Monday, December 19, 2011

Singapore, 1961 – 20/4 Marsiling Road (by Tim Light)

My father worked for the Metal Box Company. He served his apprenticeship at the factory in Shipley, Yorkshire, where the can-making machinery was made. In 1961 he was posted to Singapore as factory engineer for the Metal Box factory at Woodlands.

Metal Box owned some bungalows on Marsiling Road. One of these was our home for the first few months of our stay. Marsiling Road in 1961 was a completely different road to Marsiling Road today. The old road has been lost to development. The old street map shows its position. The red cross shows the approximate location of the bungalows.

This area of Woodlands was still semi-rural. Apart from the Metal Box factory, there weren’t many other major buildings in the area. Just beyond the end of our drive was a rubber plantation. We had a clear view across the Straits to Johore Bahru. In hindsight, it was an immensely beautiful property and location, and it was a great privilege to live there, if only for a few months. At least, I thought it was. My mother was not so happy. It was quite isolated, and I think she felt rather vulnerable. In hindsight, she may have had a point.
I can’t remember how many bungalows there were. Two or three. I do remember our neighbours, Mr and Mrs Bloody Robinson. Mr Bloody Robinson (as I called him) was a colleague of my father, and I recall that he liberally peppered his conversation with the “B” word. These days, we hear much worse, but back in 1961 it wasn’t considered nice to use the “B” word in the presence of ladies and children.

The bungalow itself was a fine property, with a spacious living area, and separate quarters for Kim, the amah. There was also a tennis court, which we hardly ever used. But what fascinated me was the wildlife. Birds, bats and monkeys in the trees. Lizards, snakes, termites, ants, butterflies, caterpillars, centipedes and even the occasional giant rat. The whole garden was teeming with life. Yorkshire is not without its wildlife. From my window I can observe several species of birds, and the occasional squirrel. But there is nothing like the variety of species, the colours and the sounds that existed in that garden.

I conducted experiments. For example, placing red ants in a jar with black ants. They fought like gladiators.

Our first snake took us by surprise. There are no snakes in Yorkshire. My brother, Richard, spotted a curled up snake in the flower bed. He told my father that he had seen a dead snake. Dad wasn’t sure that it was dead, and sure enough, when he prodded it with a broom stick it sprung into action. Dad killed the snake and buried it. Better safe than sorry. I was sorry to see it killed, but we didn’t know if it was poisonous. We were novices in this wild place.

On another occasion I discovered a flying lizard. I saw it glide across the grass and land near the drive. I knew what it was straight away. I had read about flying lizards. I wanted to catch it, so I ran indoors and grabbed a jam jar. I placed the jam jar behind the lizard, then put the lid in front if it. The lizard turned round and launched itself into the jar. What a prize! I took it to school for the nature table. It didn’t stay there long. One of the other boys felt sorry for it and released it. I was annoyed. I didn’t care about the lizard’s welfare. I just wanted my brownie points.

One evening, returning home in a taxi, an enormous iguana crossed Marsiling Road. It must have been four feet long, maybe more. The taxi driver was very interested, and stopped the car to chase after it. I don’t know what he wanted, but my mother had to persuade him to drive us the rest of the way home.
I don’t know the whys and wherefores, but we left Marsiling Road after a few weeks of house-hunting. Presumably the company bungalow was a temporary facility for newly arrived employees.

All good things come to an end, and our stay at Marsiling Road lasted only seven months. But the impressions have lasted a lifetime.
It would be interesting to know how much of the wildlife has survived the urbanisation of Singapore, or whether all the interesting animals have retreated to the nature reserve.


Lam Chun See said...

Tim. You asked; "It would be interesting to know how much of the wildlife has survived the urbanisation of Singapore, or whether all the interesting animals have retreated to the nature reserve."

The answer is no. We still have nature at the doorstep. I suggest you click on the label, "Nature" and read some of the articles I have posted about birds and other animals - yes, including a snake - that came visiting to our home near Bt Timah Rd.

peter said...

You can find iguanas anywhere in Singapore so long you have a little forested area. Once I seen an iguana crossing Tanaha Merah Coastal Road from one golf club to another. It tried to squeeze through the small openings of the fence. Failing to do it it furiously dug the ground below the fence and crawled through. One other time I was cycling on a pedestrain path near the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, a wriggling snake crossed my path. I could not brake on time and ran over it. It was a slippery feeling going over a hump.

In the Chestnut Avenue area, we find monkeys coming out in force from the BT Reserve and entering the bungalow houses.

peter said...

If I am not wrong, the pillars on the road going into Metal Box factory are still there.

FrameTurnerWins Pictures said...

Awesome post! I grew up in Marsiling during the 80s. (HDB boy looking for adventure around our neighbourhood) We still had those Kampungs by the sea, close to the railway tracks. We called it Lorong Fatimah if my memory serves me right. We used to catch water snakes and would line them up along the railway tracks. Sorry readers ... we were very bad boys. I have since repented and managed to save as many venomous snakes I could. (They like to creep out of our toilet bowl on ground floor housing around Jalan Leban, Sembawang!)

Keep it up bloggers!

JollyGreenP said...

Interesting post Tim, some very similar experiences to mine. However, I must disagree with you on the point about there being no snakes in Yorkshire. They may seldom be seen but there are grass snakes around and on sunny days on the North York Moors you can sometimes come across adders basking in the warmth of the sun on footpaths.

Looking forward to the rest of your posts.

John Harper in grey, overcast, rainy, York.

Lam Chun See said...

