Sacks of rice, a hooded heroine and blond brooms on a Sunday afternoon

31 01 2013

Sunday begun in a pretty hectic way for me. I had what seemed like a full day by the time I welcomed the sunrise. I had woken up at 3.30 in the morning – so that I could make my way down to the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple for Thaipusam, an annual ritual observed by Hindus of Southern Indian origin. A spiritual journey which begins well before the day itself, it culminates in an extreme act of faith involving the bearing of a burden or a kavadi on its final leg – and one which I try not to miss. I spent a good hour and a half at the temple, crowded not just with devotees and their families and friends, but also with hundreds of curious observers and photographers, before making my way across town to the Kampong Bahru flyover, not so much for the spectacular sunrise that was always going to be a treat, but more in an attempt to capture the column of 6000 runners on the inaugural Green Corridor Run making their way down the former railway yard. Having done all that, I decided to take the rest of the morning slow and easy – before making my way down to Art Stage 2013 – an annual event which is the largest international art fair here for a calm and slow afternoon – something I was certainly thankful for.

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Art Stage 2013 which brought in over 130 galleries, the majority of which are from the Asia-Pacific, was, reading the post-event news, a huge success – it attracted  some 40 500 visitors over 5 days, and provided a platform for many emerging artists, especially from Singapore and South-East Asia to be introduced into the art world. Joining in a guided tour for bloggers’ of the fair kindly arranged by URA Marina Bay’s place management team, I was also able to get to see and (pretend to) understand the works of some of these emerging artists a little better, artists such as Zulkifli Yusoff from Malaysia whose work Rukunegara was certainly an eye-catching one which provides the artist’s take on the nation-building process.

Rukunegara 2 by Malaysian artist Zulkifli Yusoff.

Rukunegara 2 by Malaysian artist Zulkifli Yusoff.

Another eye-catching piece is an intriguing installation by Geraldine Javier entitled “Red Fights Back”. Javier who is from the Philippines retells a popular fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood through a set of images and a tree, set against a backdrop of dried leaves. Also from the Philippines, is a large mural – that of street artist Vermont Coronel Jr., entitled “High Way” which is his interpretation of the urban landscape he is most familiar with – that of Metro Manila’s major thoroughfare, EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue), a landscape that is also representative of many other urban spaces. The work involves the artist painstakingly creating stencils which is overlaid and sprayed over.

A visitor takes a close look at Geraldine Javier's "Red fights back".

A visitor takes a close look at Geraldine Javier’s “Red fights back”.

The final scene in "Red fights back".

The final scene in “Red fights back”.

"High Way" by Vermont Coronel Jr.

“High Way” by Vermont Coronel Jr.

Vermont Coronel Jr.'s work involves the use of stencils which he painstakingly creates.

Vermont Coronel Jr.’s work involves the use of stencils which he painstakingly creates.

The tour also introduced us to the work of two Thai artists, that of Anusorn Charoensuk and Maitree Siriboon, both of whom we had a chance to meet. Anusorn Charoensuk’s “World Tour” is interesting in that it involves photographs taken over a period of five years against the backdrop of paintings of popular tourist destinations – in which the subjects – members of his family, express the same joy one would expect in posing in with the actual places that are depicted. It is also interesting that in the last of the photographs that we see the image of an angel, to represent the artist’s father who had passed on when the photograph was taken. Anusorn Charoensuk’s also had an interactive installation at the fair. It was one in which he invites visitors to have a photograph taken against a backdrop of how he saw Orchard Road (without having actually seen the well-known street). Painted on a zinc sheet, the backdrop shows a building what he is able to identify with the street – that of the tower of Tang Plaza.

Anusorn Charoensuk's "World Tour" taken over a period of five years.

Anusorn Charoensuk’s “World Tour” taken over a period of five years.

An interactive part of Anusorn Charoensuk's installation which he invites visitors to have a photo taken against the backdrop - this one of Orchard Road (which he painted without having actually seen the well-known street).

An interactive part of Anusorn Charoensuk’s installation which he invites visitors to have a photo taken against the backdrop – this one of Orchard Road (which he painted without having actually seen the well-known street).

Moving on to compatriot Maitree Siriboon’s installation, open sacks of rice immediately catches the eye. The installation “Rice is Art” involves 450 kg of rice – given by rice farmers in his home village in the rice-growing Issan region of Thailand. The gift, Maitree says, represents a sacrifice made by the community which is dependent on rice harvests for a living in support of his work. The installation also involves a collection of photographs which shows the support of the rice-growing community for the creation of the installation.

Maitree Siriboon and his sacks of rice.

Maitree Siriboon and his sacks of rice.

Photographs showing the support of the community for Siriboon's efforts.

Photographs showing the support of the community for Siriboon’s efforts.

