Monday, October 26, 2009

Edward Williams remembers Sembawang Hills Estate - The churches and shops in Phase 1

Phase 1 of Sembawang Hills Estate is the area bounded by Casuarina Road, Seraya Crescent and Old Upper Thomson Road. I assumed that this sector was built first before the homes across Thomson Road, which stood on a hill. The latter part of Sembawang Hills Estate where Freddy and I lived is generally known as Phase 2.

1963 Map of Sembawang Hills Estate (Phase 1)

The Sembawang Baptist Church was situated on the end of Casuarina Road where it met Old Upper Thomson Road. In this two-storey building sermons and hymns were conducted in Mandarin. The cobbler of Jalan Leban was one of the regulars here. I suspected that he only attended the night services, due to his work commitments. Large pieces of white paper hung on a simple wooden stand where the words of hymns were written. The lay preacher used a long stick to guide the congregation along the sheet, as they sung. I cannot remember if musical instruments accompanied the hymns being sung. I have a vague recollection of an organ being played. Lay preachers taught Sunday school in two rooms upstairs. During Christmas Eve, parishioners go carolling in a lorry, visiting many homes in nearby villages and the estate till the early hours of the morning. They returned to the church at about 5 am, were fed a simple hot meal and slept on the floor of the rooms upstairs and on the hall downstairs. It was a lot of fun for the young ones especially, spending the night away from home.

The terrace house at the corner of Nemesu Avenue and Old Upper Thomson Road was used as a Presbyterian Church. Sermons and hymns were conducted in English in this church, led by Pastor Heng who sung with a soprano voice. The church had a small organ and I believe a guitar was occasionally used to accompany the hymns being sung. Many of the estate locals attended this church. Services were often conducted at the front of the house, under an extension. The parishioners here were generally younger than those at the Sembawang Baptist Church. Because it wasn’t a “standard” church building, the informal atmosphere in this terrace house was more like a Sunday school which suited the younger crowd here.

A row of shop houses were congregated in a strip besides the Sembawang Baptist Church. I can only remember 2 of the shops here – a coffee shop (kopi tiam) and a provision shop. At the back of this row of shops, facing Thomson Road stood a number of hawker stalls. Two of the stalls were operated by the son and daughter of the cobbler of Jalan Leban. Their stalls sold ice ball, ice kachang and tahu goreng.

In the Chinese provision shop the usual household goods were retailed but I remember it for another reason. At the back of this shop was a slot machine which my friends and I had many attempts at trying to beat the odds. If you enter by the rear of the shop and asked for the machine the owner would remove the gunny sack which covered it. The back of the shop was the storage area for sacks of dry goods like rice, flour and sugar. It was dimly lit and had a distinct musty smell. The slot machine was, of course, illegal in those days. It cost 10 cents for each pull of the lever. Three reels would be spun and if the pictures were all the same when the reels stopped, then you won. You could win from 30 cents up to 70 cents if you hit the jackpot. It was a great thrill to hear the coins hitting the tray for every win. The 70 cent payoff was rare; most times you won 30 cents and occasionally 50 cents. It took only several minutes before we lost all our money to the machine. The next weekend we’d be back again for another go. We were convinced that there was a way to pull the lever which would deliver the jackpot. We tried everything possible – from slow motion pulling to a fast quick jerk of the handle. Nothing seemed to work. After several weeks we decided that it was a scam!

The coffee shop was a typical Chinese kopi tiam of the 50s and 60s with ceiling fans and spittoons under the tables. There was an Indian stall inside which sold curry, rice, roti prata, chapatti and murtabak . The most unforgettable thing about this kopi tiam was its toilet. Only once did I attempt to use it but when I pushed the door opened, what I saw was simply too revolting to describe. So I‘ll spare you the details. There was no lighting and the stench was so overpowering. This toilet was the worst I’ve ever seen; one quick glance was enough to eliminate any pressing reason for you to be there.

I took this photo of an old coffee shop in Kelapa Sawit, Kulai, recently. The ceiling and ceiling fan that Edward mentioned above must have looked like this – Chun See.

