Thursday, May 31, 2012

Singapore, 1962-64 : 7 Sian Tuan Avenue (by Tim Light)

At the beginning of 1962 we moved into 7 Sian Tuan Avenue.  This was a spacious house in the Hong Kong Park estate, off Dunearn Road.  As a house, there was nothing remarkable about it, but for a small English boy there were a few novelties.  For example, air conditioning in the bedroom was a new experience.  We were renting the house from a Chinese landlord, and some rooms had large mirrors etched with Chinese writing.  I have no idea what the writing said. 

The land surrounding Hong Kong Park was an interesting playground for my friends and me.  Immediately opposite was a large area of unused ground, in the centre of which was an abandoned house.  This was a substantial bungalow, which still had a name on the door – an Indian name – but after 50 years I don’t remember it.  Just beyond this house was a stream that led to a kampong, surrounded by fields and grazing cows.  It was a surprising rural scene.  The stream itself was of interest because it was alive with fish.  It was probably alive with a lot of other things too, but we were attracted by the fish – many of them were guppies (my favourite tropical fish).  We had a happy time fishing them out, but always threw them back because we couldn’t take them home.  One day we encountered a big ugly snake that slid into the water and disappeared, so that was the end of fishing.

At the top of the estate, just past the bend of Hua Guan Avenue, was another kampong.  This one had a handful of shops where we would spend our pocket money on dried fish snacks, fireworks and little hand-rolled cigarettes.  The shopkeepers didn’t seem to mind what they sold to us.  We made a complete nuisance of ourselves lighting fireworks and generally annoying the other residents.  We were always careful to operate away from our own homes so that our parents didn’t spot us.  The roads around this kampong were dirt roads, so it was a different world for us. 

At the bottom of Sian Tuan Avenue, next to Dunearn Road, were other “Shack Shops” as we called them, where we could buy sweets and cigarettes for a few cents. I hope my mother is not reading this!

One place that was completely out of bounds was the rifle range.  But did that stop us?  I’d better stop before I incriminate myself.

Looking down Sian Tuan Ave, c 1962

My brother in the front garden, c 1962

One feature of Singapore that was totally alien to us English boys was the monsoon drains.  There was a particular time of year when the drains outside our house filled up with bullfrogs, making the most incredible noise the whole night through.  You could hear it above the air conditioning.

The other use for the drains, sad to say, was a dumping ground for unwanted kittens.  More than once we fished out a paper bag with two or three kittens inside.  My mother took them to the RSPCA where I guess they were put down anyway.  We did once get to keep a kitten, but we couldn’t save all of them.

Finally, at Sian Tuan Avenue, we found out what it means to live in a war zone.  Well not really, but there were a lot of Chinese families around us, and Chinese New Year was celebrated with the letting off of firecrackers.  We were used to fireworks back in England on Guy Fawkes night, but there was nothing like the Chinese firecrackers.  They were tied in strings, and went off one after the other like machine guns.  Some strings of firecrackers were several yards long, and went off for several minutes.  Brilliant!

In Singapore, everything changes before your eyes.  The bulldozers arrived and flattened the ground opposite.  Before long brand new houses appeared and changed the landscape forever.

Earth movers opposite our house in 1963

Our house at 7 Sian Tuan is still there, largely unchanged.  In 2001, almost 40 years later I visited the area, and the main difference was a new canopy over the front entrance.  Looking on Google street view now, it is much the same except that trees are growing taller and obscuring the view.  The most remarkable thing is that the original post box is still there, battered and unused. 

7 Sian Tuan Ave in 2001

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Singapore Blog Awards 2012 E-Interview

I have been asked the following questions. (I have rearranged the questions so I can answer the simple ones first; and leave the long answer to the last

Question 1. How do you feel about being one of finalists in Singapore Blog Awards 2012?
Answer – Proud and happy.

Question 2. How do you feel about the other Finalists in your category this year? How do you think you will fare compared to them?

Frankly, I don’t have any opinions about the other finalists for the simple reason that there appears to a generation gap between me and them. Hence our topics are extremely different. Unfortunately, the organisers did not have a category for Nostalgia or Heritage or Education; otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen this category. I also do not wish to compare my blog with theirs. Just wish everyone the best.