One Singapore artist whose work we were introduced to was that of Ang Sookoon. The series of works at the fair were ones that looks at items in a domestic space. ” The Waves/Waifs” is one that involves brooms made of blond hair and wood – a reference perhaps to the domesticated nature of women in society. Another piece, “Your Love is Like a Chunk of Gold”, sees crystal being grown on another familiar item in a domestic setting, bread. The piece which I most enjoyed, “Weighs Like Mine”, involved a chest of four drawers. The chest is one which encourages the view to interact with it, and in the drawers one will discover what again are familiar scenes in domestic settings.

Ang Sookoon's "Your Love is Like a Chunk of Gold".

Ang Sookoon’s “Your Love is Like a Chunk of Gold”.

Ang Sookoon's "The Wave/Waifs".

Ang Sookoon’s “The Wave/Waifs”.

Ang Sookoon's "Weighs Like Mine".

Ang Sookoon’s “Weighs Like Mine”.

Following the Southeast Asian Art Tour, I also took the opportunity to take a leisurely look around what is the third edition of Singapore’s largest international arts fair with a focus on fostering Southeast Asia artists and galleries, photographing some of what did catch my eye, not just the installations by themselves – but how visitors and gallery staff viewed and interacted with the works on display some of which follows:

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Another Wak Hassan sunrise

30 01 2013

This morning’s sunrise taken at 6.57 am and 7.22 am:

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Mornings far from the madding crowds

30 01 2013

A place I am glad is there – at least for now, in which I find an escape from the unbearably overcrowded world Singapore has become, is a quiet and somewhat forgotten corner of northern Singapore where the former Kampong Wak Hassan once was. It has become for me not just a world where I run off to for that rare moment of calm, but also where I am able to take in the joy and the surprise that the break of day brings in the changing hues at sunrise …

6.53 am 28 January 2013.

6.53 am 28 January 2013.

6.59 am 29 January 2013.

6.59 am 29 January 2013.





A sunrise over the rail corridor

29 01 2013

It was around the time of Sunday’s sunrise under the red lightening sky that a long train snaked its way out of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, a little more than a year and a half after the last train left the station. Sunday’s train wasn’t one that was pulled along by a locomotive of course – most of the railway tracks along the rail corridor have since been removed, but a human train of runners pulled along by a Kenyan who led from start to finish in what is the inaugural Green Corridor Run which is thought to have attracted as many as 6,000 runners. The race took runners along the rail corridor on a 10.5 km route from Tanjong Pagar to the former Bukit Railway Station – a distance which the trains would cover in about fifteen minutes. The race winner, Samson Tenai, 32, need just a little more than double that – he covered the distance in a time of 34 minutes 11 seconds.

Colours of sunrise, 7.09 am.

7.09 am : Colours of sunrise.

A plane is seen over the container cranes against the orangey sky at 7.14 am.

7.14 am : A plane is seen over the container cranes against the sunrise coloured sky.

The entire rail corridor which stretches some 26 km from Tanjong Pagar to Woodlands has been the subject of much interest since the agreement to handover the land on which the Malaysian Government owned railway, Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM), operated a railway line, was announced in May 2010.

7.20 am : The first runners are seen already building up a lead over the chasing pack.

7.20 am : The first runners are seen already building up a lead over the chasing pack. Seen in the lead is Kenyan Samson Tenai, the eventual winner of the race who completed the 10.5 km course in about 34 minutes.

Relatively untouched by urban development for some 79 years of the rail’s operation through much of it, the corridor features large tracts of greenery. Interest groups and individuals have called for the preservation of the corridor for its heritage and potential for community use such as a running course, and as a unbroken bicycle path that takes one from the north of the island to an area close to the city with possible links to the park connector network. The Minister for National Development, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, announced plans to preserve the rail corridor in July 2011. Since then, a Rail Corridor Partnership has been formed with stakeholders from both Government Agencies, interest groups and members of the public involved. Plans are currently being formulated for future use of the rail corridor.

7.20 am : The rush of runners. Some 6000 runners are thought to have participated in the run.

7.20 am : The rush of runners. Some 6000 runners are thought to have participated in the run.

7.22 am : The chasing pack makes it way past the former signal hut at Tanjong Pagar.

7.22 am : The chasing pack makes it way past the former signal hut at Tanjong Pagar.


More information on the former Railway and the Rail Corridor:





A annual walk of faith

28 01 2013

Thaipusam is perhaps the most colourful of the religious and cultural traditions brought in by the early immigrants to modern Singapore that is today celebrated on the streets of Singapore. Celebrated by Tamils from southern India during the full moon of the Tamil month of Thai, the festival in Singapore is notable for the 4 kilometre procession over which devotees carry a “burden”, in the form of a kavadi. The procession which starts from the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple along Serangoon Road and ends at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple (Chettairs’ Temple) at Tank Road sees hundreds of devotees every year making their way along the route carrying kavadis which range from milk pots placed on their heads to more elaborate kavadis such as spike kavadis and chariot kavadis. The spike (or “vel”) kavadis is perhaps the most elaborate and involves the piercing of up to 108 spikes onto the body. The chariot kavadis involves the attachment of hooks to the backs of bearers which is attached to ropes pulling a chariot. Devotees often also have other piercings carried out including with skewers through the tongue and cheeks with holy ash applied to the area before hand. The piercings are said to inflict no pain as well as leave no scars (no blood is spilled as well) – devotees go through a 48 day spiritual cleansing prior to Thaipusam – which involves a strict regime of fasting, abstinence, and prayer. More information on the festival can be found at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple’s website.

