Thaipusam 2023

5 02 2023

Following two subdued editions in 2021 and 2022 as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the celebration of this year’s Thaipusam on 5 Feb 2023, saw a return to long-held traditions — with a procession of kavadis or burdens (including spike or vel kavadis). The procession starts at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple along Serangoon Road and ends at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road. The celebration of the Hindu festival is one of multi-cultural and multi-religious Singapore’s most spectacular. A good place to catch it or even photograph it is at the procession’s start point, the Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple in which elaborate preparations are made by kavadi bearers before they embark on the over 3 kilometre journey of faith to Tank Road.

Do visit my numerous posts related to Thaipusam to find out more on the festival, which is celebrated annually on the day of the full moon during the Tamil month of Thai:

Photographs of this year’s festival can be found in the gallery below:

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Parting glances: a final look at Jurong Bird Park

8 01 2023

The opening of the heavens over Jurong late on Tuesday (3 January 2023), just as Jurong Bird Park was an hour or so short of shutting its doors for a final time was a poignant reminder of the sadness that was attached to the event. The deluge that its brought seemed very much like a torrent of tears that was being shed from up above. The park, which opened on the very day 52 years to the day it was to close for good, seemed to have a life to celebrate cut short, a life during which it left an impression on many young and old, gained a worldwide reputation and became the face to an otherwise grey and unfashionable Jurong.

The brainchild of the visionary Dr Goh Keng Swee, Singapore’s first post-independence wildlife attraction, seemed an unlikely attraction when it first opened in 1971. Located on the fringes of the heavily industrial west of Singapore, the bird park was like the industrial estate whose image it was to soften, a resounding success story. Boasting what was then the world’s largest walk-in aviary, the Waterfall Aviary, within which one also found the world’s tallest man-made waterfall, there was much to draw the visitor. It soon became a popular spot for family outings, school excursions and an attraction that put Singapore on the tourist map.

A last look at the Waterfall Aviary

The bird park, which drew 41 million visitors throughout its 52 years of operation, attracted more than 30,000 in its last five days of operation, with 2,600 guests taking in the sights, sounds and shows on its final day. While the closure does spell the end for Jurong Bird Park as we have known it, it is not the end of the road for the staff and the park’s feather residents as the attraction is being reincarnated as Mandai Bird Paradise. The Bird Paradise is scheduled to begin operations in the second quarter of 2023.

The finale of the very last High Flyers Show
Hard to say goodbye …

A flamboyance of flamingoes takes one of its final flights in Jurong.
Mr Clarence Saw at the last of Jurong Bird Park’s show — just before the downpour.
A last look at Penguin Coast.
Staff of Jurong Bird Park taking a last photograph.
A last look at the great pied hornbill in its enclosure.
Tears from the heavens.
A last photograph in the rain on the suspension bridge.
The last High Flyers show.
A last look at the quite lush and verdant Waterfall Aviary.
Hornbill viewing.
A last look at what was once the world’s tallest manmade waterfall.
A view of the waterfall from the suspension bridge.
A last climb to a look out point in the Waterfall Aviary.
Last gifts for last day guests.
A last look at the entrance to the Waterfall Aviary.
A last dance with the birds at the Pools Amphitheatre.
The crowd at the last King of the Skies show and very last show at Jurong Bird Park.
A last opportunity to “mingle” with the avian residents at the Pools Amphitheatre.
Last chance to get up close at the African Treetops.
A hornbill wows the crowd at the last High Flyers show,
The foraging Raoul, a southern-crested caracara at the King of the Skies show.
A greater flamingo.
A migratory stork in the greater flamingo enclosure. While the storks are non-residents at the bird park, they were regular visitors who came for food and were fed along with the other birds.
A giant pied hornbill.
A violet back starling feeding at African Treetops aviary.
A bearded barbet at African Treetops.
A sun conure at the last High Flyers show on an enrichment device.
A last exit.
A last look.
Even Jurong Hill park seems to have been closed.




The hidden remains of Sentosa’s big WW2 guns

14 12 2022

Do note:

The photographs of the remains of Connaught Battery contained in this post were taken during a recent recce accompanied by a member of Sentosa’s staff. Do note that the area in which the remains are found is out of bounds. It contains a number of hazards and it is not only not advisable not to visit the area without the necessary permissions and supervision, you would also be trespassing if you do so.


The remains of Connaught’s No 3 Gun emplacement.

Hidden in the vegetation of Sentosa’s two easternmost elevations just a stone’s throw away from one of Singapore most luxurious residential quarters, are the remains of its guns from the era of the Second World War. The better known of the two elevations, is of course Mount Serapong, which has been made accessible through public tours. A second set of guns, three 9.2 inch guns, were placed on the neighbouring elevation. These went into action during the Second World War, and were turned north and north-west to fire towards advancing Imperial Japanese Army troops in the direction of the Causeway, Jurong and Bukit Timah. All available ammunition, a large proportion of which were armour piercing and therefore ineffective against the advancing foot soldiers, was used before the guns were spiked and destroyed on 14 February 1942 — a day before Singapore capitulated. What remains of Connaught Battery include the badly damaged No 3 gun emplacement, a Battery Observation Post and an underground magazine, a retaining wall of the underground structure and several ventilation and other openings.

BEFORE THE FALL OF SINGAPORE, C. 1942
One of Connaught Battery’s 9.2 inch guns with its concrete emplacement.
BEFORE THE FALL OF SINGAPORE, C. 1942 © IWM (K 714)
Another view of the No 3 Gun Emplacement (inside – the shaft and opening for the ammunition hoist can be seen)
A Battery Observation Post
Fittings for railings and a hinge on the emplacement
Inside the BOP
Inside an underground magazine (note the red brick cavity wall)
The cavity wall arrangement, which was possibly installed for moisture control
A view up the ammunition hoist

Background to the development of Sentosa’s Coastal Defence Positions and Connaught Battery

For large parts of its history, Sentosa was not as tranquil an island as its name would suggest. The so-called isle of tranquility, was previously called Blakang Mati, a name that carries with it a suggestion of death or even violence, even if little seems to be known about the origins of a name that it was known by since at least the early 17th century.1 Blakang Mati was also an island that has long had a reputation of being a pirates’ lair. This seemed to be the case as far as the 14th century, with the accounts of Yuan dynasty Chinese voyager, Wang Dayuan, describing what is now thought to be the waters in the area of the island as being infested with pirates2.

