Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Reflections on Children’s Day 2008

Today is Children’s Day and there are lots of advertisements and dedications in the media. It makes me think about my own time growing up in pre-independent Singapore in the 1950’s and 60’s. Life certainly was very different then. In the first place, I am not sure if we even had a Children’s Day back then. I think we did.

From the home to the school, from games at home to public entertainment places and places of interest, from gardens to public parks, the environment our children live in today is vastly different from that of my generation, the ‘Boomer’ generation. Today’s children live much more intense and hectic lives. They are incessantly bombarded by sights and sounds and their hours are jam-packed with activities. And they have seen so much of the world even before they reached their teens. In comparison, I had never been on an aeroplane until my mid-twenties when the army sent me to Taiwan for my military training.

In order to prevent turning this essay into a full-blown book, I think I have to limit my reminiscing to just the public places that kids of my generation visited during their spare time. I shall not even touch on our favourite pastime which was going to the movies, or our occasional visits to the public pools.

Let’s see now. What were some of the public places of interest that were available to children of our time. I am afraid I can only come up with six. Here they are.

1) Haw Par Villa. This place with all the graphic depictions of Hades was a favourite with not just the local kids but also the children of British servicemen.

I think this photo of my elder brother David (front) with some cousins was taken at Haw Par Villa.

2) Van Kleef Aquarium. In those days, when we did not have a zoo (the nearest zoo was in Johor Bahru) or a bird park, the most interesting place to see animals was the Van Kleef Aquarium at River Valley Road. I remember it had two storeys of exhibits, the most fascinating being the tank of piranhas at the entrance to the second-floor exhibition hall.

This photo was taken at Van Kleef Aquarium. From left; my mum, her elder sister, me, an aunt (my oldest brother Chun Chew (Zen) may remember her name) and my elder brother David.

3) Changi Beach. The occasional trip to Changi Beach was always a great delight for us. I remember the route via old Tampines Road. The sight of the solemn grey walls of the Changi Prison which greeted us as we came to the end of Tampines Road meant that we were nearing our destination. My own favourite activity at Changi Beach was rowing the rented wooden sampans for an hour or two.

4) Hoi Pei. I bet young readers don’t know what place this was. It is the Cantonese name for Queen Elizabeth Walk at the Esplanade. Back then it was very different. Before all that land reclamation, this area was a straight stretch of coastline joining the mouth of the Singapore River to Nicoll Highway. Our parents brought us here occasionally to enjoy the sea breeze and the view of the open sea. I shall blog about this another time.

5) The three ‘worlds’. These were the famous amusement parks, New World, Great World and Gay World. Undoubtedly, they were favourites with kids of our time. I have blogged about the fun we had at these place previously. Subsequently, another famous amusement park was added at the Kallang Leisure Drome vicinity. This was where Singapore had its first roller coaster. The park of course was the Wonderland.

6) Finally we had the nature parks which are still around today. Besides the 3 reservoirs at MacRitchie, Pierce and Seletar, there was also Mount Faber and the Yunan Garden in Nantah.

I think this place is Mount Faber. From left, my younger brother James, my elder brother, David, my dad and me.

I have probably missed out a few but there you have it. Not much I guess compared to what our kids have today.

One thing has not changed though; and it never will. We had the same twenty-four hours a day. With such dizzily hectic life-styles, it is no wonder that kids nowadays are so stressed. No wonder half of them need spectacles by the time they reach primary school. And may I venture to speculate that this could be one reason why so many of our young men simply collapse and die when the time came for them to deal with the rigours of National Service training - apart from all that processed food and junk foods that they consume day after day.


Icemoon said...

Woah, I thought the second photo looks photoshopped with the torn edges. They look like those taken with Polaroid cameras.

The first photo is very cute, so many children, really children's day, haha.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Lam,
I do not know whether King George the V Park can be included as one of the places that not only kids of our generation but adults would love to visit. King George the V Park was well known as a lovers' park.

Zen said...

Permit me to tell a short story relating to this topic. There was this very good man who asked a monk why he had no children despite having done a lot of charitable work, led a decent life and so on and so forth. The monk asked back on his personal habit. The man replied: "Oh, I am a very fastidious man as far as personal hygience is concerned". The monk replied that his habit may be his greatest drawback, and dispensed this advice: "Have you ever noticed that fish does not breed easily in very clean water? Instead it strives in muddy one!" Coming back to our present Singapore environment, could it be too clean whereby attributing to our weak body constitution?

Lam Chun See said...

Icemoon. For once your detective skills not up to par. Judging from my age, that photo could not be later than 1956 or 57. Where got Polaroid at that time?

At that time we don't even own a camera. This photo most likely taken by one of my uncles.

As for photoshop skills. Other than adjusting brightness and contrast, I don't know much else.

Lam Chun See said...

Notice the square shape of the uncropped photo?

Icemoon said...

Actually if we refer to their history, Polaroid has been producing cameras since 1948.

Victor said...

