Saturday, June 30, 2012

The canal at the end of Lily Avenue

Below are two photos of the canal that separates Lucky Park, where I live, and Eden Park. This canal runs from Bukit Timah Canal to Ulu Pandan Canal, joining it at a point near the junction of Ulu Pandan Road and Clementi Road. It was probably constructed in the 1970s as part of the Bukit Timah Flood Alleviation Scheme. In those days, the Bukit Timah area often experienced floods. In fact, just last year there was a huge flood in this area causing much damage to cars parked in the basement of the Tessarina Condominium.

Taken in 1982, Photo no. 1 is from the National Library Board’s picture archives (Copyright: Lee Kip Lin and National Library Board 2009). On the left is an open piece of land. It used to be a kampong known as Race Course Village. When I moved in to my home in Lily Avenue in 1986, there were still a couple of kampong houses next to this canal. On the right is a factory belonging to Ridsect, the insecticide company. It was still there in 1986. Next to it, facing the main road, was a motorcar showroom. I think I saw Fiat and Mesarati cars on display. Wish I had taken a photo.

 Photo no. 2 was taken recently; and you can see two of the older condos that line much of this stretch of Bukit Timah Road. The one on the left is Royalville and the one on the right is Villa Azura. The narrow strip of land next to the canal is a very nice and quiet place. When my kids were young, I used to bring them here in the evenings. There are many longkang fishes in this canal; and once my children caught some tilapias and brought them home and added them to our koi pond.

My children feeding fish in our koi pond.  c 2002.

This stretch of this canal is next to Maple Lane looking towards Bukit Timah Road.

The canal disappears under some bungalows at Garlick Avenue.

It emerges near the Fong Yun Thai Columbarium at Holland Link. The canal on the right leads to Laurel Wood Avenue and Jalan Haji Alias.

This final photo shows the canal flowing towards the Sungei Ulu Pandan and the former KTM Railway Track.

Like most parts of Singapore, so much of this place has changed. And with the construction of the Downtown Line in full swing; much changes are taking place before our eyes.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

From water to Green site to Skyscraper City in the New Downtown (cont’d) – By Peter Chan

Part 2 - From Green site to Skyscraper City in the New Downtown

I picked the Marina Sands Integrated Resort (IR) because it is the most talked about landmark in the Marina Bay area today.  Back in the 1960s, beside the General Post Office and Asia Insurance Building, the other popular place with visitors was Clifford Pier.  Clifford Pier was the disembarkation/embarkation point for passengers whose maritime vessels were anchored outside the Outer Roads.  At the same time, the small watercraft boats which cruised to the Southern Islands originated from Clifford Pier. 

Watertours and East Wind operated the “Cruise to no Nowhere” in the 1980s.  It was mainly popular with tourists.  Then it was the turn of Mansfield Travel-Tradewinds which launched an up-market cruise.  What Mansfield/Tradewinds did was not the first in the industry because Goodwood Park Hotel operated the Singapore Lady, a Mississippi river-boat cruise in the 1970s.  Now all coastal cruises operate out of the Marina South Pier.

Photo 1: [Left] Boarding/Disembarkation point was at Clifford Pier.  A sampan steers towards an ocean-going vessel anchored in the Outer Road (c1960). [Right] My family on-board the Singapore Princess cruise.  The boat is moored at Clifford Pier (c1989).

I have been following the developments of IR from the day when it was announced in 2006 that the site was to be an integrated resort. 

Photo 2: The vacant green site that would be up for bidding for the first casino and hotel integrated resort.  On what is now Garden on the Bay, there was a famous El Moroccan styled entertainment complex called The Chameleon housed in that white building.  There was even a fountain and at one time a park where kites were flown (c2002).

Then the excitement intensified with the flurry of construction activities for one of two integrated resorts in Singapore began.  By 2009, motorists coming down the Sheares Bridge saw three “ancestral tablets” rising from the former Green site.  Many (including local geomancers) had different perspectives on what the hotel towers resembled such as a deck of playing cards.  To some this was not an iconic landmark and for the superstitious the conclusion was even worse.  “Not to worry” said the wife of my golfing buddy, Dennis L.  She was the geomancer appointed by the Las Vegas Sands, the owners of the integrated resort.  She assured me everything from the timing of the building construction schedule to the smallest detail like the staff uniform was conforming to Feng Shui.

Photo 3: [Top] Hotel complex reaches the 55th floor.  [Bottom]  The 6 segments of the North cantilever which would form the SkyPark Observatory platform.  The platform would extend 64 meters out of the building line. 