While an air of tranquility may have descended on the island following the Honourable East India Company’s (EIC) entry into Singapore with its second Resident, Dr John Crawfurd, describing it as a “beautiful and romantic spot”3, the spectre of death seem to still hang over Blakang Mati. Outbreaks of “Blakang Mati Fever” occurred. These were “of so deadly a character as to carry off three quarters of those attacked”, prompting some of those who settled on the island to flee in “fear and horror”.

The threat posed by “Blakang Mati Fever” however, did little to stop the one square mile island from being turned into one of Singapore’s most heavily armed and fortified square miles. Suggestion were in fact made as early as 1843, for an infantry garrison to be placed on the island as part of a plan to defend Singapore. While little came out of this plan in relation to Blakang Mati, the threat posed by Imperial Russia through it establishing a base in 1872 at Vladivostok on land it acquired from China, and the fact that advances in naval shipbuilding had greatly improved the speed, range, armour, and armament carrying capability of warships, prompted the building up of a coastal defence system to protect the Singapore and New Harbour. Measures taken included the placement of coastal artillery batteries on Blakang Mati. By 1878-79, batteries with fortifications were established at Fort Blakang Mati East (renamed Fort Connaught in 1890 to commemorate the visit of the Duke of Connaught to Singapore) and Fort Siloso. This effort also saw an infantry redoubt built at Mount Serapong.

Blakang Mati’s coastal defence positions and armaments on Sentosa would see overhauls over the years. Among the upgrades was the setting up of a battery at Mount Serapong following a review undertaken in 1885 with Singapore’s growing importance as a coaling station ii mind. Another upgrade, made from 1907 to 1911, came in the wake of Japanese successes in the Russo-Japanese War. This saw the battery at Mount Imbiah added, which was completed in 1912 with Fort Connaught’s battery being decommissioned as a result of it. Imbiah Battery would itself be decommissioned in 1937, when a rebuilt Connaught Battery came into play. The battery, along with a battery at Mount Serapong, remained in service up to the time of the Second World War. The rebuilding of Connaught Battery resulted in the removal of all traces of the 19th century fortifications of Fort Connaught.

While the guns at Serapong seemed to have been damaged during Japanese air raids in January 1942, the three guns at Connaught Battery were turned northwards and were fired in the direction of the Causeway and later at advancing Japanese troops at Jurong on 11 Feb 1942 and Bukit Timah on 12 Feb 1942, expanding all the available ammunition, before being spiked and destroyed on 14 Feb 1942.

________________

1 The first instance of the island being positively identified as Blakang Mati was through a map made by the Malacca-based Manual Godinho de Erédia. This was published in 1604 to aid in the discovery of the legendary islands of gold. In the map, the island is identified as “Blacan Mati” with the “c” being pronounced as a hard c.

2 In Wang Dayuan’s accounts contained Daoyi zhilüe (島夷誌略) or “Description of Barbarians of the Islands”, he provides a description of a pirate infested “Longyamen” (龍牙門) or Dragon-Teeth Gate, which is now believed to have been a reference to the pair of rocky outcrops at Tanjong Rimau at the western end of Blakang Mati and across the waters at Tanjong Berlayer. Known as “Lots Wife” to the British, they were removed to widen the entrance to New Harbour (Keppel Harbour) in 1848.

3 Among the early uses of the island in the early days of EIC Singapore was the installation of a flagstaff on the island’s highest peak, Mount Serapong, in 1833. The island would also find use for the cultivation of pineapple, jackfruit, guava and chempedak with three villages being established. One was Kampong Ayer Bendera, which was named after the flagstaff. This was located at the foot of Mount Serapong and inhabited primarily by Bugis. There was also a Malay village in the area known as Kampong Serapong, while the third village was Kampong Blakang Mati, another Bugis village. A few Chinese also found their way to the island.


More photographs:






A window into the past: W J Garcia and Singapore’s first piano factory

3 12 2022

Photographs freeze moments in time, moments that may never again be seen, or even ones with a tale or two to tell. A photograph with a tale to tell is one that belongs to a collection of photographs taken by American photographer Harrison Forman. Taken in While it has been dated to the 1950s, it does appear to be one of a multitude of photographs that Forman captured of pre-World Singapore in 1941, which also includes several taken on 35mm colour slide.

The photograph, taken with Amber Mansions along Orchard Road (where Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station is today) in it, also shows W J Garcia’s piano showroom. Garcia, who was a piano and organ dealer, and is now probably best known as the person behind the installation of what is now Singapore’s oldest pipe organ at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd in 1912.

Garcia, was a well known personality, having been a pioneering Singapore piano maker. He ventured into the business of piano making in the 1920s, challenging the commonly-held belief that pianos could not be made in the tropics. Garcia’s motivation for venturing the piano making business had been the difficulties that existed in the postwar (First World War) period in obtaining good pianos at reasonable prices. Prior to setting the factory up in 1926, Garcia had his son W H Garcia learn the trade in London. Within Garcia’s teak piano cabinets, were sounding boards made of Romanian pine, imported iron frames, actions, keys and hammers.

Garcia’s factory, which was at Holland Road, had a machine shop measuring approximately 20 by10 metres in which teak was prepared and cut, a room 15 by 10 metres in which the teak was seasoned, and another 20 by10 metre room for assembly. The Second World War would bring Garcia’s venture to a tragic end, with Garcia, who was interned as a civilian during the Japanese Occupation, passing away at the age of 66 on 26 April 1942.





The Village of Lime on the Eve of Deepavali

25 10 2022

Singapore, with its multi-cultural influences, is a city of festivals. Deepavali (or Diwali), the Hindu festival of lights that commemorates the triumph of good over evil was celebrated on Monday, just as decorations in anticipation of Christmas began making an appearance along Orchard Road.