Question 3. Give a reason why readers should visit your blog and vote for you?

This is simple. There should only be one reason why readers should visit my blog and vote for me …… they enjoy reading my stories. My blog is coming to 6 years old; and during this time, I have received many encouraging comments and emails from readers, both in Singapore and abroad who said they enjoyed reading my blog. I have selected a few and published them at the back cover of my book, Good Morning Yesterday. Out of sheer laziness, I will reproduce them here, so that I don’t have to go searching for others.
  • “What a wonderful blog - I am telling my friends and children about it” – Tan Tarn How
  • “I have been reading your blog with great interest and nostalgia. Thank you so much for this blog; it has given me many happy memories.” - Debbie King
  • “I have never seen a more ardent effort than yours (James Seah) and Mr Dick Yip and Mr Lam who make it your mission to archive and make the past accessible to the present. This is what a history textbook can never match up to. The effort is authentic, personal and passionate. I get the chance to read, ruminate and enjoy the colours and atmosphere that make history come alive. Thank you so much, James, Mr Yip and Mr Lam.” - Sim Hui Hwang.
  • “I find your web page very informative, interesting and inspiring.  Not many people would have that passion of yours to keep the History of Singapore yet so alive.”  - Ephraim Chan
  • “I've been reading your blog on and off for the past few years and am amazed at the amount of information it contains on the social history of Singapore. Many of these aspects would never see the light of day in "official history"; yet these are what give life to history. It is respect for real living people.”  – Jaime Koh
  • “I really like your blog; and I envy you being able to grow up in a time where Singapore was still very much in its natural state, with hills here and there, trees and forests, buildings which I haven't had a chance to see before.  … . If I can turn back time, I would wish to go back to the 1950s and take a look at the authentic Singapore lifestyle, and her wonderful and kind people who seem to have changed so much nowadays.”  – Henry Cai

Question 4. When did you start blogging and what drew you to it? Where do you get inspiration for your blog content?

I started blogging in Sep 2005; and since then I have posted more that 600 articles in this blog. As I had elaborated here, I started this blog for two reasons:

1) To reminisce about the ‘good old days’.
2) To educate the next generation about what life of their parents was like when they were young.

Not all the articles were written by me. A substantial number were contributed by friends and readers I did not know before, including men of my generation from the UK who lived in Singapore briefly during the 1960s when their parents served in the British Far East military services.

I enjoy blogging and will continue to do so as long as I have stories to tell – and I still do – and there are readers. I get my inspiration from everywhere; a building I see on the road, something I read in the papers or a blog, or something I heard at a talk etc. etc. Sometimes, when the inspiration hits, I write down my thoughts immediately. Sometimes, I will record the idea in my notebook to research and write about later.

After blogging for nearly six years, I derive immense satisfaction from the following ‘achievements’:

1.  A few months ago, the number of page views for my blog passed the magical 1 million mark.
2.  I have made many new friends; young and old. Regular readers will know who 
3.  I have become quite well-known in certain circles and have been interviewed in the media a few times; e.g. FM938 Live’s, Passion People, Lianhe Zabao, Today, New Paper and My Paper. Have even participated in a couple of TV documentaries such as Foodage and Project Neighbourhood and even the Australia Network.
4.  Often I get invitations to give talks and students approach me for help with their heritage projects and magazines, e.g. the NUS History Society’s publication
5.  But my biggest achievement and sense of satisfaction was from publishing a book based on the stories in this blog. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

How to Vote for Good Morning Yesterday in the Singapore Blog Awards Competition

Dear friends. As might have heard, my blog has been selected as one of the 10 finalists in the Singapore Blog Awards Competition – Individual Category. We are now in Phase 2 of the judging process which is based on popularity; i.e. how many votes the blog can garner from its readers. Currently, I think I am lagging far behind the other competitors; and so I need your votes urgently.

For those who, like me, are not so used to this sort of thing, here are some instructions on how to vote.

Step 1: Click on the “Cast your vote here” Link on the right side of this blog. You will be brought to the Best Individual Blog Finalists page that looks like this.

