Saturday, November 07, 2009

Travel To Johore Bahru (JB) – Peter Chan

My very first trip outside Singapore was to JB to watch a Mandarin movie, “Sun, Moon & Star”. That was in 1961. “Sun, Moon & Star” as far as I know was never screen in Singapore and we had to drive to the Cathay-JB Cinema. There was a very prominent Cathay logo neon signboard on top of the building visible from Woodlands in Singapore.

Photo 1: “Sun, Moon & Star” (part 2). Who is the one with the crutch?

My parents must have been very loyal fans of Grace Chang; like many others who knew her from the days of the “Mambo Girl”. Apart from the inconvenience of crossing over the causeway and the stringent official custom checks, there was no need for international passports. You produced your Singapore ID to the Malayan immigration officials. For me, I didn’t even need to produce my birth certificate.

I was never a fan of Chinese black & white movies unless they were Cantonese action movies like “Wong Fei Hung” or slapstick comedies starring “Nga Chat Soh”. To give you an idea on the length of “Sun, Moon & Star”, it was screened over two sessions; Part 1 this week and Part 2 two weeks later. Cinema-goers had to retain one portion of the ticket as proof for viewing the other part. Within each part, there was even an intermission. I remembered Part 1 was all about “a boy falling in love with girl(s)” but it had too much dialogue. Poor me I was looking for the English subtitles at the bottom of the screen but they were colored yellow and being seated somewhere at the Back Stall, this was a real eye strain. I was very restless throughout the movie and my father had to raise his voice to shut me up. Finally he asked me to wait outside the cinema. This was a great opportunity for me to explore the streets outside Cathay-JB. I think there was a Hotel Malaya at one end of the street and itinerant pushcart hawkers selling drinks, kachang-puteh and kueh-kueh outside the cinema.

Part 2 was action drama because it showed the fighting between Chinese and Japanese soldiers but the war drama was hardly the sort I was looking forward to like in “The Guns of Navarone”. The action began with the blowing of the bugle, the waving of flags (sounds Communist alright), artillery shells flying and the charge of the human wave towards the enemy position. For some strange reasons, the camera never focused on the Japanese soldiers but most of the time on the beautiful Grace Chang and Julie Yeh. After many decades, the only question I would have loved to ask; who was the person walking with a crutch in that movie?

For many people, JB might be a quiet place. Not for me.

Photo 2: Left; On the causeway and in the distance is Lumba Kuda flats in JB with its prominent water-tank on the roof top (circa 1967). Right; Cathay-JB Cinema next to the Lumba Kuda flats (circa 1964).

For example after that Mandarin movie, my family headed to the second-best place for satay; after the Beach Road Satay Club in Singapore. The satay stalls were located next to a public toilet facing the JB bus terminus for Green Bus, Alec Bus Company and South Johore Bus. Sampling JB satay and mee rebus was a common occurrence for me because my father loved country-side driving and sometimes drove to view the newly-built residential estates, one of which was Marine Vista in the Jalan Straits View vicinity.

The old customs house just after the Malaysian immigration checkpoint was a prominent landmark for me. It was here we thumb-up for free lorry rides to Kuala Lumpur and Penang after we completed our Secondary 4 exams. We knew that the Malaysian-registered lorries had to clear the Johore customs after their delivery trips to Singapore. Getting that ride was never easy and on most occasions we had to wait for hours. It was not because the drivers turned us down. Rather we had to check with each lorry driver on his ultimate destination. We were not looking for lorries stopping at Yong Peng or Segamat; we were on the look-out for lorries going to towns nearer to Kuala Lumpur such as Seremban or Cameron Highlands. Coming back to Singapore from up-country, we hitch hiked the Straits Times early morning delivery truck from Jalan Tiong, Kuala Lumpur to JB. Even up to the late 1980s, I found that the New Straits Times daily newspaper was only printed in Kuala Lumpur and distributed to the other Malaysian towns. Thus, a JB New Straits Times reader could only get his newsstand copy by mid-day.

