Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Our Kampong

Chui Arm Lor

The kampong where we used to live in was popularly known as Chui Arm Lor in Hokkien, meaning Water Pipes Road. It joined Lorong Chuan to Upper Thomson Road. On the way, it crosses the Kallang River 9 times; hence it was also called Kau Tiao Kio or 9 Bridges
Before Lorong Chuan was constructed, it was a mud track that joined directly to Braddell Road. At that time our address was 288 Ang Moh Kio. In order to get to our school, Braddell Rise Primary which was located next to Mt Alvernia Hospital, we had to cycle from our house out to Braddell Road, chain it to a lamp post or roadside railing, and take a bus to school. Usually, my elder brother, David would do the cycling and I would ride on the back seat. I remember one very yucksy incident that happened one morning. As we overtook a bike in front of us, the chap decided to turn aside and spit. Guess where the projectile landed – yes right on me; exactly which part of the anatomy, I cannot recall. But you can understand why it was an unforgettable experience.

I cannot recall which year Lorong Chuan was built. It joined Braddell Road to Ang Sar Lee. I think most adult Singaporeans know that’s the Hokkien name for Seranggoon Gardens. At the time when construction was nearing completion, many Ang Mors liked to use it for go-kart practice. That was quite an eye-opener for us kampong kids. With the completion of Lorong Chuan, we did not have to go to the market at Lim Tua Tow Road at Gor Ko Chio (5th Mile, Upper Seranggoon) to do our marketing. Instead, we did our marketing at the Seranggoon Gardens Way Market , located opposite the post office. Sometimes I was tasked to do the marketing alone; which meant I had to cycle to SG and back. I picked up some skills in selecting pork and vegetables then.

After Lorong Chuan was completed, our village was renamed Lorong Kinchir, and our house address was also changed to 21-A Lorong Kinchir. Below is a sketch of our neighbourhood. After some consultation with my eldest brother, Chun Chew who has an uncanny ability to remember all sorts of details about our childhood days, I believe the diagram below is more than 80% accurate.

Say Kai Hor

Now, can anyone guess what is that?

It is the Cantonese name we gave to the Kallang River. Literally, it means Dead Chicken River – no prize for guessing how it earned such a colourful name. Every time we crossed the bridge, we had to hold our breath because, not only chickens, but dogs and pigs were discarded into the river. Better not go into any more details.

Would you believe that we have actually seen kids frolicking in the waters of the Sai Kay Hor. We ourselves have waded in, occasionally to catch blood worms for our fighting fish. We do this by running a metal wire through the sand. When the wire emerges, some blood worms will be found handing to it. We have also seen men with big cans and nets catching blood worms on a bigger scale. By the way, my teenage son who regularly goes for kayaking training at the Kallang River often jokes about the stench and filth. Wait till he reads this blog.

The recent news about the Katrina Hurricane in US, reminded me of an incident concerning the Dead Chicken River. I saw a news report in CNN concerning the floods in New Orleans, where people were warned to be on the lookout for alligators. One year, there was widespread flooding in Singapore; and many of us were also warned to look out for a crocodile that had escaped from the crocodile farm in Lorong Chuan. The location would be near the present junction of Ang Mo Kio Avenue 1 and Lorong Chuan. If you have been to Lorong Chuan those days, you will know what I am talking about. The stench from the crocodile skins can be detected from miles around.

Our House

Below is a picture of our house. The design was quite unique. If fact, one year, it was featured in one of the primary school geography books. Our house was also one of the few houses that had a well. Before tapped water became available, many of our neighbours came to our house to help themselves to the water which was probably of the highest quality in the whole village. The well was located just to the right of the photo.

To the left of the picture was a very old durian tree with lots of dragon scales growing along its trunk. Before you start to envy us, I must tell you that this tree was really not very fruitful. Each season it only bore a couple of very small fruits. Every time, the thud of the falling durian was heard, we children would race each other to get to the fruit. Perhaps it was due to the scarcity of the harvest that our durians seemed to be especially tasty.

This photo was taken using our very first camera - a Kodak Brownie. It must be taken around 1957 or 58 becaue I (the kid on the left) looked no older than 5 or 6.

The drainage those days was quite bad. Hence there were mosquitoes every where. At night, we needed to sleep with the mosquito screen all around. Even then, when morning came, you can find yourself in the company of several swollen, lazy mozzies, which was why our screens tended to have patches of blood on it. Mosquito breeding was so rampant that we could easily catch mosquito larvae from the drains to feed the fighting fish which we caught from the nearby ponds. However, we never knew of anyone catching dengue fever.