Photographs from Thaipusam 2013

(Black and Whites)

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(In Colour)

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Photographs from previous years’ Thaipusam observations:

Thaipusam (2012)
Thaipusam (2011)
Thaipusam (2010)

A similar festival celebrated in the Tamil month of Panguni in the Sembawang area:

Panguni Uthiram (2012)
Panguni Uthiram (2011)





A world I would love to be trapped in

25 01 2013

One current exhibition that is certainly well worth a visit to is one that is devoted entirely to building bricks most of us would have been familiar with from our childhoods. ‘The Art of The Brick’ at the ArtScience Museum which opened on 17 November 2012 and will run until 14 April 2013, takes visitors into the world of 39 year old Nathan Sawaya, whose life-long obsession with Lego building bricks has seen him abandon his job as an attorney to devote himself to the ‘art of the brick’.

Step into the world of Nathan Sawaya at the ArtScience Museum.

Trapped, one of the brick pieces that offers a look into the world of Nathan Sawaya at the ArtScience Museum. Trapped is inspired by the artist’s feelings of being trapped. Speaking of being trapped – Sawaya’s world is one I certainly wouldn’t mind being trapped in.

I was provided with the opportunity to visit the exhibition recently by good people of the ArtScience Museum. The visit provided me not only with the opportunity to see the artist’s work, but also step into the artist’s own world seen through some of his work which includes both representative brick sculptures as well as one which explore surrealist themes in what is some of the more fascinating pieces. Sawaya’s obsession with what is indeed a very popular and timeless toy we were told began at the age of five. Not being able to get that pet dog he had wanted, Sawaya did the next best thing – he dismantled his Lego city brick set and built a dog with it which he named Boxer.

The entrance to the exhibition. The exhitbition runs until 14 April 2013.

The entrance to the exhibition. The exhitbition runs until 14 April 2013.

Sawaya decided to turn what had in his working years become a means to blow off steam. It was when he realised that his sharing of his hobby on his website brickartist.com was receiving quite a fair bit of attention that he decided to dedicate his life to being a ‘brick artist’ first joining Lego before setting up his own art gallery in New York City.

A giant FaceMask.

A giant FaceMask.

The 52 large-scale brick pieces at the exhibition are displayed across eight galleries. In the first gallery, we are introduced to the artist himself, with several pieces through which Sawaya reveals some of his personal take on himself. The gallery includes several ‘iconic’ pieces including ‘Yellow’ and ‘Swimmer’. My personal favourite among the works in the gallery is Yellow which depicts a human torso tearing its chest open. Thousands of toy bricks can be seen to spill out from the gap. The work represents the artist’s personal metamorphosis and transitions and is said to capture his emotional journey in which the artist opened himself up to the world.

Yellow - which represents Sawaya's personal metamorphosis and transitions, and captures his emotional journey.

Yellow – which represents Sawaya’s personal metamorphosis and transitions, and captures his emotional journey.

Another piece in the Introduction Gallery - 'Hands' which depicts a dream Sawaya had in which he loses his hands.

Another piece in the Introduction Gallery – ‘Hands’ which depicts a dream Sawaya had in which he loses his hands.

The seven other galleries are no less interesting. The next one we come to is the Catwalk Gallery where works are displayed on a runway like platform. Works here that caught my eye were Circle, Triangle, Square and Everlasting. Another interesting gallery is the Portrait Gallery, where there are some familiar faces in 2D – all made again from Lego bricks which I thought was rather amazing. Among the portraits are those of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin. What is interesting to learn about is the approach that the artist takes when creating a 2D portrait is that he starts off with the eyes – after which he says everything falls into place. The choice of colour is also important we are told. Sawaya, despite his talent in creating 2D likenesses of famous personalities with Lego bricks, we are also told, does not like to take on commercial commissions for 2D portraits for fear that he may offend clients should the work not come out right.

Circle, Trangle, Square in the Catwalk Gallery.

Circle, Trangle, Square in the Catwalk Gallery.

Everlasting.

Everlasting.

Close-up of a portrait of Janis Joplin.

Close-up of a portrait of Janis Joplin.

Close-up of a portrait of Bob Dylan.

Close-up of a portrait of Bob Dylan.

And one of Jimi Hendrix.

And one of Jimi Hendrix.

Our very able guide Dina, speaking on Courtney Yellow - a portrait of Sawaya's then girlfriend (and now wife) Courtney Simmons.

Our very able guide Dina, speaking on Courtney Yellow – a portrait of Sawaya’s then girlfriend (and now wife) Courtney Simmons.

