Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Foyers Gathering 2008

Last Friday, the Friends of Yesterday (or Foyers as we call ourselves) had a gathering at the home of Shaun, the “Superman”. Besides the usual makan, we were treated to a display of Shaun’s amazing collection of super toys. I must admit that I don’t quite know how to appreciate such sophisticated toys.

Siva had brought along a DVD of the movie Saint Jack which was filmed entirely in Singapore in the 1979. In it were several scenes showing Singapore in the 70’s. However, with all that chatting and eating, it was a bit difficult for us to concentrate on the movie and pick out the places. Anyway, if you want to know more, you can wait for Victor to blog about it because we gave him the assignment to view the movie again. He gladly accepted the assignment. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact this movie has several ‘adult’ scenes.

Anyway, I recognized the lead actor Ben Gazarra, and I told my younger friends that he used to act in an old TV drama series called The Fugitive. But somehow, at the back of my mind, I sensed that that wasn’t correct. And so the next day, I did a search on the internet and found that the old TV series that Ben Gazarra acted in was not The Fugitive. Do you know which TV series that was? I give you a hint. It was about a lawyer who found that he had terminal cancer and had only two years to live. And so he decided to “drink life to the lees”. Click here for the answer. You will probably see why I made the connection.

On the way home, I had three young men in my car when we drove into Bishan. I asked whether they could possibly picture in their minds what Bishan was like in the 60’s when it was nothing but hills and cemeteries. They all said, no way. In fact, Ivan said he simply could not imagine what life in a kampong was like.

That remark sort of stayed with me, and made me think that perhaps, I should blog more, about the kampong days, even though, much of what I can recall about my kampong days, I have already blogged about in the past two-and-a-half year. Yes Good Morning Yesterday has been around that long. For a start, perhaps, I will try to do some homework and try to figure out where roughly were the cemeteries of Pek San Teng located compared to today’s Bishan New Town. But with my limited skill with Photoshop, I guess, I might have to rely of the old-fashioned army style of using real plastic overlays!

Meantime, I hope some of the older bloggers like YG, who grew up in a small kampong near Tan Tock Seng Hospital, will share more stories of kampong life.

Would you believe that this is what Potong Pasir used to look like (Picture scanned from the book, Singapore, An Illustrated History, 1941 ~ 1984, Information Division, Ministry of Culture)


fuzzoo said...

I believe Potong Pasir was a kampong up until at least the early 1980s. I could see it from my flat in Toa Payoh. Whenever it rained heavily, the kampong would be seriously flooded and you would see little boats or sampans going around to rescue the people stuck on the rooftops.

Victor said...

Chun See - I accepted the movie for watching, not blogging. For your info, I still have not got down to watching it. :p

Hmm... if Potong Pasir was already under the opposition then, I wonder if it would still look like that today? :p

Lam Chun See said...

Fuzzoo, you should have taken some photos ..... did you?

BTW, I am not saying that photo was of Potong Pasir. It's just that I recall PS used to look like that. I visited my NJC friend's house in 1969 and in front of his house was a pond where they grew water cress (Sai yong choi).

JollyGreenP said...

The photograph evokes memories for me of the land just outside the main gates at RAF Tengah in 1959. We once did a scout hike through similar terrain along red clay tracks passing by and through kampongs towards Jurong. Very good choice of photo Chun See to stir memories.

yg said...

in the 50s and 60s, many places in singapore looked like that - could have been lim chu kang, choa chu kang, changi, thomson or even bukit ho swee.

chun see, i am going to learn from you again ..get my friend (guest blogger) to share his kampong days. he used to live in a kampong at kangkar.

Anonymous said...

There are so many photos of kampungs but usually inhabited by Chinese. There is a major difference between Malay kampung houses and Chinese kampung houses. Do you know there is only one kampung house still around in Singapore surrounded by modern condos and landed houses. That kampung house was built in the 1920s.

Anonymous said...

Saint Jack was banned in singapore till i think 2003/4 where it was shown i think at Picturehouse. The book was written by Paul Theroux who was a lecturer at SU in the early 70s (71?). His son Louis Theroux has I believe his own show on BBC and is quite famous.
The movie was shot in 1979. You can see what clarke quay, boat quay was like before they cleared away the tongkang. Of course the movie also highlighted Bugis street and what it was like back them with the transvestite.

It is very interesting to look at old singapore thru' movies that was shot here totally or partly. There is an episode of Hawaii 5-0 (Year of the Horse) that was shot here in 1979. I missed watching it as I was in the the army. Sinema old school is showing "Lion City" which was produced by Cathay in 1960. (
Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and an actress Dorothy? have their "Road to " movies in the 30s/40s. They did "Road to singapore". However it was never shot in Singapore.

