Saturday, October 21, 2006

Places I Remember (2) – Serangoon Gardens

Do you know what is the name of Serangoon Gardens in Hokkien?

Older Singaporeans will know that it’s Ang Sar Lee which means Red Roofs. In the 1950’s and 60’s, this estate was mostly populated by British military forces’ families. As such most of the streets here have British names like Farleigh, Kensington, Chartwell and Cardiff. In those days, many of the houses had red-colour tiled roofs, and hence the name Ang Sar Lee.



Thanks to Johnny Ho who contributed these two 1960’s photos of shops in Serangoon Garden to Memories of Singapore and used with permission here. Can anyone identify the streets depicted here?

By the way, when I checked the street directory, the name is officially Serangoon Garden (singular), but I am pretty sure, it used to be Serangoon Gardens (plural). I wonder if anyone is able to throw some light on this mystery. Anyway, I will simply refer to it as SG.Our family’s acquaintance with SG was mainly in the 1960’s after the new road, Lorong Chuan was built, joining it to Braddell Road, and passing by Our Kampong at Lorong Kinchir. This must be around 1961 or 62. We usually cycled the 2 to 3 km and occasionally I liked to take the short cut via Cardiff Grove and Chartwell Drive, instead of the main roads Lorong Chuan and Serangoon Garden Way. I remember seeing a beautiful church but cannot recall the name.

My eldest brother Chun Chew suggested that we make a visit to SG and take some photos of the familiar landmarks before they suffer the same fate as many other famous landmarks in Singapore, and of course to blog about it. And so last week, we took another trip down memory lane. My sister Pat, joined us. She was eager to revisit the famous Chomp Chomp food centre.

Serangoon Garden (2) - Paramount
This yellow building was formerly the Paramount Theatre

After driving around a bit, we made our first stop at the former Paramount theatre along Maju Avenue. This place held many happy memories for us. We watched many movies here. Let’s see if I can recollect some of them. Besides the Hercules series which I mentioned earlier, there were cowboy Westerns, Japanese Samurai movies (the name Shintaro sound familiar to you) and of course the Shaw Brothers kung fu movies directed by Chang Chieh and featuring stars like One-Arm Swordsman, Wang Yu, Lo Lieh, Yue Hua and Chen Hung Lieh. One particular title I recall is the very funny It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Like many of the old cinema halls in Singapore, Paramount Theatre has been converted into a shopping centre.

Serangoon Garden (9) - Maju
We frequented this row of shops facing Paramount Theatre. We often stringed our badminton rackets at a shop called George .. something.

Serangoon Garden (10) - Farleigh
I remember buying or renting the very popular Beano and Dandy comics at a corner Indian stall at Farleigh Avenue.

From Maju Avenue, we made our way to the SG Market where Mr Tan Pan Beng operated his pork stall. We passed by the Serangoon Garden Circus which has little changed. This must be one of the few circuses left in Singapore.
(By the way, here's a quiz question. Which was the largest circus in Singapore? Let me know if you can find the answer in the Spore Encyclopaedia.)

Serangoon Garden (20) - Circus
This is a shot of the SG Circus viewed from SG Market entrance.

We had our lunch at the newly renovated market and food centre before making our way back to Maju Avenue where I had parked my car. Along the way, we stopped by the Post Office and the famous Chomp Chomp Hawker Centre, which didn't look like it was in operation - most of the stalls were closed. I remember they used to have an excellent popiah stall here.

Serangoon Garden (28) - Market
This is the new market cum hawker centre along Serangoon Garden Way

Serangoon Garden (27) - PO
This is the original SG Post Office directly across the road from the market. Wonder how long before they tear it down.

Regrettably, my photos did not turn out well. The haze and overcast sky to be blamed of course. Which gives us a convenient excuse to visit again, maybe when my brother returns from Australia.

On the way back, we detoured to our see what was left of our kampong at Lorong Chuan. Share that with you next time.


Anonymous said...

I'm very intriqued by your entries about toys invented by kids during your days. I'm amazed........ and extremely impressed. This is really WOW!!!!

Reading your blog made me more and more curious about life during the kampong days. I want to know more!!!

Did girls also made lastics and toy guns? Did girls also shoot at lizards etc? or are these toys exclusively for boys? What was life like back then?

What about the transportation system? Did families own cars like they do today?

Did you have television back then?

Victor said...

Try as I might, I am unable to link sex to this post about Serangoon Gardens... but only good hawker food.

And it seems like the previous comment gave you a lot of blogging assignments wor, haha.