Our Neighbours

The main road, Lorong Kinchir ran in front of our house and across the road was a row of 4 shops.

Shop No. 1 (from the right) was a coffee shop. The owner was called Hock Chek (Uncle Hock). He was in fact my godfather although he hardly ever spoke to me. I was much closer to my godmother though (Hock Chim). Sometimes, I would volunteer to buy coffee from them. Those days, 1 big mug of kopi-O cost 10 cents. If my godmother was on duty, I usually get to pocket the 10 cents.

I can recall some interesting things about the coffee shop. For example, they used saw dust to keep the ice blocks from melting. Occasionally, they also roast their coffee beans in front of the shop. The coffee beans were mixed with butter and roasted in a cylindrical drum which was rotated by hand. The aroma reached even to our house.

On rare occasions, we gave ourselves a treat to a bottle of Pepsi-cola here. We liked to add lots of salt from a small Brand’s essence of chicken bottle, and listen to the sizzle as the salt crystals hit the cola. The taste was so wonderful that I promised myself that some day, if I could afford it, I would drink Pepsi everyday. Of course that was one promise I did not keep.

Shop No. 2 was a provision shop owned by a man called Tua Tau (big head). We bought much of our foodstuff from him on credit. Whenever, we buy something, we would bring along a small 555 booklet (I think you can still find those today) to record the amount and the shopkeeper will also record in his ledger. It was then that we learnt how to recognize special Chinese characters for numerals (different from the normal Chinese writing).

Shop No. 3 belonged to a guy called Ah Goo (buffalo). I can’t remember what they sold, but I certainly remember the multi-colour ice balls that we loved. I think he also sold sweets and other snacks. One sweet I remember was the coconut sweet. Sometimes if you were lucky, you can find a sweet with a 5-cent coin embedded to it as a mystery prize. I believe Ah Goo’s family were Teochew. I think he was quite a handsome bloke who attracted the attention of some of the village lasses. Our village were mostly Hokkiens. We were about the only Cantonese family; until my 7th Uncle moved in with his 9 children. After that, our standard of English improved tremendously, but our Hokkien deteriorated. I am not sure why my father chose this place and not Potong Pasir which was predominantly Cantonese. I think my eldest brother would know.

Shop No. 4 was a barber shop. The owner was a very quiet guy. His family kept very much to themselves. I believe they were Hock Chew. They were probably Catholics because they had a portrait of Jesus Christ hanging on the wall.
Every afternoon, we would go over to borrow the Chinese newspapers from him so that our brother David could read to us the 武侠 stories. David’s Chinese was the most kilat of the lot. One year, he got a book prize for topping the whole level in ACS in Chinese. The title of the book was 中国名人故事 - Stories of famous Chinese personalities. I learned about 李白 and 白居易 's immortal poems from this book.

Shop No. 5 was on our side of the road facing Shop No. 1. It was a small coffee shop with attap roof and no walls. We called the owner Fook Chow Lou (Hock Chew man). I often bought snacks like tau sar piah from him. At one time, there was a stall beside this selling You Char Kueh (You Tiao). We enjoyed watching the man prepare the you tiao. From the picture above, you may also be able to make out the public toilet located next to a pond (please refer to sketch above). Did you know that we made our deposits directly into the pond!
Well that’s all I have to tell you about the village my siblings and I grew up in. The next time you travel on the Central Expressway from Ang Mo Kio towards Braddell Road, look to the left and try to picture the kampong we called Chui Arm Lor.

I hope you enjoyed reading this blog. If it stirs up some fond memories for you, please share them with us.

I also have some good news for you. I managed to persuade my old friend Tan See Jong (Safti Lima & Romeo coy, 1971) to contribute an article about his childhood surroundings in a place call Genting Lane. Look out for it.

Reach out for the joy and the sorrow.
Put them away in your mind.
For memories are time that you borrow,
To spend when you get till tomorrow.


fr said...

Vow, You must have put un a lot of effort and time in this write-up.

Coincidentally, there was also a well in one of that places that I stayed during childhood. It did not belong to us. Anyone in the neighbourhood could use it. We use the water for bathing and washing only, not drinking.

It was very convenient for us as the well was just beside our house - next to our bathroom.

