Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Gotong Royong

Not long ago, I came across a book entitled, Citizens, Conversations and Consultations. I think it was published by the Peoples Association to commemorate the institution known as the Citizens Consultative Committee. In it, I saw some photos of soldiers helping out in a gotong royong. They reminded me of the time I was involved in a similar project when I was serving my full-time national service.

What is Gotong Royong? It is a Malay term for an event where the members of a community put their hands together to carry out a project for the benefit of that community (my own definition). Typical projects involve building a road, or clearing a stream and so on.

The year was probably 1977 and I was a platoon commander in 30 SCE in Mandai Camp. Our project involved building a short stretch of road to join Kranji Way to Neo Tiew Road. At that time, Neo Tiew Road was a thriving kampong. We often passed through this kampong when we went to Area D (Sungei Gedong) for our training. Our combat engineer battalion was an appropriate organization to help out in such a community project because we had both the manpower and the equipment for such work. For example, in our battalion, we had a heavy plant company.

It was quite a common practice in those days, when there were still many kampongs in Singapore, to involve the army units in such gotong royong projects. However, it is very unlikely that our army boys today, would be called upon such a project. Firstly, Singapore is so well-developed now, and our government departments are well-equipped to carry out such work more effectively. Furthermore, the population of NS boys has decreased considerably. And with full-time NS reduced to only 2 years, the army camps themselves are facing a labour crunch and have to outsource many non-combat functions like transporting of troops and cooking. Still, I think they would benefit from occasional involvement in such a project.

Operation Broomstick. Source: Citizens, Conversations and Consultations
Operation Broomstick. Source: Citizens, Conversations and Consultations

Below is an example of a gotong royong project at Bukit Panjang. Description and photo from the National Archives Picas collection dated 28 June 1973.

Singapore’s “Keep Our Water Clean” campaign got off to a good start when 300 young men began a two-day operation to de-silt the Sungei Pang Sua in Bukit Panjang. Joined by Member of Parliament for Bukit Panjang, Lee Yiok Seng (on the bank with rake), the men, 200 of them national servicemen, spent eight back-breaking hours shoveling mud and weeds from the river which carries rain water to Seletar Reservoir.

Related article on Gotong Royong in Remember Singapore.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Retracing the Iceball Trail - Edmund Arozoo

Last month, I had the pleasure to meet with another 'new old friend'. He is Edmund Arozo. Like me, Edmund grew up in a kampong and we shared many common memories. Like me, he too received a 30-cts allowance a day during primary school to pay for bus fare and recess. He recalled how he sacrificed his bus fare home one day in order to enjoy an ice-ball; and walked the few km from school to home. Here is his story.

Your whole life flashes in front of you when you experience a near death moment. Memories come flashing back. Memories of all the good times and bad – and times that one had forgotten or chose to forget come back vividly. Having been in that position almost two years ago there is one strange memory that strangely stood out in my mind and often came back to me after that.

It takes me back fifty or more years ago when I was in primary school at the then Holy Innocents School (which later became Montfort School). Those were the days when the Ponggol Bus Company or aka the “Yellow Bus” Company serviced routes in the Serangoon and Ponggol District. My generation of users of this service would remember the wooden louver windows these buses had in those early days!

Well, the average daily “pocket money” for school kids our age then was 30 cents. 10 cents for bus fare to and from school, 10 cents for a plate of Char Kuay Teow or Mee Siam etc, 5 cents for a drink and 5 cents for Karchang Puteh or sweets.

On certain days after our morning school sessions when the urge for a “cool” after-school treat was high a group of us, living close to each other, would decide that if we walked home we could use the 5 cents saved to buy the refreshing “ice ball” – shaved ice shaped into a ball (like a snowball) and sweeten with various coloured sweeteners and a dash of evaporated milk. This was handmade and looking back was pretty unhygienic but it was a special treat for most of us to quench our thirst.

