Monday, October 31, 2005

Memories of Pulau Tekong

After reading my earlier post on our kampong , a fellow blogger, Ms Ikan Bilis said she missed her kampong days in Pulau Tekong. I too have some fond memories of P. Tekong.

Actually, I only have 2 sets of encounters with this little island. The first was from attending a 1-week camp organized by the National Junior College Outdoor Activities Club in April 1969. The second was from a couple of in-camp training sessions in the eighties. Surprisingly, I have more memories from the first encounter.

The 1-week camp in 1969 was very enjoyable and memorable. We did a lot of trekking and I remember seeing many rubber plantations and small Chinese temples. We also heard stories of people being bitten by hornets.

One of the most interesting sights was that of a hill full of tobacco plants. You must be surprised to know that tobacco was actually cultivated right here in Singapore. Fortunately, I still have a photo of this place.

The other thing I remember was the canoeing. We were assigned in pairs, 1 boy and 1 girl to a wooden boat, (unlike the modern fibre-glass kayaks that our kids enjoy today) and we had to row round the island. At one point I was so exhausted that I just had to stop. Just at that moment, one of the instructors came along and scolded me; “Do you want the lady to row for you?” And boy, did that bruise my ego?

(By the way, the chap on the extreme left is me)

Anyway, to continue with the story, that night we camped near a Malay kampong. The kampong folks were kind enough to let us use their well for our baths. Next morning, when I woke up, every muscle in my body ached.

Our base camp was at one of the schools. When we were not out on expeditions - they called them land, canoeing expeditions and so on - we had our meals there. On the last night, we had a big camp fire.

We were grouped into teams that had names like Andies, Rockies and Pyrenees. My team was called Rockies. Below are some members of my team.

As for the few in-camp training sessions in the 1980’s, I don’t have much recollections. The one thing that sticks to my mind was the incessant howling of dogs at night. Strange thing is that, the next morning, we couldn’t find any dogs around. According to the soldiers, the island was haunted; but then you know soldiers lah - they like to say things like that.

In fact, I have more memories of the trip to and from the island than the actual training in Tekong. For example, I remember returning to camp one Sunday night. We had to take the bumboat back from Changi Point. They were playing a song by Teresa Teng (你怎么说) on the bumboat.

It’s very strange. Somehow, when I was on the way back to camp on Sunday nights, the brain seemed to be especially receptive to surrounding stimuli. I remember another occasion, when I took a pirate taxi from Bt Timah, 7th Mile (the old Beauty World) to camp in SAFTI. That was in 1971 during my recruit or section leaders training days. We didn’t have much choice actually – so many soldiers going back to camp (Safti and 6th SIR in Tuas) and so few bus service 175’s. The pirates did our nation a valuable service if you ask me. I remember the song being played in the taxi was 心上人 by a local singer ( 张 小 英). There were several other occasions, in other camps; somehow the memory is very clear.

But nothing really beats the feeling of seeing the lights of SAFTI appear as our bus rounds the bend on old Jurong Road. Your heart simply sinks to the floor of Green Bus number 175.

Once, I brought my family to Changi Beach on a Sunday evening. We saw many army recruits returning to camp at the SAF ferry terminal. I wanted to tell the boys, “Guys, I know exactly how you feel.”


fr said...

Reading your article makes me feel quite nostalgic. It evokes pleasant memories of my NS days.

Your mention of the Green Bus reminds me of the buses those days - Yellow Bus, STC, Hock Lee Bus, Changi Bus....

I remember taking the Katong and Bedok Bus from its terminus at Lorong 8, Geylang to my schools in Katong - for 6 years.

Lam Chun See said...

I often wonder why folks tend to recall their NS days with fondness even though at the time when we were going through the torure, we usually curse and whine incessantly? The human mind is very strange don't you think?

When men get together, they like to exchange army stories. I will blog on this intersting subject on another occasion.

Victor said...

I think that I know who the singer of the song 心上人was. Could she be 张小英?

It's just too bad that I do not have interesting NS days' stories to share. Not that I did not serve my NS. I did, except that I was rated PES ('Physical Employment Standard') '5BE'. 'BE' stood for Base Employed. I was assigned a clerical job in CMPB (Central Manpower Base). It involved mundane 8.30 - 5 office duties, nothing extraordinary.

Lam Chun See said...

Wah, Victor,

You must have witnessed many of us being herded onto 3-tonners at CMPB those days, to be sent to far-off places like Safti and Tuas. How we used to envy guys like you.

But it is true that in combat vocation, we get to 'collect' more memories. Not only we get to meet a lot of interesting characters, we also get to see many parts of Spore that no longer exist today. For example, our topo training often brought us to rural areas in Bt Batok, Jurong (present Nantah campus), Hong Kah, Marsiling, Kranji and even Tampines - I think many army boys of our generation will remember Ex Night Bird.

And then there is ROC. I remember 1 night, my friend and I literally slept on a grave. (When you are exhausted, you can sleep anywhere). I even joked with my friend that there were actually 3 of us guarding that 'sector' - 2 on top and 1 below.

Actually, I wanted to blog about the army days later, but just could not resist talking about it now.

By the way, the old CMPB buildings at Dempsey Road are still around I think. Went there for curry fish head a couple of times. It belongs to the Civil Service Club or something. Another subject for your blog maybe?

fr said...

I think most do recall their NS days with fondness.

In reminiscences; the drills, the morning 5bx, the route march, etc didn't seem too bad afterall.

Actually, without NS we would not have all these experiences.

