The lovely red-brick residences of northern Singapore

5 07 2020

Among the earliest permanent residences that the Admiralty’s contractor Sir John Jackson and Co put up in Sembawang as part of the construction of the naval base, are a lovely and quite unique collection of houses that are found in the vicinity of the dockyard.  Built from 1928 and completed in early 1929, three categories of these were built, the largest being those intended to house “superior” officers at Kings Avenue. There were also a number built to house subordinate officers at Canada Road, and a row at Wellington Road for chargemen.

The red-brick chargemen’s residences in the former naval base.

 

The same residences seen around the time of their completion in April 1929 (online at https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

The set of houses are quite unique in character and unlike the commonly seen PWD type designs seen in the residences erected in the naval based in the 1930s and also across many housing estates built for both the government and the military from the late 1920s into the 1930s, have a design that is quite strongly influenced by the Arts-and-Crafts architectural movement. Among their distinct features are steeply pitched hip roofs and fair-faced brick finishes.

Another view of the naval base chargemen’s residences.

It is not presently known what the future holds for these houses, which are now in their 92nd year of existence. Based on the URA Master Plan, the houses lie in an area earmarked for future residential use that is subject to detailed planning.

Residences for subordinate officers, set in the lush green surroundings that are also a feature of the naval base and many other housing estates built for European government and military officers in Singapore.

 

Subordinate officers’ residences at their completion in April 1929 (online at https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

 

Superior officers’ residences at their completion in April 1929 (online at https://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/).

 

A Superior Officers’ residence seen today.

 


Some other views 

Timber is used extensively in frames and floorboards …

… and also banisters.

Servants’ quarters and kitchens are arranged external to the houses.


 

 

 

 

 





Parting glances: the last of the 1G overhead bridges

26 05 2020

Singapore’s first pedestrian overhead bridge, a simple structure of steel tubing and timber plank decking, was installed over Collyer Quay in 1964. A dozen more with improved first generation structures were to be added between 1965 and 1967, including one at 3 ms Serangoon Road – by its junction with St Michael’s Road that was long, like the nearby National Aerated Water bottling plant, a familiar sight.

The newly installed bridge at Serangoon 3 ms in 1967.

These first generation bridges were quite a familiar sight in my childhood and one of the things I have associated them, were beggars – another familiar childhood sight. Over the years, these simple structures were improved and strengthened where possible. Many were replaced as wider roads meant increased bridge spans for which the use of reinforced concrete structures made better sense. One of the last of these bridges – over Bukit Timah Road was damaged by a vehicle mounted crane in 2010 and dismantled, leaving the bridge along Serangoon Road as the last of a kind, until that is, its removal in June 2019.


The bridge in more recent times


Removal of the bridge in June 2019


 





The Government Housing gems at Seton Close

22 03 2020

Found around the fringes of the Municipality of Singapore are several government housing gems such as several that were built using blueprints developed by the Public Works Department (PWD) in the 1910s. These, which include four Class III houses at Seton Close that were beautifully renovated for modern living in 2018, can be thought of as being among the PWD’s first purpose built designs.

A Seton Close residence.

The four at Seton Close, belonged to a larger set of six put up to house senior government officers in 1922. These are again, quite different from what could be thought of as an actual black and white house and feature a fair amount of masonry and have a main framework of concrete (as opposed to timber) columns and beams. Some of the upper level framework on the balcony projections and verandah (and of course roof supports) were however of timber. Much of these wooden structures would have been coated in black tar-based coatings, and would have (as they do to some extent now) featured a fair bit of black “trim”.

The since enclosed upper verandah.

Designed with a porte-cochère, with a (since enclosed) verandah space above that would have served as a lounge in the evenings, the houses had their reception and dining spaces below. The well-ventilated bedrooms on the second level also opened to balconies, which have also since been enclosed.

A bedroom.


More photographs


 





The Eastern Extension Telegraph Company’s Estate on Mount Faber

18 03 2020

Some of you would probably have read the news about the possibility of a heritage trail in the Pender Road area in the Straits Times over the weekend. The trail involves the estate containing five wonderfully designed houses that were erected by the Eastern Extension Telegraph Company’s relatively junior engineering staff in the early 1900s. The company, which was part of a group established by Sir John Pender that had a monopoly on the British Empire’s submarine cable network and hence a virtual monopoly on worldwide communications. It morphed into Cable and Wireless in 1929 through a merger with Marconi, which had a stranglehold on radio communications.

