A journey through Tanjong Pagar in 1970

23 02 2018

There is always and element of romance connected with train journeys, especially the leisurely paced journeys of the past with which one can take in the magical scenes along the way that one can only get from railway journeys. LIFE Magazine’s Carl Mydans, a legendary photograph whose work spans several decades and includes an extensive coverage of Singapore prior to the war (see “A glimpse of Singapore in 1941, the year before the darkness fell“), took one such journey out of an independent Singapore some 3 decades later, capturing a Singapore we can no longer see but through photographs of the era. The set, also includes scenes along the journey to Bangkok, along with those captured at stopovers made in West Malaysia’s main urban centres.

The photographs of Singapore are particularly interesting. There are some of the old harbour, and quite a few of the twakow decorated Singapore River along which much of Singapore’s trade passed through. There are also several street scenes, once familiar to us in the area of North Bridge Road. A couple of quite rare shots were also taken at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station including one showing a steam locomotive of a 1940s vintage, which the Malayan Railway operated until the early 1970s. There are also images of the steam locos captured during the journey.

The photographs of West Malaysia are also interesting. The replacement of rubber trees with oil palm as a crop, which had been taking place in parts of the peninsula from the 1960s to reduce Malaysia’s reliance on rubber and tin was in evidence. This is something that I well remember from the road trips to Malaysia of my early childhood. Another familiar scene from those trips were of the padi fields, which the trunk road passing through Malacca seemed to weave through. This is something Mr. Mydans also seemed to have captured quite a fair bit of.

The departure platform at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station with a prewar relic of a steam locomotive.

Malaysian Customs Inspection at the Departure Platform.

The Supreme Court and the Padang.

Hock Lam Street.

Corner of Hock Lam Street and North Bridge Road.

North Bridge Road.

The old harbour (Marina Bay today)

View of Clifford Pier and the Inner Road, and Outer Roads beyond the Detached Mole. The view today would be towards Marina Bay Sands and Marina South.

Another view of the harbour – where Marina Bay Sands and Marina South is today. The Harbour Division of the Preventive Branch of the Department of Customs and Excise (Customs House today) can be seen at the lower right hand corner.

A rainbow over the harbour.

Boat Quay and the Singapore River

Walking the plank. Coolies loaded and unloaded twakows by balancing items that were often bulkier than their tiny frames over narrow and rather flimsy planks that connected the boats to the quayside.

A view of the stepped sides of the river around where Central is today.

Boat Quay.

Coolies sliding crates that were too bulky and heavy along the plank.

Lorry cranes were sometimes used instead.

But more often than not manual labour was used.

A view of the “belly of the carp”.

The Journey North

(with stops in Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Bangkok)

A steam locomotive at what looks like Gemas Railway Station.

More steam locomotives (at Gemas?).

Inside the train cabin.

Train along a shunt line.

Rubber estates and rubber tappers were a common sight – even along the roads up north.

So were water buffaloes and padi fields.

Padi field.

Another view of a padi field.

Oil palms taking root. A drive to reduce Malaysia’s dependence on rubber and tin from the 1960s would see oil palms colour a landscape once dominated by rubber trees.

Another cabin view.

A break in the journey – a view of the Stadthuys Malacca.

Jalan Kota in Malacca.

View of the Malacca River.

The Arthur Benison Hubback designed (old) KL Railway Station .

Another view of the south end of the KL Railway Station – with a view also of the KL Railway Administration Building.

A southward view down Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin (ex Victory Avenue) with the KL Railway Station on the left and the KL Railway Administration Building on the right, also designed by Arthur Bennison Hubback.

The Railway Administration Building and Masjid Negara.

A view down Jalan Raja in KL with the BagunanSultan Abdul Samad on the left.

Another view down Jalan Raja in KL with the BagunanSultan Abdul Samad on the left and Dataran Merdeka on the right.

Sungai Siput Railway Station.

The Penang Ferry from Butterworth.

A view of Butterworth.

George Town – with a view towards the clan jetties.

The Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang.

Air Itam and the Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang.

What looks like the Leong San Tong in the Khoo Kongsi in George Town.

The Penang Hill funicular railway.

More padi fields.

Possibly southern Thailand.



