Saturday, January 28, 2012

Good Morning Yesterday the book

Dear friends of Good Morning Yesterday. I am very happy to announce that my book is finally on sale at the bookshops. This book is a re-write (and more) of many of the essays in this blog; but organized into a coherent narrative. But it only covers up to 1970 since it is about growing up in Singapore. Even though much of the information was already on my blog, it was still a very very laborious (but joyous) task to rethink, rewrite and reorganize the contents.

I want to thank the many people who helped and encouraged me. First of all, I want to thank you, the faithful readers of this blog. Thank you for your positive feedback in your emails and blog comments, some of which I have reproduced in the back cover of my book – hope you don’t mind. They gave me the much-needed courage to embark on this project.

I also want to thank my friends, Dr Tan Wee Kiat and Kenneth Pinto for encouraging me to write this book. I remember the FOYers meeting at MacDonald’s (Bishan) a few years ago when they convinced me to ‘launch out into the deep’. Likewise, Walter (Cool Insights) Lim also encouraged me and pointed me to the NHB’s Hi2P scheme for assistance.

My special thanks to Derek Tait who inspired me with his books about the Singapore he knew when he was here as a kid. Besides generously sharing his photos, he gave me valuable advice on how write and publish a book.

Not all the contents and stories in my book were written by me. Many are from friends and guest bloggers who posted their stories on my blog. They include my brother Chun Chew, my friends Chuck Hio, Simon Chu Chun Sing and Charles Phua, my Braddell Rise School schoolmates, Lee Sock Geck and Kim Aii Choo; as well as guest bloggers Peter Chan, Brian Mitchell, Freddy Neo, and Edward Williams. Others, like Victor Koo, James Seah, Philip Chew, Dick Yip, Ong Yew Ghee and Yeo Hong Eng, host their own nostalgia blogs but gave me permission to use their stories.

Likewise not all the photographs in my book belong to me. I thank Derek Tait, Peter Chan, Victor Koo, Philip Chew, Yeo Hong Eng, Lau Eng Leong, Ong Yew Ghee, Victor Yue, November Tan, Geoffrey Pain, Steven Charters, John Hake, Andrew Paterson, and others for giving me permission to use their photos. The remaining came from the collection of the National Archives of Singapore.

A special word of thanks goes to Mr Gene Tan and Kevyn Lai. Gene, who is the programme director of the Singapore Memory Project, wrote the forward, and Kevyn, my friend, designed the book cover.

(** My sincere apologies to anyone whose name I have left out)

Above all, I thank the Almighty God who equipped me with the ability to write these stories and who providentially kept away my business during the past few years so that I could find the time to concentrate on my writing. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.


OK. Now you can rush out to the following places and do the necessary. LOL. But in case they run out of stocks – not that I am such a popular author, but because they have never heard of Lam Chun See and (wisely) took only a small initial consignment - please bear with us.

1) Kinokuniya @ Ngee Ann City and Bugis Junction

2) Times @ Centrepoint, Plaza Singapura, Jelita Holland, Marina Square, Tampines One, Suntec City and Paragon.

3) Popular bookstores.

Thank you and God bless.

PS - The number of page views for this blog is fast approaching the magic figure of 1 million. Thanks a million!!!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Then and Now - Selegie Arts Centre

In my previous post I shared with you Tim Light’s 1960’s photo of Selegie Road. One of the old buildings in that photo has been preserved and is now called the Selegie Arts Centre. According to my brother-in-law who lived grew up in a house Prinsep Street facing this building, there was a corner coffee shop called the London Coffeeshop which used to sell the popular Indian rojak and fresh cow/goat milk. There was a taxi stand next to it and further down Prinsep Street was a government clinic and the ROV (Registrar of Vehicles). In the morning many people would have their breakfast at this ‘London’ coffeeshop.

