There was a time when my parents used to take us, my sister and me, to Mount Faber on quite a regular basis. The excursions were almost always, done in the evenings when it was a lot more pleasant, and would more often than not, culminate in a drive down Keppel Road for dinner. Then, there were plenty of choices of street food, that seemed to taste a lot better then than it somehow does in the food centres of today. For reasons that have escaped me, my parents avoided going to nearby Chinatown, and Keppel Road seemed an obvious choice, as it was well known for the two dimly lit car parks which would came to life each evening, illuminated by the relatively bright lights of hawker stalls, the bustle of a hungry crowd and the metallic sounds of noodles being violently tossed in the wok. One of these was the car park in front of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, one that we didn’t frequent as much as the one down by the east end of Keppel Road, at the large car park on Prince Edward Road.
I only have vague memories of where it was exactly, unable perhaps to make very much of the visual picture presented, beyond the distraction provided by the mess of hawker stalls, tables and chairs, seen in the half light that was filtered by the greasy smoke that filled the air with its pungent lard laden aroma. The car park I suppose would be the one opposite the old Singapore Polytechnic campus that we see today, or perhaps not, but what I did remember were the rows of lighted pushcarts from which there would have been a choice of everything the Singaporean hawkers were known to conjure up. There was the tomato ketchup stained mee goreng that I so loved, the starch laden oyster omelette that was a favourite of my father, and the spicy piping hot sup kambing that was my favourite. That was a place that perhaps I took for granted, never for once imagining that it would disappear one day. It did eventually, I don’t quite remember when, and in going the way of the many other street food places, flavour somehow gets lost in the relocation to the sanitised premises of the new food centres which were built to get the hawkers off the streets. Perhaps it was with the sanitary conditions that made the difference, where dish washing would have been done in basins of water next to opened drains into which flowed not just the washing water, but the contents of that were on the plates and bowls on which the drain’s residents would have thought of as a feast.
Prince Edward Road then, was also home to the premises of Singapore’s first Polytechnic, the unimaginatively named Singapore Polytechnic. The Polytechnic was established in 1954 with the passing of the Singapore Polytechnic Ordinance and classes began with an initial enrollment of 2800 students when the building was completed in late 1958 (it was officially opened in early 1959). The Polytechnic initially offered 58 different courses to train a pool of technicians for the developing economy of the island and remained at Prince Edward Road until the mid 1970s when it moved in stages to its present campus at Dover Road. The building that housed the Polytechnic still stands today as the Bestway Building, offering us a glimpse of an architectural style that is very typical of the era during which it was built. It was designed by Swan and MacLaren, which has had a hand in designing much of Singapore’s magnificent colonial buildings and civil infrastructure, and remains somewhat forgotten in a little pocket of land that time seems to have forgotten, at odds with the skyscraper infested financial centre that has sprouted up next to it. Whether it and the area around it would stand the test of time that many of the older buildings in the area have yielded to, perhaps only time will tell.