I have memories aplenty of Waterloo Street from my days spent as a school boy on Bras Basah Road. At the south end between Stamford and Bras Basah Roads, which was the perhaps the most happening part of the street for us school boys, were, of course, the “sarabat stalls” that most people of my generation would remember. It was in this row of food and drink stalls where arguably, the best Indian Rojak in Singapore could be found. It was also the place to go for my favourite plate of Mee Rebus and where I could get my craving for an ice cold refreshment satisfied at the end of a hot day as I made my way to the bus stop from which I caught the Blue Arrow semi-express bus home. There was also the CYMA compound in which there was a basketball court where we would sometimes play our version of street football, without a goalkeeper, in which we made use of the posts supporting the basketball hoop as goal posts (which we referred to as “small goal posts”), and where a dog named Mani did a fair share of barking at us. This street in this area has since disappeared, converted into pedestrian walkway beside a building belonging to the Singapore Management University (SMU) which stands in place of the former CYMA building and compound.
It was on the next section of Waterloo Street where I had a close encounter with the undercarriage of a car – at the junction with Bras Basah Road, where on one rainy day when I was in Secondary 2, a decision to make a dash across from the five-foot way of the shop houses where the Plaza by the Park building is today, almost resulted me being run over by a car. This stretch from Bras Basah Road towards Middle Road was perhaps the quietest part of the street, occupied by a synagogue and several dilapidated pre-war bungalows on the east side of the street.
The synagogue, the Maghain Aboth Synagogue, built in 1878, is apparently the oldest Synagogue in South East Asia, a fact which escaped me back then, and stands close to the junction with Bras Basah Road. We referred to it as the “Synagogue on Waterloo Street”. Opposite the synagogue just behind the former SJI which is now the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) stands a Catholic place of worship: the Church of Sts. Peter and Paul, which was referred to as the “Chinese Church” – it was considered to be the seat of the Chinese Catholic community in Singapore. The back end of the church faces Waterloo Street. Special masses were often held on feast days in the church for the Catholic population of SJI, when the school chapel would not have been big enough to accommodate everyone.
The stretch on the synagogue side of the street was where the dilapidated looking pre-war bungalows with overgrown gardens and houses could be found. The bungalows had once been the lavish homes of Jewish families who settled in the area – which have since been restored and are now used as Centres for the Arts, forming part of the Waterloo Street Arts Belt.
Further up the east side of the street, at the end of the stretch at the junction with Middle Road, a rather fascinating sight would greet us: a light-coloured building in the shaped of a church, with its walls covered in streaks of oil from the business that was being carried out in the building. The building had indeed once had been put to more dignified use: as the Middle Road Church. Somewhere along the way, however, it had been converted into a car workshop, complete with a yard scattered with fenders and exhaust pipes! The building has since been restored and has found a new lease of life as a bright orange painted Arts Centre called Sculpture Square.
The upper (north) end of Waterloo Street from Middle Road towards Rochor Road is the area I least visited during my school days. I suppose this would have be probably been the liveliest part of the street, where the hundreds, perhaps thousands of devotees would throng on a visit to the Kwan Im Temple (Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple) to seek blessings from the Goddess of Mercy. Beside the Kwan Im Temple, stands a Hindu temple – the Sri Krishnan Temple, where many devotees from the Kwan Im Temple would light joss sticks at, stands. The only time I could remember visiting the area was when I had to do my shopping for school books: I remember there being a bookshop just across from what was the Stamford Girls School (what is the Stamford Arts Centre today), where the Fortune Centre is today, where school books could be bought at prices lower than that of the established bookshops along Bras Basah Road.