50 years ago on 16 September 1963

16 09 2013

50 years ago on 16 September 1963, Singapore together with the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak, became a part of Malaysia. For Singapore, it was a union which lasted less than two years – with Singapore separating from Malaysia on 9 August 1965. The date, is celebrated as Hari Malaysia or Malaysia Day by our northern neighbours.

(Photo: National Archives online catalogue http://a2o.nas.sg/picas/)

(Photo: National Archives online catalogue http://a2o.nas.sg/picas/)

Straits Times News articles on 16 September 1963:

The Straits Times front page

It’s here (Tengku Abdul Rahman’s Malaysia Day Message)





St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Kuching

7 07 2013

The capital of the East Malaysian State of Sarawak, Kuching, has some rather unusual pieces of architecture, the recently completed DUN Sarawak being one. Another is the Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph, consecrated in 1969 as St. Joseph’s Church, replacing a much older Neo-Gothic style church which was built by Chinese labourers during the reign of Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah in 1891. Elevated to a cathedral in 1976 when the Kuching Archdiocese was established, the building features an unusual roof structure somewhat reminiscent of that of the Church of the Blessed  Sacrament in Singapore. The roof in this case is made up of very dense belian wood.

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Besides the cathedral’s building, what is also interesting is the parish cemetery next to it. The cemetery is where the graves of 21 Iban warriors who gave their lives during the Malayan Emergency, the remains of which have been recovered from various parts of Malaysia and Singapore for reburial at the cemetery in 2011.

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A colourful area in old KL

5 07 2013

One of the more interesting and colourful parts of the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, affectionately referred to as “KL’ to wander around is the area around what used to be the heart of Chinatown. The area is one that is very much in transition, having discarded large bits of a past which has now been largely forgotten. The area is now better known for the street market at Jalan Petaling (Petaling Street), a modern interpretation of the street markets of old complete with the offering, typical of many modern street markets, of imitation goods.

Lychees on sale at the Petaling Street market. The area is one of the more colourful areas of KL.

Lychees on sale at the Petaling Street market. The area is one of the more colourful areas of KL.

A remnant of the past in the midst of stall selling fake goods -  real goods, in this case really good roast duck out of a push cabinet along Jalan Petaling.

A remnant of the past in the midst of stall selling fake goods – real goods, in this case really good roast duck out of a push cabinet along Jalan Petaling.

The area, as with much of the rapidly modernising city, finds itself in the throes of change. Walking around today, we find that there is increasing number of shophouses where the once thriving organic trades have abandoned, the businesses themselves having been abandoned by the modern society. Despite this, there are still pockets in which the area does cling on to its past, where reminders of a world which soon may pass can still be found.

One of two old textile shops still operating at Jalan Tun H S Lee. The shops once did a roaring trade in the days when it was common to have clothes tailored.

One of two old textile shops still operating at Jalan Tun H S Lee. The shops once did a roaring trade in the days when it was common to have clothes tailored.

An old photo studio along Jalan Sultan.

An old photo studio along Jalan Sultan.

One area which does hold tightly on to the past is found off Jalan Petaling /Jalan Sultan at Madras Lane. There a market, relatively quiet by yesterday’s standards, does still operate. It is in a section of the wet market, where some trades do still thrive can be found. That is where some of the best street food said to on and off the streets of  old KL is said to be found at. Besides the two famous laksa stalls which often sell out before lunch time, there is an extremely popular Ampang Yong Tau Foo stall at which even if one is there for an early lunch, one sees a snaking queue.

The wet market at Madras Lane is not as busy as it once might have been.

The wet market at Madras Lane is not as busy as it once might have been.

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The cooked food stalls at the market still however, do good business.

The cooked food stalls at the market still however, do good business.

The queue at the Ampang Yong Tau Foo stall.

The queue at the Ampang Yong Tau Foo stall.

A walk down Jalan Sultan and the other streets around, including those north of Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock around Old Market Square can also be pretty interesting. There is plenty of the old mixed with the new including textile shops, medicine shops, snack shops, eating places and other traditional businesses set among businesses which are more relevant to today’s society – including a whole area rich in colour that now caters to a group of migrant workers from Bangladesh. Jalan Sultan is particularly interesting, besides the back lanes there teeming with food stalls and one at the end of which a back lane barber operates, there is an old place where dentures are made.

A look down Jalan Sultan.

A look down Jalan Sultan.

A old idsused public telephone.

A old disused public telephone.

A back lane off Jalan Sultan.

A back lane off Jalan Sultan.

A shop in which dentures are made.

A shop in which dentures are made.

Another view around Jalan Sultan.

Another view around Jalan Sultan.

A hole-in-the-wall Chinese medicine shop along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

A hole-in-the-wall Chinese medicine shop along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

A hole-in-the-wall convenience shop along Jalan Sultan.

A hole-in-the-wall convenience shop along Jalan Sultan.

An old hardware shop and signboard along Jalan Petaling.

An old hardware shop and signboard along Jalan Petaling.

Along Lebuh Pudu - business have sprouted up catering to the migrant Bangladeshi population.

Along Lebuh Pudu – business have sprouted up catering to the migrant Bangladeshi population.

An area south of Jalan Sultan I have not previously explored is that around Jalan Balai Polis and Jalan Panggong – which seems now to be dominated by businesses catering to budget travellers. Besides the old shop houses and lanes which are full of character, that is also where some remnants of the old are still very much in evidence. One is an old abandoned houses standing at the corner of Jalan Panggong where Jalan Balai Polis turns into it next to which one is confronted by a now familiar sight in KL – a construction site. It is at Jalan Balai Polis where a memory which has survived for more than a century does exist – that of the Gurdwara Sahib Polis. This interestingly dates back to 1898, built to serve the community of Sikh policemen who were brought in from India by the British to serve in the police force – a throwback to a time when a large part of the police force was dominated by Sikh migrants from India not just in the then Federated Malayan States (FMS) but also in Singapore. More information on the Gurdwara Sahib Polis can be found at this link.

An old abandoned house along Jalan Panggong.

An old abandoned house along Jalan Panggong.

A Sikh police house of worship along Jalan Balai Polis.

A Sikh police house of worship, the Gurdwara Sahib Polis, along Jalan Balai Polis which dates back to 1898.

Lorong Panggong off Jalan Balai Polis.

Lorong Panggong off Jalan Balai Polis.

Lorong Panggong.

Lorong Panggong.





The DUN across the river

29 06 2013

The wonderfully blue skies over the capital of the East Malaysian State of Sarawak, Kuching and one of its iconic landmarks, the State Legislative Assembly or Dewan Undangan Negeri (DUN) Sarawak Building across the Sarawak River from the city makes for a perfect picture postcard scene. The nine storey building which features a very distinctive roof structure referred to locally as the “payung” or “umbrella”, is located at Petra Jaya close to another landmark, the Astana. It was completed in May 2009 and combines elements of the different local styles of architecture. More information on the building can be found on Wikipedia.

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Kaki lima

27 06 2013

The kaki lima or the five-foot-way, is a feature of the shophouse, which was once dominant in the urban landscapes across much of British influenced South-East Asia. Sheltered from the blazing tropical sun and the frequent torrential downpours, they made an ideal communal space, as well as one in which many trades thrived.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee.

The five-foot-ways I encountered in my childhood, full of bustle, colour and texture, were ones I found to be thoroughly fascinating. I never did have a dull moment walking along one, even in the evenings – the corridors, even those emptied of life and traders, found other uses. It was common to see bicycles and tricycles parked as well as other clutter. A common sight that we don’t see today is that of the jaga, more often than not an elderly turbaned Sikh man, seated on a charpoy – a wooden framed rope bed, outside the business premises he was to guard. It would also have been, especially in the smaller towns across the Causeway, common to hear a noisy chorus of swallows who built their nests overhead in the corners of the ceiling.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Sultan with a hole-in-the-wall shop still commonly found along many such corridors.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Sultan with a hole-in-the-wall shop still commonly found along many such corridors.

