Adventures with numbers

19 05 2010

No, I don’t mean math! But I did have a lot of adventures associated with numbers back in the days of my childhood. It was back when we had the likes of Stanley Kramer’s madcap It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and the lovable Volkswagen Beetle named Herbie that Disney gave us in the Love Bug (numbered 53), which perhaps laid the ground for my own adventures on wheels, or so I imagined. It was cretainly with the numbers on wheels that seemed to be the source of many an adventure then, from the ones I got with the long drives my father took us for in his Austin 1100 numbered 793 (that being the number on the car registration plate, SM 793) to the far flung corners of Singapore and to the hills and beaches that lay across the Causeway, to the adventures of my own on the minibus that carried me to school, numbered 388 (being CB 388). While sitting on the backseat (and roof) of the 793 did provide a fair bit of adventure, it was on the 388 that perhaps made life for a boy of school-going age a lot more fun, and looking back, school days at St. Michael’s School would certainly not have been complete and made all the more exciting if it wasn’t for the 388. It was on the 388 where we, the closet mischievous school boys that many of us were, could express this inclination, free from the watchful and critical eyes of our parents and teachers. There was a big adventure each day for us to look forward to; adventures through which bonds were built that have survived to this day.

On the roof of my father's SM 793, Changi Beach, early 1970s ... adventures weren't just confined to sitting on the backseat, but also on the roof. However, it was on the school bus CB 388 that I had most fun on.

For five out of the six years I spent in primary school, with the exception of Primary 4 during which my parents allowed me to venture on the public bus for the journey to school, the 388 was what carried me to and from school. There were a few occasions when I did skip taking the 388, as I did when my parents did decide to drop me off or pick me up, and that one occasion in Primary 3 when I made my way home on foot, having missed the bus (for reasons that have escaped me).

The staircase at the foot of Block 53 where the 388 would pick me up from.

The route that took me from the foot of Block 53 Toa Payoh where I lived, to St. Michael’s School each school day, brought me and my fellow passengers around much of Toa Payoh, with the last stop being the curved block (Block 157) at the corner of Lorong 1 and 2. Following this, the journey that would take us over the flyover to Jalan Toa Payoh, and out to the slip road that connected with Thomson Road non-stop to school. We would usually have to spend some time at the corner, having to wait in the traffic that often crawled into Thomson Road, during which I remember being fascinated by the comings and goings of the compound on which a zinc building stood (I can’t remember if it was built completely in zinc sheets, but it at least has a zinc roof), which gave me an impression of being used as a sawmill (or at least where wooden planks were stored), which I got from the numerous wooden planks that lay in stacks in the yard. This building occupied the little strip of land wedged between the slip road and the canalised Sungei Whampoa, on which perhaps the apartment block that occupies the space at the same corner has been built. It was from this point where our adventures would usually end, our mischievousness returning to the closets they came out from.

The area by the slip road from Jalan Toa Payoh to Thomson Road by Sungei Whampoa where the zince building stood.

Through the stops and starts of most of the journey through Toa Payoh, with the driver usually distracted by having to focus on negotiating through the busy road, and the slower speeds that the bus could travel at, we had the perfect opportunity to get away with almost anything. And got away we very often did with our weapons of mass irritation: water pistols, rubber bands and paper bullets, self-fashioned “pea-shooters” from straws with which a mouthful of green beans could be discharged through, with which we could take aim, and rain a barrage of beans, paper bullets and streams of water at unsuspecting motorists and pedestrians, from the relative security offered by the narrow windows of the minibus. There were a few occasions when, out of ammunition, some of the boys would aim a short shout of “chicken shit” or the like at a pedestrian, catching them off-guard and drawing nothing more serious than a bewildered stare. When the exercise of mischievousness did catch the eye of the driver, he did usually try to discipline us with his thin whip of rattan when traffic conditions permitted. This sometimes ended up going through the window or being broken in two. He would sometimes have to deal in the same way with the fights that often broke out between some of the boys, cheered on by the rest of the juvenile occupants of the minibus, with the cane often losing out in the same way.

