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.





Strange Horizons: seeing the future

29 05 2014

The future world does seem to have arrived in Singapore. Rising out of what used to be the old harbour is a new world, the seeds of which were really sown at the end of the 1960s. It was in 1967 that Singapore embarked on the State and City Planning Project (SCP) in 1967 with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme’s special assistance scheme for urban renewal and development for emerging nations. 

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The SCP completed in 1971, identified the need for a coastal highway to divert traffic out of the city, requiring land to be reclaimed for what was to be the East Coast Parkway (ECP) and the Benjamin Sheares Bridge. It was with this that the planners recognised that there was benefit in further reclamation of land to provide land for the city’s expansion south, land on which a new downtown is now, some four decades after the initial reclamation commenced, in the process of being built.

Among the first structures rising in the new world are several that have since become one of the most photographed and recognisable structures in Singapore including the Sky Park topped hotel towers and lotus flower inspired ArtScience Museum of Moshe Safdie’s Marina Bay Sands integrated resort complex (2010) and the Supertrees and cooled conservatories of the Gardens by the Bay  (2012) that is seen in the above photograph, which was taken across what today is a fresh water channel of water at the Bay East garden of the Gardens by the Bay.





Strange Horizons: reflections on the alien invasion at the bay

28 05 2014

Maybe now not such a strange horizon – the view of the alien structures that have invaded the new world at Marina Bay’s Garden’s by the Bay, reflected off the Dragonfly Lake. The structures are probably among the most photographed in Singapore and are now very recognisable across the world. In the foreground, three of the garden’s 18 Supertrees are seen with the two cooled conservatories in the background. The taller of the cooled conservatories is the 58 metre high Cloud Forest, which replicates the moist cooled environments of the tropical montane regions and features a 35 metre man made mountain along with a 30 metre high waterfall. The longer of the two conservatories is the Flower Dome in which the cool-dry springtime climates of the Mediterranean and semi-arid sub-tropical regions is replicated. The Gardens by the Bay, which is now in its second year (having opened in June 2012), has become one of Singapore’s most visited tourist attractions.

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Reflections on the new world

15 03 2014

The new world at Marina Bay, seen at twilight on 6 March 2014 from the edge of the pond at the ArtScience Museum. Built on land reclaimed from the sea that, the ArtScience Museum is part of the new Marina Bay Sands Complex that lies on top of the area where the detached mole that separated the inner roads from the outer roads once was. The complex looks across to what had been the old waterfront built along a bund, which did have some grand works of architecture to welcome the many who came ashore at old Clifford Pier. Much of all that has unfortunately been lost, replaced by the new world of glass and steel that does serve to impress all who set eyes on it.

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Marina Bay, 7.42 pm, 6 March 2014.





Recoloured waters

2 03 2014

A view of the Singapore River from my favourite bridge, the Cavenagh Bridge. The view is now very different one from the one I did when I first set my eyes on it as a child, with the river emptied of its seemingly overladen twakows – lighters that seemed to have non-existent freeboards. The twakows provided the means to bring goods from the ocean going ships anchored in the harbour to godowns upriver and were the backbone of trading business on which Singapore owes much of its early success to. 

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The once filthy waters of the river, spilling not anymore into the harbour, but into a body of sweet water – the Marina Reservoir, carved amazingly out from the sea and is now surrounded by the modern skyline that has come up at what is today Marina Bay, has since been cleaned up – the result of a huge ten year effort that began in 1977 that also saw it emptied of its twakowsIt is the new trades – that serving new temporary imports in the form of tourists, have replaced the old, and it is this that now recolours the river’s once dark and murky waters, bringing new life to the area. 

