The Changi Village that I loved

29 10 2010

One of the places that I would always have a place in my heart for, is the Changi Village that had occupied the many weekends of my early childhood. It was a place that, like much of the Singapore that I had developed a fondness for in my childhood, exists only in the memories of those who had known it as had once been. It was a place which offered many an escape from the hustle and bustle of the expanding city, a world set far apart somehow from the rest of Singapore with a laid back attitude and a sense of calm that was starting to disappear from much of the rest of Singapore. The main street of the village was lined with the two distinctive rows of mainly zinc topped wooden shops, almost like a scene perhaps from the Wild West, offering more than an escape to some such as my mother, who often enjoyed a lazy Sunday afternoon stroll trawling through the often colourful displays of goods at the front of the shops before heading to the beach to bathe in the cool evening breeze. For many, there was the draw of chilling-out after the exertions of trawling the five-foot ways, not so much in Wild West styled saloons we might had imagined were there, but in the many chilling-out spots such as the Millie’s Coffee House, a household name in Changi Village in those days.

The five-foot way of a row of shops which one could take a lazy Sunday afternoon stroll along, c.1972 (photo courtesy of Derek Tait).

It would probably be hard to visualise how Changi Village might once have been without the photographs that exist, and what we do see of the remake of the village that (if we ignore the weekend crowds), still offers an escape from the concrete jungle that Singapore has become, bears little resemblance to that old laid back village. Now, four low-rise blocks of HDB flats that replaced the wooden shacks in the mid 1970s dominate the village. Despite the more urban feel that Changi Village now exudes, it is still for many, a place to chill-out, with the many food and beverage outlets and the ever popular hawker centre a big draw. There are also those little reminders of the good old days when the village was a hub of activity being a destination for the many RAF servicemen and their families stationed at the airbase in Changi. Some of the shops that had existed then are still present in one form or another. There are also similar shops that existed as before, offering supplies for the beach or for a spot of fishing, set amongst the new world shops such as the convenience stores that are more commonly seen these days, and the sight of inflatable floats and toys colouring the shop fronts, much as they did in the days gone by still greet the visitor today.

How Changi Village had looked like before the four low-rise HDB blocks of flats replaced the two rows of mainly zinc roofed wooden shop houses (source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

The village is today dominated by the four low-rise HDB blocks that came up in the later part of the 1970s, replacing the wooden shacks that were demolished in 1973.

The present hawker centre is popular with many visitors to Changi Village.

The colourful sight of displays of inflatable floats and toys still greet the visitor to the remake of Changi Village, much as they might have done in the good old days.

The memories that I have of the village come from my frequent trips there with my parents, and besides the lazy Sunday afternoon strolls, there were also many stopovers to pick up supplies for a beach picnic or the odd butterfly net with which we could harvest the fruits of the sea that the seaweed, sea cucumber and starfish decorated sandy seabed offered those who did not mind walking with a soggy pair of sneakers. On several occasions, trips there would have been on the excursions from the holiday bungalows that my parents often stayed at during the school holidays at Mata Ikan and Tanah Merah before the idyllic coastline they were set in was lost to land reclamation that allowed Changi Airport to be built. There are still some of the souvenirs of the strolls, which, in the form of the photo albums that hold some memories of not just my days in the idyllic coastline, but also of much of my childhood, are some of my most treasured possessions.

A shop in Changi Village shop c.1972 (photo courtesy of Derek Tait).

The cover of one of the photo albums that are souvenirs of the lzay Sunday afternoon strolls along the five foot ways of the wooden shacks that lined the main street of Changi Village.

One of the shops that I remember – possibly for the unusual name it had, was a shop named “L Gee Lak” – as kids, some of the children of my parents friends with whom we sometimes went on picnics with and I would often poke fun at the name, referring to the shop as “Lembu Gila“, Malay for “Mad Cow” – having one particular memory of sitting in the back seat of a yellow Saab 96 that one of the parents owned that was parked right in front of the shop and laughing along to the chorus of “Lembu Gila” that rang out from my companions seated beside me. There were also quite a number of shops that offered tailoring services as well – there would have been a big demand for such from the members of the British Forces that frequented the village … there was one that I remember – with a signboard that read “Singh Tailor” and at the bottom of the signboard, there were the words “Proprietor: Baboo Singh”. The tailor shop later moved into one of the shop units at the foot of the HDB flats just opposite the popular Changi Village hawker, with a signboard that till today still reads “Singh Tailor” – which of late has the word “Proprietor: Baboo Singh” removed.

