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.