More on the Singapore River and the old harbour:





On fire in Sembawang

19 01 2014

Beside the rich cultural and religious traditions brought in by our immigrant forefathers such as Thaipusam, which was celebrated on Friday, we do increasingly also see the influences from non-traditional sources adding much colour to Singapore. One example that I did come across today was a ritual that does seem to have come from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition – a fire puja seen at the open space beside Sembawang MRT Station and Sun Plaza. The fire puja, in which offerings consumed by a huge fire, was one organised by the Kadhampa Buddhist Association, one of several Tibetan Buddhist movements that have taken root in Singapore in more recent times.

Offerings being consumed by the huge fire.

Offerings being consumed by the huge fire.

Prayer flags fluttering in the wind.

Prayer flags fluttering in the wind.





Splashing by the bay

30 11 2013

A sneak peek at the Gardens by the Bay – Far East Organization one hectare Children’s Garden which is scheduled to be open in January 2014. The garden, being set up on a site adjacent to the Cloud Forest will feature river scapes, lush greenery, a special toddler’s play zone, Rainforest tree houses and a water play area and on the evidence of the sneak preview that the young guests of the Gardens by the Bay and Far East Organization got over the weekend, will provide kids a splashing good time.

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Thorns in the urban landscape

22 10 2013

Intended to be an icon of a new Singapore, a building topped with a crown of thorns blocks the view from a once well-loved part of Singapore where many enjoy a meal of satay by the sea. The building, which houses Esplanade – Theaters on the Bay, which was completed in 2002, steals its name from the once popular promenade from which we could gaze out into the openness of the old harbour we can no longer see.

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The building is one some of us in Singapore struggle to find a connection in the same we have connected with the old National Library and the National Theatre and even that wonderful promenade by the sea that the real Esplanade was. Those icons, now erased from the new urban landscape, were ones which for many of us symbolised Singapore’s coming into the world as a nation, and point to humbler times we now seem not to want to be reminded of. This does perhaps exemplify what the new Singapore has become for some of us – a place we struggle to recognise and connect with, and one which has become a  Singapore we find hard to call home.





The new world rising from the sea

30 07 2013

A view along Singapore’s former waterfront at 7.37 pm on 28 July 2013. To the left of the photograph, a brand new world has grown on land reclaimed more recently from the sea, dwarfing the Asia Insurance Building, once the tallest building in South East Asia. What has been left behind from when the waters were those of the old harbour can be seen on the right side of the photograph. These include the Fullerton Building (former General Post Office) and Clifford Pier, both built along a bund that was in itself build on land reclaimed in the mid 1800s – one of the first land reclamation to take place in Singapore. The bund was completed in 1864 along with a road which has since been named Collyer Quay.

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A new circus comes to Toa Payoh

20 06 2013

A once familiar world fast turning to one that is unfamiliar, is Toa Payoh, the urban kampong where I had spent a good part of my formative years living in. Back then, what was Singapore’s second satellite town – the first planned as a whole by the Housing and Development Board (HDB), was the pride of Singapore’s highly successful public housing programme. It was built in part to showcase the effort with a purpose built “VIP block”, Block 53, built with a viewing gallery on its roof so that the success story could be shown-off to visiting dignitaries to Singapore. That was some four decades ago, and while the face of Toa Payoh is still very much that of the public housing estate it had been built to be, its prime location close to the city does mean that the land on which it does stand, can be sold off at a premium and increasingly, larger chunks of the estate’s land, originally intended for public housing, is now being diverted towards private residential development. This does have the effect of slowly, but surely, changing how we see Toa Payoh.

Block 53 seen today.

Block 53 seen today with the Seu Teck Sean Tong Temple complex across from it.

Block 53 in June 1969.

Block 53 in June 1969.

One pieces of land which will see private residential developments coming up, is one which has somehow remained almost vacant all the years – since Toa Payoh’s life as a public housing estate began. Now cleared of an Esso Service Station which stood at a corner of it since the early 1970s, the plot, bounded by Lorong 6, Lorong 4, Lorong 5 and the huge Seu Teck Sean Tong Temple complex, is currently being sold with a tender having been called by the HDB for it. The plot, being right across Lorong 5 from where I lived at Block 53 from 1967 to 1976 , is one in which I do have some of the more memorable memories of my days in Toa Payoh in. It was where the circus once came to as well as serving as a location of several Trade Fairs held in the early days of Toa Payoh.

