Sunday, May 30, 2010

Welcome to the Far East

Below are some images that Mike Robbins sent me.

"Thought you might be interested in this booklet that we were given on our arrival as an introduction to Singapore - a little piece of history. Perhaps the most interesting page is the exchange rate for Singapore dollars in 1966 although some of the photos especially transport are of interest too. . How well your country has done since independence and how weak is stirling now! Please feel free to publish."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mike Robbins’ fond memories of Singapore

Hello Lam,

Just recently found your site. It is nice to know that you are trying to preserve memories of old Singapore.

My wife and I were fortunate to spend three years on the island from 1966-69 living mainly in the Naval Base at Sembawang. We have been back twice since 1969, and the changes that have taken place make the place almost unrecognisable.

Surprisingly our first flat in Cairnhill Road was still there as was our house in Sudan Road - photos of that attached. The only noticeable change from the outside was the house now had air-con.

Our last visit coincided with the first F1 GP on the island - very impressive. We broke our return journey from Bali. We were very fortunate to still have contact with a pen friend of our daughter who was born in Singapore in 1968. She took us out on a trip down memory lane - back to Sembawang and to our old house. We also enjoyed a nostalgic curry in Changi village. It is a pity that so much of old Singapore has been lost - fond memories of old Bugis Street playing noughts and crosses with young children in front of the bars - for a few cents!

Our one regret is that we lost touch with our amah in Cairnhill Court. Her name was Lee Boon Yong. She was a much valued member of our family. She had one son only called John who would now be about 50. She originally lived in a kampong near Bukit Timah, but was re-housed in the early flats in Toa Payoh. Yong was our first amah in Cairnhill Court off Cairnhill Road not in Sembawang. In the house in Sudan Road,we had a couple who lived in the servants quarters at the back of the house. The amah's name there was Yok and her husband we also knew as John. He worked in the base but was also a very good pastry cook.

I have other old photos and documents from that time some of which I could scan I think if you would like to add to your collection.

It was interesting to see that the old oil fuel depot at Sembawang still had some tanks standing which I understand feed the nearby power station.

Have fond memories of working closely with a ship's chandlers company - Soon Aik in Outram Road - the Quah family. Went to a family wedding on the rooftop at 225 Outram Road. Also have fond memories of taking our young children into the botanical gadrens, buying a small cone of peanuts and watching the monkeys sneak up and snatch the whole paper cone from their hands. How times have changed!

Keep up the good work to preserve for the next generation

Best wishes

Mike Robbins

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Andrew Grigsby’s fond memories of Singapore

Today, I would like to share with you some emails that I received from Andrew Grigsby. I am sure that after reading Andrew’s heartwarming description of his memories, you will feel a tinge of sadness at the loss of the Singapore of our childhood days – if you’re from my generation that is.

Dear Lam Chun See,

I arrived at your web site via looking for the school I went to in Majeede Barracks at Pandan Johore and also I went to St. Johns School in Singapore. I would like to be in contact with you as to be honest, we had many friends when we were there. We lived at milestone 5 1/2 at Pasir Panjang not all that far From Haw Paw Villa, better known to us as Tiger Balm Gardens. I do have a vivid memory of our wonderful time amongst such open and such friendly people no matter what nationality. I miss that atmosphere of the time we knew back then. I too was born in 1952 but in Germany, so you can tell my father was in the Army and he served in it for 34 years. My parents are still alive and live not far from me in this County of Wiltshire. I am only 25 miles from the South Coast North of Southampton City. You can see it on Google Earth and it has a Cathedral.

My sister came back to Singapore about 8 years ago and said that the home we stayed in was still there under Kent Ridge but the reclaimed land was just about to start when we left in August 1969. I remember so well the Changi red busses that took us to school. My sister went to Alexandra Junior School. I am also a member of the St. Johns web site too.

I was born to eat currys by the way and still do. I so liked the Nasi Goreng from school and the time that my father bought MEE HOON from a local shop. Yes, friend i still remember so well with the Papaya, Jack Fruit, Bread Fruit, Rambutan, Mangosteen, Star fruit .. etc. and a small pink bell-shaped fruit which we dipped into a dark rich sauce.

