Singapore was a different place once …

21 01 2008

Growing up in Singapore in the sixties and seventies, I have seen the rapid changes that have overtaken the island city. Singapore was a very different place once upon a time, when life was much more laid back, when a day out meant going fishing or going to the beach. Changi beach was a favourite haunt of my parents. Those days the beach was lined with coconut palms and katapang (sea almond) trees, and a few shacks where one could get a decent plate of mee goreng. Changi beach was also very idyllic, spared from the noise of the planes that take off and land at Changi Airport today. We used to approach the beach by Tanah Merah Besar road … I can vaugely remember the coastal road Nicoll Drive and the coconut palm lined beach. I also remember that David Marshall, the first Chief Minister of Singapore had a villa in the Tanah Merah area by the sea.

Anyway, those were also the days when the late P. Ramlee was adored by many, including my maternal Grandmother. She was a keen follower of his films and music, spending hours with her eyes focused on the balck and white Setron (a locally made television set). I remember her shedding tears on hearing the news that P. Ramlee has passed away suddenly, in 1973.

On the subject of television, I was a keen follower of the television series Combat!, an Amercian TV series set in World War II, starring Rick Jason and Vic Morrow. In fact, I can still hear the theme song, playing in my head … after close to forty years!

Still on the subject of television, 1974 was the year colour tv was introduced to Singapore. My father promptly bought a Setron colour tv set. I didn’t understand what the hype was about then, after all colours on the tv screen was as vivid compared to what you see these days.

The seventies were certainly an eventful time for us growing up. In school, in 1973, we had a transition from using the long existing system of measurement to that of the metric system.  It was a painful time for many older less literate folks, used to buying in katies and teals, to move to buying in kilogrammes and grammes. We also up to that point been having lessons in Bahasa Nasional (National Language), which is Malay or Bahasa Melayu, which suddenly stopped. Sadly this has led to a whole new generation of young people in Singapore who are clueless on the fact that Malay is in fact the national language, why the National Anthem is sung in Malay, or even what the the words to the National Anthem means.

1973 was also the year of the Oil Crisis and the Yom Kippur War, not that it meant anything to a eight year old.

Myself, I guess what had the largest impression was the day I became a temporary celebrity of sorts in school. That was the day when Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, visited my humble abode. I was residing in an apartment on the top floor of a block of public housing flats, Block 53 Toa Payoh, which at that time was built to showcase Singapore’s successful public housing programme. A purpose built viewing gallery for visiting dignitaries was built on the roof of the block. My parents, both being teachers, had a good command of English, which was not very common in those days, and as such, our household was picked to receive Her Majesty.

The visit of HM Queen Elizabeth II in February 1972 (from my family's personal collection).

… to be continued  …



One response

7 10 2009

Hi, On behalf of Pico Art International c/o Housing Development Board, we are sending you this email in regards to this 1972 photo of Queen Elizabeth visiting your residence. We are actually the appointed contractor for Housing Development Board to build a gallery for them and we chanced upon this photo of your personal collection which National Archives or HDB does not even have this collection of photo. We would like to find out if you will allow us to use/publish this photo to be featured in the 1970 Timeline wall which we are willing to pay for this photo for permission to feature it in the upcoming gallery opening in Feb 2010. We currently have the 2004 photos from HDB but not the 1972 one. Please contact us at the email provided:

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