“Lenin’s Tomb” at Raffles Place

17 01 2020

Constructed in an effort to beautify the city, the “underground” car park topped with a roof garden that came to define the Raffles Place of post-independent Singapore, came in for some criticism as it was nearing completion. Likened to Lenin’s Mausoleum, its critics even went so far as to suggest that it be used for the repose of Singapore’s distinguished citizens. Despite the early reservations, Raffles Place Garden – as it was christened, was a quite a joy to behold. With its floral clock, fountain and a backdrop provided by Raffles Place’s characterful buildings, the garden became what could be thought of as the 1960s equivalent of an instagram-worthy spot.

Christmas 1966 on the roof garden at Raffles Place, with Robinson’s behind.

That Raffles Place was certainly a place I connected with.  My visits there usually coincided with the preparations for the year-end season of giving, which invariably led to Robinsons Department Store’s quite memorable toy department. Large and well stocked, the department was every child’s dream. I looked forward to visiting each year, even if that meant having to catch sight of Father Christmas, whom I was terrified of. Out of Robinson’s famous Christmas lucky dip, I once pulled out an orange coloured battery-operated submarine. It was a prized toy, even if I had to contend with using it once every three months during our seaside holidays at Mata Ikan – in the holiday bungalow’s bathtub!

The promise of good food was another thing to look forward to when visiting Raffles Place. Makan time would on a special occasion, lead me to the Honeyland Milk Bar at Battery Road, which was just around the square’s northeast corner. There was always a sense of anticipation that I got as the parting of the café’s heavy doors delivered a cold rush of Worcestershire sauce scented air. The café’s chicken pies were to die for. I enjoyed the pies with a dash of tomato ketchup – which I never could quite manage to cajole out from the sauce bottle without some help.

Raffles Place’s little “corners”, which included Change Alley, added much to area’s unique charm. “Chin Charlie” to me and many non-English speakers like my maternal grandmother, it was a fascinating place to wander through and one of the places that made the Singapore of the 1960s, Singapore. The famous alley, which featured in films and in a BBC newsreel,  seemed to be always be full of life and for a while, laughter – emanating from numerous laughing bags being set off in the alley by its many toy vendors as a form of advertisement. Popular at the end of the 1960s, the toys took the form of tiny drawstring bags that contained sound boxes.

The Raffles Place end of Change Alley, 1969 (Kim Hocker Collection).

 

Little did I know it as a young child, but the laughter, along with the Raffles Place that I knew and loved would soon to see lasting change. A tragic fire in November 1972, which resulted in the loss of nine lives, also saw to Robinsons losing its iconic Raffles Chambers home it had occupied since 1941. The subsequent move – of Robinson’s to Specialists Centre in Orchard Road – also severed the store’s connection with the square, which could be traced back to 1858.

Raffles Chambers – before Robinson’s moved in.

By the time of the fire, the area had in fact already been in the cusp of change. At the glorious waterfront – Raffles Place “backyard”, the grand old turret-topped 1923 built Ocean Building had come down in 1970 to make way for a towering third. The 1923 Ocean – the second to stand on the site – was the forerunner of a building frenzy that would shape Singapore’s bund at Collyer Quay, which by the 1930s possessed a quality that could be compared to Shanghai’s more famous embankment. The second Ocean’s demise set a reversal of the process in motion. Two more of the waterfront’s grand 1920s edifices erected a year after the Ocean, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Chambers and Maritime (ex-Union Insurance) Building, would also make way for the new.

John Little’s Building early in 1946 – when it was used temporarily as the Shackle Club [source: Lizzie Ellis on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)].

On the square, one of its famous landmarks – John Little’s Building – was sold in 1973. This would lead to Raffles Tower (now Singapore Land Tower) being put up in its place. Incidentally, Raffles Tower when it was still under construction,  was the scene of a dramatic aerial helicopter rescue – the first in Singapore’s history. The rescue on 21 October 1980 came at a time when 19 out of tower’s intended 48 floors were completed. A fire broke out on the 18th floor, which left a crane operator stranded on a tower crane perched on the top of the uncompleted building some 60 metres above ground. The daring rescue effort saw the operator plucked from the crane’s boom to safety by the crew of a RSAF Bell 212 helicopter .

Singapore’s first helicopter aerial rescue was over Raffles Place on 21 October 1980.

Raffles Place would also lose its car park and roof garden not so long after this incident. A well-loved feature by that time, the garden’s lifespan fell short of the “many, many decades” that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had predicted it would last when he opened it in November 1965. The construction of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system just two decades later, meant that the structure and its garden, went the way of Raffles Place’s older icons in mid-1984.

Raffles Place – still with its garden – in the late 1970s. The former Mercantile Bank can be seen at the end of the square.

The building of the MRT also took out the other landmarks that could be identified with old Raffles Place. The former Mercantile Bank (built 1929) was one. The building, which marked the square’s southern end, had been purchased by Chartered Bank to house its Singapore headquarters while its 6 Battery Road HQ at the square’s opposite end, was being rebuilt. Chartered Bank’s new premises at 6 Battery Road, which was put up at the start of the 1980s incorporated a provision for the MRT to be built at a time when the question of whether the MRT should be built was still being deliberated.

Over a CBD in transition at the end of the 1970s. Renewal, redevelopment and reclamation would change the face of a part of Singapore that at the point of independence, had a certain old world charm (photo source: Panoramio).

Raffles Place today, wears a look of modernity reflective of Singapore’s impressive progress since the car park and its roof garden was unveiled. Cold as it may have become enclosed by the wall of towering symbols of success, Lenin’s tomb it is not nor a place of repose for the distinguished – other than the distinguished past. There are the reminders of the square that was replaced if one looks hard enough – found in the names that are retained and in some of the new structures that have come to define the new Raffles Place.


 

Raffles Place over the years

 

 

Raffles Place stands on the site of a hill that was levelled in 1822 to provide filler for the reclamation in way of the south bank of the Singapore River that provided the grounds for Boat Quay.

 

Raffles Place in the late 1800s. The garden seen in this G. R. Lambert print was one of Commercial Square’s early features, which was laid out, planted with trees and enclosed by a low wall and a wooden fence in the mid-1830s. The marble drinking water fountain seen in the photograph was the one presented by John Gemmill in 1864. The donation involved more than just the fountain as it required the laying of pipes from Mr Gemmill’s property at Mount Erskine to Raffles Place. The fountain originally had metal cups chained to it. The fountain, which now stands outside the National Museum of Singapore, found its way to Empress Place, before being moved to the museum in the 1970s.

 

Gemmill’s fountain – at the National Museum of Singapore.

 

Another G R Lambert print from the late 1800s. Originally Commercial Square, it was named Raffles Place by the Municipal Commission in 1858.

 

By the 1900s Raffles Place was well developed into a commercial and banking centre. This postcard view of Raffles Place in the 1930s shows several banking institutions established around in the square such as (from left to right): Mercantile Bank of India, Banque de l’Indochine (French Bank) and Yokohama Specie Bank (YS Bank in Meyer Chambers).

 

Preparations for war, 1941. A machine gun pillbox seen in front of a John Little’s Building fitted with brick barricades.

 

Air raid wardens are dousing an incendiary bomb in Raffles Place in 1941 as part of a regular weekly mass demonstration to make Singaporean’s bomb conscious and informed (source: Library of Congress – no known copyright restrictions).

A bomb damaged Raffles Place following the first Japanese air raid on Singapore on 8 Dec 1941.

 

Raffles Place in the 1950s, by which time stores such as John Little – established in the 1840s and Robinson’s, founded in the 1850s, were already very well established and were household names.

 

Plans for a garden at Raffles Place were first announced in Nov 1963 during a State Government policy address made by Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak to the Legislative Assembly – the first with Singapore a State in Malaysia and the last ever. Work commenced on what was to be a 150 car capacity underground car park topped by a roof garden in July 1964. By the time LKY opened the carpark and roof garden in Nov 1965, Singapore was an independent country. LKY expressed his disappointment that the car park had to be elevated a metre above the ground for ventilation and access and observed that some had likened one end of the structure to Lenin’s tomb. He also noted that there were also suggestions that “we might perhaps repose the precious remains of some of our more distinguished citizens in one end of this square”.