It is refreshing to look back at the past thru' the sceneries in these old movies. I believe probably there must be quite a number of old malay movies with P Ramlee in it have a lot of old singapore scenes of the 40s, 50s & 60s in it.
I remember that NLB is undertaking the task of digitizing all 100 years of the Strait Times so that it can be accessed and searched easily( Currently they are in microfiches which really is very tedious and time-consuming to search ). When it is completed, it will be very easy to look for that little "pieces of memory" of places and faces that we missed. I think it will also show that Strait Times was never that "unbalanced in their reporting"( In the 40s/50s i think it was based in KL). I hope others can share their recollections of old mvoies that have scenes of old singapore.

Anonymous said...

Hong Kong Cantonese movies (Nancy Sit, Lor Lan) such as those by Cathay often had Singapore scenes - the Merdeka Bridge and the 2 lions, Mount Faber, Elizabeth Walk were some that I remember.

P Ramlee usually had Jalan Seaview as the backdrop or Jalan Hajijah area.

Lam Chun See said...

I have 3 friends whose mothers have quite interesting stories. 2 are from Japanese occupation days. Only problem is have to find the time to spend time to interview them.

Lam Chun See said...

Actually, there is no shortage of kampong stories. Back in the 60's and even 70's, much of Spore was kampong landscope. If people started to share the stories, we can learn a lot. For example, I didn't know about Chia Heng kampong until I read YG's blog. And I don't even know where is Kangkar.

Anonymous said...

Is Kangkar somewhere around Ama Keng Road or Neo Tiew?

Anyway, I'm one of the um, young readers of the blog and I enjoy reading nearly everything Mr Lam and the guest bloggers have to say, but I have to admit I enjoy the kampong stories a lot too. So here is my feedback if you would like it.

It is hard to imagine kampong life for me too. In such a clean pruned country you can't imagine houses with attap roofs, winding dirt tracks, tiny schoolhouses with <100 children and so on... I mean it's so hard to even find roads without kerbs nowadays unless it's Old LCK/CCK Road or something.

Seriously I've learned more than you may expect from the kampong life entries because they have a continuing personal touch to them and they're interactive in the real sense of the word.
Reading them really helps me *feel* what Singapore was like back in those days, especially that elusive kampong spirit, and IMO actually helps provide context for historical exhibitions and archives that were once just boring documents to me.

It's absolutely fascinating how even in the 90s there were still kampongs (at least this 1991 street directory says so) but so much of this way of life is completely lost and incomprehensible even. It's a shame; I think it's not necessarily a worse way of life, just a different one (it seems to me like people exchanged some bad things for others when they moved from kampongs to HDBs) I can understand why the Kampong Lorong Buangkok landowner is fighting her hardest to keep the land...

Sometime it's also very difficult for me to visualize kampongs geographically sometimes also because I have to fundamentally change my perception of the landscape (remove an entire expressway here... cut through a road there... delete an HDB estate...and now it's completely different)
But it's completely worth it when I can find out the cultural history behind the many Lorongs and Jalans and oddities (truncated/split roads, "Old" roads, long ulu roads/tracks, expunged roads). And the blog entries go beyond that by helping me understand the lives of the actual people who lived there once upon a time.

Although nothing beats really living in a kampong after all, this is about as good as it gets I think. But without the variety of other things the kampong entries may seem less relevant so... well all I can say is please keep up the excellent work. Thanks.

Oh and I have one question, what did people (especially adults) do at Community Centres if they were situated near villages? Did it have expensive resources for the village to share (eg TV?)

Anonymous said...

About the Ben Gazzara "Run for Your Life" series - I recall it was dubbed in Cantonese and shown on TV at 6.35pm. I never really liked the show simply because I couldn't get used to seeing ang-moh speaking Cantonese.

Lam Chun See said...

Dear Passerby. On behalf of myself and the other contributors, I thank you for the very encouraging feedback. This is exactly what I set out to achieve through GMY.

As for your question about community centres, that is one of the topics I intend to blog about. I shall bring it forward.

Lam Chun See said...

Talking about that Kampong@Buangkok, last year, a group of final year NTU students interviewed me and my friends Chuck and Peh for their video project on this place. Although they did not use our interview in their final report (and were terribly apologetic about it) they did give me a copy of their video, which does tell quite a bit about kampong life.

I shall try to get in touch with them and ask them to upload their video to Youtube so you guys can watch it. Or else ask their permission for me to do it, but I hate up loading videos to Youtube; very slow.

pinto said...

Passerby, thank you for that note of encouragement! I'm sure Chun See and other heritage bloggers take great heart from your comment.

Zen said...

Peter - Talking of Lor Lan at once invokes my admiraton for this evergreen supporting cantonese actress, probably now in her eighties, still acting passionately in TV serials and films occasionally.
Her roles range from evil mother-in-law, missionary, kungfu exponent up to whatever a script calls for. She has not played a single leading role throughout her acting career(probably due to her physical attributes), but she doesn't mind at all playing second fiddle and does it with such zeal that commands respect in the cantonese film community. Being a staunch Catholic, she has recently fullfill her lifetime wish of meeting the Pope at the Vatican.