Designed by Swan and Maclaren and built between 1908 and 1919, the houses are among a wealth of several hundred residences that were built during colonial-era, which are often referred to in Singapore as “Black and White houses”. While the term is correctly applied to these houses, which are timber framed, which coated in black tar based paints do exhibit a distinct resemblance to the English Tudor-style houses from which the term is derived, the same cannot be said of Singapore’s other colonial residences.

The bulk of the colonial houses, particularly those built from the mid-1920s for senior municipal, government and military officers feature Public Works Department designs with concrete columns and beams. Although many of these are coated in white finishes and feature black painted trimmings today, not all have been coated in the same colours historically. The term also prevents us from looking at the many styles that can be found among the colonial homes.

Visits to the estate – an important note:

Much of the estate at Pender Road is tenanted. To maintain the residents privacy and to avoid causing nuisance, the estate is out-of-bounds to the general public. However, do look out for a series of controlled visits that will give the public an opportunity to visit the estate and learn more about these architectural gems. These are being planned in collaboration with the Singapore Land Authority as part of the Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets series of guided visits. Hopefully, this can start in the second half of this year.


The Estate’s Houses in Photographs


Married Engineer’s Quarters (two off, built in 1919)


 

Bachelor Jointers’ Quarters (built 1908 and extended in 1914)


Married Jointer’s Quarters (three off, built 1919)


 





Memories of ‘Batman’

13 02 2020

A guest post by Edmund Arozoo, who, following a conversation on the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, recalls a time when bats were hunted for consumption in Singapore. Edmund who grew up in a kampung in Jalan Hock Chye, now resides in Adelaide, Australia.


After band practice we often have a sit down meal of home cooked dishes at the band leader’s home. It is a great way to chill out and also have a bonding session. Last Sunday the conversation at the dinner table touched on the Coronavirus situation the world is currently facing and the theory of how it may have originated from bats and possibly through the ingestion of bats by humans. Well someone at the table declared that he had eaten bat meat before. Like me, he too was originally from Singapore. Suddenly a “kampong” memory came flashing back. I was reminded of how sometimes at dusk and into the night the “bat man” would appear. He would have with him two long bamboo poles (galahs). Each pole had along its length an edge of fine netting attached. So when the poles were raised and spread apart it was like having a fishing net spread overhead in the air.

The “batman” would survey the area for any bats in flight. Then he would observe their flight paths. And because the flight paths were very often loops and predictable he would position himself after the bat had flown overhead and immediately hoist the galahs up and spread the top ends apart and hold the netting as high as he could. He would then wait in anticipation for the bat to fly back – straight into the netting. Once the bat was entangled in the netting, both poles were lowered and the trapped bat extracted and kept in a container with the others that were caught.

The Batman © Edmund Arozoo.

If my memory serves me correctly, sometimes to attract the bats he would use the simple aid of a match box. A matchstick was removed from the box and jammed in between the top edge of the sliding drawer and the bottom side of the cover sleeve. By using the thumb to press over area where the matchstick came into contact with both parts of the box the matchstick was then forcibly moved inwards and outwards. This created a sound that we were told attracted the bats.

Bat Attractor © Edmund Arozoo.

Once he netted and stored the catches the “Batman” would move on to other parts of the kampong.

I understood that these bats were caught for human consumption.

While some around the dinner table that night expressed horror over the thought of eating bats, I had to remind them that during those days in Singapore people were known to eat flying foxes (fruit bats), iguana and wild boar.

Then I had to confess to the others that I too have been adventurous (game) here in Australia to have eaten Kangaroo meat, Emu meat pies, and when I was in the Northern Territory I had dined on Buffalo steak and stir fried Crocodile.

Prairie Hotel , Parachilna, South Australia © Edmund Arozoo.

Another memory then resurfaced – on our trip to Lake Eyre in 2016 we stopped for lunch at the Prairie Hotel in the country town of Parachilna, north of Adelaide. The menu promoted the ‘FMG’ – Feral Mixed Grill and if I remember correctly for us Aussies it was tongue-in-cheek fondly referred to as “road kill”, with Kangaroo, Camel, Emu, and Goat served as a platter.