The kaki lima of today, particlarly those we find in Singapore, are much less lively versions of those of yesterday. They are still however wonderful places to explore and can often offer as enjoyable an experience as they might have in the days of my youth, throwing up a surprise every now and again. One area where I did find myself wandering through the kaki lima recently, was around the Jalan Sultan and Jalan Petaling area, in the heart of old Kuala Lumpur, where the set of photographs in this post were taken.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee north of Jalan Pudu just outside a now quiet textile shop which must have once done a roaring trade.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Tun H S Lee north of Jalan Pudu just outside a now quiet textile shop which must have once done a roaring trade.

The shophouses in this part of the Malaysian capital once contained many traditional businesses. With many abandoned by the organic businesses which had brought much life to them and their sheltered corridors, the rows of shophouses seem to be in the throes of a slow death. It is a sense of sadness that I am filled with finding little reminders of what did once used to be as well as businesses still there for which time has obviously passed.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Petaling. A sign for a tailor shop which has closed reminds us of a time forgotten.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Petaling. A sign for a tailor shop which has closed reminds us of a time forgotten.

In Singapore, with over 6000 shophouses conserved, the more colourful shophouse five-foot-ways are still easy to find even as vast areas of its urban landscape are now populated with modern buildings. The ones around several conservation areas including in Little India, Kampong Glam, Geylang and Chinatown, are still rather interesting. These five-foot-ways were the subject of a contribution of photographs I made to a recently concluded three-month long exhibition on vanishing trades held at the National Museum of Singapore which looks at how spaces some of the early traders were commonly found it have evolved.

Another five-foot-way along Jalan Petaling where the remnants of an "old trade" was spotted.

Another five-foot-way along Jalan Petaling where the remnants of an “old trade” was spotted.

The idea of the five-foot-way as an architectural feature to provided a continuous sheltered walkway and as a space where trades could operate has been attributed to Sir Stamford Raffles who had it stipulated in the 1822 Jackson Town Plan that he oversaw that “all houses constructed of brick or tile should have a uniform type of front, each having a verandah of a certain depth, open at all times as a continuous and covered passage on each side of the street”. It is thought that Raffles’ got this idea from buildings in Dutch administered Batavia he had observed during his time as the Governor of Java, influenced it is suggested by verandahs found around squares in southern Europe. From Singapore, the five-foot-way spread to other parts of South-East Asia.

Watching time slowly pass on a five-foot-way along Jalan Sultan.

Watching time slowly pass on a five-foot-way along Jalan Sultan.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Panggong.

A five-foot-way along Jalan Panggong.





Paradise found?

23 06 2013

Not quite what I would consider to be paradise, but the Damai Puri Resort sure does look close enough to being one – at least in the off-season. Located at Teluk Penyuk Santubong, some 30 kilometres north of Kuching, the resort does apparently get crowded during the peak season and the best time to enjoy the resort set in a secluded bay with its own private beach is during the quiet periods – when, if not for anything else, it does offer that escape one might be looking for. The resort is also located very close to the Sarawak Cultural Village – a must visit destination for any visitor interested in having an appreciation of the culture of the various ethnic groups and tribes found in the East Malaysian State, as well as on the peninsula where the legendary Mount Santubong is located.

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The wet market at SS2 Petaling Jaya

23 06 2013

Wet markets in Singapore, although still very interesting and colourful, do pale in comparison to the wet markets found around much of Asia. Wet markets are very often, around where life in the community it serves revolves. It is often where, when on the road, I would try to visit to provide me with a sense of a place and its people. I managed a visit to two markets during a recent trip across the Causeway, not perhaps to give me a feel of the place, but more to remind me of how we in Singapore used to be.

A "carrot cake" vendor.

A “carrot cake” vendor – markets are always where a burst of colour can be found.

A fishmonger.

A fishmonger.

One of the markets I visited, a very popular one at Sea Park in SS2 Petaling Jaya,  is an open air market – its hawkers operating under colourful shelters of large parasols and tarpaulins, is perhaps reminiscent of some of the street markets which once did exist on the streets of Singapore, minus perhaps the smell one never failed to catch a whiff of.

The SS2 wet market is reminiscent of the street markets found on the old streets of Singapore.

The SS2 wet market is reminiscent of the street markets found on the old streets of Singapore.

A dry goods vendor.

A dry goods vendor.

The market, as many in Asia, is also where live produce is sold – clucking and quacking poultry, wriggling eels and frogs in cages a common sight. A sight that is not for the faint hearted is the sight of the frog vendor skinning frogs alive.

Live frogs on sale.

Live frogs on sale.

The market does perhaps lack the disorder of the street markets of old – licensed hawker stalls are organised in sections depending on what they sold and orderly queues forming at the popular ones have increasingly become a common sight, although there were a few where the crowd seemed to be in the disordered order that would once have been commonplace.

A poultry seller with freshly slaughtered chickens and ducks on offer.

A poultry seller with freshly slaughtered chickens and ducks on offer.

A cooked food section next to a dry sundry section.

A cooked food section next to a dry sundry section.

In my wanderings around wet markets in Singapore and Malaysia, I often look for specific reminders of the wet markets I do remember. One trade which did fascinate me when I was young was the Indian wet rempah (spice paste) mixer, who would get to work mixing a paste made of some of the colourful array of pasty spice arranged around him or her, depending on what the customer related as to what he/she wanted to prepare. That I have not thus far been successful in locating, although I have come across a few spice powder mixers around. One Chinese vendor in the SS2 market did come close, she did have in addition to the colourful selection of dry powdered spices, have a few pre-mixed pastes of wet spice on offer.

The rempah vendor at SS2.

The rempah vendor at SS2.

Bamboo pau (steamed buns) steamers.

Bamboo pau (steamed buns) steamers.

Walking around I did catch a glimpse of a sight which did always catch my eye as a child – the preparation of dough fritters. Although this can still be observed in Singapore, the cubicles our market hawkers now operate in are opened to prying eyes only from one end and it is hard to observe the preparation in the same way I would have as that wide-eyed boy.

One other sight which did fascinate me as a child was the how dough fritters would be prepared and fried.

Preparing the dough for making dough fritters (You Tiao or U Char Kway)  - one other sight which did fascinate me as a child was the how dough fritters would be prepared and fried.

Cutting the dough.

Cutting the dough.

Deep frying the dough in hot oil.

Deep frying the dough in hot oil.

Dough fritters almost ready to be drained and sold.

Nicely browned dough fritters almost ready to be drained and sold.

It is perhaps a matter of time before wet markets in Malaysia, as they are in SS2, fall victim to progress as many such markets in Singapore have. Until that time, however, they will be there for some of us in Singapore to remember how life for us might once been.





The first drive-in in Malaysia and Singapore

22 06 2013

For many of my generation, the very first encounters with American style fast-food would have probably consisted of root beers, hamburgers, fries and hotdogs at one of two A&W restaurants present in Singapore – at least mine was. That was at the drive-in at Dunearn Road, straddling the Bukit Timah canal close to the University of Singapore, which my parents brought my sister and me to for a treat (fast-food was relatively expensive in those days). It was also my one and only drive-in dining experience for which I remember the ice-cream that came at the end of the treat more than anything else.

A&W would have given the first American fast-food experience to many of my generation.

A&W would have given the first American fast-food experience to many of my generation.

Drive-in restaurants, or drive-ins were huge in the United States in the 1950s and 1960s. The arrival of Singapore’s first – the A&W at Dunearn Road in 1970, two years after the first A&W outlet opened at the MSA Building (later SIA Building) in 1968, came at the end of a decade when we were to receive much greater exposure to American popular culture, of which both fast-food and drive-ins were very much a representation of, through the introduction of television (introduced to Singapore in 1963).

For some of us, nothing comes close to having a root beer at A&W in a mug chilled in a freezer.

For some of us, nothing comes close to having a root beer at A&W in a mug chilled in a freezer.

