A celebration of the joy that is life

9 03 2012

As I look forward to this evening’s opening of what would be spectacular man-made show of colour and light, i Light Marina Bay 2012, that will be on until 1 April, my thoughts somehow drifted to another show of colour and light – one made not by man but by forces man has no control of. This show, is one that comes not once every two years, but one that we can see as often as twice in a day, once at the break of day and once with the fall of night. It is a show that in its unpredictability, suprises us sometimes with an unimaginable range of colours, and at times disappoints us with an unfulfilled promise. The unpredictability does permit an appreciation of the moments when there is a surprise. The sunrise and the sunset have for long been my favourite times of day – the sunrise is when I can approach the day with freshness and optimism, and the sunset being when I can leave the tiredness and the anger of the day behind. And, when it does come with that surprise, as it did during a sunrise in mid February I was fortunate to witness, it isn’t just a treat for the eyes and for the soul, but also a celebration – a celebration that is one of the joy that is life.

Colours of sunrise, Northern Singapore, 18 February 2012.





Dawn over the new Singapore

1 03 2012

Finding myself early one morning in a delightful old world I once knew that now is surrounded by a new world, I was drawn to the eerie blue glow that now colours the trusses of the gorgeous Anderson Bridge to venture in that direction and a little beyond it. As I walked past the Boat House – I half expected to be greeted by that joyful chaos that would have been the harbour of old, coloured by the icons of the old Singapore – that of the bumboats, tongkangs and towkows that Singapore’s success depended on. It wasn’t the old harbour however that greeted me, but a sea of calm coloured by the glow and the hues of the lightening sky, a sea without the chaos of old, surrounded by the icons of the Singapore we have become.

An icon of a developing and newly independent Singapore, the Merlion, stares at the icons of the new Singapore across a body of water that played an important role in Singapore's development.

The sea that I speak of is actually not anymore a sea. Bound by fingers of land carved out from the depths of the old harbour, it is now a body of sweet water, Marina Bay – a resource to supplement Singapore’s growing thirst for a resource it never has enough of. The icons we see around it are now the icons of the present and the future – representative of the Singapore we’ve become perhaps. One is the Merlion – a curious and unlikely fusion which is the icon of a confident and developing Singapore that emerged from the darkness that was the uncertainty of the early days of our independence. The Merlion stares towards even more curious edifices on the piece of land that sits over the old outer harbour – the edifices of the Marina Bay Sands Complex – which silhouetted against the glow of the lightening sky is a sight to behold.

The sunrise over a new Singapore.

As I sat in quiet contemplation marvelling at the magnificence of the sight that was before my eyes, I tried hard to imagine the world that once had been there, a world that I deeply miss. The gentle undulations of the water’s surface which was otherwise undisturbed served to remind me that world is no more, replaced by a world I often struggle to come to terms with. It is this new world however that I must now must love – one that when seen in the calmness and light of the new day, is one that certainly is hard not to grow love.





Remembering the ultimate expression of love on the 14th of February

14 02 2012

(This article was written in 2012, in the lead up to the 70th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore)


The 14th of February being Valentine’s Day, is a day that is highly anticipated, rightly or wrongly, in modern Singapore. It is an indication of how far Singapore has gone in the embrace of the new world and has been influenced by the practices of cultures previously alien to Singapore. And while Singapore celebrates with a commercialised expressions of love, many in Singapore are blissfully unaware of the significance of the date in Singapore’s history – a date which 70 years ago in 1942 witness a very different and perhaps a lot more genuine expression of love by a group of valiant men who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defence of freedom.

A World War II outpost on Kent Ridge. The ridge – then Pasir Panjang Ridge – had been defended by the Malay Regiment in a battle that lasted for two days ending on 14 February 1942 on Bukit Chandu – a battle that saw a valiant fight put up by members of the regiment led by Lt. Adnan Saidi who was brutally killed on Bukit Chandu.

It was on the 14th of February 1942, after beating a hasty retreat to Point 226, that a certain Lt. Adnan bin Saidi of ‘C’ Company of the 1st Battalion of Malay Regiment and his comrades found themselves hopelessly defending a strategic position which we commonly refer to as Bukit Chandu or Opium Hill today against the force of an all-out assault on it by the Japanese Imperial Army in one of the last battles to be fought before the surrender the very next day. The position defended the Alexandra area where the British had their ammunition and supply depots and a military hospital (Alexandra Hospital). By the late afternoon, the position was lost after fierce fighting at close quarters – Lt. Adnan and several of his comrades were killed in the most brutal of fashion and events then took place that made a very dark day an even darker one when Japanese troops in pursuit of the few surviving members of the Malay Regiment and Indian troops, stormed Alexandra Hospital and massacred scores of innocent medical personnel and patients. Over at what is the Singapore General Hospital today, 11 medical students from the King Edward VII Medical College were also killed by artillery fire on the same day – 10 of whom were attending the funeral of one of the students who was killed that morning.

A view from the canopy walk which stretches from Kent Ridge Park to Bukit Chandu looking towards the Alexandra area which Pasir Panjang (now Kent) Ridge and Point 226 had defended.

Reflecting on the brave acts of Lt Adnan and his comrades and the other dark events of the day, one is reminded not just of their heroics in the defence of the people they served, but also as a reminder that peace should never be taken for granted. That the war, and the subsequent occupation of Singapore resulted in a lot of hardship for the then residents of Singapore – and for those who rose in their defence, there is no doubt. For many of my generation and after, it is a hardship that would be hard to imagine, having been fortunate to live in, save for isolated incidents of violence, a period of relative peace. It is great to see that the National Heritage Board has, for the 70th Anniversary of the Fall of Singapore, organised a series of events as a reminder of the dark days of February 1942 and the hard years that followed – something that all should participate in.

A reminder of the Battle of Opium Hill and the exploits of Lt. Adnan and members of the Malay Regiment is provided a Interpretative Centre at the site, Reflections at Bukit Chandu.

One of the events that I did participate in was the very popular guided tour of the Air Raid Shelter at Guan Chuan Street in Tiong Bahru. The shelter was one that was built under pre-war blocks of flats built by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT) in anticipation of the war. There is quite a fair bit on the Air Raid Shelters that’s already out there including this article in the 27 January 2012 edition of the Straits Times.

A peek at the air raid shelter at the bottom of Block 78 Guan Cuan Street as seen through a ventilation opening.

A red brick wall lined room inside the shelter – the shelter is a lot more spacious and airy than I had imagined it would be.

A passageway – a door on the pavement on the ground floor of the block would have served as an entrance to the shelter here. The hole in the concrete ceiling would have contained glass blocks to allow natural light into the shelter.

A room with wooden bunks that was reserved for use by members Air Raid Precaution (ARP) wardens and their families.

The writing on the wall.

I had, being the true Singaporean that I was, been amongst the first to sign up for this tour when the news first broke. I am glad I did as it wasn’t long before the tours were fully subscribed. Stepping into the air raid shelter for the first time was a surreal experience, especially knowing that it had held people in cowering in fear for their lives as sirens that might have been mixed with the sounds of enemy aircraft dropping bombs 70 years before added to the confusion above. What struck me was how airy the shelter was – and perhaps how thin the walls of red Alexandra kiln bricks seemed to be – I had imagined a shelter would have been behind think walls of concrete with only little openings provided for air and light. Looking at a photograph in the Imperial War Museums collection found on Wikipedia, it surprised me to see that there seemed very much to be an air of normalcy on the faces of the people in the air raid shelter – instead of faces etched with fear that I had expected to see. This is also evident in several photographs I have come across of Singapore during the war including one where a man is photographed having a meal with his daughter in the midst of the ruins of an air raid. That I guess highlights the triumph of the human spirit in the face of adversity – great adversity that we today have been fortunate not to face.