Deepavali is one of two festivals, the other being Pongal, that is celebrated in a big way in Little India. Known as Serangoon, and also the village of lime, Soonambu Kambam or Kampong Kapor, Little India is one of Singapore’s three precincts that has retained an ethnic flavour. Recently named as one of the world’s coolest neighbourhoods for 2022, the precinct comes alive in the lead up to the two festivals. Not only is there a street light-up that in my opinion tops the annual Christmas light-up at Orchard Road, the neighbourhood also sees a often more than lively festive bazaar.

The festivities bring much life and colour to Little India, and certainly puts one in the mood to celebrate — especially this year with most Covid-19 pandemic restrictions lifted. With the eve of Deepavali falling very conveniently on a Sunday — a day when throngs of Singapore’s South Asian guest workers make their way to Little India, the streets seemed even busier with crowds descending on the precinct to soak in the atmosphere and to make last minute purchases of festive snacks and sweets, clothes, jewellery and festive decorations.





Chip Bee Gardens, privately developed to house military personnel

24 10 2022

A destination whose attraction is its cool cafes and restaurants, and trendy boutiques, it is hard to tell that Chip Bee Gardens, when it was completed in the mid-1960s, served as an abode for British military personnel based in Pasir Panjang, Tanglin and Alexandra. Architecturally unique as a military residential estate, it wears the look and feel of a typical 1960s private housing development in Singapore and even parts of Malaysia, with its mix of residential and commercial properties.

Terrace houses at Chip Bee Gardens

Designed by Yang Tye Tai Architects, its developers, United Development and Finance Co, embarked on the development of Chip Bee as a private residential housing estate. Plans for it were announced in 1962. A year after construction started, the developer entered into an initial contract with the British military’s Services’ Lands Board for the sale of several housing units. A second contract was negotiated in 1965 that involved the sale of the bulk of the development to the board. Under the contract, a total of 603 units were to have been completed by 1967 for the board, comprising 349 three-bedroom terraced houses, 194 three-bedroom units in seven nine-storey apartment blocks, and 20 shop lots with 40 flats above.

Princess Margaret visiting Chip Bee Estate in October 1972 (via National Archives of Singapore).

The acquisition, which cost the Services’ Lands Board a reported $17 million, signalled a shift in the British military’s housing policy. The board had been renting civilian properties to address a housing shortfall with the expansion in the numbers of personnel being brought into Singapore and Malaya in the early 1960s. Parts of “Chip Bee Gardens Married Quarters Estate” would be ready for occupation by 1966.

The demolished apartment blocks would have been on the right.

While the acquisition of Chip Bee Gardens was carried out in anticipation of a long term British military presence in Singapore, circumstances would very quickly change and the estate had to be sold almost as soon as it was completed in 1968. Britain had then already announced its intention to withdraw its military forces from Singapore. The sale of the estate was negotiated with the Singapore government, who paid just over 40% of the price that Britain had invested in the estate with the understanding that British military families could stay on after the properties changed hands in 1970, up to the point of the British withdrawal in late 1971. Chip Bee Gardens’ function as a military estate however, went beyond the pull-out, with members of the Australian-led ANZUK Force occupying the estate until Australia’s 1975 withdrawal from the ANZUK arrangements. The Singapore government, through the Housing and Development Board, then put the properties up for rent. Shops and popular eateries snapped up the commercial spaces, but the take-up rate for residential units was poor.

Two blocks were built with 40 apartments above and 20 shop lots on the ground floor. The shop lots were used for communal facilities and to house amenities.

Through the years, several agencies have managed the properties. The Land Office took over the management in 1989 before handing it over to Jurong Town Corporation (JTC) in 2002. It was during the watch of the Land Office that the apartment blocks demolished in 1992 and the land sold to private developers. The Singapore Land Authority, the successor to the Land Office, has managed the properties since 2015.


The origin of the name Chip Bee

“Chip Bee” is Hokkien for Jimei (集美), a village and district near Xiamen (Amoy) in Fujian province in China. It was from Chip Bee that the likes of rubber magnate Tan Kah Kee and his one-time employee and founder of Nanyang University, Tan Lark Sye, hailed from. Tan Lark Sye’s nephew, Tan Eng Joo, was thought to have owned the land on which Chip Bee Gardens was built and was a associate of Ko Teck Kin, then President of Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Chairman of the developer of Chip Bee Gardens, United Development and Finance Co.


The information above has been based on research that I carried out for Uncommon Ground: the places you know, the stories you don’t.






A Singapore in transition: SIT

23 10 2022

Among American photo-journalist Harrison Forman’s vast collection of some 50,000 photographs, found in the American Geographical Society Library of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee are the wonderfully captured scenes of a Singapore in 1941. The photographs, which include a number of rare colour captures, provide a glimpse of the bustling colony that Singapore was, just as preparations were being made for a war that many felt would not come to its shores.

A view of Hong Lim Green and the so-called “Suicide Flats” built in the early 1950s by the SIT (photo: Harrison Forman Collection, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee)

The collection also contains a number of photographs taken in the 1950s and 1960s that show a Singapore in transition, as Singapore went from colony to state, and eventually towards merger with Malaya and independence. One of these photographs, taken in the mid-1950s, is seen here. It captures the then newly erected 9-storey blocks of flats at Upper Pickering Street / Upper Hokkien Street (a plot now occupied by Parkroyal Collection Pickering) that was put up by the Singapore Improvement Trust or SIT (the block in the middle was in fact built to house the SIT’s HQ).

Completed in 1952, the blocks were Singapore’s tallest public housing blocks and the tallest buildings in Chinatown. As with many tall public housing blocks over the years, they had an unfortunate association with suicides and became known as the “suicide flats” almost as soon as it came up. The blocks of flats, also acquired a reputation for being haunted. This was not without reason as there were a number of reports of hauntings. An ex-resident —  a former colleague of mine, who lived on the top floor of one of the blocks, described how he had resisted a compulsion to jump from the balcony at the urging of “a group of children” who were calling to him from the ground. He told his parents about the encounter and was never allowed out on the balcony again.

