Friday, December 28, 2012

Then, Then, and Now – Stamford Road

I wish I had this photo when I blogged about the old National Library at Stamford Road here. My recollections of this place generated much discussion and speculation about the shops along this stretch of Stamford Rd.

Zooming in on this photo, I can roughly make some of the signboards which have pictures of handbags and crocodiles; and names like Wah Siong Leather, Malaysia …., a vertical Chinese signboard which says; “马来西亚 _Japanese word_ 皮屋” (Malaysia ___ skin house). I would guess that that Japanese word says crocodile or reptile. Another Chinese signboard says, “鳄鱼蛇皮商行 (Crocodile and snake skins trading).

My thanks to Mike Robbins for sending me this mid-1960s photo which was taken by his former colleague, Ray Kirkman. The other two photos were taken by me.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Appearing on TV

Did you watch last night’s episode of On the Red Dot on Channel 5? If not, you can view it online here.

I was interviewed for this programme for my views on the demolition of the old National Library at Stamford Road as well as my views, in general, of conservation old buildings and what factors should be considered etc. etc.

As expected, in the final programme, I appeared only briefly for less than half a minute. Nevertheless, it was still much better than the episode of Project Neighbourhood on Jurong which was aired on Okto Channel in October last year. For that interview, the whole tv crew came to my home and set up camera, lights, sound etc. After spending practically the whole morning; plus an earlier meeting with the researcher, my appearance in the programme was just a flitting 5 or 6 seconds. I must confess that I felt quite let down.

Recently, I was put in charge of producing a video to commemorate the 40th anniversary of my church. I interviewed many old timers including former pastors for that 15-minute video. In the end, I could only use a tiny segment of some of the interviews. I think some of my friends are going to be quite disappointed; but that, I have come to understand, is “part of the business”. Still I have a valid excuse. I am an amateur with no experience in this business.

Anyway, while they were filming me at my house, my wife did some filming of her own; and so I might as well not waste the footage and let my readers here in Good Morning Yesterday, have a rough glimpse of what they could have seen and heard that night. 

Although I never lived in Jurong, they were interested in my memories of my army days in Safti. At that time, we spent a lot of time training in the public areas like Hong Kah and Jurong (behind Nantah). I talked, among other things, of how the civilians used to sell food and drinks to us, and rushed to pick out the spent rifle cartridges (blanks of course) to sell as scrap. The interviewer was also quite interested to hear my stories of Peng Kang Hill and the famous, supposedly haunted Magazine Tower (#2?) at Safti.

Once bitten twice shy. No more Oak Trees for me.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Workmen @ Padang Terbakar, 1952

Here are 4 photos just received from Joe Elliott. They show work being done at Bedok/Padang Terbakar. Joe cannot recall what the workmen were doing at the time. Maybe they are building a bridge using coconut tree trunks. Hope readers can throw some light.
 Here’s a Guide to Singapore book in Singapore 1952. Inside, it had maps of postal districts etc. and a street guide of the city centre itself. Notice there are 3 icons on the cover. The top is unmistakeably the Cathay Building, Singapore's tallest building at that time. Are you able to decipher the other two?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Singapore, 1960s – Orchard Road by Tim Light

It’s the mid-1960s.  We’re on a shopping trip to Orchard Road.  We take an STC bus from Whitley Road and jump out at the junction of Scott’s Road and Orchard Road.  Across the road is the Lido Cinema, a stunning 1950s creation, showing The Sound of Music, but today our first port of call is C. K Tangs.  The building is a prominent landmark, with its Chinese style roof and awnings.  Inside it’s a department store with an Eastern flavour, and my parents loved to look around. My mother still has a camphor wood chest from Tangs.  My brother and I would head straight for the toy department … probably the best toy department on the island.  They had some wonderful model railways, mostly Marklin, from Germany, including a working layout.  My mouth would water when I looked at those lovely models, and my eyes would water when I saw the prices.  Anyway they were not compatible with our Triang trains, so we were happy to just look.  The other German import that I loved was the Schuco car system.  It went straight to the top of my Christmas wish list, and Santa came up with the goods.  I still have a couple of cars from that system.

Next stop was Fitzpatricks, for some grocery shopping.  This was a short walk along Orchard Road.  At this time Orchard road was a busy dual carriageway, with traffic flowing intensely in both directions.  Most of the road was lined with traditional old shop-houses, interspersed with more modern buildings like the Lido, C.K. Tangs and Fitzpatricks.  This was a time of transition.

In the mid-1960s Fitzpatricks was the model of a modern supermarket, with novelties like check-out belts and push-button tills.  No bar codes back then.  I don’t remember much about the food section, except for a massive sign advertising Foster’s Lager.  Upstairs was a café and a bookshop (where I spent my pocket money on Biggles and Jennings stories).  If I’m not mistaken, there was also a record store where I purchased my first-ever Beatles album.