While the A&W outlet was the first drive-in in Singapore, it wasn’t the first drive-in to come to this part of the world. That distinction lies with the A&W drive-in that opened in Petaling Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur in neighbouring Malaysia, in 1967 – four years after the first A&W outlet opened its doors at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in the Malaysian capital. The drive-in, which incidentally is still operating (although not as a drive-in), is one I have long familiar with. I would probably have developed an impression of it from one of the many driving trips I made in the back of my father’s car to the “Federation” – as my father often referred to Malaysia, as it was close to Shah’s Hotel – another long time landmark in the Taman Jaya area where the drive-in is located.

The first drive-in restaurant in Malaysia and Singapore - the A&W at Taman Jaya in Petaling Jaya, which is still operating (albeit not as a drive-in).

The first drive-in restaurant in Malaysia and Singapore – the A&W at Taman Jaya in Petaling Jaya, which is still operating (albeit not as a drive-in).

The hot and humid climate we do get in Malaysia and Singapore was possibly a reason that the popularity of the drive-in, a feature of life of American suburbia, did not really take-off. A few more drive-ins did appear on both sides of the Causeway over the years, including one that opened at Kallang near the stadium (where the cluster of fast-food restaurants is today) in 1978 – around the time I was chasing Coney Dogs, Root Beers and A&W straws at their outlet in Dhoby Ghaut close to Cathay. Sadly for us in Singapore who do have memories of drive-ins and first fast-food experiences at A&W restaurants, both have disappeared. The drive-in at Kallang was converted not long after it opened to a sit-in only restaurant. The original A&W drive-in closed in 1986, making way for a canal widening exercise. The restaurant itself, despite its ambitious expansion in the 1980s, could not compete with the big names in fast-food, who by the 1980s, had established themselves in Singapore. In 2001, it closed seven of its twelve outlets, when the last franchise holder in Singapore, KUB Holdings of Malaysia, took over. With losses amounting to an estimated 1.5 million dollars, KUB decided to shut A&W’s operations on the island in 2003, with the last outlet to be shut being the one at the airport. With that, the only way we in Singapore could get that root beer fix was across the Causeway. Looking at the state of the outlets in Malaysia, it doesn’t look that there is much time left for us to do that – and with it, the days of the Root Beer and Coney Dog (now in its 50th year) and more recently introduced A&W offerings such as the waffle and curly fries, will soon be days which have passed.





Fairy Cave

19 06 2013

An amazing sight close to Kuching in Sarawak not far from the Bau gold mining area is this huge cave opening into Fairy Cave. It does take a bit of effort getting up the flight of 200 steps to the entrance to the cave, but it is certainly all worth the effort …

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Seeking an old world over the New Year

5 01 2012

Strange as it may seem, I found myself wandering around streets some 350 kilometres away during the lead up to the New Year, thinking for a while that I was in a Singapore that I had my wonderful childhood in. The streets of Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur where I was has been a source of fascination for me since my first visit there as a child of six and it has also become, along with other parts of the country, a place where I often search for that world – the Singapore of my childhood that is now lost to me. The streets of Kuala Lumpur today and those of the Singapore of yesterday are undeniably two very different worlds – worlds far apart in many ways. Both cities have seen dramatic changes in four decades since my first visit and are today hardly recognisable from the cities they had emerged from. There is however one key difference in how either city have gone through their respective transformations. Where with Singapore, much of what made Singapore, Singapore, has now been lost – replaced in many cases by the cold hard stare of glass, steel and concrete, there is still the buzz of daily life that can be discovered nestled in between the towering edifices of modern Kuala Lumpur.

There are places I remember ... that resemble this. A back lane off the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

An area that I take particular joy in wandering around has become known as the city’s Chinatown – centred on Petaling Street or Jalan Petaling, once a must-go destination on my almost annual visits to the city to savour some of its culinary offerings. The street market it is well known for has unfortunately seen the inevitable invasion of stalls that provide a wider apppeal to a tourist than the local, but there is still in and around the area a world much like that old world we have left behind in Singapore to stumble upon. It is in the five-foot ways and narrow alleyways off the main street that this older world I seek is tucked away. One, alleyway which runs parallel to Petaling Street off Madras Lane (or Jalan Sultan) is home to what must be a well known wet market, teeming in the early hours of daylight with many from the area and beyond, in search for the day’s supply of fresh produce. I first came to know of the market on a trip to Kuala Lumpur that coicided with my very first journey out of the now forgotten Tanjong Pagar Railway Station some two decades ago – and it nice to see that it still is set in that wet, slippery and less than pleasant smelling passageway that leads to what must seem like a reward at the end of it.

The wet market at Madras Lane.

A butcher's assistant at the wet market.

What lies at the end of the wet market is a cluster of food stalls – ones that have a reputation for being amongst the best in a city where sumptous street fare is never hard to find. Despite the less than pleasant demeanour with which customers of some of the stalls are served, the cluster never fails to draw a steady stream of hungry customers in the mornings and the very popular Chee Cheong Fun, Yong Tau Foo and Assam Laksa usually sells out by the time one arrives for a late lunch.

Madras Lane is also famous for its street fare.

The early morning crowd at the Yong Tau Foo stall.

Enjoying a bowl of noodles at Madras Lane.

After a bowl of the irresistable Assam Laksa and a glass of warm soya bean milk the morning I found myself there, there was still time to discover what else Madras Lane had to offer. The five-foot ways and crowded back lanes was certainly a joy to wander through -a hole-in-the-wall shop with colourful magazines strung up for sale, as well as a shop lot where one could have an offending mole removed caught my eye as did a back lane strewn with pushcarts awaiting use to serve the evening’s dining crowd, a back lane barber, a sidewalk fortune-teller, and a cobbler waiting patiently for his next customer.

A bowl of Assam Laksa I had to have.

A sidewalk fortune teller along Jalan Sultan.

A hole-in-the-wall shop.

A five-foot way along Jalan Sultan.

Have that offending mole removed.

I suppose I would have spent the entire day immersing myself in that old world – but that unfortunately wasn’t that Singapore that I had sought, although it did in many ways remind me of it. It was time then to transport myself to the new world – first for lunch and for a look at another area I was familiar with from my early visits to the city – the Bukit Bintang area which has also seen tremendous change. And as darkness descended on the city for the last time in the old year, it was time to embrace the new – in a way that even an old world cannot escape from – with a blast of colours in the sky, but perhaps in a gentler and quieter way than it would have been if I had stayed at home. With that there is a realisation that much of the old ways will soon be forgotten … but there is that hope that the city I found myself in, would cling tightly on to those little reminders of its past which would allow me many more opportunities to seek the familiarity and comfort of the old world that I can no longer find in the place I grew up in.

A somewhat quieter welcome to 2012 than I would have expected in Singapore - fireworks over Bandar Utama in Malaysia.

The finale after the 10 minute dispay over Bandar Utama.





Faces of the Railway: The man at the Kaunter Tiket

20 06 2011

Passing through Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, there is no doubt that some may have bought a ticket at the counter of the station from a patient gentleman manning the counter by the name of Encik Azmi, who manages to keep his composure and wear his smile dealing with the enquiries of the sometimes continuous stream of would be passengers at the counter. Encik Azmi who on the 30th of June, would have completed 21 years at the station (he has been based here since the 1st of July 1990), will move to Johor Bahru when KTM stops operations at Tanjong Pagar on 1st July 2011.

Encik Azmi at the Ticket Counter.


Information that may be of interest:

Information related to the station and its architecture can be found on a previous post: “A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station“. In addition to that, I have also put together a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station which can be found through this page: “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Do also take a look at the proposal by the Nature Society (Singapore) to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, at the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page. My own series of posts on the Green Corridor are at: “Support the Green Corridor“.