Photo 3: Left; JB Bus Terminus (now City Square). In the background is Jalan Wong Ah Fook. The row of two-storey buildings still stand – it’s called Central Building. (Photo courtesy of Fred York. circa 1956) Right; The old customs house on Persiaran Tun Sri Lanang. This part has been cleared to make way for the second Malaysian Immigration and Customs building. Bukit Chagar CIQ is the third development. You can see Woodlands in the background.

Before Taman Sentosa became popular with Singaporeans, we patronized the cinemas such as REX along Jalan Wong Ah Fook and the Capitol Cinema at Jalan Stesen. The JB cinemas screened X-rated movies like the “Carry On” Series which were terribly censored in Singapore. You could never understand the story how come an about-to-be naked woman screamed one moment and then a smiling Sidney James chuckled. At other times when we saved enough pocket-money, we went to the Seaview Hotel to watch those forbidden floor shows. No they didn’t have those wrestling with python shows. It was more like “Bend it like Beckham”.

From a bus-stop on Jalan Wong Ah Fook opposite the JB Bus Terminus, we took the local Alec Bus Company to far-away places like Jason Bay and the Kota Tinggi Waterfalls. No part of Johore was too far for us. Each time we came up to JB, we learnt more of the street names and the buildings. We didn’t come up for window-shopping. Very soon S$1 no longer had the same value or interchangeably as M$1; perhaps telling us that we were no longer school-boys.

Photo 4: Approximate location of the old Cathay-JB Cinema on Bukit Chagar. Jalan Lumba Kuda was the road in front of the cinema but it is now outside the CIQ security fence.

Photo 5: Broadway Cinema

Today JB is no longer a sleepy town but like Singapore; many of the historical landmarks have made way for economic development. So it has become a bit of challenge for me now to try to find the former Cathay-JB Cinema, REX Cinema, the old customs house, Chung Kiaw Bank building, Seaview Hotel, the unique-looking star-fish flats next to Cathay-JB and even the former JB Bus Terminus.
I found that Cathay-JB is now a part of the Buki Chagar CIQ facility. To find its exact location look out for the three blocks of flats in Photo 2. The buildings are still standing. Rex Cinema is a private carpark opposite KOMTAR. Chung Kiaw Bank building is now UOB building, next to the first flyover after your cross the causeway in the direction of Buki Chagar CIQ.


Lam Chun See said...

Although I don’t remember seeing this movie, I clearly remember the title. In Chinese it is: 星星月亮太阳. So I did a search on Youtube and found several video clips. Here for example. Thus a bit puzzled why you had to go to JB to watch this movie.

The movie was about 3 ladies with very different characters who took part in the war. They were played by You Min (尤敏)、Ke Lan (葛蘭) and Ye Fong (葉楓).

Lam Chun See said...

Sorry here's the link again.

yg said...

peter, when i was about 16, i watched an x-rated movie with my classmates at cathay. the building was still around up to 2007. i know the place quite well because i still go to jalan kuda lumba to eat the very popular (to johorians) beef noodles. the name 'cathay' is in one of the coffeeshops and one restaurant. if you go to this page you can see the beef noodle stall at jalan kuda lumba.

yg said...

peter, you reminded of my own hitch-hiking days. i blogged about it here .

Zen said...

I am really puzzled why this film was not shown in Singapore when it was produced by the Cathay organisation, politically correct, and could be approved by censorship. I was a fan of grace chang and was quite impressed by her dancing skill and she acted well in 'wild wild rose'. Like many of her counterparts in the movie industry, she married young (at the peak of her career) to a successful businessmen.

peter said...

Could it be a case that the late Loke Wan Tho founder of Cathay was a Malayan himself (I hear he's KL born)? His wife is very pretty and gave Singapore the first made-in-Singaporeperfume called DADI. I think one time SQ gave this perfume to 1st Class travellers.

Can someone help me identify Photo 5 - is that the former Odeon Cinema? Some ppl tell me it's at Kota Raya. Some ppl I asked in Johore Bahru gave me a "Huh look".

YG - how do you get across the fence to the beef noddle shop from the CIQ? Must make hole in the fence? I was told taman Sentosa has best "Hor Fun" - true or false?

