Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Edward Williams remembers Sembawang Hills Estate Part 5 - The Story of Mr Lim and Joseph

Here is a story of two men, although not residents of Sembawang Hills Estate, nevertheless had some connections to the estate.

I used to fish at a number of ponds around Sembawang Hills Estate and Yio Chu Kang Road. One of the ponds was “Cathay Fishing Pond” (hope I got the name right). I walked there from Sembawang Hills Estate, past the junction of Lorong Kinchir and Upper Thomson Road, for short distance more, then turn left into a road that leads to this fishing pond. I never knew the name of this kampong. I can vaguely recall the barber shop at the junction that Freddy mentioned. There were 2 ponds at Cathay.
* The fishing pond that Edward is referring to must have looked like this one which was called Ng Tong Choon's Fishing Pond in Sembawang (Photo from National Archives Collection)

Mr Lim CE and his neighbour were both co-owners of this pond. He was then about 30, had a big family (at least 6 children) and his mother lived with him too. He was a very nice gentleman, always considerate and forever cheerful. What struck me most was his constant hearty laughter. He only spoke Hokkien.

Besides this fishing pond he also owned an “open air” cinema. I cannot remember where this cinema was, but I have been there on several occasions. For the benefit of the younger generation, an “open-air” cinema is just what it implies – it is open (no roof top) and you get lots of fresh air! Hence the name “open air”. There were no cushioned seats, just long wooden benches, so you sat anywhere you like. When it rained, most of the patrons would move to the side walls for shelter. I don’t think there was a money-back guarantee for inclement weather.

* For the younger readers who have never seen an open-air theatre before, this is a photo of one such theatre in Somapah (from the National Archives Collection)

I believe the cinema and the fishing pond wasn’t doing well enough. Mr Lim then decided to venture into real estate. He first bought a house in Jalan Lanjut (Sembawang Hills Estate) and rented it to a British family. Sometime later he bought another house in Sembawang Hills Drive (still in the same estate). Years later he bought a third house in Adelphi Park, an estate along Upper Thomson Road, a few miles from Sembawang Hills Estate. These houses were originally bought for investment purposes. He continued to live in his kampong house with his extended family. In the boom years ahead each of these houses would be worth almost a million each. When Mr Lim first bought the houses in Sembawang Hills Estate he’d have paid about $20K to $25K for each of the houses. This is only my rough estimate. Mr Lim will be in his 70s today
The second person in this story is Joseph. He lived in a kampong somewhere off Upper Thomson Road, further away from Mr Lim’s area. Joseph operated a pirate taxi service (pa hong chia), fetching kids to school in the morning and back home after school, in his Mercedes Benz 280D. His customers included some kids from Sembawang Hills Estate, a couple of whom were my friends. Joseph also supplied Marymount Convent School with fresh vegetables, meat and fish every morning. This was actually meant for the boarding house of the school. One morning his car broke down and my friend and his brother had to carry a basin of fish up the hill to the boarding house. Joseph also ran a food stall outside his home. Here fresh meat and fish were sold on makeshift tables in the morning.
Joseph bought his first bus in the 60s and operated it for the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ). The bus was painted blue with the name of the school on its sides. My friend told me that he was in this bus when Joseph drove it to the convent on its maiden trip. A couple of nuns came abroad, prayed and blessed the bus. Joseph was obviously a staunch Catholic. He did not stop at one bus. In the years ahead he continued to expand his fleet. He had over 20 buses by the late 60s. These buses would be parked along Old Upper Thomson Road, near the entrance to Pierce Reservoir, in the evenings.
Like Mr Lim, Joseph also had a cheerful disposition. My friend said he was quite a funny man. Why am I telling you the story of these men? Both Mr Lim CE and Joseph hailed from our local kampongs, had no formal education, yet were very successful. Their successes were inspirational for me and many others. What were the ingredients of their achievements? First and foremost let me state the obvious – hard work. Nothing succeeds like hard work. They worked hard, had foresight, business acumen and seized opportunities they saw in their own ways. Mr Lim went into real estate while Joseph chose the transport business. They had ideas and an action plan, and most important of all, they acted on their ideas. They lived exemplary lives and were good role models for those who knew them.

For privacy reasons I have not given Mr Lim’s full name. If any of their children or grandchildren are reading this blog, let me say to them: “I am fortunate to have met Mr Lim and Joseph when I was a kid in Sembawang Hills Estate”.


Lam Chun See said...

Thank you for sharing these two inspirational stories with us.

About open air theatres, I think it was quite a unique experience. In fact it was one of the very first topics that I blogged about here in Sep 2005.

As for paid fishing ponds, I do not have any experience with them in the old days. But I thoroughly enjoyed (the free) fishing with our simple bamboo sticks and earthworms in our neighbour's fish ponds. But what I most enjoyed was catching the fighting fish there.

Ang Sar Lee said...

Reading about open air theatres in this blog triggered some memories from my childhood. I vaguely recall one open air theatre in Kampong San Teng, near the site of the present temple. The wall was made of red zinc sheets.

Can someone confirm?

There were other fishing ponds along Yio Chu Kang Road, Spring Dew being one of them.

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Ang Sar Lee. The theatre you are referring to was called Lam Kok or South Country Theatre. Follow the link in my earlier comment and you can read about how my family used to go there for our favourite pastime.

Edward said...

Ang Sar Lee, I am only familiar with 3 fishing ponds along Yio Chu Kang Road. These are Ocean, Chiap Seng (hope I got this name right) and Yio Chu Kang fishing pond. Chiap Seng was the only pond where you could catch “leng heu” (“Leng” fish), which was the most sporting pond fish I’ve seen. This fish has a long slim body, like the salt water “sai tor heu” (which has many bones). It fought more aggressively than the “grassy” and “song fish”, often flipping out of the water, in mid air. I’ve never caught a “leng” before, but my fishing mates have, during overnight fishing trips.