 

Mr David Ayres’ capture of Raffles Place in 1966, which made its rounds around the internet in 2012. The photograph shows the roof garden and looks towards the northern end of the square with the Chartered Bank Chambers on Battery Road at the far end (source: David Ayres on Flickr).

 

Another northward view – this one in 1969 courtesy of Mr Kim Hocker (Kim Hocker Collection).

 

The five-foot-way along John Little’s Building in 1969 (Kim Hocker Collection).

Trishaw riders outside Oriental Emporium at Raffles Place in 1969 (Kim Hocker Collection).

 

A view of the car park from street level with a staircase to the roof garden (Kim Hocker Collection).

 

The Malacca Street end of the car park and its location today.

A view towards the north end with MRT construction work, 1987 (National Archives of Singapore).

 

A northward view today. The John Little’s Building is replicated on the main entrances to the MRT.

 

A southward view of Raffles Place today.

 

The Singapore Land tower (R) – where the rescue of the crane operator took place in 1980.

 

One Raffles Place – which occupies the site of Robinson’s and Meyer Chambers.


 





The abandoned beauty of Canfranc

30 09 2019

For more photographs, please visit:

https://jeromekg.wixsite.com/flymetothemoon/post/the-abandoned-beauty-of-canfranc


Set against a backdrop of snow-capped Pyrenean peaks and in a quiet village in Spanish foothills of the range that forms much of the Franco-Spanish border, the majestic and long-disused Canfranc International Railway Station looks well out of place. Often described as Europe’s most opulent station, it is as much its Beaux-arts styled appearance as is the scale in which it was built that has earned it this reputation.

The beautiful and somewhat mysterious Canfranc International Railway Station seen against the backdrop of the Pyrenees.

Built from 1921 to 1925, it was as much a symbol of Franco-Spanish cooperation at is opening in 1928 as it was to have been the terminal building of an elevated railway line that triumphed over the challenging Pyrenean terrain that separated the two countries. This required, among other efforts, the digging of a tunnel – the Somport tunnel that took six years to complete. It was in use until March 1970 when a train accident, which damaged the Estanguet bridge beyond repair, closed the Pau-Canfranc line for good.

The station has been abandoned since an accident in March 1970 closed the line.

Much intrigue and mystery has surrounded the station since its closure. Over the years, details have emerged of the station having been a transit point for Nazi loot, including some 86 tons of gold stolen from Jews to obtain much needed tungsten in the Iberian peninsula. Tungsten was need to as an alloying element in steel used in tank armour. Details have also emerged of how a French Customs Officer based at the station, Albert Le Lay, posed as a double agent and in doing so, facilitated the escape of hundreds of refugees – many of them Jews into Spain from 1940 to 1942. Dubbed the “Spanish Schindler”, Le Lay, was part of a spy network based at the station that also helped in the transmission of messages and equipment for the French Resistance.

A view through one of the station’s 365 windows.

The station, which measures 241 metres in length, is 12.5 metres wide and has a total of 150 doors – 75 one each side. It also has 365 windows – one as they say – for each day of the year. Operated jointly by France and Spain, it contained a restaurant, a hotel, post and telegraph offices and the offices of the railway operators and immigration and customs officials for both countries.


For more photographs, please visit:

https://jeromekg.wixsite.com/flymetothemoon/post/the-abandoned-beauty-of-canfranc





The ghosts of Kallang’s past

12 05 2019

Like ghosts, a familiar pair of figures from Kallang’s past have made a reappearance. The pair, fibreglass replicas of the Merdeka Bridge Monument lions, were unveiled this afternoon at Stadium Roar as part of the launch of The Kallang Story, a Sports and Heritage Trail that uncovers many other aspects of the area’s rich and colourful history through 3 suggested walking routes featuring 18 heritage markers.

The unveiling of the replica lions at Stadium Roar at the National Stadium.

The lions, commissioned by the Public Works Department during the construction of the bridge, were designed based on sketches by Mr. L. W. Carpenter of its Architect’s Branch. The full design was completed by Signor Raoul Bigazzi (not by Cav. Rodolfo Nolli as has been widely reported), who had them made in Manila at a cost of $14,200.

The bridge, built at a cost of $8M, was touted as “the longest and largest of its type in South East Asia”. Its construction, along with that of Nicoll Highway was possible by the move of the civil airport from Kallang to Paya Lebar in 1955. The proposal to name the bridge “Merdeka” or “Independence” was made in June 1956 by the then Minister of Works and Communications Mr Francis Thomas under the Lim Yew Hock administration, “to express the confidence and aspirations of the people”. This came after the first round of Merdeka talks for full self-government stalled and Singapore first Chief Minister, David Marshall, resigned. Some 60,000 people crossed the bridge at its opening on 17 August 1956 – at which Mr Lim Yew Hock referred to it as a “Symbol of Our Path to Freedom”.

The monument, was placed at each end of the bridge with a lion at its base. The monument and the lions were removed during the widening and conversion of the Nicoll Highway from a dual to a treble carriageway in 1966. The lions were initially placed at Kallang Park and are now display out of sight to most of us at SAFTI Military Institute.


Will the (Kallang) roar now return?

 

A Wushu display during the unveiling of the replica lions.


 

 





The north-south trail of destruction

4 01 2017

We seemed to have said too many goodbyes in the year we have just left behind; goodbyes to those who coloured the world, goodbyes to political certainty, and in Singapore, goodbyes- once again – to too many bits of what makes our city-state unique. The year we have just welcomed, brings the end for many of the places we have said goodbye to, either through their complete erasure or through alteration. Two, Rochor Centre and the Ellison Building, both of which are affected by the construction of the North-South expressway due to commence this year, have received more than a fair share of attention.  The former will  be completely demolished as it stands in the way of exit and entry points of the southern end of the expressway, while the latter, a conserved structure, will lose some of its original façade. While there is an intention to have its lost face rebuilt, the news was met with quite a fair bit of displeasure, prompting an effort to have the extent of the façade affected minimised.

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The “Rainbow Flats”, or Rochor Centre, will be demolished this year for the construction of the North-South expressway.

The expressway will be built overground at its northern end. The impact this will have may not in the loss of buildings or parts of them, but the much altered vistas the parts the viaduct is being built over would have. One area in which this would be painfully obvious will be in Sembawang Road between Mandai Avenue and Khatib Camp. Taking a path through a landscape recalling a countryside we have largely discarded, the road and the pleasing vistas it has long provided, will surely be missed once the expressway is built. My acquaintance with the road goes back to the early 1970s when as a schoolboy, I would find myself bused down the road, to support my school’s football team playing in the north zone primary schools finals at Sembawang School. The road’s charm hasn’t changed very much since its more rural days, despite its subsequent widening and the building of Yishun New Town and Khatib Camp just down the road.

A beautiful stretch of Sembawang Road near its 11th milestone that recalls a rural past will soon have a very different and much more urban feel to it.

A beautiful stretch of Sembawang Road – near its 11th milestone, recalls a rural past. A viaduct for the North-South expressway, will give it a very different and a much more urban feel.

The road is set against a landscape that recalls a huge rubber and pineapple plantation. The former plantation's Assistant Manager's residence - is still seen atop one of the landscape's high points.

The road is set against a charming landscape that recalls its days as part of the huge Nee Soon plantation. The former plantation’s Assistant Manager’s residence – still stands prominently atop one of the areas’s high points.

An area affected by the expressway that has already lost its charm is Toa Payoh Rise. I often enjoyed walks along the quiet and well shaded tree-lined road in more youthful days when the air of calm it provided was supplemented by the chorus of its tree lizards. The then much narrower road, an access point to Toa Payoh Hospital, has seen much of its magic taken away. Associated also with institutions for the visually handicapped, it has since been given a completely different feel with its upgrade into a main access path in and out of Toa Payoh and the building of a Circle Line MRT station, Caldecott. Several structures of the past can still be found such as the former Marymount Convent complex and four low-rise blocks of flats that served as quarters for hospital staff. The former convent buildings and two of the four blocks of flats are  however set to disappear just so our world could be kept moving.

Flats at Toa Payoh Rise - two will be demolished for the North-South expressway to be built.