(Andrew must be referring to this water apple or jambu. Took this photo at Bishan Park, by the way)

My favourite snack was when the local man came pushing his wheel barrow down the Pasir Panjang Road and it had on it a mixing bowl that he used to cut up soft bread sticks and fruit but first of all he put in a peanut type of paste like dark Hoi Sin? and then mixed it all up and put it on a banana leaf and we had a tooth pick to eat it with. I remember it was called ROH JACK! We spoke a little Malay then but 'Roti Punus' and Satu, Duah, Tiga, Unpat, Lima … ok its one to five. I do remember being taught MAY WAH which our friends told us it was pretty flower in English.
Our best friend was a young fellow named ANG U GEE and lived in a Kampong just short distance from the two buildings that made up our small place where we were living. There were 6 homes in each block. I remember so well the 'wayang' that came to play just over the road opposite where we lived.
I remember the Monsoons which was such fun standing in the warm rain with flip flops on and just shorts. The houses we lived in were still standing when my sister went there on a holiday 6 years ago.

Another memory was that we went with our friends on a long boat just off Shell Island maybe Blackang Matti! and we let the nets down and used long bamboo poles to hit the water to drive the fish and crabs into the net. Before we got out to recover the nets when the tide went down we had our food. My mother made sandwiches and our friends had a small contained fire with charcoal cooking a fish and rice soup. We swapped food with each other such was the closeness we enjoyed.

Another memory was when we visit our friends’ homes to watch television. We took our flip flops off at the door of course. The younger children would sit by us and touch our legs because we had hairy legs at the age of 15 and 16, they thought it was funny.

Another memory was when me and my other two brothers had to leave Singapore. The friends from the local kampong gave us a banquet as a lasting memory of our close friendship. There were hugs and tears all round when we left.
I hope to see Singapore one more time but it will be when I am retired from work.I am trying to get as many photos of Majeede Barracks in Jahore and understand that the Malaysian Army may be there now. Never mind. I just like all things to do with Johore and Singapore.

Hello Chun See.

It was nice to hear from you and thanks for sending the pictures of the pink bell shaped fruit we used to eat. The bungalow (that’s the one Victor blogged about here) looks familiar and we must have seen it when we were there so could be right next to where we lived. Please thank your friend for taking the picture. As I said, my sister was in Singapore about 6 years ago and saw the same flats then but understand that may have gone now. I will send you a drawing of where we were and maybe it was between 5 1/2 to 7 1/2 mile stone.

Sketch and Google Earth image

I can see that to the right of the flats is a little 'green' area of grass where we played football with our local friends. It looked as if it’s still in use? Our neighbour friends’ house on the right is new and I can see a swimming pool there. The flats are right in the centre of the picture ...

The two buildings with 6 flats in each (X) was set back from the Pasir Panjang Road and accessed by a short drive, and there were two of them. One was set sideways and the other set further back and facing the road. We were friends with the local people in the house next door. When we walked out of the short drive and turned left towards Haw Par Villa there was a wooden shop that sold our favourite Ice Balls; you know the ones. It was made from a block of ice that was created by grinding the ice block on a mangle with a blade on it. i can draw it for you. It was put in a piece of paper and coloured juice poured all over it before we ate it.

Opposite was the green space where we watched the Wayang, and from where we lived it was a very short distance to the beach. We had such fun and always hung out with our friends after school. We loved it when we could get the red fireworks that was sold in long ribbons the same type that is use in the New Year ... Chinese of course.

We also liked to buy the very small fire crackers too. I also loved to eat for a snack the peanut fritters.
Does any one remember the way the conductors on the Changi busses told the driver to start and stop. He hit the roof with his clipper and the knocking on the roof made it look like it was dented all over. At least the journeys were only cents for a few miles. I will write again with more memories.
We had such a fun time in Singapore and would experience it all over again. By all means please do share my memories with any one that remembers those times in the 60s.
Regards to all friends in Singapore.

