A journey through time: a heritage trail through Toa Payoh

7 10 2010

A journey through time

A heritage trail through Toa Payoh organised with the National Library Board

Take a walk back in time to the Toa Payoh that I grew up in, a Toa Payoh that was taking its first steps as the first planned satellite town. The route will pass through a mix of residential and commercial properties that had existed in its early days as well as the public and communal facilities which included a hospital and a girls’ home. The journey would also go back to the Toa Payoh that was the village that hosted athletes for the very first international mass sporting event held in independent Singapore in 1973 and the block of flats that hosted HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1972. More information on the walk can be found at the end of this post

The Toa Payoh that I grew up in …

The Toa Payoh that I grew up in at the back end of the 1960s and in the early 1970s was perhaps one that was looked at very differently from the way it is looked at now. Over the 40 years since its start as a new satellite town that rose from what was a swampy area – the first planned town and the first that was built following Singapore’s independence from Malaysia, it has evolved from being one that was a public housing exercise to house the burgeoning population of the new nation whose population consisted of young families as well as the many that were resettled from the kampongs that were being clear to make way for the Singapore we see today, to a much sought after residential district with a mix of private and public housing, due to its proximity to the city.

Toa Payoh back then was a very interesting place for a young child to grow up in … it was where new HDB residents were still coming to terms with living in high density and high rise blocks of flats and where the transformation of the heartlands was taking place to what we see today. Back then, it was common to see vegetables being planted on plots behind ground floor units as well as chickens running around, hawkers on push-carts as well as those who went door-to-door balancing their wares at the two ends of a wooden stick or on the top of their heads, much as it might have been in the old kampongs many of the residents came from.

Life for many revolved around the amenities that the new town provided, there were the markets, shops, banks, clinics and food stalls that catered to the day-to-day needs, new schools built to cope with the large population of children of school-going age, new factories that provided work for many who lived there, as well as the many places of worship that were constructed that catered to the spiritual needs of the residents. The areas around the markets were particularly lively – especially in the mornings when residents shopped for their market produce on a daily basis – a practice that was prevalent in the pre-refrigerator age of the kampongs. Around the markets there would not just be the shops and food stalls that would be opened early to catch the market crowd, but also many itinerant vendors – many of whom were Nepali – displaying their wares: leather belts and wallets; trinkets; cigarette lighters; and many other little items on mats that they laid on the ground. The whole area would be bustling with people, some seated on the tables and chairs laid around the periphery of the markets feasting on a breakfast of fishball noodles, kway chap, chee cheong fun, or chai tow kway. The benches laid around the open spaces would be filled with elderly men, dressed as they would have back then in unbuttoned shirts exposing their undershirts or singlets they wore under the shirts. Some would have their undershirts rolled up as they sipped black coffee poured into the saucer to accelerate cooling of the steaming hot beverage.

In those days, the black and white television set might have been on of the few things that occupied our evenings, the pasar malam, the arrival of a travelling Chinese Opera (Wayang) troupe, along with the entourage of hawkers and vendors that accompanied it, or the trade fairs and their games stalls that were a common thing back then, was always seen as a treat. It was when we had a chance to troll the streets and plots of land which came to live each evening, coloured by the incandescent glow of lights, the smell of corn or peanuts steaming and the sounds of generators in the background that rose above the din of hawkers promoting their fare and the shrill cries that came from the wayang stage. Once in a while, we would have a bonus in a travelling circus coming to town – the Royal Circus of India being a regular visitor – and the tents and caravans would occupy the open piece of land part of which the Esso Station at the corner of Lorong 4 and 5 sits on now, or the one which the Police Station now occupies.

Take a journey back in time to the Toa Payoh of the late 1960s and early 1970s ...

Toa Payoh besides being the first planned satellite town, was a place where there were many other firsts as well. It was where the first purpose built VIP block – used to showcase the very successful public housing experiment that Toa Payoh was, was erected by the HDB, complete with a viewing gallery on the roof. The block played host to the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1972 as well as a host of both local and foreign dignitaries including Sir William Goode, Singapore’s first Yang di-Pertuan Negara who also served as a Governor General of the colony of Singapore, and President Benjamin Henry Sheares, Singapore’s second President. Other firsts include it hosting the games village for the first major international mass sporting event that Singapore hosted in 1973, as well as having the very first NTUC supermarket – started as a cooperative named “NTUC Welcome” in 1973, and the first fully air-conditioned POSB Bank in Singapore. Toa Payoh also has the distinction of being the first (and probably only) town in Singapore that was built without traffic lights – large traffic roundabouts were used to regulate traffic instead – certainly something that would be feasible in the Singapore that we know today. That was the Toa Payoh that I spent a significant part of my childhood in, one that I had many wonderful experiences growing up in, and one that also hid some lesser explored places such as the Toa Payoh Girls’ Home and the Toa Payoh Hospital, and one that I can certainly journey back in time to.