Step 2: Scroll down until you see my blog; Good Morning Yesterday and click on the Vote For Me button.  If you are voting for the first time, you will need to register. Yes, it’s a bit tedious, I know, and if you feel it’s too much of a bother, I understand. Subsequently, you will just need to “Sign In”

Step 3: Look for my blog, Good Morning Yesterday and click on the “Vote for Me” button

Step 4: Answer “Yes“ to the pop-up question; “Do you want to vote for Good Morning Yesterday”

That’s all.

And now for the bad news. You can vote once a day. Which means that if you really want to give me your votes; you have to log in everyday and repeat. Again, if you find it too much of a bother, I understand.

Thank you.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Singapore Book Fair 2012

Dear friends,

My book Good Morning Yesterday will be on sale at 20% discount at the Singapore BookFair 2012. Details as follows

Venue: Suntec Singapore Convention & Exhibition Centre, Level 4, Halls 402 – 404
Dates: 25 May (Fri) to 03 Jun (Sun)
Time: 11 am to 10 pm daily.

I will be at the MarketAsia Distributors booth (D01-D05) to meet readers on these dates/times:

  • Tue (29/5) from 5 pm to 6 pm
  • Thu (31/5) from 12 pm to 1 pm
  • Fri (1/6)    from 3 pm to 4 pm

Look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

And the lights all went out

“And the lights all went out in _________”.  

I believe that readers of my generation should have no difficulty filling in the blank. Yes, Massachusetts is one song we won’t “forget to remember”.

The year was probably 1967 or 1968; and my brothers and I spent a week of our year-end school holidays visiting my 9th Uncle in Johore Bahru. My uncle worked as a male nurse in the general hospital and they lived in the staff quarters which were within walking distance of the hospital. We had a swell time that year playing with our cousins every day.  One activity we enjoyed tremendously was swimming and fishing at the nearby Lido Beach. The Straits of Johore at that time was very clean and teeming with fishes; and we caught many fishes.

Our uncle had a box-shape gramophone which was quite interesting. It had a wooden horizontal ‘cover’ on top which opened upwards, pretty much like a grand piano. Our cousins had some pop records and the two songs that I remember listening to over and over again during our stay were the Bee Gees’ Massachusetts and Engelbert Humperdinck’s The Last Waltz.

Another Bee Gees song that I liked was In the Morning. What I like most about this song was the strumming of the guitar at the beginning of the song. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I used to learn the guitar. Can’t remember the year, but at that time we had a family car – I think it was a Ford Taunus - and this car had a Cartridge Player. Remember the music cartridge of the 1960s? This was before audio cassettes became widespread. Anyway, we had a cartridge with In The Morning, and I used to seat in the car just to listen to this song. In the confines of the vehicle, the music was much clearer.

So sad to learn of the passing of Robin Gibb this week. Another part of our childhood “having flown”.

PS – My favourite Bee Gees song is this one. What’s yours?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bridge over smelly waters

Long time readers of this blog will recall that I had blogged several times about the tributary of the Kallang River which flowed through my kampong not far from my house. I have also included it in my book Good Morning Yesterday; Growing Up in Singapore in the the 1950s and 1960s. We called this tributary the Dead Chicken River of “Sei Kai Hor” in Cantonese (死鸡河).

Recently, I found two old photos of my late father and his friends taken at an unnamed place. After some discussion with my brothers, we have good reason to believe that this place is indeed the Dead Chicken River.

I believe these photos were taken in either 1947 or 1948 because I found other similar photos of my dad and his buddies, and written at the back of these photos were the dates 1947 or 1948. This explains why the waters in the photos look rather clean compared to what I remember. My memories are from the late 1950s and early 1960s when I was in primary school. These photos were taken more than a decade earlier. It was probably a new kampong with fewer residents then. My guess would be that my dad had already decided to move to this kampong because his parents had bought some land here. He must have been hosting a visit to his new home. In fact, when we were growing up, my siblings and I – especially my younger brother Chun Meng - often had our friends stay over in our kampong.

Coming up next – Photos of my dad and his buddies at a place called Paradise Island.

