Sunday, June 28, 2009

Of Mice and Men

No. I am not blogging about John Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men. Too many years have passed since I read that book, and all I remember is that it had something to do with two men; one very big size and the other very small.

It’s just that Victor’s latest post on the New Paper article about durian hunters in Singapore raised the question of why people would take the trouble to travel and camp out in the woods, contending with mosquitoes and fellow durian hunters for something they can easily buy at the nearby market.

This reminds me of something I read in the Readers Digest years ago. I like to read those snippets and annecdotes in Readers Digest. This one was about a study on motivation. Scientists experimented with rats by offering them two sources of food. In one side of their cage was food which was freely available. In the other there was a lever. which they had to push in order to activate the delivery of a piece of food.

The scientists discovered that the rats prefered to get the food from activating the lever. In other words they prefered to work for their food. The scientists then gradually increased the number of times the lever had to be pushed before the rats were rewarded. Initially the rats still prefered to work for their food. But finally, a number was reached when they decided that it was not worth the trouble and they went back to the ‘free’ food.

So maybe the gahmen should follow the example of the Mowbray Camp RSM which sgporc mentioned and put up some triple-concertina wires. :)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson’s role in “We Are The World”

It’s such a coincidence. Last night, I was watching some video clips of We Are The World on YouTube, and this morning the first thing I saw on tv was news of the death of Michael Jackson.

I noticed that all the news casters spoke about his achievements like Thriller, Moonwalk and that bizarre incident where he held his baby son outside a hotel window; but none of them mentioned his pivotal role in co-writing and singing the song, We Are The World in 1985. I am sure, his fame must have played a part in bringing together a group of the most famous pop artistes of America, who were told to ‘check their ego at the door’, and spend several grueling hours to produce the song for USA for Africa (United Support of Artists for Africa).

"The considerable profits from the enterprise went to the USA for Africa Foundation, which used them for the relief of famine and disease in Africa and specifically to the 1984-85 famine in Ethiopia .....

USA for Africa also held a benefit event, Hands across America, which approximately seven million people held hands in a human chain for fifteen minutes along a path across the continental United States. Participants paid ten dollars to stand in line and the money raised was used to fight hunger and homelessness in Africa.

The combined revenues raised from the sales of "We Are the World" and Hands Across America was almost $100 million.” (From Wikipedia)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Green fields

Last night I watched a recorded documentary titled; Six Degrees Could Change the World. It was originally aired last Saturday on Okto Channel.

As you probably know, this documentary is about Global Warming. The most frightening scene that stayed in my mind was that of the parched river beds of the mighty Amazon.

There was also a “2nd Shot” sort of scene of a glacier at the source of the Ganges River. An old Indian man who had been taking photos of this glacier compared photos of it 50 years ago with present day photos of the same place. The glacier had totally disappeared. I was reminded of the lyrics of the Brothers Four song, Green Fields.

Once there were green fields kissed by the sun
Once there were valleys where rivers used to run
Once there were blue skies with white clouds high above
Once they were part of an everlasting love
We were the lovers who strolled through green fields

Green fields are gone now, parched by the sun
Gone from the valleys where rivers used to run
Gone with the cold wind that swept into my heart
Gone with the lovers who let their dreams depart
Where are the green fields that we used to roam?

Did the writers of this classic already know about global warming way back in 1956?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Where was the Baharuddin Vocational Institute?

My recent article about the mysterious shooting incident in Queenstown and the subsequent discussions of the exact spot of the shooting reminded me that the nearby MDIS campus used to be called the Baharuddin Vocational Institute. I expect that many of the younger readers have not even heard of this name. Interestingly, a check with my many old street directories showed that this campus has been occupied by a number of different educational institutions. For example:

1981: Baharuddin Vocational Institute
1993: Temasek Polytechnic (Stirling Road Campus)
1998: ITE Bukit Merah (Campus 2)
2001: Queenstown Vocational Training Centre
2007: MDIS University Campus

Are you amazed and confused by the different names? I certainly am. But I am too lazy to go and research this subject. All I know is that the ITE, which stands for Institute for Technical Education (and not It’s The End), was formerly called VITB, or Vocational and Industrial Training Board; which itself was formerly called STI, or Singapore Technical Institute. I think the first name in my list, BVI was probably a part of the VITB. As for the 4th name – QVTC, this is the first time I come across it.