L Gee Lak - not so much as how I remember it - I seem to remember a painted signboard with a white background with the words "L GEELAK" painted in red (source: http://www.singas.co.uk).

A survivor from the Changi Village of old.

Another thing that gave the village of old its distinct character were some of the older buildings around – the Changi Cinema, a 500 seat old style village cinema which stood at the site of the present bus terminus. Another was the old police station, at the junction of Lorong Bekukong and what was Upper Changi Road, one that had a distinct country flavour which served as a gateway to another world that lay to the north of the village – an exclusive area where senior civil servants holidayed at which would have only been accessible with a visit to the station, where one could get a pass to enter the restricted area by sitting across a wooden counter or desk from a police officer to whom the identity card of the person intending to make that visit would have to be surrendered. What lay beyond a fence that restricted access across Netheravon Road was certainly another world, maybe not quite the fairy land that the names of one of the places within the area, Fairy Point, would suggest, but one that was a wonderful world nonetheless  and one that I will certainly touch on in a future post.

Changi Cinema, which stood at the site of the current bus terminus, c.1972 (photo courtesy of Derek Tait).

The site of the present bus terminus is where the Changi Cinema once stood.


A photograph of Mr. Baboo Singh taken in 1995 by Mr. Peter Stubbs.

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42 responses

29 10 2010
Tweets that mention The Changi Village that I loved « The Long and Winding Road -- Topsy.com

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SG Urban Explorers, Jerome Lim. Jerome Lim said: The Changi Village that I loved: http://wp.me/paLEd-2i0 [...]

29 10 2010
acroamatic

Thanks for sharing your memories of Changi Village. My first visit there was probably in 1992, to board a bumboat for Pulau Ubin. I imagine the jetty back then was similar to how it would have been before Changi Village was modernised?

29 10 2010
Daily SG: 29 Oct 2010 « The Singapore Daily

[...] the train from Singapore (Tanjong Pagar Railway Station) to Johor (JB) – The Long and Winding Road: The Changi Village that I loved – under a Pipala Tree: [...]

29 10 2010
KY leonn

Thanks for the memory. I was 17 years old when I had a short training at the Changi Air Base nearby.

29 10 2010
Peter Stubbs

I was stationed at Changi from late 1966 to mid 1968 and have good memories of Changi Village. I met my wife of 42 years in the village. She was actually going out with a friend of mine at the time. My time at Changi was the best of my service life. Millie’s, for us servicemen was a little more than a milk bar in the evening! Many old comrades also have happy memories of Changi and Changi Village, and I always revisit the village when I am in Singapore.

I bought many shirts & trousers at Baboo Singh’s shop. Indeed, he made the suit I got married in. I last saw Baboo in 1995. I was walking past his shop, where he was standing outside. I recognised him immediately so went for a chat with him. He was still working in the business, but said that his eyes were failing, making tailoring difficult.

1 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

Thanks for your input Peter, very much appreciated! Glad that you have many fond memories of the old Changi Village! Who would have thought that you had been a customer of Baboo Singh! I am not sure what’s become of him … I used to see him sitting in front his shop – but on my recent visits there, the shop always seems shuttered. Thanks for the photo too! :D

11 09 2011
Harjinder Kaur

Dear Mr Stubbs,
I am Mr Baboo Singh’s daughter. My name is Harjinder Kaur. My father passed away on 7th February 2009. He was 91 years old. I am glad my father had the opportunity to meet with you.He enjoyed those years and worked very hard. I am proud that my father made an impression on you that you remembered him.

5 04 2012
Fanny Lai

Dear Harjinder, do you still live in Changi village? I grew up in Changi Village. My father Lai Mee Long used to own a shop at No. 376-H later changed to No. 1352 selling assortment of collectables and antiques. There were both closed friends I believed. I wonder if you have any recollection of it?

Fanny Lai

15 07 2012
louis joseph

hi harjinder,
you were my classmate in telok paku. my name is louis joseph

29 10 2010
Peter Stubbs

Correction: It was 2005 when I last saw Baboo Singh.

30 10 2010
Weekly Roundup: Week 44 « The Singapore Daily

[...] the train from Singapore (Tanjong Pagar Railway Station) to Johor (JB) – The Long and Winding Road: The Changi Village that I loved – under a Pipala Tree: [...]

9 11 2010
No longer the land that Fairy Tales are made of … « The Long and Winding Road

[...] around parts of the area to the west of Changi Village today, what greets you is the host of holiday facilities, housed in terraced, semi-detached and [...]