The SIT, which was established to carry out town planning and later took on the role of providing public housing, built Tiong Bahru Estate and also put up estates such as Princess Elizabeth Estate and Old Kallang Airport Estate (where Dakota Crescent is) and set what then was the largest public housing programme at Queenstown in motion. They were also responsible for putting up several smaller clusters or individual public housing blocks such as the Princess Elizabeth flats at Farrer Park, blocks in the Bugis area and in Kampong Kapor. SIT made initial plans and carried out the early land acquisition for Toa Payoh and built the old Kim Keat Estate as a prelude to Toa Payoh before being disbanded in 1960 —  when the Housing and Development Board (HDB) was formed. The rest, as they say, is history. HDB became one of Singapore’s great success stories and built twice the number of public housing units that SIT had managed to put up in its three decades of existence in a matter of just three years.

SIT built Tiong Bahru

While the blocks at Upper Pickering Street have been demolished, the legacy of the SIT can however still be found. The SIT built portion of Tiong Bahru has largely been conserved. There are also several blocks around Dakota Crescent that are being conserved following calls to keep the surviving part of the old estate. Beyond public housing, the back lanes behind shophouses, and the spiral staircases found behind them, could be thought of as another legacy of the SIT with the trust having been responsible for executing the scheme following their formation. There are also the estates that the SIT built and maintained that housed their senior staff. These are still very much with us and can be found at Adam Park and at Kay Siang Road.





Time to joget at Kampong Gelam

15 10 2022

It was joget time tinged with quite a fair bit of nostalgia on the front lawn of the Istana Kampong Gelam last evening during the gala opening of the MHC ClosingFest. The event also saw Guest-of-Honour, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs & Ministry of National Development letting his hair down by reciting a pantun and joining in at the end of the joget session.

The opening gala is part of a series of activities being held as part of MHC ClosingFest as the MHC or Malay Heritage Centre winds down (or rather up) towards its closure at the end of October for a revamp (it is scheduled to reopen in 2025). Besides the last night’s event, a series of activities are also being held across weekends in October that will not only celebrate the legacy and milestones of MHC, which the former palace of the descendants of Sultan Hussein houses, but also celebrates of the cultures of the Nusantara, from which some members of the wider Malay community in Singapore trace their roots to.

The Bazaar Nusantara, which is being held this weekend (15/16 Oct 2022 4 to 10 pm) for example, will feature the cuisines and cultural practices of the Baweanese, Bugis and Banjarese. There will be performances of Baweanese silat and Javanese kuda kepang, as well as a keris (dagger) cleansing ritual.

More information on the activities can be found on the MHC’s Peatix page.





Jurong will never be Jurong again

31 08 2022

It is sad to think that Jurong will soon be without Jurong Bird Park. The attraction, which brought many into the heart of what might have been an unattractive industrial estate if not for its presence, will welcome its last guests on 3 January 2023 — exactly 52 years after its 1971 opening. Its closure is in anticipation of its move to Mandai, where it reopen as Bird Paradise as part of the larger Mandai Wildlife Reserve. When the bird park does close, Jurong will certainly be a poorer place without it. What will become of the lush green space that the bird park occupies, one that has taken half a century to grow, is not known. I would certainly love to see that it is retained as a green oasis in the midst of the industrial sprawl that surrounds it. It will be quite a shame if we were to also lose it once after the bird park closes.

The old and very industrial looking entrance to the bird park. The park would have been in operation for 52 years when it closes its doors for the last time on 3 Jan 2023.
(Photo: Mandai Wildlife Reserve).

For those like me who grew up with the bird park, Jurong will not be Jurong without it. Developed as part of the effort to provide the then newly minted industrial town a greener and softer face and a space to also live and play in — some 12% of the Jurong’s land area was set aside for parks and gardens, the bird park and the plan to make Jurong a “garden industrial town”, was the brainchild of Dr Goh Keng Swee. A trip that Dr Goh made to Rio de Janeiro for a World Bank meeting as Finance Minister in 1968, during which he visited the city’s zoo, provided the inspiration for the bird park. The zoo’s aviary caught Dr Goh’s eye and he hit on the idea of the bird park. When asked why not build a zoo instead, Dr Goh reportedly quipped, “birdseeds cost less than meat”.

Among the bird park’s visitors in its early days was HM Queen Elizabeth II in 1972.
(Photo: Ministry of Information and Arts Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)

Like Jurong Industrial Estate, the new bird park’s host, the bird park was a huge success story. Given the “wow” factor through what was at 100 feet high, the world’s tallest man-made waterfall, which was set in the world’s largest walk-in aviary, the bird park captured the imagination of many of us in Singapore in the early years of nationhood and very quickly became a favourite destination for many. In a matter of less than twenty months of its opening, the bird park welcomed its one-millionth visitor in August 1972. It was especially popular as a destination for school excursions, as learning journeys were then known as. Besides the many family outings to the bird park, I also remember numerous long and usually uneventful journeys to it on the school bus. Getting that whiff of cocoa in the air, as the bus carried us down the grand avenue-like Jalan Boon Lay and past the Van Houten chocolate factory, was always something to look forward to. That meant always increased that sense of anticipation as it meant that the bird park was close by.

Once the pride and joy of Singapore. At 100 feet or 30 metres in height, Jurong Bird Park’s waterfall was once the tallest man-made waterfall in the world. See it for the last time before it closes its doors for good at the end of 3 January 2023.

To celebrate its legacy ahead of its closure, Jurong Bird Park is inviting all of us in Singapore to embark on A Flight To Remember. The four-month long last hurrah of sorts for the park, being held from 3 September 2022 till 3 January 2023, will see a series of activities held at the bird park. During this time, visitors will be able to recall some of the park’s more memorable moments as well as their past experiences through a self-guided heritage trail, mock-ups of the park’s features over the years such as its one-time cuckoo clock tower and the panorail (which operated from 1992 to 2012), and, a memory wall at the Penguin Coast to which visitors can add their own memories of the park. An opportunity will also be provided for visitors to see Jurong Bird Park through the eyes of its dedicated team of staff through a staff-curated Insider’s Guide.