A walk on the wild side of the north

17 06 2011

In the company of a few friends, I took a walk down a part of northern Singapore that what will soon be a memory. It is a stretch of land that i had made an acquaintance of only through my many railway journeys that had started at Tanjong Pagar, during which the stretch has always seemed like a green oasis in the grey urban landscape of Singapore. It is I guess the knowledge that this, and many other stretches which are there only because of the Malayan Railway’s existence, will soon be lost to us – a tender awarded by the authorities in Singapore will see the removal of much of the beloved railway: the tracks, the signal posts, the level crossings, and the girder bridges (there is no mention of the two iconic truss bridges in the tender). With work scheduled to commence on the 1st of July and expected to end in November, chances are, these last few weeks of the railway in Singapore will be our last chance of seeing the wonderful green corridor that the railway has given us.

Evidence of the railway including these pulleys for the signal post will soon be removed. In tender has been awarded by the authorities, work to remove all these is scheduled to commence in July and end in November.

Evidence of the railway, not just along the stretch from Kranji to Sungei Kadut, but all through the railway corridor would soon be gone.

The 30th of June will see the last train cross a road in Singapore ... a sign along the railway line indicating the approach to a level crossing.

The stretch from Kranji to Sungei Kadut that we walked along, would have once been along a swampy area – part of a large mangrove swamp that stretched from the northern shoreline to the Sungei Kadut industrial area which was reclaimed in the 1960s. Although there is some evidence of the mangrove swamp still around, mcuh of the area around the tracks has become a wonderfully green corridor in which the urban landscape seems like its light-years away.

The starting point of the most recent walk was the Kranji Level Crossing close to Woodlands Train Checkpoint.

A view of the tracks through the signal hut.

Label plates on the crossing's control levers.

The new railway passing over a stretch of the old railway at Kranji.

A damsel in distress? A damselfly seen along the northern green corridor.

Wild flowers growing by the wild side of the tracks.

Orange bracket fungus growing by the side of the tracks.

It is sad to think that all this might soon be gone, and while the signs are encouraging with the news that the Minister of State for National has come out and stated the Ministry’s interest in the proposals, chances are that many areas through which the railway runs through is really too valuable from a developmental point of view not to be sold to the highest bidder – which I hope is not to be the case. There are but two weeks left for us to see the wonderful green corridor as it is and probably as it has been for some 79 years when the railway deviation of 1932 gave us the line as we know today. And, just a note of caution if you are to explore the railway corridor on your own – the land is essentially private property, and walking on or along the track is extremely dangerous (as well as carrying the risk of a fine). Trains can be deceptively quiet and walking on the track or along it is not recommended especially for children – a distance of some 3 metres should always be maintained (moving trains have the effect of creating a low or suction pressure as the pass at speed) and always pair up and do make it a point to look out for each other. Do also remember that proper (and covered) footwear is necessary.

A directional sign to the zoo seen through a clearing.

The approach to Sungei Kadut.

A view of the luscious greenery near Sungei Kadut.

The approach to the level crossing at Sungei Kadut.

Skull and crossbones not of the Jolly Roger, but a dog that was run over by the train.

The end point - the crossing at Sungei Kadut Avenue.


Information that may be of interest:

Information related to the station and its architecture can be found on a previous post: “A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station“. In addition to that, I have also put together a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station which can be found through this page: “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Do also take a look at the proposal by the Nature Society (Singapore) to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, at the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page. My own series of posts on the Green Corridor are at: “Support the Green Corridor“.


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Faces of the Railway: the railway men of the North

11 06 2011

In addition to the Station Master, Encik Atan, there are several other members of the Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM) staff along the KTM railway line that passes through Singapore that play a big part in keeping the line as well as road users passing over the railway level crossings safe and sound – the men that just as tirelessly as Encik Atan mans Bukit Timah Station, man the five level crossings, out of a small naturally ventilated wooden hut in what has to be some of the loneliest spots in northern Singapore. These men often man the huts alone, and get to work as soon as they are alerted to the passing of the train through a previous station or crossing, and can be seen then scrambling around with their signal flags, changing signals, closing the gates and opening them after the trains have passed. Two such men are two Encik Roslans, one who mans the northernmost crossing at at Kranji Road, and the other who maintains the barriers, as well an Encik Azman who mans the crossing at Sungei Kadut Avenue, whom I had the pleasure of meeting on my walks around the area.

Encik Roslan of the Kranji Level Crossing at work.

Encik Roslan, who is too shy to want to be photographed in his hut. He revealed that the KTM flats in Spooner Road have been vacated as the staff have all already moved into quarters in Johor Bahru. Encik Roslan will be transferred to Kluang come the 1st of July.

The signal hut at Sungei Kadut Avenue.

Encik Roslan and Encik Azman who man the Sungei Kadut Level Crossing, standing outside the hut.

Encik Roslan at the Sungei Kadut Level Crossing - understand he maintains the barriers to the crossings.

Encik Azman of the Sungei Kadut Level Crossing.

A young assistant whose name escaped me at Sungei Kadut.





Faces of the Railway: the last Station Master at Bukit Timah

9 06 2011

Working tirelessly through the day to keep the stretch of the Malayan Railway passing from Woodlands through to Tanjong Pagar safe is a quiet and unassuming gentleman by the name of Encik Atan. For Encik Atan, who will pass into history as the last Station Master of Bukit Timah Railway Station, the last station along the Malayan Railway, now Keretapi Tanah Melayu or KTM, that still uses the old fashioned key token system to hand authority over to trains using the single track, his daily shift starts with the first train that passes through before the break of day, and ends with the passing of the last train for the day well into the night. He does this practically every day, making his way from the KTM flats in Spooner Road in Kampong Bahru in the darkness of the early morning, and making his way back in the darkness of the late night, taking a break only on his off days when a relief is sent from Johor Bahru.

Encik Atan at his desk.

I guess it doesn’t help that the trains are often delayed with a significant part of the railway in the peninsula running on a single track as well. Trains often for another to pass and seldom run on time, and delays of an hour on average are quite common. This often means that Encik Atan’s day often stretches beyond the scheduled passing of the last northbound train for the day just before 11 pm and getting off pass midnight is often the case. If you do pass by the way of Bukit Timah Railway Station as we enter the last three weeks of its operations, do say a quick hello and shake the hand of a man who deserves a pat on his back for his tireless efforts in keeping us safe.

Encik Atan at the signalling table.

Rain or shine ... the passing of the trains through what is the halfway point on the Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands stretch, keeps Encik Atan busy.

The Station Master in action - this time scurrying off on a bicycle to pass the key token to the driver of a south bound train.

Encik Atan seen running off on another occasion to hand the key token over to a southbound train over the railway bridge at Bukit Timah.

Taking shelter from the rain that resulted in rising waters just over 200 metres from the station on the 5th of June.

Speaking to curious visitors to the station.

Strangers on a Train:

Strangers on a Train is an attempt to celebrate the passing of an era by a gathering on what is scheduled to be the last train that pulls into Tanjong Pagar Railway Station on 30th June 2011. If you are interested to join us, we are on Train 15 Ekspres Sinaran Timur (most of are in Coach 2 and are getting on that at Segamat). Do note that tickets for the Express services, which can be purchased up to 30 days in advance, to and from Singapore this June are fast selling, with trains for most weekends already quite full, and can be obtained at the station (advance bookings open from 8.30 am daily) or online at the KTMB website. If you would like to join us and have you tickets, you may drop an email to Notabilia or me with the subject line “Strangers on a Train”.


Further information of interest:

Information related to the station and its architecture can be found on a previous post: “A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station“. In addition to that, I have also put together a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station which can be found through this page: “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Do also take a look at the proposal by the Nature Society (Singapore) to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, at the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page. My own series of posts on the Green Corridor are at: “Support the Green Corridor“.






