Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shop N Save (Peter Chan)

Among all my priorities and interests today, I am not exactly hot on shopping. I only shop when there is a need or a passion. For some there is the all-year round Great Singapore Sale: Die-die must shop to take advantage of the great savings from price reductions.
As an undergraduate, it was easy to pick up knowledge on what to wear and where to shop because I worked part-time as a musician in the hotels. Besides, there were my Arts/Social Science Faculty undergraduate friends who took to the cat-walk as fashion models, writing for HER WORLD magazine or part-timing as tour coordinators. We used our “talents” to earn our pocket-money and to pay the university course fees. There were times when we felt not quite sure whether we were undergraduates first or last, given the amount of time we spent away from the campus.

You find yourself easily exposed to the designer labels like Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent and Giorgio Armani, instead of the mainstream ARROW or LEVIS brand. For young working ladies, there was London-trained Julia T.W. of Fashion Lodge/Miss Lodge who popularized the pillbox hat with veil in Singapore. And Celia Low with her house brand called “Celia” at Centerpoint.

Photo 1: Black is the fashion at ISETAN (c 1980)

After graduation, we went different directions but only two of my male friends made it into the retail industry whilst one close female friend made it to Cathay Pacific airline in Hong Kong. Last week, I met the two guys who first joined ISETAN and C K TANGS as merchandise- buyers. They are still with the same company and have witnessed some of the most “brutal wars” of the retailing business in the past 30+ years. Now what exactly would I like to talk about shopping in Singapore?

In the 1980s, there were a couple of international department stores that challenged “local boys” like METRO, Robinson’s, Marks & Spencer, John Littles, OG, Emporium and CK Tang.

Have you heard of Printemps, Tokyu or Galleries Lafayett?

Printemps was located at the Le Meridien Singapore Hotel in Orchard Road. Japan’s Tokyu was at Marina Square, and French store, Galleries Lafayett had two outlets in Liat Tower and Goldhill Square.

Galleries Lafayett at Liat Towers on Orchard Rd, 1987

Did you know ISETAN began at the Hotel Apollo Annex in Havelock Road? There was a DAIMARU in Liang Court. MITSUKOSHI of Japan had an outlet in the Tanjong Katong Complex.

Many of the foreign retailer stores could not survive the economic downturn in the 1980s. The first to bear the brunt was Hong Kong-owned Singapore Shui Hing’s; it closed down in 1983. Local retailers like Mohan’s Department Store on the ground-floor of Orchard Shopping Center and Peter Chew’s at Supreme House fell victims to the 1985 economic crisis and never recovered.

Photo 2: METRO Store at Supreme House (c 1974)

A decade earlier, Robina which opened in 1974 at Robina House, Shenton Way (now #1 Shenton) and a branch at The Orchard, was the first to close in the late 1970s. Robina’s main business line was ship-building through Robin Dockyard and it had other business interests through a company called Robin Information Systems, which distributed Hitachi Computers.

Shui Hing is one foreign retailer I cannot forget for two reasons; the first was its catchy jingle I heard over the radio when I drove to the office each morning at 7.45. Secondly, Shui Hing not only offered branded goods but a New York shopping experience.

Photo 3: Singapore Shui Hing ( c1983)

What is the New York shopping experience?

To many Singaporeans, this was so different shopping at METRO and Robinson’s. The store was modeled along Sears Roebuck, a giant American retail chain, hired American management staff, named its departments after New York streets and offered 80% products from the U.S. (something very unheard of in those days). It was so Americanized there was even the Statute of Liberty paraded on the ground floor of the store. It was actually a life-sized mannequin dressed in white satin holding a flaming torch from one of the top Singapore modeling agencies.

There’s one impression I got at this store: everything had to be big – XXL or thick in the wallet. Everything from its smallest attaché kit to golf bags had a distinctive look, good enough to make a strong statement. It was also pricey – the cheapest was at $50 for a toiletries kit. The store only accepted AMEX card, not even DINERS CLUB. VISA had not yet been introduced into Singapore.