Lam Chun See said...

Hey. Can anyone tell me how come the Recent Comments section on the right side of this blog has suddenly becomse 'dead'.

Maybe some of your comments too 'kilat'.

Anonymous said...

actually you need not consider missing the kampung landscape as unforgivable. Many of my generation came from those places but I doubt we like to go back and re-live that again. We only look at kampungs as a reference-point for us to aspire to make progress for ourselves.

You can still "relive the ambience" (but I doubt the spirit) of that era by documenting the different architectures of buildings (homes, offices)before someone decides to profit thru en bloc (at the expense of other residents) or pull-down because the owner needs more space. At the rate HDB estates are upgraded, I doubt you can safely say "o this is Toa Payoh, this is Kim Keat, this Queenstown...."

I see the problem when young men like you get marry and start a family. Will you still have the passion to do what you once did like now? Will you involve your children despite your busy career? I am not sure whether the "Ladyship of the house" will dictate otherwise (so you need to find that someone who shares the same and not b afraid of the sun or wants to go shopping all the time).

For me, I never gave that up even after stating a family and pursuing a career.

"Uncles" like us cannot last until 99. So as they say, "Carry On..."

Zen said...

For me the beauty of blogging lies in a main theme that can encompass many different sub topics, like a large tree having many branches, or like a heavy rainfall benefiting all living plants - big and small - as large as trees or as small as grass. This is not the the case of books or other publications that can only project the views of certain writers. In short it acts as a cooking pot (the blog) that can accomodate many ingredients (comments) whether already inside the pot (the main theme) or outside it (various comments), all welcome and acceptable without reservation. There is no harm in going off the main road at times, but to rejoin it at a later stage- continuing the long journey.

Victor said...

>Can anyone tell me how come the Recent Comments section on the right side of this blog has suddenly becomse 'dead'.

I can't tell you why but I experience the same thing while I am accessing your blog from the office computer - your "recent comments" column was always a blank. However, when I access your blog from my home PC, your recent "comments column" was always displayed properly, regardless of whether I am using Internet Explorer or Firefox.

I also noticed that the clock on my blog always appears frozen at 12 noon on the office PC while at home, it is always working properly.

So I figure the problem probably lies with your PC (some plug-in missing?) or with your browser (some setting not right?)

You should ask how many people are facing the same problem and you will know what is the extent of the problem.

Lam Chun See said...

"So I figure the problem probably lies with your PC (some plug-in missing?) or with your browser (some setting not right?)

tha's too cheem for me. I think I will have to ask some of my superfriends at This is my version of the Dione Warwick's song ,.....

"That's what Foyers are for".

Anonymous said...

me too - having the same problem on all PCs

Admin said...

I want to add a word of encouragement too. I use your blog and photos to show my three children what life was like in the past. otherwise, they look at their textbooks with disbelief and say things like 'got such real places in Singapore meh?' Thanks guys, keep up the great job!

Anonymous said...

I think the problem is with the widget. Chun See may want to re-add that "recent comments" widget again.

Victor said...

2ndshot, I don't think so. If there's something wrong with the widget, nobody will be able to see recent comments on Chun See's blog. But I can wor.

Moreover, I copied his widget and displayed it on my blog, with some minor modifications. No problem encountered. (Oops... :p) Chun See, can you see anything under "RECENT COMMENTS" in the left sidebar on my blog?

I think its something to do with Chun See's browser settings. I don't know if this will solve the problem but Chun See, can you please check if you have enabled javascript on your browser? If not, please enable it and see if the problem goes away.

Victor said...

If Javascript is already enabled, another thing you can try is clear your browser cache. Good luck.

Icemoon said...

Oh, my previous comment did not get through.

What I mean is, it was never our problem in the first place. The reason is 'cos the javascript url in Chun See's widget is inaccessible. This one ->

I suspect Victor can access it. Maybe due to ISP difference or some funny reason.

The fix is to re-add the widget. Use the generator here -

- Icemoon

Lam Chun See said...

I re-added the widget and it works now. I went to the site recommended by Icemoon. Thanks guys.

Zen said...

HDB announced that they were to construct flats at Bishan sometime in the eighties, and the graves were to be exhumed with the board bearing all the cost incurred. Subsequently our ancestors ash-urns were placed in Mandai Columbarium. Our aging parents and all of us were in a way quite happy with this arrangement, as we need not travel great distance to Bishan to pray at various grave sites, scattered all over in a particular sector called 'wong fook san'. It was a very tedious annual affair to say the least, but my father didn't mind at all. In fact he eagerly looked forward to the cheng-meng season to discharge his confucian duties toward our ancestors. Armed with sickles (to clear grass), sketches of grave sites, paint(to touch up faded wordings on tombstones), prayer items and so forth, he would marshall all of us (in one car) heading to Bishan. He would not tolerate an excuse for not being available for this important assignment.