A Journey Through Time

Saturday, 20 Nov, 10.30am – 12.30pm

Toa Payoh Library

To register (registration has already closed), log on to http://golibrary.nlb.gov.sg and surf on to Heritage. This session is limited to 30 participants only. Participants are advised to wear comfortable attire and walking shoes for this trail. Do also remember to bring umbrella and some drinks. Feel free to bring your cameras and start clicking!




19 responses

7 10 2010

Yes, i could remember the roundabout disinctively at Lorong 1 and Lorong 2.
Sitting in my brother-in-law 1972 mini cooper, I often feared the cars would crash into each other as they turned into the circle.

That block 56 used to paint the concrete structure into an Everyready cell and as a kid, i would wonder how the hell could they moved such a big battery and placed it up there.

And before NTUC, I think there was an Emporium called 友谊 at that present site.

Then there was a school which was named “Heng A Khe Bong” or something which I found it so weird and wondered who would study there.

Besides school holidays, I looked forward to weekends too as I get to stay with my Sis at blk 148 then. My brother-in-law would take us to blk 100 for our haircuts at a huge malay barber shop (I think at least 10 seats) and toa payoh central hawker centre for lunch (Till now I still misses the Ice Kachang and Char Siew Rice there). Sometimes we would catch movies at Toa Payoh or Kong Chian Theatre with paper rolls of kachang puteh to enjoy.

There was even a RTS (or was it SBC then) serial call “家在大芭窑” which focused on life in Toa Payoh..

7 10 2010
The wondering wanderer

There was a Toa Payoh Emporium that was next door, opening just before the NTUC Welcome, and occupied the part of the building closer to the open space by the Post Office … if I remember correctly the supermarket might have been named 友谊 (Yuyi) at some point …

Always found the name of the school amusing to listen to …

Think you might have meant the Malay barber near blk 100? The Bugs Bunny? That is still right where it was! I used to frequent it as well. An ice-cream parlour occupied the lot before the Malay barber came along …

5 02 2014

Heng Ah Khe Bong 兴亚启蒙,a school i grew up in and still loving it. it was a place of beautiful memories. like any other primary school in singapore. Emporium, i used to part-time as a cashier there. Love the 2nd floor plush toys section 🙂

20 03 2015
Lin Li

Hi, I am Lin Li and I’m a student from NUS school and I would like to know more about the history of Heng A Khe Bong school, and what it was like to study in that school in the past.

22 10 2010

I totally remembered the central hawker center.. the food was good…

oh ..i am joining the heritage trail 🙂 looking forward to it 🙂

24 10 2010
The wondering wanderer

Yes Eileen, definitely one of the best places to eat then! Really! Ok – guess I’ll see you on 20 Nov then – perhaps you can also share your experiences of Toa Payoh on the trail! 🙂

1 11 2010

Hi Jerome

Just came across your wonderful blog! Wanted to get on the Toa Payoh Trail but too late 😦 Any chance that you will repeat it?

1 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

Hi Charlotte, thanks for your kind feedback. 😀 Sorry that you couldn’t get on the trail – I’ll have a chat with the NLB to see if a repeat of the trail can be run at some point in time.

6 11 2010

Thanks Jerome..that is most kind of you 🙂


7 11 2010
The wondering wanderer

No worries Charlotte – let’s see what the NLB folks say …. 😀

23 11 2010
The area around Toa Payoh Library 37 years ago « The Long and Winding Road

[…] a walk back with the Toa Payoh Library to the beginnings of Toa Payoh as a planned satellite town, I was able to explore some of the “newer” additions in the […]

14 06 2011
adrian a

i stayed in toa payoh in the late 60s onwards & went to sji as well
adrian aloysius

18 02 2013
Mohamad Ghouse

Adrian, Are u a whitleyans too ?

25 02 2012

Jerome – as someone who grew up in TP during the 70s, I have vague memories of a particular hawker center at TP central. It used to sit opposite the Methodist church and diagonally across Blk 85, on the now vacant area just outside the MRT station. Do you know anything about this hawker center, or perhaps have any pictures of the area around that time?

28 02 2012
Jerome Lim, The Wondering Wanderer

Hi Danny, thanks for dropping by. I know which hawker centre you mean – visited it a few times but not much more. Only picture I’ve come across is one in the National Archives – click here. What else do you want to know about it? I have a few friends who lived around there who may be able to shed some light.

31 03 2012

Wasn’t Queen Elizabeth II impressed by the “Homes for the People” programmes of Housing & Development Board since the predecessors of Singapore Improvement Trust in the 1960s, over the decades to provide housing for the Singaporeans?

18 02 2013
Mohamad Ghouse

Anyone here can advise me, i missed Toa Payoh during my childhood days,…..which website can we explore and see old pictures in Toa Payoh, an estate i grew up from 4 years old to sweet 17. From 1972 to 1985.i remember ed Radio & Television of Singapore ( RTS ) came along during our playtime at Blk 147 playground and took a shot of me and friends climbing the big circle iron bar. And it was out at TV Newsreel that nite, i missed the video very much…

17 02 2014

The HBD block in the background of the colour pix with a grown-up and a kid, would that be what is 79A-D today?? A friend was trying to describe to me what it was like before the now 40 story blocks!

18 02 2014

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