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Wah! 'Sun, Moon And Star'. Also Grace Chang. I just posted her too. Quite a coincidence isn't it?

Did you see the YouTube clip on 'Mambo Girl'? Hey Peter when are you ever going to do a posting for me?

Victor said...

Hey Peter, this post should have been in my blog - it has the naughty bits about x-rated movies in JB cinemas and floorshows in Seaview Hotel. BTW, was that Mechinta?

I am a bit surprised your article got past the "censor" this time. Seems like there's some loosening up, eh? :p

Tom said...

Tom said...
Victor, the carry on films, starring Sid James are good comedies, I wonder why they x-rated in Singapore, may be because they where a wee bit crude eh haha, well peters , aticle is not that bad is it? haha.

peter said...

I didn't know much about Grace Chang or "Mambo Girl". I only know there were many pretty Hong Kong actresses m my aunty's magazines. My aunty bought every month those Chinese movie news magazines and for me, I only glance through on the look-out for pretty girls. That's how I knew there were stars like Peter Cheng Ho and Lin Da (who had a big funeral when she died). I don't know the name of that Chinese magazine but I know you had to read from back to front pages.

When I lived and worked in HOng Kong, used to tune into TVB channel after midnight for the black & white movies. They usually screen those oldie 1950s Cantonese or Mandarin movies. Then I saw this segment of a movie where the camera zoomed in on the buttocks of an actress whom I later found out to be Grace Chang (or was it Yuemin...I am confused on this one). The 1950 movies had plenty of rhumba or cha-cha-cha set dances.

I like those 1950s movies because they had stories of pretty air hostesses (camera usually focus on buttocks or faces, don't know why) and scenes/landmarks of Singapore and Malaya (usually Malacca or Penang)then.

As usual after watching the movies and dozing-off (movies ran from 2am till 6am), I became sleep at the office.

Censorship in Singapore at that time was very strict. No bare bosoms, cleavage can.

peter said...

I believe censorship in Singapore at thime included no scenes of women in topless mode or passionate kissing scenes with nude bodies glued together (like in Emmanuelle). So scenes of a couple going into a bedroom and emerging just <1sec many movie-goers so confused.

This censorship also extended to music so music like Je-taime was also censore (one segment of the music had this heavy breathing sound of a woman in pleasure mode).

The other thing I reembered about Lin Da the actress was she acted in a movie "Love Without End" (????) which had this signature theme played on a piano. You start many octaves on the right then then move to the left of the keyboard. I think the idea came from Tschaikosky in one of his Concertos. The Japanese lover sng "Masda" also has some similar interpretations. Jimmy Chan has this song in one of his CDs.

Icemoon said...


The lady with clutch is Julie Yeh Feng. In one book, she is described as 'long legged sister'. Julie plays Yanan (亚男) in the movie.

You can read the book here. I got the answer from page 86. She is described as the one with the clutch (拐杖).

Zen said...

The movie stars of yester-years, few of them, led fast and shady lives. These type of news revealing the stars personal lives could only appear in tabloids(with the actors appearing under ficticious names and wrapped up in innuendoes), whilst official movie magazines would only sing high praises of them. There was a very famous hollywood story that in the thirties, there was this famous mustachio actor who was being spinned as the most romantic actor alive, after acting in an epic film which featured the great american civil war. His wife later revealed to reporters that in real life all these so-called romantic stuff of the actor was in fact made up by the film industry, and who knew better than she herself?

peter said...

I discovered I made a mistake over the name of that JB hotel. It is now Seaview but New Straits View Hotel today; yesterday was called Straits View Hotel where Mechinta Kelab Malam could be found. After the demise of that kelab malam, there was in the mid-1980s a popular seafood restaurant which has a balcony view of the private carpark.

peter said...

Topo error.

It is not Seaview Hotel but New Straits View Hotel.......

Anonymous said...

I have the VCDs of the movie. The lady with the crutch is the famous Julie Yeh. I heard that she's living in Shanghai now. I love her songs and have a couple dozens of them on mp3.