An oasis recreated?

8 07 2014

It is good to see that the long overdue Singapore Sports Hub has finally been completed. However, having been built over a part of Singapore that does hold many of my most memorable childhood experiences, seeing the new world complete with the seemingly indispensable shopping mall come up in place of a once familiar gentler world that existed, bring with it a tinge of sadness.

The new National Stadium seen from its south end, looking as if it is about to roar.

The new National Stadium seen from its south end, looking as if it is about to roar.

Reflections on Kallang Basin at dawn - the area where the once iconic Oasis was has since been transformed.

Reflections on Kallang Basin at dawn – the area where the once iconic Oasis was has since been transformed.

I liked that old Kallang, or properly Kallang Park, part of the area where the Sports Hub now stands. That was the Kallang that was shaped by the developments of the late 1960s and early 1970s that were not just to provide Singapore with the highs and lows that the old National Stadium in playing host to Malaysia Cup matches brought, but also a different set of highs-and-lows that the lion-headed roller coaster of the old-fashioned Wonderland Amusement Park did give to many of the younger folks of the era.

The National Stadium provided the setting for a football match in 1974 that left a lasting impression on me.

The odl National Stadium, which provided the setting for a football match in 1974 that left a lasting impression on me.

Beyond the stadium and the place that brought much joy to the children of the 1970s, it was a place where one could take a leisurely stroll by the waters of the Kallang Basin and perhaps watch the setting sun painted a scene made interesting by the silhouettes of boat against reflections off waters that might have been less than welcoming to the recreational boaters we see a multitude of in the Kallang Basin of today.

The new stadium with the silhouette of a dragon boat team in the Kallang Basin seen at sunrise.

The new stadium with the silhouettes of a dragon boat team at practice in the Kallang Basin seen at sunrise.

There was of course the places to dine at – the Oasis Restaurant complex, with its immediately recognisable octogonal shaped pods over the waters of the basin, having once being a popular dining and entertainment destination. Besides the Oasis, the fast-food craze of the 1970s brought with the arrival of fast-food outlets to Kallang Park, with A&W setting up a drive-in restaurant in September 1978. The opening of restaurant would best be remembered for a famous personality who was well-known from his appearances at the nearby stadium, footballer Quah Kim Song, making an appearance.

What used to be the Oasis over the Kallang Basin.

The pods of the once familiar Oasis over the Kallang Basin.

Over the years, we have seen McDonald’s and KFC being set up in the area with a UK based Fish and Chips chain, Harry Ramsden’s opening an outlet in the early 1990s. Over the years – the fast-food outlets have become a popular place for those heading to or from the stadium for a quick and convenient meal.

Another look at the waterfront around where the Oasis once was.

Another look at the area by the waterfront around where the Oasis once was.

The interactions I had with the area also include an episode in my life connected to a well forgotten industrial past, when shipyards lined the banks of the foul-smelling Geylang River on the area’s south-eastern fringe. That was in the 1980s, when I did see the last of Wonderland before it disappeared as many things do – having to make way in 1988 for a huge open-air car park meant to serve Kallang Indoor Stadium.

And another...

And another…

Kallang will of course never now be the same again. Apart from few industrial buildings from the era that have been put to alternative use and a couple of fast-food outlets, there is little left to remind me of a time that now seems so distant. While the much needed new stadium and the associated sporting facilities is much welcomed – I have made use of the competition pool at the OCBC Aquatic Centre and it is fabulous, it will never be the same again, especially without the Kallang Roar, when the old stadium became a cauldron of the collection of noise made by the crowd cheering, clapping and even stamping  that had its structure literally shaking.

An iPhone taken pano of the competition pool at the OCBC Aquatic Centre.

An iPhone taken pano of the competition pool at the OCBC Aquatic Centre (click to enlarge).

The roar had been what our Malaysia Cup opponents had feared most in playing at the old stadium. That, having long fallen silent with the days of the Malaysia Cup, as we knew it, well behind us, would probably never return.





At the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky …

19 06 2014

7.01 am, 18 June 2014. The new National Stadium at Kallang, set to host its first event this weekend, is seen against the colours of the new day breaking through on a storm tossed morning.

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Dawn of the new Kallang

10 06 2014

A view of the soon to be opened new National Stadium from across the Kallang River at dawn – the dawn perhaps of a new “Kallang Roar”. The stadium, part of the newly redeveloped Singapore Sports Hub, is a long overdue replacement for the much-loved old National Stadium, which came down in 2010. The old stadium, was where the much feared “Kallang Roar” was born in, the collective noise that was heard from the cheers, chants and stamping of feet when as much as 70,000 packed the stadium during the days of the Malaysia Cup.  The stadium, which features a retractable roof, will open its doors on the weekend of 21/22 June when it hosts its first event, the World Cup 10s Rugby.

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Changing Landscapes: The end of the roadway

29 01 2014

One of the remnants of Singapore’s first civil airport at Kallang, a dual carriageway roadway lined with reminders of a time that has been forgotten, is no more. The roadway, left behind perhaps as a reminder of lead-in and exit to and from the airport for over half a century after the airport ceased operations in 1955, seems now itself one Singapore wishes to forget. It is now cut-off from vehicular traffic that in times more recent, would have used it as an access to or from the National Stadium or Nicoll Highway, with a larger capacity and more direct road having been built to take traffic to the new National Stadium and the Singapore Sports Hub which is scheduled to be completed in May 2014.

The wonderful cover of trees over the old road.

The wonderful cover of trees over the old road.

The former entrance pillars to Singapore's first civil airport.

The former entrance pillars to Singapore’s first civil airport.

The now closed roadway seen today.

The now closed roadway seen today.

Looking towards the former junction with Geylang Road.

Looking towards the former junction with Geylang Road.

The roadway at the airport's opening in 1937 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).

The roadway to the airport in 1945 (source: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/).





Critically endangered

29 08 2013

With the recent death of the neglected but beautiful dove in the island’s west, there is only one that’s left to remember one of several terrazzo and mosaic creations that many who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s would have had fond memories of playing in. The dove, is one of several playground designs – the work of the Housing and Development Board’s Mr Khor Ean Ghee, with a uniquely and very distinctly Singaporean flavour that decorated Singapore’s public housing estates in the late 1970s and through the 1980s and 1990s.

