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.