Sunday, October 28, 2007

Places I Remember (5) – Farrer Road

The photo below is of another roundabout in Singapore which had a fountain in it? Do you know where that was (assuming you have not read my earlier post)?

Yes, it was Holland Circus and it was located at the Junction of Holland Road, Farrer Road and Queensway. Today, this area looks very different. Holland Circus has been replaced by an underpass and flyover. And many new changes are taking place at Farrer Road. A great deal of construction work is going on to build the Circle Line and a new MRT station. And Farrer Court will probably be demolished soon.

Would you like to know what this area was like in the 1960’s and 70’s? I happen to be quite familiar with this area because I stayed in Farrer Road for 14 years up to 1986.

After our home at Lorong Chuan was acquired by the government under the Land Acquisition Act, we moved to an HDB apartment here in 1974. At that time, we heard that the HDB (Housing and Development Board) was introducing a new type of flat called a Five-room point block flat. (Non-Singaporean readers would be surprised to know that by a uniquely Singaporean method of numbering, there are actually only 3 bedrooms in our five-room flats) The first ones were being built at Bendemeer Road. The price was about $28,000. We applied but were unsuccessful. The second batch was being built at Farrer Road and we succeeded this time, but the price has gone up by a whopping 25% to $35,500. In case you think that was ‘peanuts’, I would like to put things in perspective. The compensation that we got from the government for our home in Lorong Kinchir - including the land, house, fruit trees .. everything - was only slightly more than $7,000. I seem to recall that there was some kind of balloting process. I am not sure if we got some priority because we were being evicted from our kampong.

Took this photo when I went for lunch with my siblings at Farrer Road last week. There’s a famous Westlake Restaurant which used to be very popular. We went to the nearby Chu Kee Cuisine instead.

I liked living in Farrer Road. But we were rather sad to have to leave our beloved dog Barney behind in the care of our cousins. They didn't move out until a few years later. Each time we went back to our kampong, he would be literally jump with joy to see us. But our cat Mimi was more fortunate as we were able to bring her along.
We lived in Block 5. Our unit was away from the main road. Very quiet and nice. Unlike the other HDB estates, there were a total of only eight blocks here, including the market and food centre. This area was quite exclusive, being in the prestigious District 10 area. All the other houses here were private homes. Not long after, they built the Farrer Court under the HUDC model.

Over the last twenty years, a lot of changes had taken place. Let’s see what I can recall.

Lorong Jodoh - I don’t think I even want to test you readers if you knew where was Lorong Jodoh. I bet none of you know the answer. Lorong Jodoh was a small Malay kampong just beside our flat at Block 5. I recall hearing some animal sounds (probably an orang utan) coming from the kampong in the mornings. It joined Farrer Road to Holland Road. I have jogged through this kampong a few times. I cannot recall when it was redeveloped.

Petrol stations - Next to Holland Circus, there used to be two petrol stations. One was Shell and the other BP. Next to the BP station was the BP recreation club. My brother-in-law worked for BP at that time and occasionally he brought us there to enjoy the facilities like table tennis, badminton and billiards.

American School – Along King’s Road, there used to be an American School. We often saw groups of American students waiting for taxis along Farrer Road opposite our flat. We told ourselves, these American kids must be quite loaded since they didn’t need to travel by buses. One interesting thing about the American School that I remember was the evenings when they had football matches – that’s American football, not soccer. The field was brightly lit up with floodlights and a lot of cheering and so on could be heard; like what you see in the movies.

Other changes at the stretch of Farrer Road near to the Adam Flyover, I have already blogged about earlier; like the post office and so on. So I would like to end by telling you a bit about Farrer Road in the fifties and sixties. I don’t know much actually, but I have visited my cousins who stayed in Farrer Road in those days. They lived in a kampong at what is probably the Queen’s Road area. I remember plucking the buah long long from a tree in front of their house. I also remember crossing the road to where the present Waterfall Gardens is to watch a Hokkien wayang show. Other than that I don’t recall much about those days.

