Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mysterious Shooting Incident in Queenstown

Any shooting incident in this little country of ours which has one of the strictsst gun laws in the world is always big news. But what makes the incident that I am about to narrate truly unprecedented and bizarre even is that it happened in broad daylight.

It happened around noon time in Queenstown, 18 September, 1972. A 22-year old seamstress by the name of Cheng Li Zhen (曾丽珍) was walking with her 19-year old sister Li Bao (丽宝) somewhere along Queenstown (I think it was Margaret Drive) when she suddenly gave a scream and collapsed on the ground. Blood was oozing from her chest. It was only after she was sent to the Singapore General Hospital that they discovered she had been shot. She died from her wound without regaining consciousness. She was from a small Malaysian town called Kluang.

I remember reading some criticism being levied against the policemen on the scene for being too shy to examine the wound which on her left breast; and thus not even realizing that it was a gunshot wound.

It was really big news at that time. And it is only recently that I was able to recall more details about this case because a friend gave me a copy of the Sin Min Daily’s 40th Anniversary Commemorative publication, and this was one of the archive items mentioned. I have tried searching for it at the National Library’s Straits Times archives but was not successful. Hope one of you readers can help out and let us have the link to any news articles about this case.

Anyway, X-ray showed that the bullet entered from her upper left chest and hit her heart. Initially, the police classified the case as ‘murder’, and suspected that the shooter was a sniper hiding in one of the high-rise buildings around Queenstown Circus or Stirling Road. Later, they confirmed that the bullet was a .22 calibre round and was probably fired from close distance from a handgun. But the trouble is, there were no witnesses and her sister did not see any shooter.

Another theory was that the round was accidentally discharged from a passing vehicle. Yet another theory that I recalled reading was that the round has gone off a weapon from the nearby Police Reserve Unit in Queensway when somebody was cleaning his weapon.

The case was later re-classified as an accident as the victim did not have any enemies and her family simply cannot think of anyone who would want to harm her.

Thirty-seven years have gone by and the case remains a complete mystery.

Monday, April 27, 2009

EX. RED BERET: Almost Lost (by Peter Chan)

0715 hours – reached first checkpoint at Serangoon Garden School @Kensington Park Drive, Serangoon Garden Estate. Thanks to one Mrs. Rozario of Tavistock Avenue who gave us Danish Butter Cookie for breakfast
1210 hours –Second Checkpoint at Hill 255, Mandai Forest
1420 hours – Third Checkpoint at Hill 270 Bukit Timah Nature Reserve

Ex Red Beret was a good introduction to the changing landscape of Singapore. We uncovered farmlands to residential built-up areas. We saw different types of residential dwellings; zinc-roof homes to “Ang Mo Choo”. We walked on well-defined laterite tracks and metalled roads. In those places even when we lost our way, surely we still ended up in civilization. But this was not to be the case deep inside the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve. How did it happen?

Take a look at the topo map that we used in 1974 (Photo1). After the checkpoint at the foot of Hill 270 (1420 hours) we headed slightly south-west, expecting to find Hill 237 and the Y-junction in another 5 minutes time. We planned to take the track that passed Hill 169 to the Bukit Panjang Community Centre; located next to a canal. Instead we found ourselves at the water edge.

Photo 1: What was the missing “piece” in this old topo map?

This was puzzling. Did we end-up somewhere by mistake? We were forced to create our own path as the original track was covered by water and ferns. We backtracked and bashed our way through unfamiliar territory, each step made things even far worse than before. The problem begins when you end up disoriented and not knowing exactly where you are; every direction held up great hopes. By 1500 we confirmed we lost our bearings. If this was MacRitchie Reservoir we certainly headed too far south. If this was Pierce Reservoir, we must have come back to Old Upper Thomson Road.

Photo 2: The “missing piece” was Upper Pierce Reservoir. Today’s BKE is indicated by the thick yellow line.

Out of frustration we gave up using the topo map and the compass to navigate. We followed the afternoon sun and walked on the reservoir bed. We were hot, thirsty and started to worry about having to spend the night in the forest. I now figured if we kept moving in the direction of the afternoon sun we would eventually get somewhere.