Beyond a wall with decorative ventilation openings from a bygone era lies a critically endangered dove.

Beyond a wall with decorative ventilation openings from a bygone era lies a critically endangered dove.

The surviving dove at Dakota  Crescent.

The surviving dove at Dakota Crescent.

The dove at Dakota Crescent is one which although well worn and exhibiting obvious signs of age, is remarkably preserved – a testament perhaps to play structures put up in times when they were built to last. Still with its sand-pit, a feature of the playgrounds of  the era, it does also feature rubber tyre swings and a slide. There are several more of these structures left behind, including the well-loved dragon of Toa Payoh, which many hope will be preserved, not just to preserve the many memories there are of happy childhood moments, but also because they are structures which we can quite easily identify with Singapore, from a time when we did not yet forget to express who we are.

The dove's last surviving sibling was reduced to rubble very recently.

The dove’s last surviving sibling was reduced to rubble very recently.

What is also nice about the very last dove, is that it resides in a rather charming old neighbourhood, one Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) built flats which came up in the late 1950s, well before the dove was put there. The estate it is in, Kallang Airport Estate, was developed in the area at the end of the extended Kallang Airport runway – land which was freed after 1955, when the airport was closed. Some 21 seven-storey and 20 four-storey blocks were built from 1956 to 1959. The estate was officially opened in July 1958 and the cluster of flats the dove finds itself in the midst of, are amongst the few that have survived.

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A quick glance around the dove

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Rebirth

17 07 2013

The demolition of the former National Stadium in 2010 and the construction of a new National Stadium within the Singapore Sports Hub does bring to mind an art installation I stumbled upon at Sculpture Square back in 2010 – around the time the demolition work started. The work of local artist Ngim Kum Thong, Deconstruction, Destruction and Destination, examines the inevitability of deconstruction and destruction, the eventuality of which is a destination – much as what we have seen in the dismantling and demolition of an icon and the creation of another to replace it.

The sun sets on the National Staidum. The final stand as the old stadium built in 1973 was being demolished at the end of 2010.

The sun sets on the National Staidum. The final stand as the old stadium built in 1973 was being demolished at the end of 2010.

The former National Stadium, was completed in 1973, playing host to Singapore’s very first mass participation international sports event. Through the years, the 55,000 seat capacity stadium (it did take in crowds as large as 70,000 during its early days hosting Malaysia Cup matches) played host to many sports events including the well supported Malaysia Cup football matches and also National Day parades. It’s demolition in the second half of 2010 was a long delayed one – work on the Singapore Sports Hub was originally meant to have started back in 2008. More recently an announcement was made by the Singapore Sports Council (SSC) on the occasion of  the Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth’s visit to view the installation of the highest truss of the new stadium – approximately 77.5 metres above pitch level, confirms that the project is on track and the stadium will be opened as scheduled in April 2014.

The sun rises on the new. The new National Stadium and the Sports Hub takes shape - seen in April 2013. The Sports Hub is scheduled to be completed in April 2014.

The sun rises on the new. The new National Stadium and the Sports Hub takes shape – seen in April 2013. The Sports Hub is scheduled to be completed in April 2014.





Monoscapes: Death of a National icon

16 04 2013

6.56 pm on 8 February 2011. Descending storm clouds cast a pall of gloom over the last pieces standing of the National Stadium, the demolition of which was completed in the same month. Built at Kallang Park on a reclaimed plot of land which had once been used for Singapore’s first international civil airport, the stadium which was to become a National icon was completed in 1973. It was the year Singapore hosted its very first major international mass sporting event, the 7th South-East Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games. The stadium also went on to be used as a home ground for the widely supported Singapore football team in the Malaysia Cup competition, packing as many as 70,000 spectators (its capacity was to later be capped at 55,000) and acquiring a fearsome reputation as the home of the “Kallang Roar”.

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Going the way of several other National icons from a less extravagant era in our history, its place will be taken by a new stadium which is being built as part of the new Singapore Sports Hub. The new stadium is scheduled to be completed in 2014.





Monoscapes: Kallang Basin

24 03 2013

More than a quarter of a century has passed since the ten-year effort to clean the Kallang Basin up was completed in 1987. Now part of body of freshwater cut-off by land reclaimed at Tanjong Rhu and Marina South, and the Marina Barrage, it is now hard to imagine a time when the waters of the Kallang Basin,  were dirty, murky and exuded a stench that would be hard not to take notice of. Fed by the Rochor, Geylang and Kallang Rivers, the waters before the cleanup were littered not just by the many boats that were anchored in the basin, but also by what the numerous slums, boatyards, sawmills, pig and poultry farms that had once populated the areas upriver deposited. The sight of carcasses of dead animals floating in the waters was not an uncommon sight. Today, as the area is being transformed, it is not the trading boats we see, but recreational boats which perhaps serve as a last reminder of what may not have been so distant a past.

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Previous posts related to Kallang Basin:





The sun rises on a strange horizon

20 03 2013

A sunrise over a strange and unfamiliar horizon, 7.08 am 20 March 2013, taken from the mouth of the Kallang River. It wasn’t so long ago that the view would have been towards the pods of the former Oasis Restaurant; the silhouettes not of the clutter of tower cranes that have become all too common a sight in Singapore, but that of the floodlight towers of the old National Stadium.

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The old stadium, home of the once feared Kallang Roar, with its many memories of days when football was played and supported for the love of the game, has since been torn down, and out of the ashes of the well loved grand old dame,  a new stadium – the Singapore Sports Hub is rising. That is scheduled to be opened in April 2014.

The sun will soon rise over the Singapore Sports Hub (currently under construction).

The sun will soon rise over the Singapore Sports Hub (currently under construction).





The curious ridge of sand which runs from Katong to Kallang Bay

25 11 2012

Taking a walk by the waterfront by the Singapore Indoor Stadium these days, it would be hard to imagine a time not so long ago when looking across to Tanjong Rhu, a very different scene would have greeted one’s eyes. Where million dollar condominium units housed in cream coloured blocks now dominate the view across, the scene a quarter of a century ago would have been one of wooden boats, wooden jetties, slipways and drab looking structures running along a body of water the surface of which would have been littered not just by rubbish that had found its way into the three rivers that flowed into the basin, but also by carcasses of dead animals that floated down from the many farms that has once been located upstream.

