Thursday, January 29, 2009

Some things never change (1)

Recently I was at Taman Jurong Shopping Centre and stepped into a shop to buy a pair of sandals. I was quite surprised to see a number of items which I thought very few people would use nowadays.

The have Brylcreem, Tancho and Yardley haircream which I blogged about before here.

They even sell a type of powder called Hoi Tong Fun in Cantonese which my mum had used for decades.

In a separate section of the shop, there is even a small counter providing photo-printing services; and guess what they had in the glass counter … Films!

I am curious as to who their customers are. Maybe next time I am there, I will ask the shop keeper. My guess would be older folks.

Of late, there has been quite a bit of news about businesses that cater to the boomers market. (In fact, even the number of nostalgia blogs have increased.) Thus I was not surprised to see some very familiar furniture from my kampong days at a Hakka yong tau hu coffee shop that I patronized the other day.

This photo shows my younger brother James doing his homework at a marble table and seated on the same type of chair. I remember at the bottom of the chair, were these words, Made in Poland. Notice the big arm chair next to the wall. It’s call Suin Chee Teng. Made of very hard wood, and black in colour. Very hard to clean because the many cavities tended to collect dust.

They even serve their coffee in this type of traditional cup and saucer; but the plastic spoon was out of place. By the way, have you seen how some older folks drink their coffee. They will pour the coffee onto the saucer and drink from the latter. I think it is to cool the coffee more quickly. I personally don’t think it is very hygienic.

This shop, by the way, is located in Lavender Street near to the Singapore Casket Building.

PS – I borrowed a line from an old song for the title of this article. Do you know which song that is? Answer here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Another bridge that I ‘blew up’

Last year, Peter and I blogged about the old Jurong Railway Line. I kicked of the series with a story of how I was involved in ‘blowing up’ the railway bridge at Clementi during my combat engineers training course more than 30 years ago. In that article I mentioned that we had a similar exercise to ‘blow up’ another bridge near the western end of the Jurong Line. This was a bridge that joined Shipyard Road to Pulau Samulum. I had wanted to blog about it earlier but did not have any photos of the bridge to show you.

I finally got the chance to revisit this bridge on 20th December last year, when I accompanied some friends of to explore the remnants of the Jurong Line. One of my friends, PY has in fact started a series of articles about our trip that day. But what I want to blog about today is that army exercise.

The name of the exercise was either Exercise Mongoose or Exercise Punch 2; I cannot remember for sure. It was a demolition raid and our mission was to blow up this bridge as well as a section of the railway tracks near the junction of Shipyard Road and Tanjong Kling Road. I was in the main force involved in ‘demolishing’ the bridge whilst a smaller group carried out the secondary task.

I cannot remember much details except that some of us were lowered by toggle rope to attach the ‘explosives (charges)’ to the columns. Of course we did not use real explosives, just sandbags to simulate the real thing. I remember as we were being pulled up, one of us (me?) hit the head on a horizontal concrete beam. Mind you, all this was happening in the dead of the night. Fortunately he had his steel helmet on and was not hurt.

As usual, after the ‘explosion’ and ‘fire-fight’ with the ‘enemies’, a technical break was called by the exercise controllers for us to tidy up the area and load our stores onto an awaiting three-tonner. When the exercise resumed, we had to carry out the most dreaded part of the exercise which was withdrawal and the obligatory evacuation of casualties.

As I think back, I realize, we did some pretty crazy stuff during our NS training which today’s soldiers won’t have the chance to do because Singapore is so heavily populated nowadays. For example, I remember one occasion when we went to recce the Toa Payoh Flyover at Braddell Raod. With all the traffic around us, we (in army uniform) had to run around and take measurements of the ‘vital statistics’ of the flyover. That time it was only a technical exercise to calculate the type and amount of explosives required to do the job.

Ah …. those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end.

Monday, January 19, 2009

From My Inbox: From Vancouver, Poh Guan Huat shares his NS experience

Hi Mr Lam,
My name is Poh Guan Huat. I share your interest about passing our experiences and knowledge about the Singapore of old, especially in the 50s and 60s when we were growing up. I myself was born in 1950, in the Geylang Serai area, near a Malay and Indian kampong. Later, in the late 50s my family moved to Siglap, just across the road from the Siglap C.C. I am very interested in jotting down my memories regarding these places during those times.
My family and I relocated to Vancouver, Canada in 1992, but I still keep in touch with Singapore and read quite a bit about Singapore social history. My favourite books are those by Julian Davison and David Kraal's The Devil in Me.

