The Russian Navy’s Viking ship

5 12 2018

Thanks to an invitation that Russia’s military attaché to Singapore extended to the Singapore Maritime Heritage Interest Group, I was able to have a look on board  the Russian guided missile cruiser, the Varyag. 186 metres in length and displacing 11,490 tonnes, the flagship of the Russia’s Pacific Fleet was in port as the lead ship of the fleet’s task force. She was accompanied by an Udaloy-class destroyer (large anti-submarine ship) Admiral Panteleyev and a tanker, the Boris Butoma.

The Russian Navy Slava-class Cruiser Varyag, seen during IMDEX Asia 2017.

The Varyag dates back to the close of the Soviet era. Built at Nikolayev in the Ukraine, she was originally the “Chernova Ukraina“, when christened at her launch in 1983. The third ship of the Slava-class of destroyers, the Varyag was to have been deployed in the Black Sea following her commissioning in late 1989. With the Soviet Union on the verge of a breakup, the destroyer was deployed instead to the Pacific Fleet and in 1996, renamed the Varyag – the fourth ship in service in the Russian or Soviet navy to be so named. Much is apparently attached to the name, initially reserved for another ship of the class that was not built, in Russian naval tradition. This I would learn about from the ship’s compact but rather interesting museum.

Another of the Varyag during IMDEX 2017.

The Battle of Chemulpo Bay (via RT).

A reference to the Varangians or the Vikings or the Rus, who came to rule over the area’s Slavic peoples (the Rus lent their name to Russia and Belarus), the name “Varyag” evokes an great sense of pride and perhaps nationalism among the Russians and in particular Russia’s naval personnel. This is due to the actions of the crew of the second Varyag, whose heroic actions at the start of the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, are held in the highest regard.

Rather than bow down against a Japanese naval force that was vastly superior both in terms of armament and numbers in the Bay of Chemulpo (present day Incheon), the personnel on the Russian protected cruiser bravely took them on.  The United States built ship was apparently battered during the encounter and the personnel on board chose to scuttle the ship rather than surrender.

The ship would be salvaged and eventually find her way back into Russian hands by way of the Japanese, who repaired the re-floated vessel and put her to use as a training ship before selling her back to Russia in 1916. The Varyag would however, never be deployed by the Russians again. Whilst in England for repairs, Russia found itself in the grips of Bolshevik Revolution.  Work was halted and the Varyag  would later be sold for scrap. On her way to the breakers, Varyag came to a rather unglorious end in the Irish Sea, running aground before sinking. There are several online sources at which the story of the second Varyag can be found, including this 2014 Russia Beyond article: No surrender – The stirring story of the cruiser Varyag.

A pair of Anti-Ship Missile launchers – the Varyag is equipped with 8 pairs.

A decoy launcher on the Varyag.

The current Varyag seems much more capable, and able to hold her own. As is typical in the warships of the former Eastern bloc, an array of armament leaves little space on her topsides – which the group was able to have a look at.

The AK-130 Twin Gun.

On her foredeck, a twin 130 mm gun is mounted. Anti-ship missile launchers, 4 pairs on either side of the deckhouse, are quite prominent. There are also her Close-in weapon systems (CIWS), torpedo tubes, decoy launchers and anti-submarine mortar launchers clearly on display. Less obvious are her vertical launched long range Surface-to-Air missiles and pop-up Surface-to-Air missile launchers, found on the mid and aft decks. A heli-deck is found on the aft deck, with correspondence provided to a hangar at the end of the aft house down a ramp built into the deck.

The Varyag is the only ship in the Russian naval fleet that flies a unique ensign.

Besides visiting the Varyag and her on-board museum, the group was also able to have a look at the main deck of the Alexander Panteleyev. Photographs of the destroyer can be found at the end of this post.

The Varyag’s helideck.

A ramp connects the helideck to the ship’s hangar.

Another view of the decoy launcher.

The ship’s bell.

Passageway in between the deckhouse and the Anti-Ship Missile launchers along the ship’s sides.

A view across to the Admiral Panteleyev and her 30mm CIWS.

A coil of rope placed on each side of the ship’s gangway – apparently a Russian naval tradition.


