Saturday, November 04, 2006

Places I Remember (3): Beauty World

I too have some memories of this place called Beauty World that Tom wrote about in the previous article. I used to drive my mother to see a Dr Chang at a clinic in the same row of shops where Tom bought his comics. That was in the mid-seventies to mid-eighties. At that time, we were staying at the HDB estate in Farrer Road. While waiting for her, I used to loitre around the many shops and stalls and did a bit of shopping. I remember this cassette stall just outside Chang’s Clinic that played loud music. One particular song I remember was John Denver’s Annie’s Song and another was called Fly Robin Fly.


This photo shows the vacant plot of land and carpark that used be the Beauty World. It is flanked by 4 roads (see sketch below). My apologies for the poor picture quality. It was a hazy day and sky was overcast.

Around 1980, the shops and stalls at Beauty World were demolished. If I am not mistaken, there was a fire. Subsequently, most of the shops were relocated to 4 new shopping centres at Bukit Timah Plaza, Beauty World Plaza, Beauty World Centre and Bukit Timah Shopping Centre. For example, Dr Chang’s Clinic was relocated to Bt Timah Plaza and my mum continued to see him there. .

Beauty World Sketch

My other memories of Beauty World, which I have described before in my blogs on National Service were about the Sunday evenings when I took the pirate (unlicensed) taxis from Jalan Jurong Kechil to return to Safti in Pasir Laba Camp. In the mid-70's, there was only 1 bus service, Green Bus service number 175 going to Tuas. It simply wasn’t enough to cater to the many NS boys going back to the army camps in Safti and Tanjong Gul Camp (6 SIR). As such, many soldiers resorted to desperate measures like going all the way to Queen Street, next to the Rochore Centre, to take the 175. So by the time the bus reached Bukit Timah, it was usually packed. As for me, I would take a bus from Farrer Road to Bt Timah 7th Mile to catch the pirate taxis.

We were really thankful for the pirate taxis. They were illegal of course, and charged a standard fee of, I don’t know, a dollar maybe. They waited for us at the Jalan Jurong Kechil entrance to Beauty World. Like its counterpart in Queen Street, this area was very busy (热闹) on Sunday nights, with lots of stalls selling sundries, music cassettes, food, snacks and fruits. Each taxi would fetch 4 passengers, each clutching his baggage and packets of snacks and fruits. Like all third world taxis, they were fast and had blaring music.

I remember there was a cinema in Beauty World, but I never patronized it and cannot remember the name. If I am not mistaken, there was also a temple and a wayang stage along Jalan Seh Chuan where the present Tua Pek Kong Temple is. Besides this, I don’t remember much about the old Beauty World.

As you can see, my memory of the details of this place is rather sketchy, and so I consulted my friends Chuck and Peter who happened to live nearby and this is what I learned.

CHUCK says:

I used to live at the Princess Elizabeth Estate at Hill View area near Bt Timah nine-and-a-half mile. I often took the no. 173 bus to Beauty World to watch movies. There were 2 cinemas. The first one was the Nanyang Theatre which was actually not situated within Beauty World but across Chun Tin Road, at the junction with Yuk Tong Avenue, where the present Chun Tin Court stands. Tickets were priced at 50 cents for the front rows and $1.00 for back rows. The seats were wooden type with fans above and the sides. Facing the cinema was an Indian sup kambing (mutton soup) stall. The soup cost 50 cents and was served with bread which cost 10 cents. This was the best sup kambing I have ever tasted.


This photo shows Chun Tin Road and the junction with Yuk Tong Avenue. Nanyang Theatre would be on the left.

The other theatre which was located within Beauty World was the Tiong Hwa Theatre. Tickets cost 50 cents for front rows, 80 cents for middle rows, and $1.00 for back rows. Outside Tiong Hwa Theatre, there are several stalls selling drinks and tidbits like kacang puteh (nuts), kwa chi (melon seeds), sng buay (What’s that in English?) and jiu her (cuttle fish).

PETER says:

I lived in the Chestnut Drive area between 1954 and 1979 until I got married when moved out. Chestnut Drive is about 2 miles from Beauty World opposite Bukit Gombak. As a child, I often went along with my mother to the wet market in Beauty World.

Old Beauty World (9) - market

The wet market had many stalls fronting Jalan Jurong Kechil and there was a concrete building (if I can recall with the words 1921 inscribed) which was the older section of the wet market. The wet market sold veggies, pork and fish. In-between were the makan stalls. The electrical shops were facing Chun Tin Road and the clothing/toys stalls faced Bukit Timah Road. Actually the market had a gradient that sloped downhill from Chun Tin Road towards Jalan Jurong Kechil and Bukit Timah Road.