Finally, before I go, I have another quiz question for you. You have probably heard that the apartments at Farrer Court were recently sold at the unbelievable price of $2.5 million. Do you know how much it cost when it was first sold?

Photo credit: Thanks to Tom O’Brien of Memories of Singapore for permissionn to use the photo of Holland Circus

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Roundabout Quiz 2

Question 1.

What was the name of the roundabout located at the junction of Tanglin Road, Napier Road and Grange Road? It had a beautiful fountain in the centre and pineapple shrubs planted around it. See photos below from the collection of the National Archives of Singapore.

Question 2.

What was the name of hotel next to it? Below are some hints courtesy of Peter Chan.

1. This hotel was built by Khoo Teck Puat and named after a country.

2. Then it was sold to a HK consortium and acquired a new name.

3. It had a basement disco and the interiors were plastered with red bricks. The first name of the disco was called THE PUB but later became known as THE LONDON SCENE.

4. The first band to perform every night was Heather and the Thunderbirds. My band, THE REFLECTIONS played there in 1972. We played as the second band.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Nantah as she was 37 Years Ago

Last Monday, I fetched my daughter to NTU (Nanyang Technological University) where she is doing her 2nd year in Biological Sciences course. It was actually a public holiday, the previous Saturday being Hari Raya Puasa. I decided to pay a visit to the Nantah Lake to see if it was still the same.

Looking at the two photos below, you would agree that this is one of the few spots in our tiny island that has been untouched by time. In fact, Nantah itself had undergone two name changes; first to Nanyang Technological Institute and later Nanyang Technological University.

In comparison, the surrounding area has undergone tremendous changes. The road that once led from the Nantah Arch at Upper Jurong Road has disappeared. The kampong-like environment has been replaced by high-rise HDB apartment blocks. A new highway has even emerged right in front separating the NTU campus from its previous entrance. And a replica of the famed Nantah Arch has been constructed in the Yunnan Garden.

The top photo is of my late parents taken in 1970.

Nantah then and now (01)

Nantah then and now (02)

The iconic Admin Building and the Yunnan Garden in front of it have also been preserved. I believe they now call it the Chinese Heritage Centre. The top photo is scanned from the book, Singapore, An Illustrated History, 1941 ~ 1984, Information Division, Ministry of Culture.

Nantah then and now (03)

Nantah then and now (04)

Previously there was a garden clock on the ground in front of the Admin Building. Now there’s a fountain. The guy in the photo is my old friend Simon Chu. We took this photo in 1969 during our crazy cycling trip around Singapore.

Nantah then and now (05)

Nantah then and now (06)

I saw a group of well-dressed people posing for a group photo in front of it. They must be former students back to capture some old memories.

Nantah then and now (07)

The Yunnan Garden too has not changed much. In fact, it has improved because the pavilions and other structures look very well maintained. The Yunnan Garden looks rather empty. The students are probably too busy to utilize it. Maybe this is a good place to visit for some peace and quiet and exercise. Below are two photos taken in 1970 or thereabouts of me and my brother Chun Chew (Zen) in front of this structure (I don’t know what you call this).

We never dreamed at that time that our photos can be displayed on the internet for the whole world to see. I don't think even the futurologists ever imagined that there would be such a thing call the internet back in 1970.

Nantah then and now (08)

Nantah then and now (09)

Nantah then and now (10)

Check out Dr Tan Wee Kiats posts about the Nantah Arch here and here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Answers to Roundabout Quiz 1

Hey, I am so disappointed that I have to answer my own quiz questions. Nevertheless, thanks to those guys who shared information about some of the roundabouts that I had forgotten about or did not even know existed.

Anyway, here are my answers. But I have to confess that I am not 100% sure about some of them.

1) The roundabout at the junction of Queensway and Commonwealth Avenue was known as Queenstown Circus of course.

Correction. Correction answer should be Queens Circus as pointed out by reader Ngiam Shih Tung. For details go to this website. (22 Oct 2007)

2) The roundabout at the junction of Queensway, Farrer Road and Holland Road was known as Holland Circus.

