Parting glances: a final look at Jurong Bird Park

8 01 2023

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

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

A last look at the Waterfall Aviary

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

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

A flamboyance of flamingoes takes one of its final flights in Jurong.
Mr Clarence Saw at the last of Jurong Bird Park’s show — just before the downpour.
A last look at Penguin Coast.
Staff of Jurong Bird Park taking a last photograph.
A last look at the great pied hornbill in its enclosure.
Tears from the heavens.
A last photograph in the rain on the suspension bridge.
The last High Flyers show.
A last look at the quite lush and verdant Waterfall Aviary.
Hornbill viewing.
A last look at what was once the world’s tallest manmade waterfall.
A view of the waterfall from the suspension bridge.
A last climb to a look out point in the Waterfall Aviary.
Last gifts for last day guests.
A last look at the entrance to the Waterfall Aviary.
A last dance with the birds at the Pools Amphitheatre.
The crowd at the last King of the Skies show and very last show at Jurong Bird Park.
A last opportunity to “mingle” with the avian residents at the Pools Amphitheatre.
Last chance to get up close at the African Treetops.
A hornbill wows the crowd at the last High Flyers show,
The foraging Raoul, a southern-crested caracara at the King of the Skies show.
A greater flamingo.
A migratory stork in the greater flamingo enclosure. While the storks are non-residents at the bird park, they were regular visitors who came for food and were fed along with the other birds.
A giant pied hornbill.
A violet back starling feeding at African Treetops aviary.
A bearded barbet at African Treetops.
A sun conure at the last High Flyers show on an enrichment device.
A last exit.
A last look.
Even Jurong Hill park seems to have been closed.
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The hidden remains of Sentosa’s big WW2 guns

14 12 2022

Do note:

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


The remains of Connaught’s No 3 Gun emplacement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________

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

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

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


More photographs:






More Windows into the Past: The gilt-decorated domed mansion that depleted Singapore’s stock of gold

6 12 2022

Another set of photographs from the Harrison Forman collection offering a peak into Singapore’s past is one that contains views, in complete colour, of a famous but long demolished mansion and its curious garden in 1941. Both were objects of much fascination, and its even had the likes of Carl Mydans also photographing it for LIFE Magazine that same year, for a feature on Singapore published in July 1941.


Perched on an elevation that was described as “probably one of the best” for a mansion in Singapore and one that commanded a “striking view” of a great part of the island, the lavish and gilt-domed residence of the Aw’s in Pasir Panjang, Haw Par Villa, must have been a magnificent sight for the one thousand guests who were invited for its housewarming party in March 1937. No expense had been spared in the construction and the fit out of the rather lavish interiors of the mansion, which was topped by seven gilded domes. Such was the amount of gold that was used that Singapore’s entire stock of gold was reportedly depleted because of it!

Haw Par Villa in full colour, Harrison Forman, 1941.

Designed by pioneering Singapore architect Ho Kwong Yew, Haw Par Villa sat on a plan that was rather uniquely a series of circles centred on a central hall that was surrounded by circular rooms. Entering the house, one would have encountered its reception hall, and beyond that the central hall. There was also a drawing room, a dining room, four bedrooms with dressing rooms and attached bathrooms, all of which were furnished in a rather ostentatious manner with furnishings and decorative items that were handpicked by Mr Aw Boon Haw from the “best furnishing houses and decorators” during his travels to America and Europe. Even the coloured cement walls inside the house were expensively decorated — with mother of pearl inlays. There were also specially made bronze panels which had been brought in from Europe featuring tigers in various poses, lining the doorways inside the house. The opulent interiors would also have been brought quite literally to light by day and by night, having been illuminated by the generous amount of light filtering through stained-glass laylights fitted on the domes, and through the house’s curved steel-framed windows in the daytime, and by coloured lighting after nightfall.

A much photographed pagoda, Harrison Forman, 1941.

