Postcards from the South

27 07 2018

Introducing Postcards from the South.

The 394 page book, a work of love by its author Mahen Bala, offers a wonderful collection of stories of stations and interactions with them, previously unpublished photographs and maps, as well as a historic look at the southern stretches of the Malayan Railway – between Gemas and Tanjong Pagar.

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, Bukit Timah Railway Station as well as the Causeway, which provided a vital link to the Peninsula, also feature.
The book will go on sale in Singapore at Kinokuniya and Select Books in about 2 weeks time. More information on the book can be found at Projek Keretapi Kita.

Cover of Postcards from the South.

Bukit Timah Railway Station and one of its last Station Masters, Atan Ahmad (image : Projek Keretapi Kita).

Tanjong Pagar Railway Station (image: Projek Keretapi Kita).


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Wish me luck!

23 07 2018

A guest post by Edmund Arozoo, once of Jalan Hock Chye, Singapore and now of Adelaide.


WISH ME LUCK!

Would a non-Chinese Mandarin illiterate person in Singapore buy a Chinese Newspaper?

Well during the weekends in the 1960s a few would have but not to try and learn how to read Chinese but only to peruse a single column in the either the front or back page. Like them I have occasionally bought the “Mah piu poh” to look up the 4 D result of that evening. We were impatient to wait for tomorrow’s English paper. The late limited edition of the Chinese paper would be set to roll off the print and once the 4D results were known this was typeset and included in and the print run would commence.

CAM00107 taken off video display at Singapore City Gallery

A Mah piu poh vendor at  a road junction.

Distribution was pretty fast and copies would hit the streets with young kids vending the newspaper at road junctions, bus stops or walking along the various streets in estates or kampongs calling out “Ma piu poh!”.  If your home had a Rediffusion set you did not have to buy the newspaper to be informed of the results because the English channel would broadcast the winning numbers in the evening. If you were too slow or had been occupied and missed this, it was no problem because the Chinese channel would be broadcasting the results a bit later. Whether it was deliberate or not, I am not too sure. It could just be due to program timings. Besides “nǐ hǎo ma” knowing how to count from zero to nine in Mandarin was therefore essential if we wanted to transcribe the results for the other family members.

Recently I had a nostalgic recollection of the 4D scene in Singapore during those days. More so after the Trump/Kim summit where certain numbers were reported as quickly becoming “red” numbers and no further bets could be lodged. Nothing seems to change through the years in respect to the rush on “predicted” lucky numbers.

Well each time I visit Singapore I still have a flutter with the placing “Small” and “Big” wagers on numbers that I I hope would bring me luck and enhance my holiday budget. I still have to realise this dream.

Looking back and recollecting how different the 4D scene was in the 60s I had this urge to put down my thoughts and memories and hopefully be able to share with the older generation who may read and relate to my experiences. I also hope that if I am wrong with some of my perceptions or recollections someone could correct me and put things right.

Before I started to type out my thoughts I did a mini research by asking friends and asking the help of “Mister Goggle”, to ensure that certain “grey” areas of my recollections were not really illusions in the mind’s eye of a 70 year old brain.

It was fascinating to read how 4D gambling evolved with its roots from the brainwave of a schoolboy In Kedah, Malaya . He wanted to raffle off his bicycle for $100 and used the last 2 digits of the lottery draw held at the local horse race meeting.

Through the years gambling syndicates In Malaya and Singapore expanded this method to encompass the last 4 digits of the Turf Club sweepstake (six digits) lottery draws held for the last race during the Saturday and Sunday race days held at the Turf Clubs of Singapore or Malaya.  This was all conducted illegally with a pretty well-structured network of runners to facilitate collection of wagers and winning payments. These runners collected a minimal sum (20c per bet) off the wages and a percentage of the winnings. However if they were caught they could face the strong arm of the law.