My earlier posts on the Dead Chicken River:

1)    Our kampong  (posted on 19/10/2005)
2)    Nomore dead chickens (posted on 24/2/2006) 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Singapore, 1960s – Air Displays (by Tim Light)

“Look Mummy, there’s an aeroplane up in the sky.”

These words were spoken on Pink Floyd’s The Wall album, and the remind me of the time when I was a small child, in the 1950s, when the sight of any aircraft was a cause of excitement.  Today, if I look up on a clear day I can see a dozen or more airliners making vapour trails in the sky.  But in the 1950s there was almost nothing.  That all changed when we went to live in Singapore in 1961.  Because of the presence of British military bases on the island, as well as a busy civil airport, Singapore’s skies were amongst the busiest in the world.

On a couple of occasions in the early 1960s, my father took us along to an RAF air display.  This was a big thrill for a youngster like me, brought up on war comics.  I can’t be 100% sure, but I think the display was at Changi, although something at the back of my mind says Seletar.  In retrospect I think it was very generous of the RAF to open their doors to the public, at a place that most governments would have regarded as most secret.  Anyway, I remember that there was always a big crowd at these events.

My father seemed to know a lot about military aircraft, and he was almost as thrilled as we were to see them flying at close quarters.  He pointed out the Avro Vulcan, Handley Page Victor, Hawker Hunter, Canberra, Meteor, Javelin and lots more.  I loved them all, but I particularly fell in love with the Beverley, which was a big-bellied transport aircraft that looked a lot like a pregnant guppy.  The various aircraft demonstrated their speed or manoeuvrability, and even some formation flying.

After the flying was over, we were at liberty to walk around the hangars where we could inspect aircraft really close up.  There were one or two vintage items that looked like they had survived from the second world war, which my dad said would be used for reconnaissance or radar patrols.

In reality, living in Singapore at that time was like one continuous air display.  At the Naval Base School there seemed to be a procession of aeroplanes and helicopters coming in and out of Seletar, and military aircraft seemed to turn up any time, anywhere on the island.  I never got bored with these planes, as they all seemed to have their own distinctive character.  I have to admit that, wonderful as they are, most of today’s airliners look pretty much the same to me.


** Found these these photos of planes mentioned by Tim at the National Archives Picas Website.

A RAF Meteor Fighter being towed at midnight from RAF Changi to Seletar Technical Training School. The jet will be used by the Singapore Air Force for ground training. Picture shows the Meteor being towed along Upp Serangoon Road (Sep 1969)

Canberra WE139 which won the London-Christchurch Air Race in October 1953 in 23 hours and 51 minutes. Royal Air Force, Changi, Singapore.

Lightning supersonic fighter jets of the RAF 74 Squadron at Tengah Air Base. Known as “Tigers”, the 12-missiles jets will take over the air defence duties in the Far East. (1967)

Related Post: Plane-spotting in Singapore, by Brian Mitchell

Sunday, May 13, 2012

My favourite love songs

As a follow up to what Peter has written earlier here, about love songs with meaningful/beautiful lyrics, I would like to share a couple of my favourites.

English songs

Off the top of my head, I can think of several; such as John Denver’s Annie’s Song and Perhaps Love, and Simon and Garfunkel’s Kathy’s Song. But if I have to name one with the most meaning lyrics I would choose Roger Whittaker’s What Love Is.

Chinese songs

But my all-time favourite is a Cantonese song titled, 恨綿綿 (han min min); performed here by Hong Kong singer Rosanne Lui. Lest my friend Peter is quick to conclude that this is another coffee house/lounge song, I would ask him to listen to Rosanne’s introduction. She explains that this song is actually adapted from a very famous violin concerto called Butterfly Lovers. What they had done was to take out the more melodious sections and added some lyrics and turned it into a beautiful love ballad.  Here it is.

The original

And now for the original. But first a little historical background.

The Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto (梁祝小提琴协奏曲) is one of the most famous works of Chinese music and certainly one of the most famous outside of China. It is an orchestral adaptation of an ancient legend, the Butterfly Lovers, 梁山伯与祝英 (the Chinese equivalent of Romeo and Juliet). Written for the western style orchestra, it features a solo violin played using some Chinese techniques.

The Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto was written in 1959 by two Chinese composers, Chen Gang (陈钢) and He Zhanhao (何占豪), while they were students at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. The music did not acquire popularity until the late 1970s, when China loosened its restrictions after the Cultural Revolution. Once released from censorship, it became an embodiment of China in transition. (Source: Wikipedia)

There is another interesting background story to how this piece of music came to be composed. According to an interview with one of the composers, the instruction to compose this violin concerto came directly from the Chinese government. At that time, whenever these musicians went out to the countryside to perform, they usually played music composed by Western composers. And so Prime Minister Zhou Enlai himself instructed the musicians to compose a violin concerto which reflected the Chinese culture and heritage; and the result is this beautiful piece of music.

The first time I heard this tune was when I was a recruit in the army more than 40 years ago. One night, after the order, “Lights out!” was given at 11 pm, I continued to listen to my little transistor radio, held close to my ear in order not to disturb my bunk mates. And I heard this beautiful music.

Now, if you have 27 minutes to spare, sit back, relax, clip on your headphones, and savour this beautiful piece of music, performed here by a beautiful Japanese lady called Akiko Suwanai.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

I cant’ say goodbye to you (Peter Chan)

You say it would be better
if we stopped seeing each other
if you had only met me first
when you were free
'cause now you've got commitment
I should not expect things from you
that you can't give to me
oh, but baby, can't you see………………………

The above is an example of yesterday’s lyrics which is so meaningful, smooth and so touching, quite contrary to what I listen to these days.  Am I biased towards 21st Century music?  Maybe, especially when I perceive it to be based on “killer” physical looks, dance movements and taped music. 

Photo 1: Park Hotel at the corner of Cameron Road and Chatham Road, Hong Kong (c 1969). Complete refurbishment only took place in the late 1990s.

When I did this 1981 Helen Reddy number with a 3-man band in Hong Kong one evening winding down after a busy business day, an off-duty Hong Kong based air stewardess came up to me and asked: “You play that song again?” her voice cracking and eyes tearing at the same time.  She must have thought I was the resident musician at the Park Hotel’s Marigold Bar but it wasn’t the case.  I can’t say I remembered her name because that was so long ago.  Don’t ask me how I knew about her broken relationship:  When you work long enough in the professional music circuit, you know the saga of girl-friend and a married man. 

Now would you like to know what I was doing at the Park Hotel? 
In the 1980s, Cathay Pacific (CX) offered its passengers on trans-Pacific flights free accommodation/free airport transfer.  To cite an example take the Sing/HK/SFO return ticket.  It was a great travel arrangement whereby CX allowed one to break a long haul journey twice and to spend some time in Hong Kong.  To go back to my original story, I bumped into a good friend, Josie at the Park Hotel.  Josie Varghra, a talented Filipina singer and I worked together at the Club Elite in Singapore in the mid-70s when I was her back-up musician.

Photo 2: Captain of this CX flight guides his Tristar for a smooth landing at Kai Tak International Airport (c 1989).  Even CX has a great commercial called “Love’sTheme” with a distinctive Sounds of Philadelphia (SOP) touch. 

As a one-time lounge pianist of the 1970s, I whole-heartedly agree that music and love is one and the same thing.  Though we can share our feelings through writing, painting or sculpture, love expressed through music is so different.  It is not just the feelings of the singer/instrumentalist but of the lyrics and the tune harmoniously coming together conveying a powerful message. 

Photo 3: Though music scores were pricy, they were appreciated by music enthusiasts who needed them to learn new love songs.  I didn’t have much use for them as I “depended” on my ears to recall the songs (c 1988)

There were songs for being in love or when there was a breakup.  You could feel the passion and tempo of romance or loneliness up in the air.  I have found lovely couples of all ages starring at each other eyes, you find the guy pulling the girl closer to him and holding hands.  Sometimes a light kiss on the lips was even planted.  Over at the long bar, lonely drinkers would just stare hard at their half empty glass of Jim Bean.  This is all so awesome. 