Almost as soon as it was completed, the villa, and the fantastical and extravagantly laid out and publicly accessible garden that was created to complement it, became an instant hit with visitors to Singapore, as well as with the local population. Open to the public, the garden was laid out over several terraces of the elevation that the villa stood on, and although it was meant to complement the mansion rather than take centrestage, much attention was drawn to it by curious press reporters and photographers. Its decorative structures, such as the rockeries and grottoes of artificial rocks, a pagoda, miniature buildings and figurines depicting animals such as cranes and storks, drew a fair bit of interest as did its 50 feet by 25 feet swimming pool.

A garden that was created to complement the villa, Harrison Forman, 1941.

The garden soon became synonymous with Singapore and a must-visit visitor attraction. Among its early visitors were Hollywood couple, William Keighley and Genevieve Tobin during part of their honeymoon in Singapore in May 1939, 39 Australian schoolboys visiting Singapore with the Young Australia League in January 1939. The garden also took centrestage for a pahit party (cocktail party) that was thrown for a visiting Republic of China military delegation in May 1941, which was attended by the British military’s top brass based in Singapore. Such was Haw Par Villa’s draw that it seemed to be the first out-of-town destination to which “all newcomers to Singapore” were brought to — as was the case with a batch of Australian nurses with the Australian Army Nursing Service who were sent to Singapore in September 1941.1

AANS nurses visiting Haw Par Villa (with the villa seen in the background) in September 1941 (source: Australian War Memorial, public domain, copyright expired).

The villa was itself was a draw. Public access to it was permitted during open houses held on festive occasions such as the Chinese New Year. Sadly, the villa did not survive very long. It was taken over for use as a residence during the Japanese Occupation and reportedly housed both Japanese and German officers.2 Poorly maintained, it was left in a poor state by the end of the war. Looting had also stripped the house of all its furnishings and many of the statues from its garden.

By early 1951, Mr Aw Boon Haw, who had lost his younger brother during the war (Boon Par died in Rangoon in 1944), had Haw Par Villa demolished in the hope that he could have a mansion modelled after a Chinese-styled palace put up in its place. Later, a 200 ft high pagoda was proposed. The ongoing austerity drive, which limited spending on private home to a mere $50,000, put paid to Mr Aw’s plans and he turned his attention instead to expanding the set of displays. In doing so, he placed focus on using displays to provide moral guidance to visiting members of the public through the depiction of scenes from Chinese folklore, the Chinese classics, and Buddhist and Taoist teaching which contained messaging on moral values such as filial piety.

Both Taoist and Buddhist themes feature in Haw Par Villa’s displays, Harrison Forman, 1941.

Mr Aw passed away in September 1954 without being able to fulfil a desire to have the demolished villa replaced. The garden, which took on the name “Haw Par Villa” from its association with the missing villa, continued to be a popular spot for visitors to the island. Its collection of figurines and tableaux would have appeared to have been quite bizarre to those not schooled in traditional Chinese teachings and was at the very minimum, a source of amusement and fascination. Among those who graced the garden was the very first Miss Universe, Armi Kuufcla, who visited in April 1953. Another famous personality to visit was teenage idol, Frankie Avalon, late in 1965.

Harrison Forman, 1941.

The garden was also popular for fashion shoots, and as a filming location. Among the movies with scenes shot at Haw Par Villa was a joint Bollywood-Malayan production, “Singapore” in 1959, which contained a scene that saw the popular Maria Menado dance with Bollywood heartthrob Shammi Kapoor. The film was released in 1960. A 1966 Hollywood production, Kommisar X, aka Operation Far East, aka So Darling, So Deadly, had a scene that featured a chase through the garden, and a 1967 British production, Pretty Polly (also A Matter of Innocence) included an evening scene that was filmed at Haw Par Villa.

Harrison Forman, 1941.

Following Aw Boon Haw’s death, Boon Par’s son, Aw Cheng Chye, introduced displays that broke with the garden’s theme, and its Chinese flavour. An avid traveller, Cheng Chye put up International Corners to mark his overseas trips. While this may have contributed to the garden’s quirkiness, it did much to alter its character. Much, much more has happened since. An attempt to convert the garden into a theme park in 1990, failed rather miserably. That saw a ride through an all too prominent dragon. This some believe, brought negative energy on the garden due to the incompatibility of the dragon and the tiger (the “Haw” in Boon Haw’s name, translates into tiger). Most recently, the garden seems to have gone the way of hell, with the current operator intent on Hell’s Museum becoming Haw Par Villa’s draw even if hell, especially the non-Chinese interpretations of life after death, was never intended as the garden’s dominant theme.