Tanjong Rhu (left), seen across the Kallang Basin today.

Tanjong Rhu translates from Malay into the Cape of Casuarina (Trees). Once described as a “curious ridge of sand which runs across from Katong to Kallang Bay”, its tip, known as “Sandy Point” has had a long association with the boat building and repair trade, having been an area designated for the trade by Sir Stamford Raffles as far back as 1822, with Captain Flint being the first to set a company to do that in the same year. By the 1850s, the trade was already well established around Sandy Point and the trade continued to thrive in the area even after the first graving dock was constructed in New Harbour (Keppel Harbour) in 1859. Over the years, among the business that found their way to Sandy Point were the well established names such as British boatbuilder J I Thornycroft which set up in 1923 and United Engineers. Thornycroft became Vosper Thornycroft in 1967 following the 1966 merger of the parent company with Vosper Limited in the UK. Vosper Thornycroft’s Singapore operations in turn merged with United Engineer’s in 1967. The yard unfortunately got into financial difficulties due to the mid 1980s recession and went into voluntary liquidation in early 1986.

The end of Tanjong Rhu was home to several shipyards including Vosper Thornycroft (seen here), the parent company of which is an established builder of Naval craft in the UK and Singapore Slipway (which became Keppel Singmarine), established as far back as 1887.

A slipway of a boatyard on the Geylang River

A well established organisation involved in shipbuilding still around that can trace its history to Sandy Point is the newbulding arm of Keppel Corporation, Keppel Singmarine. The subsidiary of what is now Keppel Offshore and Marine is a merger of Singmarine and Singapore Slipway. It was Singapore Slipway that had been established at Sandy Point in 1887 when a group of merchants bought William Heard and partner Campbell Heard and Co’s slipway which was set up earlier in the decade and formed the Slipway and Engineering Company. Keppel Singmarine’s yard operated at Tanjong Rhu until the early 1990s.

A boat littered Kallang Basin in 1973 at the time of the completion of the National Stadium (Singapore Sports Council Photo). Land reclamation along the Nicoll Highway promenade can be clearly seen.

Besides the shipyards, another area of Tanjong Rhu a short distance away from its tip that wasn’t very pretty was at the area known as Kampong Arang. That had been an area that was dominated by wooden jetties, used by charcoal traders to offload charcoal from tongkangs (wooden lighters) coming in from Indonesia and Thailand. The charcoal trade was established in the area in 1954 when charcoal traders were uprooted from the waterfront along the reclaimed land south of Beach Road to allow for the construction of Merdeka Bridge and the Nicoll Highway. The once thriving charcoal trade operated at Tanjong Rhu up until January 1987 when the trade was already in decline. At its height in the late 1950s, as many as 300 tongkangs plied between the two countries and Tanjong Rhu, falling to 60 by the time the 1970s had arrived when demand fell as many households had by then already switched to using gas and electric stoves. The traders were relocated to Lorong Halus (only 15 of the 40 that operated at Tanjong Rhu continued at Lorong Halus with demand mainly from the reexport of charcoal than from the local market) in early 1987 at the tail end of the decade long Kallang Basin cleanup efforts.

Another view of Kallang Basin and Tanjong Rhu today.

Beyond the cleanup efforts, the face of Tanjong Rhu has also been altered by the land reclamation south of the cape which has increased its land mass. The land reclamation, started in the early 1970s, was originally intended to allow for the construction of the East Coast Parkway and was further expanded to give the area now referred to as Marina East – at the tip of which the Marina Barrage now closes the channel between it and Marina South which has turned Marina Bay and the Kallang Basin into a huge reserve of a much needed resource, fresh water. The shifting out of the trades from the area were complete by the time the mid 1990s had arrived and allowed much of the northern waterfront area of Tanjong Rhu to be developed into a residential area and the basin into a recreational area that it is today.

[see also: Where slipways once lined the muddy banks of the Geylang River: Jalan Benaan Kapal]





Drinks, keropok, kuaci: Malek Awab on the last time ever we saw the cup

31 07 2011

There is probably some level of excitement over the news of Singapore’s re-entry into the Malaysia Cup competition amongst the older football fans who have since 1994, been starved of an annual football tournament that brought a nation together. It was in supporting the Singapore team bringing people from all walks of life, as many as 70,000 of them, on the terraces of the National Stadium and many more who in the comfort and safety of their homes, felt one with those in the crowd. It was in lending support to what had effectively been the National team, and in the experience of the numerous lows and the few highs when the pinnacle was reached, participating singing and chanting both on the stands and at home, that fans wholeheartedly stood as one, as Singaporeans and football fans first.

Malek Awab today. Malek was a key member of the 1994 team that won the Malaysia Cup.

The 1994 season which was to turn out to be the final season for Singapore in the Malaysia Cup, was one during which the more highs than lows were experienced. It was a season that had commenced with the uncertainty of the gaping hole left in the coaching department by the departure of Ken Worden as a coach just a week before the tournament had started, had as the days progressed, turned out well, the pre-tournament efforts of Worden proving pivotal as the fitness levels of the members of the squad improved by Worden carried the Lions through winning the league and finding themselves pitted against their archrivals and bogey team Selangor in the semi-finals. The semi-finals played on a home and away format saw Singapore overcoming Selangor and knocking on the door of a cup that had in the previous 13 years proved to be an elusive target.

The National Stadium built in 1973, went on to be the home of the famous Kallang Road which spurred players such as Malek Awab and Fandi Ahmad on.

For a whole generation of players, it was an opportunity to end the drought, twice in the 1990s having lost to Kedah at the old Merdeka Stadium. This time around, a new arena beckoned – the 81,000 seat Shah Alam Stadium. It was one that the Lions had done well enough in to see off the threat posed by Selangor whose home was the Shah Alam Stadium. Many in the team had not tasted success, the last coming in 1980 when the skipper of the 1994 team, Fandi Ahmad scored the winning goal. Amongst those who had not won with the Singapore team was a certain Malek Awab, a diminutive midfielder who was once told he was too small to play the game competitively. Malek had since his introduction to the competitive game as a fifteen year old through the youth ranks of Farrer Park United, grown in stature on the pitch and had become one of the more recognisable players both on and off the pitch, plying his trade in Kuala Lumpur, before coming back to play for the Singapore Malaysia Cup team in 1994. I had an opportunity to interview Malek, who I was a big fan of as a Memory Ambassador for the National Library Board as part of the Singapore Memory Project.

