Wednesday, October 30, 2013
From my Inbox – Judith Johnson remembers my kampong
Below is an email that I received from Judith Johnson a few weeks ago. Judith lived at Chiltern Drive in Braddell Heights in the 1960s, and remembers seeing my kampong. To help orientate you to the places Judith describes, here is a scan of the Braddell Heights area from my 1963 street directory. What is indicated as Lorong Chuan here was my kampong. It was a dirt track, and people knew it as Chui Arm Lor in Hokkien; which meant Water Pipes Road. Our address at that time was 288 Ang Moh Kio, Singapore 19. The name Lorong Chuan only became known to us when it was upgraded to a metal road joining Braddell Road to Serangoon Gardens. The truncated Chui Arm Lor was renamed Lorong Kinchir, and our address was changed to 21-A Lorong Kinchir.
You can read more details in the opening pages of my book, Good Morning Yesterday.
My house is marked by an X in this map. Judith's house was near the sharp right-angle bend in Chiltern Drive. Braddell Heights was elevated above Lorong Chuan.
Dear Mr Lam,
I chanced upon your site when doing a little research prior to possibly organising a 'stopover' in Singapore on my way to visit my son who now lives with his family in Perth. My husband and I have been visiting Australia regularly now for several years and I have strongly resisted revisiting Singapore as I felt it had changed out of all recognition and I did not want to be disappointed to find that it was now just a sanitized version of what I remember.
I flew to Singapore in 1959 and attended the RAF Changi Grammar School. We did not live in Changi as my father was in charge of the Joint Air Traffic Control Centre at Paya Lebar Airport until our return to England in 1963. His 'mess' was at RAF Seletar, but we lived in a house on Chiltern Drive in Braddell Heights. I was so surprised to find that the estate and its houses are still there.
During the last couple of hours I have been nearly moved to tears exploring the wealth of information about life in Singapore during the 60's. We stayed in Katong Grange Hotel (which was then right by the sea) until we were allocated a 'hiring' by the RAF at Braddell Heights. My father joined the Singapore Swimming Club.
The front of our house faced north and directly opposite was a rather ugly square cement structure which was I believe some sort of sewage treatment. Whatever it was, it was possible to climb up on top of it and as a 13 year old tomboy I liked nothing better than escaping up there from where I had an excellent view of part of the local kampong. I watched daily life unfolding before me - the ponds, the pigs, the 'night soil deliveries, smoke rising from cooking fires and children playing in the dust. Sometimes I could hear the sound of a nearby wayang or funeral procession, at others the chattering of the mahjong tiles in a neighbouring house.
It was not long before my curiosity got the better of me and I plucked up the courage to find a path round the side of the 'bunker' (as it had been christened by my father!) and made my way into the village. I can remember squatting down to watch a woman cooking over a fire and throwing freshly gathered green vegetables into a cooking pot while the chickens scratched nearby and the cockerel crowed.
I don't recall talking, but I'm sure that we communicated in the innocent way that only a child can. I felt as if I had stepped into another world and I believe that I often had a strange sense of separation from the 'real life' of the island as I went back to my bungalow where our amah lived in he small quarters behind the kitchen.
My school friends all lived in RAF houses at the air bases and probably had less occasion to be involved with local people. I used to take the bus early in the morning to ride at the Polo Club before the heat of the day, travelling with all ages and races. I remember the shoe repair man calling, the brush and household goods seller, the gully gully man. We were very friendly with our Chinese neighbour Kenneth Cheong and his family. Looking at the map on your site I'm sure our house was very near your kampong.
A couple of years ago we had a long holiday in Burma, much of which I found very poignant as it reminded me so much of Singapore in the 60's, and ever since I have been toying with the idea of going back, which I swore I would never do. I am not very computer savvy and have never done more than read blog and forum entries, not having the courage or inclination to write anything myself. I don't do Facebook and haven't ever used Friends Reunited, but was fascinated to read all the posts on your site.
Your website I'm sure is serving a great need to preserve the memories of what was a unique time in the history of your island. I'm so glad that I stumbled upon it.
Judith Johnson - daughter of then Sqn Ldr David Cutts and Margaret Cutts (dec'd)
Thank you for sharing your memories of Singapore. You are quite ‘fortunate’ in the sense that Braddell Heights has remained relatively unchanged over the years. Most of the roads are still there, although the houses have mostly been rebuilt.
I can understand why you are afraid to visit Singapore. You probably fear that you would be disappointed to find that everything you remember about this place has changed beyond recognition. But still, I would recommend that you come for a visit. I suspect some of the places you frequented, such as the Polo Club along (along Thomson Road?), are still there. Anyway, some of my UK friends whom I had befriended through my blog have visited and I even brought them around to see some of the places that they knew.
I have attached a scanned map of the Braddell Heights area from my 1963 street directory. My house is marked with an X. You will see that we were practically neighbours. And we are probably around the same age too. I am 61. As what I told my UK friends, John Harper and Brian Mitchell, who I visited recently when I went to UK, it’s so strange. Back in the 60’s we stayed so close to each other physically, and yet we were living in different worlds as our paths never crossed. Now we are living physically thousands of miles apart, and yet we have become friends.
If you do come to Singapore this year, I would be happy to be your guide and show you some of the places that you knew, such as Braddell Heights, Polo Club and maybe Bartley Road and Paya Lebar Rd.