Feral Platter © Edmund Arozoo.

In recent years I have tasted escargot, frog legs and often indulge in Blue Vein cheese (I love durians!)

Would I try Bat ….hmmm perhaps not just yet!


© Edmund Arozoo, 2020


Bat and flying fox Consumption in Singapore

The consumption of bats, especially the larger fruit bats, wasn’t just confined to Chinese population, some of whom believed it to be a cure for asthma. It was not unheard of amongst some of the other ethnic groups:

“The preparation of flying fox for consumption was quite an art and required a skilled hand as the glands under the armpit of the bat had to be carefully removed or else the whole dish was unpalatable due to the musky odour characteristic of the mammal. Flying fox was either prepared with herbs of curried. The strong ingredients presumably disguised the strong flavour of the bat. It was also considered to be a remedy for asthmatics.”

– Francesca Eber in “Singapore Eurasians: Memories, Hopes And Dreams”.

A postcard depicting a boy holding a flying fox in Singapore.


 





The second iteration of the Singapore Art Museum

19 01 2020

A set of buildings in Singapore close to my heart are those that belong to the Singapore Art Museum (SAM) on Bras Basah Road. I spent four memorable years at them at the end of the 1970s, when the structures that have been protected as a National Monument, belong to St. Joseph’s Institution (SJI). With the school vacating the site it had occupied since 1852 in 1987 and urban redevelopment having already then arrived at Bras Basah Road’s doorstep, the former campus and the world around it has changed almost beyond recognition. I am grateful for at least the familiar sight of the school’s protected façade, which with its curved wings appearing like the arms of a mother to embrace her children with a warmest of welcomes. Another thing that I am grateful for, is the dignified manner in which the school’s old buildings have been repurposed.

Singapore Art Museum, which is undergoing redevelopment, will only reopen in 2023.

We should soon seen a second iteration of SAM in the former SJI, since the first that came in its 1996 conversion.  Several structures of the old school were torn down in the 1996 iteration, which included the much loved Brothers’ Quarters on Queen Street. The quarters’ building, the bottom of which contained the school’s tuck shop, was replaced with a service block which has been demolished to accommodate the set of changes that will come next. The proposed interventions, which will perhaps take a bit of taking to, will include an entrance plaza at Queen Street, the addition of a floating box over the two courtyards known as the Sky Gallery, and a gallery bridge that will link the set of structures on the SJI side of the SAM to the SAM @ 8Q section on site of the former Catholic High School (CHS).

Mr Chan Soo Kian of SCDA Architects presenting the proposed new entrance plaza at Queen Street.

In isolation and on first impressions, the new additions will seem almost monstrous in proportions, and the gallery bridge does seem to give the impression of an archway into Queen Street — where several other structures that I refer to as “monsters in our midst”, now seem to dominate. Having had the opportunity to hear from the creators of the proposed new additions and a chance to look at the artist impressions of the structures together with the parts that make the National Monument up  – the conserved main façade, the former Anderson Building on Waterloo Street, and the chapel block, it does seem that as a whole the additions are for the better.

An artist impression of the proposed Queen Street entrance plaza with the Sky Gallery also seen (©Singapore Art Museum).

The Sky Gallery was the addition that grated most on the senses — at first glance and seemingly something that would stick out like the proverbial sore thumb that will overwhelm the monument’s landmark façade. On closer inspection, the feature does however serve to provide a backdrop that could help in neutralising the effect of clutter currently behind the SAM. This could have the effect of drawing greater focus on the façade. The gallery will also series of reflective glass panels running its length, with each angled towards the dome — which does seem a brilliant touch. The effect to the observer is the shifting of reflections as one moves past, reflecting both the old but with the dynamism of the continuously changing and multi-faceted new — something that the museum hopes to do to enhance its position as a showcase of present and future contemporary Southeast Asian art.

An artist impression of SAM’s façade with the proposed Sky Gallery (©Singapore Art Museum).

The façade seen in May 2019.