The dragon that swallowed hell up – during its theme park days.

1A number from the group were among a second batch of evacuees who would depart on board the SS Vyner Brooke on 12 February 1942, which was attacked and sunk by the Japanese forces on 14 February 1942 in the Bangka Strait. Out of a group of 65 nurses on board the Vyner Brooke, only 24 survived the war, with 21 losing their lives during a massacre on Radji Beach on Bangka Island. 

2There was a German U-Boat repair and supply facility maintained at Pulau Damar Darat, which included a graving dock. Among the residences that German naval personnel were known to have used were ones in Pasir Panjang and also at Gilstead Road.





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

3 12 2022

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

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

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

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





A park with a view: Rifle Range Nature Park

16 11 2022

The 66 ha Rifle Range Nature Park, which opened on Saturday, adds to Singapore’s growing list of wonderful publicly accessible parks that, placed on fringes of Singapore’s nature reserves, act as buffers to protect the forest reserves. These nature parks offer a chance for all of us in Singapore to do some forest bathing and take in some of Singapore’s natural beauty without adding to the pressures on our fragile forests.

The former Sin Seng Quarry turned freshwater wetland.

Singapore’s latest nature park takes its name from Rifle Range Road, which served as the access road to Bukit Timah Rifle Range. The range was built in 1924 by the Public Works Department, primarily to serve the Singapore’s volunteer forces. By 1930, the road was named after the rifle range, which later became the home of the Singapore Gun Club.

The former quarry and the viewing deck 31 metres above the freshwater wetland.

Rifle Range Nature Park, which is home to a wealth of biodiversity with more than 400 species of flora and 300 species of fauna (including the critically endangered Sunda Pangolin and Leopard Cat), features 7 km of boardwalks and hiking trails — the longest amongst all the nature parks. Some of its highlights is the former Sin Seng Quarry turned freshwater wetland, and, best of all, a wonderful viewing deck (Colugo Deck) that provides a breathtaking view of the wetland and beyond from 31 metres above!

For more information on the nature park and what it offers, do visit: https://www.nparks.gov.sg/gardens-parks-and-nature/parks-and-nature-reserves/rifle-range-nature-park.


Rifle Range Nature Park offers 7km of boardwalks and hiking trails
The visitor pavilion, which takes inspiration from the baffles of a rifle range.
The roof deck of the Visitor Pavilion.
The rain garden.
On the Gliders Boardwalk.
A Malay Viscount.
A shelter — made of mass engineered timber.
Cleverly designed lightning conductors line the boardwalks, featuring the fauna of the park.
A Malayan Colugo, seen in the vicinity in October 2018. The species, which is known for its distinctive skin membrane — which inspired the design of the Colugo Deck, has a near-threatened conservation status.

For the kids – the Forest Exploration Trail


Colugo Trail, which leads up to the Colugo Deck


Views from Colugo Deck


More photographs from opening day, 12 Nov 2022






A Singapore in transition: SIT

23 10 2022

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

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

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

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

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

SIT built Tiong Bahru

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





Jurong will never be Jurong again

31 08 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Old Birds” of Jurong Bird Park



A tour of Jurong Bird Park on 30 August 2022






Forbidden Hill spiced and demystified

27 08 2022

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

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

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

It has long been a place of escape for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Fort Canning Centre, various views


Fort Canning Spice Gallery / enhanced Spice Garden






Erasing the countryside

11 08 2022

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

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

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

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

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

Bah Soon Pah Road no more, August 2022.

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

Nurseries along Bah Soon Pah Road, August 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

An Admiralty land boundary marker.

Lorong Chencharu

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

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


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






Parting Glances: Farrer Park Swimming Complex

10 08 2022

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

Farrer Park Swimming Complex

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

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

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

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

A last look at Farrer Park Swimming Pool

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

The sun goes down on Farrer Park Swimming Pool

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


Parting glances: Farrer Park Swimming Complex






Northern Singapore’s last fishery port

26 07 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seafood is sorted into baskets for buyers.
Crustaceans are among the items on offer.