Flats at Toa Payoh Rise – two will be demolished for the North-South expressway to be built.

The Marymount Convent complex.

The Marymount Convent complex.

At the other end of Thomson Road, there are also two reminders of more youthful times that are also set to make a partial disappearance. Here, the expressway’s tunnel will burrow through soil once intended to provide eternal rest – that of the former New or Bukit Timah Cemetery – already disturbed by the exhumation of the cemetery in the 1970s. The tunnel will also swallow up several units from a delightful collection of old houses at Kampong Java and Halifax Roads. Built around the 1930s as municipal quarters, these are of two designs and have very much been a feature of the area. The area was where I attended kindergarten (at Cambridge Road) and also primary school (at Essex Road). While the demolition would involve a few units close to the side of the Central Expressway, it will have the impact of further reducing the area’s already eroded charm.

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Former municipal quarters at Kampong Java Road that will make way for the expressway.

Former Municipal Quarters at Halifax Road, several of which will also fall victim to the North South expressway.

Former municipal quarters at Halifax Road, several of which will also fall victim to the North South expressway.

Two other major road transport projects – involving the MRT – also adds to the destruction brought on by the need to keep our world moving. One, the final phase of the Circle Line, has seen part of the Singapore Polytechnic first campus demolished and the levelling of what had been left of the very historic Mount Palmer. Another big change the project will bring is to the former Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. The line will run under the former station with an MRT station, Cantonment, built under its platforms. This will see the well-loved National Monument closed to the public for a period of nine years during which time it will acquire an entirely different feel. One of the MRT station exits will bring commuters up to the former station’s platforms and into the former station building, which will by the time it reopens, may feature a mix of retail and food and beverage outlets.

A last Christmas at Tanjong Pagar, before a lengthy closure during which it will be changed forever.

A last Christmas at Tanjong Pagar, before a lengthy closure during which it will be changed forever.

Not everything however, is going due to the need to keep us mobile, as is the case for what is left of Old Kallang Airport Estate or Dakota Crescent – as it is now commonly referred to. The well-loved neighbourhood is a a last remnant of an estate built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) – the predecessor to the HDB, that features the first attempts at high-rise public housing blocks. Built at the end of the 1950s, parts of the estate has already been lost to redevelopment. The part of it that is still left features four block designs arranged around two spacious courtyards and a playground introduced in the 1970s. Some of the blocks were designed to also include units intended for commercial and artisanal use – a feature of the SIT estates of the era. A group is currently seeking to have parts of the estate, which offers an insight into the public housing programme of the pre-HDB era, conserved, supported by the Member of Parliament for the area.

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Dakota at the crossroads.

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Will the estate and the last of the dove (playgrounds), like many of the SIT estates of the past, be discarded?


See also:

Some places that will be affected by the North-South Expressway

Some places that are affected by the Circle Line’s Final Phase

More Winds of Change:






Update on closure of the Rail Corridor

24 06 2016

The first stretch of the Rail Corridor affected by the Murnane Pipeline Project, will be hoarded up and closed from Monday 27 June 2016. The stretch is  from Holland Rd (near Greenleaf Estate) to Tanglin Halt Road (including the former Rail Corridor Art Space). Exact dates for the closure of the remaining stretches affected (see graphic below), which are scheduled for the third quarter of 2016, are still being worked out. The corridor will be reopened in parts as work is completed from the end of 2017 to the end of 2019. More information on the project and the how the Rail Corridor could be affected is available in some of my earlier posts:

And a northward view.

A view of the first stretch of the Rail Corridor to close for the pipeline project.

Updated schedule for closure of the southern stretch of the Rail Corridor (click to expand).

 





The 16th century sailor seen wandering at the National Museum

30 01 2016

With all that’s been rumoured about the National Museum, the curious sight of a lost soul dressed in the manner of a 16th century Portuguese sailor wandering around one of its galleries would not be unexpected. Strangely though, rather than stay well away from the sailor – as one might expect, those present in the gallery seemed instead to be drawn to him.

The Level 2 galleries.

The National Museum – where the past comes alive in more ways than one.

There is little that is sinister about the sailor who roams the basement gallery with two muses in tow. On a quest to find what he thinks will offer an escape from the curse of his long but lonely existence – attributed to the consumption of the Elixir of Life, the sailor enlists the help of those around. The sailor, the two muses, and his quest – to find the greatest treasure in the world, is all part of the fun of an experiential play, “The Greatest Treasure in the World”.

A muse and Aesop (as well as several other characters from the past), also help Afonso in his quest.

A pair of muses and several other characters from the past, also help Afonso in his quest.

The experiential play also has the audience take part.

The experiential play also has the audience take part.

The play, created by Peggy Ferroa, has the audience, embark on a rather enjoyable adventure through time with Afonso, the Portuguese sailor – whose full name sounds as long as the life he has had. The search for the treasure takes place in the in the Treasures of the World from the British Museum exhibition –  where Afonso suspects he would, with the help of the audience, find what he seeks.

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Tickets to join Afonso on his quest cost $38 and can be booked through SISTIC. Two sessions of the hour-long experience will be held on the evenings of 30 January, 25, 26 and 27 February, 24, 25, and 26 March and 28, 29 and 30 April 2016. More information on the The Greatest Treasure in the World can be found at the National Museum of Singapore’s website.

The cast with Peggy Ferroa (standing second from right).

The cast with Peggy Ferroa (standing second from right).

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Parting glances, Church of St. Alphonsus

8 10 2014

In Singapore, the familiar becomes unfamiliar in the blink of an eye. The end of September brought with it more than a fair share of goodbyes to places some of us have grown attached to. One that was especially hard to say goodbye to was a place I have grown especially fond of through my interactions with it over a period of almost half a century, the Church of St. Alphonsus, which closed at the end of September for redevelopment.

A final prayer outside the locked gates of the closed church the morning after.

A final prayer outside the locked gates of the closed church the morning after.

In the case of St. Alphonsus, popularly known as Novena Church, it isn’t of course a complete goodbye. The building that housed the church, very recognisable through its distinctive triple-arc pediment – a landmark along Thomson Road, will not be torn down as it has been gazetted for conservation in 2011. It will however, be dominated by a much larger structure once the redevelopment is complete – that being a new and much larger church building that will come up in place of the site occupied by St. Clement’s Pastoral Centre and another very recognisable structure, the church’s bell tower.

A parting glance ...

A parting glance …

Better known perhaps for the devotional services it holds through the course of the day every Saturday that brings a crowd to the area – the Novena sessions that gives the church and the area (including an MRT station) their names, the church came into being on its current site in May 1950, when it was consecrated as the new Redemptorist chapel – the order having moved from a site down the road currently occupied by Thomson Medical Centre at which it started the Novena services after the war in 1945.

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The chapel as it had originally looked (Novena Church on Twitter).

The building as we know it today, took on its current form in the latter half of the 1950s. A bell tower and the Redemptorist Residence was added in 1956 and the pediment and a circular stained glass panel of Our Mother of Perpetual Help was added in 1959.

The circular stained glass panel seen through the closed gates of the church.

The circular stained glass panel seen through the closed gates of the church.

The bell tower.

The bell tower.

The weekly services is what gives the area its flavour, when huge crowds descend on the area every Saturday, crowds that will certainly be missed during the two-year redevelopment period when Novena services are held instead in the Church of Risen Christ in Toa Payoh. I remember it being particularly lively at the end of the 1960s and perhaps the early 1970s – when crowds thronged the sidewalks down the slope from the church where many food vendors would be found.

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An aerial view showing the church with its new pediment and the Redemptorist Residence in 1959 (Novena Church on Twitter).

Also missed will be the burst of colour that the area sees once a year over the first weekend in September, when the church’s façade is very brightly decorated with a flowers for the annual Novena procession, although the scale of the decorations have become more modest in its latter years. The procession, the 61st of which was held in September, sees crowds in excess of 10,000 spilling into the open car park space that is arrange on two terraces – a space that will be largely altered due to the construction of an underground car park.

Decorations during the annual procession in 1987.

Decorations during the annual procession in 1987.

The church held its last services over the weekend of the 27th and 28th September and its grilled gates were closed following the last service. Besides hosting Novena services, the Church of the Risen Christ will also host weekday masses. Sunday masses will during the period of closure be held at St. Joseph’s Institution Junior in Essex Road. More information can be found at the Novena Church website.