Another view inside the air raid shelter.

Civilians in a similar air raid shelter in late 1941 or early 1942 (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Air_raid_shelter.jpg).

A photograph of a man and his daughter dining in midst of the ruins left by an air raid on Singapore.

With the knowledge of the events of the 14th of February of 70 years ago and the darks days that preceded and followed it very much in my mind. The 14th of February will always mean more than the superficial expressions of love that the commercial world demands of us. It will always be a day to remember where we as a nation must never go and to ultimately remember the true expression of love that the likes of Lt. Adnan and his fallen comrades and the many others had expressed in what must be an ultimate sacrifice that they made to fight for the freedom of their fellow-men.


Resources on the Battle of Pasir Panjang and on Kent Ridge:

A Pasir Panjang/Kent Ridge Heritage

Fire and Death on Opium Hill

Reflections at Bukit Chandu

The Battle of Pasir Panjang Revisted

My post on last year’s Battle of Pasir Panjang Commemorative Walk:

A walk along the ridge: Commemorating the Battle of Pasir Panjang






That one man isn’t alone – remembering Tiananmen 22 years on

4 06 2011

On the 4th of June 1989, hundreds (according to official accounts), if not thousands, lost their lives in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, as tanks and troops sent in by the government of the People’s Republic of China, brutally and indiscriminately opened fire on the crowd of demonstrators that had occupied the square for some seven weeks. The unarmed demonstrators, mainly students, had been staging what was a peaceful protest as part of a call for democratic reform in China. 22 years on, although economic progress has been made, democracy remains elusive, as human rights abuses continue, one recent case being that of the detention of dissident artist Ai Weiwei. It is for that and for those who gave their lives on the fateful day that we must remember.

Remember 4th of June 1989.

Remembering Tiananmen: "One Man alone, can stop history, can move a mountain".


This post is also appears as ‘That One Man Isn’t Alone’ on asia! through asian eyes, an online and mobile platform for Asian bloggers and other writers. asia! offers a place to get a feel for what ordinary Asians are thinking and saying and doing providing a glimpse of the Asia that lies beyond the news headlines.





A walk on the wild side

15 05 2011

I took a walk into a world where there might not have been one, where gold, crimson and blue tinged fairies dance a flight of joy, a joy that’s echoed in the singing of songs of joy that eludes ears made weary by the cacophony of the grey world we have found ourselves in. It is a world that seeks to be found in the midst of the cold grey world we find around us, a world that we may soon lose with the lost of the reasons for its being. The world I speak of is none other than the Green Corridor that has existed solely because of the railway which has allowed a green and seemingly distant world to exist next to the concrete world that we have created in our island.

A world that seeks to be discovered - but how much longer will it be there for us?

The walk on the wild side passed through some two kilometres of plush greenery which now probably exists only because of the railway that runs through the area.

The walk that I took was with a group of some 30 people, led by the Nature Society of Singapore and the National Library Board (NLB) to a stretch that I had previously only seen from the perspective of a passenger on the train. It was a short but interesting walk that started at the foot of a railway bridge across Dunearn and Bukit Timah that takes me back to my childhood days – the black truss bridge that I have since my early days looking out for it from the back seat of my father’s Austin 1100, associated with the area. Led by our expert guide, Ms Margie Hall, we were taken not just on a history trip through the slightly more than two kilometre route to the road bridge over the railway at Old Holland Road (close to its junction with Ulu Pandan/Holland Roads), but on a nature trail, as names of birds some of which as Singaporeans we have forgotten about, rattled off Ms Hall’s tongue.

The railway bridge, our starting point, was one that I have identified with the area since my early days spent looking out for it from the back seat of my father's Austin 1100.

One of the features of the walk from a historical perspective was of course the station at Bukit Timah, built to serve the great railway deviation of 1932 which turned the line in that direction and onto Tanjong Pagar. These days, the station serves more as a point where the exchange of the key token, made necessary by the single track is made, a practice I have observed many times from my many encounters with the train.

Bukit Timah Station now serves as a point for the exchange of the key token. In the days gone by, the station was where racehorses coming in to race at the Turf Club were offloaded as well.

A waiting train at Bukit Timah Station.

It was beyond the station that my journey of discovery started. Looking into the distance the width of the clearing through which the line ran looked very much wider than most of the other areas I was familiar with. This was understandable from the perspective of the station itself where alternate tracks for waiting trains to shunt onto were necessary. The width was of course explained by the fact that a line had branched off at the station – the old Jurong Line which was constructed in a project initiated by the Economic Development Board (EDB) to supplement the development of Jurong Industrial Estate. The line ran in parallel for a short distance before turning west into a tunnel under Clementi Road – what is now an area with dense vegetation that is featured in Liao Jiekai’s award winning movie Red Dragonflies which is currently on a limited run at Filmgarde Iluma. The stretch is already popular with cyclists and joggers who in using the stretch of the Green Corridor, shows that there is already a lush stretch of greenery that is ready made – with the authorities having to spend very little money to develop compared to the millions spent on the park connector network. Ms Hall also shared her visions for the area, saying that the tracks should be kept along with the station in its original condition – the station, which has also been listed as one with conservation status (meaning that only its façade needs to be conserved). Ms Hall felt that conserving the station without keeping it in the original condition would not serve the purpose of conserving it – something that I certainly agree with. Some of the thoughts she had included running a replica railway over a short length of tracks to and from the station to allow future generations to have an appreciation for the trains which had served us for over a century.

The stretch of the Green Corridor is already popular with joggers ...

... and cyclists ... proving that is already a long "park connector" that is ready for use.

The clearing through which the portion of the corridor south of Bukit Timah Station runs is wider than most other parts of the rail corridor.

Ms. Hall felt that the tracks should be kept in place for our future generations to appreciate.

The area where the Jurong Line would have turned off into the tunnel is marked by piles of wooden railway sleepers and is one where we stopped and were able to take in the diversity of birds and insects in their songs and dances of joy in and around the lush greenery before us. It was at this point where Ms Hall was in her element, being able to identify birds from the sounds that rose above the others in the background, identifying that of an Iora and a Tailorbird upon hearing their calls. Ms Hall also pointed out Long-Tailed Parakeets high in the trees as well as a pair of Scaly-Breasted Munias foraging in the grass. From this point the corridor is marked with a narrow path through which we passed through single file. The sight of the bridge over Old Holland Road which marked the end of the trail brought with it what was perhaps an ominous gathering of dark clouds … dark clouds that seem to hover over the future of a wonderful gift of nature that Singaporeans seemed to have passed over.

It wasn't just red dragonflies that were able to discover ...

... but also saffron coloured ones ...

... and turquoise coloured ones as well.

A parakeet perched high at the top of a tree - one of the many birds we encountered.

Morning Glory.

A cassava or tapioca leaf.

Proceeding single file on towards Old Holland Road.