The owner of the coffee shop was a Chinese man who wore a singlet, pyjama shorts and slippers. He had huge lumps on his shoulders and back which looked like benign tumours. He was obviously not concerned about the effect of its appearance on his customers. One day my friend and I dropped into this kopi tiam for a cold drink after a jog along Old Upper Thomson Road. The kopi tiam owner chipped a block of ice on a container with an ice pick and then plunged his bare hands into the container, scooped up some ice and filled two glasses with it. Soft drinks were poured into each glass. The cooled drinks tasted most refreshing, and we silently hoped that his hands were clean. As we were enjoying our drinks and conversation, he stood in front of us, 2 tables away, leaning against the counter and … to our horror he slipped his hand under his pyjama shorts, and casually scratched his scrotum, seemingly oblivious to those around him. My friend and I looked at each other and a thousand thoughts must’ve flashed across our minds. Thoughts like “will we survive this episode?”, “what deadly diseases will we be afflicted with in the next 24 hours?” etc. This old chap obviously wasn’t concerned about personal grooming or habits, or its impact on his customers. Of course what he did was socially unacceptable because it was done in public, rather than in the privacy of one’s home. We made a note that in future we would order our drinks without ice or glass. Just drink it straight from the bottle with a straw.

Clearly the standards of hygiene at this coffee shop were appalling. The revolting toilet was used by the coffee shop staff as well as the Indians who operated the curry corner. This scenario was quite typical of the 50s and 60s – unclean toilets (an understatement) coupled with unhygienic practices (personal habits and food handling). Many hawkers were just as guilty, especially where the washing of their dishes and cutleries were concerned. A basin of water could sometimes be used for a long time, until the colour of the water turned greyish with remnants of food floating about. This usually occurred when the hawker does not have easy access to clean water. Of course the advent of the food centre brought about vast improvements in food hygiene.

Food handling practices improved from the late 60s on, mainly in response to the government’s initiatives. Today all food handlers have legislative obligations to fulfil, such as typhoid inoculation, chest X-ray and a basic food hygiene course which includes personal hygiene and grooming, cleaning and sanitation. This is a giant leap forward, and no longer should we fear the ghastly toilets or being served by staff with poor personal habits.


Lam Chun See said...

Your story of the scrotum-scratching ah pek is really hillarious. It reminds me of the prata man in our Philips canteen back in the late 70's. This guy wore a white - at least supposed to be white - sarong, which he would fold up to above the knees. He would wipe his hands on it occasionally and you can clearly see that it was filthy. He has an interesting habit of untightening his sarong every once in a while and sort of flap his sarong, presumably to ventilate the inner parts.

Anyway, what can I say; his curry is simply the best!!

Lam Chun See said...

I am also reminded of the coffee shop owned by my god father, Hock Chek in our kampong. Back in those days when he did not have a refrigerator - electricity did not come to our kampong until after the PAP came to power - he would keep his ice blocks in a box covered with saw dust. Whenever he needed a small block of ice, he would take out the ice, rinse away the saw dust and cut out the smaller piece. This is done by placing a knife with serrated edge (like a saw) on it and giving it a sharp knock, and the ice would break neatly along this edge.

yg said...

edward, the sembawang baptist church is still at the same location. it has acquired a modern look after some renovation. i go there often; no, not to the church but to the casuarina curry shop next door.

Zen said...

Chun see's god father hock chek was a quiet man of few words. Apart being a owner of a coffee shop opposite our house, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was once a skilful carpenter. He was one of the trio who constructed our wooden plank (with louvre-like walls) house, supported by concrete pillars(malay style kampong house), the only kind in lorong kinchir. He used the nail-less technique in interlocking the joints. The second one was a cantonese, a rather talkative and boastful chap, laid the asbestos roof, and last one did all the cementing work, including the foundation. The house was finally completed in 1950 and costed less than $10,000.

Edward said...

YG, is the Casuarina curry shop in the same kopi tiam? Can you tell me if this kopi tiam has improved since the late 60s to early 70s?

Edward said...

Zen, a house in 1950 which costs about $10,000 is quite expensive. Freddy mentioned that his father paid $11,000 for his house in Jalan Batai in 1958. My mother paid $10,500 for her house in Sembawang Hills Estate in 1958 as well. That was a lot of money in those days. I know it took my mother a long time to save $1,500 for the deposit.

Victor said...

There is a phrase in this article which differs little in meaning if you have misspelled a word. I am of course referring to this one:

"it was done in public"

and "it was done in pubic".


yg said...

edward, the casuarina curry house is well-known for its prata. it began in another shop, somewhere in the middle of the row. subsquently, it bought over the kopitiam and the adjoining shop (is it the provision shop?). the chinese kopitiam used to sell braised duck.
one the sons of the casuarina curry house (owner)owns prata place - another place popular for prata - near thong soon avenue.
this year, another son went to london for the singapore day and dished out thousands of prata to the visitors.

