Bras Basah Road

10 05 2009

Bras Basah Road used to be where one went to get items on the end of the year school booklist and for sports goods. Those were the days when spending $14 on a pair of Panther running shoes seemed like a fortune. Housed in several rows of shop houses that lined the street, the shops opened to “five foot ways”, passageways measuring a minimum of five feet between the road and the shop front. The typical shops of those days, whether selling sporting goods or books, typically featured two rows of waist level glass display cabinets on either side of the shop, with a space for the shop assistants between these cabinets and the high shelves that lined up against the walls on both sides of the shops. In the case of the sporting goods shops, a row of benches were placed in the middle for customers to try shoes on for size. At the tops of the shelves were displays of football jerseys and items such as hockey sticks. The bookshops featured shelves, or sometimes, tables in the centre of the shop, on which books were displayed or stacked on. What comes to mind are the stacks of “10 year series”, revision books which contained a compilation of examination papers over the previous 10 years, which were popular with school students preparing for examinations such as the GCE ‘O’ Levels, which one was greeted with upon entering the bookshops.

One of the first experiences that I remember of Bras Basah Road was when, the group of boys I played football with in my neighbourhood, decided to field a team to play against other teams in the neighbourhood. Having decided on dark blue team colours, the group of us ventured to one of the sporting goods shops along Bras Basah Road, and bought a set of jerseys resembling the Scottish National team’s jersey used in the 1974 World Cup.

I do also have fleeting memories from my early childhood, of Rendezvous, a café of sorts, well known for its Nasi Padang, which my parents brought me to from time to time, which was located at the northern end of the road, in a shop house, where the Rendezvous Hotel is located now. I remember the glass windows decorated with gold letters, through which one could see the rows of Nasi Padang dishes displayed on the shelves of the glass cabinet beside the window.

Another thing I remember of the area, not so much on Bras Basah Road, but around the corner from Rendezvous, along Dhoby Ghaut, was the Red Sea Aquarium, a popular source of supplies of tropical and marine fishes, fish rearing equipment and supplies for enthusiasts. My father who kept tropical fishes, often visited the shop for supplies. The many fish tanks inside the shop were often a source of fascination for me on my visits with my father.

My subsequent experiences relating to Bras Basah Road were from having attended a secondary school on Bras Basah Road in my early teenage years. I witnessed the gradual transformation of the area, with the shops along the street moving out in the late 1970s or early 1980s, as much of the area was slated for redevelopment, with many of the bookshops were moved to Bras Basah Complex along North Bridge Road. The area also was a source of my supply of music cassettes through my teenage years, there being a number of cassette vendors along the Road.

Running perpendicular to Bras Basah was a street named Waterloo Street. What was thought to be the best Indian Rojak in Singapore was found among the row of maybe five or six “sarabat” stalls along Waterloo Street close to where it crosses Bras Basah Road. I frequented the stalls at least once a week for a while, not so much for the Indian Rojak, but for the Mee Rebus, a dish of boiled noodles covered in a thick brown gravy. One of the stalls offered a unique variation of the dish with a very nutty version of the gravy which I enjoyed on my weekly visits.

Next to the row of sarabat stalls, was an entrance to the CYMA compound which was at the corner of Bras Basah Road and Waterloo Street, through which some of us schoolboys got to be on friendly terms with the Indian caretaker and his pet dog Mani, passing by each day on the way to catch the bus home from the bus stop along Waterloo Street.

Further down Bras Basah Road, at the corner of the junction with Victoria Street, there was a shop which provided laboratory supplies. I recall being greeted by the sight of the glass beakers and test tubes among other laboratory equipment being displayed in the shop window. At the other corner across Victoria Street, was a red coloured shophouse which housed a bakery – the “Red House” as we often referred to it. The bakery also operated a café on the second storey where one could have a “set lunch” – a three course meal, with a soup, a main course, and a dessert, with coffee or tea for $5, during lunch time.

Saint Joseph's Institution on Bras Basah Road in the 1970s

Saint Joseph's Institution on Bras Basah Road in the 1970s

The Main Gate of Saint Joseph's Institution on Bras Basah Road in the 1970s

The Main Gate of Saint Joseph's Institution on Bras Basah Road in the 1970s

The former Saint Joseph's Institution Building along Bras Basah Road today, which now houses the Singapore Art Museum.

The former Saint Joseph's Institution Building along Bras Basah Road today, which now houses the Singapore Art Museum.




16 responses

18 02 2010
Schools, churches and a candlelight procession: Memories of Queen Street « The Long and Winding Road

[…] which many of us returning from the jogs would use to race in a mad dash to the junction with Bras Basah Road. The Armenian Street end of Queen Street in 1976 (looking at Armenian Street at the junction with […]

28 02 2010
Smokey’s : Memories Victoria Street from Bras Basah to Middle Roads « The Long and Winding Road

[…] the two convent schools that stradled the ends of the stretch of Victoria Street in question (from Bras Basah Road to Middle Road), but also for the other distractions to the classroom that was on offer. The area […]

24 03 2010
C Y Sia

Hi Jerome,
You have a very interesting blog. I can relate to many of things that you post as we were from the same schools and i used to live along Bras Basah Road. One of the places you did not mention was Beng Swee Place, situated across the Waterloo St side-gate of SJI.
Keep up the good work!