3) The roundabout at the junction Alexandra Road, Queensway and Jalan Bukit Merah was known as Alexandra Circus. Actually I am just guessing here. I recall that there were some roadside barber shops nearby. They must have been relocated to Queensway Shopping Centre.

Correction. Correction answer should be Rumah Bomba Circus as pointed out by reader Ngiam Shih Tung. (22 Oct 2007)

4) The roundabout at the junction of Lorong 1, 2 and 6 Toa Payoh was known as Toa Payoh Circus. This was also a very huge one in terms of area - almost as big as the one at Queenstown.

5) The roundabout at the junction of Bukit Timah, Clementi and Anak Bukit was known as Bukit Timah Circus.

6) The roundabout at the junction of Serangoon Road, Macpherson Road and Bendemeer Road was known as Woodsville Circus. The PIE flyover there now is known as Woodsville Flyover. In Hokkien we called this place Sar Ko Chio or Three Mile Stone. There used to be many open-air hawker stalls here. When I was staying in Lorong Chuan, we occasionally come here to ‘tar pau’ supper; especially when we had friends staying over. My old friend Simon Chu was one of them.

This is a recent photo of what was formerly the Woodsville makan place. Today, there is a Kopitiam food centre at Jackson Centre and lots of other coffee shops nearby.

After this, Serangoon Road becomes Upper Serangoon Road. The junction of Upper Serangoon Road with Braddell and Bartley Roads was call Si Ko Chio (4 Mile Stone). Further down there used to be a market at Lim Tua Tow Road and this place was Gor Ko Chio (5 Miles Stone). Now you tell me where is Lak Ko Chio (6 Mile Stone).

7) The roundabout at the junction of Anak Bukit and Upper Bukit Timah Rd was known as Ewart Circus. It was removed only quite recently with the completion of the underpass joining Upper Bt Timah to Clementi Road. And there was another roundabout nearby, just in front of the Fire Station, but I don’t know the name.

And I left the toughest question to the last.

8) If you guessed that the roundabout at the junction of Lornie Road and Thomson Road, just in front of the entrance to MacRitchie Reservoir was known as MacRitchie Circus, you are only half correct. The correct answer is Bulatan MacRitchie. Why the special use of a Malay word for roundabout? I don’t know. As a student of the nearby Braddell Rise School for 5 years, I was quite familiar with this area. Furthermore, when I went to ACS and NJC, I too had to pass by this place daily from my home in Lorong Chuan.

Actually, there was another roundabout just a hundred metres or so away at the junction of Upper Thomson Road and Braddell Road. What I remember most about this junction was the beautiful Red Sealing Wax Palms that were planted there. In those days, this palm was not as common as it is today where you can find it in many homes. (Photo on left courtesy of Flickr member, Minassian)

These two roundabouts have been replaced by the Lornie Flyover some years back. Lately, this place was much in the news. They are adding another viaduct to link Lornie Road to Braddell Road. Due to the widening of Braddell Road, a very old Angsana tree was chopped down. It was sorely missed by many tree lovers like my friend Kenneth.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Roundabout Quiz 1

Younger Singaporeans may not know that not so long ago, we had many roundabouts in Singapore. Over the past 20 years or so, most of them have been replaced by signalized traffic light junctions, flyovers and underpasses.

Of the remaining roundabouts, the most famous one I guess would be Newton Circus (Photo 1 below) and the recently converted Guillemard Circus. Along Jalan Ahmad Ibrahim are a couple more; one at Pioneer Road/Sector and another at Tuas. Plus a couple of smaller ones in Serangoon Gardens (Photo 2 below), and Hillview (Photo 3 below).

In my recent article about Upper Bukit Timah Road from Beauty World to Bukit Panjang, I forgot to mention that until recently, there was a roundabout where Anak Bukit joined Upp Bt Timah Rd. So I thought I might as well leave that till later and turn it into a quiz with some additional questions. So here it is.

What was the name of the roundabout at the junction of these roads?
I will start with some easy questions.

1) Queensway and Commonwealth Avenue (this was reputedly the largest roundabout in Singapore)

2) Queensway, Farrer Road and Holland Road. There used to be a beautiful fountain here. Now replaced with flyover and underpass. I will blog about it later.