I think I‘d better leave it to our retired teacher, YG to blog about this bit of history and not confuse readers with my speculations.

As you know, our government is very fond of re-branding and changing names of places and institutions. That gives rise to a lot of confusion among the younger generation. For example, the other day, I was driving my youngest daughter to Hougang. I noticed that she pronounced the name How-Gung (as in ‘how are you?’ and gung-ho). I corrected her saying that she should use the hanyu-pin (Mandarin) pronunciation and explained that the place was originally called Ow Kang which was a Hokkien pronunciation.

Another example is Safti. Like me, my son is now going through OCS training in Safti; but the confusion is that his Safti and mine are two different places. Mine is just down the road and had its name stolen and now has to bear a less glamorous name called Pasir Laba Camp.

Anyway, I shouldn’t be criticizing the government because I myself am guilty of causing this type of confusion by giving my children both dialect and pinyin names. Hence at home we call them by their pinyin names whilst in school they are called by the dialect names (though mispronounced) and in church it’s a mixture; to the extent that a girl asked my daughter recently, “How come your brother’s name is so different from yours?

Anyway, as always, I have digressed. Let’s take a look at this 1981 map of the Queensway/Tanglin Halt area. Practically every major landmark there has changed.

The Queenstown Circus is no more. In its place, are a traffic lights junction and an underpass.

Most of the schools around it have been either vacated or rebuilt. The mosque has been rebuilt I believe. I am not sure about the Queenstown Community Centre. (Strange – I thought they have all been renamed, or rather re-branded, community clubs)

The Queenstown Police Station was vacated some years ago. It was replaced for a time by another uniformed organisation. Do you know its name? That too moved out, and now it is occupied by a student’s hostel.

Across the road, there used to be a Police Reserve Unit. Now the signboard says, Police Special Operations Command.

But this church and Hindhu temple along Commowealth Drive haven’t changed much.

Likewise this row of flats at Tanglin Halt Road. But how long will they last, I wonder?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Seeking your views about Queenstown heritage project

I received an email from a group of Innova Junior College students.

“My group is taking on a project regarding the conservation of Queenstown's history. Through our project, we intend to educate more Singaporeans about the significance of Queenstown as a historical landmark.”

Among their questions are these two which I hope readers; especially those who know about the history of Queenstown, can help them out with some inputs. Thank you.

1. What are your views on the redevelopment of Queenstown?

2. We would like to propose a heritage gallery cum mini cafe to showcase Queenstown through the ages. Do you have any suggestions on how we could further improve on this idea?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

There are places I remember – Wyman Haven (by Peter Chan)

There are places I remember all my life
Though some have changed.
Some forever not for better.
Some have gone and some remain.
All these places have their moments………..

(Immortal lines from the Beatles classic, In My Life)

Today, there are not too many seafront bungalows remaining on Upper East Coast Road after land-filling of the sea took place. Many turned into condominiums, a medical center and a church. The few that remain are # 492 which was once owned by Alexandra Brickwork, the Hwa Yue Wee Restaurant, former Shaw Bros Holiday Villa and the Columbus Childcare Center site. Gone was Palm Beach Seafood, former President Benjamin Sheares’ home, the former Pepper King of Singapore’s villa, and the Dragon Inn Motel, all well-known icons of the pre and post-WW2 era. Wyman Haven, my maternal grandmother’s seafront restaurant fell victim to land-filling too.

I lost touch of Wyman Haven whereabouts until recently; although I had been told by my father that the property was acquired by the government. I tried various sources including various government agencies but none could advise me. My maternal relatives also could not tell me much except “it was very far away, somewhere in Bedok”. After my grandmother passed away, I went through all the family photo albums but found difficulties finding appropriate photographs or reminders of that place. Since 2005 I “walked the walk; suspecting that a pair of semi-detached houses at #580-582B Upper East Coast Road was the more likely site. I realized my bad judgment was based on recalling seeing tall palm trees just before coming to Wyman Haven from the city direction. By the way, these same palm trees are still standing there in front of “The Daffodile” but the previous big lawn in front of the estate has been acquired for road widening.