Photo 4: The Marigold Bar with Lana and Kris, two Filipina singers back-up to Josie during their afternoon rehearsals (c 1985)

Here is what I think are some of the great love songs of my generation - you probably can make your own selection too; 
Para Decir Adio – Jose Feliciano
The Greatest Love of All - Whitney Houston
Feelings – Albert Hammond
I don’t Know How To Love Him –Helen Reddy
I Just Want To Stay Here - Edyie Gorme and Steve Lawrence
Torn Between Two Lovers – Maureen McGovern
Love Me For A Reason – The Osmonds
I Won’t Last A Day Without You – The Carpenters
Feel Like Makin Love – Roberto Flack
The Way We Were – Barbara Streisand
I’ll Never Love This Way Again – Dionne Warwick
I’m Stone In Love With You – The Stylistics

If I am asked to pick, I believe The Stylistics had the most number of popular romantic songs like, Loving You, Let’s Put It Altogether Again, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love (good for Salsa dancing), You Are Everything, You Make Me Feel Brand New, Star On A TV Show, Miracle, You Are Beautiful, Sideshow.  What was their unique selling proposition?  Singing in harmony – one is a falsetto voice - with strings and brass backing.  My personal favourite has to be “I’ll Never Love This Way Again” by Dionne Warwick when I listened for the first time in a hotel room in Union Square, San Francisco.  This song set me reminiscing of one person I really (2) liked.  Thanks to Facebook, we bumped into each other again. 

Why not try Youtube to listen to all those memorable love songs again, including those from Billy Ocean, James Ingram and George Benson.
Whilst the 1970s thru the 1980s offered diversity in love songs, this progressively disappeared by the mid-1990s, probably when people went crazy over Michael Jackson hands-on-his-crotch dancing.  There was no more “live music”.  It became piped-in and DJ music.  You couldn’t find a good crowd size except at noisier places like pubs, clubs and skyscraper bars. 

Photo 5: Love at the sky bar.

Where there used to be music in the hotel lounges, they have changed to become more business-like; you only go there for business discussions.  There are worse situations I have seen such as when a lounge is turned into a holding area for tour groups.  I guess in Singapore people are getting more into the eating fad instead of listening to music.  By doing so, they could be driving up the calories instead of the testosterone level.  Perhaps I might after all stumble on the problem with our national procreation strategy.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Grand-Piano; has it been a piece of furniture or a musical instrument? (By Peter Chan)

Many years ago, I was called by Amelia because she wanted to give away a Steinway.  Was I interested?  I came by her house and was surprised to find the grand dame covered in a black cloth and parked in one corner of the house.  How did this happen?  This Indonesian mum related her sadness to me.  She bought the piano for her 9-year old daughter but she gave it up after a few piano lessons.  Mummy kept this baby grand-piano for 10 years because she was hoping her daughter would change her mind.  Mum spoke to friends and “advisors” who felt a change of the tuition teachers and music schools could re-energise her daughter.  She didn’t and so the musical instrument ended up as a piece of furniture with picture frames and chinaware placed on the piano top.

Photo 1: Grand Piano in an $8 million show flat in Singapore

All I needed to do was to pay for the transport and the piano tuning charges and I would receive a cool $80,000 grand-piano?   Yes you heard me right.  This Steinway was worth $80,000 when purchased brand new, same as what you pay for the COE in 1995.  When I approached friends and friends of friends, many said they had no space at home for a “big toy” or their children were clamouring for the other “must have” possessions.  You can well understand Amelia’s predicament to find a suitable recipient when she advertised and a caller asked whether Amelia would pick up the charges for transport. 

Photo 2: Not Soi Cowboy but Bangkok’s Mr. Piano at the Twin Tower Hotel
I politely declined because I already had one, albeit of a lesser brand-name at a fraction of the price of a Steinway.  I recommended the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts because LaSalle College of the Arts already had one too many.  Story ended!   
Fast Forward.  In a hotel music lounge, I am reminded of the story of Amelia as well as the time when as an undergraduate, I “moonlighted” as a hotel lounge pianist – the last one time before graduation at the Singapore Hyatt.
Photo 3: Miss Elegance on the Yamaha at the Conrad Hotel

There are many reasons I have great affinity for a music lounge – a suitable business meeting venue, privacy or that quite moments.  I enjoy when musicians are able to take on Pachelbel’s Canon in D or Frank Sinatra’s Mack the Knife.  It’s simply fantastic when a musician can oblige with a Waltzing Matilda or a Jackie Cheung standard the moment you step into the piano lounge.  It goes without saying every good pianist must be able to do any genre not associated with his preference.  After many decades of inactivity and with much encouragement from my Michelle, my son’s gf I tried this

Photo 4: Shangri-la Makati’s lobby lounge.  This emotive rendition of “Because of a Flower” adequately describes the Shangri-la ambience  .