For the Green Corridor, the first of July this year sees not only sees the end of its use by the railway, but its continued existence would be under threat. The indications are that there are already plans to redevelop some of the areas which would be reclaimed by Singapore. During the budget debate in Parliament in March this year, the then Foreign Minister George Yeo was quoted as saying that “the development of areas along the railway line, including Silat Estate and the expansion of the One-North business park in Buona Vista, will start after July 1” (see the Straits Times report dated 4 March 2011). It has also come to my attention that a tender was called for the “removal and storage of railway including ancillary structures from Woodlands Train Checkpoint to Tanjong Pagar Railway Station” which closed recently with work scheduled to commence on 1 July 2011. It does look that proposals to retain the green corridor made by the NSS has largely been overlooked by the authorities involved, and the authorities are pressing ahead with the redevelopment of a rich natural resource and a part of our green heritage. It is a shame if this does happen, as not only will we see the last of the passing locomotives and carriages that weaved their way slowly across the island for over a century, but also the last bits of a part of Singapore that the railway has given to Singapore. It only through my recent wanderings that I have become so well acquainted with some portions of it and have began to have a appreciation for what the corridor is worth to us. There are some wonderful ideas that advocates of the Green Corridor have for preserving the corridor – some were in fact presented and discussed right after the walk which was part of a programme that included a forum. This I would touch on in another post. What I hope for is that whoever is involved in the plans for the redevelopment of the area pauses to consider some of these proposals more seriously and to also consider we and more importantly our future generations, would be losing should the Green Corridor be taken over by the concrete jungle that so much of Singapore has now become.

Arched brickwork of a culvert supporting the railway tracks near Old Holland Road.

The little things that matter - the rich biodiversity that the railway corridor supports would be lost to the concrete jungle should plans to redevelop the corridor be executed.

From one bridge to the next ... the bridge at Old Holland Road under which the railway corridor passes through.





Reflections on the morning after

9 05 2011

Many had thought, or at least hoped that Singapore’s General Elections held on the 7th of May 2011 would be a watershed for politics in Singapore. With the dust now settling after what must have been one of the most exciting campaigns for a long time, the scorecard of 81 to 6 does make it look as if nothing much has changed, with the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) holding an overwhelming majority, and the opposition left to contend with an ineffective representation in Parliament. We do have to look a little further than the headlines on the front page though, to realise that the elections is indeed a watershed for Singapore in many ways.

81-6 read the front page of the Straits Times on the morning after, but what should really have been on the front pages of the news was the erosion of support for the ruling party.

Besides the PAP which retained its hold on power, the other party that perhaps had a victory of sorts was the opposition Workers’ Party, adding five more seats from winning in a Group Representation Constituency (GRC) beyond the Single Member Constituency (SMC) that they previously held in Hougang. In that we also saw a big shift in the positions of the opposition parties, with the Workers’ Party (WP) increasing their share of the votes and giving a good a good account of themselves; while veteran politician Chiam See Tong’s decision in his twilight years to contest in a GRC and have his wife Lina stand in Potong Pasir, a seat he has held for some 27 years, saw him and his Singapore People’s Party (SPP) lose their previously held seat by the narrowest of margins. There is no doubt that all that is significant and does show that there is a huge shift in the political landscape, with the WP showing that it is a force in politics, and with the PAP losing a GRC the first time since their introduction in 1988, but also a senior member of the Cabinet, Foreign Minister George Yeo. The GRCs, which account for the majority of constituencies in Singapore’s electoral map, is a grouping of three or more constituencies in which its MPs are voted in as a group, the purpose of which is to ensure adequate representation of minorities with at least one member of the group being from an ethnic minority group. The system has been much criticised by opponents on the grounds that it serves as a huge barrier to what were previously fragmented opposition parties who had difficulty in putting together a large enough group of candidates to contest in the GRCs.

Despite strong support on the ground for Mr Chiam and his wife Lina Chiam, his gamble to stand in a GRC leaving Mrs Chiam to contest in Potong Pasir, saw the Chiam's long association with the ward end. Mrs Chiam lost by the thinnest of margins of less than 1% of the valid votes.

One of the important statistics related to the outcome of the elections would be the 6% fall in the ruling party’s share of votes to some 60.14%. The party had up until 1981, enjoyed 13 years of absolute control of Parliament, and had long had strong support from the population. Of late, voter disaffection and the increased awareness of a hitherto apathetic electorate, plus a desire to have greater representation for alternative views in Parliament has seen support eroded from over 75% of the popular vote at its highs to a historical low of close to 60% this election. While this and the huge majority it has in Parliament does indicate that there is still popular support for the party which has ruled Singapore since its independence, the fact that support is being eroded so much so that now 4 out of every 10 Singaporean voters have voted against the ruling party, signifies a worrying trend for the party.

Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam of the Workers

The lead up to the General Elections saw the largest crowds attending the Workers' Party's rallies. Despite the rain and the muddy conditions on the ground - the crowd that gathered on the penultimate day of campaigning at Ubi Avenue 2 resulted in traffic jams in the area.

This time around, the social media provided a powerful platform for an airing of the opinions of the disaffected, where previously there was none. It was in fact with the social media that the rules of engagement had changed. This was recognised by all parties as a means to reach out to a new generation of social media savvy voters, with a fifth of the electorate below the age of 30. Where in previous elections, the airing of opinions did not go beyond exchanges within one’s circles of friends and relatives, and perhaps on the backseat of a taxi, the social media was able to extend the reach much further to many who shared similar views. This in a sense provided a previously apathetic electorate with a platform for a political awakening and in a collective desire by like minded people to perhaps challenge the status quo. One factor that may have played a part in the small but noticeable swing of votes may have been the platform not being understood well enough by certain quarters of the ruling establishment.

A Worker's Party election campaign banner seen outside Parliament House on Election Day. Many Singaporeans want to see an wider representation in Parliament.

Whatever it was, the election was a watershed for me. I am one who believes that all voices should be heard and that the task of running the country I was born in shouldn’t be left to one group of people who belong to a single party, no matter how well qualified they may appear. I do not dispute that the ruling party which has ruled Singapore since independence has done an excellent job in transforming Singapore into an economic success that many at the point of independence would not have imagined, as well as in addressing the needs of a population that has steadily risen from some 1.9 million during independence to just over 5 million at the end of last year. I don’t think for a moment that I, or for that matter many other like minded voters who cast a vote for change, are being ungrateful, or have forgotten what the previously leadership has done as some would like to think. There is certainly no doubt in my mind that as of today, there is no party that is better positioned to manage a nation that has been so well managed. What I did was, to cast a vote for a future which will include a voice for what has long been a voiceless minority; for a system that has the capacity to address the genuine concerns of the many on the ground who have fallen by the wayside; and for some sensibility to return to the leadership of a country that has become so consumed by their success that they have forgotten what the party had stood for all those years back, It is only by having an alternative voice in Parliament that can engage the ruling party as equals, not just for now, but for time to come that this can ensure that this happens. I am proud to say that I am one of the four out of every ten that said yes to this, and while this on a National level hasn’t translated to more than a handful of alternative voices in our next Parliament, it has seen what I hope is a new dawn – a “shift” as Prime Minister Lee put it in politics that I hope will also transform those in the ruling party to recognise what the people of Singapore are asking for. The signs so far are positive and as PM Lee himself has indicated in his post victory speech: “We hear all your voices” and that it was a “time for healing and for acceptance of the people’s decision, not just for the PAP but for all Singaporeans”. I was there to celebrate the victory of the WP team of Aljunied, and when the official announcement was made that the WP had been successful in winning Aljunied GRC, I found a cause to celebrate, as I did with that by-election victory in Anson all those years back. It did take 30 years to arrive where we are, but with what is recognised as a new political climate in Singapore, what I hope comes out of this is the start of a shift towards a more open and inclusive political system, one that Singapore as a first world country should ultimately have.

Sunset on Election Day brought bright colours - perhaps signifying the optimisation many had for a mature democracy in Singapore.

A historical moment? The celebration at Hougang Stadium in the wee hours of 8 May:

A large crowd of Workers' Party faithful gathered at Hougang Stadium streaming in from as early as 5pm on Election Day in anticipation of the election results.

The crowd holding a poster of the WP candidates for Aljunied GRC.

Mr Yaw Shin Leong, WP's candidate for Hougang SMC who won with a margin of close to 30%, after his victory speech.

