My very first trip outside Singapore was to JB to watch a Mandarin movie, “Sun, Moon & Star”. That was in 1961. “Sun, Moon & Star” as far as I know was never screen in Singapore and we had to drive to the Cathay-JB Cinema. There was a very prominent Cathay logo neon signboard on top of the building visible from Woodlands in Singapore.
Photo 1: “Sun, Moon & Star” (part 2). Who is the one with the crutch?
My parents must have been very loyal fans of Grace Chang; like many others who knew her from the days of the “Mambo Girl”. Apart from the inconvenience of crossing over the causeway and the stringent official custom checks, there was no need for international passports. You produced your Singapore ID to the Malayan immigration officials. For me, I didn’t even need to produce my birth certificate.
I was never a fan of Chinese black & white movies unless they were Cantonese action movies like “Wong Fei Hung” or slapstick comedies starring “Nga Chat Soh”. To give you an idea on the length of “Sun, Moon & Star”, it was screened over two sessions; Part 1 this week and Part 2 two weeks later. Cinema-goers had to retain one portion of the ticket as proof for viewing the other part. Within each part, there was even an intermission. I remembered Part 1 was all about “a boy falling in love with girl(s)” but it had too much dialogue. Poor me I was looking for the English subtitles at the bottom of the screen but they were colored yellow and being seated somewhere at the Back Stall, this was a real eye strain. I was very restless throughout the movie and my father had to raise his voice to shut me up. Finally he asked me to wait outside the cinema. This was a great opportunity for me to explore the streets outside Cathay-JB. I think there was a Hotel Malaya at one end of the street and itinerant pushcart hawkers selling drinks, kachang-puteh and kueh-kueh outside the cinema.
Part 2 was action drama because it showed the fighting between Chinese and Japanese soldiers but the war drama was hardly the sort I was looking forward to like in “The Guns of Navarone”. The action began with the blowing of the bugle, the waving of flags (sounds Communist alright), artillery shells flying and the charge of the human wave towards the enemy position. For some strange reasons, the camera never focused on the Japanese soldiers but most of the time on the beautiful Grace Chang and Julie Yeh. After many decades, the only question I would have loved to ask; who was the person walking with a crutch in that movie?
For many people, JB might be a quiet place. Not for me.
Photo 2: Left; On the causeway and in the distance is Lumba Kuda flats in JB with its prominent water-tank on the roof top (circa 1967). Right; Cathay-JB Cinema next to the Lumba Kuda flats (circa 1964).
For example after that Mandarin movie, my family headed to the second-best place for satay; after the Beach Road Satay Club in Singapore. The satay stalls were located next to a public toilet facing the JB bus terminus for Green Bus, Alec Bus Company and South Johore Bus. Sampling JB satay and mee rebus was a common occurrence for me because my father loved country-side driving and sometimes drove to view the newly-built residential estates, one of which was Marine Vista in the Jalan Straits View vicinity.
The old customs house just after the Malaysian immigration checkpoint was a prominent landmark for me. It was here we thumb-up for free lorry rides to Kuala Lumpur and Penang after we completed our Secondary 4 exams. We knew that the Malaysian-registered lorries had to clear the Johore customs after their delivery trips to Singapore. Getting that ride was never easy and on most occasions we had to wait for hours. It was not because the drivers turned us down. Rather we had to check with each lorry driver on his ultimate destination. We were not looking for lorries stopping at Yong Peng or Segamat; we were on the look-out for lorries going to towns nearer to Kuala Lumpur such as Seremban or Cameron Highlands. Coming back to Singapore from up-country, we hitch hiked the Straits Times early morning delivery truck from Jalan Tiong, Kuala Lumpur to JB. Even up to the late 1980s, I found that the New Straits Times daily newspaper was only printed in Kuala Lumpur and distributed to the other Malaysian towns. Thus, a JB New Straits Times reader could only get his newsstand copy by mid-day.
Photo 3: Left; JB Bus Terminus (now City Square). In the background is Jalan Wong Ah Fook. The row of two-storey buildings still stand – it’s called Central Building. (Photo courtesy of Fred York. circa 1956) Right; The old customs house on Persiaran Tun Sri Lanang. This part has been cleared to make way for the second Malaysian Immigration and Customs building. Bukit Chagar CIQ is the third development. You can see Woodlands in the background.
Before Taman Sentosa became popular with Singaporeans, we patronized the cinemas such as REX along Jalan Wong Ah Fook and the Capitol Cinema at Jalan Stesen. The JB cinemas screened X-rated movies like the “Carry On” Series which were terribly censored in Singapore. You could never understand the story how come an about-to-be naked woman screamed one moment and then a smiling Sidney James chuckled. At other times when we saved enough pocket-money, we went to the Seaview Hotel to watch those forbidden floor shows. No they didn’t have those wrestling with python shows. It was more like “Bend it like Beckham”.
From a bus-stop on Jalan Wong Ah Fook opposite the JB Bus Terminus, we took the local Alec Bus Company to far-away places like Jason Bay and the Kota Tinggi Waterfalls. No part of Johore was too far for us. Each time we came up to JB, we learnt more of the street names and the buildings. We didn’t come up for window-shopping. Very soon S$1 no longer had the same value or interchangeably as M$1; perhaps telling us that we were no longer school-boys.
Photo 4: Approximate location of the old Cathay-JB Cinema on Bukit Chagar. Jalan Lumba Kuda was the road in front of the cinema but it is now outside the CIQ security fence.
Photo 5: Broadway Cinema
Today JB is no longer a sleepy town but like Singapore; many of the historical landmarks have made way for economic development. So it has become a bit of challenge for me now to try to find the former Cathay-JB Cinema, REX Cinema, the old customs house, Chung Kiaw Bank building, Seaview Hotel, the unique-looking star-fish flats next to Cathay-JB and even the former JB Bus Terminus.
I found that Cathay-JB is now a part of the Buki Chagar CIQ facility. To find its exact location look out for the three blocks of flats in Photo 2. The buildings are still standing. Rex Cinema is a private carpark opposite KOMTAR. Chung Kiaw Bank building is now UOB building, next to the first flyover after your cross the causeway in the direction of Buki Chagar CIQ.
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