Psst … guess who dropped in today?

28 01 2010

When I was growing up in Toa Payoh, my family had the privilege of receiving some rather important visitors to our humble 3-room flat. We were living on the top floor of a block of flats that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) built intentionally with a viewing gallery on the roof to provide visiting dignitaries with a vantage point from which the latest public housing project, Toa Payoh New Town, the pride of the HDB’s resoundingly successful public housing programme, could be better appreciated. This, together with the advantage that both my parents had, that given the general view that being teachers, they would have a better command of English than our neighbours on the same floor would have, and living in the flat that closest to the lift landing, had its benefits: the HDB would usually have our flat in mind when there was a need to provide the dignitaries with a view of how the typical dwelling looked like.

So it was with that, that we received out first VIP visitors not long after moving in, in June 1968 – John Gorton, the then Prime Minister of Australia and his family. I guess I was too young to really understand what the fuss was all about and all I can really remember is that towering hulk of a man from Australia who had come by and had given me with a gold-coloured tie-pin which had a figure of a kangaroo on it. I also remember that following the visit, I had somehow developed the fascination that I had with kangaroos as a child.

Photograph and newspaper cutting of John Gorton's Visit, June 1968

The most notable visitor we had was none other than HM Queen Elizabeth II, who dropped in on the afternoon of 18 February 1972. It was an occasion that deserved quite a fair bit of preparation, and there were several interviews and briefings before on areas such as security and protocol. It was for us an occasion that called for a makeover to be given to the flat. My parents had the flat renovated and terrazzo tiles tinged with green, white and black replaced our original black and white mosaic flooring. Outside, the area below the block of flats had been spruced up by the HDB for the occasion – pots of flowering plants lined the area where the Queen’s car would be driven up to, as well as the corridor leading up to the lift and the lift landing on the top floor. The block of flats had also had in the meantime, been given a fresh coat of paint. The lift cabin was done up very nicely as well, which was a welcome change from the rather tired and dirty looking interior it wore after five years of service.

It was an occasion that I had kept from my classmates in school – not that I would be missed. The schoolboys in the afternoon session, which I was in, were to be distracted, having been tasked to line the sides of Thomson Road to wave flags, where the motorcade that was to carry the Queen was to pass that afternoon. I was certainly happy for the opportunity to skip school, but maybe a little disappointed that I would not get my hands on the miniature Union Jacks my classmate were to be given – a favourite flag of mine back then.

When the Queen finally arrived at our flat that afternoon, I was caught somewhat unawares. I had decided to sit down before she arrived and while daydreaming – which I was fond of doing, Her Majesty had appeared at the doorway, and I was seen on the evening’s news scrambling to my feet!

Scrambling to my feet at the arrival of the Queen.

Shaking hands with the Queen.

HRH Princess Anne during the visit.

The Queen at the Viewing Gallery on the roof of Block 53 Toa Payoh

One thing I avoided doing immediately after the visit was to wash my hands. A neighbour had told me that I shouldn’t wash my hands that day, as I would wash my luck away, having shaken hands with the Queen. The Queen also made her way to the block of flats behind, where she had visited the flat of another family. A neighbour from the 17th floor, Ranu, related how there were crowds of people who gathered in the car park separating the two blocks of flats, hoping for a glance at the Queen, Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Princess Anne. Ranu also related how she had shouted “Long Live the Queen” at the top of her voice, along with the crowds.

Prince Phillip and Princess Anne among the crowds

Going to school the following day, the driver of the minibus I took to school, was quick to shake my hand having witnessed the events on TV the previous evening – he had wanted to shake the hand of someone who had shaken hands with the Queen. I remember him saying to me: “no wonder you ponteng school lah”, ponteng being a colloquial word used to describe playing truant, from the Malay word meaning the same.

Somehow, from the evidence of the photographs I have, the kitchen seemed to be the focal point of the visitors, perhaps because it was probably the most spacious part of the flat – unlike the kitchens of HDB flats that were built later, or perhaps it was because of the excellent view we had looking south towards the Kallang area, being on what was the tallest block of flats around.

The kitchen during the Queen's visit.

The kitchen during Sir William Goode's visit - the man on the extreme left is the late Teh Cheang Wan, the then Chairman of the HDB, who later served as the Minister of National Development.

Over the few years until 1973, when a new and taller “VIP block” was built in Toa Payoh Central, part of housing built to initially house athletes participating in the 7th South-East Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games (which Singapore hosted for the first time that year) before being sold to the public, we saw a few other notable visitors. The visitors included President Benjamin Henry Sheares, Singapore’s second President, as well as Sir Willaim Goode, a former Governor General of the colony of Singapore who served as the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara of Singapore when Singapore was granted self-government in 1959.

President Sheares saying hello to my sister, June 1971

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27 responses

29 01 2010
Road To Singapore

[...] Psst … Guess Who Dropped In Today? « The Long And Winding RoadThe visitors included President Benjamin Henry Sheares, Singapore’s second President, as well as Sir Willaim Goode, a former Governor General of the colony of Singapore who served… [...]

29 01 2010
Ang Sar Lee

Thank you for sharing. It was nice to look back to the past.
From the pictures I see that the visitors were never shown our practice of not wearing footwear in the home ;-)

10 02 2010
The wondering wanderer

Glad to share. Yes, it is always nice to look back … your observation on the footwear is correct – somehow I don’t think they would have been very comfortable with removing their shoes.