More photographs of Senoko Fishery Port






Elizabeth House, nurses’ quarters to part of a nursing home , or will that be just a mirage?

14 07 2022

Developments around Singapore General Hospital in the last five years or so, have altered the complexion of its much storied surroundings. With that, a number of markers, which linked the area to its much storied past were permanently lost. Future developments threaten to do the same with old Alexandra Hospital, with plans to redevelop a part of its grounds as a nursing home for dementia patients recently announced. While it may seem to involve only a small part of the grounds, what it signals is the beginning of the end for the hospital campus and some of its historically significant sites as part of what will eventually be the “Alexandra Health Campus”. 

Alexandra Military Hospital

It is good that three of the hospital’s existing buildings, ones that serve as the face of the hospital, are already protected for conservation. There is however a question of context in keeping older structures, especially when they are drowned or find themselves minimised by the scale that new developments are often given.  Given the history of the hospital and the significance of many of its structures and spaces, there must be more of the campus that deserves to be considered for conservation.

The spacious, green and quiet grounds of the hospital could be overtaken by the mess of concrete in the near future as there are plans to turn it into the Alexandra Health Campus.

Alexandra Hospital’s roots lie in its construction as Singapore’s main military hospital. This came at the tail end of an effort to turn Singapore into the “Gibraltar of the East”, and a naval outpost to which the British fleet could be sent to in event that its assets in the Far East could be defended. This brought new garrisons of troops to the island. With only the aging and glaringly inadequate Tanglin Military Hospital to serve the huge contingent of European soldiers on the island, there was a need for a large enough hospital. In July 1940, Alexandra opened as the British military establishment’s most modern hospital this side of the Suez and counted among the largest medical facilities that were built for the British army.

In Alexandra Hospital’s campus, there is a mix of pre and post World War II buildings.

Tragedy was to befall the hospital within a year and a half of its opening when on the eve of the Fall of Singapore, the hospital became the scene of a most horrendous of atrocities. In spite of the hospital being clearly marked and identified as a medical facility, Japanese troops entered the hospital late in the morning of 14 February 1942, allegedly in pursuit of British Indian Army soldiers who had fired on them. What followed was the wanton killing of staff and patients over the course of two days. Estimates of those killed in the course of the two days of savagery go as high as 300. More information on the massacre can be found in this link.

One of the hospital’s ward blocks not protected for conservation. This houses the auditorium, which was a chapel during the war and one of the points of entry of Japanese troops.

Two buildings, Blocks 18 and 19, are threatened by the development of the nursing home. Even if the signs seem to point to the buildings’ retention, how that will work could involve the buildings being incorporated as parts of larger structures. Block 19, also known as Elizabeth House, is the newer of the two blocks and is particularly unique. Having been constructed in two parts to house female nursing staff in 1949 and in 1958, what distinguishes the modernist blocks are exterior ventilation blocks that serve as privacy screens.

The former Elizabeth House, Block 19, with its older and newer sections and its privacy screens.

The construction of Elizabeth House came at a time when Britain was involved in the counter insurgency efforts against the communists in Malaya in a campaign known as the Malayan Emergency. With Alexandra Hospital, also known then as British Military Hospital Singapore, being Britain’s principal military facility in the Far East, it played a crucial role in supporting the effort. New buildings were built on the campus including Elizabeth House in support of the large amount of military personnel sent by Britain to Singapore and Malaya. Elizabeth House was closely associated with nurses with the then exclusively female Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps or QARANC in short and known as tyhe “Garden Billet” to what were known as the QAs or nurses. Among the stories that have been told of the block was how its residents would sunbathe at the badminton court behind it.

Alexandra Hospital is a historical site with a plaque to recall its history placed in its gerden,

Based on what the Ministry of Health (MOH) has announced, as reported by the Straits Times on 26 June 2022, it is hard to see Elizabeth House surviving without substantial change or even demolition. While the sounds are for keeping the structure, there seems ample leeway given to the the successful tenderer (for consultancy services in regard to the nursing home development). What will be required of the tenderer is an assessment as to what opportunities there are to design the nursing home with respect to the heritage value of Blocks 18 and 19 — whatever that means. It seems quite possible that the option or a “documentation and heritage interpretation” route, with “elements of the blocks incorporated in the nursing home’s design” could be possible given the site’s constraints. If that is the case, Blocks 18 and 19 may just be a reinterpreted illusion. Without an actual form, and certainly without substance, we could just be left with a mirage that we in Singapore seem so fond of creating.