Rubber Bands and Paper Bullets

Once out of Toa Payoh and onto Thomson Road, things usually settled down. For one, there was less pedestrian traffic along the short stretch of Thomson Road to school. This would also mean a relatively short journey which remained, putting us greater risk of incurring the wrath of the driver once we got to our destination. Back to our best behaviour, all we could do then was stare silently out the window, as we impatiently looked forward to getting to school where a different set of adventures would await us.

The rest of the journey down Thomson Road, which looked very different then, would be accompanied by a calm after the storm.





Macaroni under the flyover

18 05 2010

On the subject of some of our lost makan (food or eating) places, there would be many that we can collectively remember, which could be the many stalls that lined much of the old streets of Singapore, or the ones that appeared in car parks in the evenings as they emptied of their day time occupants. In an effort to clean up the streets of Singapore and to improve hygiene of street food vendors, many of the hawkers were taken off the streets in the 1970s, moved to purpose the built food or hawker centres we are familiar with these days. With the food centres, proper rubbish disposal facilities and running water could be provided, as well as well maintained food preparation areas – a huge improvement on the pushcarts that were used, where leftovers could have been tossed into the drains, and the lack of running water often meant that water for washing was often reused. One such food centre that my parents were fond of going to, being close to where we lived in Toa Payoh, was the one that my parents referred to as “Under the Flyover” along Whitley Road. This was built to house hawkers at the end of Balestier Road near its junction with Thomson Road, and came into being sometime in the 1970s.

Under the flyover which once was a bustle of food stalls and diners. The original flyover is the one on the right of the picture.

The food Centre was referred to by my parents as “Under the Flyover” as it was literally located under the flyover that connected Jalan Toa Payoh to Whitley Road (now all part of the Pan Island Expressway or PIE – the original flyover is the one that now carries the west bound traffic on the expressway). Popular particularly with taxi drivers, it was well known for the stall which sold Prawn Noodles with large prawns, and another which served Pork Porridge and Macaroni Soup, Singapore style (usually Macaroni boiled in clear chicken broth, served with shredded pieces of chicken or with minced pork). My favourite stalls there were however the one that served cut fruits, for the triangular colourful pieces of jelly that was sold, the Won Ton noodle stall and the Char Siew Rice stall.

The location of the food centre under the flyover ...

Once a haunt of diners looking to fill their stomachs with their favourite hawker fare is now a forgotten plot of emptiness under the Thomson flyover.

During the year that I was in Primary Six, and equipped with a monthly bus pass, I had the freedom of hopping on and off the public buses as and when I wanted, and as the food centre was located conveniently along the public bus route home, I could often stop over at the food centre with my schoolmates on my way home from school. We would always head straight for the cut fruit stall – for its refreshing iced pineapple juice, displayed in a clear plastic container in which cut pieces of boiled cubed pineapple could be seen at the bottom of. Another favourite of ours was the Indian convenience store that operated out of one of the units close to the entrance from the bus stop where we could pick up Shoot! and our favourite snacks.

Part of the area where the food centre was is now a heavy vehicle parking area.

The food centre remained a popular choice of my parents for dinner or a late night supper even after we had moved further away from Toa Payoh. Sadly, the food centre has gone the way of many other things I loved about Singapore, disappearing sometime in the early 1990s, and what is left in its place is an empty plot of land which is used as a heavy vehicle park, and now, not one, but two flyovers (a newer flyover was constructed to carry eastbound traffic on the PIE) cross over the what had once been the food centre that had a hand in feeding the growing appetite of my youth.





My Days in the Sun. Part 2: Epok-Epok, sports days and the marvels of MILO

4 05 2010

My second year at primary school provided me with a very different experience from the one I had in my first year. This was possibly because of two things, the first being having to attend school in the afternoon session (I had hitherto only attended school and kindergarten in the mornings); and the other was that I was able to relate much better to my fellow classmates and surroundings, having spent a year with them. While going to school in the morning session had provided me with the rest of the afternoon to finish up my homework and still have the time to have a game of football and watch Vic Morrow in Combat! after dinner, the afternoon session seemed to rob me of the day, having to spend a greater part of the morning finishing up homework and getting ready for school, with barely enough time to have an early lunch. I could on many days also squeeze a visit to my neighbour, Mr. Singh’s flat on the seventeenth storey, where for tea time promptly at four each afternoon, I would be greeted by wonderfully rich smell of strong tea being brewed and of heated ghee on chapati, as Mrs. Singh rolled the balls of dough out into flat circular shapes that was to become chapati as it heated on the flat iron pan manned by one of her daughters.