Anonymous said...

Dear See,

I am really impressed by your memory. I really forgot almost all those names and incidents. The addresses were particularly do you recall them ??? Infact, I thought it was Meng that sat on the bike that I rode. I do remember that has no brakes and only way to brake it is to reverse the the cycling . The rear tyre is exceptionally big and makes cycling a really tough chore.

You owe me one and i probably owe my tough calf muscles do this bike.

What I do remember is Chang's riding his bike with a lighted jossstick plucked to the bike's handle bar. He would, using only one hand, light and throw little firecrakers at dogs which used to chase our bikes.

I do have some recollections of spider catching, fighting fishing trapping, illegal fishing of carps (from our neighbour's ponds), eels fishing along that "river" and caterpulting of birds etc.... but not in great enough details to contribute to your blog.

Please keep the good work.



Lam Chun See said...

Our well was equipped with a pulley and metal pail. To 'scoop' a pail of water was pretty trickly. You need to coordinate both hands, the right hand to jiggle the pail and the left hand to operate the rope. With some practice, you can do it fast and neat. I was alway proud that I could do it pretty well.

Victor said...

Your comments about the coffee shop reminded me of the one just below my block. I stayed on the 4th and highest storey. At night, the owner called 阿东(Ah Dong) could often be seen taking a nap on a chair by the roadside. He was always without a shirt on. He probably felt cooler going around topless and resting by the roadside instead of in his shop.

When I wanted to buy coffee, I would peek out of my flat and see if he was resting this way. If he was, I would put my kopi kong (kettle) in a basket tied to a long string. I would then put the exact change (20 cents, I think) wrapped in a piece of paper and place it next to the kettle. Then I would gingerly lower the basket to the ground floor next to where he was resting. Normally I would have to create some noise by banging the basket on the floor several times to wake him up. (Come to think of it now, it was quite rude of me.) He would wake up, sometimes with a start and then dutifully make me some coffee. The kettle, full of coffee, would then make its way up the same way that it came down.

That is a description of some early highrise living for me which I am sure the kampong folks never experienced before. Now I have thought up of an excuse for buying coffee that way then - our block didn't have any lifts.

Lam Chun See said...

Yeah Victor,
Your decription of your coffee-buying technique reminds of me of 1 occasion when we visited our aunt who stayed in a flat in Redhill area. I was very young then, but I recall my cousins buying breakfast exactly like the way you described.

chinatownboy said...

Great stuff! Really reminds me of the days when I went walking or cycling into the sua-teng. By the way, can you remember the name of the Chinese temple shown on your drawing? I am doing research on chinese temples - see

Keep up the great work and I am ploughing through slowly all your postings! (^^)


Lam Chun See said...

My eldest brother, Chun Chew - the one with the elephant memory told me it was called Kong Keng or something like that. Kong - as in Tua Pek Kong, and Keng is Hokkien for temple.

oceanskies79 said...

Thank ou for sharing about kampong life.

mezzo said...

really enjoyed your blog ~ i lived at Chia Keng (车间) in the 70's to 80's, quite near to Lorong Chuan. I remember the old Serangoon Garden market, the tannery on Lorong Chuan and the swampy mangrove forests in ang mo kio.. sure brings back some memories ~
btw, we also went for movies often at Kok Hwa cinema on Yio Chu Kang road. i'm sure you know that one too :)

Edward said...

I do remember Braddell Road and the vegetable plots at the front of some of the homes. You could smell the fertiliser from these plots as you drove past, towards Bartley or Upper Serangoon Road. Fertiliser is, of course, a euphemism for “human manure”. Nevertheless we still enjoy our vegetables in those days – chye sim, eng chye etc. We simply don’t think about how they were grown. Sorry for this not “entirely relevant” comment … any mention of Braddell Road would bring back memories of the traditional family farms of bygone years.

Quek Chan said...

Chun See,

Are you an old boy of ACS?
There is the Old Boys' Association (OBA) for all Anglo-Chinese School alumni; you should sleuth around for membership.

Lam Chun See said...

Yes. I am. In fact last nite just had gathering with some old boys of my cohort. We are ACS68. But did not join the alumni.

Anonymous said...

Dear Chun See,
I have been reading your blog with great interest and nostalgia.

I lived in Singapore between 1968 and 1970 when my father served in the Royal Navy. I was born in 1961 so I was only nine years old when we came back to the UK. We lived first of all in Sembawang Hills, at no.63 Sembawang Hills Drive. Then we later moved to Sembawang Springs and lived at 23 Jalan Hikayat.

