Thursday, April 27, 2006

Singapore General Elections

What is an article about the Singapore General Elections doing in a nostalgia blog like Good Morning Yesterday? - you are probably asking.

Good question. The reason is, I have more difficulty remembering about the last time I voted than about my kampong days in Lorong Kinchir. You see, I live in the prestigious District 10 of Singapore where the residents are supposed to be all rich and successful. Consequently, no opposition had dared to venture into our neighbourhood for ages.

I do not know for sure, but I believe the last time there was a contest in my constituency, it was between the PAP’s Lim Boon Heng and the son of Francis Seow – my apologies, I can’t even recall the guy’s name. I remember he was quite a bald chap. Please don’t ask me what year that was. I heard that the gentleman has since emigrated to Australia or somewhere.

Not much has happened, politics-wise in my area since that memorable event. I think my area became part of Bukit Timah, and then subsequently Bt Timah-Holland GRC.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I don’t know much about politics. But nevertheless, I cannot help wondering; why are the opposition so scared of Bt Timah? Could it be that, since politics in Singapore is all about bread-and-butter issues, and Bt Timah being perceived as a ‘rich man’s area’, the constituents will always vote for PAP?

Just for the fun of it, I would like to apply my friend, victor’s ‘contrarian’ way of looking at this issue.

People in Bt Timah are suppose to be rich and successful. We do not need to approach our MPs for help. Consequently, we hardly know our MPs. Likewise, our MPs also don’t need to know us. I have never, in all my twenty years in Bt Timah met an MP walking about to meet the people. In contrast, I have met Mr Tharman in the food court in Taman Jurong Point twice. As it is walkover every time, I also do not get to see their photos on banners during election time, unlike other parts of Singapore. So I can be excused for not knowing who my MPs are (Actually I know 2 of the names, Lim Swee Say and Mrs Yu-Foo ? ?)

Given this happy situation, it does not seem to matter who gets elected in Holland-Bt Timah. Even if we voted in a bunch of opposition MPs, it is not going to make much difference in our lives anyway, and we would probably not get to see them until the next election.

So I think the opposition should have tried their luck and come to Holland-Bt Timah. Heck, they don’t even need to promise us lifts on every floor. All they need is to assure us lots of fireworks in parliament, and who knows; some of the problem-free residents here may just decide to vote for them.

Yes, I know what you are thinking. Mr Lam, your so called political analysis sucks. You better stick to nostalgia.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Memories of a Beautiful Country

This may not qualify as my usual nostalgia blog because I am recollecting events that happened less than a year ago. But, I was prompted to write this post when I read about the Burmese Water Festival Celebrations in Singapore at and subsequently visited this blog by a Myanmar national working in Singapore.

Last year, I spent 2 weeks in Myanmar to conduct a training programme on Productivity and Quality Management for a group of government officials. Although the assignment was very tough, I had a great time. The Myanmar people I met everywhere were simply wonderful. And so I want to share some of my impressions and photographs with you. Although I did take some photos, most of them were of the activities in the classroom. At that time, I have not starting blogging yet. Otherwise, I would have taken more photos of the street scenes. As you might have read in an earlier article
(What Prompted Me To Start This Blog), one of the reasons why I started Good Morning Yesterday was because the streets of Yangon reminded me of Singapore when I was young. (My apologies to my Myanmar friends – no insult intended. Just speaking from the heart).

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This is the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. At night, it can be seen from miles away when it is lit up

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On Sunday, I went to this church (Methodist English Church) near my hotel. After the service, I had a nice chat with the bishop of the Methodist Church himself

What I relish most about my visit was the warmth of the people I met everywhere. In Singapore, we talk so much about customer service. But I tell my friends, wait till you go to Myanmar. Take the hotel where I stayed for example (Singaporean-owned Grand Plaza Park Royal). One evening, when I finished my lectures and got into the hotel car, the driver greeted me with a “Happy Birthday Mr Lam”. Apparently, they found out from my passport particulars that it was my birthday that day. When I reached the hotel, I was similarly greeted by several of the staff. When I got to my room, there was a huge birthday cake waiting for me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t even finish half - real sin to discard half a cake in a country like Myanmar.

One day I sent my shirt for cleaning. It was my favourite shirt which I kept even though it had a whiteboard marker stain which I had not been able to remove for months – part of the hazards of being a trainer. When the shirt came back from the cleaners, I discovered that the stain was gone.

My trainees deserve special mention. They were so warm and hospitable and appreciative and keen to learn. Mind you – many of them are highly qualified professionals; a couple of them even have MBA’s and even a Phd. And the respect they show to the teacher is something we simply do not see in Singapore these days. Everytime, I wanted to shift the projector, the guys in front practically jumped up to help me.