Block 18, built as the Commanding Officers’ residence.

Corridors of Block 19 – the former Elizabeth House.





Goodbye to a View

30 05 2022

The pace of development in the north of Singapore, a part of the island of which I have some wonderful childhood memories of, seems to be quickening. The recent demolition of all but one of the blocks of KD Malaya and the loss of its parade square has left the section of the old naval base closest to the causeway almost unrecognisable. Nearby, former residents of another marker of memory, the former “Torpedo Lines” at Khalsa Crescent — most recently a prison, returned to say goodbye and have their memories collected ahead of its probable eventual demolition in an event organised by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) last week. A little further east, it has already been some time since the loss of part of the elevation that played host to a UNHCR refugee camp for “Boat People” fleeing South Vietnam. The same elevation was also home to the former View Road Hospital, a branch of Woodbridge Hospital (now Institute of Mental Health), which stood at its top. The building that housed it, which dates back to 1941 and is still standing, is a longtime marker that if the URA Master Plan for the area is to be realised, may also soon disappear from sight.

The observation tower at View Road.

Although the former View Road Hospital, once also a home to Asian Naval Base Policemen and their families may be of little architectural value and of little significance in the whole scheme of buildings within the former naval base, it has, since I started conducting tours in collaboration with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) in 2017, has become one of my favourite places. Why that is so is for the views one is able to get from its lookout tower, one that now provides an idea of the scale of redevelopment that is taking place in and around it. An example of the development work that is now in evidence, is the Rail Transit System link that will connect Woodlands North to Bukit Chagar in Johor Bahru via a 25 metre high bridge. Scheduled to open by the end of 2026, it will transform the area into a major entry point for cross border human traffic with its peak capacity of 10,000 passengers per hour.

Among the other developments that is already taking place in the area, is that of the future Woodlands North Coast, a component the overall Woodland Regional Centre. Based on the URA Master Plane, that does appear to spell the end for the former hospital.

The future of View Road (URA Master Plan 2019).




Parting Glances: Khalsa Crescent, home turned prison

24 05 2022

Once home to a huge naval base that stretched from the Causeway to Sembawang Road, Singapore’s rather sleepy northern coast seems set for a huge transformation. Work to build a much-anticipated rail transit system link to Johor Bahru is already underway and the signs are that the ground is already being prepared for a role as key component of the future Woodlands Regional Centre. The demolition of much of the former KD Malaya complex is now already complete, and all that is left of the longtime landmark, sited in an area close to Woodlands North MRT Station is gone, save for the conserved administration building. One set of structures that may likely disappear is the former quarters at Khalsa Crescent, which many of us would only know as Khalsa Crescent Prison.

The former Khalsa Crescent Prison, which has a much storied past. Block 6 (Prison Block F) was used as accommodation for policemen and featured a recreational space below where lectures and police parties during Sikh religious festivals were held. The space also functioned as a games room.
The watchtowers of the former prison are what draws notice to the complex.

Built in 1950 on the site of the Torpedo Depot “coolie lines”, Khalsa Crescent (Asian) quarters provided Asian members of the naval base workforce and their families, with a roof over their heads. Among those who were housed on the site were members of the Naval Base Police Force and the Naval Base Fire Service, for whom the set of quarters was affectionately known as “Torpedo”, having been know initially as “Torpedo Depot Lines”. When built, the quarters comprised seven two-storey blocks cont laid out with some 170 rooms that could accommodate up to 180 families. Among the blocks were ones housing bachelors with common spaces such as rest and mess rooms and recreational spaces found on the ground floors. Flag Officer (Malaya), Rear Admiral Clifford Caslon, who opened the estate on 10 January 1950, described the construction of new housing units as evidence that interest to the welfare and comfort of the base’s civilian staff was being shown by the Admiralty.

