Tuesday, November 27, 2007

My sentimental friend

Remember that Hermans Hermit hit of the 60’s called My Sentimental Friend? Well, I met my sentimental friend last week. Although, it’s the first time we met, it seemed as though I have known him for decades. He is the one who wrote several articles for this blog, and who said in his last one:

“I feel that I have found several new friends via my writings and look forward to maybe meeting up with you, Peter and Zen next time that I manage to get to Singapore. At the moment I am not sure when that will be. On my personal list of 100 things to do before I die is "visit Singapore again!" It is such a wonderful place that I never tire of visiting it, talking about it and writing about it.”

His name is John Harper, and he came back, just as he said he would, with his lovely wife, Ann.

JohnHarper@Changi21Nov07 (10)

Together with two other ‘friends of Yesterday’, Victor and Peter, I brought John and Ann to see some of the places he wrote about, such as Changi/Lloyd Leas area where he first lived on arrival in Singapore, Changi Beach where he learned to swim, and Changi Board Walk area where he played. That was last Wednesday, 21 November. We had lunch at Changi Village. After lunch, we went to Gillman Village where John’s school, the Alexandra Grammar School was located. From there we proceeded to the place the British kids of his day loved, the Haw Par Villa, which thankfully had been restored to close to its original condition. The visit to Haw Par Villa was quite nostalgic for me too because I have not been there since I was a small kid. So it must be about half a century ago for me.

JohnHarper@Changi21Nov07 (4)
(with Peter at Changi Beach)

JohnHarper@Birkpark23Nov07 (5)

On Friday, I met them again, this time alone. We spent the morning at the Bird Park and in the afternoon, I brought them to Tengah Air Base, where John had lived for some time too after his dad was transferred there from Changi Air Base. Although we could not enter the air base, still the surrounding area brought back some memories for John.

It was really a joy for me to be able to share this time with my friends from the UK. I found it rather touching to see him struggling to remember some of the places that he used to love. Unfortunately, many of the places that John knew were either no long around, or have become restricted areas. For example, many of the places in Changi where he played have either become part of the Changi Airport complex, or the prison and drug rehabilitation complex, or part of the new RSAF Changi Air Base.

The Chua Chu Kang area has undergone even greater transformation. I tried to retrace the part of Chua Chu Kang Road that John would take on his way to school in Gillman from Tengah. Only a short stretch of the old CCK Road remained, and it was largely uninhabited. I managed to find a short stretch of this road next to where the former Keat Hong Camp was. This part is now known as Choa Chu Kang Avenue 1.

Some other places that John remembered, and which I was able to show him were the part of the Malayan Railway crossing at Choa Chu Kang Road and the steel railway bridges along Bukit Timah, near Hillview Road and Rifle Range Road. As for Gillman, it had changed so much that he couldn’t be sure where his school was. And both of us could not be sure where the swimming pool was either.

So to solve this and some of the other mysteries, I must wait for my other UK friends like Tom O’Brien, Brian Mitchell and Tom Brown to come visiting. Hope it won’t be long, because as we Singaporeans know only too well, places here have a way of disappearing overnight.

So guys … what are you waiting for?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Take part in the Heritage Photobloging Competition

Sorry, this may be a little late; but still not too late.

Yes, I am doing my bit to promote the National Heritage Board’s events. What I want to highlight is the National Heritage Board’s first photoblogging competition. It’s very easy to take part. Even I can do it! All you have to do is

1: Attend an Explore Singapore! event and take lots of photos
2: Blog about it on your blog (remember to post the pictures!)
3: Visit the Explore Singapore! Heritage In Pictures webpage to register your blog post url.

Athough it’s a bit late, there are still several events left till the closing date which is 31 December 2007. Here are some of the interesting events that you can attend.

  • Discover More with Mark Lee! (1 Dec)

  • Taxi-drivers’ Open House with Mark Lee (7 Dec)

  • Singapore Storeys – Guided Tour (weekdays)

  • Philately in Action (4 Dec)

  • Spices Recipes (7 Dec)

For your information, the first prize is a Nikon D40 kit! Like what the guy in the Courts advertisement said .. So what are you waiting for?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Toys Were Us (8) – Dividers Game

Laokokok’s latest post about the compass and mathematical instruments box reminds me of a game we used to play in primary school. I cannot recall the name of the game.