Silent corridors at the Redemptorist Residence the morning after.

Silent corridors at the Redemptorist Residence the morning after.


Parting glances …

The morning after

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The Bell Tower

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The Church

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The Redemptorist Residence and St. Clement’s Pastoral Centre

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The last Novena

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The last procession and processions past

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The Mah Piu Poh intersection vendors

29 03 2013

It was in the semidarkness that accompanied the evenings, in days long forgotten that we would have heard a once familiar sound. It was of a chorus of youthful voices calling out “Mah Piu Poh“, in almost a musical fashion, heard above the grumble of engines and rattling dashboards of traffic slowing to a standstill. The voices were those of boys who looked no more than nine or ten, who risked life and limb for a handful of loose change in weaving their way through traffic to hawk the evening’s newspapers. Referred commonly to as “Mah Piu Poh“, the papers, the predecessor to today’s Shin Min Daily News (新明日报), were a popular read during the weekends, not so much for the gossip it carried, but for the day’s all-important news (especially so in the pre-internet days), that of the horse racing related 4 digit (4D) lottery results. Hence, the name “Mah Piu Poh” or “马票报” which in Cantonese translates to “Lottery Newspaper”, “Mah Piu ” (马票) being a horse-racing lottery, and “Poh” (报) meaning newspaper.

The Mah Piu Poh boy, once a feature of some road junctions and roundabouts. Where I most remember seeing them at was at Guillemard Circus.

The Mah Piu Poh boy, once a feature of some road junctions and roundabouts. One place I well remember seeing them at was at Guillemard Circus.

The boys would be seen at many of the busy intersections. One intersection I well remember seeing them at was at the rather lively Guillemard Circus in the light of the neon billboards that gave the roundabout a unique character. That would have been in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With a few newspapers in hand, the boys would attempt to sell them to the occupants of cars as they slowed through windows opened out of necessity (it was rare to have a car fitted with air conditioning in those days). While similar road junction vendors are still a fairly common sight in parts of Asia such as in India and in the Philippines, it was something that, by the time the late 1970s arrived, we were to see the last of on the increasing busy streets of a modernising Singapore in which there was little place for unregulated practices such as this.





A labyrinth of food and much more

15 10 2012

Besides Coloane Village, another place in Macau that I would surely find many happy moments exploring in is Taipa Village. In the shadow of the new at the not so far away Cotai Strip, and closer to Macau Peninsula, the village is on the island of the same name. In it is not only that meeting of east and west to discover, but also several well preserved colonial era buildings centered on the Avenida da Praia and also at Carmel Square. It is also a world where one can lose oneself, wandering the streets and finding little bits of not just the old world, but also some rather delectable treats – one famous one being the famed Tai Lei Loi Kei Pork Chop Bun, to indulge oneself in. Although not comprehensive, the following are seven things that one must do to discover that bit of old Macau in Taipa:

Taipa Village as seen off the reflection of a convex traffic mirror.

The new world of the Cotai Strip looms over old Taipa.

The streets of Taipa offer a fascinating insight into life in older Macau.

As the group of bloggers were to discover.


Old World Discoveries

Taipa is rich in the old world, including several well preserved buildings from the colonial era centered in the Praia area. On the heights above the Praia is a delightful little square with some excellent examples of public and religious architecture including Taipa Library and the Church of Our Lady of Carmel. Below this on the Avenida da Praia, there are also a row of five very pretty houses from the colonial period – beautifully preserved as the Taipa Houses-Museum. In each house, visitors are offered a look back in time into the colonial life with the first furnished much as it would have been during the colonial era, as well as Portuguese traditions, and into traditional industries.

(1) Carmel Square

Taipa Library at Carmel Square (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Church of Our Lady of Carmel, Carmel Square built in 1885 (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).


(2) Avenida da Praia and the Taipa Houses Museum

The Taipa Houses Museum, a row of 5 colonial heritage houses along the Avenida da Praia (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Ai Sakura at the Avenida da Praia.

Taipa Houses Museum.

The Taipa Houses Museum offers a peek into an old world.

A child’s toy at the Taipa Houses Museum.

Admission to Taipa-Houses Museum (Closed on Mondays):
MOP/HKD5 per adult
FREE for visitors under 12 yrs old and above 65 years old
FREE admission on every Tuesdays.


Food Glorious Food

Taipa is also well known for its food and snacks with a host of well established eating places that offer Cantonese, Macanese and Portuguese cuisine including the O Manuel Portuguese Restaurant. There are also several food discoveries to be made, and besides the famous Pork Chop Bun there is also the famous Taipa Food Street,Rua do Cunha, lined with confectioneries and snack shops to discover, and not to forget, another must try are the Birds Nest Egg Tarts from San Hou Lei a little eatery on the Rua do Regedor.

(3) Rua do Cunha (Taipa Food Street)

The writing on the wall of a confectionery at one end of the famous Taipa Food Street (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Almond cookies in the works at Taipa Food Street (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Valyn seen along the Food Street.

More Almond Cookies!

The Food Street offers lots of snacks to satisfy any craving!

Taipa Food Street (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).


(4) San Hou Lei – Bird’s Nest Egg Tarts

Bird’s Nest Egg Tarts!


(5) O Manuel Portuguese Restaurant

Sardine at O Manuel Portuguese Restaurant.

And lots of meat!

(6) Tai Lei Loi Kei Pork Chop Bun


Object of desire … can’t leave Taipa without sinking one’s mouth into one of these! The famous Tai Lei Loi Kei Pork Chop Bun.

Tai Lei Loi Kei in Taipa.


Roaming the Streets

One thing that I would certainly do when I do return to Macau is to roam the streets of Taipa (as well as Coloane and the area around Senado Square) just to get lost and find what Macau is truly all about. On the evidence of that little bit of time when I did actually get lost as the group walked ahead while I waited for Chun See who had paid a visit to the gents was that there was a wonderful labyrinth of lanes and alleyways – each with a unique charm and certainly one to discover and to photograph.

(7) Getting lost

The streets of Taipa make it a wonderful place to roam around …

… and get lost in …

Street scene.

The streets offer lots of little discoveries.

There’s lots of colour ….

The streets also offer a peek into life in the old world ….

… through its labyrinth of alleyways.

Village street (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

A shady tree lined road in Taipa Village (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Street sign.

Street scene.

Another street scene.

More street scenes …. (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Houses (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

More houses (leading up to Taipa Food Street) (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

A shuttered shop.

A sidewalk in Taipa.


The trip was made possible by the kind sponsorship of the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) which included a three night stay at the Grand Lapa Macau, and also Tiger Airways who sponsored the two way flights.


Links to discovering Taipa:

Macau Government Tourist Office
Tiger Airways
Taipa
Museums (including Taipa Houses-Museum
Taipa Food Street on Wikipedia
O Manuel Portuguese Restaurant on HK Magazine
San Hou Lei on Macau24.com
Tai Lei Loi Kei on metropolasia.com


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy.sg My Macau Experience 2012 site which sees 10 bloggers share experiences of their visit to Macau. Readers will get a chance to vote for their favourite My Macau Experience 2012 blogger and stand a chance to win $1000 worth of Macau travel vouchers. Voting has started (on 28 September 2012) and ends on 15 October 2012. Votes can be cast on a daily basis at the My Macau Experience 2012 Voting page.






Gold that certainly needs guarding

11 10 2012

It was right on the last day that we found it, coming away with bagfuls of what must surely have been a very precious commodity that we had two of our toughest ladies, Valyn and Yiwei, to stand guard over it.

Pure gold that required two of our toughest ladies to stand guard over! (Photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The commodity has to be nothing short of pure gold – many come from near and wide, descending on a humble village away from the bustle of Macau’s bright lights and fluid streets just for it, or rather a taste of it. The golden item, is nothing less than the most sought after piece of pastry in the territory, a Lord Stow’s egg tart, smooth and creamy custard given a tinge of gold when baked in a pastry cup.