When I got to know them better, I followed a few of them (most of them brought their own lunch – to safe money I suppose) for lunch at a nearby ‘kopitiam’. They didn’t dare to invite me earlier for fear that I might find the conditions too ‘third world’. So they were very happy that I actually asked to join them. Knowing that these people had very low salaries, I insisted that I pay my own share before we went out. They agreed, but when the waiter came, they settled the payment before I could do anything. They said it was their tradition. So the next day, I insisted on paying 1,000 kyat upfront before I would join them.



On the final day, they brought me for dinner and cultural show at the Karaweik Palace, reassuring me that it was very ‘cheap’ as there was a promotion going on.

Yangon11 - Kandawgyi Lake

This is the beautiful Karaweik Palace on the Kandawgyi Lake

What saddened me most was the state of the economy; caused presumably by the economic sanctions by the Western powers. In my hotel, I hardly saw any Caucasian tourists. Most of them were business people from India, Thailand and maybe some Singaporeans.

Let me just cite a couple of examples.

In the photos below, you see the beautiful Inya Lake, near the Yangon University. At the edge of the lake, you may be able to make out some chalets and an amusement part. On closer look, I found that the chalets were all unoccupied and abandoned; and in a state of disrepair. What a waste. Imagine how popular such a place would be to Singaporeans. The facilities at amusement park were run down and the eating outlets quite empty.

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People fishing at the Lake Inya. Across the road (right of this photo) is another Spore hotel; the Sedona

There was a Chinese restaurant next to my hotel – huge enough for wedding banquets. Out of curiosity, I went there 1 evening. To my surprise, I found that I was the only customer there. Just picture it, 3 or 4 waiters pandering to 1 diner. I thought maybe it was just a coincidence, and so I went there the following evening; and guess what? Exactly the same situation. I asked the head waiter and he told me that was the normal situation. They depended mainly on weekend wedding dinners and banquets, and occasional group tours – mainly from Thailand for their income.

I don’t know or care much about politics. But it just does not seem right to me to punish a people because of their government. I often see blog sites where young Singaporeans lambaste the government of Myanmar about their human rights record and so on. But it seems to me, these young people are simply echoing what they read in the internet from Western websites. If only they could make a trip to the country and see what I saw; maybe they will change their tune.

I am looking forward to another opportunity visit this beautiful country. This time I promise I will come back with lots of pictures of Singapore in the 60’s and 70’s.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Toys Were Us (4): Gelek Reng – By Chuck Hio

I have been wanting to post about this game for some time. However, I find it difficult to decribe without a good picture, and it is a bit too much to go and actually construct one.

Fortunately, I recently came across an article with a good photo in the Straits Times of the Mentri Besar of Trengannu playing this game with the kids. The game is called Gelek Reng in Malay.

The picture is quite self-explanatory. Basically, it involves rolling the bicycle rim from one point to the other with a stick. I am sure many of the older readers will remember this kampong game that we used to play in the old days. The is another example of the toys we played using 'recycled' material.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Commentary on Du Mu’s Poem – Simon Chu

Chun See,

Thank you for putting up that beautiful poem, 清明 (Qing Ming) by renowned Tang Dynasty poet, Du Mu. In response to your questions, here are my comments.



It drizzles endless during the rainy season in spring,
Travelers along the road look gloomy and miserable.
When I ask a shepherd boy where I can find a tavern,
He points at a distant hamlet nestling amidst apricot blossoms.

Du Mu's poem depicts, to a great extent, the sentiment of those people during that era (i.e. Tang dynasty) when Buddhism was widely followed by the Chinese society.

Du Mu was describing the mood of the people who went tomb-sweeping. While on their way to the cemeteries, they reminisced about their deceased loved ones and wished they could repay their (deceased) kindness.

The atmosphere is serene, with light drizzle, and the air is cool (return of spring). The flowers are blooming - mainly the xin hua [杏花 ], a flower which was common in the area south of the Yang Tze River [江南地带 ], known to be land of ‘fish and rice’ [ 鱼米之乡 ]. That is why Du Mu put it in as the last line of his poem. It is a beautiful picture. Must be in the countryside where the graves are found. The air is crisp and cool. The shepherd boy is minding the cows. The tomb-sweepers were on their way to the graves to remember their loved total sadness...[欲 = thinking of, or looks like ]

Also, the word, ‘travelers’ [行人] does not necessarily mean they are people who go tomb-sweeping. It could also mean those lonely travelers e.g. traders from afar. When they think of their deceased loved ones, they like to buy themselves a few cups of wine to drown their sorrow; what's more, accompanied by the timely atmosphere - crispy air and light drizzle. I am sure you have come across the ancient Chinese brush painting [山水画]

In case some of your readers prefer a Chinese version of the explanation of the poem, I provide it below:





This leads me to your 2nd question about the Chinese idiom concerning filial piety. It reads:


This line explains the time when the son (descendant) wants to repay his parents' kindness, but they are already gone!. This is probably taken from Confusius‘ collection:


Finally, here's my version that sounds rather crude and rude: (hey, I was only a kid!)