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Anonymous for your questions. This kind of reaction is exactly what I was aiming for when I started this blog. I will address your questions in future blogs; but here is the short answer.

Girls - I don't think they joined us much. I had only 1 sister and 2 female neighbours-cousins. I think they had to do a lot of housework (oh oh ..). Have to let my friend Chuck answer that one.

Public transport - that was what made me start this blog in the first place; seeing those crowded, run down buses in Yangon last year. Today's air-conned SBS are a dream.

Cars - very few. But once the employment situation improved many started to buy. Very cheap. Our first car was a 2nd hand Morris Minor which my eldest brother bought for about $600.

TV - yes but only black and white in the sixties. You must have seen the famous footage of PM Lee Kuan Yew announcing our separation from Malaysia. Our favourites were cowboy series like Maverick, Laramie, Rin tin Tin. Aah .. definiely will blog about this one.

me said...


this reminds me of how singapore has changed..

from bus conductor tickets.. to transit link cards... to ezlink cards..

omg i went through all these 3 changes!

one more qn... im not too sure but.. uncle lam, did you blog on ... kok kok noodles? my grandma used to tell me about them alot...

Lam Chun See said...

No I did not blog on kok-kok mee. Maybe later. Saw some exhibits on this at the Chinatown Heritage Museum.

Anonymous said...

Kampong girls were a very hardworking lot, helping their parents doing housework, farming in the case of parents being farmers. They were very careful of their behaviour avoiding any scandals which might affect their reputation. There was this young pretty girl who was dare enough to wear a pair of shorts, and overnight she shot into 'stardom' and was centrepiece of gossiping of the whole village for a long time to come. In fact there was a successful grocer's son who was interested in her, but because of the 'shorts' incident the boy's parents objected to their relationship, and with a broken heart he ended up with a different girl in marriage. All these happened in the fifties.

Anonymous said...

I don't remember seeing any girls play with lastic. I suppose those days, boys and girls play different toys/games.

Anyway, we don't use lastic to shoot at lizards and crockcroaches. We use toy guns like this bullet gun which I described earlier.

Anonymous said...

Poor kampong girls, they had not much toys to play. I noticed that they do play 'masak masak' - mini toy-cooking utensils which they pretended to be cooking. There was this mini sand-bags, five in all, which were likely sewn by their mothers, played in a tossing (in the air) & snatching manner. Another game girls was the hip-hop onto drawn lines, in a pattern form on the ground (sometime in school). Much time was spent by girls in learning sewing, a skill much encouraged by their mothers. Hence kampong girls later on became skilled seamstresses, often supplementing their income if they did not have much education to fall back on.

Anonymous said...

When I was in Chomp Chomp several weeks ago, I noticed that the Hokkien Mee stall has got a new cook... and the taste is new....cannot compare to the old taste and I think it be a long time I'll go there again for the Hokkien mee...

Anonymous said...

Hi, let me introduce myself. I am Chun Chew, the elder brother of Chun See, who he described as having an elephant memory, but sad to say this memory is slipping away as far as recognising people is concerned. My sister Pat is champion in this area. She has a special technique though not very polite. If she see a lady with a crop of thick hair, she would mentally picture her as a lioness, and secretly nicknamed her as 'lioness head!', and so on. Interesting ? but don't let her friend find out or else .... T think I should adopt her technique in order to be more effective.

Chris Sim said...

Zen, the game comprising mini-sand bags is known as 5-stones. Back then, we boys, as well as girls were never short of games, both outdoor and indoor - police and thief, one-leg (where one hops on one leg to catch the opponent), A.E.I.O.U., 老鹰捉小鸡, just to name a few. But this was probably in the late 60s and early 70s when I was growing up. In the 50s.... haven't born yet leh. Hehe.

Chun Chew - welcome to the blogosphere.... now I'm trying to form a mental picture of you in my mind so that I can remember you... And I too can be quite impolite sometimes. heh. :P

Anonymous said...

Chris - In fact this method of memorising things is recommended by the so-called experts, trying to associate the things you want to remember with ridiculous objects, or events, but I believe you are already practising this art by using Victor as your target, right? Your liak kau story clearly verifies this.

Victor said...

Cham, even a newcomer like Chun Chew can also tell that Chris is using his bullying tactics on me.

Lam Chun See said...

Hey; how come nobody even dare to make a guess which was the largest (i.t.o. size that is) circus in Spore? Don't tell me you guys are so young hor.

Anonymous said...

Deep in mind was this Newton Circus which controlled many feeder roads, something like seven of them. Of course I did not really researched into other circuses and therefore do not really know the answer to your question.