Gold in a pastry cup, Lord Stow’s Egg Tarts (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The egg tarts or pastéis de nata (pastel de nata, singular), is what certainly draws the crowds to the sleepy village, Coloane Village, which is as far away as one can get in the tiny 29 square kilometres that is Macau. The village takes its name from the island, the southernmost of two main islands beyond the Macau Peninsula – an island that is sometimes referred to as Macau’s countryside. It was for long a neglected part of the former Portuguese colony, becoming a hotbed of pirate activity until the problem was eventually dealt with by the Portuguese in 1910.

Coloane Village is a sleepy village that seems far removed from the bright lights of the nearby Cotai Strip (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The village, as is the bakery, is a curious place. Seemingly out of touch with the glitz and glamour of the integrated resorts sprouting up not so far away on the Cotai Strip – a piece of reclaimed land which has connected the Coloane Island to its northern counterpart, Taipa Island, it (and what is found in it), must be a wonderful example perhaps of how east and west has blended during the rule of the territory’s former masters.

Lord Stow’s Bakery in Coloane Village – it is not just in the bakery, but in the entire village where east has blended well with the west (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

At the heart of Coloane Village is a little piece of Portugal, the Eduardo Marques Square (Largo da Eduardo Marques). The square takes its name from the Portuguese governor Eduardo Marques who oversaw the victory over the pirates. This is in fact commemorated in the square in the form of a monument which stands at one end of it. It is at the opposite end however, that the attention of the visitor will be drawn to – the yellow of the baroque façade of the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier is one that will certainly not be missed.

A monument in the Largo da Eduardo Marques to commemorate the defeat of the pirates in 1910 (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The Eduardo Marques Square is also known for its food outlets which apparently are a must-try (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The yellow baroque façade of the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier at the other end of the square.

The yellow chapel, built in 1928, is definitely one that should not be missed. Besides containing some of the most sacred Catholic relics found in Asia (at one time it also housed relics of St. Francis Xavier – the missionary who is attributed bringing the faith to Asia), it does also contain a rather interesting religious painting. On the painting there is an image of a woman bearing the likeness of the Chiness Goddess of Mercy, Kun Iam or Kuan Yin, carrying a child, which is in very much a similar fashion as a very popular Catholic depiction of the Mother and Child. This surely is a wonderful example of how well east and west have blended here.

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier was built in 1928 and once housed some relics of St. Francis Xavier, a missionary who is attributed with bringing the Catholic faith to Asia.

The Chapel of St. Francis Xavier is where many important Catholic relics are found (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

An example of east and west meeting inside the chapel – a painting with the likeness of Kum Iam carrying a child shown in a popular pose used by Catholics to depict Mother and Child.

The peace and calm that is the sanctuary of the chapel (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The narrow lanes that took us through to the main square, the Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes, where gold was to be discovered, are equally captivating. Full of colour and interesting details, the streets are ones that I would, if I had another opportunity, like to spend perhaps a whole day exploring. There certainly is much more in the sleepy little village than the golden coloured pastries. Time I didn’t have, and with the egg tarts calling, it was to Lord Stow’s Bakery for our final stop at the village before we were to have lunch.

A colourful narrow lane in Coloane Village (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

A village shop (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

The area around Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes is certainly worth exploring (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Largo Presidente António Ramalho Eanes is also where the bus stop is (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Another shop found in the narrow lanes of Coloane.

That Lord Stow’s is as curious as the village is, there is no doubt. The bakery, is the brainchild of an English pharmacist (yes you read right!), the late Andrew Stow (whose ex-wife serves a slightly sweeter version of the popular pastry at Margaret’s Café in downtown Macau). He started the little bakery in 1989, perfecting his recipe using his skills as a pharmacist, achieving phenomenal success very quickly – with the bakery itself becoming a tourist draw. Many tourists make it a point to head to the bakery to pack the tarts, which are sold for MOP/HKD8 per piece, MOP/HKD45 for a box of 6, or MOP/HKD90 for a box of 12, before heading home.

Gold production (photographs taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Curiosity aside, the bakery does make that egg tart that is certain to give one a ‘love at first bite’ experience and certainly with a taste that is no less than divine – well worth that pilgrimage to Coloane just to worship it. That together with the desire to explore the narrow lanes of the charming little part of Macau and the rest of the island (which does seem well worth exploring), will make it my first, and also last stop the next time I am in Macau.

An extremely happy customer (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Look how much this one bought! (Photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

More expressions of happiness (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).

Worship (photograph taken with a Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GF5).


The trip was made possible by the kind sponsorship of the Macau Government Tourist Office (MGTO) which included a three night stay at the Grand Lapa Macau, and also Tiger Airways who sponsored the two way flights.


Links to finding gold:

Macau Government Tourist Office
Tiger Airways
Coloane Village (MGTO site)
More on Coloane Island (MGTO site)
Lord Stow’s Bakery


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy.sg My Macau Experience 2012 site which sees 10 bloggers share experiences of their visit to Macau. Readers will get a chance to vote for their favourite My Macau Experience 2012 blogger and stand a chance to win $1000 worth of Macau travel vouchers. Voting has started (on 28 September 2012) and ends on 15 October 2012. Votes can be cast on a daily basis at the My Macau Experience 2012 Voting page.






Varying moods of a most beautiful place

2 08 2012

The varying moods of a place that in being left behind (at least for now) by the rest of Singapore, that in its imperfection holds a beauty we seem to have forgotten how to appreciate …





Colours on a Sunday evening

30 07 2012

The colours of the fading of day to night seen at a spot that I consider to be one of the more scenic places in Singapore and a place that I often find an escape in.





A Rose-Ringed Parakeet

20 05 2012

A place where I capture my glimpses of the green beyond Singapore’s jungle of grey …

The Birds and the Bees

A Rose-Ringed Parakeet spotted feeding in the foliage along Sungei Sembawang on the morning of 19 May 2012.

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An ancient world in new Hanoi

8 01 2012

Seemingly far removed from the commotion of Hanoi’s busy streets, lies a sanctuary of serenity – one that takes one away to a Hanoi of a thousand years ago. Built first to venerate the great Chinese sage Confucius, the Van Mieu or Temple of Literature, dates back to an era in which the city that it finds around it was founded, and is a wonderfully preserved work of architecture and one that serves as icon of Hanoi’s cultural heritage and a beautiful representation of Confucian inspired architecture that has survived to this day. The Van Mieu has also greater cultural significance to Hanoi and to Vietnam, being the site of the country’s first university – it is within its grounds, not long after it was built in 1070 that a centre of learning was established in 1076 – one that served to educate the elites for a system of public administration that was greatly influenced by Vietnam’s neighbours to the north and one that functioned for some seven centuries.

The Temple of Literature offers an escape from the crowded streets of Hanoi to a beautiful ancient centre of learning.

The Van Mieu complex we find today is one that has been built over a long period and is laid out around five courtyards, each with an ornamental portal serving as an entrance. Stepping through the first, the Van Mieu Gate, even with the buzz of the weekend’s crowd that was there, the tranquillity of the Van Mieu soon overcomes you as the dissonance of the busy streets left behind quickly fades away. The crowd – flocks of pretty ladies – fresh graduates from the city’s newer universities dressed in the traditional Ao Dai behind the layers of less traditional outerwear on what was a chilly winter’s day, seemed to blend into the well manicured gardens of the first courtyard and beyond the second gate in the second courtyard.

The Van Mieu Gate which is the main entrance to the Temple of Literature complex.

The well manicured first courtyard as seen through the second gate.

At the end of the second – the third gate, Khue Van Cac or the Constellation of Literature – a much more recent addition built in 1805 is one that is hard not to notice with an upper level where four radiating suns can be seen facing the four cardinal points of the compass. Through this gate, one is confronted by what seems like a huge reflecting pool – Thien Quang Tinh or the Well of Heavenly Clarity, flanked one both sides by open sided buildings that house 82 surviving stone stelae (out of the original 112), set on pedestals of giant stone tortoises – that of those conferred with Doctorates during the 15th to the 18th centuries.

The Constellation of Literature (Khue Van Cac). The third gate leading into the third courtyard where the Well of Heavenly Clarity is located.

A lady in an Ao Dai poses at a side portal into the third courtyard.

The Well of Heavenly Clarity in the third courtyard.

Some of the 82 surviving stone stelae of scholars who passed the examinations at the Temple of Literature.