Photo 1: Left: Wyman Haven viewed from the side. It was built in the late 1930s with newer extensions made in the 1950s. Upper East Coast Road is to its right and the sea was to its left. Right: Typical 1960s Chinese “Choy Tan” (Cantonese for menu).

Not too long ago on a trip to a military archive in Scotland, I came across some very exciting aerial photos of Singapore, and found images of land reclamation of the Bedok area. Based on my NS knowledge of map-reading and aerial photo interpretation, I found one particular aerial photo indicated the presence of six (6) large seafront bungalows between Parbury Avenue and the Chinese cemetery at Kew Drive, and the Yuan Ming Si Chinese Temple at Hwa San Road. The military archivist was very helpful, patient and understanding. I obtained a copy and turned that over to ICEMOON ( our local expertise for “second shot” Artificial Intelligence photography. He was able to accurately reproduce the present-day location of Wyman Haven.

So where do you think Wyman Haven was? Here are the results:

Photo 2: Wyman Haven is the dark-shaded box. The “Pilot Site” for the land reclamation project started on the left-side of the property facing the sea. Nothing is prominent except the narrow main road and the forest in the distance. I would sit on the seawall throwing stones into the sea whilst waiting for my favorite roasted pigeon to be ready.

Photo 3: The property boundary is all that space bounded by the blue car to the roundabout (old seawall) and to the edge of the basketball court. Recall that narrow main road and the forest in the background?
Wyman Haven is now Temasek Secondary School main driveway. The row of 6 seafront bungalows now fronts one of the main school buildings. The “Pilot Site” for the first Singapore’s land reclamation is the artificial football turf. The fenced-up small forest behind the bus-stop was once the Chinese primary school; a pair of concrete railings across the drain is evidence of the old road into the school compound. The forest is strongly rumored to be the site of the East Coast Line Kew MRT station by 2020.
PS - Wyman Haven in Chinese, by the way, is 惠文港酒家

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

5 places where you still find durian trees in Singapore

Reading YG’s recent article about the Bukit Brown Cemetery brought back some memories of the nearby Adam Road and Lornie Road. During my school days, I often travel along this road. I think it was an alternative route to get to my school - ACS - from my kampong home in Lorong Chuan.

I remember one occasion when our bus passed the Kheam Hock Road junction and I saw parts of a coffin – you know those huge Chinese type - sticking out of the earth. That image stayed in my mind for a long time. At that time they were probably widening Adam Road. I wonder if younger Singaporeans know that at one time, on both sides of Adam Road there were cemeteries.

I also remember seeing many beautiful croton plants with colourful red and yellow leaves. I like this plant. But since it is often associated with cemeteries, (even in Malaysia) not many people grow them in their gardens.

Another thing I remember about this part of Singapore was the kampong houses just after Kheam Hock Road. This would the area between Kheam Hock Road and the PIE. I was especially attracted by the sight of the rambutan and durian trees growing there.

Durian trees are now a rare sight in Singapore, and so I was quite surprised and delighted to see one in Chancery Lane the other day. That gave me the idea to start a meme (I hope that is the correct term) about durian trees.

I will list 5 places where you can still find durian trees growing in Singapore, and challenge fellow bloggers to continue the list in their blogs. I doubt Victor would be ‘taking up the challenge’ because his main interest seems to be another area and not plants; but I am pretty sure YG will be happy to continue with this meme. This guy seems to be exploring Singapore everyday and knows our island like the back of his hand; including places which I thought would no longer interest retired teachers. So here goes.

1) Lorong Chencharu. I took this photo a few years ago whilst on a visit to the AVA Sembawang Research Station to get a permit or something for the pitcher plants that my son and his friends imported from Australia.

2) Woodlands Street 13. I have blogged about this before here.
3) Chancery Lane. This tree has many enticing durians and is clearly visible from the main road. It is actually in somebody’s garden.

4) Brizay Park. This tree is in the garden of a huge bungalow at the junction of Brizay Park and Wilby Road. It certainly looks like a durian tree to me, but strange …. there are no fruits to be seen even though it is durian season.