Basically, we make use of the dividers as a sort of dart to stick it to a board or the ground. Altogether there was a set of 6 or 7 moves, but I can only remember six.

1) The first one is easy. The dividers is placed on your palm. You have to toss it upwards so that it will do a 180 degree flip and hit on the ground with the sharp end.

2) The second is also easy. It is similar to the first except that the dividers is placed on the back of your hand.

3) You clench your right fist with wrist facing upwards. Then place the dividers on your palm facing right and then try to turn it downwards to the ground in one quick motion

4) The next one is tougher, and very hard to explain. You point the sharp end on the edge of your left palm (assuming you are right-handed) and with you right first finger, you flip it, again 180 degrees.

5) The next one is similar to no. 4 except that you point the sharp end on the finger.

6) The last one is simple. Just hold the dividers by the sharp end and throw it like a knife.

You probably have difficulty following my description above and so I made a short movie. I used a letter opener in place of the dividers and used a polystyrene box as the base. Pardon the poor quality. It is taken on a digital camera and not a video camera.

I think there may be one or two more moves which I cannot recall. If you can remember, please share with us.
Safety reminder: Hey kids. Please don't try this game. It's actually quite lame compared to the modern toys you have nowadays. But just in case you want to try it, out of curiosity, please be extra careful. Especially when you come to the last move. Make sure nobody is in front of you; or nearby. Thanks.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Blogging today on yesterday.sg

I will be speaking at the Silver Infocomm Day which is an event jointly organized by RSVP and IDA as part of the Active Ageing Festival.

Date: 24 November 2007, Saturday
Time: 9am to 5pm.
Venue: RSVP office at Bishan Junction 8

I will be giving a talk jointly with friends from National Heritage Board entitled;

"Blogging today on yesterday.sg".

and it will be from 4 pm to 4.40 pm

I will be talking about the basics of blogging, my experience in blogging and yesterday.sg. It will be similar to the one I did last year at Queenstown Library except that this time I will be talking less about my experience and more on how start blogging. Furthermore, this year, we will be giving some handout materials in response to requests from some participants in last year’s event. Included in the handouts is a copy of an article I wrote for the May/June issue of Prime, a magazine for ‘over 45s’.

If you want to introduce blogging to your older friends and relatives, do encourage them to come down to listen to us.

More details can be found at RSVP’s website.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Visit to Army Museum

Went to the Army Museum today.

Not surprisingly, the exhibits did not arouse much feelings of nostalgia except for the army bed and the once so familiar green blanket (Photo by Acroamatic). But one scene from the video did trigger a gush of emotions. It was the part where this recruit lay down to sleep at night just after sending an SMS home to report that everything was fine. Of course there was the familiar shout of “Bravo company, lights out!”

After a long and hectic day as a recruit, I guess the only time you can have the luxury of some peace and quiet to think about home is when you lay down your weary body to sleep. During those few minutes before sleep arrives, you think about the new life in the army and contrast it with your life as a student. The feelings are strong and they stay in your mind for decades.

I remember one particular evening. I was listening to the radio in the dark. My tiny transistor radio was held close to my ear, volume turned so low that only I could hear it. The song was Butterfly Lovers (梁山伯与祝英台) violin concerto.

Even today, every time I hear that tune, I still think of that night three-and-a-half decades ago in Safti.

I think this photo was taken at Chestnut Drive during my section leaders course's AG (anti-gurella) Warfare training. In case you cannot recognize me, I am squatting in front, left.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Memories of New World Amusement Park

As a follow-up to James’ article about the Great World Amusement Park, I will now blog about the New World Amusement Park that I used to go to as a kid. In Cantonese, it was known as San Sai Kai (新世界).

I vaguely remember that we had a grand-uncle (my father’s uncle) who worked as a gate-keeper at New World. So occasionally when he was on duty, he’d let us in without buying an entrance ticket. He lived in an old and dimly-lit apartment at the rear of New World. He was often on duty at the rear entrance which meant that we could not have free entry because the main entrance was at Kitchener Road.

But before I proceed, maybe I should give you some background history about this place.