3) Alexandra Road, Queensway and Jalan Bukit Merah

4) Lorong 1, 2 and 6 Toa Payoh

5) Bukit Timah, Clementi and Anak Bukit (Answer found in an earlier post)

Now for some harder ones:

6) Macpherson Road and Serangoon Road

7) Anak Bukit and Upper Bukit Timah Rd

But leave the toughest to the last.

8) Lornie Road and Thomson Road, just in front of the entrance to MacRitchie Reservoir.

PS – My older readers may want to contribute some questions so that I can compile them for future quizzes. Please email them to me at: cslam(at)hoshin(dot)com(dot)sg. (Someone told me you shouldn’t type your actual email address as those pesky, ‘wuliao’ spammers have software to harvest your email address and then …… you know the rest)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Mandai Camp Layout

I was very curious as to how accurate my sketch of the Mandai Camp was and so I asked my friend Kenneth to teach me how to access Google maps for an aerial view of the camp. And here it is:

View Larger Map

But to get a better comparison, I have taken a screen shot and turned is around.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I Remember Mandai Camp

I interrupt my series of articles on the Bukit Timah Heritage Trail to tell you about a place that occupies a special corner in my memories of the Singapore of a bygone era. The place was called 30SCE or Mandai Camp.

Exactly 30 years ago on 10th of October 1977, I was posted to the 30th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers, as a rookie platoon commander where I served the remainder of my two-and-a-half years of full-time national service. Actually, there were 2 army camps side-by-side along Mandai Road at that time. One was 30SCE and the other 40SAR (Spore Armoured Regiment) …. maybe it was 41SAR, I don't remember exactly; but never mind. They were usually referred to as Mandai Camp I and Mandai Camp II. I cannot recall which was I and which was II.

Although our camp was usually referred to as 30SCE, there were actually other Engineer units within the complex; such as Heavy Plant Company and Bomb Disposal Unit (BDU). Today, this camp is occupied by the Police Tactical Training Camp. It’s hardly visible from the main road and the buildings are all blocked by trees. During my time, I could see the main road from my bunk. At night, the street lights shone into my bunk. This photo shows the entrance. How I wish, somebody can arrange for me to visit this place so that I can take another jog down memory lane.

As for the 40SAR camp, it is now occupied by the Civil Defence Training Village and used for rescue operations training. During my last few years of reservist training, I was posted to SCDF, and we went there a couple of times.

Here’s a sketch of my camp drawn from memory. I am pretty confident about what lay to the right of the main entrance, but am a bit hazy about what was to the left as I seldom went there. We had a small demolition range but you are not allowed to fire more than certain number of kg of TNT. But judging from the occasion rumble and shaking of the buildings, we know some people didn’t follow the standing orders. Beyond the pond, there was also a magazine (ammo dump). The pond was used for Bridging training and next to it was a huge warehouse for storing the bridging parts.

Unpleasant Welcome

I was posted to Platoon 6, Bravo Company, one of three engineer companies. My OC (company commander) was a regular officer by the name of Lta Ajmeer Singh. My fellow platoon commanders were 2LTs Loh Wing Thye, Chan Wing Kong and (I think Tan Chin Poh, who was acting 2IC for a time).

Our first encounter in this camp was an extremely unpleasant affair. Since three decades have past, I think it is alright to blog about it.

Altogether there were about a dozen of us new officers who have been posted to the camp. As a tradition, there was a welcome Happy Hour at the officer’s mess. I believe it was held on 11th October. The group of us new 2nd Lieutenants assembled in our best No. 3 uniforms in front of the officer’s mess and the first item of the evening was a ‘water baptism’. They had collected pail loads of dirty water (after mopping the floor no doubt) and poured onto us from a few storeys above.

After we had changed to dry clothes, the actual Happy Hour began. This comprised the usual dinner followed by drinks. The rookie officers were each served with a concoction of liquors which included the Chinese ‘mao tai’. This drink was dubbed the Mandai Rocket because just one glass was certain to send you ‘high’. As a precaution, each one of us had a pail hung around our necks so we would not throw up onto the floor.