My Qing Ming poem has to be taken in the Singapore context though, where the weather is always hot and humid. It goes:

路上行人, 想吃蕉
借问何处, 有蕉卖
屎塘里面, 一条条

Come to think of it, my inspiration came from spending nights at your Lorong Kinchir place back in the late 60s/early 70s when the human waste was collected and disposed of at the sewerage centre, so called [ 屎塘 ].

The tracks at Pik San Teng were non-tarmac, and when the weather was dry and humid, one could feel the roasting dust [路焦焦]. Banana trees [香牙蕉]were common among the kampong area; but you need to buy – its not free. The reader has to read my version in Cantonese to bring out the ‘aroma’.

(Not sure if it is appropriate to post this naughty poem on your blog – but then you asked for it. Haha)

Posted by Simon Chu, Scotland.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Of Beetles and Chinese Cemeteries

Chinatown Boy's fond recollection of the Volkswagen Beetle and the very, very popular movie, Love Bug (Herbie is at it again!), brings back some memories.

My family used to own a beetle. But sad to say, it had many problems (I must clarify that ours was an old, second-hand model). Once, I attended a party in the Officers' Mess in Mandai camp. I drove the family car but when it was time to go home, it wouldn't start. It caused considerable embarrassment as I was supposed to fetch some ladies home. Fortunately, my platoon was around that evening. And having whipped them into tip-top physical condition through months of combat engineers training, I got to reap the rewards of my labour. It was no sweat for my boys to push start the beetle.

The car also brings back some memories about our grave-sweeping days in Bishan. As this is the Ching Ming (清 明)period, I might as well take the opportunity to educate the youngsters about the Bishan cemeteries.

My father used to bring us each year to Pek San Teng ( 碧 山 亭) or Kampong San Teng, as it was called those days, to pay respect to his elders; most of whom we do not even know. It was always a very tiresome affair. The weather was usually hot; and it was made worse by the burning of joss sticks and papers and even grass; as well as the traffic jams. It was also hard work to locate the graves and cut the over-grown lallang. Many hours were also spent to prepare the worshipping paraphernalia and food (for offering) and paint for the faded words on the grave stones, sharpen the sickles and so on.

One of the most frustrating parts of this annual exercise was to locate the graves. Based on what I can remember, the system of organising the cemeteries was really lousy. My brothers agree with me. Let me explain a bit about the system.

The entire area was divided into a series of 'hills' and 'pavilions'. For example, one of the hills was located at the spot behind the old Braddell-Toa Payoh flyover (where there used to be a petrol station) So to locate a particular grave, you must know the name of the hill and the pavilion number; for example 黄福山, 第五亭 (Wong Fook Hill, Pavilion No. 5). Then comes the difficult part of finding the exact grave in this section. And it didn’t help when we were not sure of the exact words written on the grave stones. As it was an annual event, my father often had difficulty remembering all these details from a year ago. Oftentimes, the writing on the graves were faded. In fact, finding the hill itself in the vast Bishan area was quite an achievement in 'topo' as the army boys would call it. Anyway, I was too young at that time, and I merely followed where the older ones led.

Another thing I remember about this annual exercise was the grass cutters. These people will pester us to let them cut the over-grown lallang at the graves and charged an exorbitant sum. Often they simply will not take no for an answer; and occasionally this led to ugly incidents. What they would do was to hop on your car bumper to get a ride to your destination. And their favourite car was the Volkswagen Beetle because it had an extended stainless steel bumper which provided a convenient standing platform for the bumpy ride.

And for all our hard work, we were rewarded with a big makan session when we returned home.

Last week, I had a meeting with the other friends of I met Kenneth who stays in Bishan. Like many young Singaporeans, he knows of the history of Bishan as a former burial ground, but he just could not picture it. I hope this post has helped a little. Unfortunately, I do not have any photos to illustrate.

Before I end, I would just like to take a moment to clarify that I no long practice ancestral worship. As Christians, we are commanded to honour our earthly parents, but we are only to worship our Creator God and not humans. However, to honour the memory of my parents, and to express the value that I place on my relationship with my siblings, I accompany them each year to Siong Lim Temple where my parents' ashes are kept; and where they do the worshipping. After that we adjourn for lunch to catch up and have warm fellowship.


As I type, it’s starting to rain outside. Suddenly, I recall this famous Tang (Dynasty) poem about Qing Ming

清明 (杜牧作)


Translation: (Source: Learn Chinese Stories, Idioms, Sayings: Chinese Poem - Qing Ming by Du Mu)

It drizzles endless during the rainy season in spring,
Travelers along the road look gloomy and miserable.
When I ask a shepherd boy where I can find a tavern,
He points at a distant hamlet nestling amidst apricot blossoms.