Amidst the rising tide, a tearful farewell to Romance

6 06 2011

Sunday the 5th of June 2011 will probably be remembered for what has been described as the worst flooding in 25 years in Singapore, triggered by two bouts of intense rainfall, one at mid morning which had some 65 mm of rain fall in a half an hour period. It was a morning that I found myself up at the break of day, greeted not by the bright Sunday I had hoped for, but by the greyness of the rain washed morning. The intensity of the early morning downpour and the resulting rising waters of the Bukit Timah Canal, wasn’t of course what this post is all about, but an event that, I would certainly have remembered the 5th of June 2011 for – the final departure of the luxury Eastern and Oriental Express train service from Tanjong Pagar Railway Station.

The 5th of June marked the last departure of the E&O Express Trains from Tanjong Pagar, bringing an end to the era of Romance in railway travel from Singapore.

The last E&O Express to depart from Tanjong Pagar sits at the platform.

The significance of that to me is one that perhaps outweighs that of what would be the departure of the last train on the evening of the 30th of June, and brings to an end, the end of Romance in rail travel to and from Singapore that had come with the opening of a station that along with the stations along the Malayan Railway at Kuala Lumpur and Ipoh, possibly best represents the age when the Romance of rail travel was at its peak. The Eastern and Oriental Express, doesn’t of course, go as far back to those days having been introduced to Tanjong Pagar in 1993, but it does take one back to those days in attempting to recreate the luxury and romance that is associated with the glory days of the railway.

The E&O Express route from Singapore to Bangkok was introduced in 1993.

A farewell to Tanjong Pagar and a farewell to Romance.

The last E&O Express Train to depart sits in the rain that brought rising waters in many parts of Singapore.

A window to the luxury and romance of the E&O Express.

A final walk down the platform ...

A steward looks forlornly at the rain washed platform at Tanjong Pagar for one last goodbye.

Carriages seen at the platform.

A farewell ... to tears from the heavens.

With the departure of the train at approximately 11.30 am from Tanjong Pagar and its subsequent 15 minute passage to Bukit Timah Station and another 15 minute passage to Woodlands, northbound E&O Express passengers would have for the last time, be given the treat of a passage through a Singapore that is representative of the Singapore when Tanjong Pagar Railway station was built in 1932, a softer and gentler Singapore that after the 1st of July, may disappear as the northbound E&O Express did on that stormy morning. Perhaps it was fitting that it was not to the smile of the sunshine that I had hoped for, but to the tears from the Heavens that the E&O train made this final push up north … tears perhaps for an end to of the Romance of the railway through Singapore.

The last E&O service to depart Tanjong Pagar reaches the halfway point in a final northbound journey through the railway corridor in Singapore, Bukit Timah Station.

Handing back the authority for the south section of the Singapore track to the Station Master, Encik Atan for one last time.

The E&O Express slows to a halt at Bukit Timah at approximately 11.45am, as it waits for a southbound train to pass.

Looking north at Bukit Timah one last time.

The carriages of the E&O sits in the rain, as waters rise in the Bukit Timah Canal just 250 metres away.

The rain washed platform at Bukit Timah.

Handing the authority for one last time for the 15 minute northern passage through Singapore.

Off we go for one last northbound look at the Bukit Timah corridor.

Shunting back one last time onto the main track.

And through the truss bridge for that last northern passage through Singapore.

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Strangers on a Train:

Strangers on a Train is an attempt to celebrate the passing of an era by a gathering on what is scheduled to be the last train that pulls into Tanjong Pagar Railway Station on 30th June 2011. If you are interested to join us, we are on Train 15 Ekspres Sinaran Timur (most of are in Coach 2 and are getting on that at Segamat). Do note that tickets for the Express services, which can be purchased up to 30 days in advance, to and from Singapore this June are fast selling, with trains for most weekends already quite full, and can be obtained at the station (advance bookings open from 8.30 am daily) or online at the KTMB website. If you would like to join us and have you tickets, you may drop an email to Notabilia or me with the subject line “Strangers on a Train”.


Further information of interest:

Information related to the station and its architecture can be found on a previous post: “A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station“. In addition to that, I have also put together a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station which can be found through this page: “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Do also take a look at the proposal by the Nature Society (Singapore) to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, at the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page. My own series of posts on the Green Corridor are at: “Support the Green Corridor“.






Join the party at Tanjong Pagar this June!

2 06 2011

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station for many of us, has come to be that sleepy, somewhat laid-back and old world escape from the crowded ultra-modern Singapore that now surrounds us. But, if you have been there of late, the station, you would have noticed that the crowds which the glorious work of architecture that the station’s building is deserves, missing for several decades, have returned. It is perhaps ironic that they have in what is now the last month of the building’s use the southern terminal of the Malayan Railway, that we see crowds that perhaps are reminiscent of those in the earlier days when the appeal of rail travel went far beyond the romance of taking the train.

A party is happening at the station this last month with many hoping to get a last ride on the trains which have passed through Singapore for 108 years.

Interest in rail travel from Singapore to Malaysia has indeed waned over the years as other modes of travel have become not just affordable, but a lot more convenient. Where it might have been a norm for Singaporean families to take a trip our of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station back in the 1960s and 1970s, the construction of the North South Highway has made road travel for one, a lot quicker than the trains, which for most part, run on a single track, and rail became somewhat of a forgotten and less used means of travel (although it is still popular with Malaysian residents along the line working in Singapore as a means to travel back home during the weekends).

A party from years gone by: crowds queuing up for tickets in the lead up to the Lunar New Year in the 1970s (photo source: http://picas.nhb.gov.sg)

The impending shift of the southern terminal station of the Malayan Railway has certainly increased interest in rail travel over the last few months, with many who had not taken the train out of Tanjong Pagar doing so for the first time as well as many like me, who are doing it out of pure nostalgia. The trains will of course still be around with us as a means of transport come the 1st of July when they will pull out of and into Woodlands Checkpoint instead, but there is nothing that compares to embarking on a train journey from and returning to a station of the stature of Tanjong Pagar, which was to have been the southern terminal of a grand rail transport network that was to have spanned the continents of Europe and Asia, that never was completed.

The party will end when Tanjong Pagar Railway Station sees its last train pull in and leave on the night of the 30th of June.

The terminal, which opened on 2nd May 1932, and after a 79 years and a month of operations, is now into its last month of its life as a railway station. That also means that after some 108 years since the railway started making its way through the railway corridors of Singapore, first in 1903 through much of Bukit Timah (part on which Dunearn Road now runs) to Tank Road and then in 1932 when a deviation at Bukit Timah turned it towards the docks at Tanjong Pagar, we would soon see no more of the trains chug along the various visible parts of the line (a friend related how he had learnt to count by counting trains passing by the window of his flat in Tanglin Halt), across the two black truss bridges over Bukit Timah Road, the various simple girder bridges, the prominent ones being the ones across Hindhede Road and Hillview Road, the five remaining level crossings. What I guess many of us will miss more is sitting on a train as it weaves its way on that half an hour journey that brings us into another world – the hidden parts of Singapore that we might have only seen from window of the train … In a little less than a month, it would not be the old world Tanjong Pagar that greets the train passenger coming back into Singapore, but, a stone cold platform surrounded by high wire fences and manned by blue uniformed personnel, and with that, the wonderful experience of passing over the old railway tracks and bridges and through some very charming parts of Singapore that would otherwise be hidden, will be a thing of the past. That, is reason in itself, to join the crowds that have descended on the usually sleepy Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, for what must surely its farewell party, and hop on a train out or back into the station before the opportunity to have that wonderful experience passes by.

29 days before the final farewell ....

The Malayan Railway (now KTM) which has provided a rail service to Singapore since 1903 and maintained the grand station at Tanjong Pagar since May 1932, will after the 1st of July, terminate at Woodlands, the entry point from the Causeway into Singapore.


Ticketing information:

Tickets for the Express services, which can be purchased up to 30 days in advance, to and from Singapore this June are fast selling, with trains for most weekends already quite full. Tickets can be obtained at the station (advance bookings open from 8.30 am daily) or online at the KTMB website. If you are interested to join a party on the last train into Singapore on the 30th of June, there are several of us who would be having one on Train 15 Ekspres Sinaran Timur. Most of us are in Coach 2 and will be getting on that at Segamat. If you have you tickets, you may drop an email to Notabilia or me with the subject line “Strangers on a Train”.