The iconic cuckoo clock tower that once graced the park’s entrance.
(Photo: Mandai Wildlife Reserve)

Come November 2022, visitors will also be able to join the bird park’s Nostalgic Signature Tour, which will be conducted by seasoned guides and will delve into the park’s much storied past. Bookings can be made for this tour from 19 October 2022. Adding to the sense of nostalgia, the bird park will launch a nostalgic dining experience in November, when traditional pushcarts offering local hawker fare make an appearance. More information on A Flight to Remember can be found on the Jurong Bird Park’s website.

A mock-up of the cuckoo clock for A Flight to Remember with a count down timer.

Jurong Bird Park, opens from 8.30 am to 6 pm (last entry is at 5.00pm) from Thursdays to Sundays, and on the eve of public holidays, on public holidays, and during selected school holidays.

A mock-up of the 1992 panorail at which visitors can take photographs.

“Old Birds” of Jurong Bird Park



A tour of Jurong Bird Park on 30 August 2022






Forbidden Hill spiced and demystified

27 08 2022

Fort Canning Hill, aka Bukit Larangan or Forbidden Hill, the place of many a schoolboy adventure for me, has always been a place of discovery and rediscovery for me, as well as a space that provides an escape from the urban world. An abode of the ancient kings of Singapura — the spirits of whom are said to still roam the hill, the hill is one steeped as much in history, as it is surrounded by mystery.

Fort Canning Hill, the Forbidden Hill is a place that has long been cloaked with an air of mystery.

The mystery of the place, was quite evident when the British first established their presence in Singapore in 1819. Col William Farquhar’s attempt to ascend the strategically positioned elevation, which commanded a view of the plain across which the settlement and Singapore River, was met with resistance by the followers of Temenggong Abdul Rahman who claimed that the sounds of gongs and drums and the shouts of hundreds of men could be heard, even if all that was present then on the hill were only the reminders of a long lost 14th century kingdom. The claim did not deter Farquhar from making his ascent, nor his colleagues in the East India Company, who would exploit the hill to place the seat of colonial rule in Singapore, as an experimental botanical garden, for the first Christian spaces for the dead, and as an artillery fort and barracks, for fresh water supply to the fast developing municipality and as a strategic military command bunker.

It has long been a place of escape for me.

Much of that history, and mystery, is now wonderfully captured in the new Fort Canning Heritage Gallery — and in a book “Fort Canning Park: Heritage and Gardens” that was launched in conjunction with the gallery’s opening yesterday on 26 August 2022. The gallery is housed in a 1920s barrack block now known as Fort Canning Centre, that has seen use most recently as a staging point for the Bicentennial Experience and as the short-lived private museum, Singapore Pinacothèque de Paris. The centre, which also housed the “world’s largest squash centre” from the 1977 to 1987 during the height of the squash rackets craze in Singapore, sits quite grandly atop the slope we know today as Fort Canning Green and forms a magnificent backdrop to the many events that the former cemetery grounds now plays host to.

Fort Canning Centre, a 1920s barrack block in which the newly opened Fort Canning Heritage Gallery is housed.

Divided into five zones, the gallery provides an introduction to the hill, and through four themed zones, places focus on a particular aspect of the role that the hill has played through its own and also more broadly, Singapore’s history. The stories, told succinctly through information panels, archaeological artefacts excavated from the hill and interactive digital stations, provide just enough information to the visitor to provide an appreciation of the hill history and its heritage. There is also a condensed version of the “From Singapore to Singaporean: The Bicentennial Experience” video that plays in a mini-theatrette within the gallery.

Minister of National Development, Mr Desmond Lee, opening the new Fort Canning Heritage Gallery.

Also opened with the new gallery was an enhanced Spice Garden, which now extends to the 2019 pedestrianised section of Fort Canning Rise and a pedestrian ramp and underpass (that once led to the former car park at the rear of the old National Library). The pedestrian ramp and underpass now features the new Spice Gallery, which I thought was a wonderful and meaningful way to use a space that serves little other practical use today. The Spice Gallery, made possible by the generous support of Nomanbhoy and Sons Pte Ltd — a spice trader with over a hundred years of history, provides an appreciation of the significance of the spice trade to modern Singapore’s early development as a trading hub and also the role that Fort Canning Hill played in Singapore’s early spice plantations.

The newly opened Spice Gallery at the enhanced Spice Garden occupies a former pedestrian ramp and underpass.

A book, “Fort Canning Park: Heritage and Gardens”, authored by Dr Chng Mun Whye and Ms Sara-Ann Ang, which highlights the park’s rich heritage, was also launched together with the opening. This is available for sale Gardens Shop at various locations around the Singapore Botanic Gardens or online at https://botanicgardensshop.sg at SGD 29.90.

A book, “Fort Canning Park: Heritage and Gardens” was launched together with the opening.

Along with the permanent exhibition two galleries, there is also a “Kaleidoscope in Clay (I)” exhibition that features exhibits showcasing 5,000 years of Chinese ceramic history from 26 August to 11 September 2022 at The Gallery@L3, Fort Canning Centre. Also running is the 3rd edition of Festival at the Fort being held in conjunction with the opening and Singapore Night Festival, the programmes of which include movie screenings at Fort Canning Green, guided tours and children’s activities. The festival runs from 26 August to 4 September 2022 and more information can be found at https://www.nparks.gov.sg/activities/events-and-workshops/2022/8/festival-at-the-fort-2022.

Kaleidoscope in Clay (I) at Gallery@L3, Fort Canning Centre.

Fort Canning Heritage Gallery is opened daily from 10 am to 6 pm (expect for the last Monday of each month), while the Spice Gallery is opened from 7 am to 7 pm daily. Entry to both galleries is free to the public.


Photographs of Fort Canning Heritage Gallery during the opening on 26 August 2022.


Fort Canning Centre, various views


Fort Canning Spice Gallery / enhanced Spice Garden






The beautiful Portuguese Church in a new light

22 08 2022

There’s no better time to have a look at the newly restored St Joseph Church than during the Singapore Night Festival. Beautifully illuminated for the festival, the church, which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful churches in Singapore, is quite a sight to behold. What is especially wonderful during the night festival is that the church has been opened to the public for heritage tours and performances featuring the beautiful voice of Corrinne May and also the church’s Sacred Heart Choir.