We had a certain salesman in a provision shop who was a runner and once he knew we had become regular clients and trust was cemented between both parties it was easy to place a bet.  All one had to do was to have your numbers written on a piece of paper with the amount of the wager and pass it on to him indicating if it was for a single day or for the two days. The Chinese customers could do it verbally but not us. The man behind the counter would then glance around the shop to ensure that there were no plain clothed law enforcers in the vicinity before he would reach the drawer under the display counter and pull out his small notepad with different interleaved coloured pages (yellow and white if I remember correctly). With the use of a small slip of carbon paper he would write on the white sheet the numbers and the amount wagered and the date of the draw. On completion he would tear off the top sheet and give it back to the customer and money would change hands. Then if there was a win all one had to do was to present your slip of paper and money would once again change hands. If it was a big win one was always cautious that there were no bad hats around when receiving the money for fear of being mugged.

The Turf Club sweepstake lottery tickets could only be bought at the race meets but the 4D numbers could be bought at the various “illegal” outlets or some runners would go from house to house and collect the various bets from the individual households.

Well the numbers for the Turf Club lottery were drawn before the last race of the day and each horse was allocated one of these numbers. Thus the term “starters” was used then and is still used till today. So even if your lottery ticket number was drawn you had to pray that the horse allocated to the number would be in at least the first three to cross the finish line to score a big win.  The consolation prize category was just that – just a consolation as you will not have a chance to secure a Big prize.

How things have changed. The Turf Clubs having realised that these illegal gaming syndicates were diverting potential revenues from their profits started their own “4D” sweepstakes.  In response the illegal bookmakers offered discounted prices for each dollar bet being placed and higher prize wins to retain punters.

In years to come Singapore Pools took over the running of the 4D draws and also included an additional draw on Wednesday. Computerisation also allowed the introduction of a random generated system as an option to select 4-D numbers -the Quick Pick.

The method of personal selection of numbers for 4D draws was wide ranging. Auspicious dates like New Year day would see a run of the four numbers of the New Year or a combination of the last two digits of the old year with the last two digits of the new year. This combination was also used to select the 4 digits on someone’s birthday with the old and new age being used. Almost every household had a set of rolled up slips of paper with handwritten numbers from zero to nine.  The set was usually kept in empty matchstick boxes or other containers and always handy when the occasions arose to ask someone to “pick” winning numbers.

On one’s birthday it was pretty common to be asked to perform the ritual early in the morning before you could wash away sleep from your eyes. Car registration plate numbers was also another source of forecasting. This could be when someone buys a new car or when one spots a vehicle involved in an accident. Photographs in the local newspapers showing vehicle accidents often used  to show the registration plates and this often led to a run on the numbers. I think these days the numbers are blotted out. Then there were persons who could translate (“chye”) incidents or situations or dreams into numbers.

The fortune tellers also were another source of number generation with some relying on birds to pick fortune cards as well as 4D numbers.  Places of worship were and still are where hopefuls pray for “lucky” numbers, be it temple or church etc. And for those successful in hitting it BIG there is always the token of an appreciation in the form of thanksgivings offered in return. In 1997 I recall a Catholic priest in Singapore, during his homily mentioning that he was shock to see 4D numbers written on one of his parishioners’ palms as the priest was about to place the communion host on it. The extremes that gamblers go through in their quests for winning in 4D, knows no limits.

Then with every approaching New Year there will be a number of Astrology books with a list of predicted numbers for the various Zodiac signs or Lunar Animal signs for the year ahead. Then during Chinese New Year there are the public fortune forecasting posters predicating the future and lucky numbers as well.

It has been a while since any of my numbers won me any prizes – well I am sure like the many other thousands of Singaporeans it will be soon. As it is often repeatedly stated – “You have to be in it to Win it”.

– Edmund Arozoo


 





Discovering 10 Hyderabad Road

20 07 2018

Update (20 Jul 2018, 12.30 pm)

Registration has closed as all 40 slots have been taken up. Do look out for the next visit in the series – registration will open on a Friday two weeks before the visit date.  More information at Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets is back.


The third visit in the 2018 “Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets” series of State Property Visits, which the Singapore Land Authority is supporting, is to No. 10 Hyderabad Road. The property, which is now wonderfully repurposed as the Singapore campus of the S P Jain School of Global Management (who are also hosting and supporting the visit), features a set of buildings that may seem vaguely familiar to some. The buildings, the oldest on the campus, feature tropicalised classical façades and can be found replicated across several former British military camps across Singapore dating back to the 1930s. Built as officers’ messes as part of the wave of military barracks upgrading and construction works of the era, this one at Hyderabad Road was put up for the same purpose by the officers of Gillman Barracks.