Fandi Ahmad who scored the winning goal the last time Singapore had won the cup in 1980, skippered the Singapore side in the 1994 finals.

Malek had come a long way since his early encounters with the game which included seeking permission to leave early from school on match days to vend “drinks, keropok, kuaci” on match days, longing to be that guy on the pitch his customers were yelling their support for. He had, in his first Malaysia Cup season in 1981, the experience of reaching the final only to lose at the final hurdle, in a game he could not influence having spent the 90 minutes on the bench. It was for him, a chance to win the cup in Singapore’s colours, having previously won it with Kuala Lumpur.

The terraces which were often packed with up to 70,000 fanatical spectators during Malaysia Cup matches in the 1970s and where Malek Awab started his 'career' at the stadium selling drinks and snacks.

There was an air of quiet confidence within the team, having played well in the lead-up to the final despite the hiccups of seeing Michael Vana hauled up to answer questions on possible match fixing and promptly jumping bail and strongman in defence Jang Jung being suspended. The team travelled up to Shah Alam the day before staying at a hotel close to the stadium, and arrived at the stadium to a sea of red – three quarters of the stadium had been filled with Singapore supporters, some 50,000 of them in a crowd of 81,000 in the stadium. There was none of the antics of supporters on some of the travels around the Malaysian states – Malek recounted one incident in Kuching, Sarawak when spectators let a gunny sackful of cats (kuching being Malay for cats) during the warm-up. Malek knew that he and the team just had to do it for all those supporters who had made the journey to Shah Alam and had placed faith in the team to deliver.

Meeting a hero of 1994.

The game itself was all a blur for Malek – he can’t remember much of what happened on the field. What he could recall was how tense the game was, despite Singapore scoring the first goal through Abbas Saad early enough in the first half. The second half opened with Pahang pressing for a goal, hitting the underside of the bar before Singapore scored a second 8 minutes into the half through an on fire Abbas in a counter attack. The team welcomed that goal and certainly the many supporters in the stands and those who like me, watched it live on the television welcomed it to. With Pahang very much focused on trying to get a quick goal, spaces were left at the back for Abbas and Fandi to exploit which resulted in Abbas completing his hat-trick just 12 minutes later and with a quick fourth goal, all that was left was to hold out against a visibly deflated Pahang side. When the final whistle did come, the magnitude of the occasion finally got to Malek. He broke down, thinking to himself that he had finally in the twilight of his career, won the cup in the colours of the team of his home country – it was the first time he had done it, and was possibility the last opportunity for him to have won it. Having his hand on the Malaysia Cup and holding it high for all to see, was a feeling for Malek that he can’t describe, but one that meant a lot to him and to the thousands of proud Singapore fans in the stadium that night and watching back in Singapore on the television.





Taking flight from Old Kallang Airport

5 04 2011

No, it wasn’t flights of fancy that one might associate with the idealistic pursuit of expression that artists are sometimes inclined to have that took off from what was Singapore’s first civil airport, Old Kallang Airport. The former airport, still with us in the form of its iconic terminal building and control tower, along with a few auxiliary buildings around it, isn’t of course capable of hosting flying machines – something that we have not seen in the shadows of the simple terminal building for over half a century, with its runway and much of the land it occupied given to other uses.

The light is shinning on Old Kallnag Airport for the Singapore Biennale 2011.

One that certainly did not take to the skies .... parked where a flying machine might have been seen over half a century ago.

It wasn't just the flying of an imaginary flag up a flag pole that Old Kallang Airport saw on Sunday.

What did take off from the old airport were some of the simpler pursuits we once indulged in during our childhoods, something that both young and old were able to participate in – the flying of simple light paper and bamboo framed kites. It was a simple yet brilliant idea that provided a welcome distraction to many of the younger and otherwise bored visitors at Singapore Biennale Open House, which hasn’t really taken Singapore by storm as it should really have done. The kite flying was part of the craft activities that reached out to the young that included terrarium making, badge making, and paper aeroplane making. Children were allowed to decorate their own kites, have tails fixed on, and with a kite string on a small reel, the kites were ready to go.

The lack of a runway did not deter flights from taking off from Kallang Airport.

A child running with a kite ...

Even the older "kids" had a ball of a time.

Flights from Kallang Airport ...

A kite seen through a dangling cable.

The activities are all part of the Beinnale’s Family Day Out aimed at reaching out to members of the public offering not just a host of activities, but also free admission to all venues on Sundays and Public Holidays in April and May right up to the Beinnale’s last day on 15 May. For more information on the activities and the Family Day Out, do visit the Singapore Biennale 2011′s website at this link.

Despite the manifesto for bad music ....

... there was some good music in store for visitors to Old Kallang Airport with an enjoyable performance by Ling Kai.





Reflections on Old Kallang Airport (Singapore Biennale 2011)

18 03 2011

[Do note that if you are planning a visit to the Biennale at Old Kallang Airport, the entrance is at Stadium Link, off Geylang Road, a short walk away from Kallang MRT Station. A link to a Google Map with the specific location of the entrance can be found at the end of this post].


Glancing at the headline of yesterday’s article on page 2 of the Life section of the Straits Times, which read “Biennale’s Kallang site not ideal. Visitors say that Old Kallang Airport, one of four venues for the art event, is difficult to get to and very stuffy”, and the lack of interest that is apparent at the venue so far with the exception of Saturday’s Open House Opening Party, one certainly can’t help but have a feeling that the choice of the site of the Singapore’s first civil airport, Old Kallang Airport, wasn’t a good one. I for one, did not mind the absence of a crowd, as that provided me with an opportunity to explore the marked historic site at leisure taking in as much as I could, grateful for the opportunity to explore buildings that I had previously only glanced at from behind a fence. In walking around, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a brilliant idea to do so, not just from the perspective of providing the public access to what had for long otherwise been a closed-off site, but also that the site was ideal for such an event, providing the spatial requirements required that does not exist in the confines of the museum buildings and sites in the city centre. Yes, maybe the site does seem a world away from the convenience of the city, but it isn’t really too far away and readily accessible via public transport, with the Kallang MRT station being a short enough walk away from the entrance to the site. Perhaps what is lacking isn’t the convenience that some have voiced their opinions about, but the information that the public needs to know.