The Chinese-styled building on Cairnhill

21 02 2018

I love old and forgotten buildings. There are often lots of stories that can be told about them – as is the case of the former Anglo Chinese Secondary School at 126 Cairnhill Road. That had its story told in an article in Monday’s edition of the Straits Times that spoke of the desire among its current tenants to have the building conserved. Now used by the Cairnhill Arts Centre, it has a history of use in the promotion of learning. Unlikely as it may seem, the building was also where the National Institute of Education (NIE) had its beginnings in as the Teachers’ Training College (TTC) way back in 1950.

The Cairnhill Arts Centre at the summit of Cairnhill was completed in 1928 for Anglo Chinese Secondary School.

The setting up of TTC had come as part of a wider effort, the ten-year Education Plan that was initiated by the postwar Colonial administration’s Director of Education Mr J. Neilson. Its aim was to raise the standard of teaching and to provide (free) universal primary schooling in Singapore to stem the problem of juvenile hawking amongst the children of the fast growing urban population. A lack of funds had hampered the adoption of the plan and it would only be in late 1947 that the plan was adopted. Implementation of the plan began in 1948. An immediate task was to set up the TTC and its would be principal was quickly identified. With ACSS moving to new premises at Barker Road at the end of 1949, its Cairnhill school building became available and was made TTC’s first home. Operations began in 1950 and TTC was officially opened by the Governor of Singapore Franklin Gimson the following year on 8 June 1951.

The building, which was originally to have been erected at Oldham Lane, was designed and also adapted for its new location by Swan and MacLaren.

Described as the “most momentous in the history of education in this colony” in a Straits Times article on 9 August 1950 on the new TTC, 1950 also saw education receive a much needed boost with the adoption and implementation of a five-year Supplementary Education Plan. This plan, initiated by Mr. Neilson’s successor Mr. A W. Frisby, was put in place to accelerate the building of schools as well as the training of teachers. This was much needed in light of the postwar baby boom. The “emergency”  teachers’ training programme was one of the first tasks the new TTC’s was put up to. The supplementary plan would also see several “Emergency Schools” built and completed the same year. TTC’s use of the Cairnhill Road premises continued for a while even after it found a permanent home on Paterson Road. The purpose built new TTC campus at Paterson Road would begin operations in 1956 and was fully completed in 1957. Trainee teachers were known to have to shuttle between the two campuses during this period.

The former TTC at Paterson Road.

The use of the building by Monk’s Hill Primary School just after the war tells another interesting story. A quick return to normalcy was high on the agenda of the British Military Administration (BMA) and this included the reopening of schools. That would however prove to be rather challenging. Many schools buildings had either been damaged and required repair or were destroyed. Some were also being utilised by the military services and could not be returned immediately to civilian use. In the first three months following the return to British rule, less than half of the schools operating prior to the occupation could be restarted. The situation was compounded by the accumulation – over four schooling years of the occupation – of would be enrollees. With places in short supply – especially for those at entry level, many turned to private schools in the interim. The sharing of school buildings helped ease this crunch. Monk’s Hill School was one that would resort to this arrangement, having to hold its classes (briefly in early 1946) in the afternoons at ACSS. ACSS, which was able to reopen in October 1945, held its classes in the mornings. Promotions of students across one or two levels was also introduced to permit those who had their education disrupted to have their progress accelerated.

A view into the building’s courtyard.

126 Cairnhill Road through the years

A sketch of the building to have been put up at Oldham Lane – the plans were later modified for the new site at Cairnhill.

It would seem that the site of ACSS, on the summit of Cairnhill, was in keeping with the Methodist Mission’s penchant for having its schools constructed on elevated positions, it was however not actually the case. The building – initially for a primary school – was to have been built on another site at (old) Oldham Lane off Orchard Road. Developments in the area around Oldham Lane – which was fast turning it into motoring hub – forced a rethink. The Cairnhill site, purchased by the mission in 1920, was then made available for the new school building. The site, some “30 feet above street level”, was thought to give a “more desirable outlook” and also be “free from interruption from street noises”.

ACSS 1928

The building in 1928.

The building, completed in 1928 and opened by Sir Hayes Marriot – the Officer Administering the Government on 17 November of the same year – features quite a unique design with its somewhat Chinese-styled roof. Its plans were based on ones that were drawn up for the Oldham Lane site in 1924 and was adapted in 1926 for the new site. Built with 13 classrooms to accommodate 480 pupils from Standard VI to Cambridge (what would be known as “O” Levels today) level, the main building was supplemented by a science laboratory and a school hall (Tan Kah Kee Hall) cum tiffin shed (canteen), each housed separately. Access to the main building was via a flight of stairs from Cairnhill Road (the road access it now has is more recent). Half the cost of construction for the building was borne by the Straits Settlements Government.