The British military pull-out in 1971 saw the building handed over to the Singapore government. The Dental Health Education Unit moved in in 1973 and then the Institute of Dental Health (IDH) – when the Dental Education Unit was incorporated into it in 1975. It was during this time that the campus’ six-storey learning centre and hostel was put up for use as a central facility for the training of dental therapists, nurses, dental assistants and technicians. Outpatient dental health clinics were also set up in the building.

The buildings of the former officers’ mess is now used by S P Jain as an administration building as well as as “hotel” for visiting faculty and features 20 very comfortable rooms as well as a beautifully decorated lounge and banquet hall.  There are also staff rooms, discussion rooms, a music room, a chill-out lounge and a library in the buildings – which participants can hope to see.



Details of the visit and registration link:

Location : 10 Hyderabad Road, Singapore 119579
Date : 4 August 2018
Time : 10 to 11.45 am
Registration : https://goo.gl/forms/goZZravHJk4hDrnx1

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Discovering 5 Kadayanallur Street

22 06 2018

Next on the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of State Property Visits, being organised with the support of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), is to No. 5 Kadayanallur Street on 7 July 2018. The visit is limited to 40 participants of ages 18 and above. Registration (limited to 40 participants of ages 18 and above) may be made by filling the form at this link (fully subscribed as of 1707 hrs 22 Jun 2018).

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A Dutch flavoured corner in the former Chasseriau Estate

5 06 2018

With what could be described as Dutch gables prominently displayed, the pair of houses right at end of Watten Estate Road gives the area a distinct feel. The houses are what remain of a cluster of six. Erected from the late 1920s (when four were constructed) and into the mid-1930s (when another two were added), the houses occupied a plot of land that had once been part of the vast Chasseriau Estate1. All similar in design, the houses were each given a uniquely shaped gable Dutch gable. Perched on a small hill and with its verdant surroundings, the setting for the cluster of houses could quite easily have resembled a Dutch or Flemish country village.

One of two Dutch-gable topped houses at Watten Estate Road.

The architect behind the designs for the houses, I was pleasantly surprised to learn, was the preeminent Major Percy Hubert Keys. Major P. H. Keys is best known for efforts that were quite significantly larger in scale and included the likes of the Fullerton Building, the Bowyer Block of Singapore General Hospital and the (King Edward VII) College of Medicine, all of which stand today as National Monuments. While the designs of the three were carried out in Keys’ capacity as a Government Architect, the work that he carried out through his private architectural practice, Keys and Dowdeswell, is also well thought of. Examples of these are the 1929 Oversea Chinese Bank at Cecil Street (now the Quadrant) and the 1930 Namazie Mansions (now the Capitol Building) and Capitol Theatre.

Once the home of Major P. H. Keys. An architect best known for the Fullerton Building and the College of Medicine, Major Keys also designed this house.

One of Keys’ first undertakings with Keys and Dowdeswell, which he founded in partnership with Frank Dowdeswell in June 1927, would have been the design of the Watten Estate2 cluster. One of the houses, No. 130 (as it was renumbered in the late 1960s), was to serve as Keys’ home; a move that was necessary as he would have had to vacate the government residence he occupied in the Labrador area. Art-deco influences can be seen in the design of the houses. The influence can also be seen in much of Keys’ later work in Singapore, such as in the post 1927 buildings identified above.

A peek inside one of the houses.

The “Wheatley”, as Keys’ had named his home, was described as a “European Compound house” with “modern sanitation, four bedrooms, servants quarters, a garage for two cars, two tennis courts”.  The house, comfortable and with a design well adapted for the hot and humid tropics, would however serve as his residence for only a matter of  five years from its completion possibly in 1928 or 1929 until 1934 – when Keys moved both home and practice to Shanghai.

Inside one of the four bedrooms.