My friend Simon Chu used to recite a very funny, but crude parody of this famous poem. I will ask him to share with you later.

Friday, April 07, 2006

In Memoriam: My Army Buddy, Chong Teuck

In my earlier post on Gillman Camp, I mentioned my army buddy Chong Teuck.

Yesterday, I saw an obituary commemorating the 10th anniversary of his passing in the Straits Times. I decided to write this blog in memory of my old friend with whom I spent almost one half of my active days in the army.

Cheong Teuck and I were platoon mates for nine months in Charlie Company, OCS (Officer Cadet School) in SAFTI in 1976. After that we were both posted to Gillman Camp for the four-and-a-half month JOEC (Junior Officers Engineer Course in 1977. From there, I was posted to 30SCE in Mandai Camp to serve my remaining 10 months of full-time national service as a platoon commander, whilst he went on for yet another course in 37SCE. Being a regular, he was permitted to do that.

My regret as always, was that we never kept in touch, and our paths never crossed since then.

I dedicate the photographs below to the memory of my friend Chong Teuck.

Taken at Gillman Camp after some lesson on camouflage and concealment

Enlarged view (From Left): Joe Chung, Chong Teuck and myself


Taken at Temple Hill, Gillman Camp after a lesson on the Cage Bridge


Taken at Gillman Camp after a lesson on Bailey Bridge

Taken at Mandai Camp during a lesson on Medium Girder Bridge. Me facing camera. CT (with gasses) looking on

Taken at Safti Demolition Range. Me standing; extreme left. CT standing 2nd from right

I was happy to read from his obituary that Chong Teuck had accepted Christ as his Lord and savior. May the Lord bless and keep his wife and 2 daughters.

At least I know that someday, we will meet again ‘”on that beautiful shore”.

There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.

In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Humble ‘Punki’ – A Symbol of Toil and Fun

After reading June Yong’s interesting post
about the Grassroots Heritage Centre, I decided to pay a visit the other day at lunch time. As June mentioned, there were lots of useful information about the history of community centres in Singapore for the past 40 years. But I confess I did not pay much attention. Instead, I was excited to see many familiar objects which brought back memories.

The first object that caught my attention was the rattan basket or what we called ‘punki’ in Hokkien. (sorry I do not know the correct name in English). I have not seen this type of rattan punki for a long time. Nowadays, they are all made of plastic and black in colour.


To me the humble punki is a symbol of toil as well as fun. Toil because it reminds me of the tough defence exercises in the army where we had to dig trenches and moved earth with it. Fun because we used to catch fighting fishes from the nearby ponds with it during our kampong days.

As most of the NS boys in Singapore are familiar with the former activity, I will limit this post to sharing about how we used the punki for one of the most enjoyable activities of my childhood.

To catch a fighting fish, you must first locate a suitable site. We usually look for patches of grass or vegetation on the edge of the pond; like the one you see in the picture below (taken at MacRitchie Reservoir), but our grass was taller and the water dirtier. It’s strange how this instinct stays with you all your life. Every time I come across a lake or pond like this, my mind immediately asks; “Are there any fighting fishes here?”

Fighting fish pond

Next you wade quietly to the knee-deep, murky water in front of the patch and plunged in the punki. Immediately, use one hand to beat around the bush, literally, to chase the fishes into your punki, whilst steadying it with the other hand. After that, you raise the punki in eager anticipation. What a thrill it was to see a brightly-coloured, struggling male fighting fish in your punki. However, we occasionally get a rude shock when we see a huge hairy spider scurrying around instead.

The kind of fighting fish we caught were quite different from the ones you see in the aquariums. Those they sell in the aquariums are Siamese fighting fish with bigger, more elegant fins and tails. Ours had smaller fins and tail. They are called betta imbellis, so I learned.


We would put our precious catch in tin cans and bring them home and transfer them to glass Horlicks bottles together with some water plants, usually the hydrilla, and keep them in a dark area, such as (don’t laugh) under our beds, to let them regain their bright colours.

What do we feed them? We usually catch tubifex worms from the nearby Kallang River. How? Please read my earlier story, ( Our Kampong). Alternatively, we use a spoon to scoop mosquito larvae, which were in ample supply, from nearby drains.

Then comes the cruel part where we would let our fishes fight by putting them into a bigger bottle. I am glad that kids nowadays are not so cruel.


This is a photo of me and my younger brother taken in the early 60's. Do you see the pond on our left? On our right is another pond where we catch the fighting fishes. I figure this spot is now right smack on the CTE.

Besides the punki, I also saw some other familiar objects like wooden badminton rackets and a mock-up of the community centre. I will blog about these another time.