Plans for the Building (modified for the Cairnhill Road site) in the National Archives of Singapore.

Besides its use by the Cairnhill Arts Centre (which opened on 24 April 1993), the two schools and TTC, the building has also been used by the Adult Education Board from 1968 until its merger with the Industrial Training Board in 1978 to become the Vocational and Industrial Training Board (VITB). VITB – the predecessor of the Institute of Technical Education then used the premises as an Instructor Training Centre until 1984 when a new training centre was established in Ayer Rajah. A building found at the bottom of the flight of stairs at Cairnhill Road – the school hall and canteen – has been occupied by a theatre company ACT 3 since 1987.

Plans for the Building (modified for the Cairnhill Road site) in the National Archives of Singapore.

More Photographs

An auxiliary building on the lower terrace – perhaps where the science labs were housed.

Decorative pieces can be seen at the eave ridge ends of the main as well as the auxiliary building.

What would have been the school hall (Tan Kah Kee Hall) cum canteen.

The building is now surrounded on three sides by highrise residential apartment blocks.





A defining moment in photographs: the 1959 elections that propelled the PAP into power

17 02 2018

Thanks to LIFE Magazine’s John Dominis, we are able to get an interesting look back to a defining moment in Singapore’s history – the momentous 1959 elections that saw the People’s Action Party propelled into power.

The elections, held on 30 May, was to elect the first Legislative Assembly of a fully self-governing Singapore. The PAP claimed 43 of the Assembly’s 51 seats. While their victory was not unexpected – with the PAP the only party contesting all 51 seats – the manner and margin of its victory had alarm bells ringing with many, especially in Britain, concerned about the PAP’s leftist leanings.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew speaking at an election rally outside Clifford Pier.

The crowd at the same rally.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew addressing the crowd.

The PAP team at the rally – including Mr. Lee and Mr. S. Rajaratnam.

On the campaign trail.

Election day crowd at Orchard Circus.

A voter arriving at the Tuan Mong School voting centre by trishaw.

A view of Tuan Mong School at Tank Road.

Mr. Lee Kuan Yew arriving at Tank Road.

Mr. and Mrs. Lee arriving at Tuan Mong School.

Joining the queue.

Waiting in queue.

A section of queuing voters at Tuan Mong School.

A view down Tank Road.

Tuan Mong School – with a view towards the steeple of the Church of the Sacred Heart.

The queue of voters at Ai Tong School in Telok Ayer Street (Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan Building). A queue can also be seen across the street at Chong Hock School (at Chong Wen Ge) next to the Thain Hock Keng Temple.

Outside the Chong Hock School (Chong Wen Ge) at Telok Ayer Street.

The scene at the PAP’s Tanjong Pagar Branch Office.

An enterprising vendor through the crowd.

The crowd at Anson Road opposite the counting centre at Gan Eng Seng School.

Another view of the crowd at Anson Road.

A bus carrying ballot boxes arriving at Anson Road.

An election officer carrying a ballot box.

The agonising wait.


A garlanded Mr. Lee being carried by supporters.

Supporters gathering around the victorious Mr. Lee.

Jubilant PAP supporters.

Photographs: © Time Inc. for which Personal and Non-Commercial Use is permitted.

A glimpse of Singapore in 1941, the year before the darkness fell

16 02 2018

Singapore in 1941, already one of the world’s busiest ports, was an island – even then – in a state of constant flux. The civic and commercial centres had in the two decades prior to 1941, seen the additions of some of the grandest edifices they municipality had seen. The European flavour of the buildings, many of which exhibited Neo-Classical features, were in sharp contrast to the Singapore River that ran through the heart of the municipality. A centre of the trade on which the fortunes of the institutions housed in the new edifices built fortunes on, the river was lined with well worn godowns into which and out of which bent and frail looking coolies with sun-bronzed bodies moved goods from the twakows over flimsy planks.

1941 was also a year that brought much trepidation with the threat of war looming – even if many fed by pronouncements by Britain over Singapore’s imagined impregnability did not believe would come. Very visible preparations, which would prove to have been grossly inadequate, were being made for war with troops and equipment being shipped in. Thanks to photographer Carl Mydans, who covered Singapore extensively for LIFE Magazine, we are able to get a glimpse at all of this. A collection of Mydan’s many photographs of Singapore taken in 1941 can be found in the LIFE Magazine and features street scenes, people, dwellings on both sides of the very apparent social divide, as well as the preparations that were taking place for a war that was to have far reaching consequences.