The sign at the entrance of Old Kallang Airport.

The entrance of Old Kallang Airport.

I guess I am one for old places, especially the few that reamin that I can identify in some way from the childhood I had in a Singapore time has erased. The distinctive terminal building of the old airport with its control tower, which by the time I arrived in the world, was used by the People’s Association (PA) as its headquarters, had always been one that I had associated with Kallang and the Nicoll Highway, rising on the left of the east bound carriageway of Singapore’s first highway built after the airport had ceased operations. That would be the approach to the old Guillemard Circus and the wonderful neon signs that I somehow associate with the roundabout. There were many times that I had passed the building on foot as well, cutting on the side of it through from Kallang Road on the way to the National Stadium to catch a match or in the two months that I would have walked by on an almost daily basis on the way to Jalan Bennan Kapal. The tower adorned with the rings of the PA’s logo, had always caught my eye, rising somewhat defiantly and proudly to remind us of its past as Singapore’s first civil airport all those years back.

The distinctive terminal building which is a landmark in the area.

Another view of the terminal building.

The entrance gate to the terminal building.

Perhaps the inspiration for this set of photographs ... a work on display in the terminal building.

The reminders of its previous role had been everywhere, with names such as “Old Airport Road” and Dakota Crescent around. So even with me not having seen it used as an airport, I had been aware of it since I could remember … The airport had I was to discover, was built as an airfield on the site of land reclaimed from the swampy Kallang Basin in 1937 at the cost of S$9 million. It was opened very grandly by the then Govenor of Singapore, Sir Shenton Thomas, who flew in from Seletar for the occasion with some 70 aircraft there to mark the occasion. The location next to the Kallang Basin proved useful as it also allowed seaplanes to land. It was used by the Japanese who built a paved runway during the occupation, and refurbished by the British on their return. And although there were plans to expand and upgrade the airport the the end of the 1940s and early 1950s, it was thought that effort involved would prove too costly and Kallang was abandoned for a new inetrnational airport at Paya Lebar. Paya Lebar started operations in 1955 and that saw the last of Kallang as a civil airport, with the PA moving into the site in 1960. On the evidence of old photographs, the hangars were used by the Public Works Department (PWD) after the airport closed. The bulk of the location of the main runway was then transformed into Kallang Park one which the Oasis Restaurant, Wonderland Amusement Park and later the National Stadium, Indoor Stadium and Kallang Leisuredrome was built.

The main hangar next to the West Block.

The West Block and the main hangar off the window of the terminal building.

A smaller hangar, once used as a second hand car showroom.

An auxiliary building.

Another view of the smaller hangar.

It was certainly nice to walk around the old site and reflect on this, and hence the theme of this post … much of the old airport grounds that are left have been left in not so much its original state, but in a state that perhaps the PA had left them in – which I thought wonderfully complemented the exhibits. That also meant a lot of the wear and tear was evident from not just the use of the buildings by the PA, but the hangars by used car dealers at some point in time – I remember seeing them still at the end of the 1990s passing by after a concert at the Indoor Stadium. That provided me with an alternative view of the buildings – reflected off puddles of water and off windows and mirrors. I certainly did not get enough of it on the two occasions that I visited and I will certainly return for more.

A Toast Box cafe set up in one of the smaller hangars.

The side of a hangar.

The roof of the smaller hangar.

The main hangar.

Ventilation openings on the side of the main hangar.

The inside of the main hangar.

Roof of the main hangar.

Windows on the side of the main hangar.

Windows on the side of the main hangar.

Some of the auxiliary buildings on the premises - I understand that these were used by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra in the 1990s.

A newer auxiliary building ... perhaps added in the 1950s as an expanded air traffic control centre.

A peek under a marquee.

Another view of the terminal building and an auxiliary building.

A reflection of the East Block on a mirror mounted on an auxiliary building.

A last look ....

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What’s to become of Old Kallang Airport? Thankfully, we should see that it is conserved for our future generations – it would be nice to see it turned into some kind of aviation museum though:

URA Letter to the Strait Times, 5 Mar 2010

URA has plans for old Kallang Airport site

I THANK Mr Edwin Pang for his Forum Online letter last Friday, 'Turn site into civil aviation heritage centre'.

The former Kallang Airport is located within Kallang Riverside, which is envisioned to be a new lifestyle hub at the fringe of the city area under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) 2008 Master Plan.

The former Kallang Airport passenger terminal building with its distinctive art deco structure, as well as the office buildings, former hangar, Old Airport Square and other historical structures, was designated a heritage area and conserved in 2008 to preserve memories while allowing for a new lease of life.

In future, they will be adapted to new uses as part of a future development centred on the conserved Old Airport Square, offering a wide range of lifestyle, entertainment and retail facilities.

In January, the Singapore Biennale committee announced that it was considering the former Kallang Airport as a venue for the festival next year. URA and the Singapore Land Authority are glad that the artistic community has found heritage buildings to be suitable venues for contemporary art events. Past editions of the Biennale were also held in heritage environments.

The synergy between heritage buildings and contemporary arts is useful in bringing the awareness of our conservation buildings to the wider public and helps to endear our heritage buildings to Singaporeans.

Hwang Yu-Ning (Ms)
Group Director (Physical Planning)
Urban Redevelopment Authority


Getting to Old Kallang Airport:

The entrance to Old Kallang Airport is located at Stadium Link, off Geylang Road and is a ten minute walk from Kallang MRT Station. Please click on this link for the specific location.






The last stand …

15 02 2011

After dominating the Kallang skyline for some 37 years, and some five months after heavy equipment was moved in and four months after demolition work started, we have seen the last of the Grand Old Lady. As of today, all that is left is a pile of twisted steel and broken concrete which supported as many as 70,000 in the days when the Kallang Roar had been in its infancy. We can now look forward to what promises to a new and exciting Sports Hub which will include new facilities such as a new 55,000 capacity National Stadium with a retractable roof, a 6,000 capacity indoor Aquatic Centre, a 3,000 capacity multi-purpose arena, and a Water Sports Centre, as well as integrate the existing Kallang Indoor Stadium into the complex.