Anonymous said...

Why you keep dig out the history. Seems to me that you miss your past and try to live in the past.

Not trying to pour cold water but it's not very healthy to live in the past you know. We should live as it is today and for the future.

Lam Chun See said...

1) Why we keep digging up the history?

Because it is fun mah. And yes, we miss the past, but we are not trying to live in the past.

2) "It is not healthy living in the past."

True. But reminiscing about the "good old times" is healthy as I explained here.

"According to studies by psychologist Tim Wildschut and colleagues at the University of Southampton in the U.K, “people who write about a nostalgic event are more cheerful after the exercise compared with people who write about an everyday experience. The studies also show that people who write about good memories report higher self-esteem and feel more positively about friendships and close relationships.”

Edward said...

Dear Anonymous,
Most of us are parents or grandparents with a role to play within our families. We have responsibilities toward our children’s and grandchildren’s future. We are always looking ahead, planning ahead to ensure the best outcome for them. I don’t think any of us are “living in the past” in the sense you have intended. We tell stories of our past for a number of reasons. For our children and grandchildren, these stories are interesting per se and they see the growth and development of many aspects of life in Singapore since their ancestors’ days. They could experience the continuity within generations of their family line in these stories. Sometimes it’s like reading a good bedtime story to our loved ones. Knowing the generational history of their parents and grandparents may one day even help them understand the change their future families will undergo. Change is inevitable. One should not live in the past. But telling a good story of the past is not living in the past.

wong said...

May I ask, how do I live for the future and tell stories about the future?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, one can enter The Writers of the Future (WOTF) story contest, originated by L. Ron Hubbard.

Anonymous(past,present and future)

Edward said...

YG, all this is news to me. There was only one Indian shop selling prata inside the kopi tiam. There were no other food stalls along the row of shops in Casuarina Road. Furthermore I don’t remember the kopi tiam selling braised duck. This must be after the mid 70’s. Certainly there were makeshift hawker stalls at the back of the row of shops facing Thomson Road. I am not sure if the Chinese provision shop is next to the kopi tiam. Thanks for the update.

Victor said...

"Without roots, there is no fruit

Without a past we have no future"

Zen said...

Edward - Your are right houses (one storey standard type) at that time, including those in Serangoon Garden, were priced around $12,000, that was why some houses in Serangoon Garden were called 'chap-zi-cheng meaning $12,000/-)'
Actually our house costed around $5000/- and the reason why I mentioned below $10,000 is that I do not want it to sound too cheap otherwise the younger readers may not believe their eyes when they see such a low price for a private property, especially when comparing then and now.

Edward said...

Yeah Zen, everything used to be so cheap in those days. A bowl of noodle costs 10 cents. Char kuay teow costs 5 cents or for 10 cents you get an egg thrown in (hope I got this right). A glass of cold drink from the hawker, a goreng pisang or chiu chue (deep fried tapioca with batter) costs 5 cents. Do you remember we used to have the heavy copper square 1-cent coin? Of course wages were much lower during those days and inflation was not an issue.

Anonymous said...


Let me share with you an extract from the magazine, THE NEWEURASIAN, April-June 2009 issue.


"Two Steps Back, Three Steps Forward"

Recalling the good times, reminiscing about our folks - we record our past when we get together at family gatherings, birthday parties, anniversaries, and even at funerals. Stories are told and retold; remembered and then get passed down the generations. Each family has a treasure of documents, photos, and plenty of old stuff - like grand-dad's fountain pen; or Aunty Rosie's 100-year old wardrobe. Each tells a story or two about someone or something about how life was then.

The new Committee on Heritage and Culture has a mission to promote an awareness of our heritage and culture with the aim of recording, preserving and sharing our heritage with others....

.... As life accelerates into the next century, we are fast losing the memories of our grandparents, parents and loved ones as they pass on. Even the landmarks of Singapore are disappering as old makes way for new!

We can't stop progress, but we can now save those memories and old photos in easier ways...



Zen said...