Icemoon, Polaroid may have been making cameras since 1948 but their instamatic models definite came much later. In those days, we didn't even have 35 mm film. Most film were much wider (maybe about 70 mm?) and they didn't come in a metal canister but simply rolled up and packed in a foil wrapper, if I recall correctly. I know because I have taken some photos when I was still a kid. I used a cheap camera.

My primary school definitely celebrated Children's Day during my time (1963-1968). All I could remember was that I got a packet of biscuits/sweets in a transparent plastic bag. The biscuits were the "cream-sandwich" type made by Khong Guan(or was it Thye Hong?).

There were many Maths lessons to be learnt even from that simple packet of goodies. There were several types of biscuits - some were dark chocolate colour while some were normal light-brown colour. They were of different shapes - round, square and rectangle - a very good and fun way to teach kids about shapes. Finally there were 3 button-shaped sweets wrapped in transparent wrappers. The colours of the sweets were one white, one red and one yellow, I think.

Zen said...

chun see - I do not know her actual name, but we all addressed her as 'tai yee ma'. A little of her life account was related in my short story regarding my coastal boat trip to kuantan which was mentioned in your blog sometime back. I fully shared your view that the current 24 hrs society does take a toll on the present generation of kids, under a 'pressure cooker' type of lifestyle encouraged by society at large - mostly from parents, relatives, and even teachers. I have one relative who expected her only son to learn music, swimming and so on, at the same time to excel in studies to be enforced by a heavy dose of private tuitioning. I ever asked her once, how was her son going to
'tahan' the physical demand of NS later on. Relating to this same NS topic, I once teasingly asked my junior colleague nicknamed Ah Goo(an ex kampong boy in chong pang area) how he coped with his NS. This hokkien 'pieng' loudly retorted: "NS? boh lasa lah for we kampong kids. What is the big deal? Those army officers - all chiak liow bee" - smiling broadly minus two of his front teeth.

Lam Chun See said...

Icemoon. You may want to check the first cameras that Victor and I used in the old days.


Icemoon said...

I notice something very strange. Chun See calls his brothers by their English names.

What's his own English name then?

Anonymous said...

well I won't comment on cameras and photoshopping but just to say I found this blog and the list of places very evocative, of all these places only Haw Par Villa is one I recall as a place we visited (and we always called it the Tiger Balm Gardens then) and whilst living in Changi I used Changi Beach rather infrequently. I liked Chun See's description of travelling on the Old Tampines Road (I used to travel by bus along there to get to Payer Lebar via some Kampongs) and his view of the forbidding walls of Changi Prison - despite living so close to it I never ever approach close to it - it was a place of ill repute from the war years and prisons are never very attractive places!

Lam Chun See said...

I don't have a Christian name. Neither has my eldest brother Chun Chew (Zen)

Lam Chun See said...

Brian, I thought you might be familiar with the Queen Elizabeth Walk because it was only a stone's throw from the Britannia Club/NAAFI which was very popular with the British kids.

Anonymous said...

Before Polaroid camera came into the market, it was KODAK. Polaroid is associated with "instant" colour photos, that being the case Polaroid came around mid-70s. When SLR cameras could take colour, popular films were Agfa, Kodak and later Fuji

Icemoon said...

I guess early Polaroids were not popular in this part of the world.

Despite what has been said, Polaroid did produce *instant cameras* from 1948. Look at this list. The Moorman Polaroid of the JFK Assassination was taken with the Land Camera Model 80A. I even found the user manual.

Anonymous said...

Expensive price tag prevented early market introduction into Singapore. Polaroid instant colour photos usually popular at functions like weddings or corporate dinners. A photographer goes around snapping photos and selling a copy for S$10-20 (smaller than postcard size).

When it came to weddings, I still remember that it was a practice to take group photo at the table and then giving it away to the guests. Again colour photos given away from the mid-70s onwards. Now days I am not sure if this practice is still practised. Maybe everybody put up in Flickr?

Anonymous said...

Hi Chun See, I chanced upon your blog.

I must say I was very touched to see the old pictures and old memories... places where I used to watch movies, play and eat.

Thank you for bringing these memories back to us.

Anonymous said...

Chun See

yes I remember the Britannia Club and another place I remember was Change Alley - I see its still on the map and even in those days I think of it as a bit of a tourist trap. I seem to remember that they would sell chocolate bars there at a far higher price than we would pay in Changi Village for example and they were supposed to be bargains, would benice to see a blog on Change Alley and what it is today

Lam Chun See said...

Peter probably has more things to share about Change Alley. Kampong boy like me never went to places like that. But ask me about 5th Mile market in Lim Tua Tow Road .. maybe I can tell you a thing or two.

I read from one Derek Tait's books that Change Alley was popular with the Bristish servicemen.

Zen said...

I too never visit change alley until I started work at tj pagar. We kampong boys could be considered 'sua ku'(country bumpkin) then by city folks. I knew change alley as a busy side lane off collyer quay with mostly indians
shopkeepers selling their vast assortment of wares mainly to tourists. The place is known for having many money-changers. Today this famous tourist spot has lost some of its former attraction due the presence of many shopping malls around this place.