Of course we got drunk pretty soon. I remember clowning around and displaying some of my boxing moves – yes for a time, I learnt boxing at OCS (officer cadet school). And then there was this nasty chap (I can remember his full name), the S2 or intelligence officer who gave me a punch in the face. What kind of officer and gentleman punches a fellow officer when he is drunk? I didn’t feel much pain because I was tipsy anyway, but I pretended to be knocked out so as to avoid further torture. (Although I am a teetotaler, I have a pretty high tolerance for liquor).

Actually, except for the punch, what happened up to this point was acceptable to me. But it was what happened after we got drunk that was truly despicable. But to protect the innocent, I cannot go into details. Anyway, to keep the story short, one of my friends was seriously injured and there was a Board of Inquiry. I remember going down to Mowbray Camp in Ulu Pandan to give my testimony. Shortly after, we got a new CO (battalion commander) by the name of Balwant Singh.

Standby and other duties
After that, my ten months that I spent in Mandai Camp was quite event-free. In fact I quite enjoyed it. It was the most care-free period of my life actually. No exams to worry about. Nobody to disturb you as long as you did your job. Plus 2nd lieutenants wielded considerable power in a small camp like ours. The company commanders were highly dependent on us to keep things running when they were not around (which was very often – shall not elaborate) and so treated us quite well.
Besides the usual training, which was relatively easy compared to the JOE (Junior Officers Engineers) Course that I had just gone through at Gillman, we just looked forward to weekend parties and of course our ROD (Run Out Date) and civilian life. Life of course was tough. Because of shortage of junior officers, we had lots of duties to perform as either battalion duty officers or standby platoon commanders. At one time, the SAF had only 2 operationally-ready field engineer companies (i.e. 6 platoons). And that meant that, every six weeks, my platoon had to do one week of standby.

We all hated doing DO duties. Those platoon commanders who were involved in BMT (Basic Military Training) were exempted because they had to conduct a lot of night training. As such we were really short-handed, and many weekends were ‘burnt’ for the rest of us. I remember one occasion when one of my men asked me; “Sir, you kenna take is it?” (‘take’ means to be punished with extra duties). No I replied. Why do you say that? “Oh, it’s because I always see you on duty!”
I hated doing ‘standby’ even more. You had to be in camp 24 hours a day for 7 full days. At any time, the DFO, Duty Field Officer can sound the siren and your platoon had to fall in and be ready to move out. As we did not have our own medical centre but had to share the one in the neighbouring 40SAR, every time the siren sounded, the poor ambulance driver and medic had to race over to our side.
I don’t know about the SAF nowadays, but during our time, the standby platoon had to do a lot of non-military duties because we had all the basic equipment and men ready and could be deployed at short notice.
Once, early on a Saturday morning, my CO himself called up and asked me to bring my platoon all the way to Marine Parade to help to clear the water from this flooded field which was being used for National Day Parade rehearsal. It had rained heavily the previous night. We dug holes to collect the water and then used our pumps to extract away the water. Because Marine Parade was so far from our camp, it was outside the range of our signal sets. That meant that every now and then, I had to look for a public phone to report back to our Ops Room. No handphones then.
Another time, we were assigned to Normanton Park to construct the stage for a performance by the SAF Music and Drama Company. I think they called it the SAF Road Show. It was a ‘mission’ fraught with danger because many SAF big guns lived in Normanton Park. Some of the naughty children came around and disturbed us, and I was so worried that my men would lose control and let go some F-language on them.

As platoon commander, I had my own office and runner. I often asked my runner to buy the char chai tau kueh from canteen for me when I got tired of the cookhouse breakfast. Very nice.

As for people-management, I was fortunate in that I stayed with the same platoon throughout. After my men completed their BMT, they joined my platoon where I took them through the Pioneer Class 1 and Pioneer Class 2 courses. After that they became full-fledged Engineer Sappers and then we became operational together as a platoon. This meant that they were much easier to manage discipline-wise; plus my NCOs and me had gotten use to each other.