Edward - The ten cents char kway teow was probably during our father's time. However I can still remember during our kampong days (in the fifties) there was this guy pushing a wooden cart selling prawn mee at 20 cents a bowl and his assistant delivered it to our doorsteps! This was what we called service. Even in the early sixties when I started working at tg pagar the lunch time food were priced at: char siew fun (plus one large of cup chinese tea foc) - $0.50, fried hor fun (with pig liver, prawns, sotong thrown in) $0.80, three large banana at 10 cents....Those were the days, BUT one must remember that starting pay was also quite small, during this decade of low cost of living.

Edward said...

Zen, I remember buying 10-cent noodle at school – but you don’t get any goodies in it, like fish balls, fish cake etc. All you get is a few strands of egg noodle – which is already in the bowl. The noodle seller simply pour hot soup into the bowl. He has many of bowls with the egg noodle stacked up on the table. If you go “up market”, for 20 cents you get the extra ingredients. Yes I remember the char hor fun with pig’s liver, prawns and sotong. You could get this from our hawker centre. My mouth is watering now. Imagine char siew fun with a cup of Chinese tea at 50 cents in Tg Pagar. I used to have char siew fun at the boat quay (near John Little’s) for 70 cents in the late 60’s. No complimentary tea though. This looks like inflation!

Zen said...

Edward - I can remember during my secondary school days (mid fifties) we had a char kway teow stall man who splitted an egg over two plates and charged us 30 cts per plate. Because his kway teow was pretty authentic and mouth-watering, frying with egg, ku chye and cockles, there were no complaints against his food being expensive. The coffeeshops and hawker stalls (including illegal ones- hit and run type)in tian lye street (off Tj pagar road), had to be fierely competitive in prices because they served mainly port-workers there. Port-workers were a fussy lot when coming to affordable food (of acceptable quality) and would not hesitate to go further afield if the prices were not 'correct'.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

To anonymous:
Our past is our present and our future. No one in his right mind would want to 'live in the past.' That's regression. 'Re-living the past' is another matter. That's imagination.
Wake up call, Anonymous.

jadelee said...

Being able to recall details of the past is a gift not to be taken for granted. Can you imagine what life would be like if you cannot recall your past? Blissfull.....but so empty!

peter said...

Scratching private parts under the sarong was something we saw in our school canteen. But what probably got us more cautious was this food seller did not wash his hands after doing his business in the toilet.

Hey how come the reader comments stray into religion? Religion is a private matter. You can argue till the cow comes home yet is not an intellectual benefit.

Some of us don't like to recall the past for good reasons. Some don't even remember past events because they consider it a waste of time - this kind of ppl I have found them to be very boring. I enjoy company of ppl with no one track mind - they are fun ppl.

Probably the thing missing from Edward's article are photos but then we all can sympathise ith him. Not many ppl ow a camera in those days. We live in an era with little options for luxuries. Of course if I am born today, I have more options to eat, to be merry, to own things......remember my past. Right now I am thinking of doing what is hip but I surely look like a "dirt old man".

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Dear Mr Lam,
Regarding your comment on October, 19th 2009, the Teresa Carpio album with the song, 'Conversations' was recorded in 1975 not in the 80s as you mentioned.

As I explained in my comment, I try to post 50s to 70s music.


Zen said...

A person's life journey is like guided by three imaginery signposts: the past, the present and the future. We can learn lessons from past and the present while going forward to the future, until the day we are not around. If our children are willing to listen to our life experience, and avoid the mistakes we made in the past, I am sure they will be better off. If they choose to be indifferent, then there is nothing much we can do, except to wish them the best.

Zen said...

When my office colleague and I had lunch in one of the coffee shops (at tian lye street), there was this diminutive hainanese stall holder selling chap chai rice, and his specialty was pork chop- increditably good and tasty. Due to his comical disposition, and always complained of high ingredients cost affecting his business. My joker friend liked to pull a fast one on him, by light-heartily saying: "Ah kor, why don't you increase the price of your food!" Looking startled, eyes opened widely, Ah kor with mock expression, placed the edge of his right palm onto his neck, gesturing as if to saw it off, exclaimed: "you guys want me to die. All my customers will run away!" After a hearty lunch, we would marched off happily, saying goodbye to Ah Kor, and at the same time took pleasure of having some light lunch time entertainment - at ah kor expense.

Edward said...

Zen, Is Chap Chye made with preserved bean curd (“hoo joo”) that you buy in a jar? I think this is the “soupy” dish that you cook with tau pok, chicken or pork, another ingredient that you tie into a knot, chinese mushrooms, fungus etc. It is really yummy when you eat this with sama blachan (chillies pounded with grilled blachan). The teochews have a fondness for this dish. We often have this at home.

jadelee said...