Next we walked on to Cold Storage.  To get there we had to pass Princes Hotel Garni … a classy looking hotel/restaurant that I never entered.  Then there were more shop-houses, including a rather grand men’s hairdresser (or Barber, if you prefer) where we had our hair cut.  This was like the barber shops you saw in old American films from the 1920s, with panelled walls, and huge, plush leather barber’s chairs that could be raised and lowered with levers.  Part of the joy of waiting your turn was to read some of the American comics (Superman, Batman, etc.) that were provided.  Out on the street there were always a few hawker stalls, cooking food to order on mobile woks.  These hawker stalls contributed to the unique smell of downtown Singapore, which I’m sure was a cocktail of … well, lots of things!

Another place we sometimes frequented was Hiap Chiang and co.. This place seemed to sell a variety of things from swimming costumes to pewter ornaments.  For some reason, my parents took a liking to this shop and patronised it when they could.  But today we walked past Hiap Chiangs to the Cold Storage Creameries for a milk shake or an ice cream soda.  The Creameries was a good example of American cultural influence … a classic Soda Parlour.  The Creamery was a good place to cool down and watch the world go by. 

We gave Cold Storage a miss on this occasion, having got what we needed at Fitzpatricks.  We continued our walk down Orchard Road past the market buildings.  I only once ventured inside the market, and for some reason I found it a bit scary.  Perhaps this was the first time I had seen raw butchery close-up.  Not pretty.

More shop houses followed, and eventually we came to MacDonald house, where my father worked.  We had arranged to meet him after work.

Last time I went down Orchard Road, about 10 years ago, I was astounded at the change.  It was almost impossible to get a sense of where I was, because there was almost nothing left that I recognised.  MacDonald House was still there, and the Presbyterian Church, but everything else was completely alien.  Even the ultra-modern Lido Cinema had given way.  C.K. Tangs was a massive disappointment … just another department store.  I don’t know any other place on the planet that has been transformed as comprehensively as Orchard Road.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Christmas Gift Idea

Christmas is just around the corner. And if you are pondering over what to get for someone who, like me, is from the baby-boomer generation, why not get him a copy of my book, Good Morning Yesterday. So far, many of my friends who have read the book have thoroughly enjoyed the trip down memory.

My book should be available at Popular, Times and Kinokuniya (best to call first). It was last seen on the shelves at the following outlets:
  • Popular @ Clementi Mall (Tel: 6514-6710)
  • Popular @ Toa Payoh (Tel: 6358-1700)
  • Popular @ United Square (Tel: 6478-2318)
  • Kinokuniya @ Ngee Ann City (Tel: 6737-5021)
  • Times @ Centrepoint (Tel: 6734-9022)
  • Times @ Plaza Singapura (Tel: 6336-8861)
  • Times @ Tampines (Tel: 6782-7017)
Besides these book stores, you can also purchase them at Haf Box and Betel Box. Haf Box deals mainly with lifestyle products for what they call “active agers”. Betel Box, on the other hand, runs a hostel and Bistro in Joo Chiat Road and also conducts heritage tours. Their details are as follows:

HAF Box Pte Ltd
19 Tanglin Road #03-32 Tanglin Shopping Centre, Singapore 247909
Tel: 6235-4560

Betel Box Hostel, Bistro & Tours in Singapore
200 Joo Chiat Road, #01-01, Singapore 427471.
Tel: 6247-7340
Thanks to Catherine Ling for this photo.
Incidentally, the restaurant at Betel Box serves great Peranakan food in a traditional Singaporean ambience. They even have a special corner where you can browse and purchase Singapore heritage-related merchandise like books, dvds and heritage items.

Recently a group of us, heritage and food bloggers, were hosted to a Peranakan lunch by Betel Box’s boss, Tony Tan. Although I am not much of a ‘foodie’ – whenever I go to a food court or hawker centre, I just go for the stall with the shortest queue – I could tell that the Peranakan cuisine here was very good …. at least my fellow bloggers thought so. We were served dishes like botol kacang, ikan sumbat, ngo hiang, hae cho, asam pedas red snapper, nonya yong tau hu and laksa goreng. My favourites were the botol kacang (salad), ikan sumbat and laksa goreng. 
With Tony Tan. Behind us are display shelves of heritage merchandise, including Good Morning Yesterday the book.
Tony giving an introduction to his business and their food

Notice that only Philip Chew and I not taking any photos of the food. We were waiting for the young people to finish their obligatory shots before we could sink our teeth into this delicious salad call Botol Kacang.
Can you guess where this shot was taken? That's me in the toilet mirror. Photo courtesy of Juria T
Back to my book. If you have difficulty getting it from the above places, or if you want to get several copies, you can contact me directly at: and we will work something out.