Photo 3: Left; the embankment near the Chestnut Avenue Water Pumping Station. Right; Route out from the reservoir through Chestnut Avenue (Chestnut Close on the left) to the junction with Chestnut Drive. Under Chestnut Avenue and Chestnut Drive is a 66” water pipeline that carries treated water from the Upper Pierce Reservoir into Singapore’s water distribution system.

We jumped over granite boulders and maneuvered over soft soil and puddles of water. We followed the 66” water pipe from the deepest end of the reservoir as it seemly followed the afternoon sun. As luck would have it, I saw in the distance the outline of a concrete building. Before we reached this building, we climbed up a steep embankment. This steep embankment reminded me of something similar I had seen before at the MacRitchie Reservoir; the embankment impounded the water in the reservoir with the stream below. There were water pits, water pipes, gauges, gears and wheels in the building compound. Then I caught notice of a big signboard which read: “Upper Pierce Reservoir Scheme……….Chestnut Avenue PUB Water Treatment Plant. Date for Completion: June 1975…..” We had finally arrived back into civilization.

Photo 4: Aerial view of the path through the Upper Pierce Reservoir. The Chestnut Avenue Water Pumping Station is at the bottom of the photo. The green line marks our route before the reservoir was filled with water. The steel-piled embankment separates the reservoir from the pumping station facilities.

Next thought on my mind was going to my house which was in a private estate not far away from the Upper Pierce Reservoir. Anyway since we still had to traverse this private estate to get to the next destination, we might as well rest at my house. We took “cover” at my house, filled our hungry stomach with Ayam Penyet and a quick shower before leaving at 1700 hours for the Bukit Panjang Community Center.

The Bukit Panjang Community Center (near present-day Blk 606 Senja Road) was to be the meeting-point to pick up our night ration; packet rice with veggies and curry meat. After picking up our dinner packets and bidding farewell to LOBOS, we hurriedly crossed Woodlands Road to Jalan Teck Whye for the “last mile”. There was to be one last checkpoint at West Bukit Timah Hill, off Track 22, Jurong Road.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

EX. RED BERET: the old version of the Amazing Race (by Peter Chan)

1984 was the last time I saw Pasir Ris when land was cleared for a future HDB town. Today Pasir Ris Estate looks so much different from what it used to be. Back then, Pasir Ris referred to the Elias Road area only. Instead of the name “Pasir Ris Estate” it should have been “Tampines-Loyang Estate” – the old geographical definition from the east of the Sungei Api-Api to the west of Loyang Avenue, and north of the TPE to the sea.

Photo1: Old Tampines Road – THEN & NOW. The thicker green arrow indicates the Start Point at Mariam Close and the route taken by the two OCTS through Kuala Loyang Road and Jalan Loyang Besar. The jagged white patches were the sand pits and the dark shades were the coconut estates.

By the early 1970s, the “Tampines-Loyang” area had a mixed landscape. At both ends of the Tampines Road (Upper Serangoon Road and Upper Changi Road ends were modern private estates. The rest were coconut estates, sand pits, fresh water ponds, pig farms, Chinese temples, PDF camps and rubber estates. There were the SIA Holiday Chalet and Dari Laut at Jalan Loyang Besar, and Golden Palace Holiday Resort at Jalan Ang Siang Kong. The land sloped from Tampines Road towards the sea. Ulu Bedok (now Tampines Estate and Simei) were hills accessible from Jalan Tiga Ratus and an un-named track opposite the Anglican High School. Tampines Road had 2 lanes, very winding with varying gradients and only became a straight road after a long bend behind the Paya Lebar International Airport runway.

Ex. Red Beret’s mission was to complete within 24 hours a planned 80km route from Changi to Pasir Laba. The planned route took us through the Tampines-Loyang area. The exercise included a platoon assault on Chua Chu Kang Hill (Spot Height 286 ft.) and a withdrawal to Pasir Laba.. We were dressed in FBO, worked in pairs, equipped with topography maps (Scale 1:25,000), magnetic compass, compo-ration biscuits, and no money allowed.