20 11 2010
Francis Lai

I could not recall much about Changi Village. Thanks for your photos and info about the place. I could only remember Changi Beach where we had our picnic there in 1966. It was my very first visit to the place. It was organised by my sec school classmates of about 16 to 20 persons, cannot remember the exact number. We hired a lorry and loaded with foods and other things. We had a wonderful time, swam there, played records using a gramophone (using batteries), foods & drinks, fun, etc. The beach was so crowded then. Those years the Changi beach, I think was probably the most popular place where young people organised beach picnics there.

21 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

My pleasure Francis! What was fun about going to the beach then was that you could drive right up close to the beach and park yourself under a shady tree … had a lot of happy times at the beach myself! :D

21 11 2010
Xin Li

wow I didn’t know this laid back village that I have passed by for more than 1 year plus has such a rich history. Today, I thought it is quite a different world itself, reminded me of the Neo Tiew estate before.

21 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

Yes, Changi Village was a wonderful place with an interesting past :) … did you live in Neo Tiew estate?

22 11 2010
Xin Li

My mum and relatives used to work at the coffee shop there. Although I don’t live there, I hang around there quite often when I was a child. They have this round thing with sand at the playground where pigeons always gather.

22 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

That would at be the cluster of low rise HDB flats at the junction of Neo Tiew Road and Lim Chu Kang Road? I always wondered how businesses survived there … the first ever time I encountered them would have been at the end of the 1970s on visits to Sarimbun camp … and later in the mid 1980s during my National Service … that was a popular stop over for lunch … Speaking of Neo Tiew Road … I had a couple of army mates who lived up the road. One I remember from a stint in Taiwan – at that time, he had lived his life in Neo Tiew Road up to the 1980s and had not ventured to places that we were by then familiar with such as Orchard Road and Changi Beach … something I guess that would be unheard of today. I guess we lived very differently then, then we do now …

22 11 2010
Xin Li

Yes, it is the cluster of low rise HDB flats at the junction of Neo Tiew Road. My aunt and uncle ran the drinks stall and my mum sells hor fun at the coffee shop. Soldiers from the nearby camps often visit the coffeeshop.

I heard from my dad that most of the residents there were actually farmers who worked at the nearby agricultural sector north of the estate (it is still a agricultural area with hydroponics, aeroponics, herb gardens etc). It was a different kind of world there, similar to Changi.

Today, it is a FIBUA complex with most of the structures still intact. Like Tekong, it has become a victim of rumours of hauntings and ghost stories, that did little justice to the history behind both places.

23 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

Xin Li, I would probably have been a customer of your mum and aunt and uncle at some point in time! Wow! Yes it was a very different world … one which I first remember as being served by the dusty yellow bus service (was it 178? – the buses always seemed to have a thick layer of dust on them). That was around Thong Hoe Village … there was also Ama Keng Village … places that fascinated me in my childhood. The area did have a lot of rumours connected with the supernatural … there were a lot of stories about Sarimbun Camp and even during my National Service stints – we were often warned to avoid doing certain things like the drains and culverts … but somehow never heard anything connected with the HDB flats …

24 11 2010
Xin Li

Haha probably! Such places are getting rate in Singapore. I find that Pulau Ubin, Changi – Hendon area, Changi Village, Gillman Camp, Tanglin, Seletar near Seletar Camp and Neo Tiew Crescent area still has that quaint atmosphere though.

The tales probably started after it was abandoned (partly thanks to Mediacorp and SPI) around the the late 1990s – 2000. Part and parcel of a place being mystified today. =/

24 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

:) Yes getting really rare – nice that you appreciate them … there is also one more place in the Sembawang area …

I guess there will always be tales about places that are isolated and abandoned …

10 04 2011
Kevin Lucas

I too appreciate all you are putting on to the web, it brings back many precious memories ! As a Brit Brat, My father was stationed in Selerang Bks, and Changi was wonderful place to grow up near, Seletar Secondary School for education, I used to help delivering produce/ groceries with a local Company and visited lots of smaller places near by. I cannot remember the shop name :) but they made the most magnificent coffee I have ever tasted. at Christmas time they would give free dinner sets to their customers, (I still have some plates from my parents gifted set). I never forgot that customers are special and should be looked after and thanked for their trade. not like today where you buy something and expect ho service after sale. The Mid 60’s Changi will always remain the a beautiful place I will always love and shall never forget Changi point as the best beach in the world.

SO thank you all for you wonderful wed site and input from everyone here.