St. Michael's School has an especially large field for us to play football on.

The afternoon session, despite robbing me of much of my play time, did provide other opportunities for fun. Arriving earlier before school started than would have been possible with the morning session, did allow us to have that game of football that many of us itched to have. Playing under the gaze of the midday sun didn’t seem to cause us any discomfort as it would probably have today, and many of us would arrive for class drenched in perspiration brought about by the midday exertions, and a little too disheveled for the liking of our disapproving form teacher. This was possibly a contributing factor to it being more difficult to keep one’s concentration in the afternoons. The afternoon heat also played its part – I would sometimes feel inclined to indulge in a siesta, even though I did not have the habit of taking an afternoon nap. The afternoons seemed to drag on forever, broken only by too short a recess time during which the field rather than the tuckshop appealed to most of us. In any case, by the logic of a seven year old, the 30 cents that I got for my daily allowance would better spent on the Jolly Lolly from the ice cream vendor at the end of the day.

The end of the school day was always looked to in anticipation for most of us, not just for the release it provided from the shackles of the classroom, but for the chance to grab that tied up plastic bag of sweet coloured and flavoured cold drinks, or what is till this day, the best epok-epok (fried puffs of pastry with potato or sardine curry fillings) that I had ever sunk my teeth into. This could be when requested, filled with a generous amount of chilli sauce that made the epok-epok taste just so good! I always watched with keen interest as the epok-epok man dispensed the chilli sauce from a bottle topped with a spout, which he violently poked into the potato curry filled cavity of the epok-epok. The vendors lined the fence which ran along the edge of the car park where the school buses waited for their passengers, along the big drain, and the place always seemed to be bustling with activity, almost like a market place. There we would have had to tread carefully to avoid stepping on the foul smelling noni fruit that seemed to litter the ground. Besides ice cream, cold drinks and epok-epok, there was this man who sometimes came on a bicycle with a glass fronted tin mounted at the back of his bicycle. The tin had three compartments, each filled with keropok (crackers) of a different flavour: fish, prawn and tapioca. That I would rather spend my allowance on epok-epok rather than the keropok that everyone seemed to associate me with, is probably a testament to how good the epok-epok really was!

I was, somewhere through the year in Primary 2, conferred with the nick name of Keropok by the driver of the mini bus I took to school. He explained later that it was because I was always seen clasping a packet of keropok – my favourite being the rounded fish flavoured keropok that I still enjoy these days. My bus mates caught on to it, and would later take to chanting “Keropok, Keropok, Keropok” as the bus passed on the other side of the road before making a U-turn to pick me up.

The Sack Race was a favourite event during lower primary school sports days.

The year spent in Primary 2 was also memorable for the introduction it provided me to sports. Our Physical Education (P.E.) lessons had, in Primary 1, been something less than enjoyable. In Primary 2,  Mr. George Kheng our P.E. teacher, a keen football fan, organised the four houses into teams named after popular English clubs. There was Everton, Tottenham Hotspurs, another team which I can’t quite remember (could have been Coventry City) and Liverpool (Thomas or Blue house which I belonged to). I suppose that this contributed greatly to me supporting Liverpool Football Club. P. E. lessons besides becoming a lot more football centered, also became a lot more fun.

Relay race with a ball.

Primary 2 was a year for which Sports Day was something to look forward to. Where in Primary 1, I was caught up in the awe and excitement of the occasion, I was probably able to take it all in a little better in Primary 2. We had all kinds of events that allowed mass participation, such as the sack race and another which had us balancing an egg on a teaspoon as we raced across the field. Sports day was for many of us, best remembered for the MILO van, which seemed to be a feature of every sports day then. Somehow, sports days just wouldn’t be sports days without it being around. I can’t quite remember if it actually a van or a small truck which was opened up at the sides, but what was certain was that it always meant the little green paper cups of chilled chocolate flavoured fluid that we would gratefully quench our thirsty throats with. It certainly felt marvellous what MILO could do for us!