New World Postcard

Background (from Singapore Infopedia)

“In 1923, Ong Boon Tat and Ong Peng Hock set up New World Park, the first of the three amusement parks that coloured Singapore's night life from the 1920s to the 1960s. New World was located at Jalan Besar, bounded by Serangoon Road, Kitchener Road and Whampoa River. The park was sold to Shaw Brothers which acquired a 50-percent interest.

During the Japanese Occupation, New World was renamed Shin Segal and turned into a gambling farm opened only to civilians but not Japanese soldiers.

New World closed in 1987 when Shaw Organisation sold the freehold site to City Developments. Work to build a condominium and an eight-storey mall on the site was planned to start in late 2004.”

For more information, please go to Singapore Infopedia. By the way, according to this website, Rose Chan and King Kong performed at New World.

What I can recall

Like Great World, New World had the usual attractions like cinemas, ghost train, merry-go-rounds, shooting galleries, bumper cars, restaurants and food and clothing stalls. I will just share with you about a few of the things that held the strongest memory for me.

1) Ghost Train

The ghost train at NW is similar to what James had described earlier. The train would be moving in the dark, and then come to a sudden stop and a ghoulish demon would light up in front of you, accompanied by evil laughter; and then the train would make a sharp turn and move on. I recall that the ‘demons’ were really quite amateurishly made. I could clearly see the coconut and husk used for its head. I also remember seeing the lighted Exit sign in the dark. It wasn’t scary at all but still the girls screamed.

2) Cinemas

I can think of two cinemas; Grand and State. Grand (大光) screened mainly Chinese movies whilst State had more English movies. Actually State was located outside the amusement park near the entrance, I think.

At Grand, I remember watching the very famous tear-jerker Love Without End (不了情) with my siblings. This movie was more well-known for its theme song than the story. The theme song was sung by Carrie Koo Mei whose brother is the prolific song writer Joseph Koo who composed many famous Hong Kong TV drama tunes. My sister was a great fan of hers. (不了情) was a unique song: very difficult to sing. Over the years, many singers have recorded their versions of it, but none come close to the original. You can listen to it here.

At State, I think I saw the first Clint Eastwood cowboy movie For A Few Dollars More. Early in his career, Clint Eastwood starred in several of such ‘spaghetti westerns’.

3) Punching Bags

The other thing I remember fondly is the punching bags (actually this is probably the wrong term). You had this small bag that hangs at about face level. You gave your hardest punch to let it hit against a screen which had a vertical scale with a needle to record the force of your punch. If your punch was hard enough, a bell would go off. I remember having a go at it with my cousin Meng from JB and my brother David. Meng was an accomplished badminton player and very strong. My brother David was into Tae Kwon Do. (Actually he was into many martial arts; Karate, Tai Chi, Pai Mei, whichever was the fancy of the day. Eh what do they say? A Jack of all trades but ……) Anyway, these two guys got a big kick from the ringing of the bell. As for me; can I just say that I cannot remember the result?

As I think back, those games and attractions that we so thoroughly enjoyed in the old days were really no match of what our kids have these days at places like Genting Highlands and Disneyland. I guess kids of any era simply know how to have fun with whatever life serves up to them, and it doesn’t take much for them to have a good time. Remember those ice balls that we so relished? They are nothing but ice and sugar; but still every adult of my generation seem to recall them with fondness.

OK. Now that you have read about two of the three ‘worlds’ of the old Singapore, I hope someone can contribute an article about the Happy World Amusement Park at Gayland … oops; I mean Geylang Road.

Monday, November 12, 2007

James Seah Remembers the Great World Amusement Park

Kids of my generation who grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s Singapore will certainly know about the ‘Three Worlds’. They are Gay World in Geylang Road, New World at Serangoon/Kitchener Road and Great World at Kim Seng Road. These three amusement parks held great memories for us. I am more familiar with New World but not the other two. But fortunately, my friend James Seah has some fond memories of Great World which he shares with us below.


Looking at these two pictures, few people would have believed that the Great World City sits at the exact same spot where the Great World Amusement Park was once located 50 years ago, along Kim Seng Road, Singapore.