Photo number 1 – Dated around 1948, Selegie Road and Prinsep Street viewed from the top of Singapore’s tallest building then, the Cathay Building (link)

Photo Number 2 – Dated in the mid 1960’s, it shows the junction of Selegie Road and Prinsep Street. The pick-up truck is making a left turn into Prinsep Street.

Photo Number 3 – Present-day photo where the junction is removed and the tail-end of Prinsep Street is now joined to Selegie Road as one continuous road.

Photo Number 4 – This 1993 photo from the National Archives collection shows the row of shop houses along Selegie Rd being demolished. Only the corner, wedge-shape building is preserved and today it is called the Selegie Arts Centre; recognized by its bright yellow colour.

Photo Numbers 5 & 6 shows the same building in 1993 and 2007.

1981 map of this area

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Old roads quiz (3)

Here are two photos that I received from my UK friends, Russ Wickson and Geoffrey Pain. Photo number 1 should be easy because of the famous landmark in the background; but number 2; taken in the mid-1960s, is a bit tough. I think it is a street nearby. What do you think?

Can you make out the name of the building on the right in the above photo?

Update (23 Jan 2012)

Below are two more photos of this area contributed by Tim Light. That building at the end of the street in Photos 2, can now be seen from a different angle. It looks like my Old Roads Quiz has turned into an Old Buildings Quiz.

Friday, January 20, 2012

1960s Singapore – Amahs (by Tim Light)

amah [ˈɑːmə ˈæmə]
(in the East, esp formerly) a nurse or maidservant, esp one of Chinese origin.
[from Portuguese ama nurse, wet nurse]

Throughout our time in Singapore we always had an Amah, as did most of the people we knew. Our Amah had her own room or quarters (depending on the house), and she did all our housework and cooking, six days a week. On the seventh she would go home to her family.

Our first Amah was also the longest-lasting and most memorable. We knew her as Kim. Her Chinese was something like Gan Chwee Gin (no idea how you would spell it). Kim was a young woman, probably no more than 20 years old when she came to us, in 1961. My mother took an immediate liking to Kim, and took her under her wing, helping her to improve her English, as well as teaching her some traditional English cooking.

My early recollections of Kim are that she was sweet and patient, as well as willing and hard-working. What I didn’t realise at the time was how good looking she was. But I was only 7, and she was off my radar!

Kim stayed with us for about 3 or 4 years, then something went wrong. She and my mother fell out. There was shouting from both parties. And tears. And when the weekend arrived my father paid her off. And that was the last we saw of her. It was a great shame. She had become like a family member to us.

My parents interviewed a series of girls, and eventually picked one. I don’t remember her name. She was an older woman, short and business-like. She got on with her work, without smiling or speaking. Her English was limited. She seemed to understand what we were saying, but answered in monosyllables. I don’t know whether my parents were happy with her, but she moved on while we were away at boarding school.

When we got back for our summer holiday, there was another amah in place. Again, I don’t remember her name, but she was a good natured woman with a couple of young children. Her English was not great, but at least she made an effort, and she seemed to be happy with her lot. I don’t think my mother was over the moon with the cooking, but they seemed to get on otherwise. There was none of the closeness that we had had with Kim, though.

Coming from an English working class community, it must have been a strange experience for my parents to employ a domestic servant. In olden days, we (the working classes) would have provided the serving girls for the well-off families in Bradford. By the 1960s, live-in servants were only employed by the very richest families.

Some people back home were shocked to hear that we employed a live-in housekeeper. They somehow see it as demeaning to have someone else do your housework for you, just because you are better off. I have an open mind about it. Personally, I think work and dignity go hand in hand, and every employer has a duty to treat his or her employees with dignity.

What did disturb me, even at a tender young age, was to hear my mother’s lady friends moaning about their Amahs. Some of them were quite bitchy and two-faced about them.

I would like to hear what the Amahs had to say about their employers!

Related Posts.