26 04 2011
The wondering wanderer

Hi Kevin, nice to know what I am putting up has reached your shores! Thanks for sharing your own wonderful experiences in Singapore! Much of the Changi that you loved has long disappeared from Singapore, which is such a shame – especially with what Singapore has become – at least we still have a little part of the beach left … Thanks for all the feedback – very much appreciated! :)

24 07 2011
kim

Hi,
I came accross your blog while searching for my parents’ long lost business partner Mr Loi Gee Lak, and I believe the shop L. Gee Lak was his. Do you happen to know what happened to that shop, as to where it’s moved too? The name’s very unique and I strongly believe that this is the person we are looking for. We are very much appreciated any informations you can provide us.

Best regards,
Kim

28 07 2011
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Hi Kim, thanks for dropping by. Unfortunately I have no idea what happened to the shop – it was something that I remember from my visits to Changi Village and the unique name and Mr Baboo Singh’s tailor shop that I remember very well. I’ll post this on my Facebook group “On a little street in Singapore” and see if we can get any leads from there.

Regards

Jerome

11 09 2011
Harjinder Kaur

I met Mr Loi’s family recently.I used to be Florence Loi’s classmate at Telok Paku Primary School. I believe they have a shop at Marine Parade facing the old cinema.

10 06 2014
Francis Gomes

Hi Harijinder K How’s sister Manjeet , Regards Gomez

29 07 2011
Kim

Hi Jerome,
Thank you for your help.
Few days ago, I called Singh’s Taylor hoping that I could get some infos but unfortunately Mr Baboo Singh’s passed away a few years already :(:(.
Many thanks for posting on your facebook, hopefully someone, maybe a family member of Mr Lak will see it.

Regards.
Kim

11 09 2011
Rajinder aka Guddi

My dad had a shop in Changi Village to, it was called Amar Singh Tailor,
my dad passed on almost 24 yrs ago. But every time I decide to go down to Changi Village, I still wish I will see the Old Changi Village again. I will stand
near the two huge trees that were infront of our shop and close my eyes to feel and smell Old Changi Village again.

5 04 2012
Fanny Lai

Raj, I felt exactly the same as you. My Dad used to own a shop called Mee Long Store at No. 1352. It was an unforgettable place.

3 06 2012
Rajinder aka Guddi

Hi Fanny, yes your dad’s shop ws exactly opposite of ours. My dad’s shop was No 1351… oh it s bring in more memories.. and sad tales…

2 07 2014
Mei Jiuan

Hello Fanny,

Do you remember the name of the tyre shop in Changi village? It belonged to my maternal grandmother’s sister’s family.

15 09 2011
Eileen (nee Crane)

I was a pad brat too, from 1947-1949. I was 6 years old when I went there with my parents and brothers. Somewhere I have a grocery order book my parents used to buy provisions from the local village store in Changi Village, I must look it out. I have lots of ‘snaps’ from our time there. I have happy, if distant, memories of Changi.

18 09 2011
amitkainth

I’m still looking for more changi village pics,i joined the RAF group on facebook..and Telok Paku school group,if anyone of you were frm tht school,do joins us.