The sun sets on the former National Stadium (8 Feb 2011).

The final trio (10 Feb 2011).

Blocks 1, 2, and 3: the last to go ...

A heap of twisted steel and broken concrete is all that is left (15 Feb 2011).

A crane stands triumphantly over the defeated mess of steel and concrete.

Two new icons of Singapore waiting to be joined by another.

The phoenix that will rise out of the ashes - the Sports Hub is scheduled to be completed in April 2014.





The anatomy of an industrial park

1 02 2011

These days, Industrial Parks and Estates are very much a feature of Singapore’s landscape beyond the city, as much as the HDB public housing estates are. I guess many would not bat an eyelid at the many unremarkable high rise industrial buildings that house light industries these days which sit alongside the low rise ones. The high rise factories, referred to as flatted factories can, I suppose, be considered to be an import to Singapore during the rapid industrialisation programme that also gave us the heavy industrial estate at Jurong Industrial Estate in the early part of the 1960s. Back then, many light industries such as metal working, shoe making, textiles and paper products, were accommodated in low rise units, in a mix of pre-war shop houses or, in wooden and zinc factories many of which were squatting on state land, and there was a pressing need to development factory space to accommodate the growing numbers and mix of light industries. The idea of the flatted factory had actually originated from Hong Kong, which had great success in providing factory units for its small manufacturers, which was its mainstay in the 1960s, relatively inexpensively in flatted factory buildings sited close to the urban areas which had access to labour and transportation.

High rise industrial buildings which are very much part of the landscape of today's Singapore, were introduced in the 1960s, and was something that we learnt from Hong Kong's experience with the provision of low cost factory units for small enterprises.

Following a pilot programme initiated by the EDB, which gave us the first five (primitive) flatted factory buildings in Singapore, each five stories high and without lifts (ramps were installed for moving goods and materials up and down!), which by the time 1964 came along, there were five of housing a total of 870 enterprises. There was also much private investment in putting up flatted factories, and there were already 40 of these by the time the first five government ones had been erected, some a tall as eleven stories high, with lifts installed when the height of these exceeded six storeys.

The first flatted factories were rarely over 5 stories high and built without lifts, these days, they are typically higher.

Besides the many that we see all around close to or within the housing estates such as in and around Queenstown and Toa Payoh which were the early housing estates, there are also larger clusters of them in light industrial parks such as the Kolam Ayer Industrial Park where a mix of private and government flatted factory buildings can be found, set amongst roads with names that maybe sheds some light on the history of the area such as “Tannery Lane” and “Kallang Pudding Road”. The name Kallang Pudding itself does perhaps is a suggestion as to what the area was previously (there is suggestion however of the name’s origin lying in the “pokok puding” – the Malay name for the croton – a shrub with variegated leaves commonly found in Singapore), a huge swamp – the same one that lent Toa Payoh (Big Swamp in Hokkien/Malay) its name, that occupied much of the area right down to Kallang Basin (the name “Kolam Ayer” itself means a basin, pond or pool of water). Sited at the confluence of the Kallang and Whampoa Rivers, the area had once hosted a congregation of sawmills which could be fed with logs floated down the rivers. The area had also hosted site of what had once been the Municipal Dump, where much of Singapore’s rubbish would be dumped at up until 1959, when a decision was made to carry out the huge inland reclamation project in the area. Reclamation work had started at the end of 1961 with earth recovered from the major public housing project that was taking shape in Toa Payoh, with the intention to transform the entire Kallang Basin which covered an area of some 405 hectares into Singapore’s second industrial estate after Jurong. In all, by the time the first phase of the reclamation had been completed in 1969, some 3.8 million cubic metres of earth was used to fill an initial 154 hectares of the 182 hectares of area which would have been underwater during high tide.

Kolam Ayer Industrial Park is a mix of private and government built flatted factory units and low rise light industrial building which was built on a site of a huge swamp at the confluence of the Kallang and Whampoa Rivers which was reclaimed in the 1960s using earth from Toa Payoh.

Most of the buildings we see today in the area would have been developed from the mid 1970s onwards, with the bulk, including those erected by the JTC being built in the early 1980s when the industrial park proper was developed. It is probably one of the more interesting industrial areas to wander around, given the mix of factory buildings new and old, some on seemingly small plots of land, which gives a different feel to some of the more uniform estates that were built at one go. In and around the industrial park, there is also more than just the cluster of boring buildings to be found, and its not just in the name of Kallang Pudding Road, but there is also some interesting culinary finds … if one looks hard enough.

One of the flatted factory buildings which colour the Kolam Ayer Industrial Park.





Wonderland and the thrill of Bangkok

6 01 2011

I guess the school of thrills for me was the roller coaster of the wonderful Wonderland Amusement Park in Singapore, back in my wonderful childhood in the Singapore of the 1970s. Then, Wonderland was the world to me and the roller coaster was where I spent most of my time at whenever I succeeded in pestering my mother to take me there. Wonderland offered no end of fun, and besides the roller coaster, I could also remember the kiddie train that went round a track and the Ovaltine cups that span around – ones which could be made to spin faster by turning a wheel in the centre of the cup (which I did very often, much to my younger sister’s discomfort).

A photo in the National Archives collection of Wonderland under construction in 1969 (source: National Archives of Singapore's online catalogue).

A view of Wonderland in 1970 with the tracks of my favourite roller coaster (source: National Archives of Singapore's online catalogue).

The park had opened in 1969, just in time for me to have the many thrills and spills as I sought as a primary school boy. It was a time when interest in the “Worlds” of Singapore was waning and Singapore needed a new amusement park to bring fun to its children. The park, built on reclaimed land that had once been part of the old Kallang Airport, in its time hosted many corporate events as well, probably being one of the first places which saw family days being held in Singapore. It was a place that I enjoyed until I guess I outgrew the rides as I entered secondary school in the early 1980s and it was after this, in 1984, that an accident occurred in which planes fell off a merry-go-round injuring 16 people – the first accident in my memory what had been 15 years of accident free operation up to that point in time. I can’t quite remember when and what had shut the park, but based on newspaper archives, the park closed in 1988 to make way for the large open air carpark meant to serve the Kallang Indoor Stadium, a car park which is still with us today, bearing nothing to remind us of the good old amusement park.

