful spiders, ugly as anything, sitting on a web about 3 feet wide (91.5 cm). Twice I almost ran into the web during my cross-country run. Hornets were one of the deadliest creatures in the forest. I have read of 2 cases involving fatalities from hornet stings. Both incidences happened in hiking groups in the reservoir but I cannot recall if it was MacRitchie or Pierce (or both). I think Seletar was not a common hiking ground in the 60s. Fortunately I have never encountered any hornet nests in the years I spent in Pierce Reservoir.
As for scorpions, a little one somehow got into my haversack and hitched a ride home with me. I was fortunate not to be stung by this creature. The biggest scorpion I found was a dead one, along Old Upper Thomson Road, after a night of heavy downpour. It measured 4 inches (10 cm) in body length, but if you include its tail it’d be 9 to 10 inches long (25.4 cm). The sac at the end of its tail was about half the size of my last finger tip. We were on a hike when our group saw this black scorpion lying on the grass strip along Old Upper Thomson Road. I was told that if you were stung by a scorpion this size you have about a minute to live.
My brother and I and a couple of friends camped in the forest reserve on two occasions. In those days we had no ready-made tent or camping equipment. Our tents were simply large canvas sheets made water proof by covering it with hot wax and drying the sheets under the sun. To pitch a tent, we tied a rope between two trees and placed the waxed canvas sheet over it. For cooking we used a small aluminium stove about 5 inches (12.7 cm) square, which stood about 2½ inches (6.4 cm) above the ground. White solid fuel was used for burning. Mostly we ate canned food since there was no game to hunt and the fishes weren’t plentiful enough or were simply too smart to take our bait. We also built open fires and threw potatoes onto the embers for supper at night.

Once we hiked the entire perimeter of the reservoir, along the water’s edge. It was a tough 8-hour hike for a young teenager. Sometimes we had to cross over the water because the tracks became inaccessible. We received many cuts from the reeds in the water which had sharp edges, like the lalang grass. At the end of the long hike, when we reached the Island Club golf course, we congratulated ourselves heartily for completing the mission.

Pierce was very much undeveloped in the 60s. It was essentially a forest reserve in its “raw untamed state”. There were no developed tracks for running or cycling, exercises or trekking. Except for the front entrance, no one but the adventurous ventured into the interior. Before the construction of the new Upper Pierce reservoir, it was simply know as Pierce Reservoir (now renamed Lower Pierce Reservoir). It was this old Pierce reservoir that was the playground of my childhood days. As Freddy said, Pierce Reservoir was a place where you “roughed it out”. Only men and boys do that in those days.

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Morticia Caramouska Addams said...

My folks brought my sisters and cousins to Lower Pierce regularly. We climbed the frangipani trees and swung upside-down from there. I remember making chains of the frangipani. In those days, the grasshopper population was vibrant in the long grass. There were two kinds of grasshoppers. The ones we called daddy-long-legs with sharp pointy noses that pricked. They were about 65-6 cm long. The fat short brown and green ones were pretty harmless. We caught the grasshoppers with our bare hands and brought them home for dad's Sharma to eat.

There used to be an old boat house midway along the path that led around to the back exit of Lower Pierce which ended near Nemesu Avenue. That boathouse had steps that led down to murky green water and one or two boats. The echo in the boathouse added to the mysterious atmosphere in the boathouse.

At the slopes, we used to roll down over and over to the lower drain and stop there. Then we would run up and roll over and over again down the slope. Bliss.

Morticia Caramouska Addams said...

Oops, 5-6 cm long.

yg said...

chun see, in both postings, the name of the reservoir is spelt 'pierce'; i think the correct spelling is 'peirce'.
scorpions, being nocturnal, are rarely seen in the day. however, one morning, i did see a scorpion on the road leading to the upper peirce reservoir.

Edward said...

Hi YG, I noticed that both spellings are used. In fact "Pierce" is more often used that "Peirce" in "unofficial" websites. One website had both spellings for the reservoir ( are probably right in that the official spelling is "Peirce". I suspect the incorrect spelling is probably derived from the way it is pronounced.

yg said...

hi edward, the reservoir is named after robert peirce, the municipal engineer from 1901 to 1916.

Lam Chun See said...

You are right YG. Thanks for pointing out. All this time I never noticed. Even the Infopedia website that I linked to had the correct spelling. And I even took a photo of the plaque whic had the correct spelling.

Edward said...

Most people like me have spelt it incorrectly for all their lives! In the 50s and 60s there were no signs or plagues around the reservoir and I don’t recall having seen a street directory either. Unless you look closely at the atlas, you’ll probably spell it incorrectly. Now that’s another new thing I’ve learned this week!

Lam Chun See said...

Must not forget that our friend YG was a former teacher. Has sharp eyes for such things. Was it he who spotted my unsafe act of not wearing my life jacket properly when kayaking in Sarawak last year?

Annette Fox said...

Edward, what a lovely recollection! I recall my brother coming home with tales that reflect yours.
Life was so simple then!