The part of the complex where Confucius is venerated lies beyond the fourth gate, one that is flanked by two stone warriors. It is at the end of the courtyard where the Temple of Confucius is found. The two incense filled buildings are ones that house the Altar of Confucius, in the Bai Duong – the open sided House of Ceremonies where the Altar of Confucius at which the Emperor and Mandarins are said to have make offerings at, and in the red lacquered building behind the Bai Duong. Behind the red of the wooden panels that line the second building that the statues of the Great Sage and his four main disciples are found.

A stone warrior stands guard at the gateway into the fourth courtyard.

The fourth courtyard with the Temple of Confucius.

Reflection of the Temple of Confucius in a pail of water.

Wooden wall panels on the Temple of Confucius.

View through the Temple of Confucius.

Wall and door panels on the Temple of Confucius.

Temple of Confucius.

Statue of Confucius in the Temple of Confucius.

Inside the Temple of Confucius.

Beyond the Temple of Confucius, the fifth and last of the courtyards where the Quoc Tu Giam – the academy was located. The original buildings were destroyed by French bombing during the 1940s and much of what can be seen today is a reconstruction carried out in 2000. In the main building at the end of the courtyard, the altars to three of the Ly Dynasty emperors are found. On either side of the buildings, there is also a huge drum and a huge brass bell housed in two pavilion like structures – popular spots for those seeking a photo opportunity.

Altar to one of the Ly Dynasty Emperors in the reconstructed Quoc Tu Giam - the National Academy which was established in 1076 to educate Mandarins.

In the two hours I spent exploring the Van Mieu, it did feel as if I had lost myself in that ancient world that it had emerged from. Stepping back into the world that Hanoi has now become, I felt first a realisation and then a sense of wonderment of what I had just emerged from – a significant piece of the history of the country that I was visiting, one of a beauty and elegance that is a joy to behold, and one that goes far back to a time long before the country I am from was even put on the map.

Shadow and light - inside the Quoc Tu Giam.

A view through a screen towards the fifth courtyard.





Seeing the world clearly through the lens

28 11 2011

I chanced upon Bausch and Lomb’s new contact lenses while doing the preparation works for a photo shoot. I then had the opportunity to try on a pair of PureVision2 HD (PV2 HD) contact lenses and also appreciate the difference it makes to photography compared to wearing a pair of glasses or my earlier contact lenses.

Bausch and Lomb’s PV2 HD contact lenses I was to understand are silicone hydrogel lenses and being amongst the thinnest monthly disposable lenses, they are also extremely comfortable and allow more oxygen to reach the eyes as well as featuring a unique rounded edge. It is in another feature, Bausch+Lomb’s proprietary technology – High Definition™ Optics, which is now available in silicone hydrogel monthly contact lenses, that would probably benefit someone behind the camera most, enhancing vision with reduced blurriness, particularly so in low lighting conditions, as well as reducing glare and halo from lights and helping to improve photography where the glare of lights can sometimes affect the ability to compose a shot and focus.

I had one previous experience with contact lenses. It was in the days when playing a variety of sports appealed more to me than photography did, and that was when I first invested in a pair of soft lenses. Outside of the sports field, I had always found it easier to keep my glasses on as it was sometimes uncomfortable to keep the contact lenses on for too long a time, so much so that I soon reverted to using spectacles and never again thought of using contact lenses – that is until recently when a good friend and an avid photographer explained how contact lenses helped improved his photography experience by allowing him to get his eye right into the cup of the view finder. And so, when I received the invitation to try a pair of PV2 HD out, with all its stated benefits, I did not hesitate.

The true test of the PV2 HD contact lenses for me was of course in using them when I took photographs. The first opportunity I had was during a daytime visit over the weekend to a wooded area of Singapore where I was hoping to capture shots of nature and of birdlife. I was quite happy with the benefits of using the lenses over glasses, finding it much easier to spot, compose and react much better and faster allowing me to get a few quick shots away of a woodpecker that I had spotted in the trees.

I also had the opportunity to use them during a night-time, low light shoot at the Geylang Serai Hari Raya light-up. Again I was very satisfied with the PV2 HD lenses as the glare and halo reduction features allowed me to compose night shots in conditions where there is the glare of lighting, more often than not, interferes with attempts to quickly compose a shot. Another distinct advantage I found during the shot on the hot and muggy evening was that I did not have to stop to wipe my glasses from smudging and the perspiration that very often clouds the spectacle lens and interferes with the shoot.

Putting a pair of the PV2 HD lenses on the first time – there wasn’t a sense at all of any discomfort. I did, in fact, not feel that the lenses were there at all throughout the 8 hours I had kept the lenses on. What makes it all the more comfortable I suppose is the three in one solution, Biotrue, that is used to clean, rinse and soak the lenses, working as is described by Bausch and Lomb like natural tears. This keeps the lens and also the eyes moist at all times. This was very evident especially compared to my first experience with contact lenses when I needed frequently to use eye-drops to avoid dryness and irritation in my eyes.

Overall, the experience I had with PV2 HD and Biotrue was very positive – and one that helps to improve the way in which I can express myself with a camera, especially shooting for long hours – something that I would certainly look forward to doing more of and something that I would highly recommend to other spectacle wearing photographers.





From a little street in Singapore – Hock Lam Beef 100 years on

11 10 2011

I first came to know of Hock Lam Street’s famous beef noodles back in heady days of the late 1960s. I must have been about three then when I willingly accompanied my mother on her regular shopping forays to the area around, an area that was the 1960s equivalent of today’s Orchard Road, only because of the promise of a reward of what had become my favourite bowl of beef balls floating in the piping hot rich brown broth of beef soup. The memory that I have is not of the stall in particular, which to be frank I don’t have a recollection of, but of sitting at a table laid out on a five-foot way on the outside of a coffee shop at the corner of North Bridge Road and Hock Lam Street, eargerly awaiting my reward which my mother would have placed an order for and the taste of the broth and bouncy beef balls which I somehow could never have enough of.

A long way away from the five-foot ways of the 1960s Hock Lam Street.

The Hock Lam Street where my first encounters with the piping hot bowl of beef ball soup was (photo source: http://picas.nhb.gov.sg).

Today, a little over four decades have passed since the last time I found myself at a table on that particular five-foot way, and it is comforting to know that it is not just that distant memory of a long lost Hock Lam Street that remains. And while the area in which it operated has undergone a complete transformation into a soulless and sober place that bears little resemblance to the bustling streets where shoppers came for the latest fashions and to indulge in some of their favuorite hawker fare – Hock Lam Street itself now buried under a shopping mall, the folks behind the beef noodle stall are still dishing out noodles in their signature beef broth. The business is still very much in the family and is now run by Ms Tina Tan who seeks to continue with a tradition that goes back three generations before her, albeit in the much more comfortable surroundings of the three outlets that she now operates under the name Hock Lam Beef. The business was featured on a television programme on Singapore’s food history in the years since independence, Foodage, which aired on Okto recently in which Tina recalls a very different environment that her father, Mr Anthony Tan operated his stall in – the hot and sweaty and rat infested streets of the old Hock Lam Street, has certainly come a long way. Last weekend, Hock Lam Beef which traces its history back to Tina’s great-grandfather, celebrated its 100th anniversary with a celebration which included lion dances in which all proceeds for the day was donated to the Make A Wish Foundation. For me, it was a reason to celebrate with Hock Lam Beef, not just because of its centenary, but also because it is wonderful knowing that one of the things that I remember my childhood for, is still around in a world that has changed too fast.

A lion dance to celebrate 100 years of Hock Lam Beef.

Inside the China Street outlet.

Ms Tina Tan and staff at Hock Lam's China Street outlet during the 100th Anniversary Celebration.

Mr Anthony Tan, Tina's father who ran the stall when it served my favourite bowl of beef ball soup.

Mr Anthony Tan and staff at the China Street outlet.