A sign foretells the fate of a plot of land which has stood empty since the beginning of Toa Payoh's days as a public housing estate.

A sign tells of the fate about to befall a plot of land which has stood empty since the beginning of Toa Payoh’s days as a public housing estate.

The highlight of my time in Toa Payoh – at least before the Queen visited, was the Great Royal Circus of India coming to town in 1970. Not only did it serve as a distraction that was very different from the travelling wayangs (Chinese operas as they are locally referred to) and the pasar malams (night markets) that they brought with them, it provided me with an opportunity not just to watch the circus for the first time, it also allowed me the chance to see the circus’ travelling caravan (which I often heard stories about) up close. The caravan was stationed adjacent to the big top that had been set up on the same plot of land closer to Lorong 6, just next to Lorong 5 and right across from where I lived in Block 53.

A lion seen in a Royal Circus of India caravan cage in 1968. The circus was based at the plot of land in Toa Payoh in 1970 and brought with it the opportunity to see the animals up close.

A lion seen in a Royal Circus of India caravan cage in 1968. The circus was based at the plot of land in Toa Payoh in 1970 and brought with it the opportunity to see the animals up close (image source: http://a2o.nas.sg/picas/).

Those were indeed exciting times for me, the caravan which would have arrived by ship and moved around the Malayan Peninsula, included the cages of the circus’ animals and it was a huge treat to see the fierce looking Lions, Tigers and the curiously fascinating Ligers in their cages, not on the page of a magazine or book, but from a relatively safe position just an arm’s length away. Another huge treat was getting close the huge elephants – a few were chained to poles in the ground, and being washed and tended to by the keepers, although it is the rather unpleasant smell and sight associated of one of the elephants answering the call of nature in a big way that does seem to remain etched in my memory more than anything else.

The location plan on the HDB Land Sales web page (click to enlarge).

The unoccupied plot of land, along with the one across Lorong 4 on which the Toa Payoh Police Station (now Police Security Command) was to be built on, were ideal places to host the travelling Trade Fairs, popular in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The fairs, entrance to which would have cost some 20 cents for adults back then, contained many stalls selling a range of goods and cooked food, as well as having a fun fair of sorts. The fun fair was where rides, similar to the ones set by by Uncle Ringo these days, were found along with many other game stalls set up. It was this part of the fairs I was often drawn to, and on one  rare occasion I was allowed to go with an older neighbour (those were days when there were many warnings of children disappearing, many from similar fairs across the island, presumably kidnapped and never again seen). That was a visit, for which my grandmother stored the few coins I was given to spend in a knotted handkerchief, I well remember. It was probably more for what did happen – in participating in a game in which darts were thrown at inflated balloons so as to burst them, one of the projectiles I launched missed the girl who was manning the stall very narrowly.

A view northwards across the plot of land from where the Esso Service Station was. The Toa Pyoah Police Station (now Police Security Command) can be seen across Lorong 4 on the left - both that piece of land and the empty plot played host to trade fairs in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A view northwards across the plot of land from where the Esso Service Station was. The Toa Pyoah Police Station (now Police Security Command) can be seen across Lorong 4 on the left – both that piece of land and the empty plot played host to trade fairs in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Another thing I do remember of the plot of land was a large grass fire in the early 1970s which happened during a dry spell. The sight of firemen smothering the still smoking grass with gunny sacks after the fire was put out, as well as the sight of the charred black field is that I still well remember. It is however, the (Toa Payoh) Seu Teck Sean Tong (修德善堂), a Buddhist temple perched on the hillock on the eastern side of the plot of land, and a landmark in Toa Payoh which was there well before the public housing estate came up – which would probably be what most would identify with the plot of land. The huge temple complex, most of which was rebuilt in the early 1990s, as I would have known it back in the 1960s and 1970s, was completed in 1959, and was where a previous wooden attap roofed structure was said to have been put up in 1942. The temple’s location also marks where the first block of flats in Toa Payoh proper did come up – the first block of flats completed is Block 52, which still stands next to the temple and overlooks the temple complex.