Another gallery which I did take my time to look at was The Emotion Box which has pieces all of which seemed to have a deeper meaning in them. Stepping into the gallery one encounters works that are mesmerisingly fascinating such as Mask, Ascension, Grasp and Trapped. There certainly are deeper meanings that one will discover in the works. Ascension depicts the artists desire to ascend to a higher place without experiencing death, whereas, Grasp refers to the many people telling the artist ‘no’ – people he would like to rid his life of.

Mask.

Mask.

Ascension.

Ascension.

Grasp.

Grasp.

One work that will certainly impress is a six metre long one – a T-Rex skeleton at the Art of Play. The last gallery is where you will find a brick sculpture of a familiar sight – that of the ArtScience Museum itself. The piece was specially commissioned by the ArtScience Museum and was created without the artist having actually visited the museum, and purely from 2D images.

The six metre long T-Rex skeleton.

The six metre long T-Rex skeleton.

One of the ArtScience Museum.

One of the ArtScience Museum.

Peace.

Peace.

The exhibition also has several areas which allow visitor interaction, including light and sound displays, a photobooth, a Play and Build area and an area where visitors can attempt to recreate Sawaya’s rain. The exhibtion is open from 10 am to 10 pm daily (last entry is at 9 pm). More information on the exhibition and ticket prices can be found at the ArtScience Museum’s website.

Writer in The Drawing Board gallery.

Writer in The Drawing Board gallery.

Interacting with light.

Interacting with light.

Photobooth.

Photobooth.





A sunrise from 5 years ago

20 01 2013

It was close to the time of when this photograph of the sunrise over the South Channel separating the island of Penang from the mainland was taken that I wrote the first words of this blog. That was some five years ago today on 20 January 2008, which does make it the blog’s 5th Anniversary today (although I only began actively maintaining it from May 2009).

A sunrise 5 years ago.

A sunrise 5 years ago.





Go LionsXII!

20 01 2013

Perhaps because it was a day the skies opened, the Jalan Besar Stadium wasn’t as packed as it might have been for the Malaysian Super League match between the LionsXII and Terengganu. Despite the roar-less atmosphere at the stadium – the LionsXII managed to overcome a half-time deficit to beat Terangganu 2-1 with Safuwan Baharudin and Syafiq Zainal scoring for the LionsXII in the 65th and 74th minutes respectively.

LionsXII launch an attack through skipper Shahril Ishak in the first half.

LionsXII launch an attack through skipper Shahril Ishak in the first half.

Terengganu players celebrate after Jean-Emmanuel Effa scores with a header from a free-kick in the 33rd minute.

Terengganu players celebrate after Jean-Emmanuel Effa scores with a header from a free-kick in the 33rd minute.

A section of the crowd.

A section of the crowd.

Safuwan Baharudin scoring the equaliser in the 65th minute.

Safuwan Baharudin scoring the equaliser in the 65th minute.

LionsXII players celebrate Safuwan Baharudin's equaliser.

LionsXII players celebrate Safuwan Baharudin’s equaliser.

A LionsXII wall jumps in response to a Terengganu free-kick.

A LionsXII wall jumps in response to a Terengganu free-kick.

Players celebrate the second goal in the 74th minute scored by Syafiq Zainal.

Players celebrate the second goal in the 74th minute scored by Syafiq Zainal.

The crowd celebrates the winner.

The crowd celebrates the winner.





Play!

17 01 2013

An old playground and an old memory …

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More than just fishy business

16 01 2013

The wet markets we find in Singapore today are much more orderly versions of the wet markets in that Singapore I that grew up in. Yesterday’s markets were always lively, serving not only as places to obtain fresh produce during a time when refrigerators were less common, but also as places where people could come together at a social level. In the age of refrigerators and supermarkets, wet markets are today a lot quieter and are now much less of a focal point. Many come to life only during the weekends and just before festive occasions. Despite this, wet markets are however still very much a sensory treat and wonderful places to discover the texture, colour and smell of a Singapore which through these markets we cling on to. One market I particularly enjoy visiting is Tekka Market. The market had in its previous incarnation been one I have long held a fascination for, its passageways filled with the wonderful aroma of spices and the sight of mutton vendors standing over logs which served as chopping blocks. Finding itself across the road from where it originally was, the market is one which still attracts shoppers from across the island in search of some of best cuts of beef and mutton; the wide selection of fish its fishmongers seem to have more of than those in other markets do; and the exotic offerings such as buah keluak that seem to only be found there.

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Finding the old in the new – a walk down part of Thomson Road

12 01 2013

The stretch of Thomson Road between Balestier Road and Moulmein Road is one that I am well acquainted with. It is a stretch that was an invariable part of the twelve years of almost daily bus journeys to kindergarten, primary and secondary school and best known perhaps for a religious landmark, the Catholic Church of St. Alphonsus, popularly known as ‘Novena Church’ – so much so that the church has lent its name to the area where it is located. The twelve years, from 1969 to 1980, were ones in which there were significant changes made to the road and its surroundings. One big change was the widening of the road which resulted in pieces of property on the west side of the road losing valuable frontages. Another was the addition of a private women’s and children’s hospital which has set the standards for maternity hospitals in Singapore.