To appreciate the beauty of the wonderfully restored interior of the church, it is also best to make a daytime visit on a sunny afternoon. That is when the church’s beautiful set of stained glass is best appreciated. The church, which closed for extensive repairs and renovation in August 2017, was reopened in time to celebrate its 110th anniversary. The second church to stand on the site, the current building was consecrated by the Bishop of Macau, Dom João Paulino Azevedo e Castro on the 30th of June 1912.

Established by the Portuguese Mission, the church catered to the Portuguese and Portuguese Eurasian community and continues to the the spiritual home of the Portuguese Eurasian community. The Portuguese Mission’s presence in Singapore can be traced back to 1825 and followed the arrival of Jose D’Almeida to Singapore on a permanent basis. Mass was initially held at Dr D’Almeida’s Beach Road house before a chapel was set up on Bras Basah Road in 1933. The mission then built a church on the current site in the 1850s. The church was for much of its history, administered by the Portuguese Diocese of Macau (and the Diocese of Goa before that). It was only in 1981, that it came under the Archdiocese of Singapore. The Bishop of Macau however, continued to appoint priests to the church until 1999.

Other posts related to St Joseph’s Church:

A one hundred year old beauty (about the church)

A look into the Portuguese Church’s beautiful Parochial House (about Parochial House, which is still being renovated)

Giving the Sacred Heart a right heart (about the restoration of the church’s stained glass in 2014)

Good Friday at the Portuguese Church (about the annual Good Friday procession)





Erasing the countryside

11 08 2022

The winds of change that are blowing through the area around the area of Bah Soon Pah Road seem to be gathering pace. Long an area in which the march of urbanisation was resisted, it has started to take on the appearance of a site being prepared for the inevitable spread of public housing in Singapore’s relentless quest to overpopulate and overbuild an already overcrowded and overly concretised island nation.

The former Bukit Sembawang assistant plantation manager’s residence near the entrance to Bah Soon Pah Road in 2021.

I am thankful that I had the opportunity to have known the area in its previous form. Located off a section of Sembawang Road that I first set eyes on in the early 1970s, it was set for much of the time that I knew it across a green and rolling landscape that in spite of several changes over the course of half a century, has long had that feel of the countryside. Seeing it The many drives that I was taken on and have myself taken over the years brought great joy to me, as did the escapes that I found in the space whenever I took a long walk through it.

A recent view from Lorong Chencharu towards the bungalow, with clearance work in the foreground.

As frequent and necessary as change may be in Singapore, it is hard to grow accustomed to it. When change does come, it can often be swift and cruel. Not only does change erase that sense of familiarity one has with a space in the blink of an eye, it can break a bond that one may have developed with the space over a course of several decades. This seems to also be the case with the Bah Soon Pah Road area in the sense of the rather abrupt manner that change is taking place as it is being readied for its next chapter as a residential area.

Bah Soon Pah Road no more, August 2022.

Named after the illustrious Lim Nee Soon and originally constructed to serve as a access road to a government holiday bungalow, there have been several iterations in Bah Soon Pah Road’s transformation over the years. Besides being closely associated with the Bukit Sembawang estate by virtue of the prominent placed bungalow that served as its assistant plantation manager’s residence, the area also played host to Malaysian military establishments, a field experimental station, rubber plantations and more recently, farms and plant nurseries.

Nurseries along Bah Soon Pah Road, August 2021.

The spread of what will presumably be an extension to Yishun town, extends to the area now occupied by Orto leisure park and Kampung Kampus and several tropical fish farms in the area south of Bah Soon Pah Road by Lorong Chencharu. Based on a Straits Times report published on 7 August 2022, both Orto and Kampung Kampus will have until June 2023 to operate at their current premises. Judging from reactions amongst members of the public to the news, it seems quite clear that spaces such as these are of great value to many. They provide a much needed and location friendly alternative to the cramped, confined, very concrete and rather infuriating leisure and recreational spaces found in malls and integrated complexes in which one can’t seem to escape from the madness that Singapore has become.

Kampung Kampus at Lorong Chencharu, which will closed by June 2023.
Orto is not only a welcome place of escape, the sight commuters on the MRT line from and to Khatib MRT Station catch of it, breaks the monotony of the journey.

Another change that is already altering the face of the area is the construction of the North-South Corridor, a new expressway that will carry traffic from Singapore’s north to the city centre, the northern part of which will be carried on a viaduct up to the Marymount area after which it will run underground. The widening of roads over which the viaduct will run is already being taking place. This is in order to divert traffic onto whilst the viaduct is being built. Preparations for this are well underway along the stretch of Sembawang Road by Bah Soon Pah Road, where the viaduct will run over before it turns toward Lentor Avenue and before long, a road that I knew for half a century will be quite unrecognisable.

A harbinger of change: hoardings being erected along Sembawang Road in November 2021 in preparation for the widening of the road to allow the North South Corridor viaduct to be built.

One consolation is all of this is that the area to Sembawang Road’s west, the site of Sembawang Air Base, will remain relatively uncluttered. Interestingly, evidence of the air base’s links with the Admiralty, having been develop to serve the fleet air arm, can be found in a few Admiralty land boundary markers placed along Sembawang Road. Hopefully these will survive the construction of the viaduct along Sembawang Road and remain in situ to at least tell the story. The story is part of a greater and more important story of the huge naval base that provided employment and made a significant contribution to the pre-Independence Singapore economy that to this very day has left a mark on the Sembawang area.

An Admiralty land boundary marker.

Lorong Chencharu

URA Master Plan 2019 identifies the area as a future residential site subject to detailed planning.

Views around Bah Soon Pah Road, mostly from August 2021:


Views around Lorong Chencharu, Orto, Kampung Kampus and Sembawang Road, in August 2022:






Parting Glances: Farrer Park Swimming Complex

10 08 2022

The rapid pace of change in Singapore’s robs many of places dear to them. These places, ones Singaporeans may have grown up with and made memories in, provides a connection to the country in a way that can never be replaced, and is what anchors people to a place and to a large extent is what makes home, home.