Anonymous said...

I don't know the biggest circus in Singapore, but I think the smallest one is Hill View Avenue circus which is still there since 1960s.

Victor said...

Cirque du Soleil? :p

Okay, I make 4 serious guesses (like MCQ - much easier, hehe). Hopefully one of them is right:

a. Alexandra Circus
b. Delta Circus
c. Gul Circus
d. Queensway Circus

Don't tell me you also don't know the answer hor.

Lam Chun See said...

Correct answer is Queenstown Circus, where Commonwealth ave meets Queensway. Not 100% sure though because I recall reading that in the Straits Times. I believe the no. 2 was Toa Payoh Circus at the TP Central end of Lorong 1, where you exit into PIE.

iml said...

Thanks for the enlightenment on SG. My family's favourite weekend makan place. It is just a stone throw away from my area in Hougang.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post Chun See. Serangoon Gardens always brings back sweet memories to me. I think what's amazing is that the place still has a somewhat bohemian charm despite the onslaught of commercialisation in recent years.

Maybe I should start to blog about heritage matters too.....

Lam Chun See said...

Walter (Cool insider) - considering the job you are in, it's only natural that you blog on heritage matters. I prefer a personal perspective, not advertising your museums.

Anonymous said...

Make a guess which circus had a fountain (musical fountain) in the late 60s?

Anonymous said...

Wow that it is a tough question. I only know of such a fountain that is in Sentosa which I have not visited for a long time, but can this fountain be considered located in a road circus ?

Lam Chun See said...

I think it's Holland Circus which I intend to blog about under the series, Places I Remember.

Anonymous said...

You asked about the streets in the 2 old photographs. Captain's Cabin in the first photo is now Pow Sing Restaurant, which still has the vertical stripes at the back of the restaurant and the 2 swing doors. That row of shops is on Serangoon Garden Way.

The corner shop in the second photo looks like the old Sputnik Restaurant, which is actually a coffee shop which had a good Hainanese chicken rice stall and a wonton noodle stall. That shop is now a roti prata shop. The street would then be Kensington Park Road

Anonymous said...

Musical fountain was only at Tanglin Circus, at the junction of Grange Road, Tanglin Road and Napier Road. There were colored lights and symphonic music every time the jet of water shot into the sky (like what you see at Bugis Junction). Today Tanglin Circus is a traffic junction.

The fountain at the flyover over Holland Road and Farrer Road had lights but not music. NOt far away was a SHELL station on the side of Farrer Road and Holland Road (before the flyover was constructed)

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks to Photo_trekker and Peter for enlightening us with those nuggets of info.

ahlee said...

I attended your talk at Queenstown library yesterday . Thanks very much.I just created a blog site. I may overtake you as an older blogger now as I came from Malaysia to Singaore over 50 years ago as a younster to study in Singapore.I think I am at least 12 years older than you. I did stay at Alnwick road which is the end of Lorong Chuan after Serangoon Garden Way in the 60s. I remenber the awful smell at Lor Chuan but I thought it was because one factory was drying their cow skin in the front yard. Didnt know about crocodile skin. I remember every friday night there was a pasar malam there along Lor Chuan starting near SG Way stretched for about 2km. It was considered a big affair during that time.Do you know Chomp2 started with a few stalls
inside the circle? Later they were moved to Maju Av where Paramount cinema was then to Kensington Dr outside Sputnik coffee shop then to its present site.Now I visit SG I cannot believe they ever have food stalls inside the circle. It is so small! Can anybody enlighten me whether they ever had food stalls inside the circle ? My memory must have failed me somewhere!The corner coffee shop so named Sputnik is because it happened that Russian sent up the worlds first satellite in 1958 and the coffee shop was opened at about the same time.They just made use of the hottest name of the time.I dont know what is the name of the coffee shop now.must have change hands so many times. At the other end of the shops I remember there is one Wei Min clinic there.Not sure whether the old gentleman doctor still pratise there.He must be very old by now.wish him well.


Lam Chun See said...

Welcome Ahlee. Thanks for the info/stories. This is exactly the kind of 'history' we want to capture for younger Sporeans which is difficult to find in history books. Look forward to seeing you more often on GMY. Don't forget to read the story of Tan Pan Beng (link in this article)

Anonymous said...

I'm a teenager living in Cardiff Grove for 14 years now, and it's great knowing the history of that area. Thanks!

Nostalgic said...

