Friday, October 30, 2009

Elephants @ Seraya Crescent

Yesterday, I received a pleasant surprise in my email. Mr Robin Brewster sent me some 1965/66 photos of Singapore. Among them were two that my guest bloggers Freddy Neo and Edward Williams, and other old timers familiar with Sembawang Hills Estate would love – photos of an elephant strolling along Seraya Crescent.

According to Robin, the animals (yes, more than one) were being exercised, and it was a fairly regular affair. Unfortunately I don’t have any other details to share. Hopefully Edward and Freddy can shed more light on this interesting sight that we are unlikely to ever witness again in 21st century Singapore.


Hehee ….. maybe that bare-chested kid in the photos is our friend Freddy? Naa …. in 1966 he would be around 14 already.

PS - If you do not know where is Seraya Crescent, please refer to our previous post.

18 comments:

Zen said...

Chun See - It was rather strange seeing an elephant riding on by native in such a modern neighourhood. It was like the caucasian lady riding a horse through our kampong in the fifties. However, after viewing (from the tv) many elephants roaming in the streets of present day Bangkok, it not so suprising after all. The sad part is that the thai elephants are begging for a living.

Victor said...

The elephant looked quite young as it was only slightly taller than the man.

Such a baby elephant walk would certainly be considered an unusual sight on Singapore roads, even in the 1960s.

peter said...

Size is always a big thing but it's common in the 40s, thru early 60s when Indian folks "walk" their animals form one point to the other (usually animals in search of lallang for food). As a result, they walk through private estates. I have seen a herd of cattle and goats doing the same.

I recall once at St Joseph Church in Bukit Panjang, a bull walked into Sunday service whilst the priest making his sermon. At that time Father Teng reared monkeys, goats and cows to keep the church financially going. Tithes were never enough from the poor rural folks. The bull did its business andwhat a big lump that was. In the same way when animals walked through privte estates, residents don't complain especially if the wastes came form big animals like elephants and cows. They use the waste as dung to provide fetilizer to the fruit trees.

One time when a circus tentage came up at this empty piece of land behind the SHELL station on Outram Road (now I think some self-help organization occupies the buildings), the circus owners took an elephant through the streets of Tiong bahru Estate to promote the circus.

Edward said...

Chun See, I can barely remember what the houses in Phase 1 (Sembawang Hills Estate) looked like. But what I can say is that the street in the photos doesn’t look like those in Phase 1 at all. The collapsible gate of the 2 terrace houses in the 2nd photo is about 3 times the length of those in Phase 2 (where Freddy and I lived). Our collapsible gate is just long enough to cover the front door. Somehow I don’t recall any homes built on top of a “raised ground” as depicted in the 2nd photo. But there are many houses in Phase 2 built on elevated ground e.g. those in Jalan Batai and Jalan Lanjut. Having said all this, I must stress that my memory is somewhat vague as far as the environment in Phase 1 is concerned. So … it could well be Seraya Crescent!

According to Robin the animals were being exercised regularly. That means they must come from some sort of “animal enclosure” or zoo nearby. I can’t think of any close to Sembawang Hills Estate. I can assure you that none of us kept pet elephants in those days, not even the British!

Thanks for posting the pictures. I'd love to see more of Sembawang Hills Estate!

Edward said...

Chun See, I remember the circus came to our estate in the 60’s. They pitched their tents on a large vacant block of land enclosed by Jalan Leban and Jalan Kuras, which is just across the road from Seraya Crescent. These two locations are separated by Thomson Road. I have definite recollections of attending the circus one evening – the trapeze stunts, the animals in the ring etc. So I gather the elephant in the photos could come from the circus. Hmm ... I feel like Monsieur Poirot solving a complex mystery!

PChew said...

Recently I took bus service 980 which passed Sembawang Hill and I saw the road Seraya Crescent. If not, I would have mistaken it to be in Katong area. Seraya Road and Seraya Lane are off Haig Road. Roads with common name can be quite confusing if they are not located in the same area.