The newly built accommodation blocks in 1950, with Blocks 1 and 2 (far end) on the left, and Blocks 3 (far end) and 4 on the right.
The scene today.

During its first years, the quarters accommodated a fair number of Sikhs families, who men served in the Naval Base Police Force. As a result of this, a gurdwara was established in the eastern section of the ground floor of Block 5. Due to this association with the Sikh members of the force, the road through the estate was named “Khalsa”, which means “pure” in Punjabi. Khalsa, which also describes the guiding principle of the Sikh religion community, is often used as a reference to the Sikh community. The gurdwara moved to View Road (Rimau), where an Asian Naval Base Police Barracks was established, together with the Sikh policemen and their families in 1959. Some naval base policemen continued to stay in Khalsa Crescent while there were others who also relocated to Cochrane Crescent at about the same time. In the 1960s, a surau for Muslim policemen and their families was established at Block 5.

The section of Block 5 where I am told the gurdwara was.

The British military pullout, which took place at the end of October 1971, also saw to the eventual disbandment of the various services associated with the naval base and while the quarters continued in their use as accommodation units, the winds of change would eventually blow through the estate. In late 1974, some three years after the pullout, several of the accommodation blocks at Khalsa Crescent were converted for use as a remand centre and the forerunner of the Drug Rehabilitation Centre (DRC) — the DRC system was apparently formalised in 1977, although the term was already in use – as part of a broader scheme to segregate drug inmates (also according to the number of times they were hauled in). But while this may have been the intention, one of the centre’s first uses was for the detention of illegal immigrants, more specifically a group of 56 who had fled South Vietnam as the situation deteriorated in the lead up to the Fall of Saigon in April 1975. The group of 56, with 18 women and 10 children among them, arrived on a stolen military plane on 3 April 1975. Having come without the necessary visas, they were detained as illegal immigrants and were held at Khalsa Crescent where they spent 3 weeks, after which they were sent on to Guam.

A view of the former prison.

This drug rehabilitation scheme saw further changes to it and by 1995, drug addicts would first be sent to Sembawang DRC, where they would be observed and further processing was carried out. They would then be placed based on their previous records. Khalsa Crescent DRC was where third time offenders were sent to. Khalsa Crescent’s capacity was increased from 500 to 1050 during a renovation exercise that was carried out in anticipation of this new arrangement. In June 2005, Khalsa Crescent DRC became simply Khalsa Crescent Prison.

Members of the Khalsa Crescent Sikh Community.

The modernisation and expansion of the Changi Prison complex in 2009, saw to the move of some 5000 inmates from prisons like Khalsa Crescent Prison, which was described as the “largest transfer of prisoners in local history”. What that also meant was that older facilities such as Khalsa Crescent Prison were made redundant and surplus to requirements. Decommissioned, the former prison lay hidden behind its tall green security fence — that is until 21 May 2022 when former residents of the one-time Asian quarters were allowed to take a short but sweet walk back in time in anticipation of the complex’s eventual demolition.

Memories of Khalsa Crescent.

Vietnamese Refugees in Singapore
Following the incident involving the 56 refugees arriving by plane, the opium treatment centre at St John’s Island was temporarily set aside for refugees. Addicts under treatment on the island displaced by the arrangements were then moved to Khalsa Crescent Remand Centre, where the 56 had been held. The island refugee camp would be closed in October 1975 and subsequent to that, Singapore took a strong stand against refugees who began to leave the former South Vietnam by boat. A policy of restocking refugee boats before towing the boats back out to sea was initially put in place. It would only be in 1978 at a time when the refugee crisis reached its peak that Singapore permitted refugees to land on the condition that a guarantee was made of resettlement in a third country within three months by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The UNHCR was also allowed to set up and run a refugee camp at Hawkins Road, not far from Khalsa Crescent.


The evolution of the area through maps and aerials

Maps of the Torpedo Depot area showing the former coolie lines in 1945 and the blocks of the Asian quarters in 1968.
Plans of the site before and after the quarters were built.
Aerial views of the site during the time of the coolie lines and after the barracks were built (Maps from National Archives of Singapore)
What the crystal ball that is the URA Master Plan says that the Khalsa Crescent will be – a future residential development.