The house was put up for rent soon after Keys’ move. Together with No. 1263, the other surviving house, it came into the hands of the government after the war. Among No. 130’s post-war occupants was Mr. H. W. Nightingale. Mr. Nightingale, a government official, served as an Acting Secretary for Economic Affairs in the 1950s. A well-known postwar occupant of No. 126 was Justice T. A. Brown. Justice Brown was a High Court judge who held the position of Acting Chief Justice when the Chief Justice went on leave in 1951. He also played a prominent role in the chain of events that would lead to the Maria Hertogh riots in December 1950, delivering the verdict that declared her marriage illegal and restored custody of Maria to her birth parents.

See also: Story of a lift nearing 90 (Sunday Times, 27 May 2018)


Notes:

1Frenchman Leopold Chasseriau established the estate in 1872 for the planting of tapioca. This would eventually be sold to the founding interests of the Bukit Timah Rubber Estate in 1895 following which it would be split-up. The Municipality purchased a portion – the catchment for the (MacRitchie) reservoir, soon after, followed by the Bukit Tinggi area being purchased by the Swiss (Rifle Shooting) Club. A significant portion of the estate was also sold to the Turf Club in the late 1920s.

While the cluster of houses may have occupied a corner of the former Chasseriau Estate, they acquired addresses connected with the unrelated Watten Estate from the road through it, which was extended to the corner of the former Chasseriau. Watten Estate was a 47-acre estate on which Alexander James Gunn, a one time Secretary for the Singapore Chamber of Commerce, had his residence. Gunn named his residence and estate Watten after his Scottish home village.

The grounds of No. 126 was the subject of an archeological dig conducted by Jon Cooper as part of the Adam Park (battlefield archaeology) Project. It is believed that the cluster of houses housed British POWs as an extension to Adam Park POW Camp (which housed POWs put to work on the construction of the Syonan Jinja) in the early part of the Japanese Occupation.


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The hospital at Mount Erskine and what may now be Singapore’s oldest lift

27 05 2018

Rather nondescript in appearance, the building at 5 Kadayanallur Street conceals a wealth of little secrets. Last used as the corporate offices of a department store in Singapore, there are few who know of the building’s chequered past and of its use as a hospital before and during the Japanese Occupation. Another interesting piece of history that the building holds is an old lift. Installed in 1929, the Smith, Major and Stevens beauty – complete with wooden panels and sets of collapsible gates – may be the oldest lift now in existence in Singapore.

The rather nondescript looking building at Kadayanallur Street – last used as CK Tang’s Coporate Offices.

The building, which has been described as Singapore’s first modernist building, was completed in 1923 as the St. Andrew’s Mission Hospital (for Women and Children). Designed by Swan and Maclaren’s Harry Robinson, the odd shape of its plan can be attributed to the site that was found to accommodate what would have been a small but very important institution. The first dedicated facility that the St. Andrew’s Mission set up – it had previously run several dispensaries, including one at Upper Cross Street with a small in-patient section – it was established to provide impoverished residents with illnesses living in the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions of Chinatown with access to care and relief from suffering.

The inside of the building – the floor where the hospital’s staff quarters were located.

The installation of a lift – retrofitted in 1929 – was considered then to be a step forward in the treatment of children afflicted with a rare, debilitating and extremely painful tuberculosis of the bones and joints. The disease was first recorded in 1923 – the year of the hospital’s opening and in 1926, six children were hospitalised for it. The only opportunity that could be afforded for these patients to gain access to sunlight and fresh air, essential to treatment, was the roof of the building. This – due to movement of the affected limbs of the children being “painful and injurious” – would not have been possible without a lift.

The 1929 vintage Smith, Major and Stevens lift, which I believe may be the oldest now in Singapore, is still – if not for the shut-off of electrical supply – in working condition.

The hospital building was evacuated in December 1941 following an air raid and was never to be used by the mission again. The Japanese ran a civilian hospital for women and children, the Shimin Byoin, in it from April 1942. After the war, the building was used as a medical store. The Mission was only able to reopen the women and children’s hospital in January 1949 after it was able to acquire and refit the former Globe Building at Tanjong Pagar Road (some may remember the SATA Clinic there). More recently, the Kadayanallur Street building (incidentally Kadayanallur Street was only named in 1952 – after the Singapore Kadayanallur Muslim League) was also used as the Maxwell Road Outpatient Dispensary (from 1964 to 1998).

