Thursday, October 31, 2013

Where have all the bowling alleys gone?

You may find this hard to believe. The very first time I tossed a bowling ball, I got a strike. You will find it even harder to believe if I told you where I achieved that feat. It was at a bowling alley named, Hyatt Bowl. Do you know where that was?

I used the past tense because, like many of the bowling alleys that I used to patronize in my younger (bachelor) days, this one has long ceased to operate. Back in the early 1970s and early 80s, bowling was one of my favourite pastimes. My brothers and I, and our friends went to many different bowling alleys all over Singapore. Most of them are no longer around. For example, when I was working in Philips, my colleagues and I bowled practically every Saturday afternoon (during competition period) at a place called Plaza Bowl. Do you know where that was? We used to have inter-departmental competitions and the better ones even represented our company in inter-company competitions. I don’t think I qualified for that privilege. I would have remembered.

With my Philips colleagues at the Plaza Bowl. Sports is an excellent way to build bonds with colleagues from other departments.
Grinning from ear-to-ear as I represented my dept to receive the Inter-dept Championship trophy. This was at an event called Audio Jog held at the MacRitchie Reservoir on 24 Dec 1982.
This photo and several others were taken at Anson Bowl in International Plaza during a Dept gathering with dinner followed by bowling session.
 I am trying see how many bowling alleys that I can recall from that era.

4) Jackie’s Bowl. I think this was Singapore’s very first bowling alley with two outlets in Katong and Orchard. My brothers and I usually went to the latter because it was closer to our home at Farrer Road. Anyone know if this bowling centre still exists at the present Orchard Cineleisure complex?

This is a 1994 photo (from the National Archives collection) of the Orchard Cinema at Grange Road. Can you see the side entrance to Jackie’s Bowl via the door on the left side of the photo?
5) Kallang Bowl. Located at the Kallang Leisure Drome, it was the largest in Singapore at that time, occupying two floors with twenty lanes each. This was our favourite. My brothers and our friends often came here on Saturday evenings. After our game, we would adjourn to the nearby hawker centre at Old Airport Road for supper. My brother David loved the Chinese-style mutton soup there.

This is the new Kallang Bowl in 2013.
This is the Old Airport Road hawker centre. Was pleasantly surprised to discover that it is still in operation.

6) Peace Centre – cannot recall the name of the bowling centre here.

1993 photo (from the National Archives collection) of a rather run-down Peace Centre.

7) Kim Seng Bowl at the Kim Seng Shopping Centre. This shopping centre has been replaced by a condominium.

8) Jurong Bowl at Yuan Ching Road. It is still operating.

9) Pasir Panjang Bowl located at the complex along Pasir Panjang Road near to the famous 88 Seafood Restaurant. I believe that complex is now known as Yess Centre.

10) Finally, there is Queenstown Bowl. The one was situated in the complex that also housed the Queenstown and Queensway theatres and a KFC restaurant. It was demolished recently along with other buildings at the nearby Margaret Drive.

The Queenstown Bowl was located within this building which was recently demolished.

Two other bowling alleys that I’ve been to were not commercial bowling centres. The first one was at the Shell Club on Pulau Bukum. Of course you needed friends who were working in Shell company to bring you in. The other belonged to the British military. It was a small place and was next to the Kent Theatre at Dover Road.

There were probably others whose names I cannot recall; and I am not referring to the newer ones which had sprung up in recent years.

As my bowling buddies and I grew older and settled down and started our own families, we gradually stopped going to such places.

OK. By now, I trust that you have figured out the locations of Hyatt Bowl and Plaza Bowl. Hyatt Bowl was located inside Hyatt Hotel. I think it was on the second floor. Plaza Bowl was in Sultan Plaza at Sultan Road

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

From my Inbox – Judith Johnson remembers my kampong

Below is an email that I received from Judith Johnson a few weeks ago. Judith lived at Chiltern Drive in Braddell Heights in the 1960s, and remembers seeing my kampong. To help orientate you to the places Judith describes, here is a scan of the Braddell Heights area from my 1963 street directory. What is indicated as Lorong Chuan here was my kampong. It was a dirt track, and people knew it as Chui Arm Lor in Hokkien; which meant Water Pipes Road. Our address at that time was 288 Ang Moh Kio, Singapore 19. The name Lorong Chuan only became known to us when it was upgraded to a metal road joining Braddell Road to Serangoon Gardens. The truncated Chui Arm Lor was renamed Lorong Kinchir, and our address was changed to 21-A Lorong Kinchir.
You can read more details in the opening pages of my book, Good Morning Yesterday.
My house is marked by an X in this map. Judith's house was near the sharp right-angle bend in Chiltern Drive. Braddell Heights was elevated above Lorong Chuan.

