Friday, February 25, 2011

Memories of Albert Street by night by Russ Wickson

Bugis Street was always a firm favourite with servicemen for any number of reasons, but crossing Victoria Street one came into Albert Street. These photographs are of night time Albert Street taken sometime in 1967. They are from my personal photograph album.

I am not sure what the reproduction will be like but amongst the neon signs in Photograph 4 you can just pick out the sign Fatty's, this is where I used to get my S$ dollars worth of 'fried rice' or 'noodles'. (in those days we got S$7.20c to the English Pound Sterling ... I was paid a S$140 a fortnight as a single airman stationed at RAF Tengah and later RAF Changi ) If it wasn't rice or noodles then it would be a S$1.00 of Satay from one of the satay street vendors as shown in Photograph 1.

We/I recall we always got six sticks of chicken satay for our dollar and a little bowl of peanut sauce, but we were quite naughty really because we always insisted on a second bowl of sauce or even a third. I would hope we threw in a few extra cents but I can no longer remember. We/I sat on steps or kerbstones to eat the satay and I used to be fascinated by the very large and beautifully ruddy coloured cockroaches that ran about your feet and up and down the uncovered monsoon drains. Some of the cockroaches must have been two inches long ... or perhaps I had had too many pints of Tiger beer to focus properly.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Roadside fruit stalls

Last month, Geoffrey Pain sent me some photos of roadside fruit stalls of the 60’s. He only knows the location of one of the photos but I think they are all from the same place. What do you think? Where were these photos taken?

Hint: According to Geoffrey, Photo no. 3 (not no. 1) was taken at Queen Street. The place looks familiar but I can't place exactly which part of Queen Street.

Here's a close up view of the car that Peter, Russ and I are debating about (see comments). Is it a Ford Cortina?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The William Tell Overture

One of the very first articles that I posted in this blog was about going to the movies when I was a kid. My father often brought us to an open-air theatre in Pek San Teng (Bishan) called Lam Kok or South Country Theatre (南国戏院). This was probably in the 1950’s.

I might have given readers the impression that all the movies I saw in Lam Kok were black and white Cantonese movies. Actually that is not correct. The first colour film I recall watching was an English movie by the title of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. There’s another one which is a Western cowboy movie. Although kids of our generation loved cowboy movies, this one is more well-known for its theme music than its stories. Listen and you will surely know which movie I am talking about.

By the way, how long after the video started before you to get the answer?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cinemas @ Great World

Since so much hype has been generated about the Great World; I think I should also indulge in a bit of Great World nostalgia. As I mentioned before in my post about the New World Amusement Park, I did not go to GW Amusement Park as a kid but rather to New World. I only went to GW when I was already quite big; and it was to the cinemas; namely Globe and Sky, and not the amusement park.

I remember two movies that I saw at Sky.

The first was the famous 射雕英雄传 (The Brave Archer). This is an extremely popular Wuxia classic that has been made to countless television serials. The movie version that I saw was produced by Shaw brothers and it starred the late Alexander Fu Sheng. I remember the pace of the movie was so fast that we had great difficulty following the story. I think it was unwise for the producer to try and cram such a long and well-know story into a single 2-episode movie.

As I think about this classic, I believe there used to be an even earlier black and white version of it; in Cantonese of course. Can anyone remember?

The other movie which I remember seeing at Sky theatre; and probably my last, was another Shaw Brothers sword-fighting movie by the title of 流星蝴蝶剑. The director was a new generation director by the name of Chor Yuen. What I remember about this movie was the sounds made by the swords when they clashed. It does not produce the usual metallic clanging sound but a very nice ringing sound.

I remember watching a show at Sky (probably 流星蝴蝶剑) with some colleagues from Philips. So the year has to be around 1980 or even later. Hence I find it rather strange that during the interview at the Channel News Asia Primetime Morning show the other day, Director Kelvin Tong kept saying that Great World closed down in 1978.

I also remember two movies at Globe. One was The Graduate which starred a very young Dustin Hoffman. I enjoyed the Simon and Garfunkel songs more than the movie itself. The other was an extremely dull movie titled Catch 22. It starred Art Garfunkel in one of his rare starring roles. I fell asleep midway through the show and cannot remember what the show was all about.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

“It’s A Great Great World” - from the Director’s Chair (By Peter Chan)

I was the director for the stage-play of That Girl Is a Woman Now during my schoolboy era. The play won us the 1970 Best Supporting Actor Award. Between then and now, it’s been decades, so stepping back into the world of theatres was a thrill except this time it was for the movies. I didn’t hesitate to seize the opportunity when I was invited to the outdoor set of Great World. I now recognize a big difference between stage-play and film production.

Film production is a lengthy process and beside the production crew and the acting cast, there is another important aspect involved; the video and the audio parts which are recorded on different equipment.

Photo 1: Some of the faithfuls who made it to the gala premier

A video camera records the action and the tape recorder records the dialogue; simple as that right? Well on paper that is but there is an important tool required, called the clapper. The clapper is meant to give a "start mark" for the film editor in the cutting room to synchronize the video and audio segments. With present advanced technology, the audio is “built-in” the camera and if you see the
m use the clapper, it is for identification purpose only. Even when they use a separate tape recorder, they now rely on the time code which is embedded on both audio and video.
When a shot is to be taken the film director call outs "CAMERA" and both cameraman and soundman switched on their equipment with the cameraman acknowledging by shouting back "RUNNING". Then the Clapper Boy flashed out the clapper board in front of the camera and shouts "SCENE 14, SHOT 6, TAKE 3", slams the clapper stick to the board and then moves out of the way.

Photo 2: My friend Salleh who has four decades of professional movie camera experience since the days of Cathay-Keris Studio explained that nowadays with digital cameras, “Rolls” have been replaced by memory cards. You see “Cards” instead.