The Varyag’s Museum

The recovered ensign of the second Varyag.

A panel providing information on the Battle of Chemulpo Bay.

A model of the US built protected cruiser sunk in 1904.

The last Soviet-era naval ensign to be flown – seen with the now provocative St. George’s Stripes.


Photographs of the Admiral Panteleyev, an Udaloy-class Destroyer accompanying the Varyag

The Admiral Panteleyev, an Udaloy-class Destroyer, which accompanied the Varyag.

A Kamov KA-27 helo on the deck of the Admiral Panteleyev.

The helo control room of the Admiral Panteleyev.

Torpedo tubes on the Admiral Panteleyev.

Anti-submarine mortar launchers on the Admiral Panteleyev..

100 mm calibre guns on the foredeck.

Another view of the 100 mm gun.

Vertical launched Surface-to-Air Missiles.

Anti-Submarine Missile Launcher.


 

 

 

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Inside the new star of MacTaggart

29 11 2018

Uniquely shaped, the former Khong Guan factory stands out at the corner of MacTaggart and Burn Roads – especially so with a recent 8-storey extension that certainly added to the presence that its conserved façade has long commanded.

Having won an award for Restoration & Innovation at AHA 2018, its doors were recently opened for tours conducted by the URA, which provided an opportunity to have that much desired peek inside.

More on the factory and the restoration effort can be found at the following links:

2 MacTaggart Road : Stellar Landmark (URA)

The new star rising at MacTaggart Road

The fallen star of MacTaggart Road


Photographs of the interior and also of the restored exterior: 

The attention grabbing mosaic and iron grille work on the ground level of the triangular shaped building’s apex. The star is apparently a trademark of the maker of the iron grilles, Lea Hin Company (at the corner of Alexandra and Leng Kee Roads).

Inside what used to be a retail outlet that students from neighbouring Playfair School (across Burn Road) would frequent.

Iron grilles – very much a reminder of the days when the building came up in the 1950s. This one – a gate which the family used to gain access to their accommodation in the old building.

A view of the actual gate.

The reception – lit by a glass covered skylight.

The conjurer and his apprentice: Lee Yan Chang of URA showing the workings of the skylight’s blinds.

The skylight as seen from the terrace above.

Stairway to a new heaven.

The stairway, which leads from the lobby to the corporate offices of Khong Guan’s HQ.

The view from above.

A terrace on what used to be the roof deck of the old building.

A view of the extension from the terrace. Lightweight cladding, with aluminium honeycomb backing, is used on the exterior.

The former entrance to the building’s offices. What it looked like previously: please click.

A display window. What it looked like previously: please click.

 


 





The “attractive” 1940 built public-housing block in Little India

23 11 2018

I have long admired the building that houses The Great Madras, a boutique hotel on Madras Street. The edifice in its incarnations as a hotel has brought a touch of Miami to the shophouse lined streets of a busy corner of Serangoon. The opportunity to have a look beyond the building’s gorgeous Streamline-Moderne façade came this Architectural Heritage Season with tours organised by the URA. The hotel won an Architectural Heritage Award for the efforts made in the restoration of the building,

Deliciously decorated, the hotel’s common areas on the ground floor provide a great introduction to its well thought of interiors. The lobby and a restaurant and bar, which opens up to the outside is what first greets visitors. There is also a barber shop and a utility area at the building’s rear. A sliding privacy door hides the hostel-like accommodation on the same floor. Here, its private sleeping spaces carry the names of established travel influencers.

The reception area.

The hotel’s rooms are laid out across the building’s two upper floors. Corridors decorated with quirky neon signs and ventilated through the steel-framed glass windows of a forgotten era, provide correspondence to the rooms. It is along a corridor on the second floor that a pleasant surprise awaits. This takes the form of an especially delightful and photograph-able view of the hotel’s retrofitted swimming pool, framed by a circular opening in the pastel pink party wall that separates the pool from its sun deck.

A corridor on the upper levels.

The alterations made in the building’s interiors does make it hard to think of the building having been put to any other use other than the current, and quite certainly not as a public-housing block of flats it was built as in early 1940, There is of course that Tiong Bahru-esque appearance and quality that may give the fact away but the standalone nature of the block will mask the fact that it was the Singapore Improvement Trust or SIT that built it. The SIT – the predecessor to the HDB – besides having had the task of addressing the demand for public housing, also took on the role of town planner. The public housing projects that it embarked on tended to be built in clusters, such as in the case of Tiong Bahru.