I was always fascinated by the kampongs in the late 1960's - the way of living was so different from our own. I attended the RN school in Woodlands and I have so many fond memories of Singapore.

I have been back twice in the last 40 years; once in 1997 and again last year. I went to visit my old home in Jalan Hikayat and the current owner kindly invited me inside. It was really awesome to be back in the house where I used to live 40 years ago! A real trip down memory lane! :-)

Thank you so much for this blog; it has given me many happy memories.

Kind regards,
Debbie King

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Debbie. Thank you for sharing your memories of our kampongs. Regrettably, in modern Spore, kampongs only exist in places like Good Morning Yesterday.

I am quite happy that thro this blog, I managed to befriend many British and other Caucasian friends that were totally alien to us kampong kids in those days. I remember being terribly excited when some Europeans rode through our village on horseback. The dogs of course went wild.

Unknown said...

It's very nostalgic reading your blog. I am one of your fellow 'kampongers'. If I am not wrong, 'Hock Chek' is related to my grandfather. Also, the family right opposite Shop 5 is my aunt, my mother's older sister. Also, those people selling You Chia Kueh are my grandparents and uncles.

Good old memories! Sad our younger generation could not experience it.

Anonymous said...

hi see;
shop no.3 is teochew ah Goo is correct. later in the 1970 they started to sell teochew fish ball mee. taste so they are selling satay at ang mo kio ave 10 blk 409 market. yr father name we call is soon chek(uncle soon).he is the best player in chinese chess.i will try to get more our old kampung's photos for you. Ah Wee

Lam Chun See said...

Hello Ah Wee. So nice to hear from you. Are you the Ah Wee who plays the 'guitar'. Always admired your musical talent.

You got me mixed up with the Ng family. Soon Chek was my 7th uncle. His wife, my 7th Aunt was Chit Sor. My father was Sam Kor and my mother was Sam Soh. You can see a photo of him here.

You said "they are now selling satay at Ang Mo Kio ...". Do you mean Ah Goo's children. Ah Goo must be quite old by now.

Anonymous said...

hi see;
the guitar man is ah hui. he is going to 70 yrs old soon.we still gathering at serangoon nth blk 147. ragarding ah goo,blk 409 market under renovation,whether he carry on,i not so sure. happen to know u is (ah leong) told me about u. do u still remember there is a public coin phone just opposite yr hse. my house is just right infront the phone.ah wee

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Ah Wee. You said your house is in front of the public phone, then you must be the son of Chew Soh. Are you the younger brother of Han Che Kor? I remember your house. It has a banner with some Chinese words, I think it was 泰 山. Your neighbour was Hakka Chinese medicine shop. Your house is just to the left of the photo in my banner on top of this page.

Anonymous said...

hi see;
you r right.chew soh is my grandmother.han che kor u still can remember his nickname. he is my 4 uncle. he is now driving taxi. thye sun is my 1st uncle.u got a sister ah kam,how is she. hope arrange one day can meet up and hve a coffee together, ah wee

Anonymous said...

Hi See,
I just got an sms from my cousin Ah Wee who brought me to your blog. If you could recall, my father is Low Thye San...I think kampong people used to joke and call him 'or yee or'. We actually stay at 24 Lorng Kinchir, just diagonally opposite your house after the main street in front of the shops.I remember immediately opposite my house is another provision shop own by a teochew family. Its good to see those rare and precious photos. I can recall your mother 3rd auntie ( cantonese ...sam soh)and 7th auntie (cantonese...chut soh) used to play cards with my grandmother
(Qiu Soh)at my house. In fact my late father told me that your father Ah Soon helped with the spelling of our surname "Low" as he's the most english educated guy in the kampong. Tian Hin

peter said...

Chun See
Start oragnizing your first kampunbg get2gether dinner. Of course dont forget roasted pig.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Tian Hin. So nice to connect with another neighbour from Chui Arm Lor.

I think you also got my father's name mixed up. Ah Soon as you called him was my Seventh Uncle. He was my mother's younger brother. My father was Chui Kong (水光) or Sam Kor. Yes, my sister was called Ah Kam. I had 3 brothers, Ah Chang (Chun Chew), Ah Ti (Chun Seong) and Ah Beng (Chun Meng).