Farrer Park Swimming Complex

One place where memories for many in my generation were made, was Farrer Park, at which the last laps were swum at its 65-year-old swimming pool yesterday on 9 August 2022. From attending school sporting meets, to catching childhood football heroes “in action” and watching sports on a Sunday afternoon for free, Farrer Park seemed the go-to place for anything connected with sports. Its small (by the standards of today) swimming complex was also a popular spot to spend an especially warm day, being a lot more accessible than Singapore’s first public pool up on Mount Emily.

A swimming pool that played a big part in establishing the foundation on which the swimming career of Ang Peng Siong, once the “world’s fastest swimmer”.

Like Mount Emily, Farrer Park Swimming Pool was showing the signs of its age by the time I got to use it. Nevertheless, it was one of my favourites. It had that homely feel that seemed missing from the newer public swimming complexes, such as the one at Toa Payoh at which I would learn to swim.

Designed by City Architect, M E Crocker, Farrer Park’s swimming pool was built as Singapore’s third public pool (see: A Short History of Public Swimming Pools in Singapore) at the cost of $460,000. Officially opened on 22 February 1957 by the then Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock, it drew a huge crowd following day —  when it was opened to the public. A thousand pool users were reported to have used the pool that first day alone, with queues forming some two hours before its 7.30 am opening time.

A last look at Farrer Park Swimming Pool

Farrer Park would go on to become the “grounds” on which a one-time “world’s fastest swimmer”, Ang Peng Siong, was groomed. It was at the pool that Ang’s father, a supervisor at the pool, taught him to swim and provided him with his early training. In 1982, Ang became the “world’s fastest swimmer” when he recorded the world’s fastest time in the 50 metres freestyle. Ang would return to Farrer Park following its closure as a public pool in 2003, when the APS Swimming School which Ang founded in 1995, moved in 2004. The school has used the swimming complex since then until its closure this August.

The sun goes down on Farrer Park Swimming Pool

While a proposal was made to retain the swimming complex and refurbish it for future use in an area on which some 1,600 flats will be added, an announcement was made earlier this year that it would not be feasible to do so. The pool is now set to be demolished … to be replaced by a modern new-age integrated sporting complex in which new swimming facilities would be added, breaking yet another link that Farrer Park has to Singapore’s sporting history.


Parting glances: Farrer Park Swimming Complex






The former Police Coast Guard HQ at Kallang

5 08 2022

Seemingly uninteresting and rather unexciting, the cluster of buildings that were used by the Police Coast Guard (PCG) to house their headquarters from 1970 to 2006, now hide an interesting secret. Repurposed as the National Youth Sports Institute (NYSI), the buildings have not only found a new life, but have been repurposed with a minimum of intervention and have retained much of the fabric of its past.

NYSI at Kallang, occupies a space that was used as a flying boat reception and maintenance facility and later by the PCG as its headquarters.

The former base, which was carved out of the former Kallang Airport’s flying boat reception and maintenance facilities (its ramp/slipway is still there, except it is part of the National Cadet Corp (Sea) facility next to NYSI), was turned into a base for what was then the Marine Police in 1970 at the cost of S$1 million. Having been based at the congested Singapore River by what is now the Asian Civilisations Museum, a new base with a maintenance facility was much needed to permit enable a swifter repair turnaround time for its boats, improve response and also accommodate the Marine Police’s expanding fleet.

A piece from its days as the flying boat facility.

Amongst the structures that were put up during the development of the Kallang Marine Poilce HQ, was a two storey building that served as its nerve centre, which is the same building that NYSI has operated out of since November 2015. The building and an annex, which once housed offices, interrogation rooms, an armoury and even a lock-up, is now home to gyms, sports laboratories, accommodation, recovery rooms counselling rooms, and even chill out spaces. While that may have been expected, what is unexpected is the manner in which the building has been redone in a way that not only allows it to keep many of its reminders of its days as a Marine Police base, but also with little need for light and ventilation other than that which occurs naturally. This rather intelligent, sustainable, no-frills and rather affordable approach is a breath of fresh air and should really be a model for many of our developments in which old spaces and building are repurposed. Most projects, quite unfortunately, have gone down the path of being flamboyant and gimmicky.

Decently exposed.

The Marine Police, morphed into the Police Coast Guard in 1993 and vacated the base in 2006 due to the intended closing up of Marina Bay through the construction of the Marina Barrage. It is now based in Pulau Brani.


A walk around NYSI Kallang

Chin-up bars – a reminder of the past.
Inside the old electrical distribution box.
The former arms clearing station.
Recalling the armoury.
Exposing the dividing line between the main building and an annex.
A breath of fresh air, the non-air-conditioned gym.
Notice the manhole in the gym flooring (previously a wet space).
A performance lab.
Heaters to simulate hot dry conditions.
An “Endless Pool” for swimmers.
Another reminder of the past.
Maximising natural ventilation.
Dorms – a curtain separates the male and female sections.

Common spaces


The former lock-up


Other views around the facility






Singapore’s last traditional puppet stage maker?

3 08 2022

Puppet shows once made appearances around Taoist temples scattered all across Singapore. Like the Chinese street opera and the more modern getai performances, they were usually put up for the pleasure of visiting Taoist deities on their earthly sojourns, or for hungry ghosts who as belief would have it, roam the earth when the gates of the underworld are opened during the Chinese seventh month. Puppet shows also found great appeal with the common, especially amongst the young ones. These days however, the distractions of the modern world hold sway and the appeal of tradition seems to have waned. Just a handful of troupes still perform around today leaving supporting craftsmen such as Mr Leong Fong Wah, whose lifetime’s work has been in painting and putting together puppet stages, a dying breed.

A typical Chinese puppet stage is really an assembly of pieces of plywood on which colourful decorations and backdrops are painted on one side and reinforced on the other. All it takes is a few weeks to add the decorative work before a stage can be put together. This quick turnaround time, the lack of a customer base, and the fact that a stage can be used and reused for as long as ten years, does mean that there is little in terms work in the area for the business that Mr Leong runs, Leong Shin Wah Art Studio. Having been started in the 1940s by Mr Leong’s father, whose name the business is identified with, the workshop must have been involved in putting together a countless number of stages. With nothing in way of puppet show stage orders in sight beyond an order that Mr Leong is currently in the process of fulfilling, this last stage that he is building may be one of the last, if not the last, traditional puppet show stages being made not just at Mr Leong’s workshop, but also in Singapore.