The rear courtyard.

The swimming pool.

There is however a good reason for the Madras Street block’s isolation. A 1940 report made by the SIT holds the clue to this. It turns out that the block – erected to take in the area’s residents displaced by the demolition of older buildings – was meant to have been part of a larger improvement scheme that the SIT had planned for the area. The scheme was to have seen the demolition of a dozen “old and unsanitary” buildings in the months that would follow  to provide for a southeasterly extension of Campbell Lane past Madras Street. There was also to have been the metalling of the area’s roads and the construction of much-needed drains. The orientation and alignment of the 70 by 60 feet block does suggest that it was laid out with the extension of Campbell Lane in mind.

A view of the surroundings through steel framed windows.

The scheme’s overall aim was to provide accommodation in greater numbers, make an improvement in (transport) communication and the layout of of the very congested area. There was also a need to address the area’s poor sanitary conditions. It is quite evident from what we see around that the scheme did not go much further. Perhaps it may have been a lack of funds, as it was with many public schemes in those days. There was also the intervention of the war, which was already being fought in Europe by the time of the block was completed.

Another view of the hotel’s windows.

From the report, we also get a sense of the “attractive” building’s original layout. Three flats were found on each floor, hence the three addresses 28, 30 and 32, giving the building a total of nine flats. Each flat contained three rooms, one of which would have been a living room that opened to the balcony. A kitchen cum dining room was provided in each flat, as well as a bathroom and a toilet – “in accordance with Municipal Commissioners’ requirements”.

A spiral staircase in the rear courtyard.

The report also tells us of how much the flats, which were fully booked before the building’s completion, were rented out for: $23 per month for ground floor units and $26 per month for the units on the upper floors.

More on the restoration efforts that won the Great Madras Hotel the award: 28, 30 & 32 Madras Street Charming Revival.

Restored granolithic (Shanghai Plaster) finishing on the column bases.


More photographs:

 


 

 

 

 

 

 





Finding a lost Singapore in the images of Paul Piollet

19 11 2018

Such is the pace at which change takes place that little exists of the Singapore those of my generation grew up with. It was one whose city streets and rural spaces, filled with life and colour, were places to discover. Lost to progress, that Singapore can never be revisited again – except perhaps through images that we are fortunate to see of them.

In Conversation with Paul Piollet.

I, for one, am especially grateful to the good folks behind these images. Several collections have been publicly available through their generous donations or in some cases, through donations made by family members. These images provide us, and our generations with a visual record that in many cases would not otherwise exist of places and more importantly a way of life from a time when few had the means to capture them.

The opportunity to hear from the donors of two of these visual collections came our way this November. The first, Dr Clifford Saunders, donated an extensive and very well documented collection of over 1,400 photographs to the National Heritage Board. The images were taken by his father, Ralph Charles Saunders in the late 1950s, when he was stationed here at RAF Seletar – with his family, which included a young Dr Saunders.

Just in the middle of the last week, we were graced by the visit of another donor, Mr Paul Piollet, with whom we were able to hold a “conversation” with at the Urban Redevelopment Authority as part of the Architectural Heritage Season. The unassuming Mr Piollet, now in his 80s, has certainly had a past. His career in oil took him across the world, and he found himself in Balikpapan in Kalimantan in 1970 as a result of that. It was there that he developed a fascination for Indonesia and its maritime heritage. He would also find himself in Singapore, where he immersed himself in much that went on around and on its lively streets.

Mr Piollet’s photos of a Singapore in transition are especially intriguing. We find in them a record of life and a way of life of a Singapore in transition. We can see what fascinated Mr Piollet from the many images of wayangs, the life that went on backstage, elaborate Chinese funerals and of life on Singapore’s living streets, which were not only full of life but also filled with children (an observation was made during the “conversation” of how children are now missing from our city streets). Images of street food vendors, which Mr Piollet regularly frequented (he rattled off a few Hokkien names of local fare he enjoyed), also features in his collection.