Have a blessed Christmas.

Information on Popular’s outlets and locations here.
Information on Times’ outlets and location here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Koh Sek Lim Road, 1952

Here is the latest batch of photos received from Joe Elliott. They show the Koh Sek Lim Road which ran from Upper Changi Road to the beach at Bedok. To help you to orientate yourself, I made a scan from my 1963 street directory.

Explanatory notes by Joe Elliott
Photo (1) shows Upper Changi Road from left to right. In front is the Koh Sek Lim Road leading to Bedok Beach and Padang Terbakar. The sign at the start of the road is a Wimpey Sign for the Bedok Sand pit. (The Chinese sign says “公立中莱公学” read from right to left – not very sure about the 4th word)
Koh Sek Lim Road today
Photo (2) – Walking up the road towards the beach.
Photo (3) - Coconut trees on both sides of Koh Sek Lim Road leading to Bedok Beach. 

Photo (4) – When you get to the beach, you see this Pill box from the war on Bedok Beach.

 Photo (5) - Bedok Beach at Padang Terbakar showing the Pill box in the distance.

Photo (6) - The beach at Padang Terbakar with the Pill box behind us. To the right of this photo a few yards over the bank, are the Attap Houses of Padang Terbakar. These are shown on photos 7 to 10.

If you look at the map you sent me of the Koh Sek Lim Road - the top of the road shows a right turn - the Houses were on the dotted section of the map and behind these houses was the river marked 'Sungei Bedok' 

Photos 7 and 8 are photos of the Attap House Church which was the original Bedok Methodist Church from 1946 to 1952. In 1952 they had the new church being built down Bedok Road. This was finished by the end of the year.  You can see this on the 1963 map. 

I looked on Google for the Bedok Methodist Church, found their website and contacted them.  I then sent these photos to the Pastor Rev. Sng Chong Hui. He was delighted to see them and said they were going to use them for the 66th Anniversary Celebration which was on 21 October 2012 which they did.

I noticed on one of your Blogs there was a Ron Ho who knew this area and talked about Koh Sek Lim Road. I think he might like to see these photographs as a memory of the past. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Traditional bakeries in Singapore

There’s an interesting article in today’s Straits Times about the dwindling number of traditional bakeries in Singapore. According to the report, there are only 8 such bakeries left in Singapore.

But I am a bit puzzled, because, just earlier this month, my friend James Kwok brought me to see one such bakery in Block 39, Teban Gardens; and it is not in the above list. The owner was his ex-neighbour.  Could they have made a mistake; or has this shop closed down since James and I were there just 3 weeks ago on the 5th of November? 

Do you know of any other such bakeries in Singapore that are not mentioned in this article?  I have seen one at Lorong 6, Toa Payoh; but that was a couple of years ago. Not sure it is still there.

Anyway, I think such shops deserve our support. In you are in the neighbourhood, do drop by and patronize the shop. Don't forget to bring your camera along and take some shots. Even if the business survives, this old building may not escape our government relentless 'upgrading' efforts.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Link Hotel Discovers the Past - People, Places & Events (by Peter Chan)

Blocks 53 & 54 are a pair of refurbished buildings which sit at the peripheral of the Tiong Bharu Conservation Area - the first public housing project in Singapore.  These buildings have history in them though not on the same scale like the Palladian architecture of City Hall or Fullerton Building.  It is a post-war low-cost S.I.T. housing developed by the British Colonial Government, though many would link this type of housing to the Lim Yew Hock Government which never was the case.  Precisely how this rumor originated, I am not certain of its source but back in the 1950s this could have been politically motivated.   

Photo 1: The view from Link Hotel of Tiong Bharu Road – 1930s S.I.T. block (left) and 1900s Straits Chinese shophouses (right).  This was the same bus stop I journeyed to school at Grange Road.

I recall different trades took up space on the ground floor whilst on upper levels were the residential units.  There were three trades that spring to mind as I speak. 

One was a tailor shop where I had my first long pants tailored-made at the age of 9 for the Chinese Lunar New Year.  I must have “purposely” forgotten the name of this tailor shop probably because of hot arguments with my father over styling.  Coming from the old school of thought, he insisted that that trousers should have a small fold at the ankle level, pleated and loops for holding up the belt which I felt were not cool.  Even my primary school uniform shorts were tailored-made and were knee-length, making them looked like a pair of bermudas rather than “shorts”.
Photo 2: Tiong Bharu Estate layout (c 1948).  Do you recognize that 1950 telephone set?

Not expecting to grow taller at any time soon, I used a pair of scissors to shorten the school shorts.  When I was questioned by my father I had a ready answer: shrinkage due to poor textile material and frequent washing.  So out came my suggestion if he ever thought of going to the tailor: Never buy Japanese textile materials especially from that tailor shop at Block 53.    