The (Toa Payoh) Seu Teck Sean Ton seen on a small hillock at the eastern edge of the empty plot of land. The first block of flats completed in Toa Payoh, Block 52, can be seen just beyond the temple complex.

The (Toa Payoh) Seu Teck Sean Ton seen on a small hillock at the eastern edge of the empty plot of land. The first block of flats completed in Toa Payoh, Block 52, can be seen just beyond the temple complex.

With the new development that will soon take place, the temple’s position as a landmark overlooking the northern gateway to Toa Payoh (via the flyover at Bradell Road), will probably diminish. The development will add to growing list of private residential property in Toa Payoh and will further tip the balance in the mix of public and private flats in the area and it may be a matter of time before Toa Payoh will shed an image it was built to have – that of the jewel in the crown of what did become a very successful effort to house Singapore’s once homeless masses.

The rising of the sun over a new Toa Payoh.

The rising of the sun over a new Toa Payoh.





Reflections on Marina Bay

3 06 2013

For me, the story of Singapore is very a reflection of the way in which what we call Marina Bay today, has been transformed. Once the harbour at the heart of Singapore’s early success, the bay, like it or hate it, is today a magnificent sight to behold – particularly at certain times of the day, and a celebration of the tremendous strides Singapore has taken as a nation since the tumultuous events which surrounded a somewhat reluctantly achieved independence.

Marina Bay seen through the light rain at 6.30 am on 2 June 2013.

Marina Bay seen through the drama of the rain coloured scene at first light (photograph taken at 6.30 am on 2 June 2013).

The so-called bay itself (now a fresh water reservoir) and the developments that have taken root around it, was an afterthought made possible by massive land reclamation works which were started in the early 1970s – initially to provide land for a road which would bypass the already congested city (more information on which can be found in a previous post “The Making of Marina Bay“). While it did result in the disappearance of the old harbour – one of the things which did make Singapore, Singapore, it did provide new land for development. It is perhaps because of this, it became possible to widen the scope for conservation of Singapore’s built heritage, particularly in areas of the old city such as in the Tanjong Pagar / Chinatown area and other areas which had previously been earmarked for redevelopment .





Dawn of a new world

25 04 2013

6.58 am on 18 April 2013. Dawn breaks over an old world in Singapore in the midst of change – the former Seletar Airbase which is shedding its old world feel in embracing a new world – the Seletar Aerospace Park .

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Strange Horizons: A mound of sand where the sea once was

21 04 2013

A somewhat curious sight that greets a drive or a ride through Pulau Punggol Timor, is the mound that is seen in the photograph. The mound is one of two very obvious one found on a man-made island off the northeastern coast of Singapore, Pulau Punggol Timor. The island is one of two which came out of a huge land reclamation project along the Northeastern coastline of Singapore that took place from 1985 to 1990 to provide land primarily for future public housing, the other island being Pulau Punggol Barat.  The reclamation project which added a land area of some 685 ha. was also supposed to have seen Coney Island or Pulau Serangoon joined to the mainland, but that part of the project was deferred. The islands are located off the coast just north of the area where an old world, that of the former Seletar Camp, had once existed, between the mouths of the Sungei Seletar to the wast and Sungei Punggol to the east (both of which have since been dammed). The camp which came out of the former RAF Seletar was home to several army units including Combat Engineer units is in the midst of being transformed into the Seletar Aerospace Park.