Hi Edward,
thanks for blogging about Sembawang Hills Estate. My friends and I used to attend the Youth Fellowship Meetings organised by the Presbyterian Church when we were in our teens. I have fond memories of the place, from the little foldable wooden chairs we sat on, to the hymns and sermons preached by Phillip Heng or other guest speakers. The informal atmosphere and the open-air concept made it very conducive for the congregation to interact which left a good impression on our young minds.
Rather interesting to read your description of the surroundings, and about the shops and people who lived and worked there. Those days, our parents were rather strict and attending church does not include time to 'hang out' in the surrounding areas, and so we were quite oblivious to the various happenings. Parents of our time have better control over their children and while some of us were clearly upset with the practice, it did keep us out of a lot of trouble, especially for the girls!

Edward said...

Hi Jade, Is the Presbyterian Church still at the corner of Nemesu Avenue and Old Upper Thomson Road? YG said the Sembawang Baptist Church hasn’t moved from its Casuarina Road corner. It’d have been here for at least half a century, since the early 60s! Apart from this church it looks like the row of shop houses have undergone radical changes.

jadelee said...

Sorry, Edward , can't tell you if the Presbyterian Church still exists. I do know a lot of the parishioners were members if the Newton Life Church in Gilstead Rd.
The last time I past by the area, the row of shophouses do look pretty run down, judging from the backyard.

travel sale said...

nice blog..
enjoyed reading some of your posts..

Zen said...

Edward - You would notice that most Singapore coffeeshops have a chap-chye rice stall, somekind of an anchor stall, not unlike selling fast chinese food. The main reason, I think, is the great variety of dishes that can go with the rice served. Chap-chye in hokkien means an assortment of cooked vegetables and meat. I notice there are some indians eating at this type of stall, but choosing rice with curry or other spicy dishes. This type of stall is almost a 'must' for coffeeshop to serve customers (except muslims) who need something 'solid' to sustain their long working day, not to forget that the more customers the shop serves, the more drinks the customers would order. This stall serves best for those people in a hurry but still need to eat something 'heavy' for the long haul, and is particularly favoured by non-cooking house-wifes and blue-collar workers. As for beancurd preserved in jars, we call them fu-yu in cantonese or tau-ru in hokkien.

Edward said...

Zen, I think I know what you mean. “Chap Chye” literary translates to “Ten Vegetables” in Hokkien. Yes, you’re right about coffee shops selling rice with a variety of vegetables and meat dishes. It’s like having a combo meal where you are charged for the number of items selected. As for the bean curd preserved in jars which you call “fu-yu” in Cantonese or “tau-ru” in Hokkien, it’s called “hoo joo” in Teochew. It’s definitely the same thing we are referring to. Most westerners will find the smell intolerable (to say the least), but having brought up with it, we are used to it (the same with blachan).

jadelee said...

I remember my grandma used to eat "hoo joo" with plain porridge during the early 60s. It is usually done for breakfast and the side dishes include "kong chye" (preserved lettuce) and "pee tan nerg"(century-egg) in Teochew. I still see old folks in Chinatown eating such food, which the present generation considers unhealthy for its high sodium and preservatives.
Inevitably, most subjects lead to all true-blue Singaporeans.

Zen said...

Edward - The word chap in hokkien can mean either 'ten' or 'a variety', according to what it describes. However in this particular instant, translated from written chinese, the word chap here means a variety (of food) sold at this stall.

Anonymous said...

We should live life as it is today, keep the good memories of course but look to the future and live for the future.

The past is past, dead people, gone trees, why talk about them? Ok we should remember them but to keep talking about them is not very healthy in my opinion.

What's gone is gone. Your pet dog or your grandparent may be gone. But so be it. No point brooding over or missing over. Sort it out and move on.

Zen said...

When I attend a dinner I would enjoy very much if I can go through all the courses, from the beginning to the end. Should I go in late and manage only to eat the last course, I would definitely feel missing out something.

Unknown said...

chap chye is written as 什菜, pronounced shi2 cai4 in mandarin, don't know why we always read it like 杂菜 (za2 cai4).

Unknown said...

I think the fuyu/tauru/hoojoo is the dou4 fu4 ru3 (豆腐乳) sold in supermarket today? The kong chye (choi sum?) is a staple for porridge when we are sick.

jadelee said...