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The final evening of a wonderful trip to remember – in photos

5 10 2011

At the end of three wonderful days exploring Melbourne and some of the areas around being treated to some wondrous sights, tastes and experiences courtesy of Tourism Victoria, Jetstar and omy.sg, the good life had to end, and we were down to one last evening before the bulk of the group was to head back home. The evening started with an awesome treat – an early dinner on a historical tramcar – The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant, which takes one in a lavishly decorated tram that smacks of an opulent and forgotten time, around the streets of Melbourne including Toorak Road and St. Kilda Road. In an evening in the company of good food, good wine and great new friends (and a singing waiter), the three course dinner went all too quickly, and we soon found ourselves taking a walk back in the cool spring evening back to the hotel, not before a walk through the casino in the Crown Entertainment Complex – where we almost left Pete. We paused to take a group photograph on a footbridge as we crossed the Yarra for the very last time together, and as the night was still young, decided that we should head to a nearby Brunetti’s outlet before turning in – or so I thought. Abandoned by the other guys, I ended up being entertained by ladies talk well into the wee hours of the morning before finally calling it a night. It was a short, but thoroughly enjoyable experience and one where not only was I glad to have experienced but also one in which I discovered that there is a lot more to see and do in and around Melbourne – some of which I was able to in the three extra days I had which as it turned out wasn’t quite enough.

Early dinner on The Colonial Tramcar Restaurant.

Everyone was busy taking photographs of each other.

So, I decided to get into the act as well.

The pretty ladies at the next table.

My table.

And the handsome guys at the other table (except for Jenny of Tourism Victoria).

Across the Yarra for one last time.

We waited in the glow of Flinders Street Station for Daphne's sister to join us for coffee at Brunetti's.

Valyn, Deenise and Yiwei looking at snaps Valyn took.

Valyn looking pretty.

St. Paul's Cathedral en route to Brunetti's on Swanston Street.

We indulged in a last evening of sin at Brunetti's.

Karen was at her iPhone all evening.

Back past Flinders Street Station ... where ...

we were in for a treat ...

She ... er, he, blew a kiss in our direction ...

The ladies chatted until it was almost two in the morning ....


Colonial Tramcar Restaurant offers lunch and dinner in some of Melbourne’s oldest trams dating back to 1927, which have been elegantly refurbished in Pullman style decor to become the world’s first mobile tramcar restaurant. Glazed windows allow diners to privately enjoy the passing scenery while enjoying a meal.

Colonial Tramcar Restaurant
Tram stop 125
Normanby Road
South Melbourne VIC 3205
Tel: (03) 9696 4000
Contact: Ingrid Marshall
www.tramrestaurant.com.au






Rush hour on Summerland Beach

2 10 2011

Leaving A Maze’N Things, it looked like we might be in for a cold, wet and windy evening, as we headed towards what would be the evening’s rush hour on Summerland Beach – that of the daily frenzied (if you can call it that) procession of individuals in black and white suits back from their day in the office. The rush hour is one that is one that certainly isn’t a pain to be caught up in – that of the Little Penguins of Phillip Island, returning from their daily duties in the office that is the cold waters of the Bass Strait.

A detour en route to the rush hour on Summerland Beach - a drive by the Nobbies with the promise of stunning views of the rugged western coastline of Phillip Island facing the Bass Strait.

With a wee bit of time to spare before we need to make our way to catch Summerland’s evening crush; we were able to take a short detour to the wild, wild, west of Phillip Island. It is on the western tip of the island where we find the rugged geographical features known as the Nobbies that overlook the rough white waters of the Bass Strait breaking over the rocks that dot the coastline. The stunning views we were treated to standing on the high windswept cliffs that are the Nobbies that evening were made even more dramatic by the storm that appeared to be brewing – the precipitation in the atmosphere painted a spectacular rainbow that seemed to promise a lot more than a pot of gold. It wasn’t just stunning views of the coastline that we got as we made our way to the intended destination – the heads of several wild wallabies on their evening’s forage through the tussock grassland that surrounded us were very much in evidence.

The stunning geographical features of the south western coastline of Phillip Island known as the Nobbies.

The spectacular view of the white of waves breaking on rocks to the setting of the sun.

The Nobbies and the wind tossed tussock grassland on the high cliffs.

The breaking of waves over the rocks that dot the coastline.

The rainbow over the Bass Strait that the precipitation painted.

View of the coastline on the approach to Summerland Beach.

Sunset greeted our arrival to the Phillip Island Penguin Parade’s visitor centre, as did signs prominently displayed that reminded drivers to look below their parked cars for penguins when they were eventually prepared leave after getting their fills of the evening’s procession. We were soon armed with a cup of hot chocolate and an MP3 player – an audio guide included with the tickets for Penguin Plus that provides commentary with information on the penguins, their habitat and their habits, and ready to brave the stiff breeze that brought a chill to the boardwalk that led us to the beach.

Sunset greeted our arrival at the Penguin Parade Visitor Centre.

The grey of the incoming storm mixed with the fading light of sunset.

Signs reminding drivers to check under the car for penguins.

Several options are provided to allow visitors to get up close and personal with the penguins – Little Penguins that at 30 centimetres high are the smallest penguins in the world. Penguin Parade provides general viewing from tiered seating on stands by the beach. The option which we got – Penguin Plus, allows a more private viewing at an area where more penguins come up the beach – this is limited to 150 people each evening. More private viewing options are also available. The popularity of viewing penguins at Summerland Beach has increased substantially since the initial viewings were organised in the 1920s (now attracting over half a million visitors each year) – and steps were put in place to minimise human impact and damage to the habitat in the 1960s with fences and boardwalks constructed, which today boardwalks allow visitors to get close enough to the penguins to be able to observe them at arm’s length. Photography in any form, with or without the use of flash is not permitted to protect the penguins.

The procession of Penguins takes place every evening on Summerland Beach (photo courtesy of Phillip Island Nature Parks).

Getting up close allowed us to observe the habits of the penguins that waddled up in waves in the safety of numbers, with tummies full of the day’s harvest of fish that would be regurgitated to feed nestlings. Sensing danger the scout penguin pauses – preening with oil from glands to keep their feathers waterproof – the penguins in the parade behind the lead penguin doing the same. Despite the rain that came down as darkness fell and the stiff cold wind that blew across the beach and the boardwalk behind it, it was a wonderful experience getting that close to the adorable little creatures in their natural habitat – I had only previously come close penguins separated by the thick glass panel of the zoo enclosure.

The boardwalks allow visitors to get up close to the penguins without disturbing the penguins or their habitat (photo courtesy of Phillip Island Nature Parks).

To bring a wonderful day out on Phillip Island to a close, from Penguin Parade (after checking for penguins under the car), we made our way to Taylors Waterfront Restaurant where the scrumptious treat of a huge seafood platter that included oysters, lobsters, king prawns, mussels, octopus and calamari awaited. The restaurant is one that is situated on cliffs that overlook the Bass Strait and must provide spectacular views in the day time – the view that we got that evening was no less spectacular, with the full blast of the stiff wind from the sea sweeping over the cliffs driving the rain that was falling horizontally to the huge window panes as we dined to the sound of the weather cock spinning furiously on the roof. A couple of us – Pete and Valyn were crazy enough to brave the wind and the rain and take a walk around on the outside. The coffee and ice-cream that we finished with also brought to a close what was a long but thoroughly enjoyable day out on Phillip Island – a must visit for anyone visiting Melbourne.

Taylors Waterfront Restaurant by night.

The huge seafood platter was a wonderful treat!

The force of the wind coming from the sea over the cliffs blew the rain horizontally against the windows of the restaurant.

Two mad bloggers braving the wind and the rain outside Taylors - the cliff drop was just beyond the edge of the grass that you see.


Phillip Island Nature Park

The Phillip Island Penguin Parade, the star attraction of the Phillip Island Nature Park, has been delighting visitors for many years with little penguins making their way up Summerland Beach each night at sunset. Over 500,000 visitors make the Phillip Island Penguin Parade the third largest visited natural attraction in Australia.

Phillip Island Nature Park
Summerland Beach, Ventnor Road
Phillip Island VIC 3922
Tel: (03) 5951 2879
Fax: (03) 5956 8394
www.penguins.org.au


Taylors Waterfront Restaurant
5 Phillip Island Tourist Road
Phillip Island VIC 3922
Tel: (03) 5956 7371
Fax: (03) 5956 6540


This is a repost of my post on the omy Colours of Melbourne 2011: My Melbourne Experience site. You can vote for your favourite blogger at the My Melbourne Experience voting page. Voting period is from 15 September 2011 to 5 October 2011 and stand a chance to win prizes worth up to $3000 which include Jetstar travel vouchers and Crumpler limited edition laptop bags.