Lawyer Chen Show Mao - part of WP's team in Aljunied waving to the crowd.

A supporter trying to get a good view of the winning team's departure from Hougang Stadium - certainly not one who sat on the fence.

With 6 MPs now in Parliament, will the WP hammer away at the PAP's overwhelming majority in the future?





Reflections on Old Kallang Airport (Singapore Biennale 2011)

18 03 2011

[Do note that if you are planning a visit to the Biennale at Old Kallang Airport, the entrance is at Stadium Link, off Geylang Road, a short walk away from Kallang MRT Station. A link to a Google Map with the specific location of the entrance can be found at the end of this post].


Glancing at the headline of yesterday’s article on page 2 of the Life section of the Straits Times, which read “Biennale’s Kallang site not ideal. Visitors say that Old Kallang Airport, one of four venues for the art event, is difficult to get to and very stuffy”, and the lack of interest that is apparent at the venue so far with the exception of Saturday’s Open House Opening Party, one certainly can’t help but have a feeling that the choice of the site of the Singapore’s first civil airport, Old Kallang Airport, wasn’t a good one. I for one, did not mind the absence of a crowd, as that provided me with an opportunity to explore the marked historic site at leisure taking in as much as I could, grateful for the opportunity to explore buildings that I had previously only glanced at from behind a fence. In walking around, I couldn’t help but feel that it was a brilliant idea to do so, not just from the perspective of providing the public access to what had for long otherwise been a closed-off site, but also that the site was ideal for such an event, providing the spatial requirements required that does not exist in the confines of the museum buildings and sites in the city centre. Yes, maybe the site does seem a world away from the convenience of the city, but it isn’t really too far away and readily accessible via public transport, with the Kallang MRT station being a short enough walk away from the entrance to the site. Perhaps what is lacking isn’t the convenience that some have voiced their opinions about, but the information that the public needs to know.

The sign at the entrance of Old Kallang Airport.

The entrance of Old Kallang Airport.

I guess I am one for old places, especially the few that reamin that I can identify in some way from the childhood I had in a Singapore time has erased. The distinctive terminal building of the old airport with its control tower, which by the time I arrived in the world, was used by the People’s Association (PA) as its headquarters, had always been one that I had associated with Kallang and the Nicoll Highway, rising on the left of the east bound carriageway of Singapore’s first highway built after the airport had ceased operations. That would be the approach to the old Guillemard Circus and the wonderful neon signs that I somehow associate with the roundabout. There were many times that I had passed the building on foot as well, cutting on the side of it through from Kallang Road on the way to the National Stadium to catch a match or in the two months that I would have walked by on an almost daily basis on the way to Jalan Bennan Kapal. The tower adorned with the rings of the PA’s logo, had always caught my eye, rising somewhat defiantly and proudly to remind us of its past as Singapore’s first civil airport all those years back.

The distinctive terminal building which is a landmark in the area.

Another view of the terminal building.

The entrance gate to the terminal building.

Perhaps the inspiration for this set of photographs ... a work on display in the terminal building.

The reminders of its previous role had been everywhere, with names such as “Old Airport Road” and Dakota Crescent around. So even with me not having seen it used as an airport, I had been aware of it since I could remember … The airport had I was to discover, was built as an airfield on the site of land reclaimed from the swampy Kallang Basin in 1937 at the cost of S$9 million. It was opened very grandly by the then Govenor of Singapore, Sir Shenton Thomas, who flew in from Seletar for the occasion with some 70 aircraft there to mark the occasion. The location next to the Kallang Basin proved useful as it also allowed seaplanes to land. It was used by the Japanese who built a paved runway during the occupation, and refurbished by the British on their return. And although there were plans to expand and upgrade the airport the the end of the 1940s and early 1950s, it was thought that effort involved would prove too costly and Kallang was abandoned for a new inetrnational airport at Paya Lebar. Paya Lebar started operations in 1955 and that saw the last of Kallang as a civil airport, with the PA moving into the site in 1960. On the evidence of old photographs, the hangars were used by the Public Works Department (PWD) after the airport closed. The bulk of the location of the main runway was then transformed into Kallang Park one which the Oasis Restaurant, Wonderland Amusement Park and later the National Stadium, Indoor Stadium and Kallang Leisuredrome was built.

The main hangar next to the West Block.

The West Block and the main hangar off the window of the terminal building.

A smaller hangar, once used as a second hand car showroom.

An auxiliary building.

Another view of the smaller hangar.

It was certainly nice to walk around the old site and reflect on this, and hence the theme of this post … much of the old airport grounds that are left have been left in not so much its original state, but in a state that perhaps the PA had left them in – which I thought wonderfully complemented the exhibits. That also meant a lot of the wear and tear was evident from not just the use of the buildings by the PA, but the hangars by used car dealers at some point in time – I remember seeing them still at the end of the 1990s passing by after a concert at the Indoor Stadium. That provided me with an alternative view of the buildings – reflected off puddles of water and off windows and mirrors. I certainly did not get enough of it on the two occasions that I visited and I will certainly return for more.

A Toast Box cafe set up in one of the smaller hangars.

The side of a hangar.

The roof of the smaller hangar.

The main hangar.

Ventilation openings on the side of the main hangar.

The inside of the main hangar.

Roof of the main hangar.

Windows on the side of the main hangar.

Windows on the side of the main hangar.

Some of the auxiliary buildings on the premises - I understand that these were used by the Singapore Chinese Orchestra in the 1990s.

A newer auxiliary building ... perhaps added in the 1950s as an expanded air traffic control centre.

A peek under a marquee.

Another view of the terminal building and an auxiliary building.

A reflection of the East Block on a mirror mounted on an auxiliary building.

A last look ....

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What’s to become of Old Kallang Airport? Thankfully, we should see that it is conserved for our future generations – it would be nice to see it turned into some kind of aviation museum though:

URA Letter to the Strait Times, 5 Mar 2010

URA has plans for old Kallang Airport site

I THANK Mr Edwin Pang for his Forum Online letter last Friday, 'Turn site into civil aviation heritage centre'.

The former Kallang Airport is located within Kallang Riverside, which is envisioned to be a new lifestyle hub at the fringe of the city area under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) 2008 Master Plan.

The former Kallang Airport passenger terminal building with its distinctive art deco structure, as well as the office buildings, former hangar, Old Airport Square and other historical structures, was designated a heritage area and conserved in 2008 to preserve memories while allowing for a new lease of life.

In future, they will be adapted to new uses as part of a future development centred on the conserved Old Airport Square, offering a wide range of lifestyle, entertainment and retail facilities.

In January, the Singapore Biennale committee announced that it was considering the former Kallang Airport as a venue for the festival next year. URA and the Singapore Land Authority are glad that the artistic community has found heritage buildings to be suitable venues for contemporary art events. Past editions of the Biennale were also held in heritage environments.

The synergy between heritage buildings and contemporary arts is useful in bringing the awareness of our conservation buildings to the wider public and helps to endear our heritage buildings to Singaporeans.

Hwang Yu-Ning (Ms)
Group Director (Physical Planning)
Urban Redevelopment Authority


Getting to Old Kallang Airport:

The entrance to Old Kallang Airport is located at Stadium Link, off Geylang Road and is a ten minute walk from Kallang MRT Station. Please click on this link for the specific location.






