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.


Lam Chun See said...

I see a strong similarity between Andrew and John Harper. Both of them got got to befriend the local kids. In Andrew's case it might have been even more difficult considering that he was already a teenager then as compared to John who would be about 7 or 8?

peter said...

To purge everything from distant memory and after 40 years is commendable.

Victor said...

Could the "U Gee" whom Andrew knows be the YG whom we know?

Pasir Panjang area has a lot of renovation work going on, especially with the upswing in the property market recently.

Andrew's flat should be located around 6-1/2 ms Pasir Panjang Road.

yg said...

victor, definitely not, i could never have been that young fellow because i am 4 years older than andrew. besides, i have not lived at pasir panjang before.
however, i do know someone who bears the same name - ang you ghee. this man, in his 50s, came to fix my fridge 2 years ago and when he gave me his name card, i realised that his hanyu pinyin name and mine were the same. subsequently, when i got him to fix another problem with the fridge, he did not want to charge me. he lives at toh guan road in jurong. he could be the young fellow.

Zen said...

I am very impressed with Andrew's memory of his younger days spent in Singapore, particularly the local food which he really love. The very fact that he can remember hosin sauce, famously use to spice up 'chee cheong fun', a steam rice roll, is quite commendable. Even some of our local youths do not know the name of this sauce.

Lam Chun See said...

It's interesting how he spelt Roh Jack; I can imagine him pronouncing the 'jack'.

Btw Zen, do you remember the fella who sold rojak in the Hock Chek coffee shop opposite our house in our kampong? As I described here, he used the simpoh ayer leaf and not banana leaf. I recall that the rojak sellers of our time were quite stingy with the 'har koe' (prawn paste) compared to today's hawkers.

And do you remember that our father was very fond of this prawn paste?

Anonymous said...

Hosin sauce or Hoshin sauce?

Zen said...

Oh, perhaps I think too much of Hoshin. It should be hoisin sauce. I do not remember anyone selling rojak at hock chek coffee shop, but I do know that one of our tenants, who was nicknamed 'ark mo hiar' collecting duck feathers for a living, did double up as a rojak seller during slack time, selling from his wooden box strapped behind his bicycle, and his rojak was pretty good. He might have a stopover at the coffeeshop. As far as I know our father like to eat his favourite rojak (downed with a cup of icy pear juice) from a chap operated his mobile stall from a tricycle at braddell road.

Lam Chun See said...

I wonder if anyone can throw some light (Peter?) on the 'Tin Town shops" in Andrew's sketch.

Anonymous said...

Mr Lam,

Maybe he referred to them as "Tin Town shops" because those row of shops had zinc (tin) roofs.

Anonymous said...

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French Chateau said...

Thanks! It's great thing that you have shared your memory with us. I liked to read your blog. I glad to read this article. According to me I can see a strong similarity between Andrew and John Harper.

Anonymous said...

Dear Chun See and Andrew,

I checked out those flats in 1999 as a possible place to live when I was studying. They were nice and spacious and no aircon! They have definitely been cleared for the condos - inevitable I guess given the size of the plot. I ended up living in Gloria Mansions (and now live on Pasir Panjang Hill). Up until the flats were vacated people were still playing football on that patch of grass. I have been watching the old houses and flats around this area disappear with a heavy heart:(

Unknown said...

I was digging through a bin of photos in a flea market in Brighton (UK) and found these two, which I have uploaded to Flickr:

On this one I was able to make out the address "783 Pasir Panjang Road":

...and this one was a general view of the boat quay:

I was wondering what date they were taken and if any other pictures exists of that house on Pasir Panjang. There must be a story behind it.

Lam Chun See said...

Thanks Benicek for sharing those old photos. Unfortunately cannot tell the date of those photos. Hope a reader can throw some light on them.