I have been keeping a safety pin from a live grenade after my only grenade throw at SAFTI but I lost it a few years ago.

I like the smoke grenades with the colourful smokes they produce.

Sleepless in Singapore said...

Wah - u damn brave man; court-martial offence leh. BTW, have u heard this one.

Once, during grenade-throwing trg, the corporal told the recruit, When you throw the grenade, I want you to shout, "GRENADE!" loud loud.

And so the recruit nervously pulled out the firing pin, hurled the grenade, and yelled, "Grenade loud loud!".

Lam Chun See said...

Yes. Victor is right about 张小英? She dresses very simple, just like the girl-next-door type. Doesn't dress like your typical show-biz singer at all.

Heartlander said...

One of my favourites in the early 70s was the [ 张小英]. The fondest moment of this song was when my platoon (Platoon 10) in Jalan Bahar was going through a hard ordeal of taking change parade on the make-shift parade square located right above my camp bunk, this song was in the air (the regular Friday night song-time blasting out of the TV at the Canteen which happened to be beside the Parade Square.) Mind you it was in black-n-white then before colour television was introduced to Singapore in 1974 (I think).
Strange enough I should hate this song then.....
Chun Sing(Simon)
Tell you, this blogging stuff really drives me nuts.

Lam Chun See said...

Since many young people now visit this blog, I think I will add little detail about life in Safti (the old one, now called Pasir Laba Camp. And I want to repeat here, I really dislike the govt always changing names of places and established institutions)

One of the most agonising experiences of my recruit/section leaders days in Safti (1971) was that of booking out on Sat afternoon. By the time we finished the area cleaning - and those irritating corporals like to extend our misery by deliberately being fussy - it was already way past noon. And when we got out to the bus stop at Upp Jurong Road, we are met with another frustrating sight; a big crowd of eager NS boys dying to get out of the area. The Bus 175s that come along are always full becos of the 6 SIR soldiers getting up at the Tuas terminal. As we watch the precious minutes of our freedom slip away, some of us resorted to desperate measures. We crossed the road and took the bus in the opposite direction. When the bus reached the Tuas end, we stayed put in the buses to the annoyance of our brethren from 6 SIR.

Too bad that famous pianist will not get to enjoy precious memories such as this.

Anonymous said...

SAFTI - SSL (1971), SISW (1973)

It invokes a love-hate feeling for me. I loved it for the many memories there, whether good or bad. Good ones were the comeradie with the rest of the platoon mates and the bad ones were the daily morning runs around the Institute, and not forgetting a dash up Peng Kang Hill. Also the RPs (anyone remember Staff See?) who never fails to give the guys hell whenever we go in/out of SAFTI through the main gate during daylight. I still remembered the combat obstacles run from Tuas seafood end back to the Institute in SBO, one round of obstacles and to the 100M range for shooting. We were panting away, with sweat-blinded eyes, M16 barrels going up and down with every heart beat and trying our best to aim at those targets..SAFTI..thanks for the memories..

Anonymous said...

Staff See? That name rings a bell. Some MP Sgt who sits at the SAFTI Guardroom right? Every morning stands at the main gate ready to pounce on anybody, including people who sat in the GP car. When officer through the small gate next to the main gate, his hand salute looks as if he was "carrying bXXs". Did he wear some kind of whiote lanyard? He spot some botak hair style?

I hear late in 1974, since he tekan some many people, they waylaid him near the wayang stage and gave him a good bashing.
Like to hear from you.

Philip Chew said...

Pualu Tekong as I can remember.
It was many years ago when there was a few seafood restuarants just after the jetty. My friend's mother had a small piece of land there with durian trees and vetetable garden. She also had some poultry that run around the house. My friend is a Hakka and so were majority of the population there then. The most memorial scene was a pair of empty coffins with wooden stands at an empty shed. I was told the old couple had prepared for their end time.
At the jetty, after the row of seafood shops were a few bone-shaker 'pah on chia' (pirate taxis) ready to drive you inland to visit a popular temple to pray and to beg for 4-D numbers. Our group of 4-5 friends often went there for seafood and a bottle Martell. We stop visiting Tekong when the seafood shops were resited to the mainland.

Lam Chun See said...

Mike. I wonder if you had the same depressing feeling on seeing the lights of Safti as Green Bus 175 rounds the bend of Upper Jurong Road.

XinLi29288 said...

These photos are so precious.

It is Tekong many of us don't get to see today.

I was told the various statues and icons of the various deities of the temples on Tekong were consolidated and placed in a shrine on the island after the residents were being resettled and the temples being torned down.

Do you still remember where the photos were taken?

Lam Chun See said...

Can I remember where the photos were taken? No possible lah .... 41 years is a long time you know. But I do have a couple more photos than those I put up here.

Unknown said...

haha true =p 41 years is a very long time.

Tekong took about only 3-4 years to merge with Sejahat, Sejahat Kechil Semechek and Tekong Kechil and BMTC has changed so much within that small period of time.

May I post your photos on my blog and

I look forward to more photos about Tekong =)

Anonymous said...

Memories are forever.
A wonderful site.
I share all your sentiments.

Linh Vien Thai said...

Wonder photos and memoirs. Thank you for sharing...

Anonymous said...

Tekong! Very much memories for me, espacially when my friends and I helped the farmer's daughter in her chores after our duties in the evenings during our unit's outdoor camp on the island in the 60's.
I still have some photos of us army boys with the farmer's family. I also remember the time when we went back to the island in the 70's after our ROD to row a sampan round the island. I was so scared because I can't swim. I later learnt swimming and do scuba diving after that.