The shop directly opposite your house was Cheong Teck. At the back of the shop was a store room. At one time, they had a jack pot machine there many of us went to try our luck.

I want to take the opportunity to ask you if you can remember some people. Among my mother's gambling kakis was Chew Soh, Tian Soh, Chew Lam Soh and Ah Chai. Ah Chai lived near the temple. He had 2 sons. One was my age, called Tor Koon. We went into the army on the same day; but sent to different camps. I am trying to remember the name of his brother.

Also can you remember the name of my god-brother and god-sister? My godmother was called Hock Chim and his husband was Hock Chek. They owned the coffee shop. I remember when my godmother passed away, I was already living in Farrer Road. I went back to attend her funeral and was quite surprised that according to Hokkien tradition, I was placed second in the procession behind my godbrother and ahead of his sisters.

Yes, it would be nice to meet up with the old kampong folks and try to crack our brains to recall the places and names; as I did with Eng Leong not long ago.

Joyce said...

I am the younger sister of ah wee and cousin of Tian Hin.
I understand from my mother that Hock Chek and Hock Chim are her maternal grandparents. The only son of Hock Chek, whom is my grand-uncle, passed away recently. My maternal grandmother is the eldest daughter of Hock Chek. Your mother used to go to my maternal grandmother's house to gamble.

Most of the resident from our kampong have been relocated to Serangoon area. The temple from our Kampong has shifted to Lorong Ah Soo. Most of the kampong neighbours are still actively involve in the temple's activities.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Joyce. Welcome to Goodmorningyesterday. Thanks for the clarification. In fact just the other day, my elder brother Chun Chew and I met with Eng Leong to return his old photos and we tried to recall the people and places. We plan to meet up with some of the old kampong neighbours one day.

But I am still a bit confused. I thought that Hock Chek and Hock Chim would be your maternal grandparents rather that great grandparents. Hock Chim, my godmother was very kind to me. I remember their house was just beside the river and had a huge rambutan tree with lots of yellow colour rambutans.

Eng Leong told me about the recent passing of Ah Seng my godbrother. We used to play with him and he gave me a beautiful blue Siamese fighting fish. I remember he had a younger sister who was my age. We went to Braddell Rise School together; but I cannot recall her name. Ah Lan or Ah Lian. We used to tease her and my cousin Chee Kok (son of Chit Soh) who was her classmate.

Joyce. Can you pls ask you brother and cousin to contact me via email. My email address is:

I heard that you have some old photos of our kampong. I am now writing a book about growing up in Spore in the 1950's and 60's. Nearing completion; and am looking for photos to illustrate my stories. Your help would be much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

hi guys,lets make it happeneddddd, lau leong.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if I am doing the right thing, I am actually looking for my ancestors. My late grandma, a Chinese, was rumoured to have lived at one of the S'goon kampongs. During the Japanese occupation, she & her sister were given to a Malay family (for safety reason). My late grandma later married my late grandpa and stayed at Geylang Serai. She passed away in 1988. Hopefully I can find someone who knows abt this. Thank you.

Pan 2 said...


This really bring me back to my childhood time, my house is a40a lorong kinchi , i'm the youngest daughter of phua sam peck. Not sure u remember the ice cream man drive 3 wheelmotorcycle? We have the starfruits tree in front our house. Beside our house, is Lau Zai Tee ( my cousin ) Lau Ming Her ( my 2nd uncle sell garage .gu .ni man). They have all passway. There is a bus driver O Huan and a stall sell the wanton mee which i miss it alot. They all my relative too.


Lam Chun See said...

Hi Catherine,

I need to check with my brother Chun Chew to get my bearing concerning your family. Anyway, I really recommend that you get a copy of my book where I have documented in detail our kampong and the nearby areas like Lorong Chuan, Serangoon Gardens and Braddell Road.

Lam Chun See said...

BTW Catherine. Are you related to Lau Eng Leong, grandson of Low Thiam Aik?

Pan 2 said...

Lau Thiam Aik, he is my Pa Gong. Passaway long time ago.

Anonymous said...

used to live at the junction of harapan and kinchir.

yj72 said...

I stayed around that area along AMK ave 1 near Li Hwan from 1972 to 1978. My childhood memories were very vague but I do remember that my kinder Garden was a Wayan stage. I also remember buying sweets from a provision shop and we would get 5c if we were lucky. Can you confirm that the Wayan stage was indeed use as PAP Kinder Garden?