1)   Amah, grandmother, mother or servant by Peter Chan
2)   Mike Robbins’ fond memories of Singapore
3)   Lynne Copping remembers Pulau Brani

Monday, January 16, 2012

Over Bedok Corner 40 Years Ago – Scene 1 (by Peter Chan)

With so much urbanization, the fascination with comparing the old and new Singapore streetscape and landmarks dies off. That is true unless you take to the sky for a different kind of experience - which is exactly what I did over a period of time.

I got this “kick” from my experience coming in to land at the former Hong Hong’s Kai Tak International Airport. How do I describe it when you target your camera at the roads, people and buildings from Mongkok to Kowloon Wall City - just 1,000 feet below you? Well someday I will like to share those aerial photographs which I took in the 1980s and 1990s. Meanwhile back to Singapore.

On an aircraft, you can explore more of what is below you. Back in the 1960s, one could take to the skies on a Cessna from the Singapore Flying Club at Paya Lebar Airport. Today that is impossible because we have to deal with security restrictions. The alternative is to turn to civilian flights that leave/arrive at Changi International Airport. Still you need to find a good window seat as well as a pair of steady hands to “fire off” the camera.

Despite careful planning, luck plays a part. Sometimes luck is not on one’s side when the aircraft takes-off on a different runway and heads in another direction away from the intended route. Climbing to a high altitude too quickly also present a challenge.

Take the case when you are about to land at Changi International Airport and finding you are seated at the wrong side of the aircraft. How about the weather which can also create havoc? Too cloudy or a heavy rain storm can ruin aerial photography. Facing morning sun? Afternoon sun? When airlines do not care much about maintenance you have dusty and scratched windows.

The eastern part of Singapore makes an interesting case study because it is near to Changi Airport. You discover the urban, transport and industrial layout of Singapore which you cannot see at street level. Some places look familiar but not altogether the same. High up there, you see different parts of island Singapore. Let me illustrate with this oblique photo to recap our memories of Bedok Corner and Upper East Coast Road; as it was and as it is now.


Photo 1: Upper East Coast Road from 2,000 feet– 1960s and 2010

The history of Bedok South Road is interesting. Somebody at the URA must have found that the easiest way to “make” Bedok South Road was to follow the original alignment of the bucket-conveyor system which transported fill-material from the hills of Bedok and Upper Changi Road to the sea.

The former hills have become Bedok South Estate. Temasek Junior College looks to have occupied the grounds of what was once a kampong Chinese school. In the photo, I see blogger Yeo Hong Eng’s kampong-farm but I can’t find it anymore in 2010. Why call it Guards Avenue? There was a time when an off-site university campus existed on the reclaimed land. If you think Lorong Buangkok has the only well in Singapore, you will be surprised that somewhere in Bedok Corner there is still a fresh water well which dates back to the 1920s.

What other scenes can you recognize?

Friday, January 13, 2012


My wife and I were doing some spring cleaning and came across her old typewriter in the storeroom. This old thing had seen her through her varsity years 3 decades ago. Complete with carrying case, it still looked pretty new. But unfortunately, the keys were jammed. Still, I told her not to throw it away.

I have not heard of this brand called BBE; have you? Actually, it’s a brand for Olympus. Notice any difference in the layout of the keys compared to our computer keyboard?

I remember growing up in the kampong, my father used to have an Underwood typewriter. As one of the few English-educated men in our kampong, the neighbours often came to him for assistance in official correspondence. Hence the clacking of the Underwood was a familiar sound in our home.

One day, during my Secondary 3 year-end holidays, I was feeling bored and decided to teach myself how to type using my dad’s Pitman’s typewriting manual. I faithfully followed the instructions and practiced the lines; “asdfgf” “;lkjhj”. I even timed myself to make sure that I attained the required typing speed at each stage before progressing to the next.

After completing the 3 main rows of letters, I decided to stop, and skipped the last section which was for the top row; the row with the numerals. I figured that I would not have much need to use those numerals. I was already quite satisfied with my progress. Whenever I see my friends laboriously ‘typing’ with 2 fingers, and having to fix their eyes on the keyboard while they worked, I feel glad that I invested those hours in this project back in 1967.