Developments around Velocity have quickened the pace of change in a world where some semblance of the old can (at least for now) still be found.

Developments around Velocity have quickened the pace of change in a world where some semblance of the old can (at least for now) still be found.

The stretch has seen many significant changes including being widened, but does contain a few recognisable landmarks.

The stretch has seen many significant changes including being widened.

The hospital, Thomson Medical Centre, came up close to the end of the twelve years, occupying a plot of land at the start of the south end of the stretch. Known for its innovative approach towards the birth experience of mothers, it does today feature another innovation – the basement of the refurbished building hides one of the first mechanised car parks in Singapore which was added in the mid 2000s. The hospital is the brainchild of a well known gynaecologist, Dr. Cheng Wei Chen, better known as Dr. W. C. Cheng. Built at a cost of $10 million on a terrace on the western side of the road – one of the buildings it was built in place of was a glorious mansion which Dr. Cheng had used as his clinic, the hospital’s opening in 1979 saw a hospital built so to make delivery a less than clinical experience.

The mansion along Thomson Road in which Dr W C Cheng moved his obstetrics and gynaecology practice to from the 2nd floor of the old Cold Storage.

The mansion along Thomson Road in which Dr. W C Cheng moved his obstetrics and gynaecology practice to from the 2nd floor of the old Cold Storage (image from Thomson Medical Centre’s 30th Anniversary Book).

The house which Dr. Cheng used as his clinic was a landmark in the area for many years. Standing on a terrace behind a wall, it never failed to catch my attention over the many bus journeys I made. The house I was to discover, does have an interesting history that goes well beyond the clinic. Besides being the home of Dr. Cheng’s in-laws – Dr. Cheng had moved his practice to the house in the early 1970s from a clinic he operated on the second floor of the old Cold Storage on Orchard Road, the house, was also where the origins of Novena Church in Singapore could be traced to. That I will come to a little later. Besides the clinic, there was another landmark (or so it seemed) that was brought down in 1978 to make way for the hospital – a four storey building named Adam Court and an associated two storey building which served as a garage. Adam Court housed one of the first Yamaha Music Schools in Singapore which moved into it at the end of the 1960s. A check in the online newspaper archives reveals that there was also a private school, Adam Court Educational Centre, which operated for a while in the building at the start of the 1970s. (I have also since posting this learnt that another music school belonging to Mrs. Madeline Aitken, who had once been described as the ‘grand dame of piano teachers’ had occupied the building before Yamaha moved in).

Another view of the mansion - it had been the belong to Dr Cheng's in-laws prior to him setting up his clinic there.

Another view of the mansion – it had been the belong to Dr Cheng’s in-laws prior to him setting up his clinic there (image from Thomson Medical Centre’s 30th Anniversary Book). The mansion had also been the first premises of the Redemptorist mission which arrived in 1935 – the Redemptorists run the Novena Church in Singapore.

The four storey building, Adam Court, next to Dr. W. C. Cheng's clinic seen from Thomson Road before it was incorporated into TMC in 1979. The two storey building in the foreground was a parking garage for Adam Court.

The four storey building, Adam Court, next to Dr. W. C. Cheng’s clinic seen from Thomson Road before it was incorporated into TMC in 1979 (image from Thomson Medical Centre’s 30th Anniversary Book). The two storey building in the foreground was a parking garage for Adam Court.

What is perhaps today the most recognisable landmark in the area is Novena Church. Its origins can be traced back to the arrival from Australia of the Redemptorist mission in Singapore in 1935. The Redemptorist community is best known for its promotion of devotions to Our Lady of Perpetual Help, devotions referred to as ‘Novena’ from the Latin word ‘novem’ for nine – the devotions involve prayers made over nine consecutive occasions. Devotional prayer services or ‘Novena’ sessions held on Saturdays at the church have over the years proven to be very popular with both followers and non-followers of the faith and the current Redemptorist church, the Church of St. Alphonsus, has come to be referred to as ‘Novena Church’.

Thomson Medical Centre when it it opened in 1979. The bulk of it was built on the side which contained Adam Court.

Thomson Medical Centre when it it opened in 1979 (image from Thomson Medical Centre’s 30th Anniversary Book). The bulk of it was built on the side which contained Adam Court.

Thomson Medical Centre today.

Thomson Medical Centre today.

The Redemptorist community upon their arrival, rented the mansion where Dr. Cheng was to later set up his clinic and only moved from the premises after the Second World War ended, first up Thomson Road to where the Chequers Hotel once stood (which later became the ill-fated Europa Country Club Resort). It at the second premises where the first public Novena devotions were held, commencing in November 1945. It was in 1950 that they moved to their current premises. A new chapel which became the Church of St Alphonsus (after the founder of the order) designed by Swan and Maclaren was built and was blessed on 14 May 1950. Several structures have been added since: a bell tower and residences at the back of the Church were added in 1956; side verandahs in the 1980s; and the St. Clement Pastoral Centre and new residences in the 1990s.

