Saturday, November 27, 2010

“Open your legs. Eyes on the balls.” By Peter Chan

If you had been thinking something naughty, you would have been forgiven. I can’t blame you. Same wise words told many times over by professional golfing coaches and friendly golfing mentors.

Photo 1: Watch the ball not the lady. Parkland Golf Driving Range (circa 1980). Behind the shrubs was the ECP and Parkway Parade. Can you see the metal safety net to the right of the golfer?

It was not too long ago that golf was the privy of a few; professionals like the doctors, lawyers and the super rich but in the late 1970s many aspiring golf enthusiast took up the game of golf largely encouraged by the opening of the Parkland Golf Driving Range at East Coast Parkway. Readers will recall that East Coast Park was the government’s initiative to reclaim land from the sea in the mid 1960s. The driving range was the project of the HUDC, the Singapore Sports Council, Intraco and the Shengli Holdings. Come rain or shine, night or day, budding golfers need not despair because the range was opened from 7 am to 10pm, 7 days a week including public holidays.

If not for Parkland Golf Driving Range, the public would not have picked up golf that easily since many golfing clubs were “out of bounds” to the public. There were many restrictions like you first needed to join a club and that in itself was not easy because the cost of joining was exorbitant (e.g. S$80,000 for a Tanah Merah Golf & Country Club membership in 1980), be strongly recommended by someone in an exclusive club (e.g. Singapore Island Country Club) or the scion of somebody from that golf club. Regular SAF officers were lucky because they automatically could use the Sembawang Golf Club.

Photo 2: You find there are so many improvements to Parkland Golf Driving Range (circa 2005) as compared to Photo 1.

Once you found a golf club you call your “home club”, you could not right away get down to the course. The club rules insist that one must have a proficiency card that indicated your standard of play. This was to ensure that rookie golfers do not damage the course with their wild swings, hold-up play because they needed to search for that lost ball or golf balls that ended hitting other golfers. Getting that proficiency card required many hours of practice before one took his handicap test. I was lucky, obtained an 18 before I earned the right to play on the actual course. Was it that easy? Let me tell you a bit more.

Photo 3: Parkland Golf Driving Range opened in 1978 and permanently shut in 2009. It was located between the Singapore Tennis Center and Big Splash. There was a pro-shop which sold clothing gears, balls and clubs. There was a Bill Fua a professional golf coach who offered golf lessons at S$10 hour.

Singa-Inn a well restaurant for fresh seafood operated at one end of the block.

I began my journey into the world of golf at Parkland Golf Driving Range. It was the only public driving range then. I assumed playing golf was a piece of cake. Watching safely behind the golf bay, it was just eyes on the white ball; legs open and take a swing. How could that be so difficult?

After purchasing a golf set from Pan West, I arrived at Parkland found an empty golf bay on the second level and packed 100 balls in a basket from a coin-operated dispenser. I did some bending exercises and before long took up a #7 iron. I was advised that beginners should always start with the easiest iron, then progressing to the difficult woods. What was the result? Next few months, I developed all types of injuries; painful wrist, sniff neck, hand blisters and backaches. My game didn’t seemed to see the daylight; one moment slicing the ball, next time hooking the ball and even balls hitting the ceiling, only to see them bounced on the metal safety net and rolling over to the ground.

Photo 4: Senayan Golf Club, a walking course, behind the Jakarta Hilton.

Thinking I was ready for the big time, the opportunity came when I went to try the Senayan Golf Club. I played solo with an experienced caddie. Everything looked so big and the greens so far from the tee-box. I was confused by the distance measurements - measured in yards instead of meters. I will be honest to say that I finished the game with untold number of balls that went floating in the streams (only to be later sold to me as second-hand Titlist golf balls by teenaged boys), several large turfs flying and needing extensive repairs, and of course who could forget the mulligans.

Today an empty piece of land is all that left of the driving range. What’s next?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Deferred gratification

The other day, the piano technician came to tune my daughter’s piano. As I watched him ‘dismantle’ our piano, it suddenly dawned on me that when I was a kid, I had always been very curious to feel what it was like to strike the piano keys, but I never got the chance to even go near one. How blessed my children are in comparison, I thought.

When I was in the third year of my engineering course in the University of Singapore, we had to do a non-technical elective one semester. I chose Sociology and I found that I liked it very much. Until today I still think, I wish we had counselors back then to advise us on what courses to pursue in university. I certainly would not have chosen Engineering if I had the chance to choose again. It is such a boring subject compared to Sociology. Instead we just went for courses that were the most popular and which the best students pursued.

I remember our Sociology class was taught by a part-time lecturer; a young Indian man who worked for one of the newspapers. He taught us this term, deferred gratification. It certainly applies to many people of my generation. When we were young, we held back from acquiring many things that we loved. Instead we slogged and saved until much later in life.

Take the example of pop music records. A few years after my elder brother and sister started working, we bought a cheap hi-fi system. But we could not afford many of the 33 rpm LP records; especially the English songs. And so we used to borrow them from our more well-to-do friends. I remember my younger brother James had a classmate who used to lend us his records. One of them was an album by Lobo with the title, Me and you and a dog named Boo. (How can anyone forget a title like that?). Another record was by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass – another hard-to-forget name don’t you think? There are other examples (of such deferred gratification), but I think I should keep them to myself. I am sure older readers have similar examples to share.

But anyway, no regrets. The good book says; “Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife." (Proverbs 17:1)

Furthermore, when you are deprived, you work harder; and when you finally get what you want, you relish it more. But sometimes that is not true. By the time came when you could afford something that you used to like, you may have already passed the age where you relish those same things. Thankfully, Lobo isn’t one of them.

