Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I felt like I was in a foreign country

Yesterday I attended a full day conference at the Suntec Convention Centre – the 2011 Business Excellence Sharing organised by Spring Singapore. I decided to take a bus instead of driving to save on the cost and the hassle. I took SBS 174 which brought me through Orchard Road, Bras Basah Road and alighted at North Bridge Road near St Andrews Cathedral. I took the opportunity to take a good hard look at the new buildings along the route. I must tell you, I felt like I was in a foreign country. The two places that looked totally alien to me was Orchard Road where so many new buildings have come up since the mid-1980’s when my office was at the National Productivity Board in Cuppage Centre, and Bras Basah Road where the Singapore Management University campus is located. When I alighted opposite the former Capitol Theatre, I was disoriented for a few seconds and thought that I got off at the wrong bus stop. Expecting to see an open field and the St Andrew’s Cathedral, I was staring at a modern building with a glass fa├žade instead.

Currently, I am reading Simon Tay’s City of Small Blessings, and I am beginning to understand why he managed to connect with many older Singaporeans. The notes at the back cover says that the book is about a Singaporean retiree who migrates and then returns to a Singapore he barely recognizes.
I am not a retiree and have not been out of Singapore for longer than a couple of weeks in the past two decades; and yet the scene captured on my mobile phone camera below made me feel like I was “on the fringe of a city I barely recognize”.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Old Buildings Quiz 13 - Answer

I believe this church was located within the Tengah Air Base in 1965. Today, it is occupied by the Calvary Tengah Bible-Presbyterian Church. Below is a photo taken on 14 March 2011.

I believe the original photo was taken from within the Tengah Air Base and hence Choa Chu Kang Road should be behind the church; in other words from the North towards the South direction. I wanted to take a ‘second shot’ from the same angle and distance. It would be very interesting to note the difference; especially the background. According to John Harper, that area used to be mainly vegetable farms; but today it’s the Kranji Expressway and more. Even the name of Choa Chu Kang Road has been changed to Old Choa Chu Kang Road. But unfortunately, I could not because this church is now outside the Tengah Air Base. That small road with the cars is now separated from the church building by a heavily fortified fence.

Here’s another view of the church from the car park. Notice the fence on the left. On the right would be the main road.

When I put up the quiz, I thought only somebody like my friend John Harper who used to live in Meteor Road within the Tengah Air Base would be able to identify it. It would be difficult for a Singaporean to do so unless he or she has actually visited this church. It is a very small church and being on an elevated ground is not easily visible from the main road. Hence, even my friend Icemoon who has blogged several times about Choa Chu Kang and Lim Chu Kang could not identify this church. As it turned out, Tyler, who traveled along CCK Rd frequently during his NS days in the 1990s was able to give the correct answer.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Kampong household items

Last week, Wee Kiat and I visited a former Foyer (Friend of, Cha Aun at his home in Skudai. He brought us to see his father’s small Gaharu tree plantation. My wife and son who are very much into life science topics came along. We had a swell time; and as a bonus, I spotted some household items that I used to see in my kampong.

1) Dustpan

This is a dustpan made from ‘recycled’ materials. The base is made from a sawn-off kerosene tin or oil tin. Just nail a piece of wood to it and voila, you have a dustpan.

2) Jamban (Toilet)

This is what a typical kampong toilet looks like. Notice that the roof is simply made of a couple of zinc sheets nailed to two beams. I deliberately avoided the toilet bowl because it looked too modern and would spoil my photo. Leaning against the toilet is a home-made ladder. No need to describe how to construct one, I think.

3) Well

One reason that got me quite excited about this visit was the prospect of finally being able to take a photo of a well to use in my next book Good Morning Yesterday. Unfortunately, Cha Aun’s well turned out to be a ‘small’ disappointment. Firstly it is so small and shallow compared to the one we had in our kampong house. Secondly it did not have a pulley. Still that did not stop my wife from showing off how to scoop a pail of water from the well. (By the way, how can you tell from this photo that this is not a well from the 1950s?)

So I am still without a photo of a well like the one in my kampong house. I heard that Ivy Singh Lim’s Bollywood Veggies in Lim Chu Kang has a well with pulley. Is any reader able to confirm?

3) Punki (basket)

This one is not ‘authentic’ because it was made of plastic. A genuine kampong punki should be made of rattan.

We also saw a number of fruit trees, like dragon fruit, rambutan, papaya, pineapple and star fruit; but the one that got us most excited was this one.

Quiz Time

As always, I end my post with a quiz. You see this photo of the three of us - from left, Wee Kiat, Cha Aun and myself? Do you know what the building behind us is used for? No it is not Cha Aun’s ‘good class bungalow’ :)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Old Buildings Quiz 13

Below are two 1960s photos of old church buildings from the Memories of Singapore Fan Page. Can you identify them?

Photo No. 1

Photo No. 2

Please note. These are 2 different churches located at different parts of Singapore.

I think Photo number 2 should be easy. Below is a photo which I took of the same place in 2009.

It is the Blessed Sacrament Church in Commonwealth Drive.