I will end with an interesting incident that happened at the squash courts which were located next door at 40SAR. Squash was very popular in those days. I was in my PT kit and so strangers wouldn’t know my rank. Along came a full lieutenant. When he saw me, he politely greeted me Good Morning Sir. Please bear in mind, I was a disrupted case which meant that I was at least 4 years older than the usual 2nd-lietenants. After a while, he realized that he had mistaken me for someone else and he said; “Hey, has anyone ever told you that you look very much like our chief of Armour, Colonel Raymond-something?” Yes, I replied. Years later, when I was doing my reservist training at the PDF HQ in Beach Road Camp, I finally had a chance to meet this colonel who looked like me. Of course that became a topic of conversation among the officers; but both of us agreed, there was little resemblance.
My Last Day in the Army

My last day was an uneventful and quiet one. Because I was a disrupted case, I was the only guy RODing on that day. I remember going over to the Medical Centre next door for a checkup. The M.O. took a look at me and said; “Hey! I think you are a bit flat-footed.” What the hell do you mean by “a bit flat-footed"? I thought to myself, mindful that the joker had the rank of Captain. You mean, I went through two-and-a-half years of Peng Kang Hill and what not when I could have been enjoying the company of pretty SAF clerks in Dempsey Road like my friend Victor? (I won’t let you get off so easy my friend!!!). No wonder, I have been getting backaches all these years.

I remember taking an SBS 171 to Bt Panjang terminus and changing to TIBS 181 to bring me back to my home in Farrer Road. It was late morning and very quiet. A strange mixture of feelings went through my mind as I sat in the TIBS 181 waiting for it to start. Happy of course to be finally back in civilian life, sad to leave a place that held many fond memories and fearful of what lay ahead as I was to begin a new career shortly as an Industrial Engineer in Philips.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Bukit Timah Heritage Trail 11 – Bukit Gombak Hill (by Peter Chan)

The radar station on top of Bukit Gombak Hill was built in 1964. Working in tandem with air traffic controllers at RAF Tengah, it offered aerial protection for Singapore during the days of the Indonesian Confrontation. I had a perfect view of the radar blades spinning 360 degrees because my house faced one of the ridges of Bukit Gombak.

Site of former RAF Gombak radar station viewed from my house

Bukit Gombak was less dense than it is today and the radar installation was a very prominent object on the skyline as shown in the picture here. Promptly around noon each day, I could hear the screaming sounds of British Javelin aircrafts flying over our house in the direction of Bukit Batok. I was not sure where it came from; I could only suspect that it must have been from RAF Tengah because it was the nearest British air base close to my place.

After 1968, I thought I saw a missile pad at the present MINDEF building site. It was distinctly a missile painted in either grey or white color. I later found out whilst reading the “Straits Times” that it was the “Bloodhound” type. The Straits Times article that year mentioned that the British and Singapore Governments had reached an agreement for the transfer of the radar facility and missiles to the Singapore Armed Forces. I could not locate the original site of the radar installation after I got married and left my “hometown”. After spending many hours gazing at the same skyline again after 40+ years, I think I could have found the same site although it is now a protected area under the SAF.

Site of former RAF Gombak radar station viewed from Jalan Darmawan

Site of former RAF Gombak radar station viewed from Dairy Farm Road

Read more about the Javelin fighter aircraft here:
Read more about the Bloodhound surface-to-air missile (SAM) here:

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Bukit Timah Heritage Trail 10 – Growing Up in Assumption English School at Upper Bukit Timah Road (by Peter Chan)

The Assumption English School at Upper Bukit Timah Road was originally known as Boys’ Town English School, a name which carried a tag for many students including myself. To those who come from my generation or earlier, the name was synonymous with delinquents and juveniles.

Little does the public know that in 1975, the school produced one of the President Scholars for that year, and many of its students joined the National Junior College for Pre-University in 1970. Boys’ Town was the pioneer of vocational education and was the forerunner of the VITB (Vocational and Industrial Training Board) in Singapore (now ITE). Fandi Ahmad our national footballer was from Boys’ Town. It was an all-boys school - an experience matched only by solitary living in a “monastery”. If we had to think of girls, it would be those lovely Primary 5 & 6 girls from our sister school, the Chestnut Drive CHIJ School. The only opportunity we could meet was in the St Joseph Church after school and during spiritual lessons. So how did Boys’ Town come to produce different kinds of students? Let me explain.