Dear Mr Lam,

I chanced upon your site when doing a little research prior to possibly organising a 'stopover' in Singapore on my way to visit my son who now lives with his family in Perth.  My husband and I have been visiting Australia regularly now for several years and I have strongly resisted revisiting Singapore as I felt it had changed out of all recognition and I did not want to be disappointed to find that it was now just a sanitized version of what I remember.

I flew to Singapore in 1959 and attended the RAF Changi Grammar School.  We did not live in Changi as my father was in charge of the Joint Air Traffic Control Centre at Paya Lebar Airport until our return to England in 1963.  His 'mess' was at RAF Seletar, but we lived in a house on Chiltern Drive in Braddell Heights.  I was so surprised to find that the estate and its houses are still there.

During the last couple of hours I have been nearly moved to tears exploring the wealth of information about life in Singapore during the 60's.  We stayed in Katong Grange Hotel (which was then right by the sea) until we were allocated a 'hiring' by the RAF at Braddell Heights. My father joined the Singapore Swimming Club.

The front of our house faced north and directly opposite was a rather ugly square cement structure which was I believe some sort of sewage treatment.  Whatever it was, it was possible to climb up on top of it and as a 13 year old tomboy I liked nothing better than escaping up there from where I had an excellent view of part of the local kampong.  I watched daily life unfolding before me - the ponds, the pigs, the 'night soil deliveries, smoke rising from cooking fires and children playing in the dust.  Sometimes I could hear the sound of a nearby wayang or funeral procession, at others the chattering of the mahjong tiles in a neighbouring house.

It was not long before my curiosity got the better of me and I plucked up the courage to find a path round the side of the 'bunker' (as it had been christened by my father!) and made my way into the village.  I can remember squatting down to watch a woman cooking over a fire and throwing freshly gathered green vegetables into a cooking pot while the chickens scratched nearby and the cockerel crowed.

I don't recall talking, but I'm sure that we communicated in the innocent way that only a child can.  I felt as if I had stepped into another world and I believe that I often had a strange sense of separation from the 'real life' of the island as I went back to my bungalow where our amah lived in he small quarters behind the kitchen. 
My school friends all lived in RAF houses at the air bases and probably had less occasion to be involved with local people. I used to take the bus early in the morning to ride at the Polo Club before the heat of the day, travelling with all ages and races.  I remember the shoe repair man calling, the brush and household goods seller, the gully gully man.  We were very friendly with our Chinese neighbour Kenneth Cheong and his family.  Looking at the map on your site I'm sure our house was very near your kampong.

A couple of years ago we had a long holiday in Burma, much of which I found very poignant as it reminded me so much of Singapore in the 60's, and ever since I have been toying with the idea of going back, which I swore I would never do.  I am not very computer savvy and have never done more than read blog and forum entries, not having the courage or inclination to write anything myself.  I don't do Facebook and haven't ever used Friends Reunited, but was fascinated to read all the posts on your site.
Your website I'm sure is serving a great need to preserve the memories of what was a unique time in the history of your island.  I'm so glad that I stumbled upon it.

Best wishes,

Judith Johnson - daughter of then Sqn Ldr David Cutts and Margaret Cutts (dec'd)

Hi Judith,

Thank you for sharing your memories of Singapore. You are quite ‘fortunate’ in the sense that Braddell Heights has remained relatively unchanged over the years. Most of the roads are still there, although the houses have mostly been rebuilt.

I can understand why you are afraid to visit Singapore. You probably fear that you would be disappointed to find that everything you remember about this place has changed beyond recognition. But still, I would recommend that you come for a visit. I suspect some of the places you frequented, such as the Polo Club along (along Thomson Road?), are still there. Anyway, some of my UK friends whom I had befriended through my blog have visited and I even brought them around to see some of the places that they knew.

I have attached a scanned map of the Braddell Heights area from my 1963 street directory. My house is marked with an X. You will see that we were practically neighbours. And we are probably around the same age too. I am 61. As what I told my UK friends, John Harper and Brian Mitchell, who I visited recently when I went to UK, it’s so strange. Back in the 60’s we stayed so close to each other physically, and yet we were living in different worlds as our paths never crossed. Now we are living physically thousands of miles apart, and yet we have become friends.