So here I was in the late afternoons coming down to watch the contractors at work.  I was either at the ECP side of the construction along the narrow pedestrian walk on the Sheares Bridge (for a close-up look of the construction ground activities at ground level) or on the Singapore Flyer for a vantage view.  You could learn so much about the construction industry by talking to site supervisors, Bangla workers, civil engineers, observe how they put the glass panels in place and how pre-cast concrete was made on site.  Before long one developed some basic top-line expertise on construction timelines. 

Photo 4:  Each segment of the North cantilever was meticulously lifted up against strong cross winds and the monsoon surge.  The first segment was lifted on December 1, 2009 and the final jigsaw completed on Dec 27, 2009 (c2009).

When the SkyPark was built, some friends came down to watch, day or night to observe the hoisting of the steel beams.  The temptation was so great that it finally became “Just Do It”.  One of my friend’s friend entered the building premises which were at that time off-limits to the public for safety reason.  He took the caged workmen elevator up for some breath-taking photo-shoots on the 55th floor.  Not many of you are aware that it generated much uproar when his tightly kept secret was finally discovered by the owners a few days later.  Luckily an amicable settlement was reached among all parties.  For this reason, I am unable to share with you the rooftop views and work-in-progress.    

Photo 5:  [Top] On the SkyPark observatory platform a magicians entertains.  Ku De Ta Restaurant is behind those umbrellas. 

Level 33, The Pinnacle, Equinox, The Sail and One Altitude cannot be compared to SkyPark heart-beat.  Now how many of you have been up to the Marina SkyPark?  Do go and experience that top-of-the world feeling. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

My Memories by Robert O’Brien: The Early years 1953 – 1956

The Voyage to Johor Bahru, Malaysia via Singapore
It was the middle of December 1952 when we (my mother, myself and younger sister) set sail on the SS Chusan from Tilbury Docks in London bound for Singapore to join my father who had left some weeks earlier on a troop ship. He was in the British Army and had been posted to Johor Bahru in Malaysia, across the causeway from Singapore.

I was born on 17th February 1950 in Sunderland, then in Co Durham, now Tyne & Wear, and my sister Lucille was born a little over two years later on 30th April, 1952.

My father had carried out his National Service and, after demob, decided to enlist as a regular soldier in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps believing there would be a better future for himself and the family, opposed to going down the pits or in the shipyards which were the two main forms of employment in the early 1950s. He was first posted to Longtown, near Carlisle in Cumbria where we lived in married quarters, and then in November 1952, he was posted to the RAOC Depot at Majeedii Barracks, Johor Bahru, Malaysia. He departed on a Troop Ship sometime in November 1952 and arrived in Singapore some six weeks later. The Troop Ship took the long route around the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa instead of the shorter route through the Suez Canal.

My mother, myself and sister remained in Longtown until my mother received ‘papers’ to say we would be departing for Singapore on the SS Chusan in the middle of December.

When my mother told the Commanding Officer of the camp the details of our sailing to Singapore he had said to my mother that he was most surprised that a young Private’s wife and family had been given passage on such a ship as the SS Chusan.

The SS Chusan was part of the P&O Line fleet of ships which had made her maiden voyage in 1950 and was considered to have brought new standards of shipboard luxury for journeys to India and the Far East.

My mother had been worried about making the long train journey from Carlisle to London and then on to the Docks with two small children, so the Commanding Officer arranged for a soldier who was going on leave to accompany us to London and then via the underground to the King George V docks where my mother had been told the SS Chusan would sail from. However, on arrival at the King George V docks she was told the ship would, in fact, sail from Tilbury docks. By this time the soldier who had taken us this far had gone on his way and my mother had to make her way with us and the suitcases to Tilbury, which was not too far away, but still of concern to my mother.

The voyage from Tilbury to Singapore was to take three weeks, with Christmas 1952 and the New Year on board,  calling on the way at Gibraltar, Naples, Port Said, through the Suez Canal and on to Aden, Bombay, Colombo, Penang and finally to Singapore. Not yet being three years old I do not recall any of the journey but my mother has told me of some of the memories she has of the voyage. She recalls getting off the ship in Gibraltar, Port Said and Aden, where she ‘bartered’ for some small gifts; but returned quickly to the ship in Bombay as she did not like to see the poverty immediately in the dock area. In Penang she recalls taking my sister and I to one of the restaurants below deck for some food and feeling a large thump against the side of the ship. On looking out of one of the portholes she saw one of the local vessels had got too close and had collided with the SS Chusan.  Apparently there was no serious damage and we continued on our way to Singapore.

However, word had got through to Singapore that the SS Chusan had been involved in some minor skirmish in Penang; and my father who was waiting for us at the dockside, was most relieved and happy to see us safe and sound and just wanted to get our suitcases off the ship and back over the causeway from Singapore to Johor Bahru where he had found a house for us.