A walk around the former prison

The caged passageway built for the prison along the former Block 5, which became the prison’s Admin Block.
An Interview Room in the Admin Block.
A passageway between the Admin Block and the Workshop section of the prison.
A view towards the former RMN Sports Grounds, where the Rail Transit System link from Woodlands North to Bukit Chagar in Johor Bahru is being built.
Inside Workshop 2, one of two prison workshops that were added during the prison days.
Inside a second workshop.
Staircase at Block 7, which was apparently a bachelors’ block.
Block 7, which had bachelors’ accommodation on the top. A Sikh cook prepared meals for the bachelors according to one former resident.
The Kitchen at Block 7.
Potential weapons have to be kept safe.
The Housing Unit – the roof was added to allow the space between the former accommodation and service blocks to be usable.

Inside a “Housing Unit”


More views of the former prison






Putting a chill into Chong Pang City

13 05 2022

I never thought I will admit to this but I shall miss the old market at “Chong Pang City” when it goes. The old market will go sometime around 2027, when it is scheduled to move into a soulless new age all-in-one integrated development now coming up in place of a former community club building and a low-rise block of flats that both were recently acquired and demolished.

A queue for roasted meat

Chong Pang City, which counts as Nee Soon (later Yishun) New Town’s very first neighbourhood centre, acquired its name in 1993, when shopkeepers banded together to rebrand the place in response to the opening of Northpoint shopping mall. The development of the neighbourhood had taken place several years earlier, having been built over a period spanning seven years, from 1977 to 1984. When development first started, much of its surroundings were occupied by cemetery land, farms and on the side of Chong Pang Camp opposite it, fishing ponds and vegetable plots. Leaving its rural past behind the area, around where Chye Kay Village was located, very quickly took on the vibe of a neighbourhood centre typical of any new public housing town built in the era. The market, which was completed in 1984 as one of the last old-style wet markets built by the Housing and Development Board (HDB), became one of its draws, and is today one of the more lively marketplaces.

The Pork Section.

The marketplace at Chong Pang City — I use the word “marketplace” because much of the surroundings in the immediate vicinity of the market, such as the kiosks, commercial units, plazas and pedestrian malls, contributes to the special buzz of Chong Pang’s market. A wide range of produce is available at the market with traders catering to the various segments of the neighbourhood’s population, and this also draws many from further afield. And now, even in the age of supermarkets, online shopping and dining out, the marketplace continues to have a buzz that makes it one of Singapore’s liveliest market places.

A new day at the marketplace.

To me, Chong Pang’s market is one of the places that make Singapore, Singapore, and it is sad to think that this rather unique side of us will in five years or so be a thing of the past. Change, of course, is inevitable in a Singapore that moves much too fast, and we don’t seem to have much of a choice with this with work on the oddly but maybe aptly named integrated development, “Chill @ Chong Pang”, is already underway. Once completed, the “Chill” will literally take Chong Pang to new levels and put a chill on Chong Pang City.

Fruits and vegetables are also sold in the shops in the vicinity of the market.

Stacked onto Chill’s multiple tiers with the wet market will be a community club, a food centre, a swimming complex, gyms, fitness studios, banks, eateries, community spaces and shops. What Chill will also have is an outer garment of vertical greenery that can only be maintained with much effort, and possibly a green roof to enhance its green credentials. All nice and good, but the how of fitting all that is comfortably, and with a setting that is conducive for market shopping, can only be seen in five years time.

Fresh fish is available at the market’s many fishmongers.

Integrated developments have been around for quite a while, and they do take some getting used to. These developments almost invariably seem to have constraints of space and there is never enough around key access points, intended waiting areas and even around lift landings and getting from one level to the next, is often not a pleasant experience. Closed-in markets are also not the most pleasant of places to do one’s marketing in and while it may be a thing of the future, it isn’t something that I will be looking forward to.

Another fishmonger’s stall.

Stalls / shops in the vicinity of the market.

A roasted meat seller.

A shrine outside the market.

A fruit seller.

Crowds during the lockdown led to further crowd control measures being implemented for entry to the market.

Another scene during the lockdown.

The calm b