The merry-go-round of planes which also a favourite. An accident in 1984 in which planes fell off resulted in 16 injuries (source: National Archives of Singapore's online catalogue).

The Ovaltine cups were evil!

News on the Indoor Stadium's opening in 1989.

By that time, my idea of thrills had evolved and looking for something more than what Wonderland offered, I was soon to find that in Bangkok. It was in the year of the accident (and around the time of it) that while in the Thai capital, I came to hear of a water themed amusement park (possibly the first water themed park in South-East Asia and one that featured a wave pool), some 20 kilometres outside of Bangkok, Siam Park. The park, which had opened some 4 years before, featured a looping roller-coaster, the Loop-the-Loop, something that had been unheard of in this part of the world. Without knowing a word of Thai, I bravely set out on the public transport system (being on a shoestring) that carried me over the dusty streets out of Bangkok, and there I soon was, staring in awe at what was in fact South-East Asia’s very first looping roller coaster.

South-East Asia's first looping roller coaster at Siam Park, outside Bangkok, in 1984.

My first ride wasn’t actually the best of experiences. Getting into the prime front row seat, I was soon locked in by the safety bar and looking forward to what was surely going to be the ride of my life. In all the excitement, I had somehow forgotten (as well as not being reminded by the staff on hand) to remove my glasses and was soon caught up in the anticipation of the ride as the roller coaster rode up on end of the rail and prepared for its descent. Down it quickly went amidst a chorus of screams, up the loop, as I braced myself for what would be my first heads-down roller coaster experience. That feeling that came with the moment the world turned upside down I still remember very well, with my heart feeling as if it had fallen out of my chest. The moment that happened, I felt my glasses falling as well, and that being something that I would have been at a lost without (being shortsighted and not having a spare pair on me), I shot my arms out, managing to somehow grab my glasses out of the air, relying perhaps on the reflexes that my early days playing football as a goalkeeper had developed in me. I had several more rides on the roller coaster, taking a break from it only to have the occasional dip in the wave pool, during which I made it a point to remove my glasses, and it was only at closing time that I made my way back into Bangkok, tired from the thrills and glad to have survived my first ever looping experience.





An Oasis lost

3 10 2010

With the news carried by the local print media on Thursday that the demolition of the National Stadium has started, there has been much focus on the stadium itself and how it would remain in the hearts of the many Singaporeans who have sat on its terraces since it was built for the 7th South East Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games in 1973. Having been a landmark in the Kallang area for close to four decades, the area would probably look a little bare once the grey icon and its four floodlight towers makes an exit from the landscape off Nicoll Highway and Mountbatten Road.

The Today report on the start of demolition at the National Stadium on 30 Sep 2010.

Demolition work has began in earnest and access to roads in the vicinity of the stadium are now restricted (seen on 1 Oct 2010).

For me, the stadium always seemed an invariable part of the landscape in the Kallang area, one that stood firm despite the many changes that have overtaken the area around it since the days when it first dominated the area. Some of the sights familiar to me that had kept the stadium company in the earlier days of the stadium had since abandoned the Grand Old Lady. One of these was the bright and lively Guillemard Circus that I had always been fond of passing … with its colourful neon signs that transformed it into a wonderland of light at night – one that somehow I recall being dominated by the huge Knife Brand Cooking Oil advertisement. There was of course the old Wonderland Amusement Park that had my favourite ride – a roller coaster that I would persuade my parents to return to the park for time and time again – the Wonderland was in fact how I had first become acquainted with the area. Years later, I was to spend a short period of time at a shipyard on the banks of the Geylang River just by the area where the Wonderland was located, walking past the stadium from a bus stop in Kallang everyday to get to the area around Jalan Benaan Kapal which has since been transformed in a way that makes it had to imagine slipways lining what were dirty and muddy river banks.

The newly constructed stadium was the most modern in South East Asia and provided an ideal setting for the birth of the Kallang Roar. The stadium had stood as a landmark in the area since it opened in 1973.

The stadium being prepared for demolition on 28 Sep 2010.

I have had over the 37 years had a love affair with the Grand Old Lady, one that started in 1974 with the first leg of the Malaysia Cup semi-final match played between Singapore and Penang. It was where I had first watched a football match live … and became part of the frenzied atmosphere that accompanied the matches played in the stadium featuring Singapore which became known as the much Kallang Roar. In its heyday, as many as 70,000 pairs of feet would stamp on the terraces combined with 70,000 voices that gave the stadium that thunderous blare that put fear in many visiting teams at the stadium.

A reflection on an icon that will soon be a mirage ...

The stadium had often in its life been referred to as the “Lions’ Den”, not after the pair of stone Merdeka Lions that had once stood guard at the ends of the span of the Merdeka Bridge, being moved to stand guard at the area on which Stadium Boulevard had been constructed, but after the national football team which besides being referred to as the “Boys in Blue” – a reference to the sky blue jerseys they wore in the 1970s and 1980s, were also referred to as the “Lions”. The pair of lions also abandoned the stadium – sometime perhaps at the end of the 1980s.

One of the floodlight towers that dominated the Kallang landscape.

A lion watches sadly from across Nicoll Highway as the former Lions Den is being torn down.

Whilst there were many that abandoned the Grand Old Lady, there had been a few that managed to stay with it throughout its life. Among those that have kept the stadium company were the nearby Police Coast Guard (Marine Police) headquarters which moved to Pulau Brani with the construction of the Marina Barrage, and a somewhat forgotten icon of the area: the Oasis Restaurant complex. The Oasis would be going the way of the stadium as well, having stood where it was for some forty years. Indeed the Oasis had been as much of an icon in the Kallang Park area since it was opened in 1969 as the Oasis Theatre Restaurant, Cabaret and Nightclub. Comprising a three storey main building and three auxiliary buildings built on stilts extending out some 100 metres over the Kallang Basin, the complex was a popular night spot for many years. The octagonal shaped auxiliary buildings which housed restaurants provided the complex with its distinctive character which Singaporeans immediately identified with the complex and provided a unique dining experience for many were completed in 1970 and operated until the closure of the complex a few years back. The octagonal shaped buildings and the three storey main building are also in the process of being torn down, and a feature that will also be missing from the area very soon.

The former Police Coast Guard HQ near the stadium.