I was among the batch of recruits who were sent to Tg Gul camp (6SIR), which was dubbed the Siberian camp of Singapore, being as you said located so far on the western tip of Singapore island. The saving grace was that this camp was one of the very few (perhaps the only one?) with a swimming pool at that time, which was 1973. However, I did not enjoy the pool which was deep all around, and I did not swim well, and as I remember, we were only allowed to use the pool about once a week. The camp commandant then was LTC Jimmy Yap, a slim, dapper man with a neatly trimmed moustache and sunglasses. The camp was so isolated that we had to walk along a dirt track to the nearest road, perhaps a kilometre or two away, and at night when we returned to the camp after weekends at home, we could only see the glimmering lights of the camp from the bus stop.

The food at the camp was very bad, as the "cooks" were all NS men, and very few of them really knew how to cook. I remember the mee goreng, which was gluey and quite tasteless, but I enjoyed very much the red bean soup (ang tau) which was served after night training.

After Tg Gul camp, I was posted to SAFTI for the section leaders training. I was part of Golf Company, who Company Commander was a rather flamboyant man, LTA Chong. Among the things I remember about this camp was the cross country night training we did a number of times. On one of these training sessions, we had to pass through the Chua Chu Kang Chinese cemetery. While there, we were ordered to take cover, and each one of us had to sit or keel beside a tombstone. Another landmark in the area when doing night training was the Hindu cemetery. What an exciting time we had. There were many horror stories told about these times, e.g. a recruit who fell asleep while waiting for order to move on, and he had a nightmare and couldn’t wake up until his friend next to him, shook him up. When awake, he said that he felt something or someone preventing him from waking up, and when he did, he was shocked to find himself staring at a picture of the deceased person on the tombstone.

Well, there are many other stories but I will write about them another time.

A recent photo of Tanjong Gul Camp taken by LCS.

A 1986 photo of reservists doing their IPPT in Tanjong Gul Camp (from the National Archives of Singapore collection) watched by minister Yeo Ning Hong.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Can you guess where is this place?

On 20th December 2008, I accompanied some Friends of to explore remnants of the old Jurong Line which Peter and I have blogged about in our Ulu Pandan Heritage Trail series last year. I shan’t be blogging about this excursion as my friends PY and Second Shot have already done so.

I just want to share with you one of the interesting photos that I took that day. Do you know where it was taken? To get the answer, please follow PY's articles here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Old Beauties Quiz (6) – Old Beauties @ Kuching

During my recent holidays in Kuching I visited a traditional market in Jalan Satok which was well-known for its local produce. We saw many interesting products.

This is the famous giant river prawn (udang galah) of Sarawak. I have actually eaten it many times before during my previous visits. It looks very impressive, with a huge head and can measure up to a foot in length. But actually it doesn’t taste all that great and is quite expensive with very little meat.
We also saw these fighting cocks, but thankfully did not witness any actually fighting.

But what caught my attention as usual were the old beauties. Here are 3 of them. Can you identify them? (I don’t know the answer to no. 3)

** Please note the above 2 photos are of the front and rear of the same car.

UPDATE (15 Jan 2009)

The first car, the white one is a Nissan Pulsar; at least that’s what we called it in Singapore. But it has another name called Langley which is the name shown on this car.

The second one, the yellow one is a Daihatsu Charmant. Not so popular in Singapore. So none of you gave correct answer. But I have seen a number of them in Ipoh.

I don’t know about the third one. But it definitely is not Morris Minor even though it looks British. Here’s another photo showing the rear.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Can you remember what it felt like?

Today I sent my son off for his NS (National Service) at the Basic Military Training Centre (BMTC) in Pulau Tekong. He has been quite pensive these past few days. I asked him how he felt. He said he wasn’t fearful; just utterly ‘sian’ (I cannot think of a suitable English word - “tired” “bored”, “moody” …).