Ice Cold Milo served in little green paper cups was a great thirst quencher during our school sports days.





1974, a year of football madness

12 02 2010

1974 was a year which I remember most for the feast of football that it provided. That was of course the year in which the World Cup was to be staged. That year it was to be hosted by West Germany, the half of western leaning half of a Germany split by the Cold War into East and West. The World Cup was something that I had looked forward to in anticipation being a little too young to appreciate the spectacle that the World Cup had provided four years earlier in Mexico City. It was also the year in which football fever reached a fever pitch in Singapore riding on the good run of the Singapore team in the Malaysia Cup competition, and with the year closing with the visit to Singapore of the world’s greatest footballer: Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, known to us all as Pelé.

Pelé in action: Pelé was considered by many to be the greatest footballer of all time. He held a coaching session at the humble Toa Payoh Stadium in December 1974 (Photo source: BBC).

For me, what started with kicking a ball around the wide corridor that was the circular lift landing of the block of flats I lived in with a few neighbours (and having to scramble down 19 floors every time the ball flew over the parapet), developed into a passion for the game by the time 1974 had arrived. The neighbourhood boys had formed a team in which I somehow ended up playing as a goalkeeper for. In school, my classmates and I were kicking a ball every little scrap of time we found: before school, during recess and during P.E. lessons. I had also become an avid follower of the English game – of which we would get a glimpse of through highlights shown every Sunday of the previous weekend’s action. I became a big fan of the mopped haired Kevin Keegan and the team he played for, Liverpool, and remember 1974 well for their triumph in the F.A. Cup – beating Newcastle United 3-0 in the finals in May of that year. Unfortunately, the team didn’t win the Division 1 championship that year, losing out to Leeds United.

My football mad classmates and me in the Class football team.

The visit of Pelé would perhaps have been the highlight of the year of football to many Singaporeans. For my friends and me, the football crazed schoolboys that we were, the opportunity to see the world’s greatest player up close on the pitch of the Toa Payoh Stadium on 2 December of that year was certainly one not to be missed, even if that meant watching him demonstrating his sublime skills from a distance. He had been scheduled to conduct a coaching clinic for a select few, and my older neighbours had got wind of it and brought me along as a most willing accomplice.

The National Stadium provided the setting for a football match in 1974 that left a lasting impression on me.

What would, however, leave a greater impression on me that year was not seeing Pelé in person, or the World Cup, but, watching the first leg of the semi-final of the Malaysia Cup between Singapore and Penang at the National Stadium. That match played on 26 May, was the first that I ever watched live in a stadium and would be one that got me hooked on the Malaysia Cup. As a match, the semi-final was filled with much drama as the tide ebbed and flowed. Penang took the lead early on before Singapore equalised. At the interval Singapore was trailing 1-2 and the game looked beyond Singapore. However, a second half revival which saw wave after wave of Singapore attacks, and Singapore’s Jaafar Yacob hitting the bar from the penalty spot, saw Singapore first equalising through Quah Kim Lye, and scoring a winning goal through its captain Seak Poh Leong.

The National Stadium under construction in 1973.

What I remember most about the match was the raucous atmosphere in the stadium and how the stadium literally shook as the match went on. The stadium had been packed to the rafters, probably seeing the largest crowd ever seen in the stadium. 70,000 fans had crammed in spilling into the aisles. My parents and me had been seated right at the top of the East Stand of the stadium, as the stadium had already been packed when we arrived some two hours before the match. While not being the best place to observe the action on the field, it provided an ideal vantage point from which to observe and soak up the atmosphere  on the terraces. The thunderous noise that accompanied each wave of Singapore’s attacks was deafening! This was amplified by the stamping of feet by the boisterous crowd causing the whole stadium to tremble. This was definitely the Kallang Roar, which was in its infancy, at its loudest! The atmosphere was electric, as fans rose in excitement at each attack, corner, free-kick and unpopular refereeing decisions, which had me shaking in excitement even after the game had ended.  The team then featured the likes of Dollah Kassim, Mohammad Noh, Quah Kim Lye and Quah Kim Song, all household names in Singapore football in the 1970s. Unfortunately, the efforts of the team on the night came to nought as Singapore lost 1-4 to Penang in the return leg.