Our exercise began at 0145 hours when we entered Kuala Loyang Road (now New Loyang Link). My partner was OCT CK Pek, a Nantah graduate/Chinese-educated who hardly spoke any English. Our relationship was far from satisfactory; he “followed every page of the book” and always made negative comments of my suggestions. It was only after we were judged to be the winners of Ex. Red Beret that he became more open to the English-educated cadets.

Because of the exasperation “walking in circles” around the many fresh-water ponds and the difficulty reading the topo-maps in the dark we took to Tampines Road at Sungei Tampines. That night I saw the future TPE under construction at the junction of Jalan Ang Siang Kong and Tampines Road (now Coral Secondary School). Land for the TPE was acquired on the Tampines Estate side of the old Tampines Road.

Our joy was short-lived because there were many SAF Rovers on Tampines Road; stimulating an ambush. So we were forced to get into Elias Road and walked towards the Pasir Ris Hotel, later through the coconut estates to the smelly refuse dumping grounds at Lorong Halus before emerging again on Tampines Road at Lorong Teban (now Buangkok Drive). To avoid detection, we brisk-walked, ran, hid in the monsoon drains, and zig-zagged Tampines Road several times until we reached the Upper Serangoon Road junction.

Photo 2: Jalan Simpeh is now the Tampines Mountain Biking Trail. Jalan Guan Choon is now the Livia housing project next to Pasir Ris Drive 8.

A memorable experience I cannot forget was when we walked on the water pipeline in Teck Hock Village. OCT Pek slipped because a woman screamed. She must have heard boot sounds when she had her early morning shower. OCT Pek fell into a pig-sty and I joined him not long afterwards whilst trying to pull him up. With no change of clothes, a chipped rifle butt and sore elbows, we continued our journey to Pasir Laba.

Photo 3: Left: The rear of the Pasir Ris Hotel at the end of Elias Road (now CP D Pasir Ris Park). Right: The Tampines Road-Upper Serangoon junction. Blue Arrow was original intended route to Simon Road. Green Arrow was the actual route to Lowland Road.

We reached the Upper Serangoon junction just 0530 hours and were about to make a dash across the road to Simon Road but halted after seeing two SAF Rovers parked at the corner coffee shop. One Rover had a flashing red light on its roof. Dam it! LTC Tan Chin Tiong, CO OCS was chatting with section instructor LTA Goh Cheng Hui. We back tracked and chose an alternative route through Lowland Road to get to our first checkpoint at the Serangoon Garden School.

Next episode begins after we crossed Upper Serangoon Road.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Commonwealth Drive

I am surprised that my earlier post about Margaret Drive in Queenstown attracted many comments. It appears that many former residents who grew up in this old HDB estate still harbour fond memories of it. So I am motivated to write another post about Queenstown.
If you are not familiar with Queenstown and you were given an address in Commonwealth Drive, then I should warn you to be careful. You’d better check your street directory before you set out. The reason, as you can see from this 2007 map, is that Commonwealth Drive is truncated into 2 sections by the East-West MRT Line and Commonwealth Avenue. So if you went to the wrong section, you would have to make a big detour, and if you are not familiar with this area, you will definitely get lost.

At Tanglin Halt, there is an old hawker centre (Blocks 1, 2 and 3) that I used to frequent. When I went there recently for lunch, I noticed that the place looked run-down and deserted. Many of the stalls were empty. I guess they must be about to redevelop this place; and so I took some photos with my handphone camera (which explains the poor quality).

When my kids were young (this would be in the early 90’s), we liked to come here for dinner. We frequented one zhi char stall near the children’s playground. In fact, the owner knew us so well that once we went off without paying but the she wasn’t worried at all. Usually, whilst we waited for the food to arrive, my children would play with the facilities in the playground and were reluctant to come back. I guess that is one of the drawbacks of staying in a small private estate. Unlike the private condominiums and HDB heartlands, there are no children’s playgrounds in the vicinity of my home.

Let me end with a quiz about the old Queenstown. See this photo of the PUB gas tank (from the National Archives collection)? Can you tell me where exactly it used to be located?