The additions will not only create space as the SAM seeks to enhance its position as a show case of Southeast Asian contemporary art, but also make the old and new spaces much more usable. The additions will help to increase gallery space, which will grow some 30% area-wise. The more significant impact is to also have space created that will have greater height and volume – as will be seen in the two courtyards. Once spaces for assembly and play and now covered by the “floating” Sky Gallery, they will see large volume and column-free gallery space being created. Although not ideal for the old boy that I am looking to reminisce about things such as the aerial threat that was carried by the pigeons with seemingly overactive digestive systems who inhabited the rafters above, the change will make the space a lot more usable, more comfortable and perhaps much better appreciated.

An artist impression of the view from Queen Street of the former buildings of CHS with the gallery bridge and the proposed interventions at CHS (©Singapore Art Museum).

The gallery bridge — along which more gallery space will be created — will help integrate the isolated former CHS section fo the museum. To be erected over Queen Street, it will seem very much like a gateway into street from Bras Basah Road and place a focus on the street at street-level.

An artist impression of the gallery bridge (©Singapore Art Museum).

Another change that I thought will be positive, is the removal of glass panels along the previously open verandahs of the main building. It will give me a chance to walk the corridors as I once did and gaze at the statue of St. John the Baptist de la Salle – the founder of the religious order behind the school. The statue, a feature that was used as a navigation landmark, is a replica of a marble sculpture by Cesare Aureli in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican that was donated to the school on the occasion of its Diamond Jubilee.

An artist impression of the Queen Street Courtyard (©Singapore Art Museum).

 

An artist impression of the Waterloo Street Courtyard (©Singapore Art Museum).

The reopening of SAM, has been moved to 2023 due to the restoration effort that is required on the old buildings. On the evidence of what is in store, it would be well worth the added wait. The redeveloped museum will see learning studios and a library, public art spaces and promises “exciting” retail and café spaces. SAM will however continue to remain active during the extended period of closure through partnerships with both Singapore and overseas art spaces and museums. More information on SAM related events in 2020 can be found at the calendar of events on the SAM website.

Dr Eugene Tan, Director, SAM and an old boy of SJI.

 


 





“Lenin’s Tomb” at Raffles Place

17 01 2020

Constructed in an effort to beautify the city, the “underground” car park topped with a roof garden that came to define the Raffles Place of post-independent Singapore, came in for some criticism as it was nearing completion. Likened to Lenin’s Mausoleum, its critics even went so far as to suggest that it be used for the repose of Singapore’s distinguished citizens. Despite the early reservations, Raffles Place Garden – as it was christened, was a quite a joy to behold. With its floral clock, fountain and a backdrop provided by Raffles Place’s characterful buildings, the garden became what could be thought of as the 1960s equivalent of an instagram-worthy spot.

Christmas 1966 on the roof garden at Raffles Place, with Robinson’s behind.

That Raffles Place was certainly a place I connected with.  My visits there usually coincided with the preparations for the year-end season of giving, which invariably led to Robinsons Department Store’s quite memorable toy department. Large and well stocked, the department was every child’s dream. I looked forward to visiting each year, even if that meant having to catch sight of Father Christmas, whom I was terrified of. Out of Robinson’s famous Christmas lucky dip, I once pulled out an orange coloured battery-operated submarine. It was a prized toy, even if I had to contend with using it once every three months during our seaside holidays at Mata Ikan – in the holiday bungalow’s bathtub!

The promise of good food was another thing to look forward to when visiting Raffles Place. Makan time would on a special occasion, lead me to the Honeyland Milk Bar at Battery Road, which was just around the square’s northeast corner. There was always a sense of anticipation that I got as the parting of the café’s heavy doors delivered a cold rush of Worcestershire sauce scented air. The café’s chicken pies were to die for. I enjoyed the pies with a dash of tomato ketchup – which I never could quite manage to cajole out from the sauce bottle without some help.

Raffles Place’s little “corners”, which included Change Alley, added much to area’s unique charm. “Chin Charlie” to me and many non-English speakers like my maternal grandmother, it was a fascinating place to wander through and one of the places that made the Singapore of the 1960s, Singapore. The famous alley, which featured in films and in a BBC newsreel,  seemed to be always be full of life and for a while, laughter – emanating from numerous laughing bags being set off in the alley by its many toy vendors as a form of advertisement. Popular at the end of the 1960s, the toys took the form of tiny drawstring bags that contained sound boxes.