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Since 2009, the otherwise undeveloped Pulau Punggol Timor, has played host to a construction aggregates receiving terminal (which moved there from Lorong Halus), as well a storage area for the aggregates. Besides the mound of sand – a mound of granite can also be seen.





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).





A sunrise over the new Singapore

8 02 2013

Singapore has, in close to half a century of its existence as an independent nation, seen a dramatic transformation not just as a nation but in the development of the city. There is nowhere, perhaps, where the change is as striking as it is in the new city that has risen from the sea – the Marina City Centre, built on land reclaimed on what had once been the old harbour. The new world is also perhaps where some of the more dramatic sunrises over the city can be observed, particularly against the silhouettes of what has certainly become one of the most photographed places in Singapore, the very iconic Marina Bay Sands complex.

Sunrise over the new world 7.29 am 8 February 2013.

Sunrise over the new world 7.29 am 8 February 2013.





The making of Marina Bay

8 11 2012

The decades that followed Singapore’s somewhat reluctant independence from Malaysia were ones of enormous growth and development which has led to an amazing transformation of a city state, with a burgeoning population, the threat of unemployment and facing much uncertainty into the modern city that it is today. One place where that transformation is very apparent is in and around the city centre, particularly in the Marina Bay area which has seen it morph from the old harbour on which Singapore’s wealth was built into the city of the future built around what has become Singapore’s 15th fresh water reservoir that it is today.

The dawn of a new Singapore at Marina Bay.

View of Clifford Pier, the Inner Roads and the Breakwater in the 1950s from an old postcard (courtesy of Mr. Low Kam Hoong).

Map of Singapore Harbour in the 1950s showing the Detached Mole, Inner Roads and Outer Roads.

The transformation that took place was a story that began in the years that followed independence. Singapore embarked on the State and City Planning Project (SCP) in 1967, assisted by the United Nations under the UN Development Programme’s special assistance scheme for urban renewal and development for emerging nations. The SCP which was completed in 1971, Singapore’s first Concept Plan, identified the need to build an adequate road transportation network. This included a coastal highway to divert traffic that would otherwise have to go through the city. For this land was to be reclaimed, with the construction of what is today Benjamin Sheares Bridge providing a vital link. Initial thoughts were that a green belt could be created on the reclaimed land with space created providing for a future expansion of the city. What did become of the plan and further developments over the years was to give us not just the highway which is the East Coast Parkway (ECP), but in addition to that a city of the future, a city in a garden, and certainly what is a truly amazing new part of Singapore we celebrate today.

Singapore’s City in a Garden concept is very much evident in the transformation of Marina Bay.

The last decade has seen the many developments which were the result of decades of planning take shape around Marina Bay.

You can find out more about this transformation and how it took place by participating in a guided walk this weekend or the next, ‘The Making of Marina Bay‘ which be conducted by Zinkie Aw, held as part of a month long ‘Loving Marina Bay‘ event organised by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA). Details of the walk (and also one more that I will be conducting on 25 Nov 2012 entitled ‘A Walk Around the Old Harbour’) can be found at The Loving Marina Bay site. To sign up for the walks, do visit the Eventbrite signup page. The month long event will also feature a street museum exhibition at Clifford Square (in between Clifford Pier and One Fullerton) in which photographs of the old have been superimposed on the new to provide an appreciation of the changes around the bay through which you can also discover where places such as the Satay Club once were.

A ‘Street Museum’ panel at Clifford Square.

Discover where places such as the Satay Club were through the street museum.


About Loving Marina Bay

See the story of Marina Bay through our AmBAYssadors

Located at the heart of Singapore’s city centre, Marina Bay is the centrepiece of Singapore set to be a thriving 24/7 destination with endless exciting events and a necklace of attractions where people from all walks of life come together to live, work and play.

This photography exhibition showcases the different facets of the Marina Bay precinct through over 100 enthralling photos taken by 20 of our beloved AmBAYssadors made up of Singapore’s popular bloggers and photographers.