5) This house is next to a car park near Upper East Coast Road. Peter took this photo when we went for lunch recently in that area. I am afraid, I am not sure of the exact location.

PS – It’s such a coincidence that YG has just posted something about a durian trees here.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Singapore Scenes from the Hollywood Movies (by Peter Chan)

Victor Koo and Malcolm Young of Adelaide, Australia, were happily swapping DVDs and among Malcolm’s collection was a movie, “G.I. Executioner”. This movie was filmed in Singapore in 1971. I got involved when some questions were raised about the Singapore scenes in the movie and Victor asked me to watch the movie.

Malcolm was interested in one of the scenes which showed an overhead bridge and a Chinese temple somewhere in Singapore. Malcolm’s initial thoughts on seeing the bridge was that (in terms of size) it resembled the Singapore-Malaysian railway bridge that passes over Upper Bukit Timah Road - the one near the Railway Mall. He didn’t think that the bridge in the background would have been a POB (Pedestrian Overhead Bridge).

Now you probably asked what is so amazing about this bridge. Honestly, watching an old “B” movie with a routine Singapore storyline can be quite boring. The movie has a long line of terrible dialogue and the only selling point is nudity. I guess a girl shooting a gun while in the nude and being killed landing in a big net and hanging in the net nude is supposed to be the entertainment highlight of this film.

It was not until the end of the movie when I caught sight of the overhead bridge and the Chinese temple. Good heavens, it was the same bridge along Upper East Coast Road which I last saw in 1983 when I often would take my son for a double-decker bus-ride on SBS #12 to the terminus (future Max Pavilion). When information or photos are difficult to come by, it can be quite difficult to “pictorially” explain the bridge to others, although I knew exactly its location. I know for sure many younger people would never be interested.

Photo 1: A scene from the movie and the same place today. The Bailey bridge was after the future Temasek Secondary School. The man hailing the Yellow-top taxi stood in front of the Yuan Ming Si Temple. The bicycle’s position would be the future Kew Residential condominium

There were two reasons for my interest. First, my cousin Seow Boon, who was 7 years older than I, led me to scale the bridge when it was built in 1963. We were scolded by the contractors for this dangerous adventure. The other reason was because it was my “alarm clock” in the 1970s when I did my NS at Bedok Camp. As the bus drove under the bridge, it created a low droning sound which was of the right decibel to wake me up for the next bus stop outside Jalan Haji Salam

Photo 2: Upper East Coast Road in front of the Yuan Ming Si Temple. View towards Bedok Corner. The sexy dame was walking passed the future Kew Green condominium.


This was a Bailey bridge and was built across Upper East Coast Road to support the Phase 1 land reclamation in the Bedok area. It was a temporary steel framed bridge used as a method of supporting the conveyor-belt system which transferred fill material from the hills (between Upper East Coast Road and the Anglican High School in Upper Changi Road) to the sea off Upper East Coast Road. This project was undertaken by the Japanese contractor Ishikawa Jima Harima in 1966, as part of the S$50 million Japanese War Reparation to Singapore.

Photo 3: The Cut-Site (present Yokogawa factory) was opposite Aida Street, Opera Estate. The bucket-wheel excavator scrapped the hill and the fill material was transferred to the conveyor-belt to be transported to the fill area (circa 1969). Photo courtesy of Malcolm Young

There were a number of work-site accidents, one which took place at the foot of Parbury Hill. It was said that at Blk 68, there is a shrine under a tree to appease the spirits because there were many Malay cemeteries in that area. Bedok South Road itself took its shape from the original alignment of the conveyor-belt system as more fill material was taken from the hills off Siglap Hill and Aida Street.

I saw two Bailey bridges constructed in other parts of Singapore. One was from Bedok South Avenue 1 across Upper East Coast Road towards the Laguna Flyover, and the other was on Serangoon Road, near the present Boon Keng MRT Station. All the Bailey bridges had a connection with the land reclamation programs. The bridge at Bedok South Avenue 1 was in support of Phase 2, 5 & 6 of the land reclamation project from the Singapore Swimming Club to Marina Central. The Serangoon Road bridge was used to enable lorries to transfer fill material from the future Toa Payoh Estate to Kallang Basin.