Anyway, back to my Sociology lecturer. Once, he made a really nice comment in one of my essays. He wrote something to this effect; “They say that engineers can’t write; but you and a couple of others in this class have proven how wrong that stereotype is.” So instead of spending my time studying my Engineering subjects, I spent much time on Sociology which did not even count towards my final grades. Likewise today, I am busy writing my Good Morning Yesterday blog, when I should be spending more time on my other business-related blog; My 5S Corner.

Sigh …. Some will things never change. That just the way it is.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Come closer

Come closer
Come closer
Come closer to me now
Can’t wait any longer
Come closer to me now
I can feel you in the air
When it’s like you’re everywhere
And the world could disappear
Just as long as you are near

(Know this song?)

Photos by Lam Yuen Wai - taken over more than an hour.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Yamashita’s Gold: Reality or Myth? – Peter Chan

When I was young, one of the most exciting times was to listen to “adventure-type stories” from my grandfather. By the time we came on a hot topic, I was 15 years of age and he was in his early days of retirement. The hot topic was “Yamashita’s Gold”. Yamashita was the Japanese general who spearheaded the capture of Malaya and “Fortress Singapore” during World War Two.

“Yamashita’s Gold” has always been on most people’s mind because it was purported to be some hidden treasures, gold bullion to be exact. It was said that “Yamashita’s Gold” came from the wealth seized from Southeast Asia countries conquered by the Japanese. There are many versions as to where the treasure could have been hidden but this is my grandfather’s version.

Photo 1: The “Straits Times” coverage of the Japanese Surrender. Children joined in singing “Happy Days Are Here Again” to welcome the British back. Listen to it here.

During the Japanese Occupation (1942 – 1945) all gold bullion, Straits Dollar and Netherland Indies currencies were requisitioned by the Yokohama Specie Bank. This included confiscated and “gift” monies in Southeast Asia – Malaya, Singapore, British North Borneo, Sarawak and the Dutch East Indies. The Japanese only allowed the circulation of their currency. Money belonging to the Japanese Military Administration in Southeast Asia was kept at the Yokohama Specie Bank whilst the printing of banana money was by Nanpon Kaihatsu Kinko (a subsidiary of the central bank of Japan).

Photo 2: During WW2 Yokohama Specie Bank was located at HK Bank Chamber, Collyer Quay( indicated by the green arrow). Prior to the war the Japanese bank was at the corner of Market Street and Bonham Street in a shophouse (indicated by blue arrow). Chartered Bank is indicated by the yellow arrow (c 1946).

At this Japanese bank it was a practice to physically check everything in the vault on a weekly basis. My grandfather did this task together with one other Chinese employee. Thus every Friday night, he would come home very late. Everything inside the vault was taken out, counted, recorded and put back again. But after August 15, 1945 something was very unusual.

The process was to be speedily accelerated. My three teenaged uncles were roped in to assist my grandfather. Individually they found it hard to lift a bar of gold. My two uncles (now in their late 70s) confirmed what my grandfather had told me. They remarked they had never seen so many Kum Chuen stacked on planks up to the ceiling.

“The British convoy reached Singapore on 5th September, 1945, and troops were landing and entering the town by noon. Shortly after 2pm, the Japanese flag at Town Hall was replaced by the Union Jack. Due to no stamps available after the war, the Post Office began operation on the 17th and letters were accepted and sent free of charge for two days” – written notes from my grandfather

An escort party of armed British sailors from the HMS Attacker secured the Collyer Quay premises. In the presence of two Japanese managers, Simidzu-san and Matsudaira-san, my grandfather handed over the vault keys to the senior British military officers. Two or three days later, the British military announced that the Japanese banana money was no longer legal tender in Singapore. In November 1945, the two Japanese managers were repatriated.

Photo 3: The burden of sharing of the $50 million among overseas Chinese institutions. A letter from the All Malaya Overseas Chinese Association and the Overseas Chinese Association (C 2604, according to Nippon calendar).

On December 8, 1945, being the “last person”, my grandfather handed over the bank’s account books to the chartered accounting firm of Evatt & Co. Shortly afterwards the bank closed its doors for the last time and all assets came under the control of the British Military Administration (B.M.A.). After the bank closed, he went to work for other firms as an accountant.

The Japanese bank officially reopened again in 1957 but this time as the Bank of Tokyo. Its office was at Phillip Street. My grandfather rejoined the bank in late 1956 and rose to the rank as chief of the inward remittance department before he retired.

Photo 4: A new Japanese bank in Singapore. This time it is the Bank of Tokyo instead of its pre-war name of the Yokohama Specie Bank. Grandfather is seated in the front row, second from the right (c 1960).

As to whereabouts of the “Yamashita Gold”, my grandfather didn’t think it existed because all financial assets in the Japanese-occupied territories were transferred to Syonan (Singapore) as ordered by the Japanese Military Administration. He doubted any Japanese military individual would be that bold to secretly hoard as the punishment was beheading.

Still there are many theories about missing WW2 treasures but before one makes a conclusion, let’s see what else we know.

Photo 5: The other missing gold bullion in postwar Germany (c 1945).

Some said the buried Japanese WW2 treasure was at MacRitchie Reservoir. The late President Marcos of the Philippines claimed he had access to Yamashita’s Gold in Rizal Province when he was asked to account for his personal wealth in a Swiss secret account.

How about this one which took place in postwar Germany? The largest “robbery” ever in Germany took place in June 1945. 728 gold bars (weighing over 9 tons) belonging to the Reichsbank and Abwehr reserves - allocated for the continuation of German resistance in the Bavarian Alps - mysteriously disappeared soon after the district was occupied by American military forces. The bullion was then under the charge of the American 10th Armoured Division.

What’s your final answer? Do you want to call a friend?