Great World Amusement Park, 1956

Great World City, 2006

It is a total physical and visual transformation; a phenomenon of reconstruction which has been sweeping over Singapore for the past three decades or so. The landscape of modern Singapore is ever-changing, ever-evolving - a visual yardstick of economic progress in all the big cities of the world.

Great World holds fond memories for me as a young street urchin of Bukit Ho Swee some fifty years ago.

As an 11-year-old who grew up in Havelock Road in the 1950s, I was then attending Delta Primary School. Great World could be seen from the top of the “crooked bridge” (“Khiow Ku Keo” in Hokkien) behind the school. The “crooked bridge” was actually formed by the bent arch of the huge water pipeline running from the Johor causeway.

My first visit to Great World was with my mother during the December school holidays when I was in Primary 5. The amusement park was very crowded during the “Trade Fair”, an event which is usually held to coincide with the mid-year and end-year school holidays.

Whenever a Trade Fair was held, a ray of white light will be beamed from Great World into the night sky and could be seen from miles away.

New “Made-in-Singapore” products were launched at the Trade Fair; with special offer and free gifts. I vividly remembered an Indian sales promoter who delivers his sales pitch and wisecracks over the loud-hailer in fluent Hokkien. Another gimmick which attracted the crowd at the exhibition stalls was when the advertising products were thrown into the air and everyone tried to grab for these free stuff.

There were 4 cinemas in Great World – Sky, Globe, Atlantic and Canton, all owned by the Shaw cinema magnates. Sky (see photo - right) and Globe screened films in English while the shows in Atlantic (see photo - middle) and Canton (see photo - bottom) were usually in Mandarin or Cantonese.

There were times when Atlantic would screen 2 “third-run” Chinese films for the price of 50 cents during day shows. I have watched most of the “kungfu” films during these matinee shows. “Third-run” means that these films have been screened in the major cinemas in town as new or “first-run” films several months earlier at “first-run” ticket price of $2.50 each.

Movie-watching was my favorite pastime during my childhood days in Bukit Ho Swee. I would save my daily pocket money of 10 or 20 cents for these occasional treats. I spend money only on the show tickets; no tidbits, drinks or bus-fare as Great World was within walking distance from my home in Havelock Road.

The amusing stuff of Great World as an amusement park are the kiddie joy rides (outdated compared to the funland machines today). The “ghost trains” was most popular. (It was not scary at all because the ghost effigies were made of papier-mache and attendants were walking around the “ghost town” to push the carts which are jammed in the rail). The ride will only frighten those who kept their eyes closed; not those who dare to open their eyes throughout the ride and found it fun and amusing.

There were also the carousel, merry-go-round aeroplanes, mini roller-coaster, and motor-engine operated joy rides with simple, unsophisticated designs and features. The rides were usually priced at 20 or 30 cents each.

I will always remember my first toy race-car ride at Great World one night when I was 12. I bent my mouth so close to the steering wheel of the race-car that when there was a collision with another car, my front teeth was hit. The gap between the top row of my middle teeth was chipped (a dentist will be able to describe it in less words) and it gradually decay and that was how I lose my teeth one night in Great World. It taught me something about safe driving. I will also be skipping Formula 1 in Singapore next year because of this one bad experience as a childhood racer.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Old Buildings Quiz (1)

Ever since I started blogging about the good old days, I have taken an interest in old buildings in Singapore. Whenever, I see an old building, I want to take a photo of it for fear that it would be torn down when I am not looking; such as my beloved National Junior College. Or worse still; the government may decide to preserve it – i.e. they will retrofit it beyond recognition, the way new pop groups ‘remake’ some of our favourite oldies. OK, I exaggerate, but you get my point.

I am not referring to the well-known buildings like the CHIJMES, or the Fullerton Building which have been gazetted as national monuments. I am referring to the unimportant buildings such as the former Driving Test Centre at Queenstown, Braddell Rise School and Matter East School. So whenever the opportunity arises, I would take some photos of these buildings.

I would like to share some my collection with you. But to make it more interesting, I will make it into a quiz. Here’s the first one. I have chosen this building because it is related to an interest article in the Straits Times today about the Jewish community in Singapore and their new building in town.