It’s been decades since I last used a typewriter. I remember that when you wanted to type a single sheet, you had to use an additional sheet of paper so that the keys would not damage the drum. Of course, if you wanted a duplicate, you had to use a sheet of carbon paper, which was usually blue or black. And when you reached the end of a line, a small bell goes off and you literally had to use you left hand to push the ‘carriage return’ lever. Of course you could manually set the tabs as well as the line spacing and even Cap Lock.

Things have really changed since those typewriter days. I remember looking for a typist to type out our university final-year project report. My project partner was able to get the help of a relative to do the job for us at a discounted rate. Still it was expensive; especially since the university required our report to be typed with double-spacing, and we were charged on a per-page basis.

When I started work as a trainer at the National Productivity Board in 1984, I remember there were two engineers in my IE class who were from Smith Corona. I visited their plant at Bedok South which employed more than 1,000 workers. By that time they were already producing mostly electric typewriters.

There was another typewriter factory located in Ayer Rajah Industrial Estate. Do you know the name? Hint: Begins with the letter ‘O’. I remember bringing a Japanese JIT expert to visit the company sometime in the 1980s.

In the 80s, many companies had started to use the work processor. At our NPB office in Cuppage Centre, we had a huge typing pool (they don’t label us National Paper Board for nothing you know). I think they were using the Philips word processor. The other well-known brand was Wang. Whenever, we had a job, we would submit our draft in the In-tray and explain to the typing pool supervisor our requirements. And then we had to wait; sometimes up to a couple of days, for the document to come back. And then you make the corrections and the process is repeated. It paid to be nice to these ladies as we often needed to beg them to expedite our last-minute assignments.

We certainly have come a long way, haven’t we?

Do you know what this numbers 1, 0 and 2 signify?

I just found another photo of a typewriter among my collection. This one is an Olivetti. I cannot recall with 100% certainty, but I think I took this photo at the AVA Sembawang office in Lorong Chencharu a few years ago. I noticed that they had a typewriter in the corner. I asked them to remove the cover and let me take a photo. They said they used it occasionally to type out cash receipts or something like that.

Monday, January 09, 2012

1960s Singapore – The Railway (by Tim Light)

In my smoky Yorkshire village of Saltaire there was a main line railway. It was part of the Midland Railway’s route to Scotland, and small boys like me would pass the hours watching trains. The intensity of traffic and variety of trains made it a very absorbing pastime. In the 1950s most trains were still steam hauled.

Arriving in Singapore in 1961, I hadn’t expected to discover any trains, but living in Woodlands, we soon discovered that Singapore did indeed have a railway, with some most impressive trains. I first saw the line when crossing the causeway to JB. My father pointed out the much narrower track gauge, compared with the UK. Coming back across the causeway we drove parallel to the most impressive train I had ever seen. The locomotive was a sleek, modern diesel loco, painted in shiny green and lettered Malayan Railways. It was pulling … well I didn’t count them … but it looked like about 20 sleek modern-looking carriages, all painted in brown and cream. It was a most impressive sight, and one that was repeated frequently during our stay.

Not all trains were as impressive. What we had seen was the main daytime express from Kula Lumpur. There were other, less glamorous trains, many of which were carrying freight. These were usually headed by a large black steam locomotive. The most immediately noticeable feature of the steam locos was the very large yellow number painted on the tender. Very handy for trainspotters. Back home you were lucky to be able to decipher the engine numbers because they were much smaller and covered with grime.

More about the engines later.