I know I am not fearful for him. I trust that training in the SAF these days is much safer than my time. Also a lot of the stupid punishments that the commanders of my days dished out to us are no longer allowed. Furthermore, being an active sportsman, he should be able to cope with the physical training a lot better than me. Nevertheless, as a father, I cannot help feeling a bit worried; although I did not let it show. After all, a grenade in 2009 is just as deadly as one in 1971.

My advice to my son? Don't try to 'take cover' and waste your time in NS ...... and help the weaker ones.

I think the SAF has done a pretty good job – with the colourful brochures, slide shows and walkabout to see the impressive facilities; and even hosted a lunch in the cookhouse – at reassuring the parents. My wife was so impressed. So was I.

I saw many other middle-age guys; ex-NSmen like me no doubt. I wondered what went through their minds. They were pretty quiet.

Inevitably, thoughts of my own enlistment all those long years ago came flooding back. I tried to recall what the feeling was like for me in those days just prior to my enlistment. However, it was too long ago and I just couldn’t be sure. I think I felt dread and fear because we had heard so much about how ‘siong’ (tough) the training was. In those early days of NS in Singapore, lots of stories were floating around about the grueling training under Israeli advisors at Safti.

How about you oldies who have gone through NS in the 70’s? Can you recall how you felt in the days prior to call up?

Related post: Pay Correct Sir

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Pleasant encounter with an ‘old friend’ in Sarawak

As some of you know, I was holidaying in Kuching last week with my family. Don’t worry – I am not going to bore you with details of my holidays (… well maybe just a bit). After all, the places that we went to wouldn’t interest the majority of Singaporeans; such as the limestone caves (Wind Cave and Fairy Cave) of Bau, wild pitcher plant forests of Matang, wet market of Jalan Satok etc. although we did visit the popular Damai Beach and its nearby Sarawak Cultural Village.

But my own favourite part of this trip was the river ‘kayaking adventure’ organized by Francis Ho’s Kuching Kayak Sdn Bhd. Unfortunately, Francis was not able to join us. However we did get to meet up in the evening for a drink at a very interesting joint called the Car Wash.

It was at the starting point of our kayaking ‘adventure’ at a place called Kampung Bengoh, that I met an old friend that I have not seen close up for exactly 30 years. Here is a photo of the two of us, as well as one taken in 1977 in Gillman Camp.

Yes, I am referring to the Bailey Bridge that the combat engineers of my days used to construct. The BB is a World War II relic that our SAF no longer used. Because it is a semi-permanent bridge, you can actually find it in rural parts of Malaysia. This one was built over the Sugei Abang which was a tributary leading to Sungei Sarawak Kiri. During our trip, we stopped at a waterfall, a nice sandy beach at a sharp bend in the river, and a village called Kampung Danu. Our trip ended in Kampung Semadang in Borneo Highlands.

Although I have been fetching my son from his kayaking training sessions and regularly attending his competitions for the past 6 years, I have never actually rowed a kayak before. I was quite worried that my stiff back would not be able to take the journey. Fortunately our guide came equipped with a sort of back rest which was ingeniously designed to be strapped to the kayak. Although it did not give a very firm support, it at least enabled me to complete the journey with only some discomfort. However, I have to confess that my guide, a gentleman by the name of Azmi did most of the rowing. I had to stop after every 20 strokes or so to ease the pressure on my spine. My guilt was somewhat lessened by the knowledge that Azmi was an accomplished kayaker who took part in the gruelling Labuan Round Island Kayaking Challenge. I learned later from Francis that he was the kayaking champion of Sarawak!

Anyway, at one point I asked him to stop and let me row alone just to find out how difficult it was. It was actually quite easy mainly because we were rowing downstream and the recent rains had made the water flow quite swift. But unfortunately, the high water level caused us to miss the rapids because the rocks were well below the surface of the water. On the way, we passed some beautiful giant rocks as well as steep limestone mountains.

Below are some photos of our memorable trip down a Sarawak river.

This hanging bridge traverses the Sungei Sarawak Kiri at a village called Kampung Danu where we came face-to-face for the first time with hill padi. Also saw many interesting fruit trees like those we used to have in our kampong.

Pardon the poor quality of this photo. The battery of our camera was exhausted and we took this one with a mobile phone wrapped in protective plastic. Due to the high level of the water, we could not go all the way below this rock.