This was No 7 Jalan Wadi Hani and was to be our home for the next three years.

As I have already mentioned, my father was just a Private soldier when posted to Malaysia but he was determined to make the most of his life. He had no real education as a boy but studied very hard in Malaysia to get his Army Certificate of Education First Class and was very quickly promoted through the ranks first to Lance Corporal, Corporal and then Sergeant. I can remember the many hours he spent doing arithmetic and English language homework, and at the same time teaching me arithmetic. Becoming a Sergeant made a lot of difference both in his job and for the social life in the Sergeant’s Mess which went with this promotion. He also studied very hard to learn Malay and it was not too long before he became fluent, which was one of the reasons we were fortunate enough to return to Johor Bahru from 1959 to 1963.

Our house was on a minor road close to the main town of Johor Bahru and our neighbours were Malays. We soon became very friendly with the family next door to us. They had a son called Dolla who I used to play with, and a daughter called Dolly who became my sister’s friend. Being so young we both picked up some of the Malay language, and at the time my mother says my sister could speak Malay as well as she could speak English.  I can recall several memories of these early days in Jalan Wadi Hana, but for now just take a look at just a few of the photographs taken at the time.

More will follow in due course.

With my Mother and sister (on Dad’s motorbike) with house in Background – No 7 Jalan Wadi Hana

Me all dressed up with my sister and her friend Dolly from next door

Me in my cowboy suit Christmas 1954 A story to be told about this

Me and my sister all dressed up 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

For we are all like swimmers in the sea

When I was in Secondary 4, I studied a beautiful poem for my Senior Cambridge (‘O’ level) exams. Until today, I still cannot forget the wonderful story of Sohrab and Rustum by Matthew Arnold.

For years, there was nobody in my family to share this with. My wife and two older children are all Life Sciences (boring) majors. But now that my youngest has started her English Literature studies at the University of Edinburgh, I finally have somebody to share my enjoyment of this beautiful but sad story.
But yet Success sways with the breath of Heaven.
And though thou thinkest that thou knowest sure
Thy victory, yet thou canst not surely know.

For we are all, like swimmers in the sea,
Pois’d on the top of a huge wave of Fate,
Which hangs uncertain to which side to fall.
And whether it will heave us up to land,
Or whether it will roll us out to sea,

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Father's Day gift idea

After treating him to a nice sumptuous dinner, take him for a walk down memory lane.

Friday, June 08, 2012

From my inbox – Rob O’brien remembers Singapore

There was a programme on TV over the last 2 weekends about “The fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942” and this started me thinking of the days I spent as a child in Johor Bahru and Singapore. I have since read several of your blogs and find them fascinating and remind me of many of my own experiences during that time. Thanks for bringing back so many memories.

My name is Robert O'Brien, born in February 1950 and was very fortunate to have grown up in Malaysia and Singapore from 1953 until 1956 and again from 1959 until January 1963. My father was in the British Army based in Johor Bahru where we lived in 2 houses that I can remember very well, in Jalan Wadi Hana (53-56) and Jalan Tarom (59-63). My father just loved being there and was fortunate to get posted back for a second time. He could speak fluent Malay during the first visit, and on the second visit we even traced our old Amah, Nonah, but she was not free to join us and we were fortunate to have her sister Elijah as our Amah.

Me with my sister and Father, c 1954

My sister with Nonah, our Amah/maid who was like a second mother to us

From the very early days of the first visit, and all during our time based in Johor Bahru, every Sunday was our day out in Singapore. My father would drive us across the causeway (no customs / restrictions in those days) down the Bukit Timah Road and on to the Britannia club where we spent the morning by the pool, had lunch there, and went on to either the Cathay Pacific or Odeon cinemas in the afternoon before returning back to JB. I can even remember several of the films we saw.

From 1961 until we left in 1963, I went to school in Singapore, attending the then Alexandra Grammar School. This was a daily trip for me and several others; but the majority of students were boarders from all over Malaysia. I have many many fond memories of those days and since 1995 have been fortunate to visit Singapore and Malaysia (all over South East Asia) on many occasions as part of the business I was in (selling equipment to the oil companies) and have seen many changes over the years. I retired last year and went back to Kuala Lumpur just this April as a farewell visit to my friends over there.

 PS - My intention is to do some research/investigation and talk to my mother (although she lives almost 300 miles from me in Sunderland where I was born, and I now live in Newbury, Berkshire) and post some blogs on Good Morning Yesterday.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Singapore, 1960s – Guppies and Tetras (by Tim Light)

Back in England, the idea of keeping tropical fish never entered our minds. Occasionally we would come back from a fun-fair with a goldfish in a plastic bag, as a prize from some side show.  I feel sorry for those goldfish.  In my experience they had a life expectancy of a few days.  If they were lucky.