Inside Novena Church - the church is always packed on Saturdays during Novena services and a much bigger church is now needed.

Inside Novena Church – the church is always packed on Saturdays during Novena services and a much bigger church is now needed.

Even with the more recent additions the appearance of the church is still as recognisable as it was during my younger days. The church building itself is one dominated by triple arc pediment at the front. There is however, a huge change that may soon render that as a less recognisable feature of the church. Although the building has been gazetted for conservation on 8 June 2011, it will soon see itself in the shadow of a new and much larger church building which will come up next to it. This is part of a necessary $45 million expansion which will not only see a much-needed expansion of the church’s seating capacity, it will also see the construction of a basement car park and a new pastoral centre (the present one will be demolished to make way for the new building). Work will commence once 70% of necessary funds have been raised.

The once familiar façade of Novena Church which has conservation status will soon be dominated by a much larger building.

The once familiar façade of Novena Church which has conservation status will soon be dominated by a much larger building (image source: http://novenachurch.com).

Besides the church, there are also several structures which date back to my days in the school or public bus. There are two sets of private apartment blocks on the same side of the church just north of it which seems to be a constant there. The block further from the church has a row of shops located beneath it. It was in that row of shops where one, Java Indah, had in the 1970s, sold the best lemper udang that I have bitten into. The cake shop was started by an Indonesian lady, Aunty Neo, sometime around 1973 – well before Bengawan Solo started. It was perhaps better known for its kueh lapis, which was also distributed through the various supermarkets. The shop was later run by Aunty Neo’s niece and moved for a while to Balestier Hill Shopping Centre before disappearing. The row of shops also contains a dive equipment shop which is still there after all these years – it was from the shop that I bought my first set of snorkeling equipment back in the late 1970s.

The block where Java Indah and the best lemper udang was once found.

The block where Java Indah and the best lemper udang was once found.

One of two private apartment blocks next to Novena Church.

One of two private apartment blocks next to Novena Church.

The dive equipment shop today.

The dive equipment shop today.

Speaking of Balestier Hill Shopping Centre, that was an addition made sometime midway through the twelve year period. Situated across from where Thomson Medical Centre is today, the low-rise Housing and Development Board (HDB) cluster is where the very first Sri Dewa Malay barber shop moved to from its original location further south opposite Novena Church. Sri Dewa possibly started the Malay barber craze in the late 1960s and early 1970s and at its height, boasted of some 22 outlets. That outlet is one that I visited on many occasions – I was (as many of my schoolmates were) often sent there by the discipline master of Balestier Hill Technical School which I went to for technical classes in Secondary 3 and 4. He did always seem to have very different standards for what short and neat hair meant than our own discipline master.

Balestier Hill Shopping Centre which was completed in 1977.

Balestier Hill Shopping Centre which was completed in 1977.

The cluster which a post office could once be found in has always seemed a rather quiet place. Work on it started sometime in 1975 and was completed in 1977, and it was built partly on land occupied by a row of terraced houses by Thomson Road. What perhaps was interesting was the land behind that row – it and the hill on which the technical school, the first to be purpose built (and two primary schools) came up in the early 1960s. That was once owned by the Teochew clan association Ngee Ann Kongsi and used as a Teochew cemetery around the turn of the 20th century. Evidence of this did surface during the clearing work to build Balestier Hill Shopping Centre – a coffin with some human remains was uncovered at the foot of the hill in December 1975.

The road up to Balestier Hill where three schools were located. The hill was once used as a Teochew cemetery.

The road up to Balestier Hill where three schools were located. The hill was once used as a Teochew cemetery.

Right next to the road up to Balestier Hill in between the shopping centre and the private flats is a Shell service station which has been there since I first became acquainted with it. My father was a regular at the station, Yong Kim Service Station, from the days when he drove his Austin 1300. Loyalty gifts were commonly given to customers then, and my parents do still have some of the sets of cups and drinking glasses that were given out back at the end of the 1960s.

The former Yong Kim Service Station.

The former Yong Kim Service Station.

Besides these structures, there are also several more which have not changed very much along the road. One is another religious complex, across from Novena Church, where the Seventh-day Adventist Chinese Church and the San Yu Adventist School can be found – which dates back to the 1950s. Not far from that is a house which has also been a constant there, retaining its original design over the years. The house is one that was affected by road widening – it once sat on a even larger plot of land which was lined with a row of palm trees along the road.

The Seventh Day Adventist Chinese Church and San Yu Adventist School.

The Seventh-day Adventist Chinese Church and San Yu Adventist School.

A house that was once fronted by a road of plam trees.

A house that was once fronted by a road of plam trees.