The fire started at the shop area (facing Bukit Timah Road and Chun Tin Road) but it must have been in the 1980s. But it was not the fire that saw the end of Beauty World. I think in 1971, the present hawker center cum wet market was built (facing the old post office). The government relocated the hawkers and wet market operators to the new place. I used to take midnight supper in 1972 on the second level so the hawker center was opened by 1971.

This is the recently renovated Bukit Timah Market cum Food Centre.


Jalan Jurong Kechil in the direction of Bukit Timah Road. Here's where we boarded the pirate taxis. On the left is the Old Beauty World. Across the road was a row of shops. Today, there's a petrol station.



Like Tom O'Brien, I too could not find much information on the internet about the old Beauty World. Even the recently published Singapore Encyclopaedia makes no mention of Beauty World. I thank my friends Chuck, Peter and Tom for their contribution. I hope these 2 articles have helped to fill that gap. I do hope that some of my readers can contribute more information.


Anonymous said...

I only had an impression BW when my ailing father (looked after my a very efficient Philippino maid) stayed briefly at a rental walk-up apartment (ground floor) owned by Chun See's friend. My siblings and I would take turns to visit my father to see that he was properly looked after. It was at this time that we experienced eating at the various places like the market, the plazas, coffee shops. The foods were average, but I liked the Muslim foods served in this shop directly opposite the Bt Timah Plaza because of its Tea Halia. This was so much of BW for me. My father eventually died on evening of 9/11 2001 (a significant date), in this apartment.

Victor said...

Ok Chuck, here are more information:

'Sng buay' is called 'preserved sour plum' in English. And a very good 'sup kambing' stall can now be found at Blk 17 Upp Boon Keng Road. The stall is called 'Abd Razack' and specializes in 'sup tulang' (bone soup). Minimum price is $4 a bowl. I just tried the 'sup isi' (meat soup) a few weeks ago. Simply yumelicious. Highly recommended that you go try it and give your verdict whether it is better than that served at Beauty World.

Lam Chun See said...

I believe our enjoyment is influenced by circumstances. Remember how we used to love the ice balls. Actually it's nothing but shaved ice and sugar syrup. Later I experience gula Melaka - it was a chendol stall outside ACS; simply wonderful. Likewise we found the Wang Yu action movies so exciting in the old days. Today, the same movie would put us to sleep.

Chun Chew, maybe your short term memory not so good leh. Father passed away in the afternoon. By late afternoon we were busy making the arrangements and then evening, when the planes struck NY WTC, we were already at Sin Ming.

Anonymous said...

Chun See - I was thinking: "Wow, Chun See memory is really good". Not satisfied, I gave myself a benefit of a doubt, I referred to father's death cert., and it shows date and hours of death - 11/09/2001, 1700 hrs (i.e. 5 pm). So 5 pm is evening. So my short-term memory is not that bad after all, unless you consider 5 pm as late afternoon.

Lam Chun See said...

Wrong brother. I don't have excellent memory, but I keep a diary, and it says 3.00 pm. Definitely more reliable than what Dr Yap wrote.

Anonymous said...

Chun See - You could be right but during the sad occasion, no one was in the proper frame of mind, and one of us could have told Dr Yap the wrong time. Well I think our father would forgive us for making this mistake.

Victor said...

Aiyah 3 pm or 5 pm, it's only 2 hours' difference. I don't see what's the fuss.

Let's focus discussion back to the post:

1. I think there's an error in your map - that portion of the road should be UPPER Bukit Timah Road and not Bukit Timah Road which is the portion before Clementi Road.

2. I don't think Dick Lee's musical Beauty World is about the old Beauty World at Upp Bukit Timah Road. Instead, according to the Wikipedia link I provided earlier, "it tells the story of a young Malaysian girl who comes from Batu Pahat to 1960s Singapore in search of her father and winds up in the eponymous sleazy night club", as a bargirl, obviously. Oops, taboo topic for this blog. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Can we imagine, say in a movie or TV serial, female addresses are being completely left out. What would happen? It is like Tom Yam Soap minus the Chilli. Victor need not be too apologetic because a man is still a man - unless he is a eunuch. From newspapers in Germany, it was reported that German ladies like their male politicians to emulate Clinton behavior showing that they had qualities of manliness & virility. Beat that ?

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the above spelling error. It should be actresses not add....embarassing.

Chris Sim said...

Victor juz has this propensity to deviate any topics into his S passion. In this instance, from something of a beauty (Beauty World) to one of crude topic (Bargirl). Actuall, bargirls can be quite a Beauty too :P I'm sure even a Eunuch would agree. Wahahaha..

