Wednesday, November 16, 2005

On The Street Where Chun Sing Lived

My friend Chun Sing's description of life in Sago Street and Sago Lane is so interesting, I could not resist going down there this afternoon to take a look. Good thing I am self-employed and so no worry of being scolded for taking a 2-hour lunch break. Besides taking some pictures of the area, I also helped myself to a nice bowl of beef noodle from the Chinatown hawker centre.

View of Sago Street from the hawker centre end

This is house no. 6

Can you spot Sago Lane? Looks like the Street of the Dead has become a dead street. But it also appears that the govt is trying to resurrect it.


Heartlander said...

Chun See
I am glad that you took the bother of riding into Chinatown to snap a few pictures under the hot sun of Singapore. I can appreciate the heat and humidity!

What's more you took a picture of No.6 where I spent my childhood. Did you see there is a lane beside No.6 linked between Sago Street and Smith street (colloquial named as Opera Theatre Street [戏院街 ])?
I have lots of memories of what I experienced and saw happened in that lane.....that gets me start writing my Part 3 then!
Chun Sing (Simon)

Lam Chun See said...

Yes - it was very hot yesterday afternoon. No wonder Sago Street looked 'dead' empty even though it was lunch time; only 1-something. Speaking of which, I think biz there is tough; so many shops and eating joints. Rental must be real high some more.

Glad that you will be writing a blog. I need a short break. Next week very 'siong' - 5 solid days of lectures to conduct. Hope my throat can tahan - any suggestions guys?.

Victor said...

In the 1960s, I had an aunt who stayed in a 4-storey SIT block in Smith Street where Kreta Ayer Centre stands today. I remember nearly the whole street was a wet market in the morning. All sorts of things were sold in the market - snakes, monitor lizards, tortoises, rabbits, etc. These animals were presumably sold as food for the dinner table rather than as pets.

Business was bustling then - a far cry from what it seems today as Chun See's photos show. Even Chun Sing's old Sago Lane photo showed more activities. (How could anyone claim to have bad business in those days when there were always prospective customers upstairs waiting to use the facilities downstairs?)

Even the opening of the Chinatown MRT station nearby seemed to be of little help in bringing in the crowds, except during Chinese New Year. I think the gahmen has over-sanitised the place to the point that it looks like any other tourist attraction. It's original flavour, sounds and activities are gone forever and could never be replicated.

As for suggestions on how to avoid getting a sore throat from giving lectures, you can put your lecture notes on your blog mah. Then your students can self-study at their own time and we can also learn a thing or two, hee.

I myself have been too busy commenting on other people's blog that I little time to blog lately. Besides, not everyone have the luxury of collecting blog material during lunch time, you know. Haha.

Chris Sim said...

Remember Victor, when the gahmen say they're want to preserve some part of Singapore, specifically the old buildings, more often then not, it's out of commercial and economic concern, rather then nostalgia. Simply put, they just want to attract the tourist dollars. Just look at Lau Pa Sat. What has become of it? (man, I still remember the fabulous prawn noodle, the whereabout now only God knows..) When was the last time you been here?

About Sago Lane and Sago St, no amount of "facelift" will ever bring back the good old Sago Lane and Sago St, where food-stalls, unhygienic as they were, stood side by side each other. The only time I feel that I am transported back to the 70s era while at Sago St was during the Chinese New Year period. You still get to see lines of stalls selling Chinese New Year goodies. You still get to jostle with the throngs of people as you walk along the crowded street. You still get to haggle with the stallholders even as they raise their voices hawking their New Year goodies. Thankfully, some things don't change ....

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right, Chris. No amount of effort (measured in terms of economic denomination) will be able to bring back the 'old flavour' the Chinatown used to own...Now it's away though on the part of the gahmen they had meant good for the well being of the country (again measured in terms of dollars and cents not 'nostalgic sense')
It is not possible for me to capture the old flavour of Chinatown during the 50s when the flavour of being a Chinatown heartlander would mean something today. I would always like to go back to the Lao De Fang [老地方 ].
Chun Sing (Simon)

Anonymous said...

I too wished Chinatown has been left unchanged, retaining the sounds, colours and flavour of the 60s.

Our fathers or grandfathers would have wished Chinatown to be like it was in the early 1900s when bullock-carts were used to transport water and goods; and entertainment simply meant listening to the roadside story-teller or watching Chinese opera.

In 50 years times, Chinatown will be quite different from what it is today. The our children or grandchildren will remember fondly of the Chinatown in the early 2000s.

But as we all know, dear friends, change is inevitable.

Lam Chun See said...

Victor. If you were my consultant, I will be able to blog all day. Becos no more biz!!!

Lam Chun See said...

Chun Sing. The unit looks so small, how to squeeze 10 families plus toilet?

Lam Chun See said...

Friends. Haven’t you heard this song before? 往事只能回味. Quick – tell me who’s the singer.

Actually, as we become older, some lyrics from the old songs suddenly become very meaningful. For example, the other day, I heard this oldie by 青山 ( 可爱的人生 ). I was in my car with my buddy Peh Seng Ket, (another oldie). I told him that, in the past I used to find this song very ‘obiang’; silly even. But now ….

Chris Sim said...