Please tell me the name of this building nd where it is located. I suspect many of you have seen this building but never noticed it's name.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Special Visitors

Last Sunday, we had some special visitors. Mr Rob Cantley, CEO of Borneo Exotics, his wife Diana and a few local pitcher plant enthusiasts came to see my son’s collection of pitcher plants. I think Rob was in Singapore for some meeting with Nparks about next year’s Singapore Garden Festival, and he took the opportunity to visit the homes of some of the local enthusiasts and give some consultation.

My son is crazy about pitcher plants - thanks partly to my friend Dr Tan Wee Kiat’s children books on the subject. Wee Kiat even took the trouble to bring him to some of the little-known places in Singapore where pitcher plants can be found in the wild. My son and his buddies at Green Cultures Singapore the regularly chat about pitcher plants online. Sometimes, they jointly purchase plants from overseas suppliers such as Borneo Exotics. Occasionally, we have strangers dropping by to exchange or buy plants. I am quite surprised that there so many young Singaporeans who are passionate about this carnivorous plant. I understand that many of them live in high-rise apartments. I heard that some even rent space in local nurseries to keep their prized collections.

I am quite happy that my son is so passionate about his pitcher plants. For one thing, between this hobby and his kayaking training, he has very little time left for playing computer games like most teenagers do. I often hear friends complaining about how their kids are hooked on computer games. I think my kids have never even touched an Xbox or Playstation before. I also think it helps to develop his social skills, something his parents seem to lack.

One small price we had to pay is that, with his hundreds of pots of pitcher plants and my wife’s stag horn ferns and other plants, our house looks like a jungle. In fact, when my car is parked in porch, there is hardly room for one person to walk into our house. We even have a huge wooden frame tailor-built in front of our house for hanging pots and climbers.

Anyway, back to the visit. I am afraid I don’t know enough about the topic to share with you; although thanks to Wee Kiat’s book, Jack and the Carnivorous Pitcher Plant, I am no longer intimidated by names like Nepenthes, Rafflesiana and Ampullaria. I even know the difference between and upper and lower pitcher!

All I can do is show you some photos. By the way, I think Rob and Diana will be giving a talk about growing pitcher plants in an urban environment at GardenTech2007 next month. You may be able to see some photos of our home at that presentation.

Another quiz for you guys. What is the name of this carnivorous plant? It’s my favourite. I think it’s much prettier than the pitcher plant.

Friday, November 02, 2007

It’s the 25th Hour, not 11th

This morning I saw a review on Channel News Asia by Melanie Oliveiro of the new movie, The Eleventh Hour. It reminded me of a wonderful movie with a similar name which I saw many years ago. That movie was The 25th Hour.

Once in a while you come across a movie that pricks your heart and causes you to think about it long after you walk out of the theatre, and which you can remember for years. The 25th Hour is one such movie. I think, my friend Kenneth who seems to like this genre of movie would have enjoyed it. But I doubt he has seen it because it is such an old movie. I saw it when it was first released in 1967 when I was still in secondary school. I liked it so much that some years later, in 1979, I borrowed a copy of the book from the National Library and read it. The movie starred the late Anthony Quinn and the author of the book was C. Virgil Gheorghiu,

The story is about the tragic events that happened to a simple Romanian peasant, Johann Moritz during World War II. Moritz’s misfortune began because he was blessed with a beautiful wife. A local captain who coveted his wife reported him to the authorities as a Jew. He was sent to a work camp but was subsequently "rescued" by a Nazi officer who thought that he was a perfect Aryan specimen. He was forced to serve as a model for the German propaganda. After the war, he was imprisoned and severely beaten by his Russian captors. As a final irony, he was charged with war crimes by the Allied forces for his role in assisting the Nazis, while all along he has been nothing but a victim.

If my memory serves me, I think the story ends when Moritz returns to his villge to find he has become the father of a boy who was the result of his wife being raped by a German soldier. Hope somebody will read the book and confirm if I remembered correctly.

++ Chew of this interesting line from the book: “God made so many things of no practical value, and yet they are the most beautiful of all”.

++ Melanie Oliveiro said this of the movie The 11th Hour; “You have a moral obligation to watch it”. Now that I qualify to watch movies at a discount (half price?) during week days, I think I will fulfill my moral obligation next week.