The newly constructed stadium was the most modern in South East Asia and provided an ideal setting for the birth of the Kallang Roar (Photo source: Singapore Sports Council).

I had watched the 1st leg of the semi-final seated near the cauldron as the stadium was packed with 70,000 spectators.

After following the exploits of the Singapore team and rejoicing at Liverpool’s triumph in the F.A. Cup, next on the menu was that summer’s World Cup, one in which we were very much mesmerised by the magic woven by the feet of the new Dutch masters led by the two Johans: Neeskens and Cruyff. We were treated to a show of “total football” by the Dutch, who met West Germany in the final. There was some controversy surrounding the German route to the finals in which it was suggested that they deliberately lost 0-1 to their eastern counterparts during the group stages to avoid meeting the defending champions Brazil in the next stage. Whatever it was, Germany eventually triumphed 2-1 in a pulsating final which saw two penalties awarded, the first to the Dutch in the very first minute before any German player had touched the ball, through a Gerd Muller goal.

Johan Cruyff in action during the final of the 1974 World Cup (Photo source: Wikipedia).

1974 saw the introduction of a new trophy after Brazil's third triumph in 1970 allowed Brazil to keep the original Jules Rimet trophy (Photo source: Wikipedia).

1974 was certainly for me, a year to be remembered for the football feast that it served up to me.





Psst … guess who dropped in today?

28 01 2010

When I was growing up in Toa Payoh, my family had the privilege of receiving some rather important visitors to our humble 3-room flat. We were living on the top floor of a block of flats that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) built intentionally with a viewing gallery on the roof to provide visiting dignitaries with a vantage point from which the latest public housing project, Toa Payoh New Town, the pride of the HDB’s resoundingly successful public housing programme, could be better appreciated. This, together with the advantage that both my parents had, that given the general view that being teachers, they would have a better command of English than our neighbours on the same floor would have, and living in the flat that closest to the lift landing, had its benefits: the HDB would usually have our flat in mind when there was a need to provide the dignitaries with a view of how the typical dwelling looked like.

So it was with that, that we received out first VIP visitors not long after moving in, in June 1968 – John Gorton, the then Prime Minister of Australia and his family. I guess I was too young to really understand what the fuss was all about and all I can really remember is that towering hulk of a man from Australia who had come by and had given me with a gold-coloured tie-pin which had a figure of a kangaroo on it. I also remember that following the visit, I had somehow developed the fascination that I had with kangaroos as a child.

Photograph and newspaper cutting of John Gorton's Visit, June 1968

The most notable visitor we had was none other than HM Queen Elizabeth II, who dropped in on the afternoon of 18 February 1972. It was an occasion that deserved quite a fair bit of preparation, and there were several interviews and briefings before on areas such as security and protocol. It was for us an occasion that called for a makeover to be given to the flat. My parents had the flat renovated and terrazzo tiles tinged with green, white and black replaced our original black and white mosaic flooring. Outside, the area below the block of flats had been spruced up by the HDB for the occasion – pots of flowering plants lined the area where the Queen’s car would be driven up to, as well as the corridor leading up to the lift and the lift landing on the top floor. The block of flats had also had in the meantime, been given a fresh coat of paint. The lift cabin was done up very nicely as well, which was a welcome change from the rather tired and dirty looking interior it wore after five years of service.

It was an occasion that I had kept from my classmates in school – not that I would be missed. The schoolboys in the afternoon session, which I was in, were to be distracted, having been tasked to line the sides of Thomson Road to wave flags, where the motorcade that was to carry the Queen was to pass that afternoon. I was certainly happy for the opportunity to skip school, but maybe a little disappointed that I would not get my hands on the miniature Union Jacks my classmate were to be given – a favourite flag of mine back then.