A chocolate waterfall on Phillip Island

28 09 2011

The second day of the bloggers’ trip to Melbourne, made possible by Tourism Australia, Jetstar and omy.sg, looked to be an exciting one, even for the less adventurous ones who decided against going on a helicopter ride or hurtling down the snow lined slopes of Mount Buller. There was the promise of penguins of course – but what was to start a visit to Phillip Island, a two-hour drive south-east of Melbourne was a visit to a chocolate waterfall near Newhaven. At the start of the trip, the wet and wild morning that was very evident threatened to give us a real waterfall instead as heavy rain pelted on the windscreen of the rental that Tourism Victoria’s Media and Trade Relations Coordinator, Tony Poletto, drove us in. The grey skies accompanied us throughout the drive up to the point that we reached San Remo, from where a bridge connects the mainland to Phillip Island and what welcomed us to the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory were bulls and brilliant blue skies.

The brilliant blue skies that greeted our arrival at the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory.

The overhead lines of the trams seen against the backdrop of the grey skies through the rain pelted windscreen of the car as we started the journey.

The coastline close to San Remo on a wet and wild morning.

Stepping inside, we were greeted by Panny Letchumanan, whose brainchild the chocolate factory and Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate is. Panny who hails from – would you believe it – Klang in Malaysia, after a short introduction, led us through a corridor lined with mock chocolate into his Amazing World of Chocolate, but not before we were reminded not to lick the very real looking mock chocolate lining.

A reminder not to lick the walls.

Inside, we first came to an educational exhibit of the steps in the chocolate making process from the harvesting of cocoa to the finished products we see on the shelves, which anyone, chocolate lover or not, would find interesting. Further in, we were greeted by some amazing chocolate creations. These include an eye-catching 12,000 piece chocolate mosaic of Dame Edna Everage – a popular Australian TV character, a huge one tonne block of chocolate, and a miniature village crafted completely out of chocolate complete with working model trains. It is also in Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate, that we encounter Phillip Island’s chocolate waterfall. Some 400 kg of molten chocolate flows over what should really be called a chocolatefall once every three minutes – an amazing sight!

The 'chocolate waterfall' over which 400 kg of molten chocolate flows once every three minutes.

A wheel indicating when the chocolate would fall over.

A mock cocoa tree at the Educational Exhibition section.

A mosaic of Dame Edna created entirely out of chocolate.

A miniature chocolate village.

We were also able to try our hand at our own creations – which we could eat. Valyn, of the Best Fashion Blog fame tried her hand at something better – a weird combo of wasabi and cola flavoured chocolate made at the press of a few buttons and the pull of a lever at Panny’s Amazing Chocolate Machine. One bite of that was certainly enough to clear the sinuses! As we walk through there is also a section where we are able to see chocolate being moulded and it was at this juncture that the short but thoroughly enjoyable tour of Panny’s Amazing World of Chocolate ended and it was time to say our goodbyes after a quick look around the retail shop and Pannys Chocolate Café.

Valyn making her cola-wasabi bar at Panny’s Amazing Chocolate Machine.

Chocolate making.

The Retail Shop.


Phillip Island Chocolate Factory
930 Phillip Island Rd
Newhaven VIC 3925
Tel: (03) 5956 6600
Fax: (03) 5956 6823
http://www.phillipislandchocolatefactory.com.au/


This is a repost of my post on the omy Colours of Melbourne 2011: My Melbourne Experience site. You can vote for your favourite blogger at the My Melbourne Experience voting page. Voting period is from 15 September 2011 to 5 October 2011 and stand a chance to win prizes worth up to $3000 which include Jetstar travel vouchers and Crumpler limited edition laptop bags.


Brief history of Pannys and the Phillip Island Chocolate Factory

A tin shed on a busy road may not the ideal spot for the next big thing on Phillip Island, but Panny Letchumanan has been able to turn an underperforming coffee shop into a stunning tourist attraction in just a few short years. The Phillip Island Chocolate Factory at Newhaven is home to Pannys, both the chocolate brand and the man himself, and has become a key destination for chocolate lovers.

Panny has led a fascinating life. Born in Malaysia of Indian heritage, he trained as a Mechanical Engineer and worked extensively in his chosen field throughout the coconut and cocoa plantations of Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. He moved to Australia in 2000 to join his family, who had relocated earlier, and purchased a chocolate manufacturing business in Queensland.

The brand Pannys was born. In November 2005 he relocated the business to the tin shed in Newhaven and commenced his relentless evolution of his business.

A true mechanical engineer just cannot leave something alone. Panny started to tinker with the chocolate making as soon as he bought his business, driven to perfect the process.

The secret behind the best chocolate is the blending of ingredients and the tempering process and Panny was keen to crack the formula. Tempering is where the fats naturally found in cocoa are crystallised through gentle heating. If the blend is right, and the tempering process achieves the right type of crystallisation, the chocolate becomes glossy, firm and snaps crisply. It also tastes superb.

Once Panny had perfected the art of chocolate tempering, the ideal fillings were the next challenge. His signature chocolate is a white truffle, a sample of which is given to each visitor as they enter the building. Its name is a bit of a misnomer, as it is neither white nor a fungus. It is a milk chocolate bud with a soft and gently sweet filling that cannot be described. It is only after tasting one can you learn how skilled Panny has become as a chocolatier.

Pannys offers a range from traditional bars through to chocolate truffles in a wide range of unique designs and flavours. There is a vast assortment of hand made delicacies, ranging from traditional creams through to the exotic. A favourite for those in the know is a chilli infused truffle that starts sweetly and finishes in a warm, spicy sensation.

Pannys daughter, Nithia, is the custodian of the chocolate truffles and spends many hours lovingly creating tray after tray. She also sculpts chocolate creations that are works of art in their own right. Currently there are six chocolate people on display, one of which is an accurate replication of Panny himself, a range of houses, and a collection of designers shoes that should get every fashionable girl in a bit of a tizz. Should they eat the shoes, or start collecting the full range?

The tinkering hasn’t ended with the chocolates. Panny’s passion is to develop an A to Z chocolate experience, the first stage of which open last December. Pannys Amazing World of Chocolate is a fascinating, interactive and educational celebration of all things chocolate. Visitors move through a series of display spaces, each dedicated to a facet of chocolate, where they are invited to get “hands on” in the process. Chocolate in history, chocolate in advertising, chocolate in art and chocolate in play are all explored in this unique and wondrous world. The chocolate factory can also be observed in action, with the entire production facility on full view with Pannys team creating chocolates non-stop.

The self guided tour concludes with the opportunity to make your mark in chocolate on the Swirl machine and design your own combination of flavours using Pannys Amazing Chocolate Machine. With flavour combinations of milk, white or dark chocolate coatings and fillings that can consist of any and all combination of strawberry, cola, vegemite and wasabi, there is the chance to see if you have the flair to create a signature chocolate.

Pannys team includes two other leaders of their industries. Geoff Moed from Amaze N Things and Keith Tucker from Megafun have partnered with Panny to develop the Amazing World of Chocolate. In a highly competitive market it is refreshing to see businesses working together, proof that a joint venture can provide a greater result than the sum of the individuals.

Pannys current focus is the re-engineering of his café and retail outlet. Pannys Chocolate Café has recently been extended and reopened with much acclaim. A new menu of chocolate desserts combined with ever popular favourites can now be enjoyed in a bright and airy café. The deck has been extended, providing the chance to enjoy the fine Phillip Island weather when enjoying a fine Pannys feast. And every coffee is served with Pannys white truffle, making it even more tempting to stay for a feed. The retail area is the next focus, and is about to be doubled in size.

Panny is not about to slow down. His vision for The Chocolate Factory has many more stages ahead of it, although for the next twelve months the focus is on building the skill of his team and delivering the ultimate chocolate experience to his customers.

Pannys is open 7 days a week from 9:00am and is located at 930 Phillip Island Rd Newhaven. Ph 03 5956 6600 or email info @ phillipislandchocolatefactory.com.au.