The Supreme Court , which was completed in 1939.

The Municipal Building (now City Hall).

The statue of Stamford Raffles in front of Victoria Memorial Hall – with the colonnade that disappeared during the occupation.

Finlayson Green.

The GPO (Fullerton Building), still with the flambeau pieces and Royal Coat of Arms made by Italian sculptor Cav. Rodolfo Nolli.

The Fullerton Road side of the GPO.

Raffles Place looking towards the Mercantile Bank Chambers.

Empress Place Building – preparations for war can be seen around the building.

A view towards the old Supreme Court (now The Arts House) from the new Supreme Court.

The Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Chambers, the Union Building and a view down Collyer Quay.

A view down Raffles Quay.

A view down Robinson Road.

Another view down Robinson Road.

A view down Japan Street (renamed to Boon Tat Street after the war).

Cathay Building and Singapore’s first “skyscraper”.

The waterfront.

Preparations for war at the waterfront.

The Singapore River, close to Cavenagh Bridge.

Cavenagh Bridge.

An aerial view of the “Belly of the Carp”.

Boat Quay.

A coolie “walking the plank”.

The view through the canopy of a twakow.

Boatmen on the river.

A laden twakow.

Boat Quay (image should be flipped horizontally).

A bullock cart along Boat Quay.

“Flags” of Singapore – laundry hung out to dry from shophouse fronts.

Loading rubber sheets along Beach Road,

A rickshaw puller along Boat Quay.

An itinerant hawker.

Sacks of rice loaded into a twakow.


Mother and child.

Kampung boys.

The letter writer.

Waterfront living.

More waterfront living.

The Turf Club.

Aw Boon Haw at the villa that gave Haw Par Villa its name.

Road workers outside the Ford Factory.

Loading rubber sheets onto a lorry at Beach Road (the SSVF Drill Hall can be seen in the background).

A bullock cart.

A view down North Bridge Road towards the Sultan’s Mosque.

An school excursion party at Tiger Balm Gardens (Haw Par Villa).

Rifle drills on the Padang as the threat of war looms.

Troops marching down Robinson Road.

Indian troops landing in Singapore.

Military vehicles being offloaded.

Malay Regiment soldiers taking a break during a training exercise.

Military training in a rubber estate.

Members of the Straits Settlement Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

Military truck kits from Canada for assembly at the Ford Factory as part of the war effort.

Assembly line inside the Ford Factory.

A Brewster Buffalo being unpacked.

Brewster Buffaloes being assembled.

The Floating Dock off the North Wall of the Naval Base in Sembawang.

A view of the Naval Dockyard.

Coastal Artillery Gun.

One of the “Monster Guns” of the Johore Battery.

Pulling through.

Photographs: © Time Inc. for which Personal and Non-Commercial Use is permitted.

The new star rising at MacTaggart Road

15 02 2018

What’s become of the “conserved” former Khong Guan Biscuit Factory at MacTaggart Road since my last post on it (see: The fallen star of MacTaggart Road) in September 2016:

The former factory – which also served as a warehouse for flour and a residence for the family that owns it, has seen a refreshing transformation with the addition of an eight-storey industrial building behind its distinctive three-storey conserved façade. The design of the quite un-industrial looking new extension seems to have been undertaken by Meta Studio (see: http://meta-current.strikingly.com/#khong-guan-flour-milling-ltd and https://www.facebook.com/meta.architecture/posts/777289939043015).

Photographs of the building before the addition of the new extension:



Kavadis on Keong Saik

8 02 2018

In photographs: the start of the colourful procession of Chettiar kavidis from the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple on Keong Saik Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road. The procession, along with a Silver Chariot procession, is held every year as part of Chetty Pusam on the eve of the Hindu festival of Thaipusam.

Thaipusam in Singapore:


Revisiting the Singapore of the Malay film industry’s golden age

7 02 2018

The Malay Film Productions (MFP) at Jalan Ampas was one of a pair of production houses that entertained a generation of Singaporeans and Malayans. Established by the Shaw Brothers’, the MFP is especially well known. It was where the legendary P. Ramlee made his name, excelling not just as an actor but also as a singer, songwriter and director. Lending his range of talents were to a series of films, his popularity has endured to this day, more than four decades after his sudden and premature passing in 1973.

Main gate to No. 8 Jalan Ampas.