Well the walk from our school, which was next to the Church of the Nativity, back to our homes in Jalan Hock Chye, off Tampines Road, covered a distance of about a mile. We were usually hot, sweaty and thirsty by the time we reach the “kaka” (Muslim Indian) shop that sold iceballs. However walking the last few yards home sucking on an iceball was simply “heavenly” then.

I was in Singapore recently and a strange urge came over me – I wanted to walk the iceball trail again! (I did not think it was the progression of a second childhood coming on).

Well on 10th August 2012 I and my wife caught a bus from Upper Thompson Road to Houggang Central to do the trail. Sadly my old school is no more there but the Church of the Nativity is still there and that was my starting point. With camera in hand I recaptured memories of various roads and lorongs that were landmarks then. Fifty years has seen lots of improvement on what was then on a whole a rural environment. Some lanes like St Joseph’s Lane have gone but it was nostalgic to recap what was and still is present. Very few landmarks of old remain. I knew we were getting close to our destination on approaching Lim Ah Pin Road. By then we were thirsty and welcomed a cool soya bean drink at a shop opposite Lim Ah Pin Road before heading for Kovan MRT station. This station used to be the terminus for the STC bus company that ran services into town and other parts of the island in those days.

Sadly too Jalan Hock Chye is no more around, being replaced by Hougang Avenue 1. However other landmarks are still there to pinpoint precisely where we used to get our iceballs. The Kaka shop used to be directly in front of the start of Jalan Teliti which is still there; and where my old home used to be is where Block 230 now stands and diagonally across there was a small lane that is now the present Jalan Hock Chye.

Well fifty years on I am glad I still could do the ice ball trail again and to all the old Monfortians who did the walk with me then – life was very simple then but very much cherished. However no ice ball for me at the end of the walk this time – had to settle for an ice kachang as a substitute!

Related post: Iceballs

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Tracing my amah Rukiah

Like Judith Johnson, Ingrid Kivikoski would like to contact her amah Rukiah and her daughter, Senipah. Ingrid wrote in her email:

I lived in Singapore from 1958 to 1968. I lived on 214 Dunearn Rd when it was flats owned by K.P.M/R.I.L (Dutch Shipping Company) which then became Orchid Inn in the late 60's. I went to school at "De Hollandse School" on Orange Grove Rd (which is now the Tennis Pavillion of the Shangri La I believe) & frequented the Singapore Swimming Club every weekend as well as The Dutch Club (which are both still there!!!).

I would dearly love to find our amah, Rukiah or her daughter, Senipah - or their children. I only have their first names though. I think they lived in a kampong near our flat but I don't know where exactly. Below are some photos of Rukiah.

Many thanks.

Ingrid Kivikoski (nee Schroder)"

Rukiah and her daughter Senipah

Senipah at her wedding in 1966
Senipah at her wedding in 1966

Rukiah with my brother in 1958 at the back of the flats at 214 Dunearn Rd

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Tracing my Amah – Judith Johnson

Judith Johnson, who shared her memories of Braddell Heights here; has approached me for assistance in tracing her amah, who was with them during the 1960s when she stayed at this house in 10 Chiltern Drive, Braddell Heights. If you have any information, please contact me. Thanks.

“Her name was Ah Moi, but unfortunately I don't know her maiden name.  After we left, she married Tan Jee Yong who used to work at the Sea View Hotel (during a notorious strike and eventual liquidation).  Ah Moi and he used to write to my parents in England - I have some of the letters.  He eventually found work, after the Sea View Hotel's closure, at the Singapore Recreation Club in 1965 (formerly Eurasian Club).  They had a son, Tan Kia Heng, born 18th June 1964. Their last known address was 63, Jalan Daud off Jalan Eunos, S'pore 14.”

Judith’s father, David James Cutts (Sqn Ldr), was in charge of the Joint Air Traffic Control Centre at Paya Lebar Airport.

Judith, with her mum, Margaret and brother, Jeremy