Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Meeting my new old friend Judith Johnson

Last month, I met another of “my new old friends”, Judith Johnson, and her husband, Robert. I brought them to see two places that held strong memories of her years in Singapore, the Changi Airbase in Loyang Avenue, where her school, the RAF Changi Grammar School used to be located; and Chiltern Drive when she used to live. She gave me a CD of old photos of Singapore, a few of which were from my former kampong in Lorong Chuan. I have been very busy these past weeks and have not had time to organize them and share them with readers. She also gave me a DVD of her dad’s cine films, segments of which contain scenes of Singapore in the early 1960s. Finally she also gave me a CD containing photos of the Joint Air Traffic Control Centre at Paya Lebar Airport, which her dad helped to set up, to hand over to the relevant organization.

Our first stop was the Changi Airbase West in Loyang Avenue.   Although she was not able to obtain permission to enter the premises, we were, nevertheless, able to view the buildings close-up from the nearby golf course. She shared with me many stories of her time in this school; especially of how naughty the boys (Brian Mitchell, are you reading this?) used to be.

After a short drive around the Changi Village vicinity, we proceeded to visit the house that Judith lived in at 10 Chiltern Drive in Braddell Heights. Judith was fortunate in that the house was still standing, and did not look very different even though it had undergone major renovation. Unfortunately, there was nobody home, and we were not able to enter the compound for a closer look.

1961 photo of Judith's house
2014 photo of Judith's house
Judith showed me the place opposite her house where there used to be an “ugly square cement structure” from the top of which she could see my kampong. She brought out her iPad and showed me photos that her dad had taken of our kampong. I was a bit disappointed because I could not recognize the place in the photos.  As you can see from the map below, it was probably quite a distance from where I stayed. From her description of the farms and ponds that she saw; including the trellises where the gourds were planted (described in detail in my book, Good Morning Yesterday), I concluded that she was referring to the area presently occupied by St Gabriel’s Primary School. Nevertheless, I am truly thankful to be able to get hold of these precious photos of my kampong. These photos were taken around 1961, which was prior to the construction of the Lorong Chuan in 1963. This new Lorong Chuan linked Braddell Road to Serangoon Gardens; and separated my section of our kampong from the section shown in Judith’s photos.
The "ugly cement structure" opposite Judith's house in 1961
This place is now a playground. The building in the background is St Gabriel's School, I believe.

The Lorong Chuan in this 1963 map is a dirt track which we kampong folks referred to as Chui Arm Lor (Water Pipes Rd) in Hokkien. Actually it continues all the way to Upper Thomson Road (refer to my book for details). X marks the spot where my house stood; and Y is the area shown in Judith’s photos. I can tell by referring to an old topographical map of this area which showed the ponds and the streams.

After taking several photos of Chiltern Drive, I brought them to the entrance of the Australian International School at Lorong Chuan and pointed out to the spot where my house probably stood. From there we drove to the Saddle Club travelling along stretches of Braddell Road and Thomson Road that Judith would have traveled on her way to her riding lessons. We proceeded for lunch at Toa Payoh before I brought them to their last destination at Geylang East Central where they had arranged to meet the family of her amah, Ah Moy, who unfortunately had passed away just two years ago. I understand that they had quite an emotional meeting.

I am glad to have met my “new old friend” Judith Johnson. I am glad to have played a small part in helping her recall found memories of her childhood years in our little island; and I have been richly rewarded by her gift of many precious old photos (of very high quality) of the Singapore of my childhood days; including a few of my kampong. I share some of them with you below. I will upload others to the Good Morning Yesterday Facebook Page.


Kat said...

Very valuable old pics of the house and kampong. Thanks, it really brought back many fond memories. The kampong looks like the same one which our amah used to live. I used to play there almost every day after school. That was in 1965. Our amah's name was Tan Poh Choo. We used to live at Jalan Girang.

Anonymous said...

Would you happen to have played around another kampong (Kampong Arang?) in the vicinity as well?

I grew up in a church called Bethesda Bukit Arang which is now located along Serangoon Ave 3.

In the 70s, I remember travelling over a short stretch of gravel road (Lorong Biwak?) that passed by several attap houses before reaching the church (Serangoon Ave 3 didn't exist then). I also used to play behind the church (behind NYJC) where I could find rubber seeds as well.

The Yeo Keng Nam chicken rice shop has been around for ages where the junction of Serangoon and Bartley Road used to have a police box (the type that policemen used to stand on to direct traffic).

Lam Chun See said...

I am afraid I do not know anything about Bt/Kg Arang area. Because my school was at Braddell Rise, so I was more familiar with Potong Pasir and Kg San Teng side.

Brian and Tess said...

Yes I certainly have to put my hand up to some bad behaviour at Changi Grammar School. What a wonderful collection of material and I do hope that Judith's experience was as good as it sounds from this blog.

Jan Jee said...

Hi See Lam,

Your blog is amazing! I'd love to be in touch with you.
Would it be possible for you to drop me an email at janecjj_92@hotmail.com?

Jan Jee