When the Queen finally arrived at our flat that afternoon, I was caught somewhat unawares. I had decided to sit down before she arrived and while daydreaming – which I was fond of doing, Her Majesty had appeared at the doorway, and I was seen on the evening’s news scrambling to my feet!

Scrambling to my feet at the arrival of the Queen.

Shaking hands with the Queen.

HRH Princess Anne during the visit.

The Queen at the Viewing Gallery on the roof of Block 53 Toa Payoh

One thing I avoided doing immediately after the visit was to wash my hands. A neighbour had told me that I shouldn’t wash my hands that day, as I would wash my luck away, having shaken hands with the Queen. The Queen also made her way to the block of flats behind, where she had visited the flat of another family. A neighbour from the 17th floor, Ranu, related how there were crowds of people who gathered in the car park separating the two blocks of flats, hoping for a glance at the Queen, Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Princess Anne. Ranu also related how she had shouted “Long Live the Queen” at the top of her voice, along with the crowds.

Prince Phillip and Princess Anne among the crowds

Going to school the following day, the driver of the minibus I took to school, was quick to shake my hand having witnessed the events on TV the previous evening – he had wanted to shake the hand of someone who had shaken hands with the Queen. I remember him saying to me: “no wonder you ponteng school lah”, ponteng being a colloquial word used to describe playing truant, from the Malay word meaning the same.

Somehow, from the evidence of the photographs I have, the kitchen seemed to be the focal point of the visitors, perhaps because it was probably the most spacious part of the flat – unlike the kitchens of HDB flats that were built later, or perhaps it was because of the excellent view we had looking south towards the Kallang area, being on what was the tallest block of flats around.

The kitchen during the Queen's visit.

The kitchen during Sir William Goode's visit - the man on the extreme left is the late Teh Cheang Wan, the then Chairman of the HDB, who later served as the Minister of National Development.

Over the few years until 1973, when a new and taller “VIP block” was built in Toa Payoh Central, part of housing built to initially house athletes participating in the 7th South-East Asian Peninsula (SEAP) Games (which Singapore hosted for the first time that year) before being sold to the public, we saw a few other notable visitors. The visitors included President Benjamin Henry Sheares, Singapore’s second President, as well as Sir Willaim Goode, a former Governor General of the colony of Singapore who served as the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara of Singapore when Singapore was granted self-government in 1959.

President Sheares saying hello to my sister, June 1971





I’ve got a ticket to ride: Bus Passes and Endless Bus Journeys

11 01 2010

The earliest memory I have of the public bus is the Singapore Traction Company’s (STC) service number 1A, in the distinctive Isuzu buses painted silver and green, that my mother used to make her journey to and from Rangoon Road from our home in Toa Payoh in, on her regular trips to the hairdresser, to which I was an unwilling accomplice. Buses used to be painted with colours to identify the bus companies they belonged to: red (Associated Bus Services), blue (Amalgamated Bus Company), yellow (United Bus Limited) or green (STC). That is, until they became the red striped Singapore Bus Service (SBS) buses that by the time I was old enough to venture into taking the bus on my own,  the various bus companies had merged into. I was in Primary 4 then, and having finally persuaded my parents to allow me what I had craved for – the freedom of going to school by the public bus, I was on my own against the world, that was, only for the journey to school – as my parents were concerned about me having to cross the busy Thomson Road in the evening to catch the bus back.

I had a choice of two bus services then, 149 and 150, which would bring me from the bus stop along Lorong 4 Toa Payoh to my school in Thomson Road. Service number 150 would take a longer route that went past Bradell Road and Marymount Convent. On one of my first trips by bus, I recall that my ticket was blown out of my hand by a gust of wind that came through the opened windows of the bus as I held it in my hand having just collected it from the bus conductor – I looked at the conductor who just shrugged his shoulders as if to tell me I was on my own … it left me terrified for the rest of my journey, fearful that a ticket inspector would board the bus.

Full freedom came with what we referred to as the “bus pass”, that with a monthly concession stamp which we purchased for $4 affixed to the designated spot on the pass, allowed us the freedom of the buses – unlimited travel! Then, we could do what we wanted. Hop on and off at will, and discover where we could go with the buses.