In 1961, Singapore had just one main railway line, linking Tanjong Pagar with the Johore Bahru, and a few sidings to industrial locations and the docks. From the causeway, the line paralleled Woodlands Road and Bukit Timah Road as far as Bukit Timah, where it headed south towards Holland Park and Buona Vista. It was on the Woodlands to Bukit Timah section that we saw most of our trains. By 1962 we were living at Hong Kong Park, off Dunearn Road, with a daily return trip to the Royal Naval School at Sembawang, so we were alongside the railway for much of the journey. I was constantly on the lookout for trains, and the biggest treat was always the KL Express. I noticed that, despite its sleekness, it didn’t go all that fast, and our school bus could keep pace with it between stops. I later learned that the Malayan Railway (KTM) had a top speed of 45 MPH, and that this limit still persists in many places today.

My brother was even keener on trains than I was, and he persuaded my father to take us to the station at Tanjong Pagar. There was nothing there except a diesel shunting locomotive, pottering around. And a quick look at the timetable showed that there would be a long time before the next train, so we left having seen only an empty station. The station itself was impressive enough, but my brother and I wanted to see trains.

Trips up-country had the added flavour of a bit of train-spotting from the back of the car. We took an annual holiday in the Cameron Highlands or Penang, and large parts of the route were in sight of the KTM main line. Along with fleeting glimpses of moving trains, we would see bigger concentrations of rolling stock at some of the towns like Gemas, Segamat and Seremban. We stayed overnight at KL, which in the 1960s was a full day’s drive from Singapore. At KL we always stopped at the Majestic Hotel, which was just over the road from the very fine KL station. Only once did we convince my father to take us to the stations and … guess what … not a train in sight. And nothing due. This was in the days before KTM Komuter, and trains around KL were very infrequent. We had the immense frustration of driving past the main engine shed at KL, full of locomotives, and no sympathy from my father who had hundreds of miles to drive and didn’t want to stop.

As we grew older, we were allowed a little more freedom, and one day, just for fun, we took a ride from Tanjong Pagar to Bukit Timah. Before catching the train we “bunked” the engine shed. That’s an expression used by British trainspotters who would sneak around an engine shed without permission. Well we had a good look around, and nobody seemed to care. There were a handful of engines, some steam and some diesel. Back at the station things started to misfire. We went to the ticket office and asked for tickets to Bukit Timah. “Pay on the train.” We were told. So we jumped on board one of the old wooden carriages. This was not the sleek KL express. The train was an afternoon “mixed”, heading to Gemas. A “mixed” train carries both passengers and goods. This train probably stopped at every station between Singapore and Gemas, and shunted wagons “on demand”. There were three rickety old carriages with completely open windows … much better than air conditioning. At the back were a few goods wagons; maybe three or four. One of the steam locomotives had left the shed and backed on to the train. The guard blew his whistle and soon we were trundling past the goods yards and engine shed, past modern flats and kampongs, jungle and coconut groves. Just as we were enjoying the ride, the guard came in and demanded to see our tickets. We told him that we had been told to pay on the train, but he didn’t believe us. He was convinced that we were fare-dodging, and nothing was going to convince him otherwise. Before we knew it we had arrived at Bukit Timah, and he decided to let us off with a warning. Anyway … the “mixed” was being held in the station at Bukit Timah to allow a southbound train to cross. When it arrived it was the express from KL, behind the shiny modern diesel. The express went through at about 20 MPH, and the token was exchanged to allow it to proceed to Tanjung Pagar. The Woodlands-Bukit Timah token was then handed to the driver of the mixed, allowing him to proceed to Woodlands. We watched the “mixed” chug slowly over the girder bridge and away into the distance.

During my time in Singapore I knew very little about the railway and its engines. I just enjoyed watching them. Since then I have read whatever books and articles I could get my hands on. In terms of motive power, there was very little variety in the 1960s, especially south of the causeway. In the years after the war KTM had successfully standardised on a handful of modern types. There were essentially two types of diesel and one type of steam locomotive to be seen in Singapore. These were:

Class 20 Diesels. These were the sleek, modern express passenger engines that were used on the KL expresses. They were built in 1957 by the English Electric company, and were front-line power on KTM for about 15-20 years. As more modern diesels came along in the 1970s they were relegated to freight and other more humble duties. In the 1960s they were plain green with a highly varnished finish. In the 1970s the livery was changed to maroon with a yellow “go-faster” stripe, and in the 1980s they were defaced by some indescribable colour schemes. One example survives in a museum in KL.