In Singapore, our first fish was also a little goldfish, won by my brother at the school fair.  We didn’t have anywhere to keep it, so my mother put some water in a fruit bowl and the fish at least had somewhere to swim.  For a couple of hours, anyway.  That’s how long it took for a chit-chat to spot it, scurry down the wall and gobble it up. 

Living in Singapore we were exposed to the idea of keeping fish in an aquarium.  There were tropical fish shops everywhere, and a lot of our friends – especially the Chinese – had aquariums full of colourful fish.  It wasn’t long before we had a small aquarium, complete with air pump, gravel and plants, awaiting their first fish.  My mother took us along to a tropical fish seller near Newton Circus.  My brother chose a pair of Guppies.   I chose a pair of Neon Tetras.  These animals immediately fascinated me.  The Tetras weren’t that exciting in terms of their behaviour, but their colouring was hypnotic.  The horizontal band turned to different shades of blue or green, depending in the direction they were facing.  One of our friends had a tank with 20 or more Neon Tetras, and the display was spectacular.  I waited patiently for them to reproduce, but they never did.  After a while I lost patience and bought a few more.

Guppies are one of the natural wonders of the world.  The females are relatively dull, but the males have the most amazing colour schemes.  The most remarkable thing is that every one has a different design – rather like the human fingerprint, no two guppies are the same.  Unlike the tetras, guppies are not ashamed to breed in captivity.  Once they get going, they will produce about 30 babies per female per month.  At that rate you would have thought that they would have taken over the world by now.  Fortunately (for the world) they eat most of their own babies, so the population stays under control. 

Another remarkable thing about guppies is that they mate in the same way that mammals do, unlike most other fish.  As a nine-year-old boy watching all this going on, I asked my mother a lot of embarrassing questions, and received reasonably straight answers.  So I was ahead of the pack, as regards sex education.

The other un-fishlike behaviour of the guppies was to give birth to small baby fish, rather than to deposit eggs.  The life expectancy of a newborn guppy is just a few seconds, because if its mother doesn’t eat it, one of the other fish will.  Nevertheless, a few of the babies lived long enough to escape into the plants where they kept a low profile until they grew too big to be swallowed.  In just a few months, our fish tank was too small for the Guppy population, and the snobby Tetras were complaining about being squeezed out.  We bought a bigger tank, just for the Guppies, and just like the road system, the guppy population grew to take up the available capacity.

Disaster struck when we moved to our new home on Whitley Road.  The removal men let the tank slip.  It crashed onto the floor, and there were no survivors. 

Chun See continues ….

As a kid I too liked to keep guppies. Coincidentally, I too bought mine from an aquarium near Newton circus. I used to study at the Anglo-Chinese School and often walked to Newton Circus to take Tay Koh Yat no 9A to my home in Lorong Chuan. I even bought a small book and read up about how to breed the guppies. We also bought fish food flakes to feed them.

As far as I can recall, the aquarium was located along this stretch of Bt Timah Road, next to the flyover and Kampong Java Rd. The Newton Post Office as well as a very famous fried kway teow stall were located here.

We also had a small fish tank. Below is a 1969 photo of my mum using the phone which was next to our fish tank. Besides this, I also bred them using small salted vegetables urns. Sometimes, the guppies fall sick and die en-mass. I read that the chlorine from the tap water could be the culprit, and so I used water from our well instead.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Nostalgic Wall

This is my neighbour’s house located at the junction of two roads. This wall holds precious memories for my family.

When my three children were young – they are in their twenties now – I used to bring them here after dinner. Can you guess what we did? We played the shadows game; making shapes of animals using the light of the nearby street lamp. One special game that I liked to play with my youngest – and cheekiest – was to pretend to hammer her head with my fist like a pile-driver. Try to picture this. With each ‘blow’, it looked as if she was being driven deeper and deeper into the ground. She seemed to get such a big kick out of it.

** The wall looks a bit dirty now. They are going to renovate and repaint it soon.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Picnic at Paradise Island

I found another 3 old photos of my father and his buddies. The first 2, where they are in swim-wear, has these words written at the back of both photos; “Picnic at Paradise Island, 26 Oct 1947”.

The 3rd photo, where they are in office attire, has these words written at the back; “Picnic at Pasir – something, 28 Nov 1948”. I can’t make out the last word. Looks like Ris which has been scratched over and re-written Elias. My guess is that this photo was taken in Pasir Ris Beach.

Related post.