Sorry unkers, due in part to my relative younger (if I wrote YOUNG, victor would surely draw out his GUN to shoot me) age, I have extremely vague memories of the places described by Chun See and chums in his recent posts. My area is centred around Chinatown, but again, I'm quite "suaku", didn't really venture anywhere furhter.

But thanks for the history of Beauty World. Have you any on Gay World, Chun See?

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Victor for pointing out the error about Bt Timah Rd. As for Beauty World the play, I did consider mentioning it in my post but decided against becos (1) it was not related at all to this place, as far as I know; and (2) I don't know much about it. I think Sharon Au acted in it right? and got good reviews.

Gay World - I have asked Adrian to write something about it together with Wonderland. He says later perhaps.

Lam Chun See said...

Chuck .. Pls tell us something about the movies you saw a BW.

Lam Chun See said...

I was at the Queenstown Library this afternoon and saw 2 books about the history of names of Spore Streets and places. Surprisingly neither book made any mention of Beauty World .. or Lorong Kinchir.

Anonymous said...

Just like Plantation Avenue wiped off the map. May be there is no famous personaly borned there.

Lam Chun See said...

At least Plantation Ave is still there; maybe just part of it. The Kiburn Estate that Tom mentioned is also gone.

Anonymous said...

Victor.. thanks for the lobang on the mutton soup. Will find time to visit that stall and let you know if it is better than the one I had 30 years ago. I must admit it is not easy to compare after such a long time.
There are several shows I seen at BW which will always be in my mind. When the show 'The Big Boss' was screened at Nanyang, there was a big crowd at the box office hours before the tickets were on sale. If not mistaken ticket sales starts 1 hour before screening. I rememebered seeing several sword-fighting shows including 'One Armed Swordsman and the Bandits of Shantong. At that time Ti Lung and David Chiang were up and coming actors. But I felt sad when Alexandra Fu Sheng died in a car crash after watching a show by him... can't really recall what show was that... it could be 'The Prodigal Son'. Can anyone enlighten me on that?

Anonymous said...

Chuck & Co. - We are no longer young and be careful of the top layer of mutton oil covering the soup. I could picture the steaming soup, with pieces of french loaf at the side, and my saliva wells up, bidding me, but ... Do not accuse me of throwing cold water, and spoil the soup.

Victor said...

Chuck's company speaking here. The top layer of mutton oil you can skim off using the spoon mah. What is life if you can't indulge once a while? For Chuck, did he claim that it's only once in 30 years?

Anonymous said...

The Bruce Lee movie "BIG Boss" was screened at midnight at the Cathay Cinema in August 1972. In those days it was quite common to go for midnight shows, though I must say I was not a Chinese movie fan except that I liked Bruce Lee's body.

The other clarification I like to make.

Beauty World was not confined to the present car-park space bordering Chun Tin Road and Upper BUkit Timah Road. It was also on the opposite side of Jalan Jurong Kechil Road where the HDB estate now is. Along this (HDB) stretch were 2 storey shophouses like Chinese medicine shops and provision shop. I loved Chinese medicine shops because they sold "sim buay" coated with a kind of powder which gave it that "teeth biting" expression after tasting.

The "wet market" side of Beauty World extended to the entire side of Jalan Jurong Kechil Road in the direction of Jalan Anak Bukit. Thee stalls put up canvas and trapoline covers as the "roof". So many stalls were not housed in concrete buildings. So when you see the wider Jalan Jurong Kechil Road, remember part of Beauty World was acquired by the government for road widening.

The Mobil station would be the exact spot where SAFTI trainees would frantically chase after the illegal taxis for that Sunday trip back to Pasir Laba. That God they covered the canal and is now a pedestrian walk. The stench from the canal was horrible because the hawkers used the canal as the "dustbin".

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks for the clarification Peter. I have added a photo of Jalan Jurong Kechil for reference. I remember the shops you mentioned. There was motor car service or tyre repair shop there right?

In the early 90's, I sent all my 3 children to the Glory Kindergarten that is just behind these shops and the Bt Timah Market - on a very steep slope

Anonymous said...

I rememered the dentist at BW. Once when I got a tooth extracted from the mobile dental van that visited schools in the late 60s, the bleeding just won't stop. So I made a trip to the dentist at BW and told him about the bleeding that went on from morning to evening. His first comment...'What do you EXPECT??? WATER??? Later I heard that this dentist is rather chor lor and he IS still practising in the new Beauty World buildings...
And by the way, the Upper Bukit Timah Road of Beauty Road used to be two way traffic.

Anonymous said...