For me I liked their leather goods department but I could buy one when Shui Hing’s held its closing-down sale in 1983. Before that, I could only admire its collection of leather bags and luggage – dual shade colors of burgundy and cognac. For me the alluring part was the smell of high-quality leather. At the closing-down sale, I picked up my favorite burgundy brief case for $100/- and promptly charged it to the AMEX card. When I first spotted that brief case, it was priced at $780, so this was indeed a good deal. It was either high retailer mark-up or it was genuine Milan leather product.

Now here’s a question. Where was Shui Hing located? Clue: This building still exists down in Orchard Road.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Foodage debut @ Okto Channel, Thursday 28 July, 10 pm


We have been informed by the producers that the telecast of the first episode has been postponed to next Thursday, 04 August.

Dear Readers.

Do tune in to Okto Channel this coming Thursday, 28 July at 10 pm for the debut of Foodage, the Food Heritage Documentary. My fellow nostalgia bloggers like Dick Yip, James Seah, Philip Chew, Peter Chan, Jerome Lim, Hong Eng and I, and maybe others will be appearing in the first two episodes.

For more information about this documentary, please go to their Facebook Page here.

Here are some photos that I took during the location shooting.

Philip and James Seah acting out the Lor Arh scene.

Peter @ Adam Food Centre. Peter and I were talking about the location of the original Adam Road Hawker Centre.

Myself at Dunearn Road. Peter and I talking about Singapore’s first fast food restaurant.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Taman Jurong Heritage Trail - Old Buildings Quiz No. 14

Cannot give hints. You guys are too good.


As you can see from the Google Street View image below, this building used to house a DBS Bank branch in Taman Jurong. But do you know what was the building originally? No, I don’t think it was OCBC, unless it was before DBS. Hint. It was not a local bank.

Wow. I never knew the images at Google Street View are this old. This DBS branch had closed down months ago. I think more than 1 year ago.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Can you identify this kampong?

Below are two photos from Geoff Pain. They were taken in the mid-60’s. Can you help me to identify the location please? It is likely to be in the Upper Serangoon/Bartley/Paya Lebar vicinity? Thanks.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

5 places where you find Casuarina trees in Singapore

I have always been quite fascinated by the humble Casuarina tree. I always associate it with my childhood. I do not know why. At first I thought it was because we had this tree in my primary school compound in Braddell Rise School. But recently, when I enlarged the photo of the view from the front of my kampong house to create the banner you see at the top of this blog, I realized that there used to be few Casuarina trees in front and at the back of the row of shops opposite our house.

There are two things that I remember about this tree. One is the string-like leaves. We liked to pull it apart and join it back again. Secondly, I remember seeing clumps of hair-like dead leaves on the ground.


Nowadays, there are not many places in Singapore where you can see Casuarina trees. But if you keep your eyes open, I think you can easily spot 10 places or more. So here’s a quiz for you. Can you identify these 5 places or roads with Casurina trees.

No. 1 is a give-away. There are lots of Casuarinas trees here as to be expected because Casuarinas are supposed to grow well in sandy areas such as the seaside.

No. 2 should also be quite easy. This short road should be called Casuarina Road because it is the only road in Singapore where you can find lots of Casuarina trees growing on both sides of the road. On the contrary, I hardly saw a single Casuarina tree in Casuarina Road near the Peirce Reservoir at Upper Thomson Road.

No. 3 is also quite easy. Hint – it is near to a very famous food centre.

No. 4 is also easy. This is a park where I went recently to take part in the filming of Foodage; a documentary that is coming up this month on Okto Channel. My Foyer friends are sure to blog about it.

No. 5 is probably the toughest as this place is quite secluded. Hint: It is in the Bukit Timah area.

Now let's see if anyone would like to take up the challenge and do a follow-up to this story.