While the focus of the “conversation” may have been on his images of Singapore (more than 180 can be found in the National Archives of Singapore), I was fortunate to be able to hear about his efforts to document the Indonesian maritime world through a brief conversation we had just before the event started.  Of particular interest to him were the wooden sail boats and the people who crewed them. Much of the craft and skill in rigging and sailing these beautiful hand-crafted boats, once a backbone of trade across parts of the widely spread archipelago, have quite sadly been lost to motorisation.

Pages out of one of Mr Piollet’s books, “Équipages et voiliers de Madura”, documenting Indonesia’s lost maritime heritage.

Thankfully, there are at least thousands of photos taken by Mr Piollet, as well as several books that he authored. Along with photographs and sketches that Mr Piollet made, there are also registry records that he copied by hand. Mr Piollet’s books, of ways of life that have since been lost, can be found at the French Bookshop at 55 Tiong Bahru Road.

“Équipages et voiliers de Madura” or “The crews and boats of Madura”, which Mr Piollet very kindly gave me a copy of.


A selection of photographs from the Paul Piollet Collection

One of Mr Piollet’s photos from 1975. A lost corner of Singapore that was familiar to my parents and me – where Rangoon Road met Norfolk Road and Moulmein Green – see : Moulmein Road Journeys (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).

I thought this looks similar to the hairdresser that my mother used to visit at Rangoon Road with me in tow. From its name, this wasn’t it and only closer examination, looks like it was located in the row of shophouses close to the Balestier Road end of Tessensohn Road (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).

What looks like part of the row of shophouses close to the Balestier Road end of Tessensohn Road (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).

Life as it was, when streets were not complete without the sight of children playing (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).

Days of street wayangs. I thought this might have been a street in the Ellenborough Market area but it seems more likely to have been Chin Nam Street (parallel to Hock Lam Street) with a view towards Fort Canning Hill  (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).

Pau steamers – wgich caught the eye of Mr. Piollet (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).

A scene now hard to imagine on Sungei Rochor (Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore).


 





A glimpse of Seletar’s past – the Ralph Charles Saunders Collection

5 11 2018

The generous donation of more than 1,400 images on photographic slides from the Ralph Charles Saunders Collection – of Singapore and Malaya (and maybe a few of Lima) taken in the late 1950s – made the news some months back (see : Rare glimpse into Singapore’s colourful past, The Straits Times, Mar 31, 2018). The photographs, many of which were put up by the donor, Dr. Clifford Saunders, on the Facebook group “On a Little Street in Singapore” currently and prior to the donation (the National Heritage Board, NHB, is the custodian), provides us with a peek into a world and a way of life we will never go back to.

Seletar Village, 1959 – from one of the more than 1,400 slides donated by Dr. Saunders.
(The Ralph Charles Saunders Collection – courtesy of Dr. Clifford Saunders / NHB).

Dr. Clifford Saunders at the Indian Heritage Centre.

Dr. Saunders. whose father was the genius behind the well taken and meticulously labelled slides, is currently in town as a guest of the NHB and was kind enough to meet with heritage enthusiasts and members of the Facebook group on Sunday to provide some insights into the images as well as his impressions of Singapore through the eyes of the young and inquisitive boy that he was when his father and family were based at RAF Seletar all those years ago.

Members of ‘On a Little Street in Singapore’ with Dr. Saunders.

The slides include a set of images involving an old lifeboat, the John Willie. Bought off a Dutchman coming out of Sumatra at the time of the Indonesian National Revolution for $200, the leaky lifeboat was repaired and provided the family with a means for offshore adventure – one of many activities that Dr. Saunders, now 69 described during his presentation. He also mentioned that his favourite island was Pulau Ubin, which I understand he will be trying to visit during his short stay here. Other experiences Dr. Saunders spoke of include fishing at fishing ponds, life at Poulden Court in Jalan Kayu, trips “up country” and his impressions of the causeway and river crossings (my own experiences: Crossing the river in days of old), and the rather alien smells and sounds of a then very foreign land.

James Seah seeing the funny side of Dr. Saunders’ story.