I know! I know! That singer wore a pair of very "squarish" glasses with black frame. And he has that very sour face one. I cannot remember his name leh...Let me check it out with my Dad.

Chris Sim said...

I din ask my Dad... I suddenly just remembered. It's sung by a local singer called 王青元. But not sure if he's the original singer, though. He was in the same era as 张小英, a singer mentioned by Victor once. Quite boring one..those singers, I mean.. Haha..

Anonymous said...

To pick up your blog that you mentioned about your aunt who onc elived at the SIT flat in Smith Street, I remember that location vaguely. I think as yous aid is now occupied by the multi-storey car park plus wet market. I used to loiter that block to buy sweeties from this old woman selling ti-kum (a paper card board of about 15" x 30" may be) and pinned with rows of numbers and some are dotted with prizes that could range from $1 notes to preserved cuttlefish and other items. Being young at that age of 7-8 I could spare a 5 cents or most 10 cents to gamble by pluggind the pasted red-coupons at the lower half of the ti-kum board in hope the coupons I picked contained the lucky number that struck the dollar note. I recalled I had spent mor emoney in losing than winning. That's all I can say about gambling. My late father used to tell us that [输钱是因 赢钱起 ] (read in Cantonese).
I take it that everyone of us reads Chinese then? Basically he said that a person who loses his wealth through gambling was because he first won some money in the beginning. Isn't that true?
Something else in that block too.

Some people who lived on the 3rd floor above were too lazy to come down to the hawker stalls below (on the Smith Street) for their supper. Guess what they did? They would use a basket and hoist it down to the waiting hawker below to punt in a bowl of noodles or something small enough for the basket tied to a rope....they called it [飞机篮 ]
In fact now my memory is coming back. There used to be a coffee shop at that SIT block. It wa sfamous for char-kwai-teow. I used to be amazed at the assistant of this owner who was able to peel cockie at such a lightning speed....He seemed to be at ease peeling the shells when I had to almost torn off my finger nails in order to get one removed. Both him and his boss were very friendly to me...I must have looked cute when I was a kid then.
I think I'll tell you folks more in my next blog then.

Chun Sing (Simon)

Lam Chun See said...

Hey Chun Sing, are you calling Victor 'lazy'? Pls see earlier blog on Our Kampong where Victor described how he used this lazy method to buy things.

Victor said...

Thanks Chun See for advertising for me. Yes I mentioned about that way of buying food in an earlier post here. On my own blog, I also have a description of the tikam-tikam game. Looks like we really have a lot in common, hee.

The similarity doesn't stop there -I am of the same age group, only about 4 years younger than each of you (excluding Chris). I am Cantonese too and of course understands the Chinese characters that are used here (I got quite good results for 'O' level, remember? Haha.) But Chun Sing lived in 大坡 (South Bridge Road area) while I lived in 小坡 (North Bridge Road area).

Yes, the location of the block of flats in Smith Street as described by Chun Sing was very accurate. If you had ventured up to the 4th storey in the 1960s, you would have probably seen my aunt playing mahjong with the neighbours in a common area near the staircase. This was how neighbourliness was promoted in those days. Not only that, the 10 families on each floor shared 6 common toilets, 2 communal kitchens and 2 washing areas, each with about 6 taps. The best part was that the gahmen footed the bill for the water (and hence nobody bothered to save water then). Charcoal, kerosene and even kayu (wood) were used for stove cooking - no electricity or gas were used.

In my own block in Cheng Yan Place, the way of life and facilities were exactly the same as what I have described for the Smith Street block in the preceding paragraph.

Lam Chun See said...

Don't worry Victor. The people in this blog all got good memory one. We can remember events from 40 years back. So of course we remember your good SC results - 21 pts for best 5 subjects right?

Victor said...

I like your humour Chun See. 21 pts for the best 5 subjects? Was that you own 'mediocre' results instead? Haha.

How's the lecture going? Hope you've not been afflicted by sore throat yet. Here's a few more suggestions that surely won't make you 'got no biz' and yet won't get sore throat - you can use a loud hailer, the PA system or pre-record your lectures.

Anonymous said...

My uncle lived in Chinatown and my father ,sister and myself used to visit him. Can't remember the street name - either Sago or Smith. I remember the rooms were small units separated by thin planks of timber - just big enough for a bed and a table and some chairs.

They shared a common kitchen, bathroom and toilet. Most families had a spittoon in their rooms for emergency use or if they were lazy to go to the toilet especially at night..

kampong bahru kid said...

Chun See


Wow , nice to see that you of my generation is getting nostalgic of the old world. I am from the same school as you have been

Simon knows me well

Lam Chun See said...

Dear Kampong Bahru kid. Thank you for dropping by. I am curious as to your true identity. Do I know you? Are you from my cohort in ACS? Pls send me an email. Also pls do make regular visits and join in the interesting discussions. As you can see from the comments, we have formed a network of friends of like interst.

Anonymous said...


We are actually doing a tv programme titled Jalan for MediacorpTV12. Would like to interview Mr Lam Chun Seng about Sago Lane.

Please call me at 96922984 (Netty).

Thanks a lot

Luke Tan said...

It's really interesting about how the old sago street compared with the new sago street. Thank you for sharing.