Class 20 @ Bukit Timah, late 1950s

Class 20 @ Causeway c 1960

Class 15 Diesels. These were the standard yard shunters, also built by English Electric, in 1948. Singapore had a few for shunting the station, freight yards and sidings. They were painted bright orange, much the same colour that KTMB still use for their shunting engines. One class 15 survives as part of the KTMB museum collection.

Class 15 @ Singapore c 1962

Class 56 steam locos. This was a highly successful design, produced by the North British Locomotive Company in 1938 for the Federated Malay States Railway. The design had a number of very modern features, including poppet valve gear and roller bearings. It was so successful that three further batches were ordered after the war, allowing hundreds of older FMSR locos to be scrapped. These were the front line locos from 1938 until the diesels arrived in 1957. After that they soldiered on until the mid-1970s on secondary duties, but still able to substitute for a Class 20 if needed. By the 1960s these engines were fired by oil, rather than coal, and heavy black smoke was one of their trademarks. My impression of the 56’s was of an imposing engine that always looked dignified whatever it was doing. 

Class 56 @ Singapore shed c 1963

Class 56 @ Singapore shed c 1963

Other types of engine visited Singapore occasionally, but I never saw them on the island.

In 2001, whilst staying with friends in KL, I made a return trip to Singapore, travelling down on the overnight train from KL Sentral. I could hardly believe that this train took ten and a half hours to reach its destination. No faster than 70 years earlier. I was unimpressed by the accommodation – a second class coach, air-conditioned. The main irritation was the TV set which was on all night. But I was also disappointed that I couldn’t open the window and feel the breeze, like I had done all those years ago. I was too excited to sleep, and I was kept entertained by an Indian medicine man, who was on his way to Singapore to sell his cure-all medicine. He could cure me of everything from cancer to impotence, snake bites and Malaria. He had some very interesting testimonials from celebrities who had had their impotence cured by his medicine. At Gemas I was thrilled to see one of the old steam locos parked on the platform, and another in a siding. The formalities at Woodlands were farcical. We had to detrain, go through customs and passport control as if it was an airport, whilst sniffer dogs patrolled the train. Then after a long delay we were allowed to get back on board for the last few miles to Tanjong Pagar. The whole process took 50 minutes. Back in 1961 there were no formalities whatsoever. I know that Singapore and Malaysia are different countries, but surely good neighbours can come to a better arrangement. Anyway, it’s all over now. Woodlands is the terminus, and passengers have to make other arrangements to get to their final destinations.


Me on a train in Singapore 1968

For more information on Malayan Railways/KTM, and railways and trams of Singapore, I recommend Malcolm Wilton-Jones’ very good web site:

Friday, January 06, 2012


Look what I shot (with camera of course) today. Isn’t this a hornbill? What an irony. In 2008, I spent 1 week in Sarawak, the Land of Hornbills, and did not spot a single hornbill. The same week I got back to Singapore, I went for my walking exercise at Bukit Timah Hill and I saw 2 huge and noisy hornbills. And now this fellow comes visiting. Right in front of my house. What a thrill! Made my day!

Monday, January 02, 2012

National Theatre

Thanks to Geoffrey Pain for these 1960s photos of the National Theatre and the nearby Van Kleef Aquarium. I do not remember having attended any concert at National Theatre. Only recall attending the convocation of elder brother Chun Seong.

News-wise, I recall one year when the Bee Gees performed there and many people could not get tickets and so they went to the hill behind to watch free-of-charge. But they got upset because they could not hear the singing and made a lot of noise. That as far as I recall was what was reported in the newspapers. If you can recall details; do share.

Related posts

1. Victor’s article on National Theatre

2. Victor’s article on Van Kleef Aquarium

3. Seven Wonders of Singapore