A relic of a forgotten time

12 11 2010

The Cold War, a time that perhaps has been forgotten during which the clash of the ideologies that dominated the world after the end of the second world war, was one through I lived and one which I would remember most for intrigue provided by the many John le Carre-esque incidents of espionage. In an environment created by the clash of the dominant ideologies of the period, no effort was spared in the development of technologies in the attempt by the purveyors of ideologies to dominate the world. In developing many of the inventions that are still used in the post Cold War world, there are also many more with which had fallen with any lingering memories of them erased by the passage of time, leaving in some cases, a relic of that forgotten time that seeks to be discovered …





Windows 1.0

7 11 2010

One of the simple things that I love is how light streams through the frosted or textured panes of an old window, casting a soft and somewhat surreal glow on the space it is meant to provide light to. For me, being bathed in that soft glow, often tinged with a green coloured tint the glass is given somehow brings with it a sense of calm, a calm that exudes a surprising coolness that allows one to take refuge from the warm and oppressive heat that lies beyond the translucent panes. It is for me a light so beautiful that it always draws me to the space that it illuminates – a light that somehow we have in our quest to erect the new edifices of glass and steel, we have long forgotten about.

Soft light streaming into a room of a building that was designed in the mid 1900s.

I guess many of these windows came from a time when necessity dictated that windows would provide light necessary to illuminate a space in the day, serving as a means to ventilate as well as keep out the heat and glare of the tropical sun. Most would have been frosted or textured to provide for the latter consideration as well as for privacy – something that perhaps is achieved for practical reasons with adornments to windows such as the blinds that are commonplace with the windows of today.

Soft light streaming from textured windows of a shophouse from the 1930s in Wan Chai, Hong Kong.

The frosted or textured panes of glass, sometimes coloured, sometimes not, always succeeds in evoking a sense of nostalgia in me, a nostalgia for a time when I sat in the warm glow of the green frosted and textured windows of the primary school that I attended. It was a time for me when there was much to discover through the eyes of a child with the wonderment of world at his feet, and when many of the friendships made have lasted through the half a lifetime that has since passed. I guess those were the formative years that made me the person I am today, and gave me the eyes with which I now look at the world through.

Green coloured frosted glass adds a cool and calm to the light that filters through them.

The green coloured versions somehow casts a tranquility that envelops the space, something that is very much in evidence in the grand old Supreme Court building. It is in providing Singapore with a masterpiece of his architectural genius, that Frank Dorrigton Ward, makes wonderful use of frosted as well as clear glass windows and skylights, that makes it unnecessary to use artificial lighting during the day. What is simply brilliant about the work is that the soft light that filters through, bathes the internal spaces such as the Rotunda Library, the Courtrooms, Judges’ Chambers and passageways with a glow that speaks of a calm that only seeing can describe. This was something that I was fortunate enough to savour on a few visits to the grand old building before work begins to transform it into the National Gallery of Art. It is certainly comforting to know that once the transformation is complete, we will still see much of the magnificent light that it is now bathed in, comforting in the sense that there is still a place to which I can go to feel the glow that only those wonderful windows of old can bring.

Soft light on the main staircase of the old Supreme Court.

Another view of the staircase of the old Supreme Court.

Soft light entering the former Chief Justice's Office in the old Supreme Court.

The soft light of the Rotunda Library.

The old Supreme Court features strategically placed skylights and windows that allow filtered natural light to illuminate its corridors and chambers.

Even the lobby of the prisoner holding area is bathed in a wonderful soft light that streams in through the windows.

A coloured frosted window in the old Supreme Court.

Coloured frosted windows of the old Supreme Court.

A window to a light well in the old Supreme Court.

Soft light of a room illuminated by light filtered through the frosted glass panes of a window.

Textured and frosted glass is commonly used in older buildings of the pre-glass and steel days.

A close up of textured and frosted glass panes.

Timeless old world illumination reflected off the instrument of illumination of the new world.





A celebration of light

4 11 2010

Last evening’s wonderful celebration of light, brought to us by none other than the master of wonderment, Mother Nature herself, I guess, is a fitting welcome to the Hindu Festival of Lights, or Deepavali, as it is known in Singapore. This would be celebrated by Hindus around the world tomorrow as Deepavali or Diwali to commemorate the triumph of good over evil, a central theme of the Hindu epic the Ramayana. For me, Deepavali would somehow always be remembered for the colourful cubes of coconut candy that a Sikh neighbour in Toa Payoh would invariably prepare for Deepavali. Incidentally Sikhs also celebrate Diwali, with the day being associated with several significant events in Sikhism. With this, I would like to wish all my Hindu and Sikh friends and readers a very happy Deepavali or Diwali.

Last evening's celebration of light.

Cubes of brightly coloured coconut candy similar to the ones a Sikh neighbour would prepare for Deepavali.





Revisiting Clifford Pier

13 10 2010

Having spent a few hours of my weekend in Rotunda Library of the former Supreme Court, I was able to have a last feel of what must be considered to be the greatest work of Frank Dorrington Ward. This certainly allowed me to have a better appreciation for the genius of the architect who gave us some of the magnificent structures we have inherited from our colonial past, including one that my attention was turned to last evening, Clifford Pier. Ward’s contribution towards the beautiful pier was as the Chief Architect of the team of architects at the Public Works Department that provided the design for what must be the finest pier to be built in Singapore, in which the Art-Deco style features prominently. The pier, which may have looked a little worse for wear in the latter part of its life as a public pier from which many people made their journeys to the southern islands and the gateway for many seamen coming ashore to Singapore, has been wonderfully restored and a large part of it given to use as an exclusive restaurant “One on the Bund”, and the front end of it being converted into an entrance to the very posh Fullerton Bay Hotel.

Clifford Pier at its opening in 1933 (source: Woh Hup 80, Building with Integrity).

The front end of the pier now serves as the entrance to the posh Fullerton Bay Hotel.

The magnificent pier, built to replace Johnston’s Pier in 1933, never seemed to go to sleep and was always alive with activity in the 1970s when I was growing up. It was a place that I certainly have many fond memories of, having visited on many occasions to watch the comings and goings of the passengers of the launches that bobbled up and down the sides of the pier. There was always a frenzy of activity as passengers would scramble up and down the precariously slippery steps to or from the spacious deck of the pier. Already busy as it was, the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar would bring with it the frenzy crowd of pilgrims heading to Kusu Island for the annual pilgrimage. The pier was also where I had embarked on several adventures of my own – to the islands that lay beyond the southern shores of Singapore and also on to the high seas. It would have been nice if the pier had kept its place as a gateway to the southern islands and beyond – a focal point close to the old heart of the city from which a doorway opened to the shores that lay beyond Singapore – an area that is significant to the history of Singapore as one being where many of the our forefathers – the early immigrants who made Singapore what it is would have first set foot on the island. This sadly wasn’t to be as the conversion of what is now known as Marina Bay into a fresh water reservoir with the construction of the Marina Barrage put paid to any thoughts some of us might have harboured on this. The pier ceased operations in 2004 as the Marina Barrage had cut off what had once been the Inner Roads of the harbour to the sea.

An early view of Clifford Pier (c. 1950) from an old postcard (courtesy of Mr. Low Kam Hoong).

The pier is perhaps best known for the beautiful concrete trusses which support its roof structure, which provided a wide unsupported span of the roof supports, allowing a clear and unobstructed space across much of the expansive deck of the once well used pier – another piece of architectural genius given to Singapore by Frank Dorrington Ward and his team. While the trusses have perhaps escaped the eyes of many in the hundreds of thousands who might have passed under the roof they provide support for during the 71 years of the pier’s operation, it was (and still is) a sight to behold.

Deck of Clifford Pier with the beautiful concrete arched trusses of the roof structure above (source: Woh Hup 80, Building with Integrity).

Clifford Pier as it appears today as "One on the Bund".

The beautifully illuminated concrete trusses of the roof structure - not everybody gets to get close up and personal with them anymore.

Another view of the setting of the restaurant that now occupies Clifford Pier.