John. It's also grey and wet over here. Rained the whole day.When I told my daughter, who is in Edinburgh, that it was cold and wet over here, she could not help laughing.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Frame. I have some old images of Malay kampong boys on houses built on stilts; sent over by a friend in UK. I plan to put them up soon as another quiz. Let's see if you can identify the place.

FrameTurnerWins Pictures said...

Cool! Thanks Lam!
Keep it coming!
I'm reading your news today as an alternative to the loud noise that are coming from Singapore. (SMRT Saga) lol

Lam Chun See said...

Tim. I mentioned elsewhere on my blog that in the old days, whenever we travelled to Malaysia, we had to use Woodlands Rd. As I kid, I had seen cows grazing on a hillside near to the Metal Box area. Have you seen those?

Lam Chun See said...

Me too. I am getting tired of all the noise being made about the SMRT breakdowns. The opposition people even started a petition! Can you believe that.

Right this moment, there is an hour-long prog on blogtv about this. Why don't you just leave them alone to settle this and come back to criticize later? An engineer friend of mine was called up on Sat night in the middle of a dinner to work all night on the MRT problem. Meanwhile, not far away, more than 600 people have died from floods in Philippines; and more than 200 Indonesians have drowned in a boat accident.

Oops. Sorry for the digression.

FrameTurnerWins Pictures said...

No worries.
News such as these won't go down as big as the collapse of Hotel New World anyway. If they've heard about Hotel New World in the first place anyway!

Brian and Tess said...

Chun See

I can well imagine your daughter laughing at your complaint about it being grey and wet all day in Spore. Rained all day today here and the temperature has struggled to 4 degrees from minus 2.5 overnight!

Great blog Tim, keep them coming!

Tim said...

From cold, dark, wet Bradford:

Glad to hear my blogs are resonating with you folks.

Well, I never saw a snake in Yorkshire, but that doesn't stop them from existing. I should get out more.

Don't let my missus hear about snakes in toilet bowls. She was enjoying our visit to Singapore a few years ago, until someone told her a snake/toilet story. Then she wanted to go home.

Cows ... I don't remember any cows in particular. Singapore was semi-rural, and there were farm animals all over the place.

On the subject of cows ... on another blog someone mentioned colourful concrete horses at a Hindu shrine beside Woodlands Road. I remember them as concrete cows. But I could be wrong. Anyway, they were the little things that made Sinagpore so wonderfully different.

FrameTurnerWins Pictures said...

More bad news for the missus. Snakes in toilet bowls do happen in europe too. Latest victim: Girl finds boa constrictor in toilet

Colourful, strange and fuzzy images appearing in my mind. I recall seeing the colourful concrete horses at a Hindu shrine beside Woodlands Road as well during the 80s. Kids will not find it hard to miss it. Not sure if its still there though.

By the way Tim ... ermm... about the big lizard you saw back in 1961. Some of us locals used to catch and makes soup out of these lizards. Probably still do. :9

peter said...

Yes there was a Hindu shrine along Woodlands Road with a concrete cow decked with yellow/organge garlands. I think the cow was painted sky blue.

There was also a field of wireless masts somewhere after the Bukit Panjang Police Station as you head towards Woodlands/JB. Now tha's a piece of condo/HDB estate. The Kranji EXpressway has divided up that large plot.

peter said...

Chun See, you drive right? For those who depend on MRT to commute (bcos got no 4-wheels) this is serious matter. For occasional travellers like me, I was stucked once and they auto turn off the a/c.

Opposition parties making noise? Cant help it. Fact of life. If you dont make noise, you think SMRT or the govt will take it seriously? After all SMRT CEO made sneering remarks about "what so big deal if crowded every morning. You got a choice" she said. Of course we got choices if we have 4 -wheels or 2 -wheels (like me). If they dont get this right (permanently), it's going to be politicla suicide soon.

peter said...

I wonder whether commuters on London Tube will make noise if they experience like Singapore commuters?

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. We are talking about the VOLUME of the noise. I shan't elaborate.

I drive. Yes. But not for long. If current COE do not come down, I will switch to MRT when my car reaches 10 yrs. Meantime, I hope MRT service would improve and MRT fares would come down so that COE prices will not continue climbing.

Lam Chun See said...

I think the ans to your question about commuters on London Tube is found in today's Straits Times. But I wouldn't believe the writer 100%.

FrameTurnerWins Pictures said...
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Tim said...

Frame - that's interesting. maybe that's why our taxi driver wanted to get his hands on that iguana. He fancied a bowl of iguana soup!

Well, I guess it didn't do you any harm. Protein is protein.

Tim said...

Strikes ... there has to be a better way. I accept the worker's right to stand up for his own interests, but striking should be a last resort, especially when it comes to essential services.

When UK rail workers go on strike, they can disrupt everyone's daily lives. But who is the argument between? The employer and the employee, not the customer.

My analogy is that a striker is putting a gun at the head of an innocent bystander and telling his boss, give me what I want or I'll start shooting civilians.

FrameTurnerWins Pictures said...

Tim - I wouldn't dare to try any of those. I don't even dare try the cute little French frog legs and snails!

FrameTurnerWins Pictures said...
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Lam Chun See said...

This morning, I had a meeting with a client in Marsiling and on the way back I made a detour to look at the former Metal Box stretch of Woodlands Rd. I noticed that the gates are still there; albeit a bit rusty. Everything along that stretch of road is gone.

But I believe I have seen images of that Hindu temple on Picas website.

Lam Chun See said...

A thought just occured to me. If one were to walk along BKE, would we be able to see any remnants/traces of the old Marsiling Rd? Maybe I will try Google Street View.

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