Just south of Novena Church, across what is today Irrawaddy Road, is another part of the area which had for seemed to be always there. That however is also soon about to change. The cluster of blue and white buildings and a red brick wall in the fenced off compound takes one back to the late 1950s / early 1960s and were once where stores of the Electricity Department of the Public Utilities Board (PUB) (before that became corporatised) were located. They have since fallen into disuse and a recent tender exercise conducted by the Urban Redevelopment Corporation means that it will soon see it being redeveloped. The tender was awarded to Hoi Hup Realty Pte Ltd, Sunway Developments Pte Ltd and Hoi Hup J.V. Development Pte Ltd and is slated for mixed use development which will include a hotel.

The former stores of the Electricity Department of the Public Utilities Board (PUB) before corporatisation will probably be the next to go.

The former stores of the Electricity Department of the Public Utilities Board (PUB) before corporatisation will probably be the next to go.

Adjacent to the former stores is where two storey shophouses which once lined the road and the Jewish Cemetery behind them have made way for a shopping mall, Novena Square (now Velocity @ Novena Square) and an Novena MRT station. The mall was completed in 2000 and was built by UOL. I remember the shophouses that lined the road for one thing – the image of an elderly man sitting on a chair outside the shophouse has remained in my memory from my upper primary school days. There was also a two storey house that had long stood at the corner of Thomson and Moulmein Roads which always seemed unoccupied and used as a storeroom during my primary school days which has since disappeared.

Velocity as seen close to the junction of Moulmein and Thomson Roads where a two storey house once stood.

Velocity as seen close to the junction of Moulmein and Thomson Roads where a two storey house once stood.

One of the things I should perhaps mention is how busy the sidewalk down the slope from Novena Church were in the 1960s and early 1970s on Saturdays when hourly Novena services are held. Many among the thousands of church-goers that came and went thronged the sidewalks in search of treats from the food and snack stalls set up to cater for the crowd. Among the food vendors there were some who were to set up successful baking businesses later after the stalls were cleared.

The sidewalks just below the slope up to Novena Church were always busy on Saturdays when many stalls selling food and snacks were set up to cater for the church going crowd.

The sidewalk just below the slope up to Novena Church were always busy on Saturdays when many stalls selling food and snacks were set up to cater for the church going crowd.


Afternote:

It has been brought to my attention by Mr William Cheng, the architect of Thomson Medical Centre (TMC) that the old Adam Centre or Adam Court (Yamaha Music School) was not demoished but incorporated into the Right Wing Consultant Suite Block. That is where Dr. Cheng has his consultant suites on the ground floor. In addition, a new elevator core for 2 low speed lifts was added and annexed to the new TMC building with an extra floor was added.

Mr Cheng has also added that the TMC Building was designed and built in a record time of 8-9 months. During the construction Dr. Cheng did not maintained his practice at the renovated consultant suite on the ground of the old Adam Centre which he moved to from the old house and has remained there until today.

Mr Cheng also pointed out that iconic arches were introduced to the top of the TMC building’s façades to “maintain the spirit of the old 339 Thomson Road house”. These were moved to the new façades when the TMC building was extended in 2000 to 2002. The “innovative first-of-its kind in Singapore automatic computer controlled mechanical underground carpark” was built to provide additional car parking spaces.






The search for love and happiness in Marina Bay’s secret spaces

8 01 2013

It was around midday on the first Sunday of 2013 that I found myself on an exploration of what can be said to be secret spaces around Marina Bay, an exploration which was to lead me and the group I found myself in the company of, to the search for happiness during which I did also find love. It was an exploration of places and spaces in which we might have expected love and happiness to be in short supply including a lawyer’s office and as well as the offices, meeting spaces and even a boardroom and trading floor of one of the world’s largest financial institutions.

The search for happiness ...

The search for happiness.

Secret travelator.

involved a passage on a secret travelator.

A page from Kafka's The Trial ... discovered on the secret travelator.

A page from Kafka’s ‘The Trial’ … found at the secret travelator.

A participant takes a closer look at 'Fragile Structures' - the work of Frayn Yong which involves wireframe like models of structures found around Marina Bay made of mechanical pencil lead.

A participant takes a closer look at ‘Fragile Structures’ – the work of Frayn Yong which involves wireframe like models of structures found around Marina Bay made of mechanical pencil lead.

The search for happiness did lead us to a seemingly happy space – the offices of Google Asia Pacific. There I did momentarily find that elusive emotional state – I was very happy to have a peek into Google’s much talked about working spaces. The goal however was a happy looking abstract art installation, Eeshaun’s ‘The Search for Happiness’, one of several installations awaiting discovery along a rather unique trail, touted as Singapore’s only art walkabout, OH! (or Open House). OH! Marina Bay, The Happiness Index, is the latest edition – three previous sell-out events had some 5,000 strangers taking a look at art installations in real life homes in Niven Rd (2009), Marine Parade (2011) and Tiong Bahru (2012).

Detail of 'The Search for Happiness' - an abstract piece by Eeshaun in the offices of Google Singapore.