For the mutton soup, die die must compare with the one I had more than 30 years ago. My thanks to Zen for his concern and you all can rest assure that I will do what Victor advised.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you try Bedok Corner Hawker Center mutton soup cooked by a Malay. Guaranteed no mutton smell, if you are worried.

Also try the Cuttle-fish eng chye stall - the stall has been in business since the late 1930s and was once on the side of Long Beach Seafood Restaurant.

Chuang Shyue Chou said...

Fabulous blog!

I would love to see you post some old photos.

Lam Chun See said...

I have lots of old fotos. But trouble is, in the old days, we only take fotos of people posing and very few of street scenes etc. How I wish I had taken more shots of kampongs scenes, animals etc.

Chuang Shyue Chou said...

Yes, I know exactly what you mean. My parents were of the opinion that photos without people were a waste of money.

I also wish I had taken more photos of the past. I recall a lot of the old Orchard Road. Keok Road Market, Magnolia Milk Bar, Modern Youth Barbers, and more.

National Archives has old photos but they appear to be copyrighted and there is a watermark on them.

I have seen old postcards that leaves me craving for more. Sigh...

Thanks for sharing though.

Anonymous said...

Victor is absolutely correct to point out that we should not deprived ourselves of such a delicious soup, especially taken once a while. I still like to pour some cold water for the older chaps, particularly those white-collar workers, doing little physical exercise, and always sit in front of the PC. Years ago, I went with a friend whose age was around early fifties to eat mutton soup (teochew type) around Telok Ayer area. I told him to be wary as this soup could be heaty and his reply: "D'ont worry lah, how many pieces of mutton in this bowl of soup ?". He was crazy over this soup (with rice) and took it continuously for nearly a week during lunch time. Guess what ? this blood pressure shot up to 200 plus.

Anonymous said...

I was born in the 60s and my primary school was located in Jurong. As a treat for Children's Day, the school would take us all to BW Nanyang Theatre on top of the packet of biscuits and sweets. I remembered watching China-produced film like XiaoLingDang (小铃铛).

Patrick Wong said...

Hi Mr Lam,

I have several old photos which I hope to share with you. I get it from someone's email, and I'm not sure is it a photo or a drawing. Also, I cannot tell where is the place. I just hope you can identify the place. Wold you mind to give me your email (by email to my account) so I can send these photos to you? Thnaks.

Patrick Wong

Anonymous said...

Hi, thanks so much for this post. Upp. B. Timah is my home and I've lived there since I was a baby. My childhood memories since the 80s (I'm younger, I reckon) of the wet market, old temples, puppet shows, near-defunct cinema at B. Timah Shopping Centre, book rentals, groceries... remain, have shaped me who I am and which I will carry dearly for the rest of my life. Thanks for encapsulating it and bringing to life the old Beauty World area which I never knew about, except from the stories told by my parents and grandparents, and which I didn't have the privilege to experience --the place's rich history.

Just to point out that Dick Lee's musical is INDEED about Beauty World, because, as he admits, "his obsession with the name is anchored in his experiences in Beauty World in B. Timah." He goes on to say that "this place was to me a wonderland of wooden stalls covered with zinc roofs under which food, clothing, appliances and other vendors piled their wares." Source is from an NUS Geography publication entitled "Popular music in Singapore: exploring local cultures, global resources, and regional identities". I guess it might not be accurate about and specific to Beauty World, as a whole, per se, but the album and musical have roots in Dick Lee's personal memory of the place and elements of the musical, such as the setting, reflect Beauty World of the yesteryears.


Lam Chun See said...

Hi Kuan. The cinema at Bt Timah Shopping Centre - was it known as Plaza? Are your parents still with you? Maybe you can ask them for some info and share with our readers; such as which year was the fire at old BW.

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blackjack said...

I had helped my neighbours during my school holidays in serving the yong tau foo a few times sometime in 1974-75. I remember their stall beside the cuttle fish bee hoon stall and the stalls are mostly makeshift with canvas roofing.
We had to travelled from margaret drive to BW.
These are the memories of the yesteryear...

Unknown said...

Do u have Nanyang Cinema photo. I have a 1980 ticket which I posted in Iremembersg FB few days ago. It was 50cts. But I do not have the Cinema photo as those day as a student cannot afford camera unlike this days smartphone everyone

Lam Chun See said...

Sorry I don't have any photos of Nayang Cinema. But maybe you can do a search of National Archives collection.

Unknown said...

The old beauty world brought back lots of memories. I grew up in one of the shop houses along Jalan Jurong Kechil. my siblings and I often went to the old beauty world. I remember the Zhong Hua cinema. That cinema always screened good movies but halfway through the movie, you either have to escape due to fire or you realised something furry running through your legs...Rats!!