Heritage is very much part of the precinct’s foundation, captured in key historical landmarks such as Merlion Park and Collyer Quay.

An interesting Street Museum section chronicles Marina Bay’s story over its first few decades since the 1960s, telling a story of strategic, far-sighted and meticulous planning and committed engagement to reach its present state through archive photos superimposed on its modern-day context.

Join us during the month-long event where every weekend is full of exciting activities such as heritage walks and photography workshops led by our very own AmBAYssadors. We want you to be part of Loving Marina Bay too – submit a photo taken at Marina Bay anywhere, anytime to win prizes; or simply pen a Love Note to your family/friends, drop it into the red pillar post boxes at The Fullerton Hotel Singapore and we will send it anywhere in the world for you! Visit www.marina-bay.sg/lovingmb for more details.






Vertically unchallenged

20 06 2012

Trying to find a world I once knew in one that I can no longer recognise, I stumbled on a scene at the end of Cuppage Terrace I could not resist taking a snapshot of that could well describe the nonchalance with which we in Singapore have allowed a vertically unchallenged and two-dimensional world to bury the multi-dimensional world which made us who we are …





Changing moods of a changing face

1 06 2012

Marina Bay is where the most dramatic of changes that the city of Singapore has seen over the last 30 years has probably taken place. It is now a showcase of the new Singapore – one that reflects how the mood of a nation that emerged out of uncertain times to where it finds itself now, proudly standing on its own. The bay as it is referred to now, was once the harbour – the harbour on which modern Singapore was founded on and from which much of its people and its wealth came in from. Cut off from the sea that brought it life by the reclamation of land and the construction of the Marina Barrage, the old harbour is now part of a large body of fresh water – an important reserve of the important resource that Singapore has always struggled with. Beyond that, it has also become the showcase of Singapore’s transformation with several rather iconic developments rising around the bay that has given the area a ‘wow’ factor. Even as I struggle to come to grips with this new world that has replaced much of what I loved of the Singapore that I grew up in, I must admit that I find myself in celebration of this new world. The new world in reflecting the changed mood of the nation is probably also where it is best to capture the changing mood of each day at daybreak – which I have tried to do on four out of five working days this week … the photographs that follow are taken at about the same time on each of the four days, each capturing a very different mood.

The calm after the storm

28 May 2012, 6.37 am.

A clear day

30 May 2012, 6.36 am.

The calm before the storm

31 May 2012, 6.38 am.

In the midst of a storm

1 June 2012, 6.39 am.





75 feet above the harbour

30 03 2012

From a vantage point 75 feet (about 23 metres) over Singapore’s former harbour, officers with the Harbour Division of the Preventive Branch of the Department of Customs and Excise (which later became Singapore Customs), stood watch over the Inner Roads of the harbour for more than three decades. The vantage point, a panoramic lookout tower that we still today, was part of the Customs Harbour Branch Building built over an L-shaped pier along the waterfront at the end of Collyer Quay. The building and pier, built at a cost of S$1.8 million, was completed in October 1969. The complex housed the 300 strong force of the then Harbour Division, as well as provided berths and maintenance facilities (which included a slipway) for some 35 launches and speedboats of the Division when it first opened. The building also provided cargo examination facilities and its construction allowed the Division to move from its somewhat makeshift premises in a godown in Telok Ayer Basin.

What is today a posh dining destination, Customs House, with its very distinct 75 foot lookout tower, was formerly the Customs Harbour Branch Building. It was completed in October 1969 and housed the Harbour Division of the Customs Preventive Branch.

The Customs Harbour Branch Building in 2006 (source: URA site on Conservation Matters).

Collyer Quay in July 1974 seen beyond the Detached Mole, a breakwater that sheltered the Inner Roads from the opened Outer Roads. The Customs Harbour Branch Building and its distinct 75 foot tower is seen on the extreme left of the photograph (Photo courtesy of Peter Chan).