Further information of interest:

Information related to the station and its architecture can be found on a previous post: “A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station“. In addition to that, I have also put together a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station which can be found through this page: “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“.

Do also take a look at the proposal by the Nature Society (Singapore) to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, at the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page. My own series of posts on the Green Corridor are at: “Support the Green Corridor“.






A peek into the early days of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station

28 05 2011

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station started its life in the fourth decade of the 20th Century as what was to have been the southern point of an ambitious vision to link the Europe’s vast rail network with a network that would span the continent of Asia, and eventually connect with the rest of the Far East by rail, with the network extending potentially to the Indian and Pacific Oceans via sea routes, with Singapore serving as the gateway. The station’s main building was mostly completed at the end of 1931, its first act seeing not a rush of passengers through its main hall, but visitors to a Manufacturers’ Exhibition which opened on 2nd January 1932 – the very first to be held in Singapore. Coming as the world was suffering from the effects of the Great Depression, the exhibition served to bring to light Singapore’s hitherto unheard of manufacturing potential, providing local manufacturers with a platform to showcase their products and capabilities and at the same time to promote Singapore’s growing importance as a economic centre in the British Far East with the newly built grand station as its centrepiece. The aim of the exhibition as stated in the official guide was “to present as many aspects as possible of actual and potential manufacture in Singapore” and included amongst the exhibitors, some companies that were to become household names in Singapore such as Robinsons, John Littles, Malaya Publishing House which was to later become known as MPH, Diethelm and the Straits Trading Company. Opened by the then Governor of Singapore, Sir Cecil Clementi, the exhibition also provided many members of the public with their first view of the internals of the main building of the brand new station.

The main building of the station was first used as a venue for the first Singapore Manufacturers' Exhibition which opened on 2nd January 1932 (image source: Willis' Singapore Guide, 1936).

The actual opening of the station wasn’t until some months later on the 2nd of May 1932. To commemorate the opening, a passenger train, the first that was to pull into Tanjong Pagar, which, as reported by the Straits Times on 3rd May 1932, “comprised of an engine and three saloons to travel over the new deviation”, left Bukit Panjang Station at 4.30 pm with a load of guest that included the Governor, the Sultan of Perak and Mr J Strachan, the General Manager of the FMSR, and arrived “punctually at 5.15″. In his speech at the opening, Sir Clementi provided an insight into the vision which provided the motivation for building of a station of the stature of Tanjong Pagar, saying: “we stand here at the southernmost tip of the continent of Asia; and, since the Johore Strait is now spanned by a causeway which was opened for traffic on June 28, 1924, we may even say that we stand at the southernmost top of the mainland of Asia. This point is, therefore, a real terminus as well as a natural junction between land-borne and sea-borne traffic; and it is very right that the terminal station of the Malayan railway system should be built at Singapore, the gateway between the Pacific and Indian Oceans and immediately opposite the Tanjong Pagar docks, where every facility will be afforded for interchange between railway and ocean shipping”. The Governor also added that he had “not the slightest doubt that, for centuries, this Singapore terminal station will stand here as one of the most nodal points in the whole world’s scheme of communications.” While this, eight decades later has not quite come true for the station (we are also still talking about a Trans-Asian rail network, it probably has come true of Singapore as a wider communications node – the Governor could not have envisaged the phenomenal growth of air transportation at that time.

The location of the station, across from the docks at Tanjong Pagar, was deliberately selected so that the southern terminal of the what would have been an intercontinental overland railway network could be integrated with ocean shipping and extend the reach over the Pacific and Indian Oceans (image source: Willis' Singapore Guide, 1936).

The station, the work of Swan and McLaren, even in its current state having had much better days, is a wonderful work of architecture to marvel at. Described by an article in the 7th May 1932 edition of the Malayan Saturday Post on the occasion of the opening of the station as having a “palatial appearance”, the station is now overshadowed by the towering blocks that have come up at its vicinity, as well as by the elevated road, buildings and containers stacked high that obscures most of it from the the docks it was meant to feed. What must be the features of the grand building that stand out most are the entrance arches flanked by the triumphal figures, the work of sculptor Angelo Vannetti from the Raoul Bigazzi Studios Florence, that seem to stand guard over all that passes under the arches into the grand vaulted hallway described as “lofty and cool” in the same article. The main hall of the station extends three storeys (some 21.6 metres) above the visitor to provide for a sufficient pocket of air to allow the hall to be kept cool in the oppressive tropical heat. It is this lobby that impresses the most, with not just the vaulted ceiling, but also the six sets of mosaic panels that resemble batik paintings that immediately catch the attention of the visitor. It is the timeless beauty of the main hall, that, in any future developments being planned for what is Singapore’s newest National monument, should be made accessible to the public as it is today, and not as many other public buildings that have been conserved over the years, accessible to an exclusive few.

The main vaulted hall of the station in its early days. An impressive integration of architecture and public art. The lamps and the clock seen in this picture - has long since disappeared, but the hall remains, even in the state the station building is in today, a particularly impressive piece of architectural work. Caption reads 'Booking Hall, Singapore Station' (image source: Willis' Singapore Guide, 1936).

There is a lot more clutter in the hall today ... the lamps and the clock we see in the hall in the station's early days are also missing.

The Willis’ Singapore Guide (1936), provides an insight into Tanjong Pagar and the operation of the FMS Railway around the time of the station’s opening. It describes the FMSR as running from Singapore for 580 miles to Padang Besar where it meets the Royal State Railways of Siam and incorporates 121¼ miles of the Johore State Railway which was leased by the FMSR. As is the case today, the East Coast Line branched off at Gemas to the port of Tumpat some 465 miles from Singapore, where a short branch line connects with the Siamese Railways at Sungei Golok. We are also told that a branch line connects with what was then Port Swettenham (now Port Klang), with branches also serving other ports at Malacca, Port Dickson, Teluk Anson and Port Weld. A total of 1321 miles of metre gauge tracks were laid providing some 1067 miles of track mileage. A daily service of trains from Singapore to Penang was maintained with a day and night express service daily which took some 22 hours to reach Penang and some 9 hours (doesn’t seem much different from the journey these days) to reach Kuala Lumpur from Singapore.

The journey in the 1930s to Kuala Lumpur took some 9 hours.

The express train services in 1936 (source: Willis' Singapore Guide, 1936)

On the evidence of the guide, which I suppose would be referring to service in first class, the service provided does seem a lot more comfortable than what we’ve become accustomed to these days, as described by the guide, with Restaurant Cars which served “an excellent breakfast, luncheon or dinner”, “at a reasonable price”. Sleeping Saloons with two berth cabins were provided on the night trains (as they are now) and a “commodious Buffet Parlour Car is attached to the night express trains between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur”. Breakfast, tiffin and tea baskets were also available at the principal stations which could be ordered en route with the “Guard of the trains or any Station Master” able to “telegraph free of charge”.

Once the last train pulls out of Tanjong Pagar Station, it would bring to an end a little over 79 years of operation of a station that was to see centuries as one of the 'most nodal points in the whole world's scheme of communications'.


The information above has been put together from various newspaper articles and as well as the Willis’ Singapore Guide 1936, to provide a glimpse into the early days of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. More information on the station and its architecture can be found on a previous post: “A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station“. I also have a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station and if you care to read about them, do drop by my page “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“. Also, if you are keen to find out and support the Nature Society’s (Singapore) proposal to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, do drop by the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page … I do also have a series of posts on the Green Corridor if that is of interest – please visit them at “Support the Green Corridor“.