To appear at a 10-course dinner late and eating just the last course can be regarded as bad social etiquette or a lack of emotional quotient(EQ).

Edward said...

Zen, thanks for the lesson in Hokkien.
Jade – I think teochews like their congee or porridge (“choke” in Cantonese) with side dishes for breakfast. For supper I like to have them with “hum yee” (salted fish), “hum tan” (salted egg), (canned) lettuce (probably the same as “kong chye”), fried ikan bilis, or any leftovers. “Pei Tan”(century old egg) is an expensive option. Yummy.

Lam Chun See said...

Edward being new to this blog may not be aware that many of the questions he raised lately have been blogged about in earlier posts. After all as Zen pointed out, food is a favourite topic among Singaporeans; oldies being no exception.

So Edward, you have a lot of catching up to do. Below are just some of the food-related articles I have posted, some from as far back as 2006. Happy reading.

Traditional food packaging

Ice balls

How to slice hard boiled egg

Our daily bread

Zen said...

Jadelee - You are absolutely right to point out that it is poor etiquette to attend a dinner late. In fact, as far as I can remember, I have never been late for an official dinner, EXCEPT during chinese wedding dinners which are normally 'rubber-timed', officially stated at 7.30pm but people strolling in at 8.00 plus (I included), and the hosts expectedly commence the starting of the dinner at 9pm. I made the dinner comment just as an expression of my personal life philosophy - the need to see things in their totality, not focusing only part of it. It is just like seeing one tree instead of the whole forest and this doesn't seem right for me.

jadelee said...

Hi Ken,
I understood your comment about attending wedding dinner. I kind of equated it to the philosophy of looking at life as a whole instead of just selecting part/s of it. I agree with you that we should look at the 'whole forest' instead of 'one tree'. Sorry if it came across as a critique.

Edward said...

Thanks Chun See, I have read most of your blogs but my short term memory sometimes fails me. Reminiscing about the past helps to exercise my mind and improve my memory capacity! That’s the theory anyway! I never tire of reading stories about the old days. I find them mentally stimulating and occasionally thought provoking. Most of all – they’re enjoyable.

Zen said...

Edward - Reflection is part of life, no matter whether a person is old or young. If a person says that he cannot reflect, then I would say something is seriously wrong with him, maybe 'kena' dementia or on the way to alzheimer - pretty frightening, and that goes the same with memory. It was reported that former US president Reagon who had alzheimer on nearing his death, can only remember one word 'nancy'. When I cannot recollect the names of some of my former colleagues or friends, I feel very disturbed.

Freddy Neo said...

Dear Edward/Jadelee

The Presbysterian Church you were referring must be Sembawang Bible Presbyterian Church. It is now at a shophouse at Teachers' Estate, Kalidasa Road.

This church started off as a fellowshop at a house at Nemusu
Avenue with worshipers from Life BP Church. I attended the Sunday School there from 1962 to 1964.

jadelee said...

Thanks, Freddy for update on Sembawang Presbyterian Church. I attended only the Youthfellowship from 1965 to 1968.
I hope the winding old Upper Thomson Rd and the beautiful tree-lined Thomson Rd running parallel to it, get conserved.

Thimbuktu said...

The following comment from Annonymous is disturbing, to say the least:

"Not trying to pour cold water but it's not very healthy to live in the past you know. We should live as it is today and for the future.

27 October, 2009"

The "today" we lived through decades ago has become the past now. Every moment is a "once-in-a-lifetime experience".

"The present is the future of the past".

To be able to retrieve fond memories of the past to share with others today in GMY and other "blogs of the same feather" is a meaningful pursuit.

Only the young do not have a long enough past to talk about.

Thank you for sharing, Edward. Please carry on blogging about the past and share the joy with us.


AnnetteFox said...

I attended Sembawang B-P Church at 99 Nemusu Avenue from 1965 to 1974. We used to meet at Mr & Mrs Seow's house at no.95 until the church purchased no.99 for $20K in 1968 which was considered cheap in those days. The size of the congregation grew and eventually moved in 1977 to Khalidasa Ave.

After the Sunday church services we would go to the coffee shop for lunch. It had the fish curry and prata stall in one corner (food was delicious) but we always went for the chicken rice - great value at 70cents.