29 05 2012
Zara

Thanks very much for the walk down memory lane on our beloved Changi Village where my siblings and I grew up while attending our formative years at TPS (Telok Paku Pr. Schl.) The memory seems vivid and yes indeed, I was in the same clique as Florence Loi, Tan Eai Tin, Wan Eai Goh (btw, the last two are cousins) — whose grandparents own the kid’s rides, bicycles twin tire stores and one of their aunts was my math tutor) — and Yeo Mui Yong. Also, our dear classmate of Harjinder Kaur. While my oldest sis used to work as a part-time cosmetician for Mr & Mrs Loi’s L.GEE LAK cosmetic and beauty salon shops, both at their rebuilt Changi store (and the one in Market Street) after the former was hit by a disastrous fire in 1970 (caused by Thakur Electronics emporium store – allegedly rumored to be an insurance debacle of sorts.) I’m so grateful to see the original photos of our former Changi Village with its quaint mom+pop shops aligned throughout that stretch of main Changi road, prior to the aforesaid fire… (If memory serves on the timeline i.e., that we all can recall the aforesaid fire occured right after that the first major one during Chrismas of 1970 at the largest Robinson store, where both some shopppers and a pregnant store clerk lives perished.) Our father (deceased since ’00), nicknamed Jim Ali, worked as a salesman for YeeYee tailor across the street from Mr Singh’s store and they both were good friends despite their competitiveness in business. It was Mr Singh, who then, encouraged our dad to buy into a downtown Lucky Plaza (when it first opened in 1972) 24hour startup tailoring business, when his former had to cease due to the making of today’s Changi Airport. While my elder sister was a classmate of Mr Singh’s oldest daughter, Manjeet Kaur. Albeit, did wonder what happened to the rest of the shopowners and their respective families like our mutual classmates — Dilip Kumar and Thirdas, Singh & Sons store (dealing with handmade decorative textiles etc.). Your photos depicting the Changi cinema, on the left was an Indian mee goreng stall and the one on right was Ah Pui’s sweet shop, where we used to get our treats before going in for Hindi movies. Next to that was the noodle stall also belong to Ah Pui’s granddaughter and the popular Changi Hainanese chicken rice stall (opened only evenings), afterwards. Thanks again for posting that used comics and books store next to the local major bakery store. My sister and I used to hang out at that shop while waiting for the fresh loaves to be baked per our errands. For us, it was a highlight every weekend to just stand in one corner of the store to read all the comics – June, Bunty, Beano, Dandy, children’s fables and preteens adventure books by famed author, Enid Blyton – which for the most part, were donated by the ANZUK expat families (who called our little town, “The Village”) after their sojourn ended. Also, we used to visit the Sri Mariaman Temple (next to L.Gee Lak store) every other weekend with my Sindhi friends in our neighborhood, encouraged by our Dad (whose once a Hindu himself, originally from Bombay and landed in Singapore via the British military service) to get that yummy “prashath” (blessed offering) (LOL!!) from the priests after service, esp. during Deepavali festivities. Since our family was resettled to Chai Chee avenue, I didnt go back but once in ’85, while visiting our mom (now deceased) at Changi Hospital. Witnessing the whole change in unfamiliarity an atmosphere, evoked the sentiment to envision the former. It was such a poignant recollection of those childhood memories — the funny, sweet, good, with sometimes bad and ugly of circumstances — albeit, a comforting note. Would love to bring my family back to where my childhood was spent during our next visit to Singapore. And, to all my dear childhood friends from Changi Village and TPS, and largely Thanks gratefully to You too, Jerome Lim aka WW, (please keep posting more pics so that I can forward to my family), wishing you and yours a fabulous productive week ahead and Best of Luck to your endeavours!! Cheers, Zara Alley :)

3 06 2012
Rajinder aka Guddi

Hi Zara, I really miss our Changi Village… Telok Paku Sch… Mrs Quek, Mr Bala and all…..

15 07 2012
louis joseph

hi zara,
i am not sure whether you are the one whom mr. tan our teacher in pr. 3 had us act in a drama, which was later cancelled due to the theme, which at that time i did not understand but in the later years i understood why. do you remember satvinder?

1 07 2012
john swindell

Thanks for the wonderful articles and photos of old Singapore, I’ve been hoping to find something like this for years, and the photos above bring back happy memories, especially the bookstall! I lived at Bedokville in 1969 and Tanah Merah Besar by the prison until sept 1971, we have hundreds of photos from that period (my father served in the RAF and I went to Seletar and Changi RAF schools), and I absolutely loved Singapore (i was 11 till 13 years old, a vivid time for young people).

I went back in 1995, happy to see Jalan Limau Perut still there, our old house 42 still standing, though a lot has now gone round tanah merah and changi, sadly. I enjoyed talking to the son of one of the shopkeepers from old Changi Village, who was running his own textile shop in 1995 in the new Changi Village, and he introduced his lovely family.

Hopefully I can post some of my photos (they were colour slides and I need to scan them in properly!)

Thanks again for the record of a lost era!

15 02 2013
gina north

Tthank you for the memories I was stationed at changi fom 69 to pull out. It was a wonderful place. I remember Fred rottee stall and the keema shop. My boyfriend at thr time taught one of the locals to make egg and chips in his wok! Great great memories. Thanks. Gina North

7 07 2013
eileen nee crane

I found the little book my parents used to order food it was at
Changi Provision and Wine Store.
Changi Road.
first entry is 6.2.47 last one was 2.12,47
so we must have had another book, but this is the only one I have.
6 tins of milk $1.80
8lbs Potatoes $1.60
etc
wonder what the exchange rate was then, and how much it would be today!!

3 02 2014
A Child, a Bug or a Marmoset? | SINGAPORE POETRY

[…] Changi Village c. 1972, photo by Derek Tait, from The Long and Winding Road. […]

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