My email to Andrew

I am afraid I have some bad news for you. I went down to Pasir Panjang to check the area shown in your Google satellite photo. I believe that satellite image must be several months old because the area has now been built into a condominium complex. If you look at the attached photo it is probably the condo behind the yellow car. At first I thought it was the construction site to the right of the car I even asked the construction site supervisor if he knew what the area was like before they began demolition work; but he wasn't aware.

But when I got home and re-examined your satellite photo, I am convinced that it is the condo behind and to the left of the yellow car.” Referring to the satellite image again, the spot marked S is the Salvation Army home which is still existing and the spot marked B is the machinegun pillbox mentioned in my previous post..

1) My apologies to Victor for sending him on a wild goose chase. When I received the first email, I asked Victor if he could assist me to find Andrew’s flats since he was familiar with this part of Singapore.
2) Andrew. No need to sketch that picture of the ice ball machine. I have blogged about it here.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Crossing Water Obstacle (C.W.O.) - by Peter Chan

Sounds like a military jargon from National Service (NS) days? Every able-bodied male who has completed NS would have undergone some form of training or at least be familiar with the C.W.O. terminology. However I am not referring to it but to a daily routine of a different kind, between City Hall and Raffles Place MRT stations.

Early 1985 I worked in a regional office on the 12th floor of the Standard Chartered Bank Building on Battery Road. Whenever I get jet-lagged I would look outside my window. The view was simply refreshing. You could see the Westin Stamford and Westin Plaza under construction plus the wide expanse of water in the Marina Bay area.

Photo 1: View of lunchtime dining by the Singapore River from Empress Place (c 1980). The buildings from left to right were Maybank, Bank of China, a row of shops and Chartered Bank.

When I looked below the Standard Chartered Bank building, something else caught my eyes and with the help of a pair of binoculars I found something interesting. I refer to the MRT tunnel that was constructed under the Singapore River, a very massive civil engineering project. The tunnel was 93 meter long and 20 meters under the river-bed. It was an interesting introduction to underwater tunneling.

Construction activity first began on the Empress Place bank side of the Singapore River where a cofferdam was in place - concrete between walls of rusty steel piles. But this time something different was taking place. There was a crane mounted on a barge lifting steel piles out of the water. Vibration was applied before the steel piles were pulled out of the water. Mini excavators removed earth from the coffer dam and dumped into an anchored barge. After the cofferdam was demolished, the waters of the Singapore River flowed through.

Photo 2: Empress Place (c 1983). The former marine police building stood at the spot of the pile-driver. The Asian Civilization Building was the former Immigration Department offices.

Now on the other side of the Singapore River, another building activity was taking place. Fresh steel piles (with painted white lines and numbers) were driven into the Singapore River to form another cofferdam. The markings indicated the length of a steel pile. The steel piles had to stand at least a meter above the river-tide to prevent water gushing into the excavated site. I could feel the Standard Chartered Bank building shook each time the steel piles were pounded; the only time when there was silence was when the steel piles had to be welded together by acetylene torches. The welding continued until the engineers were certain that the solid soil bottom was reached. Water trapped by the cofferdam was pumped out. An anchored barge with a crane and bucket was furiously scooping earth behind the cofferdam and dumping it into another nearby barge.

Lunch-time diners at Movepick in the basement of Standard Chartered Bank had more fears of the ceiling coming down. Nearby snug at the basement of Straits Trading Building, the Stamford Arms Pub’s chandeliers swayed to the beat of the pile-drivers. For me I always wondered whether I had spiders dropped from the ceiling into my drinks.

Photo 3: The final stage of tunneling begins on the other side of the Singapore River (c 1985).

As the project progressed, workers were busily welding steel struts to keep the walls apart. The next step was for the concrete tunnel to be built after which earth was put back over the tunnel and the river reinstated. If you stood at the Paya Lebar Station and had been observing the construction of the Circle Line, you could visualize a similar construct of this sort under the Singapore River.