The restoration and conversion of the use of the pier does provide an opportunity to savour the beauty of the truss structure, particularly in the evenings when the effects of the varied and changing hues provided by the coloured illumination which does seem to bring the beauty of structures out brilliantly. However, it is unfortunate for many of us that much of the pier within the exclusive restaurant remains inaccessible to the general public to allow an up close and personal appreciation of the wonderfully design roof structure. I had in the past attempted to capture the trusses on camera but was prevented from doing so and only got a chance to do it as a guest of an event held at the restaurant last evening. While it is nice to see the restoration of buildings that are our monuments and heritage and the use of them in a very dignified manner as is the case with Clifford Pier, and with the consideration that certainly must be made from a commercial perspective, it would still be nice if at least some parts of it are made accessible to the general public who like me, have a link or a memory to a past that might be worth a revisit from time to time. I do hope that whatever is planned for some of the future heritage sites such as the grand station at Tanjong Pagar that consideration be put in to allow parts of them to at least remain accessible to us.


The beautiful setting inside the restaurant.


More views of the restaurant.

Maybe other ideas on conservation are required to allow the general public to fully appreciate some of our heritage buildings?

The entrance to the Fullerton Bay Hotel at the front end of the pier.

The view of the restaurant from the entrance.

Views of the wonderful structure of the pier.

A close-up of the trusses ...

Air-conditioning vents blend in with the existing structure.


The decor of the restaurant does include many reminders of the past.

More views of last evening’s event:

Dough figurines that were commonly found amongst the vendors that accompanied the the wayangs (street Chinese Operas) of old.

The open air deck at the far end of the pier.





All that glitters is Hong Kong!

1 08 2010

One of the things that strikes you about Hong Kong, is the unabashed celebration of ostentatious opulence on display. It is Hong Kong at its most glitzy, where labels having made their mark in the western capitals have found not just a home, but have become an inseparable part of the heart and soul of what Hong Kong is. Hong Kong is in fact where the labels seem to belong, thriving on a thirst for luxury that is driven very much by the pursuit of wealth as a means to measure success and happiness that makes Hong Kong, Hong Kong. It is in Hong Kong where there are more Gucci and Hermes outlets than there are in the world’s capital of haute couture, Paris, where every other shop seems to be one that offers the flamboyance of a Louis Vuitton or a Chanel, or one that glitters with the gold and diamonds of the many jewellery shops that illuminate the streets and malls. Nowhere is there such an enormous concentration of displays of luxury watches and mobile phones. This is even more startling walking through Harbour City shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui, where there seems to be nothing but shops that seem to speak of nothing but money.

Objects of luxury and desire are everywhere in Hong Kong.

Objects of luxury and desire are everywhere in Hong Kong.

Luxury labels are everywhere in a concentration that surpasses even the fashion capital of the world, Paris.
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Luxury labels are everywhere in a concentration that surpasses even the fashion capital of the world, Paris.

I guess this is what seems to define Hong Kong, and while the objects of desire are unattainable to many, it is somehow a side of Hong Kong that thrives, alongside the traditional trades, markets and street vendors that share the streets with the glamour. This is perhaps what makes Hong Kong interesting, and what gives it a buzz that draws visitors from all around the world.

The pursuit of happiness in the form of material wealth is very apparent on the streets of Hong Kong.

The pursuit of happiness in the form of material wealth is very apparent on the streets of Hong Kong.

Desire for all that glitters is what makes Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Desire for all that glitters is what makes Hong Kong, Hong Kong.

Even mobile phones speak of luxury!

Even mobile phones speak of luxury!

Perhaps one of the reasons that Hong Kong embraces the show of wealth with such gusto is the fact that many do not see the need to enslave themselves to the car, as it is the case in Singapore. The excellent public transport network that again combines new and old to good effect, the ultra modern MTR and the traditional means such as the Star Ferry, tramways, minibuses and taxis seem to work hand in hand in transporting the millions around. While we do see cars and particularly many Bentleys and Rolls Royces alongside the Nissans and Toyotas, it is considered expensive to own one: high taxes on cars and petrol, and the need to buy or lease a parking space at a home or in the city at high prices seems to make one more of a luxury than a Gucci or Louis Vuitton, many Hong Kongers have chosen to dispense with one. That parking spaces are highly priced (as are highly prized) is probably best seen in a conversation that I had with a Canadian expatriate whilst on the tram from Causeway Bay to Central. The Canadian who had been in Hong Kong for fifteen years described how recently, parking lots in one particular development that were sold came with a free gift … a brand new car!

Cars can be an unobtainable object of desire in Hong Kong.

Cars can be an unobtainable object of desire in Hong Kong.

Whatever it is, it is nice to be able to wander down the streets and take in the lavish surroundings – it is certainly a unique experience, one that somehow gives me a feeling that I am amongst those that have attained the holy grail of life … happiness …. albeit only for that moment I am standing in the glow that the glitter of Hong Kong has cast on me …

Even shop windows of cafes and restaurants speak of wealth.

Even shop windows of cafes and restaurants speak of wealth.


Note: this is a repost of my post on the omy My Hong Kong Travel Blog site. Please visit the My Hong Kong Travel Blog where you can vote for you favourite blogger and stand a chance to win a trip to Hong Kong. Details would be provided at the voting page.





I just love sunsets …

30 07 2010

Sunsets are something that I never tire of … Sunset is a time of the day when we leave the tiredness that the day brings upon us and welcome the freshness of the night. It is a time when we can pause and reflect on our day as we prepare for the promise that the new day would bring … and the best part is sometimes, mother nature obliges with a feast of colour that she paints the sky with, a spectacle that we can only but marvel at …

The sun sets on Orchard Road on 29 July 2010.

The sun sets on Orchard Road on 29 July 2010.

The changing colours of yesterday’s sunset





A quiet moment

25 07 2010

I often take the time to take a quiet moment away from life’s day-to-day routine. And being away on this trip to Hong Kong helps me to do just that and reflect on the paths I have taken in life, and in doing so, I am reminded of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, a reflection that can only be a reflection, arriving at where we are only as a consequence of the roads we have taken. While we may as in the words of the poet, “tell with a sigh” of the road not taken, it is a road one which we can’t go back on. And certainly, in taking the road we have taken, whether less travelled or or not, makes the difference in our lives.

A quite moment to reflect.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood ...

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost, 1916

A quite moment to contemplate perhaps on the road not taken ...





The call to prayer

20 07 2010

As a child I had always been captivated by the Adhan or the Islamic call to prayer. I would wake up just to listen to it echoing through the relative silence of the dawn with the crowing of cockerels as an accompliment in the welcome to the ligthening day, the voice of the muezzin filling the morning with an air with the distinctive melodic strains of the Adhan, whenever I am in the vicinity of a mosque on the many trips I made to Malaysia as a child. There were occasions when I could help the overlap of calls, reaching out to the faithful from the numerous pointed minarets rising out in the landscape, seemingly in competition with each other. However, the overlap of calls rather than complicate the otherwise sedate air somehow complement each other, ringing out in a surprisingly harmonious mixing of the distinctive voices of the muezzins. The call is made five times a day, calling upon Muslims to turn towards the Ka’aba in prayer, once as day breaks (Subuh), once at noon (Zuhur), once in the mid-afternoon (Asar), once as the sun sets (Maghrib), and the last at night (Isyak). This I guess, is something that we don’t often hear in Singapore. Here the call is not amplified through loudspeakers as it would be across the causeway, save maybe for one that rings out from the Sultan’s Mosque in Kampong Glam area. I am sometimes drawn to the are around the Sultan’s mosque at dusk, just to listen to the call ring out as day turns to night, engulfing the area in a sense of calm. As the strains of the Adhan fills the air, accompanied by the glow of the colours of the sky cast on the golden dome of the mosque, I am transported away from the world for that short moment when life seems to come to a standstill.