24 03 2010
The wondering wanderer

Hi CY, thanks for your kind comments … yes I did not mention Beng Swee Place as another reader Juliana pointed out in my post on High Street. There are some photos of Beng Swee Place in the National Archives PICAS site:
The toilet block of the old SJI which I recognise which used to face Beng Swee Place can be seen quite clearly in the above.

And … one more of Beng Swee Place … with a road sign that identifies the place:

When did you go to school at SJI and live in the Bras Basah Area? It would be interesting to hear from you on how it was when you lived there.


24 03 2010
C Y Sia

I was the first batch of students in St Michael’s. Spent two years there before going to SJI in 1956. I lived in a shophouse just across the CYMA and used to play football in a small field there. Some of the boys I played with in Beng Swee Place include this former SWAT team police officer, Stephen Koh, who recently passed away.

We used to while away our time in the evening at the sarabat stall in Waterloo Street drinking ginger tea. I remember the owner of the stall was affectionately nicknamed “Godfrey”.

The mee rebus stall that you mentioned was somewhat unique. The dish, usually a Malay dish, was prepared by the Indian stall-holders at Waterloo St. The gravvy was potato based and could only be found there.

The MATC (Malayan Air Training Corp) hq was located in the sprawling wooden building behind the sarabat stall and
the cadets used to train there before it was taken over by the CYMA.

Those were good old days indeed.

25 03 2010
The wondering wanderer

Wow CY! All those years back! I am not sure if you know another reader Greg Lim, who was in the class of 1956 and lived in the Bain Street area. You can view his comments on the post on Queen Street, and High Street. There is also a George Favacho who commented on the post on my SJI days, who was a prefect and graduated in 1957. I guess you might also know Tang Wing Kee who would have been in SJI around that period, who was a teacher there later and with whom many of the old boys are still in touch with.

Yes, the sarabat stalls were where many of us through the years would have hung out at … the teh halia and mee reubs were some of the best you could find around town! I didn’t realise that there was the MATC that you mentioned before the CYMA – thanks for the information!

It’s great isn’t it that technology has allowed us to connect and to reminisce about our good old days, even if it was at different periods in time!


25 03 2010
C Y Sia

No, Jerome, I don’t remember Greg Lim. Perhaps I would recognise him if I were to see him. But I know many of the Hainanese boys studying at SJI during that time. Foo Chee Cheng is one of them. In fact, he taught in SJI after he left school and has since retired. Yes, I remember George Favacho and Tang Wing Kee but they were ahead of me in school. I agree technology is great and has not been fully exploited.

30 03 2010
Where the stork once visited: Prinsep Street (Rochor to Middle Roads) « The Long and Winding Road

[…] grounds on which the Istana stands. The street is made up of two sections, the first running from Bras Basah Road, by Dhoby Ghaut up to Middle Road, and the second from Middle Road to Rochor Road. The second […]

9 04 2010
The changing face of Middle Road « The Long and Winding Road

[…] history that the area around of which that I was only familiar with going to school at nearby Bras Basah Road in late 1970s has had. Over the years, the various parts around the road had played host to […]

9 08 2010
Back to school in many ways … « The Long and Winding Road

[…] had been around flooded back: the hole-in-the-wall “mama” shop around the corner of Bras Basah Road, where boys would have obtained many items including banned cigarettes came to mind; the infamous […]

3 03 2011

My primary school was Catholic High in the mid 70’s. You forgot to mention the wedding dress shops along Bras Basah Road. I also remember the Bethesda Church. Sometimes we get to see President Sheares passing by in his black limo. He always waved back with a smile when we waved at him.

5 03 2011
The wondering wanderer

Crossed paths with Catholic High boys many times … thanks for the reminders … certainly remember the Bethesda Church and that President Sheares was a member of the congregation … thanks for sharing! 🙂

23 01 2012
cyril gabriel

In 1964 I spent Saturdays at THE CATHOLIC CENTRE, a stand-alone building with a Cafetaria on the ground floor where a Hylam crewof chefs, waiters ensured a good tiffin fare of curry-chicken, pork chops.
This building stood where Bras Basah Road and Queen Street Junction were.
At Waterloo Street/Bras Basah Road Junction stood the MALAYAN RECRUITMENT CENTRE where youths aspiring to join up as Locally-Enlisted Personnel (LEPs) of the British Army were interviewed and selected to report to the Far East Land Forces Basic Training Centre, Nee Soon Barracks. When the 1st Battalion Singapore Infantry Regiment was being formed in 1957, recruitment of its pioneering soldiers was carried out here at Bras Basah Road. Later 200 Provost Coy, Royal Military Police operated a 24 hours Provost Office here.

17 10 2013

The Red Sea Aquarium was still around in the Park Lane Shopping Mall along Selegie Road until recently. I think it finally closed around 2010.

21 11 2013
Deborah De Silva- Hollyman

Both my older brothers went to St Joseph’s between 1957 and 1962 Their names are Glan James De Silva and Dennis Morgan De Silva

1 10 2018

Managed to locate this interesting and nostalgic article to foreard to my old schoolmates. Thank you.

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