If you do come to Singapore this year, I would be happy to be your guide and show you some of the places that you knew, such as Braddell Heights, Polo Club and maybe Bartley Road and Paya Lebar Rd.

Chun See

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Return to Selarang

In my previous post, I mentioned about a visit to the Selarang Camp and the Changi Air Base last month. I said that I did not know why I was invited me because I did not have much memories of Selarang Camp. The only time I had visited Selarang Camp was around 1980. At that time, my section mate from Officer Cadet School, KG Lim, who had signed on as a regular with the army, was the QM (Quarter Master) of the armour regiment (I think it was 40 SAR) stationed at this camp. At that time the game of squash was very popular in Singapore, and as I reported previously, squash courts were very scarce in Singapore. And so, on one Sunday afternoon, KG, who was the one who introduced me to the sport, brought me and some friends to Selarang for a game of squash. Other than the squash courts and the officers’ mess, I don’t remember seeing any other part of this camp.

With James Tann and Peter Chan
Still, I very much looked forward to this visit because I hoped to take some photos of old parts of the camp so that I could share them with my blogger friend, Tom Brown. Early followers of this blog would know that Tom Brown served in this camp at a time when it was still known as Selarang Barracks; and before the SAF was even formed.  Tom arrived in Singapore in 1961 as a 19-year-old soldier with the regiment known as Queens Own Highlanders. Read Tom’s interesting experience of life in Singapore more half a century ago here, here and here.

When I informed Tom about my forthcoming visit to Selarang, he asked me to look out for two places, if they are still existing – the guard room and the NAAFI building. Unfortunately, when we arrived in Selarang, we were informed that most of the old buildings had been demolished. Only part of the parade square, the water tank and officers’ mess remained. Even then, we would not be able to see the Water Tank as that section of the camp is now part of the Selarang Drug Rehabilitation Centre. Still it was not a totally failed mission because from the old newsletter that we received, I was able to scan some photos of the old Selarang to share with Tom.


One interesting part of our tour was the visit to the Heritage Centre. There on the walls, I saw this old photo of the 9th Division HQ and it brought back strong memories. Can you recognize this place? 

Yes; it’s the Safti HQ/Admin Building in Pasir Labar. This is the place where I toiled for one-and-the-half years as a trainee in SBMT, SISL and OCS. This was one place that we trainees dreaded because of the many senior officers and NCOs there, and where one can easily get into trouble for not marching properly or not properly saluting an officer. But, unfortunately, it was one place we could not avoid; having to pass it on the way to the training grounds and when we booked in and out of camp.  My friend Peter Chan, on the other hand, would have less unpleasant memories of this place, I suspect. This is what he recalls about this place.

It so happens that I have a 1974 photo of this part of Safti.

1.  School of Infantry Section Leaders (SISL) HQ
2.  Guard Room
3.  MT Line
4.  25 Pounder in front of SAFTI Admin Building
5.  SAFTI Main Gate
6.  SAFTI Admin Building

The SAFTI Admin Building was shaped like a horse-shoe with the wing on the left on the ground floor being the main offices of the entire SAFTI including the director and other top brass.  The official entrance into the building was that concrete roof at that wing on left of photo.  The second to fourth levels of both wings housed the officers’ bunks.  In the centre of the horse-shoe, (hidden by the wing on the right) on the third level, was the officers’ mess from which my photo was taken one morning.  All officers’ bunks had wooden single beds.  All bachelor regular SAF officers had accommodation in this building.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Memories of Upper Changi Road and Changi Grammar School

Wittering Airbase, UK
In June this year, I brought my family to the UK for a holiday. I took the opportunity to visit my friends Brian Mitchell in Cambridge and John Harper in York. Enroute from Cambridge to York, we drove past the RAF airbase at Wittering. The sight of a fighter jet – I think it was a Harrier Jump Jet – at the entrance brought back some memories of the Changi that I used to know as a boy; especially the RAF Airbase at old Upper Changi Road.

Memory No. 1 – No Highway

Wittering Rd in Changi
When I was in Secondary 4, we had to study the book No Highway by Nevil Shute for our Senior Cambridge (equivalent of today’s O-Level) English Literature paper. The year was 1968. The name Farnborough was frequently mentioned in the book and I was rather curious as to why we had a road in Changi with the same name. I only found out years later that the roads in the Changi Airbase vicinity were all named after famous RAF airbases in the UK. Naturally, there was also a Wittering Road in Changi.

Memory No. 2 – Old Upper Changi Road

My memories of this part of Singapore are documented in my book Good Morning Yesterday. Here’s an excerpt from pages 147 and 148.