Waktu Maghrib at Sultan's Mosque in Singapore





The story of Spain in and beyond the headlines

13 07 2010

Spain it is, and on the balance of how football’s World Cup was played, despite losing their opening encounter with the Swiss, Spain were certainly worthy winners. Although the final match against the Netherlands proved to be less entertaining than one would have expected between a polished Spanish team and the once masters of total football, the Oranje, the match did provide the excitement at the end, and some controversy too, the magnificent finish of Barça’s Andres Iniesta coming with an attack launched right after English referee Howard Webb missed a Spanish deflection on a Dutch free kick denying the Oranje a corner. This controversy and that the match was marred by what was seen to be roughhouse tactics employed by the Oranje to try to break Spanish control over the ball resulting in 13 yellow cards being brandished by Webb, 8 to the Netherlands and 5 to Spain, with Oranje Johnny Heitinga being shown a second yellow and hence a red, would probably dominate the news in many newspapers. But that really shouldn’t, and for most part, glancing at the front pages of the newspapers around the world, it is good to know that it hasn’t. I always enjoy glancing at the front pages after an event to grasp a sense of the mood of a nation in response to the event and in Spain of course, the newspapers would be splashed with the joy of a nation tasting World Cup success for the very first time, after years of misery and under-achievement. There is a story of Spain that perhaps the newspapers should really tell, not one of the narrow but sweet victory over a determined Dutch side, or the kung-fu kick Nigel de Jong landed on Xabi Alonso that Eric Cantona would have certainly been proud of, but one of unity in diversity.

The front pages of newspapers often provide an insight into the mood of a nation. "Reyes del mundo" or "Kings of the world" reads the La Vanguardia the morning after Spain's victory over the Netherlands.

Spain is indeed as diverse as nations go. The make-up of the national team itself is a reflection of that. With players made up of proud and independent thinking Catalunya, those from the Castillian heart of Spain, the far flung and rough Basque country, and even the Canary Islands, each with an outlook and identity as distinct as the landscapes are as you move from one region of Spain to another. What was on show during the World Cup was the unity the diverse members displayed as a team, combining into an unstoppable force that was able to overcome a German team that looked to be on its way to win the cup having demolished the fancied English and Argentinian teams putting four goals past each of them. It is from Spain that we see that the power of the team can defeat the teams where the focus held dwelt on individuals. So, where the Ronaldos, Rooneys and Messis flopped, what can be seen beyond the headlines is the triumph of teamwork and team spirit in the superb Spanish show during the World Cup.

"Lost"... The mood of the Netherlands summed up in the front page of Het Parool.

Elsewhere, in Netherlands, as one would have expected, the headlines on the front pages reflected a different mood, one of despair at their fall final hurdle for the third time in the quest for football’s ultimate reward. In Germany, with the exit of the national team at the hands of the Spanish in the semi-finals, the news was conspicuously absent from the front pages of the main broadsheets, and in the UK, the Times leads with the graphic image of Nigel de Jong executing the kung-fu style kick on Xabi Alonso, giving the game an appearance of a kick-boxing match, and a game which was difficult to officiate, drawing attention to the only thing England could contribute to the final, referee Howard Webb’s performance. Regional newspapers also tell a story,

Conspicuously missing from the headlines of the German broadsheets, news of the Spanish triumph over the Netherlands.

The Times leads with a very graphic image of Nigel de Jong's king-fu style kick, providing a negative impression of the game and bring attention to Howard Webb's performance in handling what would be seen to be a difficult game.

The pride of Catalunya, Carles Puyol on the front page of a regional newspaper from Catalunya.





42 years of Keeping Singapore Clean and still trying to keep Singapore clean

6 07 2010

I have noticed of late, walking around parts of Singapore, that there is quite a lot of litter strewn around on the streets. Reflecting on how far we have come as we prepare to celebrate 45 years of our being, it is remarkable how far we have come in some ways and how, despite attempts made at educating us, we have retained some of the less desirable habits of old. Old habits die hard I suppose, but thinking back at the many campaigns we have had, it does come as a surprise that when it comes to littering, we still have a long way to go.

Not such a tasty treat ... litter strewn on the streets of Singapore.

What keeps the streets clean is not the social consciousness of the population, but the army of cleaners we have on the streets.

This October, it would be 42 years since the first “Keep Singapore Clean” campaign, launched in 1968, at a time when there certainly was a need to raise awareness of the ills of littering, and a need to clean the streets of Singapore up. Along with the enforcement of public health laws which were passed that year which prescribed penalties for littering, the campaigns went a long way initially to improve conditions in Singapore. In the period of time since then, we have indeed seen a dramatic improvement in the environment that we can certainly be proud of.

We have had numerous "Keep Singapore Clean" campaigns which have not had their desired effects.

Litter is everywhere, even within sight of signs urging the public to use the many bins around.

What is interesting to note at the time of the passing of the laws, was that Mr. Chua Sian Chin, the then Minister for Health had, had been quoted in saying that “the changed political and social circumstances, as well as the behaviour patterns and attitudes of the local population needed to be taken into account”. While this may have justified the need for the use of penalties to serve as a deterrent and for the need for enforcement then, it shouldn’t really be the case now, when we have seen a great leap forward in our political and social circumstances, and also in higher education and literacy levels. But somehow, education and literacy hasn’t really translated into the increased social consciousness that one would expect, and if it wasn’t for the threat of fines (increased since 1968) and the introduction of the Corrective Work Order (CWO) scheme, and as an observer had once commented, the “army of cleaners” we have on the streets, we would probably revert to a level of filth that wouldn’t be far off from what we would have seen in the Singapore of the 1960s.

Seen on a bin in Singapore. The Earth's environment in need of First Aid. In Singapore we have managed our environment very well, but there is a need to raise social consciousness as a means to maintaining this and not just rely on deterrence and corrective action.

It seems like the hands off policing methods when it comes to littering does not have the required impact and more needs to be done.

All this perhaps is reflective of a greater problem we have in Singapore, where we have grown accustomed to deterrence and correction as a means of prevention. While this does help in controlling situations, it cannot be more effective then addressing the problem at its source. In very much the same way as with policing on the roads where deterrence is used as a means to control, to the extent where the absence of a policeman or a camera sees vehicles travelling at speeds in excess of limits and vehicles rushing past a traffic light well after that had turned red, the absence of police officers and surveillance cameras often sees litter being left on the streets and in the parks, very often in clear sight of an empty rubbish bin.

Discarded cigarette butts are a common sight everywhere.

Along with discarded cigarette boxes.

Little bits of litter such as cigarette butts end up in crevices and slots that are often hard to reach.

Quoting an NEA press release relating to the recent launch of the latest anti-littering drive, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, “highlighted that Singapore’s clean environment is a result of continuous efforts over the last forty years of emplacing measures such as stiff penalties, strict enforcement against littering, a robust cleaning regime, and public education and community engagement on littering issues”. He goes on to note that “while these efforts have borne fruit, NEA’s surveillance and a sociological study on the ground shows that the littering situation in pockets of areas, such as town centres and around letter boxes in public housing estates, can be further improved. Common litter items include cigarette butts, used tissue, food and drink containers, and other assorted packaging”.

Discarded food containers are also a common sight.

Often, half eaten food in containers can be found abandoned on the streets and in the parks.

Dr Yaacob Ibrahim did also note that the “majority of the population sees it as their personal responsibility to bin their litter”, and that “in order to roundly resolve the littering problem today, NEA has adopted an integrated approach of stepping up enforcement, improving infrastructure and enhancing public education to tackle littering issues and challenges”. While this may be good in the short term, what we have seen over the 42 years also shows that try as hard as we might, without changing the attitudes of the population, it would always be a tough ask to “Keep Singapore Clean”.