The roof deck that featured in the treatment of children with tuberculosis of the bones and joints.

A rare opportunity may be provided by the Singapore Land Authority to visit the building and also see the lift, through the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of guided State Property Visits, possibly sometime in July. The visit will also give participants an opportunity to discover much more on the building and the area and also of the building’s history. Do look out for further information on the visit and how and when to register on this site and also at The Long and Winding Road on Facebook.

More photographs : on Flickr.

See also: Story of a lift nearing 90 (Sunday Times, 27 May 2018)


Further information about Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets:


 





The forest that will be making way for the “Forest Town”

5 05 2018

One of the things that I quite dearly miss are the seemingly long road journeys of my childhood to the far flung corners of Singapore. The journeys, always an adventure, provided an opportunity to the many different sides that Singapore then had; places that had each a unique charm and character.

A stream running through the now forested area, close to what would have been the 12th Milestone.

One especially long journey was the one to would take me to the “wild west”. The journey to the west, along a slow and dusty Jurong Road that meandered from the 8th milestone of Bukit Timah past wooded areas, settlements, graveyards, rubber plantations, and a rural landscape that is hard to imagine as having ever existed in the brave new world that we now live in.

There is a reminder of that journey, an old stretch of the road that, even stripped of rural human existence and its paraphernalia, bears some resemblance to the old road. Found just north of the Pan Island Expressway (PIE) between Bukit Batok Road and Jurong West Avenue 2, it has been relegated to a service road and has been all but forgotten.

12 Milestone Jurong Road today.

The stretch, now shaded by its overgrown trees, would have corresponded to the 11th to 12th milestones of Jurong Road – an area that went by the name “Hong Kah” before the name was appropriated by a public housing precinct across the PIE in Jurong West. Hong Kah Village itself stood right smack where the 12th milestone was and it wasn’t one that would have easily been missed in the old days, just as the old Chinese burial site nearby, Bulim Cemetery, on the road just past the village that gave me the chills on night drives past the area.

12 Milestone in 1986 (source: National Archives Online)

The odd sounding “Hong Kah” quite interestingly translates to “bestowing a religion” in the Hokkien or Teochew dialects. It was a term that apparently, in colloquial usage, was also used to refer to Christians (Chinese converts to Christianity I suppose). “Hong Kah Choon” was thus the “Christian Village”, so named due to its association with the Anglican St. Andrew’s Mission, which had carried out missionary work in the area since the 1870s (see page 45-46 of NHB’s Jurong Heritage Trail booklet). The mission also built a nearby church, St. John’s Church Jurong, located at 11th milestone at the top of 105 steps on a hillock. Put up in 1884, the church operated until 1992. That was when it was acquired together with the rest of the area for redevelopment.

The track leading to SJJ at 11 MS Jurong.

Cleared and left untouched, except for its use as military training grounds until very recently, nature has since reclaimed much of the area – which stretches up north to the Kranji Expressway. Today, the site hosts a lush secondary forest, complete with fresh water streams and a thriving birdlife. Redevelopment, will however soon clear much of what is now there, to be replaced by a forest of concrete that will be called Tengah – Singapore’s 24th “new town”.

One of the forest’s winged residents – a (male) common flameback woodpecker.

Dubbed, rather ironically, as the “Forest Town“, Tengah  will feature a fair bit of greenery. Much of which, however, will quite saldy be manufactured and put in once the existing forest has been cleared and a fair bit of concrete has been introduced – which is the Singapore way.

Another resident – a St. Andrew’s Cross spider.

Also manufactured will be a “real” forest that will take the form of a 100 metre wide and 5 kilometre long “forest corridor”. Running by the Kranji Expressway, it will serve to connect the Western Water Catchment Area and the Central Catchment Nature Reserve. And again, in the Singapore way, the corridor will be one that is “planted with rainforest tree species to transform it into a rich forest habitat”.

More views of the forest 








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