During the film editing, the editor looks for the frame where the scissor-like clapper stick makes contact with the board. On the audio tape he looks-out for the loud "thud" sound. Once he aligned these, the lip movement for the entire take will be in sync. Can you imagine watching a movie when proper synchronization is not made? It’s like you punch someone on the jaw; he screams 5 seconds before the punch.
Photo 3: Me a cinema addict? Some cinema tickets from Globe Cinema, Great World (c 1959, 1960, 1961).

"SCENE 14, SHOT 6" is found in the script. It means that for a particular scene, 6 shots are taken from different directions. The "TAKE" indicates can vary because the film director might want a few repeat shots of the same scene and shot until he is fully satisfied. So the last take will usually be the one to be used in the final movie.
Here are some interesting behind-the-scene situations during the filming of the Great World.
Photo 4: Left to Right - Some of the cast members take a break. Do you remember that lady in red polka-dot frock? Prop crew fixing the red banner to welcome Elizabeth Taylor; Camera Director is seated on the tulip which can swing and elevate in different directions.
I have not seen the movie but it shall be soon. My grand auntie who is hitting 100 this June wants to see it too because two stories remind her so much of Great World – Wing Choon Yuen Restaurant and the Flamingo Nightclub. I asked Yee Por during this Chinese Lunar New Year visitation why Wing Choon Yuen? Here comes another story as she related the night the Japanese dropped bombs on Singapore and the air raid siren came on. “Have you heard about your Por Por’s Hung Pao Kai (literal translation to be Air-raid chicken dish)?” I moved over to the sofa and was soon “transported” back to Dec 7, 1941.

Note: Words in italics have to be pronounced the Cantonese way.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Great World Returns: the Movie and our fading memories - by Peter Chan

Kelvin Tong has his 2011 “It’s A Great Great World” film to tell the story of a multitude of characters who lived, worked, played, sang, danced and fell in love in Great World Amusement Park. But long before that movie came along, my cousins and I made our playground at the Great World Amusement Park; each of us had different childhood experiences.

Photo 1: Cut! Cut! Cut!

Before television transmission was introduced into Singapore in 1963, I listened to stories from mother and grandmother over dinner. If that was not enough, I did my fair share of Yam Sengs at Wing Choon Yuen Restaurant because of uncles’ weddings and grandparents’ birthday functions. By the time I was in primary school, I saw my first English movies at the Sky and Globe. I think it was Werewolf! Even at the tender age of 6 months, I did my first nude pose and it was also in Great World. Don’t believe? Check this out! I am curious why a male and not a female firstborn have to do this.

Photo 2: Great World’s Lye Ying Photo Studio has a well-known embossed watermark.

Dolly my vivacious cousin remembers, “It was the era of “Worlds” then: Happy World, Gay World, Beauty World, New World and of course my Great World. I used to boast that Great World was my turf and was I proud about it. Mum would bring me there in the evenings and then I disappeared the rest of the evening running wild all over the place and returned to the shop late in the night.

Photo 3: Give that look Dolly!

There was one night I really forgot about the time. Well, I was too young to be wearing a watch and I only knew when shops started putting up their wooden shutters - single wooden planks that you place next to each other one by one along tracks on the floor and ceiling. With crumbled dress, ribbons that untied, dishevelled hair, I reached mum’s shop which like all the other shops, was already closed for the night and there was mum standing outside the shop, her eyes “shooting fire” and in her hand was the CANE!”

Well her mum sounded like a very fierce person but to me Yee Kuchea (二姑姐) was a darling.

Yee Kuchea was a very enterprising woman and before we hear of SPRING Singapore she started her first SME (Small and Medium Enterprises) business at the Great World. She believed in the maxim, “Make what I can sell. Not sell what I can make". I remembered the shop was across Flamingo Nightclub, beside Atlantic City Cinema and the kopi char poh. On some nights I saw pretty girls dressed in frocks and cheongsams from the Flamingo with matured guys. Much later in life I learnt the guys were Kai Yeh (godfather). Whilst Dolly recalled hearing this 1961 tune from a record shop on the same row of her mum’s shop, I heard something like this from inside the Flamingo.

Photo 4: Flamingo’s “Taxi Girls”. They can do the Cha Cha, Mambo and Rock n Roll for the price of $1. The girls were Chinese, Eurasians and sometimes Javanese girls and they stayed in shared accommodation at Bo Bo Tan Garden, Melody Mansion and Pacific Mansion (c 1960).

When my parents brought me to Yee Kuchea’s shop, I was fascinated by the wide assortment of things she sold - ladies handbags, sometimes a ballerina/couple figurine dancing inside a musical box, ladies accessories/clothes, children clothes and toys. She had glass display cabinet to house her goods but some lady dresses were displayed on legless plastic-type mannequins.

Because I was curious I peeped under the mannequins and wondered why they didn’t have legs or why the dresses spread out like an open umbrella – later I learned the meaning of “Can-can”. Do you know why they call it “Can-can”? One time, I eyed a toy gun, Yee Kuchea said OK but my mum felt I Har Kuchea (Har – meaning bully or take advantage of). Many decades later I asked an elderly Yee Kuchea why she showered me with toys way even before I stepped into primary school, she replied Lay Chee Mah, Kuchea Sek Tay Lay Loong (translation: You know, your kuchea sayang you till you toasted/burnt). I am indeed deeply honoured and should be very thankful of having such a kind-hearted auntie.

Photo 5: Yee Kuchea’s first shop Hoi Cheong (c 1950).

** Last Instalment: Great World: From the Director’s Chair.
** Note: Italic words have to be pronounced the Cantonese way.