“The occasional trip to Changi Beach was always a great delight for us. From our home in Lorong Chuan, we used to travel to Changi via Upper Serangoon Road and Tampines Road. The sight of the solemn grey walls of the Changi Prison which greeted us as we came to the end of Tampines Road meant that we were nearing our destination. After that it was a straight stretch of road along Tanah Merah Besar which ran along the perimeter of the prison followed by a left turn into the coastal road called Nicoll Drive before arriving at Changi Point. My own favourite activity at Changi Beach was rowing the rented wooden sampans for an hour or two.

An alternative route that we took to get to Changi Beach was via Upper Changi Road. Until just a few years ago, this road led right up to Changi Village. We liked this route because we could see the combat aircrafts sitting at what I now know was called the Dispersal Area of the British Royal Air Force.”

Unfortunately, in recent years that stretch of the road had been closed to the public. Hence, it was a great disappointment that I could not bring John Harper and other UK friends to this part of Singapore which they so fondly remember.
Final stretch of Upp Changi Rd closed to the public

Visit to Changi Airbase (West)

A few weeks ago, I received a pleasant surprise in my inbox. It was an invitation from the MINDEF NS Policy Department to visit old SAF military camps; one of them being the Changi Airbase. Thus it was that on Saturday, 14th of September, a group of bloggers boarded a coach at Spore Expo MRT Station which brought us to, first, Selarang Camp, home to SAF’s 9th Division, and then to Changi Airbase (West). I learnt that this visit was mainly extended to bloggers who had ‘done time’ at these camps and could share their memories of these places with future generations of NSmen. I am not sure why they included me in this privileged group because my NS days were spent in Safti, Gillman and Mandai and not these two places. Could it be that it was because I was such a famous blogger and that many people have read my posts about my ‘army daze’?

 Anyway, the highlight of the visit for me was the visit to the stretch of Upper Changi Road I mentioned above. Our guide, RSM Yip, told us that this stretch of road used to be a popular lover’s haunt after Changi Airport was built.

 By the way, would you like to know what this piece of land on which the Changi Airport was built looked like in 1978? If you do, then please check out my post about the SAF Day 1978 here.

SAF Display 1978 on reclaimed land for Changi Airport

 Former Changi Grammar School

Another highlight of my visit to Changi Airbase was to the blocks that once housed the Changi Grammar School. This was because my friend Brian Mitchell used to study here. Like John Harper, he too was disappointed during his visit to Singapore in 2009. When I brought him here, we could only view the buildings from outside the camp along Loyang Way. And we did not even dare to take any photos because of the warning signs on the fence prohibiting photo-taking. Anyway, I shared some of the photos with Brian and this is what he commented:

The area is obviously a bit smarter than in the 60s and the old attap huts are removed; but it’s all very recognisable. These blocks obviously go back to the 1950s and must rate as very old buildings in Singapore! I was surprised in a way to see that they survive in much their original form with the open corridors around the outside. I assume the rooms within are now closed in and air-conditioned, but of course, when they were used as barracks or then as a school building, our classrooms had large open doorways into the classrooms - this was after all the only source of light. There were very few air conditioned places in our lives in the 1960s.

The large tarmac area was where all the gharries or schools buses delivered us in the fairly early morning - so if I was on a bus that arrived early I would be looking up at the block and wondering if anyone had got to the coke machine on the ground floor - the cokes were often frozen first thing in the morning and were for some reason particularly prized. At the end of the school day, the gharries would draw up in lines in the tarmac area (actually a playground) and we would all board them. The end of the school day was for most days at lunchtime - the heat and humidity led to a different pattern of schooling from the UK.

When I was there, this area held the Grammar School (using two of the blocks - I think there was a third that was still a barrack block for airmen) and then around the tarmac area the Secondary Modern School and the Primary School - I think this is right although we hardly noticed the presence of these other schools. Then shortly after I left in August 1962, the Grammar School moved to the site on Upper Changi Road. This is the site remembered by many of the UK and then Australian and NZ kids from the 60s.


I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to these two old military establishments and seeing places that I knew about from decades ago; and which I thought I would never have the chance to see again. I thank Ms Stephanie Chia and her colleagues at the MINDEF NS Policy Dept for arranging the visits. Thanks also to the staff at these two places for their warm hospitality and presentations; and also staff from MINDEF Centre of Heritage Services. I look forward to future visits. The one place that I would really love to visit is the former Mandai Camp where I spent the last ten last months of active National Service.

Related posts

1) ArmyHeritage Tour by James Tann