It appears that my quiz is too simple for you guys. So here are 2 more bonus questions. No hints this time.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Operation Broomstick

I think many readers were not even born yet when Operation Broomstick was launched in Singapore. So what was this operation about. I thought it would be more appropriate to post my article in my other blog, My 5S Corner.

Share with you another photo of a kampong-stlye home-made dustpan made from re-cycled material. This is in present-day Singapore.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Selamat Jalan KTM (by Peter Chan)

“In the 1920's plans were made to build a new terminus in Keppel Road and this was completed in 1932……opened to traffic on 3rd May 1932……………………”, Malcolm Wilton-Jones, railway enthusiast par excellence.

I use photographs to illustrate some aspects of railway developments in Singapore, starting with a 1931 photo from a private collection. It was taken during the final stages of construction of the Tanjong Pagar Station. Do you notice there’s a railway track at the bottom of the photo? From anecdotal evidences, the track connected People’s Park Station with Borneo Wharf Station to a point in Tanjong Berlayar in the 1910s. The track was the remnant of the Singapore-Kranji Railway (SKR); the corporate ownership passed to the Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR), then Malayan Railway Bhd and KTM Bhd.
Keppel Club golfers in the 1980s should remember a track across Bukit Chermin Road. Yes that’s part of the western extension of the SKR. My late father told me when he was 8 years old, he came across the abandoned track at Tanjong Pagar Station but he didn’t know its significance then. He also saw something similar at the foot of Bukit Batok in 1942: the SKR line to the Bukit Panjang Station.

Photo 1: Keppel Station and the original SKR track (c 1931).

Besides operating as a station, Tanjong Pagar Station joined other railway stations at Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh offering hotel accommodation. Just recently I tried room reservation at the Heritage Hotel in the old Kuala Lumpur Station (now KLIO) but it was closed down. What a pity because it was here that my family stayed for a few days in 1965.

Plate 1: Malayan Union Annual Report on the hotel and catering services of the railway company (c 1946)

Malcolm Wilton-Jones further adds, “It continued north-westwards until reaching Newton Station, near where Newton Circus now is, and then ran along the north side of Bukit Timah Road,……… Bukit Timah station, which was across the road from Pei Wah Avenue……….” Where was this SKR track?

Photo 2: The prominent T-shape junction is where Jalan Jurong Kechil (horizontal) meets Upper Bukit Timah Road (vertical) today. Notice the curved alignment just below Jalan Jurong Kechil? That would have been the original alignment of the SKR after Pei Wah Avenue. At the top right corner of the photo is the present railway alignment (c 1946).

That Upper Bukit Timah Road from Lorong Sesuai northwards to Woodlands Road is a dual carriageway with 3 lanes on each side: Was it always that way?

After the FMSR decided on a new deviation for the new proposed railway; a steel truss bridge was built over Upper Bukit Timah Road next to the Rail Mall. As shown in Photo 3, below the truss bridge was a large grass-path which the PWD turned it to become the other half of Upper Bukit Timah Road in the direction of Woodlands.

Photo 3: View of the truss bridge from the future Ford Motor Company factory. A large rubber estate is behind the concrete pillar on the right (c 1931).

I like to think positively these photographs are a strong reminder of Singapore’s connection with the past and Malaysia. We didn’t become prosperous on our own merits though.

“Terima Kaseh atas prihatinan dan kebajikan selama 80 tahun”

Readers who are eager for a deeper understanding of railways – the past and the present developments, do visit KTM’s public library at Batu Gajah in Perak State. HDB residents of Blocks 18 & 19 at Jalan Jurong Kechil, you are sitting on the former SKR track. And me: Photo 4 which was taken at the Ipoh Station.
Photo 4: Mohan Rao and I standing on the passenger coach belonging to the Sultan of Perak (c 1974). This was part of the first train service launched in Malaya in the late 19th century.