In that row of shops were the Baptist Church, the coffee shop, National Stores (sweets, magazines and sundries), a clothes shop selling ladybird brand, Lily's hair salon, Tan's D&P (photos) shop, Soon Huat stores (provision shop with western food like bacon and baked beans), a general store selling string, wire etc and finally - what we called "last shop" was a Chinese provision shop.

At the back was a carpark until the late 60s when a char kway teow stall started, then the rest followed. The ice ball stall was at the corner of the "last shop".

At the front of the shops during the mornings was a small market which sold fresh meat, fish, vegetables and tou-foo.

I attended Singapore Day in 2009 in London, and the pratas (which I was told were from Casuarina) were simply to die for!

Lam Chun See said...

i wonder the Mr and Mrs Seow Annette mentioned are the Elder and Mrs Seow of Life BP Church in Gilstead Rd. The are - or rather were our neighbours. Elder Seow passed away a few years ago but Mrs Seow is healthy and active.

AnnetteFox said...

I should correct my earlier posting in relation to the name of the shop: it wasn't Soon Huat (which was at Jalan Leban) but was Hup Heng.

The Mr and Mrs Seow had 2 children - Lena and Edwin. Mrs Seow worked in a dispensary back then. He was known as Elder Seow and of course Life Church in Gilstead Road was the mother church of Sembawang B-P Church, so it's quite possible that they are the same person. They were such a lovely couple.

There were also Mr & Mrs William Seah, and the famous Timothy Tow.

What a small world.

Edward said...

Annette, I was about to query the name of the provision shop in your previous comment but you beat me to it! Soon Huat was situated at the corner of Jalan Kuras and Jalan Leban (Phase 2). This shop catered mostly to the British families in the estate. Your mention of the National Store has brought back some memories of it. Was it run by an Indian or perhaps he was just a worker there?

There was a family in Phase 1 who operated a bakery. I’m not sure if the bakery was located in Casuarina Road. But they drove around the estate in the evening to sell their freshly baked bread to the locals. They’d park at the corner of Jalan Lanjut and Jalan Chengam and approach the homes of the regulars, calling for orders. The father drove the car (it looked like a station wagon) and his sons took orders and delivered the bread.

I had a few friends who attended the Presbyterian Church at Nemusu Avenue. Through them I met two of the regulars who could be your siblings – Thomas and Pearl Fox. I have been to their place once (with my friend who is a friend of Thomas) and I must say that until today I am still fascinated by his dad’s craftsmanship – Mr Fox crafted some of the most wonderful candles I’ve seen. It’s a pity I did not own a camera then. I’d have taken photos of his crafted candles. I have always wanted to write a story of the “Candle Man” but alas how do you describe his carvings in words? They were truly works of art - painstakingly carved, painted and decorated over many hours. It’d have been much easier if I have a number of photos for illustration. That short visit took place more than 40 years ago!

If the church was at 99 Nemesu Avenue, then the house besides it was number 97 – and I believe the family at this home were members of the church as well. I’m not sure if this was the Seow family? The name Lena and Edwin rings a bell …

You're right - it's a small world.

AnnetteFox said...

Yes, Pearl and Thomas are my sister and brother, and my dad did indeed make those candles. Thank you for your kind words. He passed away in 1990 but as you know how these things are - I miss him very much. I do have some photos of his candles, but they're not the best quality pictures.

The family at 97 were not members of the church, but their father was the original owners of no.99 who sold it to the church.

There was another shop in that row - and it was the barber shop. My dad and my brother used to get their hair cut there, and I'd be fascinated by the activity that went on there, culminating in the massage, the powder applied with a fine brush and then the aftershave.

National Store was run by Indians, one of whom had the name Gideon.

I vaguely remember a bakery but can't place it.

Well, Edward, you must write your story of the Candle Man.

Edward said...

Annette, I’m sorry to hear of your father’s passing. We met in 1967 or 1968 (I think). It was only a brief encounter but it left a lasting impression on me. Yes, maybe one day I will write a story of the Candle Man … with your help.

I don’t recall the barber shop in Casuarina Road. Now I remember the National Store newsagency. We subscribed to the Straits Times and Sunday Times from this shop. The papers were delivered in the morning by an Indian who hated coming to my place because my dog always gave him a hostile reception.