This was particularly useful, as it was then possible for me to join my friends with whom I used to play football with for games against other teams outside of Toa Payoh, as well on a particular trip I remember making to a sports shop along Bras Basah Road to pick a team jersey.

The freedom of the buses offered by a monthly concession stamp affixed to a bus pass

It was when I was in Secondary school that we got our first double decker buses, but it wasn’t until maybe I was in Secondary 3 when they were introduced to the route that served the area where my school was, from my new home in Ang Mo Kio. I would catch the service number 166 bus from the makeshift terminal located at a large carpark down the slope from Block 215. In the evenings, after a few weeks of taking the 166 service back from the bus stop along Stamford Road close to what used to be the National Library, near a corner shop which sold crocodile skin products which fascinated me, I discovered I could half the journey by taking the semi-express Blue Arrow service 308 which ran from its last stop in the Central Business District at Waterloo Street just by what used to be the CYMA, all the way to Ang Mo Kio – and the best part was that it was air-conditioned! By the time we got to catch the double decker buses, the bus terminal in Ang Mo Kio had moved to another temporary location – along Avenue 6 by block 304.

Somehow as time progressed, the journeys became longer and longer, and where journeys took not more than an hour when I was in Secondary school, by the time I started my tertiary education, journeys meant queuing up for ages at yet another temporary terminal location along Avenue 3, just across from where Ang Mo Kio central is, and being squeezed into a bus filled with school children, factory workers and the many tertiary students from the institutions along Ayer Rajah Road and Dover Road, for over an hour. Pretty unbearable … and I used to arrive drenched in perspiration. The longest journey by bus I made would seem to be the journey I would tke home I when doing my national service at SAFTI in Pasir Laba and at Jurong Camp nearby, off Upper Jurong Road. Then, we could only catch service number 175, which would meander through what was then a winding Upper Jurong Road, through the winding Jurong Road to Bukit Batok or Upper Bukit Timah, where I could get a bus home. I was always in a hurry then, trying to make use of the precious few hours we were given at the end of each week, and the journey on the 175 seemed to be endless – it could take me an hour just to get to Upper Bukit Timah, making the entire bus journey home a two hour journey. Sometimes instead of the bus, I would try to hitch a ride on the back of a pick up or lorry on its way back to civilisation from the factories in the Tuas area which passed by Upper Jurong Road – we could save as much as half an hour by doing this. By the time I had finished my national service, the MRT had been introduced, and trips on buses did not seem to be so much fun anymore.





The Little White Boat, 小白船

4 12 2009

The Little White Boat and its White Rabbit

The full moon that accompanied me on the drive home last night brought back memories of a song we were taught to sing in primary school.  小白船, or little white boat describes the moon as a little white boat drifting in the Milky Way, on which a white rabbit is playing by an sweet osmanthus tree.

蓝蓝的天空银河里
有只小白船
船上有棵桂花树
白兔在游玩
浆儿浆儿看不见
船上也没帆
飘呀飘呀,飘向西天

渡过那条银河水
走向云彩国
走过那个云彩国
再向哪儿去?
在那遥远的地方
闪着金光
晨星是灯塔
照呀照得亮

The moon has long been a subject of folklore. Chinese folklore has it that there is a rabbit that lives on the moon – the markings on the moon’s surface as seen by the naked eye does look like a rabbit with a little bit of imagination. The moon is also associated with much superstition. In the West, lunacy and Werewolves have long been associated with the full moon, the word “lunacy” itself derived from the Latin word for the moon.

A Moment of Madness in the Eerie Glow of the Full Moon - wandering around the ruins of Urquhart Castle and the banks of Loch Ness on a cold November's evening in 1989

In some parts of East Asia, children are warned by their parents not to point at the moon, lest they wake up with a painful cut behind their ears the following morning. Strangely, the first I heard of this was from a Sikh neighbour … it was only much later that my maternal grandmother did care to mention this to me … and for a while I believed it, not daring to direct my fingers towards the moon!