Around this time, the popular “kopi-tiam by the Singapore River” – a narrow lane behind the Bank of China and Malayan bank buildings – was torn down because it restricted easy access to the work site. Over the next few years, there would be road diversions in the Raffles Place area, a higher level of dust particles, as well as many bulky cement mixers on the roads. These were inconveniences that had to be put up by office workers all for a good cause – to move large number of people in and out of central business district.
Can I still see another mammoth civil engineering project again? Yes but this has to be done from a distance and at ground-level; the construction of the Marina Coastal Expressway, in front of the Marina Barrage and at East Lagoon Link.

Photo 4: Marina Coastal Expressway project. The construction of the cofferdam at Marina East is in progress (c 2009). The piped piles are driven at least 60 meters below the seabed.

Photo 5: Marina South view of office blocks in Prince Edward Road and Shenton Way areas. East Lagoon Link which was a PSA container-yard is now cleared of containers. The former basin will be drained of seawater and a viaduct will connect to a surface road (c 2009).

There’s one question for you.

Have you noticed that the Standard Chartered Bank building (now named Six Battery Road) is quite unusual unlike other office blocks in the Raffles Place area. It has a wide podium with a slim tower on top of it. What is the reason for this architectural design?

Friday, May 14, 2010

What was it like inside that machinegun pillbox?

When I took that photo of the machinegun pillbox at Pasir Panjang Road in my previous post, it did not occur to me to go near and take a shot of the inside or even try to see if it was still possible to go inside.

Anyway, reader Peter Stubbs has kindly sent me two photos of the inside of this particular pillbox which he took in 1995 to share with readers of Good Morning Yesterday. Thank you for the photos Peter.

“I apologise for the quality, but I did not have a decent camera in those days - 1995. Not only that, but the ones I had did not have wide angle lenses which is what I really needed inside. For some reason, which I cannot remember, I could not photograph inside the commanders copula in the centre of the pillbox. No. 1 is the right-hand side and No.2 the left-hand side. The white area on No.2 is the partition wall. I keep meaning to try to get inside and take some new photos when I visit Singapore, but never remember. Maybe next time.

Just below the firing slit is a wide shelf on which weapons would have been placed. The weapons used inside would have been the Lee Enfield No. 3 or No.4 Rifle, which were standard British issue and the Bren Light Machine Gun. Both fired the .303 Round, and both were very accurate weapons indeed.

I believe that this pillbox would have been manned by men of the Malay Regiment in February 1942. It was in their area of operations - see attached map."

By the way, Peter hosts an interesting website about Military History. Do check it out here.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How well do you know your Singapore?

Whilst waiting for my next article, perhaps you guys would like to take a shot at this quiz. What is this thing and where is it found in Singapore?

Wow .... you guys are good. Barely half an hour and the right anwers are given. Hope you can read the explanation below. I should have cropped away the surrounding.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Views from Singapore’s tallest building

In my previous post, I asked you for the identify and location of the ‘Nishat’ building in this photo by George Shaw taken around 1947. Well some of you correctly said that it was a cinema. In George Shaw’s photo album, he has these words neatly written next to the photo; INDIAN CINEMA (Hindustani only)

As for its exact location, we can confirm that it was indeed at Waterloo Street from this picture taken by Arthur Poskit in 1947. It’s the one with the dark roof. In Arthur’s album, these words were scribbled below the photo; “View from the Cathay directly down Bras Basah Road.

In fact, from this photo, we can see a few familiar buildings:

a) The Saint Joseph’s Institution – now converted to Singapore Arts Museum
b) The Cathedral of the Shepherd, and
c) The Raffles Institution – sadly demolished years ago to give way to Raffles City

Can you identify other places from this photo?

Below are a few more photos taken from the roof top of Cathay Building around 1947. Again, we should thank Arthur Poskitt, Russ Wickson and Peter Chan for generously sharing these photos with us.

This photo by George Shaw is in the direction of the National Museum (Thank God they did not demolish it when they built that tunnel)

This photo by Arthur Poskitt is in the direction of Selegie Road and Prinsep Street.

This photo from Peter Chan was taken in 1945 and its shows Selegie Road viewed from the balcony of the Cathay Building.