There were 3 components for Boys Town. There was the Boys Town English School (founded in 1953) for academic studies, there was St Joseph Trade School (1938) for vocational training - carpentry, rattan weaving, tailoring, electricity, motor repairs & body shop, and metal welding, and the Boys Town Home (founded in 1948) for orphans and the socially disadvantaged. The student enrollment came mainly from the Upper Bukit Timah area – Mandai, Lim Chu Kang, Princess Elizabeth Estate, Bukit Panjang and those who were in search of a Catholic mission-based education. So the only reason I attended the school was because my late mother had visions that one day I would join the priesthood; jokes aside. The friends I knew came from a rural and “Ang Mo Choo” background.

Here are some photos of the school from my memory bank.

Picture 1: These 2 blocks were our roofs for the primary and secondary school boys. It is connected to the St Joseph Church (built in 1846) from this entrance. My classroom was the block on the right – a window at the rear of the class was what I needed most to check on the quality of the jambu and mangosteen fruits growing in the church fruit garden.

The road between the blocks was converted to open-air badminton courts with court markings. However we turned them into playing “Baloon” a game played between two teams. Outside this school gate was where most of the school-boys fights took place after school hours. A City Council power grid station was located in front of the building on the left.

Surprisingly our school did not have the flushed-water sanitary system. Rather we did not have toilets in school. Our toilets belonged to the church and were the bucket-system type. Because the school was on lower ground the toilets were on higher ground, it is never a nice sight if you understand what I am saying. These blocks are gone forever and the secondary school is housed in that sparkling grey building in the background.

Picture 2: I left school in 1966 after PSLE for a school in Bras Basah Road but I still have many fond memories of Boys Town. This is the photo of my Primary 4 teacher at Raffles City. Mr. Ang Leng Sze, himself an old boy of the school from the Class of 1956 was in the first batch of students who sat for the Senior Cambridge Exams and graduated with a Grade 1. He is seen certifying my class report card dating back to 1964. If you will notice, our report cards were made from vanguard sheet and not the hard-cover type. The report cards were printed in the St Joseph Trade School; where else do you think? Anyway a Grade 1 at Senior Cambridge Exams was never the norm for most students – Grade 3 in fact was common during my time.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Bukit Timah Heritage Trail 9 – St Joseph’s Church (By Peter Chan)

There’s plenty of history behind this church. For one, I used to worship and serve at this church when I lived in the Upper Bukit Timah area. It has a unique architecture; something like the ancient Chinese watch-tower of the Great Wall of China.

The two concrete pillars (painted in 2 tone colors)at the entrance to the church are the oldest remains from the old church built in 1848.

The 1963 church building which has remained till today is not the original building. I saw the original church building (see photo on right). It resembles very closely in design to the Church of the Good Shepherd at Victoria Street. It was built in 1846 around the same time when Bukit Timah Road went northwards. There are many uniqueness of this church

1) The parish priests who served in the church were all buried in the aisles of the old church building. When the present church was built, their remains were transferred to the cemetery behind the church.

2) The church ran a Chinese school (now the St Joseph Kindergarten) called the Sino-English School.

3) Father Teng was quite a character and rode a Hardley-Davison motor cycle when he was on his rounds visiting his parishers.

4) During WW2, church members served as Red Cross aides to care for the injured villagers and farmers who lived in the Chestnut Avenue area because the Japanese fired shells from Johore Bahru at British military targets in the Bukit Panjang area. I even saw a Japanese WW2 shell kept by Father Teng in his quarters as we loved to play with the shell after school hours.