Hi,Chun See, it is good to see those pictures of the good old SG.
That Indian bookshop along Farleigh Avenue is called NIB. Has it been relocated? I remembered buying some picnic stuff with my classmates ( former Cedarians , class 77) at a Cold Storage Store near the Paramount Cinema.Is the store still there?
Thanks for the pictures.


Lam Chun See said...

You're welcome Nostalgic.

Unfortunately these days I seldom go back to SG. And every time I go back that area, I feel lost becos so much changes. I couldn't even trace the shortcut that we used to take, when cycling, by cutting through Cardiff Grove and then down Chartwell Drive to SG Circus. As for the right side of Lor Chuan, e.g. Plantation Ave, the kampongs have all gone.

Anonymous said...

I was born in 57,lived in Rosyth road,schooled in Rosyth Primary,64-69.Then SGSS 70-73.Used to cycle around then to Lor Chuan,S gardens area.Hanged around NIB to free browse Dandys & Beanos.Paramount was showing DRACULA then and our school SGSS did the first CHOMP CHOMP signboard on wood for its opening ceremony.Was hanged by chains set loosely on tree-branch like pole.
There was this SG sports club which I used to hang around & watched guys playing billiards.
Very nostalgic indeed.I am now based in Sweden.

Anonymous said...

there's long periods of silence between times i am able to get my father to talk about serangoon garden. when i saw your post of Mr Tan Pan Beng, i remembered my father's uncle Tor Ming Peh. not sure if this is a blood relations or not but certainly your account of Tan Pan Beng's situation matches to my father's account.
my grandfather moved into the serangoon vicinity in the late 1800s, first near Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre and later into Serangoon Garden where they started a farm. farm is on the left of Lor Chuan in the direction of the circus. it is adjacent to a freshwater pond filled with water hyacinth. Sadly the farm was acquired by the authorities in the 70s/ 80s so all that is left are some pictures and memories. Tor Ming Peh has a pork stall in the S'goon gdn hawker centre as did some of my relatives.
I studied at PAP kindergarten ontop of Chartwell Dr and i still have a picture of the graduation ceremony where MP Lau Teck Soon shook my hand. My first cinema experience was a kindergarten school trip at the paramount cinema where we watched Disney's Bambi in the afternoon. Visits to NTUC was special as there was cold air con...
I asked my father about the origins of Ang Sar Lee, his explanation varies slightly differently from yours and of most accounts. Apparently, there used to be a bicycle shop at the corner of Yio Chu Kang Road and Serangoon Garden Way. This shop decided to paint their zinc roof red and since S'goon Gdn Way was a main throughway to the town centre, it became a lankmark.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Tony. Thanks for sharing that bit of history.

Recently SG was very much in the news becos of the controversy over proposals to build a dormitory for foreign workers there. Thanks to that, we can confirm that the correct name was Serangoon Gardens and not Garden.

Anonymous said...

I'm a student who's doing a module on the changing landscapes of Singapore and just happen to chance upon your blog.

As a younger generation, I am appalled at the photos and your personal account of the past. It allows me to see Sg in a different light. :)

Joanna said...

The church is called St Francis Xavier. You mentioned passing it when you were at Cardiff/
Chartwell. It was built in 1959 and is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. It is a Roman Catholic church.

Anonymous said...

I and my wife lived at 100 Cowdray Avenue, Serangoon Garden Estate with my wife in1962/63 and have a number of photos of the area. The church mentioned by Lam Chun See was probably St Peters
which was at the far end of the estate.
I recall the local shops and the outdoor markets along with the man who used to carry a beam over his shoulders with hot food in a container/wok at each end.
Fortunately my wife has a far better memory than me and could provide more info.
We also used the cinema on a regular basis.


Anjuli said...

oh yes Serangoon Gardens from the 60's and 70's-- For me, it was a place which always 'stood still' in time!! When I went back a couple years ago- the same beauty shop my mother had always gone to was still there-- walking up a narrow stair case above a medicine shop.

I remember the Tip top Restaurant- Hawaii 5-0 (I think that was in the '80s) with their set lunches-- then of course NTUC came and changed a bit of the landscape.

Was happy to see a pic of the post office- I went there alot with my POSB savings book - saving up all my coins -- mailing letters to penpals.

As for games in those days- definitely masak masak- but can anyone remember hatam bola? ouch!! Oh in those days NO ONE stayed inside- I feel so sad for the children nowadays- always inside except when they go for organized sports. In those days, you could hear children's voices playing outside-- laughing- talking- telling 'ghost stories' :)

good times-lots of great memories!!