A typical traditional puppet show stage set up:

A puppet stage set up at Telok Ayer Street.
The stage set up also hides puppeteers and musicians behind a backdrop and other decorated plywood panels.

Chinese Puppetry in Singapore:

A lifelong passion pulling strings (Henghwa string puppet troupe)

The last performance of the Sin Sai Poh Hong puppet troupe (Teochew Rod Puppet Troupe)






Chilling out in Pasir Panjang

30 07 2022

Deprived of the long beach that it took its name from, and with its one-time star attraction Haw Par Villa having been set on a course for hell, there seems little to draw the visitor to Pasir Panjang — that is except for the vegetable wholesale centre that has become synonymous with it, Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre. The huge centre, which is spread over a 15.2 ha site that was reclaimed from the sea, comes alive in the dark of night and draws vegetable, fruits and dried goods traders to it, along with others in search of a bargain.

Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre is Singapore’s main vegetable, fruit and dried goods distribution centre.

Developed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) and opened in 1983, Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre was built to consolidate vegetable, fruits and dried goods wholesalers from the urban centre who were being displaced by urban redevelopment and the river clean-up effort, the centre was initially populated by 90 wholesalers from Clyde Terrace and Maxwell Road markets, plus over 350 from the Upper Circular Road / Carpenter Street and the Tew Chew Street / Chin Hin Street area. The centre features four sections with 9 out of its 26 blocks dedicated to fruits, another 8 blocks in its vegetable section, 4 blocks housing cold rooms and another 5 blocks for dried goods. With several hundred cold and chilled stores, it is quite literally a cool place to chill out at!

Tew Chew Street, which was one of the wholesale centres around Singapore. It was one of the places where imported vegetables from Cameron Highlands found buyers until 1983/84.

An opportunity not just to chill out, but also learn more about the centre and some of the people whose nocturnal existence puts fresh fruits and vegetables on the shelves now presents itself with the My Community Festival 2022. Among its offerings is a tour of Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre that is led by guide Ms Pamela Loh, who takes participants on an interesting walk through cold stores, a fruit distributor and through the especially large vegetable section — a hive of activity at the midnight hour six days a week, whether it is the seventh month or not. Besides an “insider” view of the wholesale centre, the opportunity to meet and learn about the lives of some of the people who run businesses at the centre, is a wonderful bonus.

Ms Pamela Loh leading a group at the cold room section.

Organised by My Community, My Community Festival runs from 5 to 21 August 2022. On offer is a host of unique experiences including this tour to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre. There are also after dark tours to seafood wholesale centres at Jurong and Senoko Fishery Ports. For more information on the festival, please visit https://mycommunityfestival.sg/.


Chilling out at the cold room section where temperatures are maintained at 4 degrees C for vegetables.
The inside of a cold room.
At the fruits section, where a treat awaits …
Huge and juicy chilled US cherries being offered for sale at KSY, a fruit distributor – a must buy!
Mrs Fong, who runs a vegetable wholesale stall with her husband.
Fresh winter bamboo shoots!
Giant cauliflower.
Giant pandan leaves.
The centre’s vegetable section comes alive at night.
The guardian of Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre.





Northern Singapore’s last fishery port

26 07 2022

Believe it or not, the northern coast of Singapore once played host to a large fleet of fishing vessels. The fleet’s port of call was at old Kangkar Villlage down the Serangoon River, located right at the end of Upper Serangoon Road. The fleet was moved to Punggol Fishery Port when that was set up in the 1980s to move the fleet and consolidate the fish wholesalers of Kangkar and also Bedok. At the point of its move in 1984, Kangkar accommodated a fleet of 90 fishing boats and 16 fish wholesalers. Another move was made in 1997 to Senoko Fishery Port, which will itself close in 2023, after which all fish wholesale activity will be consolidated at Jurong Fishery Port. The move, which in tiny Singapore terms seems to a place a world away, will bring to a close the northern coast’s longtime connection with the fishing and the fish wholesale business.

The entrance to the port.
The floor of the wholesale market at Senoko Fishery Port.

The link that it has with old Kangkar does mean that Senoko has become home to a tightly-knit community of fish wholesalers who are of Teochew origin. Several of Senoko’s businesses have their roots in Kangkar’s fishing fleet operators whose boats would spent 3 to 4 days fishing in the waters close to Horsburgh Lighthouse (on the island of Pedra Branca). Over the years, close ties have been forged between the businesses which span several generations and what that does mean is that in Senoko there is a spirit of cooperation rather than competition. The closure of Senoko will thus not only bring a huge dose of sadness to its business operators but surely bring to the end that sense of community and that “kampung spirit” that is quite clearly evident in Senoko.

While the atmosphere in Senoko, which supplies a small portion (some 4% in 2020) of Singapore’s chilled seafood imports, certainly does come anywhere close to Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market — with which it has often been compared to, visiting it is a must due to its impending closure. As with Tsukiji, visits have to be made at an ungodly hour, in the wee hours of the morning. That is when its offerings, which are now imported mainly from Malaysia and other parts of Asia, come in and when the regular buyers come to obtain their supplies. There may also an opportunity to purchase seafood at wholesale prices, although one has to be prepared to buy in larger quantities with some exceptions, and be armed with an ice-box. While the port may be accessible to the public (you will need you NRIC and it is opened from 2 to 6 am except for Monday mornings), getting to Senoko may proof difficult. There is however an opportunity that presents itself for a guided visit during the My Community Festival. Organised by My Community, the annual festival runs from 5 to 21 August 2022 and offers programmes that provide a host of unique experiences — including visits to both Jurong and Senoko Fishery Ports and also Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre (for vegetables).

Lian Yak Fish Merchant, is the oldest of the businesses. It started business way back in 1955 and operated a fleet of fishing vessels out of Kangkar Village.

More information on My Community Festival can be found at https://mycommunityfestival.sg/.

Seafood is sorted into baskets for buyers.