Picture 1: A typical tomb inside the original church aisle. Source: Church document

Picture 2: The rebuilt church as it was then and now. The late Father Teng is standing in front of the church.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Bukit Timah Heritage Trail 8 – Court House at Bukit Timah? (by Peter Chan)

It is unthinkable that Singapore’s courthouses can be located in a residential estate; among landed bungalows and kampungs. We all know the Supreme Court and Subordinate Courts are in the heart of town at St Andrews Road and Havelock Road respectively. Wait until you ask the question: Which Singapore school was turned into a courthouse? You will be stumped for an answer.

Chestnut Drive Secondary School was opened in 1969 but its opening was delayed several times because in 1967 the brand new school was temporarily converted into a courthouse to try detained supporters of the then largest opposition party, the Barisan Socialists, a split-away faction of the PAP. Some 200 Barisan supporters were handcuffed and tried at one go. My house was 150 meters from the school and every day walking to the bus-stop on main Upper Bukit Timah Road, I saw riot squad police, lawyers and flag-waving Barisan female supporters.

Behind the high fence was the school hall cum canteen viewed from Chestnut Drive.

The old school hall cum canteen became the court house. The bearded Mr. TT Rajah, an ex-PAP member himself defended the Barisan. Mr. TT Rajah if I am not mistaken is the father of Justice VK Rajah and the founder of the legal firm Rajah & Tann. We could hear the on-goings because the Public Address system was used during the court proceedings. I think Mr. Donald Yeo was the magistrate. Several times the judge shouted through the microphone to bring order to the courthouse because the Barisan supporters were jeering every time the prosecutor spoke.

Barisan detainees being led away to a waiting Black Maria van. In the background was the old school hall.

Chestnut Drive Secondary School still stands but an open field replaced the school-hall.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bukit Timah Heritage Trail 7 – Gun Battery at Chestnut Drive (by Peter Chan)

I must have been around 9 years old when Confrontation started between Indonesia and Malaysia. Singapore was then a part of Malaysia. The British were responsible for the external defense of Malaysia and this included the presence of the military bases such as RAF Tengah (now RSAF Tengah) and RAF Gombak (now MINDEF HQ). To protect British air bases from hostile Indonesian aircrafts, Bofor guns were placed at strategic locations around Singapore, including Changi Beach. This was a low-level air defense umbrella to protect critical military installations. I remembered very well the gun battery site at Chestnut Drive because I happened to live there.

One day, I heard the roar of Bedford trucks in an open space behind my house. There were many armed British soldiers. In the next few days, a camp was built, but I wasn’t sure what it was until I saw this interesting piece of war arsenal protected by sandbags (see Picture 1). I am sure I can sketch the camp layout if given the chance because everything seems fresh in my mind about what took place some 45 years ago.

My kampong friends and I were thrilled. We approached these British soldiers but at the same time keeping our distance because we were afraid of the bigger built “Ang Mo Kwee”. One of the British soldiers waved to us and called us to come near. Why not? He offered us Fish and Chips. From Fish & Chips, we became friends and daily promptly at 5pm we made our way to this hill off Chestnut Drive. The reason was simple: we sat on the turret for our joy-ride.

Fast forward to 1971. When the first Yang Di-Pertuan Negara and later first President of the Republic of Singapore - Inche Yusoff Ishak - died, his family moved out of the Istana and lived on the Bofors gun site. Puan Noor Ashah, the x-president’s wife was a popular figure in our neighbourhood. We knew her family well. Today she has moved to Penang to be with her children and grand-children.

(Picture 1: The exposed hill in the background is that of Bukit Timah Hill from the Dairy Farm Road side - it was a granite quarry area. Below the Hill were the cultivated vegetable plots and the paddocks for the cows. One empty plot of land next to Dairy Farm Road was the cowshed where the Herefordshire breed of cows were kept.

There were two bungalow houses behind the British soldiers – to the left of one of the houses was Prof. Wong Lin Ken’s house. Prof. Wong was the Home Minister in the 1970s. Mr Jek Yuen Tong a former minister had his house to the left of the gun. Circa 1965)

(Picture 2: The blue-roof house in the middle of the photo was the Bofor gun site viewed from Petir Road. The hill in the background is Bukit Gombak. The tower up Bukit Gombak was the site of RAF Gombak radar station. Circa 2007)