31 01 2010
Looking for Lee Han Shih? « FOOD fuels me to talk…

[...] and interesting Singapore-related topics on the Internet.Hence I stumbled upon a website called The Long and Winding Road about growing up in Singapore and elsewhere, full of nostalgia about a vanished time. So [...]

29 05 2010
Amanda

Amazing seeing the Queen visiting a HDB Flat! There is this shop in Little India with a picture of the Queen standing next to the proprietor. You would never think that she made such visits until you see the pictures!

29 05 2010
The wondering wanderer

Yes, it is Amanda, isn’t it. It was a treat for us and our neighbours! I know the shop you mentioned – coincidentally I did visit it a few days after putting the post up and shook hands with the proprietor! :)

27 08 2010
amsterdam

Thanks for the pleasure wondering if that little boy had his hand washed already :-) :-)
Such a pleasure reading your memories!

28 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for your feedback amsterdam! :D The boy being a boy, couldn’t resist the call of the playground and had to wash before dinner that evening. :D

9 08 2010
365days2play

Waaaahhh it must have been so cool, especially for a child! Did your parents know of the “perks” before they bought the flat? Does the block still stand?

9 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

Yes, it was a real treat! My parents didn’t have any idea about what was to follow when they picked the flat … guess it was a case of being in the right place at the right time! Yes, the block of flats is still right where it was! :)

14 08 2010
Jeffery Abdullah

Wow! These are very nostalgia photographs and they are gems. Thank you for sharing it here for everyone to view and learn something about our history. You and your family were proud to have such and important VVIP visitors at that time. Thank you once again! :)

26 08 2010
naren777

I remember watching that on RTS! Wow! That was you! I remember thinking while watching the Queen visit your home what a tremendous honour it must have been.

I also recall a newsreel footage of the Queen visiting Jurong Hill.

What a small world this is.

26 08 2010
The wondering wanderer

It was certainly a tremendous honour Naren! The Queen did visit Jurong Hill but I think that might have been a day or two later … I’m surprised you remember the newsreel! Yes, it certainly is a very small world! :)

29 09 2010
Going up 40 years back in time … « The Long and Winding Road

[...] Day the Queen dropped in [...]

7 10 2010
23 11 2010
The area around Toa Payoh Library 37 years ago « The Long and Winding Road

[...] One of the point blocks, Block 179, is just next to the library and was in fact also the second VIP block in Toa Payoh, taking over from Block 53 where I had lived in. The library building soon after [...]

1 12 2010
sylv

I just moved to Toa Payoh – first time here after 4 years living in Singapore. It was great to read your stories about the old Toa Payoh. And oh my, shaking hands with the Queen – must have been a great thrill!

I think I’m going to have a see-see to the Y-shaped block some time later.. Just to see and imagine how it was decades ago. I wonder if they still have the viewing gallery!

2 12 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for your comments sylv. Welcome to Toa Payoh! :) If there is anything else you might want to know about the old Toa Payoh – please ask! I can be contacted through email. It was certainly a treat and a great thrill to meet and shake hands with the Queen! The Y-Shaped block, Block 53 is still very much the same in some ways … I visited it recently and was surprised to find that the front door and gate of the flat that I lived in hasn’t changed at all! The viewing gallery is gone though … a victim of the upgrading work that was done on the block. :)

16 03 2011
Perry

Hi Wondering Wanderer.

Your vintage images caught my eyes. And they gave me flashback!
I grew up at Blk 53 for more than 20 years, and studied at First Toa Payoh Pr. Glad to see an old neighbour here.
I will get my mother to view this site.

Thank you & God Bless.

16 03 2011
The wondering wanderer

Hi Perry, thanks for visiting! Glad to know I have found an old neighbour! When did you live at Block 53? Which floor were you on? My mum taught at First Toa Payoh all those years ago … left in 1976. When did you go to school there?

24 04 2011
Kandi Dahlan

Dear ‘Wondering Wanderer’:
Hello, I am from Jakarta, Indonesia. I just happened to your site (I hope you are still maintaining this site, it’s great!). The reason? This Sunday, I went to lunch with my sister & her family and our mother came also. We went to a new food court in a new mall here, in Jakarta. Out of the blue there was a stall selling “Singaporean satay”. That brought out a lot of memories. When I was small, between 1972-1978, my father often brought us for hollidays to Singapore. Among the routine stuff we did, back then, was to stroll along the Queen Elizabeth Walk and eating at the Satay Club. My favourite dessert were lychee with ice and ice-cold slices of watermelons! My father passed away 14 years ago but those memories of Singapore & Q.E. Walk stay. Tonight, I was thinking about Q.E.Walk in Singapore and decided to look it up on the internet. That’s how I happened to your site. Good job sir! Please keep it up. (Best regards: DR. Kandi Sofia S. Dahlan, Jakarta, Indonesia)

9 08 2011
HanLyn Tresnaslira

cool stuff. thank you for sharing. was just browsing, and i came to click to your pictures from google. beautiful is all i can say. :)

1 04 2012
appalled

I just noticed something. All the ‘dignities’ into your house did not remove their footwear???!!!

31 07 2012
Karen Ashley Ng

Awesome post! Love the photos and you are one lucky boy :)

16 11 2012
Craig McTurk

Did Queen Elizabeth II visit your flat in 1972 and again in 2006? Or did she visit another flat in 2006? Thanks for your feedback.

19 11 2012
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Hi Craig, I’ve replied your email.

8 01 2013
Bernard Deng

Thank you very much for sharing. Bought back lots of childhood memories.

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