A final look at Tanjong Pagar Station

24 05 2011

Together with a group of yesterday.sg fans, I had another look around Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, on a 45 minute tour run by the Preservation of Monuments Board (PMB), to provide participants with a better appreciation of Singapore’s latest National Monument, before operations end on the 1st of July this year. Besides meeting with yesterday.sg’s Shaun Wong, from whom I learnt that the inspiration for the name of the website was the Beatles song “Yesterday”, I also had the pleasure of meeting fellow blogger P.Y. of Oceanskies, who incidentally has provided a comprehensive account of the tour, and Belinda Tan who I am grateful to for stirring up quite a fair bit of interest in my blog by posting links to my set of railway memories. The short but informative tour was led by a PMB volunteer, Rosanne, who provided a fair bit of information on the background to the station, the reasons for its establishment and the choice of location. What interested me in particular, was the information that related to the station’s architecture, which provided me with a better appreciation of the station.

I had the opportunity to join a PMB tour of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station courtesy of yesterday.sg.

The station we were told by Rosanne, was built to provide a grand station that was to be the terminal of what the British had envisaged as a intercontinental transport network that was to span from Singapore at the southern tip of the Asian continent to the British Isles. The choice of the location close to the docks at Tanjong Pagar signaled the ambitious extent of the British Empire’s intent in expanding transport and communication links between the British Isles with Asia and further afield, with Singapore’s strategic location being seen as the gateway (by sea) to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Designed by Swan and MacLaren, the station is thought to have been designed after Helsinki’s Central Station and sharing elements with Washington D. C.’s Union Station. The style of architecture, Art Deco, that was selected was one that it was felt combined both Western and Eastern elements and influences. Art Deco is in fact very much in evidence around the station – geometric patterns in the details of the ceiling and arches of the portico an example. Another example of the Art Deco style that is evident is use of triumphal figures in the form of the four Angelo Vannetti sculptures at the façade that represent the four pillars of the Malayan economy, being Agriculture, Commerce, Transport and Industry. Our attention was also drawn to portions of the roof which featured a green tile structure inspired by the roofs of Chinese Temples.

Transport, one of the four pillars of the Malayan economy is seen carrying a stone block, with a wheel behind, stepping on a bow of a ship. The use of triumphal figures is common in Art Deco architecture

The Chinese temple inspired green tiled part of the station's roof.

Lions on the window details at the station's side are meant to represent Singapore.

Inside the hall, our attention was drawn to the six sets of batik style mosaic mural panels which feature some 9000 tiles that represent the economies of the Federated Malay States (FMS), as well as to the two crests – one being the crest of the Federated Malay States – which comprised of the four British protected states of Selangor, Perak, Negeri Sembilan and Pahang, and the Straits Settlements. Closer inspection of the coat of arms reveals a shield that is coloured with a colour from each of the four state flags in the case of the FMS, and in the case of the Straits Settlements, the shield is made up of four quadrants each representative of the three settlements, Penang, Malacca and Singapore, and also Christmas Island which was annexed to the Straits Settlements in 1889. The station when it was built was designed to maximise the comfort, particularly of first and second class passengers embarking on what was to be a long journey (Rosanne mentioned it took something like 29 hours to reach the Siamese border by train from Tanjong Pagar and the Japanese during the occupation, improved the speed of the passenger trains to 60 km/h and goods trains to 50 km/h, cutting the journey time by some 5 hours), equipped with amenities such as passenger waiting rooms, refreshment rooms, dining rooms, a hairdresser’s shop, dressing rooms and lavatories. Based on news reports of the opening of the station, we are also told that there were other rooms such as a telegraph office, parcel room, offices for the necessary station staff and included a few bedrooms.

Batik painting style mosaic mural panels in the main hall depict the economies of the FMS.

The coat-of-arms of the Federated Malay States - the shield features colours of the four protected states of the FMS.

The coat-of-arms of the Straits Settlements with each quadrant of the shield representing the each of the Straits Settlements which then also included the Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island.

The 45 minute tour ended at the start of the departure platform which now features immigration counters introduced after the separation of Singapore from Malaysia, when travel across the Johor Straits required a passport. When I first started taking the trains in the 1990s, we would have to pass through the Singapore Immigration counters at the near end before going through Malaysian Immigration and Customs further down the platform … this practice was discontinued from mid 1998 when Singapore shifted its immigration to the CIQ Complex in Woodlands, insisting that the Malaysian authorities do the same. This has been resisted right up until today – and up to the 30th of June, one of the things you can still do is to enter Malaysia before leaving Singapore (for a more detailed explanation on this please read my previous post “A final journey from Tanjong Pagar: into Malaysia before leaving Singapore“. The platforms we were also told were some 1,200 feet long, built to cater to the longest of mail trains. We were also shown some of the features around the platform of historical value that would be retained – this included the hydraulic buffer stops at the end which apparently are the only ones found in the stations operated by the Malaysn Railway. The tour ended with a little excitement – first from the animated voiced coming from Malaysian immigration officers who tried to tell us we had strayed a little too far along the platform. It was then time for a quick catch up over some teh-tarik at the cafeteria with my fellow participants and new found friends ….

What used to be immigration counters used by the Singapore authorities ... and apparently reclaimed by Malaysia since mid 1998 ...

A train on the departure platform - the platforms are 1,200 feet in length to accommodate the longest of the mail trains. We were also told that 3rd Class passengers had to use a side access to the platforms.

One of the two hydraulic buffers.

The roof over the platforms also show art deco features in the geometric patterns found on them.


For a comprehensive account of the tour, do drop by PY’s post “The Tanjong Pagar Railway Station Tour on 21 May 2011“. And if any of you are keen to hop onto the last train into Singapore and have a party … do drop by Notabilia’s post “All Aboard? Party on the Last Train Through Singapore” and indicate your interest there. I also have a collection of experiences and memories of the railway in Singapore and of my journeys through the grand old station and if you care to read about them, do drop by my page “Journeys through Tanjong Pagar“. Lastly, if you are keen to find out and support the Nature Society’s (Singapore) proposal to retain the green areas that have been preserved by the existence of the railway through Singapore and maintain it as a Green Corridor, do drop by the Green Corridor’s website and show your support by liking the Green Corridor’s Facebook page … I do also have a series of posts on the Green Corridor if that is of interest – please visit them at “Support the Green Corridor“.


Rosanne, the volunteer guide with the PMD who led the tour.

A last look at the station ....

Capturing memories and the station's last days of the station seems to be very much fashion these days.





The last level crossing in Singapore

19 05 2011

Minutes before arriving at Woodlands on the 30th of June, the last of the Malayan Railway trains to cut across our island would have passed what would be the last operational level crossing in Singapore. It is probably appropriate that the crossing, one of two gated crossings left (the other being at Gombak Drive), is the last that will see a train pass through, being close to the terminal point of the original Singapore-Kranji Railway which commenced operations in 1903. The original line had featured numerous level crossings, particularly in the busy city centre and in planning the Railway Deviation of 1932, a stated objective had been the elimination of the level crossings in the city which proved not just to be costly to maintain, but also contributed to significant congestion on the city roads as well as being dangerous. What we are left with today are five operational manned level crossings, three of which are closed by a barrier rather than a gate. The crossings are at Gombak Drive, Choa Chu Kang Road (the widest), Stagmont Ring Road, Sungei Kadut Avenue and Kranji Road.

A train crossing Kranji Road. The Kranji level crossing would be the last one to operate on the 30th of June 2011.