Lam Chun See said...

Seraya must be a kind of tree becos I notice that most of the names of the nearby streets are names of trees such as tembusu, casuarina etc.

clement said...

Chun See, I remembered a circus called Tai Thean Kew which used to move around the island during the mid 60's,and the thrill of feeding the elephants with sugarcane bought from the trainer but don't know how much it cost as I was only about 10years old.

Andy Young* said...

Chun See, These pictures remind me when I used to see circus elephants taking their shower at stand-pipes along the Serangoon Road/Boundary Road junction. They were with a mahout and possibly from the Shuem's Circus or Tai Tien Kew Circus that used to perform in Singapore in the 50s.

Edward said...

Chun See, there is yet another detail I noticed about the terraced houses in both photos. They have 2 rows of ventilation holes above the front window (2nd photo) and at the side (1st photo). I remember the houses in Phase 2 have only 1 row of ventilation holes at the front and back but not at the side. In a row of terrace houses only corner houses (the first and last house) have one side exposed. And I don’t recall any ventilation holes at the side of the corner houses in Phase 2. I am still trying to convince myself that it could well be Seraya Crescent but I do have lingering doubts. Freddy would be more familiar with Phase 1 as his primary school is located in Old Upper Thomson Road, a short distance from Seraya Crescent.

Freddy Neo said...

Edward is right. The elephant is from Tai Tian Kew Circus which came to the Estate in around 1965. I remember that the keeper has to walk the elephants every day. The tent was pitched at the empty plot of land between Upper Thomson Road and Jalan Kuras, where the Exxon Mobile Petrol Kiosk and Sembawang Hills Hawker Centre now stand. There was even a juvenile elephant tied to the roadside tree in front of our house at Jalan Batai for the duration of the circus' visit. It was probably not yet ready to perform. We were so facinated with it that we cut the sugar canes growing in our backyard to feed the elephant.

I remember attending one of the performances with my siblings and parents. I found the sun bears and chimps very smart and cute. But when I visited during the daytime, I was surprised to find that the animals were kept in small cages and during training, the sun bears and chimps were cane if they did'nt obey the trainer's commands. And the sun bears were fed plain whilte rice porridge. I was quite disappointed and felt so sorry for the animals to see the reality behind all the rhinestone and glitter.

Keith said...

I am surprised there were color photos in those days.

yg said...

clement is right. the tai thean kew circus used to perform in different parts of s'pore. in the 60s, i saw the big tent at newton circus. i remember also seeing the tent at the balestier plain at another time.

Zen said...

The circus is apparently fast fading from the scene, probably to its high maintenance cost in term of training of artists and animals. Also operators have to face strict government environmental control, as well as pressure from the animal rights groups. If they cannot recover from their investments, they would call it a day, to the woes of many children. The day may come we have to see live animals at the zoo, or for those who are rich can go to the safari. Many of the former circus performers have to switch jobs by performing in other entertainment establishments.

Brian and Tess said...

Here in the UK we already don't have most animals in circuses, I think its restricted to horses. We have just had a circus for a few days in the park area near my home and they had an area out the front of the Big Top for their horses to graze. But apart from that I think it has to be clowns and acrobats etc.

Thimbuktu said...

For one moment, I thought it was the zookeeper from Mandai Zoo taking the elephant out for a walk in Sembawang :)

FL said...

As with some of you, the Tai Thean Kew Circus also came to my village at the vacant land behind Chin Lye, Tian Lye & Deli Streets (End of Tg Pagar Rd areas)in around 1961/1962. I could not remember the exact year. As kampong kids, we were very excited to be able to see so many wild live animals there, elephants, horses,tigers, lions,chimp, etc. at the circus site right infront of our village!! I remember we fed the elephants (about 4 or 5) with bananas & sugar canes. Of course, our whole family members also watched the circus performances then. I also remember the circus keepers walked the elephants to the seaside for bathing. The distance from our village to the seaside (beside Gate 1 SHB) was about 200 metres. The whole area is now the PSA container terminal.

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