While 75 feet in the context of what now surrounds the former Customs complex, the tower allowed customs officers to keep a round-the-clock watch over the harbour for small boats attempting to sneak dutiable goods into Singapore. The octagonal shaped and fully air-conditioned watch tower which is supported by a cylindrical base provided a panoramic view which extended beyond the Inner Roads to the mouth of the Singapore River, the Geylang River and Tanjong Rhu. Officers spotting a suspicious boat could then alert their colleagues manning the speedboats which were on standby by the pier who would then head out to intercept the suspicious boat.

A side elevation of the former Customs Harbour Branch Building with its very distinct lookout tower (source: URA site on Conservation Matters).

At the bottom of the 75 feet climb up a spiral staircase to the lookout tower - reminiscent of climbs up several lighthouses I've visited.

In between heavy panting, I managed to appreciate the view halfway up.

At the end of the 75 feet climb - a view of the lookout tower's ceiling.

Looking down at the cause of my heavy breathing.

Use for the building and the pier in its intended role ended with the construction of the Marina Barrage which cut what were the Inner Roads of the old harbour off from the sea and the building then under the Maritime and Port Authority’s charge was passed over to the Singapore Land Authority in 2006. Customs House was given conservation status in 2007 and was reopened as a dining destination under the management of Fullerton Heritage, which also manages the former Clifford Pier and the Fullerton Hotel. The tower itself is however disused and remains inaccessible to the general public.

At the top of the lookout tower.

The lookout tower no longer commands a view of a harbour littered with bumboats, twakows and tongkangs, but of the new world that is Marina Bay.

Show me the money! An interpretation perhaps of the new view - as seen in the reflection of a window of the lookout tower offered by one of the installations for i Light Marina Bay 2012 - Teddy Lo's MEGAPOV.

Seeing double - BIBI's Bibigloo and a reflection of it as viewed from the lookout tower.





Dawn over the new Singapore

1 03 2012

Finding myself early one morning in a delightful old world I once knew that now is surrounded by a new world, I was drawn to the eerie blue glow that now colours the trusses of the gorgeous Anderson Bridge to venture in that direction and a little beyond it. As I walked past the Boat House – I half expected to be greeted by that joyful chaos that would have been the harbour of old, coloured by the icons of the old Singapore – that of the bumboats, tongkangs and towkows that Singapore’s success depended on. It wasn’t the old harbour however that greeted me, but a sea of calm coloured by the glow and the hues of the lightening sky, a sea without the chaos of old, surrounded by the icons of the Singapore we have become.

An icon of a developing and newly independent Singapore, the Merlion, stares at the icons of the new Singapore across a body of water that played an important role in Singapore's development.

The sea that I speak of is actually not anymore a sea. Bound by fingers of land carved out from the depths of the old harbour, it is now a body of sweet water, Marina Bay – a resource to supplement Singapore’s growing thirst for a resource it never has enough of. The icons we see around it are now the icons of the present and the future – representative of the Singapore we’ve become perhaps. One is the Merlion – a curious and unlikely fusion which is the icon of a confident and developing Singapore that emerged from the darkness that was the uncertainty of the early days of our independence. The Merlion stares towards even more curious edifices on the piece of land that sits over the old outer harbour – the edifices of the Marina Bay Sands Complex – which silhouetted against the glow of the lightening sky is a sight to behold.

The sunrise over a new Singapore.

As I sat in quiet contemplation marvelling at the magnificence of the sight that was before my eyes, I tried hard to imagine the world that once had been there, a world that I deeply miss. The gentle undulations of the water’s surface which was otherwise undisturbed served to remind me that world is no more, replaced by a world I often struggle to come to terms with. It is this new world however that I must now must love – one that when seen in the calmness and light of the new day, is one that certainly is hard not to grow love.








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