The Singapore-Kranji Railway started operations on New Year’s day of 1903 after some two years and eight months of construction with the opening of the line from Bukit Timah to the original terminal at Tank Road. The departure of the first train from Tank Road Station is described by the 2nd January 1903 edition of the Straits Times: “Yesterday morning at 6 o’clock sharp, the first train drew up at the platform awaiting those daring spirits who had decided to test the line, in an initial run as far as Bukit Timah. There were two or three Europeans and a similar number of Chinese babas as passengers … A few minutes after 6 o’clock, one of the few railway officials present waved his hand to the driver as a signal to start, the passengers scrambled in, the engine tootled once or twice, and then slowly steamed out of the station passing a large notice board which proclaimed in English, Malay and Tamil that the station was ‘Singapore’. Thus the first public run on the Singapore-Kranji Railway has commenced”. Based on the same article, the published fares for the passage were 56 cents on 1st Class, 35 cents on 2nd, and 21 cents on 3rd. The full line was completed some four months later with the opening of the final section from Bukit Timah to Kranji on the 10th of April 1903. The Straits Times on the 11th of April 1903 describes the passage of the first “through train”: “the first through train left ‘Singapore’ station at Tank Road punctually at 7 o’clock yesterday morning for ‘Woodlands’, at the Johore end of Singapore, a little run of fifteen miles. The train consisted of seven carriages and was well filled with a very cosmopolitan lot of passengers”. The article also interestingly describes the scene along the line from Bukit Timah onwards towards Woodlands: “the line runs through some of the prettiest country in the island and the lover of tropical scenery will be delighted with the trip”. The return fare was reported to be $1.80 and the passage across the Straits of Johor on a steam driven ferry cost 10 cents.

The original Singapore-Kranji railway had run to the 'Singapore' Station at Tank Road. Operations started on New Year's Day 1903 to Bukit Timah and was extended to Kranji on 10 April 1903 when the rest of the line was completed.

That was some 108 years ago, when the railway made its first tentative journeys across the island. And now, after a little more than a century, the last will leave, not tentatively, but possibly in a determined manner, no longer wanted by a country it has served so well, but where land has become too valuable to allow the old railway to weave its way through it. And so, in the cover of the night, perhaps not silently, but with a large groan, the railway will take its leave with the last train as it passes the last crossing to be swallowed up by the CIQ complex where the trains will after the last on the 30th of June, terminate at. No longer will we as train passengers see that scenery that was in 1903 described as “the prettiest country in the island”, a scenery that still, despite the appearance of civilisation, is still one of the prettiest in the country, and no longer will I get to see what has held my fascination of the railway since my earliest encounters with it in Singapore – a train crossing a road.

When the Kranji level crossing sees the back of the last train on the 30th of June 2011, we would be minutes from saying goodbye to 108 years of the railway passing through Singapore.

A Vanishing Scene: The Kranji Level Crossing


To read my series of posts on Journeys through Tanjong Pagar, please click on this link.


Party on the last train:

If anyone is keen to join Clarissa Tan, Notabilia, and myself on the last train into Singapore (not the last train which will be the northbound train from Tanjong Pagar), do indicate your interest by leaving a comment at Notabilia’s post on the subject.






Don’t miss the last train!

18 05 2011

The last day of June this year will bring to a close a long chapter in our history, one that will break a link we have had with the Malayan Railway, now operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), that went back some 108 years. The railway’s beginings can be traced back to the Singapore-Kranji Railway which started service in 1903 providing a link from the north down to the terminal station in Tank Road. A ferry service was introduced which provided rail passengers with a link to the Johor Railway across the Straits of Johor which was replaced by the rail link across the Causeway when that was built. It was a railway deviation in 1932 that diverted the railway to its current terminal at Tanjong Pagar, cutting a path through from Bukit Timah deviating from its original route over towards Ulu Pandan, Buona Vista, Tanglin Halt, towards the new grand terminal built to provide Singapore with a station that was befitting of its economic importance. Beside the grand old station, it was this deviation that possibly provided us with the many structures that give the areas through which the railway passes through a unique flavour as well as helping preserving parts of old Singapore: the two distinctive black truss bridges across Bukit Timah Road; the girder bridges across at the road entrance to Bukit Timah Hill and at the entrance to Hillview Avenue; the quaint old station at Bukit Timah and the wonderful green corridor that has been maintained along much of the railway land.

The last train will pass reach Woodlands Checkpoint at approximately 23:00 on 30th June 2011 and that will end 108 years of trains of the Malayan Railway chugging through Singapore.

And so, on the 30th of June, the locomotive that drags the 22:30 Senandung Malam through its half an hour passage across the island from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands would be the last to do so, pulling its way past what would have been familiar sights in the darkness of the night, breaking the silence one last time of what it would leave as a long and lonely corridor. With its scheduled arrival at Woodlands Train Checkpoint at 23:00, the familiar sights and sounds: the sights of the rushing flash of silver tinged with blue, white, yellow and red across the truss and girder bridges, roads (at the five level operational crossings) and through the many places that as children we would have watched the train pass by; and the sounds of the rattle of the diesels and blaring horns, would be but a memory. With that, that old world feel that one somehow associates with the train would be also be a thing of the past, as operations commence from Woodlands on the 1st of July, leaving passengers and well-wishers with little or no opportunity to experience that send-off or welcome or an arrival at a grand station that a journey by train somehow deserves.

A journey to or from Tanjong Pagar is a unique experience not to be missed.

Getting on the train from Tanjong Pagar would I guess be the best way to have that experience, but even if you don’t intend to do that, there are many ways to have a last experience of the last of the trains through Singapore. One of the best ways to do it is to watch the passing and waiting of the trains at the old Bukit Timah Station, accessible via a path on each side of the black railway bridge near King Albert Park. It is at this quaint old station that we can observe that old fashioned practice of the handing over of the key-token – the last place along the KTM Railway line that this is still practiced to ensure that there is only one train on the single track that is still in use. If you do go to the station at Bukit Timah, do remember that the station and the grounds around it are still very much the property of KTM, and that although for most part the Station Master is quite tolerant of curious visitors, it would be good to ensure that you do not impede the station’s operations as well as compromise your own safety. And, if you do intend to take a few photographs, or do video recordings, please remember to also seek the permission of the Station Master. To catch a glimpse of the trains and the handing over of the key token, the best time would be to do so in the mornings as trains would be most frequent then. The schedule of trains passing at Bukit Timah Station is: 04:45, 06:09, 06:45, 07:30, 08:15, 10:45, 13:15; 16:26, 18:11, 18:15, 19:10, 20:55, 21:47, and 22:45 (do note that KTM trains do not alway run on schedule). The last trains would be the ones on the 30th of June this year, so do make it a point to catch them, before they are gone, as many wonderful experiences on our island are now gone, forever.

It is also worth paying a visit to quaint old Bukit Timah Station to catch the passing trains as well as witness the old fashioned practice of the handing over of the key token - the only remaining place along the KTM line that this is still done.

The Key Token.

A key token for the northern section being handed over by an incoming southbound train.

Carriages of a south bound train waiting for a north bound train to pass at Bukit Timah Station.

The Station Master scurrying off on a bicycle to pass the key token to the driver of a south bound train.

A reflection no more after the 30th of June - the station at Bukit Timah being reflected off a passing train.

Silence will greet Bukit Timah Station after 79 years of hearing the frequent sounds of engines and whistles.


KTM timetable

Note: Times shaded in green are those at the start points, and those in red at the end points. There are two lines, the North South Line and the East Line which run out of and into Tanjong Pagar until 30th June 2011.

North-South Line Timetable (click to enlarge).

East Line Timetable (click to enlarge).


To read my series of posts on Journeys through Tanjong Pagar, please click on this link.


Party on the last train:

If anyone is keen to join Clarissa Tan, Notabilia, and myself on the last train into Singapore (not the last train which will be the northbound train from Tanjong Pagar), do indicate your interest by leaving a comment at Notabilia’s post on the subject.

In the Lianhe Zaobao on Sunday 29 May 2011

网上召集搭未班火车回家

约两周前,网上已有人开 始召集在6月30日到马来西亚一同搭回返丹戎巴葛火车站的最后一班火车,为火车站来个 “欢送会”。据召集人之一林坚源了解,当天晚上10时抵新的班车应孩会是火车战停用前最最后一班在这里停 的火车靠的火车。

“虽然丹戎巴葛火车站的最后一班车据说是当天晚上10时半由柔佛州苏丹亲自开往马来西亚的班车, 但是我们新加坡人来说,搭乘南向火车回家更具意义。”









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