Photo 3: This was before Block 53 became Link Hotel (left) and a Hock Lee Amalgamated bus on Tiong Bharu Road going towards Bukit Ho Swee (c 1955). 

The other thing I detested was the visit to the Chinese street barber, whose make-shift space was the staircase.  In my opinion, this barber took the easy way out by using the clipper to trim-off my “kalipok curls” and I ended up with an ugly inverted “bowl-shape” head to show.  When I reached the age of 13, I found my “new freedom”; no more visit to that barber.  I went to the air-conditioned Indian barber shop diagonally opposite the Eng Hoon Street temple, paying 50 cents instead of 30 cents for a hair-cut.  
Photo 4: Former resident tries the “Five Stones” game.

The last shop was Lucky Studio which carried more pleasant memories for me.  I took my IC and passport sized photos here, and the last visit was for my graduation family photo-shoot.  In those days, there was no instant photograph development service.  You come back a week later to collect. 

Photo 5: Previous tenants of Blocks 53 & 54.

Today Tiong Bharu Estate is re-born with a different kind of charm.  The resident demographic remains cosmopolitan -- young and old, foreigners and local residents all happily co-exist side-by-side and call Tiong Bahru home.  This is a suburb of contrasts: mornings see the elderly congregating and lingering over a simple breakfast of Cantonese cheuk (rice porridge) and others, over cups of kopi and espressos.

You can only be young once.  Thank God I was a teen thru the 1960's. Good times & great music then.  Here’s one a big hit at the height of the Vietnam War done Acapella style.

Nearly 40 years later, I shared my memories with the Link Hotel management (the current occupants of the former Blocks 53 and 54).  My two friends Lam Chun See and Yeo Hong Eng also got to do their bit at a special event to mark the hotel’s fifth anniversary and Christmas Light Up.  Chun See displayed his “Good Morning Yesterday” book whilst Hong Eng show-cased his vast collection of heritage paraphernalia. 

Photo 6: Many like this when she comes around.

Most theme nights are developed around fancy dress, food and decorations but that evening, Link Hotel took guests for a walk back to the 1950s in a slightly different way.  Old photographs showed the spatial geography and heritage paraphernalia found in the Tiong Bharu area. 

Photo 7: Where East meets West over Kopi, F&N Orange and red wine.

Beside the desire to promote one of Singapore’s heritages and bring back the old charms of the Tiong Bharu area, Link Hotel went one step further.  Guests included former residents and neighbours of the two blocks.  The guests gathered together to reminisce the past and updating notes of their well-being.  For me I was kind of half expecting to see that Chinese street barber again but I guess people do fade away with time.

All too soon the evening ended.  Too much food and drinks but still we made it home safely.

Additional Information:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It’s not a “one-off case”

According to this report, the recent case of baby mix-up at KKH was a “one-off case”.

“Other hospitals My Paper contacted also said that they have a strict and robust system in place to prevent baby mix-ups, and that the recent incident at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) was a one-off case.”

And in page A3 of today’s Straits Times, a report of the same incident quoted thus:

“But obstetricians said they have never heard of two babies getting mixed up before in Singapore. Private obstetrician Jothi Kumar said that in his more than 30 year’s experience, “this is the first time I’ve heard of such a thing happening”.

Well, these people are all mistaken. I remember clearly a similar case happening at one of Singapore’s leading private hospitals sometime in the early 1990s. At that time, we at the National Productivity Board were promoting Quality practices and the principle of “100% Right”, and hence I was always on the lookout for such news articles. A quick newspaper search at the NLB’s newspaper archives revealed the following article in page 2 of the Straits Times, dated 23/2/1992:

“Hospital mix-up sends baby home with wrong mother”.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Then and Now – the former Sussex Estate

In Singapore, old buildings have a way of disappearing overnight. Likewise, new buildings too have a habit of springing up seemingly overnight as these 4 photos of the former Sussex Estate at Clementi illustrate.

For years I have been travelling along Clementi Road and passed by this place called Sussex Estate. I noticed some low-rise buildings there including some kind of veterinary; but had never been curious about them until I visited the Memories of Singapore website hosted by Tom O’Brien and learnt that some British families used to live there in the 1960’s. But sadly, by then, the buildings in Sussex Estate had all been cleared and all that was left was an open field. Hence one day, in 2007, I decided to take a couple of photos of this place from an HDB block in Clementi Avenue 1 to share with Tom O’Brien and his buddies.

Five years have flown by, and that field too has disappeared, and a spanking new estate called Casa Clementi had sprung up. Meantime, across the road, a similar fate had befallen the Warren Golf Club. 

Someone just sent me this old photo of Sussex Estate. Thanks Peter.