Detail of ‘The Search for Happiness’ – an abstract piece by Eeshaun in the offices of Google Singapore.

For OH! Marina Bay, there is a shift from the more personal and intimate spaces that the previous OH!s explored. For the latest edition, participants take a look instead into corporate Singapore. This shift is explained by Alan Oei, the co-founder and curator: “I thought Marina Bay was all office, glass, steel and mirrors. But there is a secret and fascinating life beneath all that. In many ways, one can look at it as manifesting a kind of zeitgeist. It’s a really interesting moment in Singapore now, and the arts should be part of that conversation.”

The corporate offices around the new downtown in Marina Bay is the focus of the latest in a series of OH! events.

The corporate offices around the new downtown in Marina Bay is the focus of the latest in a series of OH! events.

That the arts is part of the conversation, OH! leaves little doubt. OH! Marina Bay features the installations of twelve artists, in very different and exclusive locations. There is a little bonus in that as well as the installations (some of which I could identify with), the walkabout does offer that peek into the ultra modern offices of major financial institutions housed in the glass and steel structures which have risen where the sea once stood – as well as taking participants back some three decades to an office that once housed the practice of renowned architect Tay Kheng Soon, who played a role in shaping the architectural landscape of Singapore back then. The office, now hosts the law practice of Ann Tan and Associates, and does still bear some evidence of Tay’s interventions within its space.

Love broken by a bomb in Deutsche Bank's offices.

Love broken by a bomb in Deutsche Bank’s offices.

It was at the lawyer’s office that one of what I did think was one of the more interesting installations – sound artist Tan Peiling’s ‘And they gathered them together in heaps’ was to be discovered. Set amongst stacks of documents stored in files are the records that perhaps have not been stored – a visual record as well as one of the sounds of the old harbour – once only an earshot away.

Tan Peiling's 'And they gathered them together in heaps' is made up of visual ...

Tan Peiling’s ‘And they gathered them together in heaps’ is made up of visual …

as well as sound records ... in this case sounds of the old harbour which used to be an earshot away.

as well as sound records … in this case sounds of the old harbour which was once only an earshot away.

The installations that to me delighted the most however was Joy Abigail Ho’s lighthearted and interactive piece at the first stop, as well as the tea ladies dancing to the strains of Bengawan Solo entertain also at the first stop. And it is for this as well as the little discoveries along the way that makes OH! Marina Bay worth the two hours spent.

Joy Abigail Ho's work at DBS Asia Central.

Joy Abigail Ho’s interactive piece at DBS Asia Central.

Joy Abigail Ho.

Joy Abigail Ho.

Dancing tea ladies at DBS Asia Centre.

Dancing tea ladies at DBS Asia Centre.

There was a little to discover as well of the area’s development history. Land reclamation which started in the 1970s has shaped much of what we do see today, including the Marina Bay Financial Centre (MBFC). It is from there as well as from the offices visited where we are able have a better appreciation of this, as well as have a peek into the future of the area. Just beyond the MBFC we see a multitude of cranes, cranes which help in the spread of the new downtown southwards on what is now bare reclaimed land. It is also a less known fact that even the area we see as the older part of the financial district centred on Shenton Way, was in fact built on land some of which was reclaimed as far back as the 1880s – the shoreline prior to that had been located at Telok Ayer Street!

OH! Marina Bay besides taking one into the modern glass and steel buildings of key financial players, also offers a glimpse into the past buried in the present.

A view of the past from the modern boardroom of Deutsche Bank. OH! Marina Bay besides taking one into the modern glass and steel buildings of key financial players, also offers a glimpse into the past buried in the present.

It is close to where the walkabout began – at Deutsche Bank’s offices which does offer a great view of the past, the present and perhaps the future from its boardroom, where it ends. It is here where the largest collection of works can be found – including many which is in the bank’s own collection. It is also here where we find love, which takes the form of a love bomb – a bomb like installation with the Chinese word for love on it. There are also some accompanying paintings which spread the message of love on the walls. It is also here where another highlight of the walkabout lies in waiting – a look at the trading floor on the 18th. The trading floor’s location was one selected for its auspicious number we are told.

Participants heading to the 18th Floor - the trading floor of Deutsche Bank where photography is not permitted. The Deutsche Bank mural painted entirely by the bank's staff is seen in the foreground.

Participants heading to the 18th Floor – the trading floor of Deutsche Bank where photography is not permitted. The Deutsche Bank mural painted entirely by the bank’s staff is seen in the foreground.

There are four more days during which you can seek love and happiness in and around some of Marina Bay’s secret spaces. Further runs of OH! Marina Bay will be held on 12, 13, 19 and 20 January 2013. Tickets are $20, and can be bought only at the door from 11am, at DBS Asia Central Branch, Marina Bay Financial Centre, Tower 3, Level 3. Last tours leave at 3pm daily. See http://www.ohopenhouse.com/ for more information.

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Colours after Sunset

5 01 2013

Colours after sunset, 7.50 pm, 5 January 2013.

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