More on his wonderful experiences in Singapore – shared over the two hour session at the Indian Heritage Centre and which Clifford feels shaped his life and profession (he is now a neuroplastician) – can be found in these two recordings:


 





Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets : Healing in the Garrison

19 10 2018

November’s #SLASecretSpaces guided visit takes participants to the former Tanglin Barracks. There an introduction would be made to two of the barracks’ institutions of healing: physical healing in the form of the former military hospital, and spiritual, in the form of a beautiful garrison church.

The barracks traces its history to the early 1860s, when it was among the earliest that were purpose-built in Singapore. The design of the original barracks is attributed to Captain George Collyer (after whom Collyer Quay is named). Many of the structures that we see today are the interventions of the early 20th century when the current church building as well as what we see today of former military hospital were put up.

Singapore’s main military hospital before the completion of the modern hospital at Alexandra in 1940, the complex featured three main buildings. The larger two were where large and airy wards were laid out. The visit will end in St. George’s Church, which although is no longer a garrison church, is still very much in use. Completed in 1913, the history of the church actually dates back to the early days of the barracks. The church was gazetted as a National Monument on 10 November 1978.

More on the history of both institutions will be shared during the visit.


Visit Details & Registration

When : 3 November 2018, 9 to 11 am

Where : Loewen Cluster, Dempsey Hill (the visit will end inside St. George’s Church)

Participants should be of ages 18 and above.

A unique registration will be required for each participant and each registration admits only one (1) person.
(Duplicate registrations in the same name shall count as one registration).

Please register only if you are sure that you will be able to make the visit.

To register, please visit this link: https://goo.gl/forms/B8g3tDo5eGWfpTVl1 [Please note that all spaces for the visit have been taken up]


Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets #SLASecretSpaces is organised with the support and collaboration of the Singapore Land Authority.

Both St. George’s Church and Country City Investment (CCI), which manages Dempsey Hill, have also lent their support to this visit.


More photos of St. George’s Church


News on the series:


 





Pilgrimage to an isle of legends

11 10 2018

The southern isles of Singapore are steeped in myths, legends and traditions. While most seem to lie buried in the sands that have expanded them, one that lives on is the pilgrimage to Pulau Tembakul – Kusu Island – that some accounts have as going back over two centuries to 1813.

Kusu during a pilgrimage season of the past – crossing the causeway at low tide. (photo: National Museum of Singapore on Facebook).

The annual event draws a steady stream of Taoist devotees. Although the numbers may have fallen from the highs of the 1960s and 1970s, thousands still make the short passage by sea every ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar (which began on 9 October this year) to seek favour and blessings at the island’s holy sites. The sites are a temple dedicated to the popular Taoist deity Tua Pek Kong, and three keramat-keramat, which in this case are the supposed graves of (Muslim) holy persons who are venerated. This practice has its roots in Sufism and is discouraged by mainstream Islam and has over the years found a following amongst the Chinese.

A devotee making her way to Kusu in 1971 (source: The Aged In Singapore: Veneration Collides With The 20th Century, Nada Skerly Arnold, 1971).

Two of the island’s three keramat-keramat (found at the top of 152 steps).

Perhaps the most popular of the island’s legends is one tied very much to the name Kusu. The island, which in its pre-reclamation days actually resembled a tortoise at high tide; its head, the outcrop on which the temple was built, and its body, the mound to which the head was linked by a natural causeway at low tide at the top of which the keramat-keramat are found. This legend, which also provides a basis for the pilgrimage, has it that a tortoise (or more correctly a turtle) had rescued two fishermen from drowning by turning itself into the island.  There are several more legends that provide an explanation for the origins of the pilgrimage, the keramat-keramat and the personalities that they are associated with – all of which are unverified (see: Kusu Island – on Infopedia).

Another perspective of the island: The tortoise in the early light of day

An old postcard showing Kusu Island before reclamation.

The Tua Pek Kong temple on the ‘head’ of the tortoise (source: The Aged In Singapore: Veneration Collides With The 20th Century, Nada Skerly Arnold, 1971).

The head of the tortoise (photo: Steffen Röhner on Panoramio).

The temple and the expanded island today.


The pilgrimage season in photographs

More on the pilgrimage in modern times: Keeping alive Kusu Island pilgrimage (The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2017).