Zen said...

I know of people who loudly expound that they know many fool-proof ways of getting rich in the stock market through a web of intricated formula. These same group of people become very quiet during the recent stock crash. Edward observation is correct. There is no short cut to wealth except he inherits it, marry a rich girl, having a rich god-father or extremely lucky receiving a windfall from big sweep or toto.

Anonymous said...

Hi Ang Sar Lee,
I remember the open air theatres in Thomson road (I thought it was called 'Kim Seah') and the one in Kampong San Teng. The tickets to the shows cost 50cts and 30 cts. The cheaper tickets entitled you to sit only at the front 1st -5th row, where you are sure to suffer the neck pain from too much craning and go home a little deaf because of the loud speakers. Since it was free seating, most of us had to queue at the entrance long before the start of the show. Still, most of us had no TVs at home and a visit to the theatre is considered a welcomed treat. Instead of popcorn, we snacked on 'kacang puteh' bought from the Indian vendors who packed it in a recycled coned paper holder for 5cts. Simple, but still enjoyable.

Zen said...

As chun see recalled he had written many kampong stories (including fishing) and our regular family visits to this open air cinema called nam kok at kampong san teng. Our trips to this cinema was not that easy. We had to cycle through a dimly lighted kampong path, parked at bicycle repair shop at Braddell Road, took a bus to the cinema, sometime very crowded if the show was good. Since there were not much night entertainment (before the advent of tv) at that time, going to see a film show was a real treat, nothwithstanding the hassle involved. One night while alighting a bus returning home, I found myself being pick-pocketed, I was not too worried as I did not carry my IC with me and was sure the thief must have been quite disappointed with his 'picking'. Nam Kok used to play the same songs repeatedly, night in and night out, before the actual screening started, so much so that the lyrics of one popular cantonese song named: 'A gambler woes' (tou chai chi tan)' got stuck in my mind. Even now chun see can readily sing it without much effort, but I am still searching for a CD with this song.

Zen said...

Chun See mentioned fishing with bamboo stick and worms - that was great fun itself, but I am sure he missed out the joy of catching remnant fish that had no commercial value but left behind by the pond owner (an annual affair), after harvesting the valued 'soon hock, li-yu and others'. As I had commented in chun see previous blog, the 'siok' factor lied in the groping for those fish trying to make an escape by wriggling in the watery mud, sometime even popped right out of your grasp because of its slippery nature of its body. The kids must be alert to spot any movement of a sizeable air bubble in the mud, meaning that a hidden fish was hiding beneath, before zeroing in. During the merry making, there was always a lurking danger, and that was when when we caught the wrong fish - a catfish. This notorious catfish had two protruding stings, one on each side of the gills. If stung, the victim would cry his heart out, pleading for an antidote which came in form of another kid peeing onto his injured fingers. Those were the happy days which I cannot forget.

Freddy Neo said...


Would the cinema be Metro? It was at where Island Gardens houses now stand. It was a typical open air cinema. 30 cents for the front bench seats and 50 cents for the proper chairs behind. The 50 cents have a zinc roof over it. This cinema stopped operating sometime in 1963. Its licence was not renewed because of some breaches of the licencing conditions. But the building remained standing for a while until the houses were developed.

They screened English shows on Mondays. I remember watching Moby Dick (Gregory Peck was the main star), Shane (Alan Ladd), Highnoon (Gary Cooper) and Bridge on the River Kwai (David Niven) with my father and brothers. We usually went for the English movies particularly the Western movies. My sisters went for the Chinese movies which were screened for the rest of the week (Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese).

Edward said...

Freddy, I have no idea where Mr Lim’s open-air cinema was located. I don’t remember a zinc roof top or proper chairs at the back end of the cinema. I can’t say with absolute certainty but I think its walls were made of cement or concrete. We had to drive some distance to get to this cinema because I recall the smell of cow dung or cows being driven through the village by an Indian bloke. They’re either cows or bulls, skinny and black in colour. I remember an English movie which had slaves rowing a huge boat (like a cutter) and getting whipped by a rough burly master. This is a long vessel with oars sticking out of its sides.

Anonymous said...


The movie is The Ten Commandments starring Charlton Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Pharaoh Ramesses II.

Lam Chun See said...

Wrong. It was probably the other famous Charlton Heston movie, Ben Hur. I have the dvd. Really exciting stuff. The chariot race was a classic - imagine, no CGI in those days.

Anonymous said...

Correct. Chun See, you are absolutely correct that it is Ben Hur. My apologies for the wrong answer. In all the excitement, in the dash to the finish line of the thrilling chariot race, and the haste to cross to safer ground, in the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, I was left confused. Haha!

Btw, Charlton Heston possessed the charisma, stature and personality to act in such major biblicial roles.

Edward said...

You are probably right Chun See. I know Moses did not cross the Red Sea in a boat (and if he did he certainly wouldn’t have slaves rowing the boat, let alone being flogged). Neither did the pursuing Egyptians (horses and chariots were their vessels). Next time I see a copy of Ben Hur I will buy it and see if it refreshes my memory. For old times sake.

Lam Chun See said...

Many of the old classic movies are available on dvd and are quite cheap. I know the Giant supermart at Turf City has a lot.

I think Ben Hur is one of the best movies ever produced. It has everything any movie goer would look for, action, romance, drama big sets, love (brother sis, filial love, friend), and of course there is the gospel message for hatred/vengence and forgiveness