The distinctive octagonal structures on stilts that used to be part of the Oasis Restaurant complex over the Kallang Basin.

The 3-storey main building of the former Oasis being demolished (as seen on 28 Sep 2010).

The octagonal buildings being reflected off the Kallang Basin. Once giving a distinctive character to the basin, the reflections of the basin will soon reflect only the sky (as seen on 28 Sep 2010).

One of the octagonal buildings being demolished (as seen on 28 Sep 2010).

With the icons of its past being dismantled, Kallang will no doubt never look the same again. That change is inevitable in land scarce Singapore is something that we as Singaporeans have come to accept. In the case of Kallang, the change is certainly necessary – one that will give Singapore a sorely needed modern sports hub that is sorely lacking at the moment. Still, there is that part of me that doesn’t want to let go … the part that will always remember Kallang fondly for the roller coaster rides not just that Wonderland brought with it, but the ones that the Lions took us on in the thrills and spills that accompanied their exploits in the Malaysia Cup.

Vanishing scenes around Nicoll Highway.

The north east floodlight tower looks like it would be the first of the four to come down.

More views around the stadium and its environs taken on 28 Sep 2010:
















Adios Amigo! The beginning of the end of the National Stadium

8 09 2010

Preparation work for the long anticipated demolition for one of places in Singapore for which I have many fond memories of, the National Stadium, has finally begun. Last Friday, heavy equipment started moving in, occupying the open space in front of the East Entrance, and this week, we see a fence being erected around some parts of the much loved stadium as she is being readied for demolition work proper which should commence in October, based on a news release by the Singapore Sports Council on 25 Aug 2010. Besides the heavy equipment and the erection of the fence, there is also quite a lot of activity happening inside the stadium, where salvageable and reusable items including the wooden planking that served as benches on the terraces are being painstakingly removed and moved out of the stadium before the wrecker’s ball descends on the grey concrete terraces in October …

Heavy equipment has been moved to the site of the former National Stadium as preparation work is being carried out for its eventual demolition.

Mobile cranes and parts of the fixed tower cranes that the mobile cranes will erect moved into the area in front of the East entrance last Friday.

A fence is being erected around the former stadium ... and we would soon lose sight of it.

The wooden seating in the gallery has been ripped out of the terraces.





All stripped and ready for action in a wonderful celebration for Singapore!

26 08 2010

Yesterday’s superb performance by the Singapore boys football team in the 2010 Youth Olympic Games (YOG) third and fourth place playoff against Montenegro was accompanied by a wonderful announcement that work on the long delayed and much needed Sports Hub would finally be starting. Hopefully, the wonderful and spirited performance by the young cubs will along with the announcement about the sports hub, herald a new chapter in Singapore’s sporting scene. There is no doubt that the great YOG show put on, despite the lack of proper sports facilities and a few hiccups along the way, has done a great job in revitalising sports and interest in sports in Singapore and stellar performances by the young cubs and the other Singapore athletes promises a new age in sports.

The pitch of the National Stadium has been stripped and the signs are there that we may see the last of the stadium soon.

While I have expressed a tinge of sadness that the beloved National Stadium will soon be gone, her demolition is scheduled to start in October – the evidence of her final days have been there for a few months: the once pristine pitch has been stripped (see report in the 16 July edition of Today), and signs have been erected to notify the public of what is planned in her place, what is good to know is the promise of things to come. The successor to the grand old lady would certainly be grander … and bring about a stadium and facilities that are much needed to give the sports scene in Singapore a big boost.

The signs have been there for a month or so ...

Artist impression of the new sports hub as seen on the signs around the old National Stadium.

One thing that I was certainly glad to have last evening was the opportunity to witness the magnificent performance by the Singapore boys in the 4-1 triumph over a much bigger and a very robust Montenegran side. Where in the semi-final match against Haiti, in which the Singapore team was expected to win, the cubs, perhaps overawed by the occasion, displayed a lack of composure, in securing the victory and the bronze medal, they demonstrated a maturity and a team spirit that is an example for many to follow. I wasn’t there at the semi-finals, being too late to get tickets, but I was certainly glad for my son’s insistence on getting tickets for the final early enough. While reports would possibly have you think that the stadium wasn’t packed to the rafters, perhaps due to the early start … the atmosphere is certainly more than any 6000 seater stadium could deliver. Overcoming the loss of skipper Jeffrey Lightfoot early on after a strong challenge by a Montenegran player, and despite being pegged by by a Montenegran equaliser soon after Brandon Koh came on in place of Lightfoot, the splendid controlled game saw Singapore emerge with a well deserved victory. So well done boys and well done Singapore! Now all that is left is to see a good job done on the Sports Hub, to which I will look forward to going to after it is completed in April 2014, just in time to catch what should be an exciting football team of the future, based on the promise that our boys have shown in their superb team performance and third place finish in the YOG.

Tickets for the final matches had been sold out and crowds had gathered early to get their hands on spare tickets being released on the day.

Empty seats before the match.

The fans were soon out in force to show their support despite the early start.

A sign of things to come? A Montenegran player looking lost during the warm-up.

Majulah Singapura!

Singapore team captain Jeffrey Lightfoot going off after receiving a gash on the head early in the match.

Lightfoot was replaced by a favourite of the girls ... Brandon Koh.

The referee didn't win any fans with some of his decisions ...

The second half started as the floodlights came on and the sun set ...

The kick-off for the second half ...

The cubs started the second half with a quick goal which was soon followed by the award of a penalty ....

... which was duly converted to make it 3-1 to Singapore!

Much to the disappointment of the Montenegran team ...

The spirited display saw the cubs chasing for every ball ...

... leaving the goalkeeper with very little to do ... but he did respond with a few good saves when tested ...

The final kicks of the match ...

The match ended with the cubs scoring four for an emphatic triumph over a much bigger Montenegran side.

The final whistle brought with it scenes of jubilation reminiscent of Singapore's rare Malaysia cup triumphs!

The cubs celebrated their much deserved victory as their fans paid tribute to them ...





Was this a comet seen in the skies over Singapore this evening?

4 08 2010

Photographed in the skies over the Kallang area this evening … what certainly looks like a comet. Somehow, I can’t seem to find any information on it … perhaps someone is able to shed some light on it.

Comet seen in the skies over Singapore on 4 August 2010?








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