Thursday, May 31, 2012

Singapore, 1962-64 : 7 Sian Tuan Avenue (by Tim Light)

At the beginning of 1962 we moved into 7 Sian Tuan Avenue.  This was a spacious house in the Hong Kong Park estate, off Dunearn Road.  As a house, there was nothing remarkable about it, but for a small English boy there were a few novelties.  For example, air conditioning in the bedroom was a new experience.  We were renting the house from a Chinese landlord, and some rooms had large mirrors etched with Chinese writing.  I have no idea what the writing said. 

The land surrounding Hong Kong Park was an interesting playground for my friends and me.  Immediately opposite was a large area of unused ground, in the centre of which was an abandoned house.  This was a substantial bungalow, which still had a name on the door – an Indian name – but after 50 years I don’t remember it.  Just beyond this house was a stream that led to a kampong, surrounded by fields and grazing cows.  It was a surprising rural scene.  The stream itself was of interest because it was alive with fish.  It was probably alive with a lot of other things too, but we were attracted by the fish – many of them were guppies (my favourite tropical fish).  We had a happy time fishing them out, but always threw them back because we couldn’t take them home.  One day we encountered a big ugly snake that slid into the water and disappeared, so that was the end of fishing.

At the top of the estate, just past the bend of Hua Guan Avenue, was another kampong.  This one had a handful of shops where we would spend our pocket money on dried fish snacks, fireworks and little hand-rolled cigarettes.  The shopkeepers didn’t seem to mind what they sold to us.  We made a complete nuisance of ourselves lighting fireworks and generally annoying the other residents.  We were always careful to operate away from our own homes so that our parents didn’t spot us.  The roads around this kampong were dirt roads, so it was a different world for us. 

At the bottom of Sian Tuan Avenue, next to Dunearn Road, were other “Shack Shops” as we called them, where we could buy sweets and cigarettes for a few cents. I hope my mother is not reading this!

One place that was completely out of bounds was the rifle range.  But did that stop us?  I’d better stop before I incriminate myself.

Looking down Sian Tuan Ave, c 1962

My brother in the front garden, c 1962

One feature of Singapore that was totally alien to us English boys was the monsoon drains.  There was a particular time of year when the drains outside our house filled up with bullfrogs, making the most incredible noise the whole night through.  You could hear it above the air conditioning.

The other use for the drains, sad to say, was a dumping ground for unwanted kittens.  More than once we fished out a paper bag with two or three kittens inside.  My mother took them to the RSPCA where I guess they were put down anyway.  We did once get to keep a kitten, but we couldn’t save all of them.

Finally, at Sian Tuan Avenue, we found out what it means to live in a war zone.  Well not really, but there were a lot of Chinese families around us, and Chinese New Year was celebrated with the letting off of firecrackers.  We were used to fireworks back in England on Guy Fawkes night, but there was nothing like the Chinese firecrackers.  They were tied in strings, and went off one after the other like machine guns.  Some strings of firecrackers were several yards long, and went off for several minutes.  Brilliant!

In Singapore, everything changes before your eyes.  The bulldozers arrived and flattened the ground opposite.  Before long brand new houses appeared and changed the landscape forever.

Earth movers opposite our house in 1963

Our house at 7 Sian Tuan is still there, largely unchanged.  In 2001, almost 40 years later I visited the area, and the main difference was a new canopy over the front entrance.  Looking on Google street view now, it is much the same except that trees are growing taller and obscuring the view.  The most remarkable thing is that the original post box is still there, battered and unused. 

7 Sian Tuan Ave in 2001


Lam Chun See said...

It's interesting that another friend of GMY, Tom O'brien lived just nearby to Tim at Hua Guan in the 1960's. I wonder if Tim had any recollections of the nearby KTM railway track.

tim said...

Yes, we always kept an eye on the railway when we were passing.

Other boys that I knew in Hong Kong Park were Ray Wildman, Alan Childs and another Alan ... forgot his surname ... who lived in Hua Guan Avenue. We were all the same age, and we all went to the Naval Base School on the bus. We got into mischief too ... nothing too serious, but we were no angels.

Zen said...

Tim - I went into the naval base once when my father was working there. I am curious where your school was located. Was your school building situated near to a low lying football field next to Deptford Road?

Lam Chun See said...

The name Hong Kong Park is interesting becos nowadays we seldom use this name. Likewise, the area I am staying at, which is just about 3 km away, is called Lucky Park, but hardly anyone uses that name anymore. Similary, not far from us is Eden Park; where the streets are named after treea like Fir, Maple, Redwood etc.

Brian and Tess said...


beware with incriminating yourself - I am still trying to live down the revelation in one of my blogs that we used chinese firecrackers on defenceless crabs on Changi Beach! I am not sure I can revisit Singapore safely!

Zen said...

Brian and Tess

Please be assured that no one is likely to be hurt by the firing of firecrackers in present day Singapore because it is officially banned in this country. Only on Chinese New Year days(likely in Chinatown) or on a special occasion when firecrackers are allowed to be set off - even then it must be done in a confined and barricaded area supervised by authorized people with the assistance of the fire brigade.

Tim said...


If you look on Google Satellite view, the school buildings ... about six or seven of them ... still exist, enclosed by St, Helena Road, Queens Avenue and Admiralty Road East.

Last I heard it was a prison officer's training school or some such.

Anonymous said...

Yes thanks for the memory i used to live in Hong Kong park in the 70s.Yes the indian shop next to the coffee shop where i used to buy my airfix model planes for $3 prices sum then.

Shirley said...

Thanks for the memory. I'm a new resident to the area and always wonder why it was called Hong Kong Park. Could anyone shed some light? Thanks!