Your description of the other shops in Casuarina Road and those at the back of this row adjacent to Upper Thomson Road has rekindled some lost memories. Sometimes a trip down memory lane is made more enjoyable with the help of friends. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Came across this only now, guess we are from the same era. Went back to Old Upper Thomson Rd, at the back of Causuarina Rd, to show my kid the places I grow up with. Remember Pasar Malam used to be held there?. The row of Oil Palm Trees were still there, wonder in 2011, they are still around. The row of shop houses I am very familar, still can smell the Hainan banery shop, the coffeeshop you know. There was an Indian Newspaper shop that sells newspaper, magazines, I used to order magazines from that shop, so that I do not have to go down town to buy, of course, it will be a month's later. Life was low & easy then, no internet, new magazines makes the heart exicted just to thunb through them. There was a hairdresser shop too, run by an Hainanese woman, know her son. On the opposite side of Upper Thomson rd, Jalan Leban. I would foundly remember the Radio Taxi Stand, Lucky Stores, another Hainanese Coffee shop, a stationery shop & my favourite, where I spent most of hot afternoon, Ong Brothers Record Store. Can't afford to buy the Lp's, we 'pirate', get them recorded onto cassettes for a fee. I used to have a collection of 500 music cassettes. Then they moved to Shaw Centre, which I would visit, every saturday. Wonder, what had happened to Ong Bros Record Shop? Too many things to recollect about Semb Hills Estate, Jalan Leban, Jalan Chengam, the aquarium at the end of Jalan Chempadak down the slope. The Petrol Station, Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary School. Life was slow & easy, way back then. Memories

Edward said...

Hi Anonymous,
I have a very vague recollection of Ong Bros Record Store. Is this situated in the shopping strip in Jalan Leban or Jalan Kuras? What year would you be referring to? Is Lucky Store the one that sold fishing gear (hooks, sinker, rods, reels, lines etc)? The stationery store must be Radiant Store. I left the estate around the mid 70’s, so I wouldn’t know the shops that came after this period. Like you, Sembawang Hills Estate holds many precious memories for me. Freddy Neo, who lived in Jalan Batai, also posted a number of interesting stories of his childhood at the estate on this blog.

Anonymous said...

It is towards the begining of Jalan Leban, on the right hand side, where there is a cul des sac row of shop houses. The top end indirectly facing the food centre was Lucky Store, some sort of elctronics store, then came the Hainan Coffesshop, Ong Brothers Record shop was somewhere in the middle, there was a British Pub and at the end of that row of shop houses was the stationery shop, I forgot the name. Near to Lucky Store was the Jalan Leban Taxi Stand. This was towards the early 1970's right after 1969. Remember the pasr malam at the old upper Thomson Rd that runs along the back of Causrina Road?

Edward said...

Hi Anonymous,
The British Pub was Sembawang Cafe, next to Radiant Store, which is at the corner of Jalan Leban and Jalan Batai. Radiant Store was operated by the Chia family who lived at Serangoon Gardens Estate. The family has since migrated to Vancouver. There is a story on the bars of Sembawang Hills Estate on this blog. The food centre was a late comer. Up to the late 60’s there were 2 hawker stalls opposite the taxi stand. These were temporary wooden makeshift stalls which predated the hawker centre. Ah Seng ran the noodle stall while besides him was Ah Tiam’s coffe stall. There were never any problems with the Hainanese Kopi Tiam along the shopping strip in Jalan Leban. Ah Seng made the best chilli noodles around. He and I “ah kar leow”, so I would always get extra hot noodles from him. By the way, the pasar malan, which operated on Sunday night, was originally on Upper Thomson Road. It later shifted to Old Upper Thomson Road, probably in the late 60’s. There is also a posting on this in GMY. I still cannot remember much of Ong Bros Record Store. Freddy Neo’s father had a long association with the taxi stand. He is also the most regular customer of the aquarium, down the slope, along Jalan Batai.

Unknown said...

Wow, just came across this blog when googling for streetview. Our family lived @ 36 Seraya Crescent, I was born in 1965, have been back a couple of times to Singapore over many years being away. We were thinking off revisiting our old house this December. My father was serving in the British airforce, and we ended up living in Australia. Strange how I ended up marrying a Asian man, and wouldn't trade him for anything, but spend heaps of time in Indonesia now. I have some great photos so Singapore in the 60s. Thanks for sharing your memories Tracy :)

Lam Chun See said...

Hi Gede, I always get very excited when people tell me they have old photos of Spore. How about sharing them here on Goodmorningyesterday?