A grand-piano is not confined to the music lounge but can be found in shopping malls and restaurants - like this “TPL look alike” texting   Beside the house you can find grand-pianos in churches.  Chun See tells me his church owns a Yamaha.

There are many brands of grand pianos out there, e.g. Steinway, Yamaha, Kawai, Petrof, Schimmel, or Bosendorfer.  Piano size matters, depending whether it is played by a solo pianist or a group (pop or ensemble).  5/6 star hotels would like the grand if possible but smaller hotels prefer the baby grand.  The first Bosendorfer in a Singapore hotel was at the Marco Polo in 1976 and the oldest Steinway concert grand in this country was at the Victoria Theater - both of which I had the pleasure to work with. 

Photo 5: Marina Mandarin Hotel’s Mr. Maestro   

Bangkok, Manila and Hong Kong are my favourite cities for lounge music.  Some of the best places the Manila Hotel, Manila Pen and the Shangri-la in the Philippines.  The Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel for afternoon tea and music is also a delightful place. 

In Bangkok, good music can be found at the Queen’s Park Imperial Palace and Hotel Lebua at State Tower. 

Not too long ago I took a tour of our Singapore’s entertainment backyard and found some great places.  Do you know Tan Tock Seng Hospital has a white grand-piano and there’s one over at the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands?  As the saying goes, in sickness and health there’s always a grand-piano somewhere.  

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Singapore, 1960s – Casuarinas (by Tim Light)

A Casuarina is a kind of tree, but I didn’t know that when I was a small boy in Singapore.  But one of our favourite destinations was a tea house on the East Coast called “Casuarinas”. 

I can’t say exactly where it was, but I remember something about the journey, and its situation.  From the Bukit Timah area we would drive into the City, and then along the Nicholl Highway, along Upper Changi Road, past the prison, and then we would turn right to get onto the East Coast, and somewhere around there, perched on top of a bit of a cliff, was Casuarinas.  It might have been on Nicholl Drive, but my 1963 street map doesn’t show it.  The other clue was constantly being buzzed by very low flying jets from a nearby RAF base, presumably Changi.

Can anyone say where this place was?

I don’t remember anything about the building, and anyway we would always sit outside and be served tea and sandwiches or scones under a parasol.  The refreshments were served on nice china with silver cutlery – very English.  There was a nice elevated view over the sea, and all in all it was a very pleasant experience.

There were steps down to the beach, so my brother and I would scoff our sandwiches and head down to the beach to explore.  I was fascinated by the rock pools that contained small fish and crabs.  I managed to smuggle a tiny crab home one day, and was disappointed when it didn’t survive in our fresh water aquarium.

It’s most unlikely that Casuarinas would have survived very long after we left.  Extensive development on reclaimed land would have left it a long way from the sea, and possibly even under the tarmac of the new Changi Airport.

Sadly I don’t have any photos of this charming place.  All I have are a few misty memories.

Chun See continues ……

Our regular guest-blogger, Peter Chan throws some light on this mystery:

“When you travel down Tanah Merah Besar Road, after the junction with Tampines Road, you go down the “valley” and up the top, then down the “valley” until you reach Nicoll Drive junction. There was a sand pit on the left of Tanah Merah Besar Road (just before the junction) …….  Once you turn into Nicoll Drive, on your right was Casuarina Motel (later called Aloha Rhu Village opened in 1971) – got Hawaiian waitresses dressed in grass skirt – then next was this Singapore Handicapped Home or Cheshire Children’s home.”

Here's a 1974 photo of the Aloha Rhu.

Here's an aerial view of the junction of Tanah Merah Besar and Nicoll Drive. The white patch next to the sea was the Aloha Rhu.