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Pseudophilosopher, Roy and Anjuli for sharing your memories about Serangoon Gardens.

Anjuli mentioned Bola Hantam. You can read what I and my readers recall about this game here.

stranger. said...

Hi Mr Lam,

Hope you still remember me from oak3films!

I'm now working on the Serangoon episode for the documentary. Anyway I have a photocopy of the old map drawn up by the English developer himself (can't remember his name) and on it he wrote Serangoon Garden Estate Road Plan. The plan is dated 1955.

So I believe it has always been Serangoon Garden (singular). Perhaps people generally add an s to the end of garden a la botanical gardenS.


Lam Chun See said...

No. It is definitely Serangoon Gardens - plural. I went down to the Serangoon Central Library (at Nex) just a few days ago to see an exhibition of the history of the Serangoon area. They repeatedly used the plural name for SG. You can go down and check it out - should still be on until end-Aug if I remember correctly.

stranger. said...

Oh, thanks for the heads up. Will check it out on Wednesday afternoon!

Hmm, I looked up National Archives and they called it Garden in the singular form! I guess there is no end to this haha.

Anonymous said...

Serangoon Garden was the place where I grew up and I still have a great memory there. From the (ex)bus terminal to my school at SGT.

I have not visited the place as often as I like since i am living on the other side of the world in the last 30 years but each time when i am in SG, i never fail to visit the place.

Seranggon Garden have changed(HUP LEE chicken shop is gone now - this was my hang around place back then)but the charecteristic is still there only heaps of brand new houses.

My scholl SGT still standing only looks so much older than it was.

Old boy of SGSS said...

Chomp chomp OMG :)

Dave White said...

I lived at 54 Farleigh Avenue in 1965-1967. reading your blogs has rattled my memory. Although my father did not approve of me going into the Shop area I often did.
I remember sneaking into the Paramount Cinema severaltimes to watch the films. Most of the time being caught out and ejected. I remember the bread shop next door and was fascinated by the bread slicing machine. The shop owner used to take the crusts of the bread and put them into big sacks. he used to let me help myself.
On market day I remember the Curry Puffs and the pancakes with a peanut taste. Do you remember the Indian gentleman on his bike who used to cycle up and down shouting for buisness sharpening knives?
Happy days. I understand that 54 Farleigh Avenue is now a Childrens Kindergarten!
Will post more when I remember.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm born in 1967.

My address was 20-G Lorong Kinchir.

Do u happen to have photos of old my house?

It was quite a long house, with zinc roof.

In front the house was an open space filled with sand.

It's near the public toilet, across was the wayang stage.

On the right side of my house, there a small hut for butchery pigs.

Thank you.

Icemoon said...

Trying to piece together Anon's description from my understanding of Chun See's book.

20-G is even, does it mean it was on the side of shops 1-4? There was a public toilet across the small road from shop 4. As the wayang stage was behind the shops, 20-G could be on the land shared with the toilet?

Leon said...

hi may i use your photos for my research paper? i will credit you accordingly

Maurice Chew said...

Yes I remember the Indian Shop at the corner of Farleigh Avenue. It was calles " SS Murarak & Sons"
He had some very good comics , Magazines and Toys. I used to go there after school. I wonder what happened to the shop. Is now taken over by a coffee shop/restaurant I think.

Maurice Chew said...

Yes I remember the Indian Shop at the corner of Farleigh Avenue. It was calles " SS Murarak & Sons"
He had some very good comics , Magazines and Toys. I used to go there after school. I wonder what happened to the shop. Is now taken over by a coffee shop/restaurant I think.

Maurice Chew said...

Yes I remember the Indian Shop at the corner of Farleigh Avenue. It was calles " SS Murarak & Sons"
He had some very good comics , Magazines and Toys. I used to go there after school. I wonder what happened to the shop. Is now taken over by a coffee shop/restaurant I think.

Maurice Chew said...

Yes I remember the Indian Shop at the corner of Farleigh Avenue. It was calles " SS Murarak & Sons"
He had some very good comics , Magazines and Toys. I used to go there after school. I wonder what happened to the shop. Is now taken over by a coffee shop/restaurant I think.

Maurice Chew said...

Yes I remember the Indian Shop at the corner of Farleigh Avenue. It was calles " SS Murarak & Sons"
He had some very good comics , Magazines and Toys. I used to go there after school. I wonder what happened to the shop. Is now taken over by a coffee shop/restaurant I think.

Maurice Chew said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...


Would like to check whether Ang Sar Lee (in the old days like 1980s) is on a flat land or u need to climb a flight of stairs to reach.