Monday, March 14, 2011

This is the way we eat (Part 2) by Peter Chan

After the P.A.P came into power in 1959, the Hawker Department was amalgamated into the Ministry of Health until in 1972 when it was hived-off to the Ministry of Environment. Licensing started in 1968 but implementation was slow because of the British Military Pull-Out. Although the government intended to contain the street hawker problem, this could have been political dynamite. In many P.A.P “Meet the People Session”, the top two most sought after “needs” were getting a hawker licence, and public financial assistance.

Photo 1: Beef Kway Teow at Empress Place Hawker Center. It was built next to the present Asian Civilization Museum ( c 1972).

Getting hawkers to be re-sited into hawker centres and/or action by way of arrests, fines and demolishing structures usually draw the attention of Members of Parliament (MPs). This is because each constituency had its own peculiar hawker problems. For example in new industrial area like Redhill and Jurong, there were always business opportunities when there were factory workers. Lower-income families living within HDB estates took to illegal hawking to supplement income. Testimony of the “bureaucratic intelligence” when adhering to a public policy, the result was hawking licences were issued in places far from homes and inaccessible to public transport. Thus MPs appeal on behalf of their constituents by petitioning the Minister in charge of the Hawker Department, a Mr. Yong Nyuk Lin.

Photo 2: Left to Right – Eating on stools at a Ho Chi Minh City roadside; Bak So Mie Push-cart in Jakarta.

As part of the hawker development projects, 16 hawker centres by 1972 were under various stages of planning/construction. These hawker centres were meant to house re-sited street hawkers. Zion Road Hawker Center was completed in my second-year at the university. When I went dating, Esplanade Satay Club opened in 1972, Empress Place in 1973 and 7 mile Bukit Timah Hawker Center cum wet market was completed by the time I graduated. By the time I went to work Cuppage Center was opened.

By 1986 there were no more street hawkers and all stallholders in hawker centres were licensed by the Ministry of Environment. Since 1996 all the ENV market and food centres underwent upgrading works. Today, Singaporeans are very selective as to where they eat.

If we miss the ambience of street hawkers, we can always try our ASEAN neighbours. Rest assured this is very sedap man (aka Mo Tak Teng). When I was based in Hong Kong, I would take “short-cuts” through the alleys of Hong Kong to get from point to point. Not too far back, I revisited one of the routes (photo3). It looks like things don’t change that fast in Hong Kong.

Photo 3: Ah Chan and Luk Siew Fung at their stalls on Hong Kong Island.

Hmmmm ... maybe this is one of the reasons why I enjoyed Ipoh food. They have lots of roadside foodstalls. They also have lots of push-cart type food vendors at the wet market. Chun See

Friday, March 11, 2011

This is the way we eat (Part 1) by Peter Chan

Since Chun See kicked-off the blog on street hawkers, I thought it interesting if I look back and follow Singapore’s progress from street hawkers to air-conditioned food courts. Thanks to my old university Economics term paper submitted to a lecturer (with a PhD as a salutation to his name and also a P.A.P MP then) I am able to pluck information from therein. By the way this lecturer never made us male undergraduates happy; he graded most of us with a B minus.

Photo 1: Ngo Hiang street hawker operates in front of a “5-foot-way”. Little glass cups in the foreground contain chilly and sweet sauces. You pick the skewed food items from the plates and dip into the sauce and dispose the skewer on the road. Just remember you are never the only one doing it (c 1970).

Singapore cultural and food streetscape used to be a myriad of hawker stalls that filled the wet markets and alleys. Living in the city you just took up space along the “5-foot way” shop-houses and in the rural area you built a tent, perhaps under a tree. There were few barriers to entry to begin with; small capital, simple cooking skills and cheap family-supplied labour. Hawking licence? Not really necessary - those that needed one operated in government-built wet markets or pasar malams. Although there were licensed street stalls, unlicensed hawkers out-numbered the former by 8:1 at the time of separation from Malaysia.

There were different types of hawkers, generally categorised as cooked food, cold drinks, fruits & vegetables, sundry goods, and fresh meats. Even the neighbourhood Cold Storage and Walls Ice Cream seller was included but under a slightly different definition. The Chinese were more open to the idea of street hawking as a form of employment than other races. Hence large concentration of street hawkers was found in Kreta Ayer, Teluk Ayer Street, Queen Street, North Canal Road, and Tanjong Pagar.

Photo 2: Feeling thirsty? Try this push-cart for coconut-water. 10 cents one glass (c 1967).

During the British colonial rule, the hawker management came under the purview of the City Council and the Ministry of Health. Prosecution was seldom practised and this could be attributed to rampant corruption or because hawker inspectors were frequently assaulted. If the arm of the law works, confiscated perishables were forcibly removed by hawker inspectors and foodstuff s donated to charitable institutions.

This is a 1967 photo of a shop selling roast meat in downtown Singapore. Russ Wickson remembers seeing hordes of flies take off as he walked by.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Queen Street – Middle Road, Then and Now

Below are some photos of the Queen Street – Middle Road junction.

Photo No. 1 – 1967 photo from Geoffrey Pain
Photo No. 2 – 1968 photo from the National Archives of Singapore
Photo No. 3 – 1989 photo from the National Archives of Singapore
Photo No. 4 – Present-day image for Google Street View