Even downtown areas are not spared.

Litter is left on places such as benches too.

It isn't Singaporeans that seem to be keeping Singapore clean.

And we have to thank our foreign cleaning crew for much of the efforts in keeping our environment livable.

Our downtown reservoir isn't spared from litter.





The living streets of Shanghai and the less Singaporean Singapore that we have become

29 06 2010

One of the things that struck me when I was wandering through some of the streets of Shanghai was that many of the streets were “living”, despite the modernisation that has engulfed much of the city. It is much the same in many of the cities of Asia where there is an interesting mix of old and new, of tradition and modernity, where old trades are often found amidst the office blocks and shopping malls that have sprouted up alongside the older buildings where people are living as well as making a living very much in the same way they may have done half a century ago. It is always nice to see that in a city, it is the living streets, each one different from the other, that often give a city its character.

Singapore has an absence of street life which can still be found in many of the modern Asian cities.

It's always nice to see vendors on the streets that cater to the day-to-day needs of the people who live in the cities rather than to the tourists.

In Singapore, we have unfortunately lost all that. Wandering around the streets of Chinatown one morning, it felt as if I was in an empty amusement park before opening time. It was empty, devoid of all life. Not the Chinatown that made Chinatown, Chinatown. This is a sad reflection of what we have become. We had wonderful living streets, some that never slept, where people lived their lives on, where colourful food stalls lined the streets, stalls selling produce in the mornings, dried sundries, clothes and whatever one needed all day, and brightly lit food stalls serving a delicious choice of street fare that somehow seemed to taste that much better off the streets. There would be the crowds that throng the streets all day, housewives doing their marketing in the mornings, shoppers looking for a bargain in the afternoons and the multitudes out on the streets in search for a sumptuous feast. We now have lost all that to the glitzy shopping malls, office blocks and the giant amusement park that Singapore has become. A reader Greg, lamented about our lost buildings around the Raffles Place and Collyer Quay area – yes there were certainly some magnificent examples of colonial architecture that we have lost, replaced by towering masses of glass and steel. Not only we have lost that, we have lost the soul of what Singapore was. Even in areas where attempts are made to conserve some of the beautiful edifices, the structures stand without a heart and soul, as it is in Chinatown. Where we once saw people going about their day to day lives, we now see hordes of tourists fooled into thinking it is the genuine Chinatown they have been brought to. Where traditional trades supporting the day-to-day needs of people living around had once thrived, the buildings now are saturated with businesses that give the tourists what they think they want at a price that is set by the profits that the landlords and business owners so crave.

An already somewhat sanitised Chinatown in 1984, with some semblance of street life. The corner of Smith and Trengganu Streets is seen here.

The same corner today ... where tourist shops being rented at high prices have replaced what were shops catering to the day-to-day needs of the people around.

The streets of Chinatown today are quiet and without the soul that made Chinatown what it once was.

The streets of Chinatown are no longer coloured by life on the streets, but by symbols that fool people into thinking that the Chinatown they see is authentic.

Where traditional businesses once thrived, shops selling expensive suggestions of what we would like tourists to see Chinatown as.

Street markets of the tourist kind - nothing like the atmosphere found in the street markets of old.

Much of the effort to modernise Singapore took place when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, when many were moved out of the streets of the city and the villages in the rural areas into the housing estates that lack the character that the older streets and villages had. I suppose some may argue that that is the price of progress that we must pay and that we should be thankful for improved conditions in which many of us now live in with comfortable housing units, clean water and proper sanitisation. But, we have paid a price in that we have in sanitising Singapore, also sanitised the richness and diversity that could only be found in Singapore. In modernising Singapore and in attempting to selectively retain what makes us Asian, we have also discarded not just the street life, but also the many unique sub-cultures that were very much a part of what made Singapore, Singapore. We have become less of the unique Singapore that the tourist board might have many believe, but a Singapore that bears very little of the microcosm of Asia it once was.

The streets of Shanghai each have a unique character that is lacking in much of Singapore.

Where you can still find people plying trades that were once a common sight on the streets of Singapore.

The streets of Singapore used to be filled with vendors selling wares and produce that cater to the needs of the ordinary folk on the street.





So, it wasn’t the cat after all!

17 06 2010

So it wasn’t really the cat after all, or the dog for that matter. The PUB confirmed this in a statement issued late this afternoon. Quoting a Channel NewsAsia report, “in its statement the PUB said the drain’s capacity is adequate as it has handled previous rains of similar intensity”. In the statement, the PUB blamed the flooding on the build up of debris which were trapped in a culvert near Delfi Orchard. The culvert which diverts water from Nassim and Cuscaden Road into two sections of Stamford Canal, runs along Orchard Road. As a result of the heavy build-up of debris the rainwater from the heavy rainfall was diverted to only one the sections of the canal.

High and dry ... this cat certainly wasn't the culprit, nor the dogs that were said to have fallen with the cats!

The PUB did say in the statement that it would be increasing the frequency of maintenance and inspections of critical closed drains as a result. While this does help to prevent future repeat occurrences of Wednesday’s flood, it would certainly be more effective if we were to tackle the problem at its source. Walking around Singapore these days, there is certainly a lot of litter that can be seen strewn around: plastic cups, plastic bags, plastic bottles, styrofoam food containers etc. Many of these do eventually find their way into the drains and canals when it rains. The recent launch of the new anti-littering drive which was announced last week and the associated measures to curb littering now takes on a greater degree of importance. Let’s hope the recent flooding helps to bring the message to everyone that the consequences of littering can be a lot more far reaching than many of us would like to believe.

The heavy downpour caused debris to be trapped diverting water into only one of two sections of the canal. An open section of the canal is seen here behind Tanglin Shopping Centre.

Walking around Singapore these days, litter such as plastic cups, styrofoam containers, plastic bottles and bags, etc. can be found everywhere.

Much of the litter eventually ends up in the drains and canals, not just choking them, but also diverting them into our rivers and reservoirs.





Raindrops keep falling on my head

16 06 2010

I suppose that some may not agree with me, but the rain this morning is a reason to celebrate. I have always been fond of the rain as I find that there is nothing that compares to the freshness that rain can bring to otherwise angry day. Walking in the rain this morning, as I have always been inclined to do, I was reminded of my days in school, when I never resisted the opportunity to play in the rain and splash in the puddles of water. My white canvas school shoes could never stay white in the rain and my feet were never dry. I guess I was one of the more fortunate, having two pairs of school shoes, allowing me the luxury of washing one pair at any time during the week and leaving them to dry under the refrigerator. This brings to mind a common sight back then when school children in raincoats could be seen walking with bags of plastic over their shoes, with some in flip-flops – all done to protect their only pair of shoes from getting wet.

The rain this morning.

The rain this morning also brings to mind a Hal David and Burt Bacharach song popularised by B. J. Thomas that was popular in the 1970s – one that as school children, we would sing on rainy days:

Raindrops keep falling on my head,
And just like the guy whose feet are too big for his bed,
nothing seems to fit.
Those raindrops are falling on my head, they keep falling.

So I just did me some talking to the sun.
And I said I didn’t like the way, he got things done…
sleeping on the job…
those raindrops are falling on my head, they keep falling.

But there’s one thing I know:
The blues they send to meet me won’t defeat me.
It won’t be long till happiness sleps up to greet me.

Raindrops keep falling on my head,
but that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red.
Crying’s not for me
cause I’m never gonna stop the rain by complaining.
Because I’m free.
Nothing’s worrying me.