The recent run of State of Motion 2018: Sejarah-ku, organised by the Asian Film Archive, renewed a consciousness for Jalan Ampas. P. Ramlee’s career there coincided with the golden age of Malay cinema – a time when the production of Malay movies was at its most prolific. Besides the screening of films of the genre, a guided tour also plotted a return to the MFP, albeit to its closed gates beyond which the buildings of the former studios stand quite forgotten. The tour, one of two – the other an offshore tour – with which locations where outdoor scenes in several MFP productions were visited, permitted a recall not only of the scenes, but of a Singapore forgotten if not for the movies. Site specific art installations were also presented at the sites, expressing the memories that also lay embedded in the locations .

Participants listening to CLOSURE / TUTUP by Wu Jun Han outside the gates of No. 8 Jalan Ampas.

Standing outside gates at Jalan Ampas, I found myself transported to the confrontational scenes that were enacted at that very gateway by Wu Jun Han’s recording, Tutup or Closure. The scenes, captured in the movie Mogok (Strike), although set in the Eveready  factory, were actually inspired by a strike that took place at the studios that same year involving 120 MFP employees.  The spot was also a location for another movie, the hit comedy Seniman Bujang Lapok,  which P. Ramlee directed and played a leading role in. This inspired a second installation along Jalan Ampas, Izzad Radzali Shah’s Wayang Terbiar (The Theatre that was Left Behind). A diorama of a mini threatre with scenes from the movie depicted, it seems almost altar-like in appearance.

Wayang Terbiar.

I was particularly drawn to Mintio’s Penghibur Hati-Lara (Solace for the Heart) installed just off Tanah Merah Besar Road. The work takes its title from a line in a lullaby “Kau penghibur hati-lara” (you are solace for my painful heart) sung in the film Darah Muda by the female protagonist to her baby in the seaside setting provided by the promenade at the end of Tanah Merah Besar Road. Anticipating separation, the line also suggests a sense of yearning that the artist also intends to evoke with her piece and its location between Changi Prison and the Airport – both sites of separation. The seaside promenade is now buried under a Changi Airport runway. Having been part of an area in which some of my most treasured memories of childhood were made, the artwork also evoked a sense of great longing and of loss in me.

Penghibur Hati-Lara at Tanah Merah Besar.

The former Kangkar Fishing Port, the location for scenes in the 1958 movie Sri Menanti, also provided a setting for Boedi Widjaja’s Path. 9, ))) ) ) )). The artwork, separated from the audience by the Serangoon River is bridged by the sounds of the flute, exploring the divide that the main characters in Sri Menanti faced in their attempts to bridge a cross-religious and cross-cultural gap in finding romance.

Once where a scene of Kangkar’s fishing colourful fishing fleet would have greeted the eye.

The mainland tour’s two other sites were at seaside (or former seaside) locations. At Punggol, the sea provided a backdrop for the scenes from Isi Neraka (Sinners to Hell) that inspired Salleh Japar’s Sulh-I-Kull (Universal Tolerance). The Shaws’ former seaside villa was used as a symbol of the individualism brought about by materialism and wealth in P. Ramlee’s Ibu Mertua Ku. P. Ramlee’s character in the movie violently blinds himself after he realises the circumstances in which he regained his sight after a previous spell of blindness. It is this loss of sight that the site’s installation, Tan Peiling’s 0.25 Seconds before an Image is Void, provides a response to.

The former seaside villa of the Shaws at which Liz Taylor was hosted on her visits here.

I was also able to join the offshore tour, which included a visit to Pulau Ubin – off which Pulau Sekudu or Frog Island lies. The rocky islet, a popular spot once for photo shoots, served as locations for Hang Tuah (1956) and Hang Jebat (1961). A central theme in the two movies is loyalty, betrayal and feudal authority. That is played out in the final fight scenes that both movies feature, which pitted 15th century pair of warriors – one-time close companions. The questions of the loyalty, betrayal, brotherly love, rage and desire expressed during the fight are what Akulah Bimbo Sakti’s Cinta Tuah Jebat examines. The artwork, a live performance accompanied by a recorded audio playback takes place on a beach on Ubin and within sight of Sekudu. More on State of Motion 2018: Sejarah-ku, which runs until 11 February 2018 can be found at https://stateofmotion.sg/2018/.

Pulau Sekudu, where the final fight scene in Hang Tuah and Hang Jebat was filmed.

Cinta Tuah Jebat (The Love of Tuah and Jebat).


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