The Raffles Place end of Change Alley, 1969 (Kim Hocker Collection).

 

Little did I know it as a young child, but the laughter, along with the Raffles Place that I knew and loved would soon to see lasting change. A tragic fire in November 1972, which resulted in the loss of nine lives, also saw to Robinsons losing its iconic Raffles Chambers home it had occupied since 1941. The subsequent move – of Robinson’s to Specialists Centre in Orchard Road – also severed the store’s connection with the square, which could be traced back to 1858.

Raffles Chambers – before Robinson’s moved in.

By the time of the fire, the area had in fact already been in the cusp of change. At the glorious waterfront – Raffles Place “backyard”, the grand old turret-topped 1923 built Ocean Building had come down in 1970 to make way for a towering third. The 1923 Ocean – the second to stand on the site – was the forerunner of a building frenzy that would shape Singapore’s bund at Collyer Quay, which by the 1930s possessed a quality that could be compared to Shanghai’s more famous embankment. The second Ocean’s demise set a reversal of the process in motion. Two more of the waterfront’s grand 1920s edifices erected a year after the Ocean, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank Chambers and Maritime (ex-Union Insurance) Building, would also make way for the new.

John Little’s Building early in 1946 – when it was used temporarily as the Shackle Club [source: Lizzie Ellis on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)].

On the square, one of its famous landmarks – John Little’s Building – was sold in 1973. This would lead to Raffles Tower (now Singapore Land Tower) being put up in its place. Incidentally, Raffles Tower when it was still under construction,  was the scene of a dramatic aerial helicopter rescue – the first in Singapore’s history. The rescue on 21 October 1980 came at a time when 19 out of tower’s intended 48 floors were completed. A fire broke out on the 18th floor, which left a crane operator stranded on a tower crane perched on the top of the uncompleted building some 60 metres above ground. The daring rescue effort saw the operator plucked from the crane’s boom to safety by the crew of a RSAF Bell 212 helicopter .

Singapore’s first helicopter aerial rescue was over Raffles Place on 21 October 1980.

Raffles Place would also lose its car park and roof garden not so long after this incident. A well-loved feature by that time, the garden’s lifespan fell short of the “many, many decades” that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had predicted it would last when he opened it in November 1965. The construction of the Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) system just two decades later, meant that the structure and its garden, went the way of Raffles Place’s older icons in mid-1984.

Raffles Place – still with its garden – in the late 1970s. The former Mercantile Bank can be seen at the end of the square.

The building of the MRT also took out the other landmarks that could be identified with old Raffles Place. The former Mercantile Bank (built 1929) was one. The building, which marked the square’s southern end, had been purchased by Chartered Bank to house its Singapore headquarters while its 6 Battery Road HQ at the square’s opposite end, was being rebuilt. Chartered Bank’s new premises at 6 Battery Road, which was put up at the start of the 1980s incorporated a provision for the MRT to be built at a time when the question of whether the MRT should be built was still being deliberated.

Over a CBD in transition at the end of the 1970s. Renewal, redevelopment and reclamation would change the face of a part of Singapore that at the point of independence, had a certain old world charm (photo source: Panoramio).

Raffles Place today, wears a look of modernity reflective of Singapore’s impressive progress since the car park and its roof garden was unveiled. Cold as it may have become enclosed by the wall of towering symbols of success, Lenin’s tomb it is not nor a place of repose for the distinguished – other than the distinguished past. There are the reminders of the square that was replaced if one looks hard enough – found in the names that are retained and in some of the new structures that have come to define the new Raffles Place.


 

Raffles Place over the years

 

 

Raffles Place stands on the site of a hill that was levelled in 1822 to provide filler for the reclamation in way of the south bank of the Singapore River that provided the grounds for Boat Quay.

 

Raffles Place in the late 1800s. The garden seen in this G. R. Lambert print was one of Commercial Square’s early features, which was laid out, planted with trees and enclosed by a low wall and a wooden fence in the mid-1830s. The marble drinking water fountain seen in the photograph was the one presented by John Gemmill in 1864. The donation involved more than just the fountain as it required the laying of pipes from Mr Gemmill’s property at Mount Erskine to Raffles Place. The fountain originally had metal cups chained to it. The fountain, which now stands outside the National Museum of Singapore, found its way to Empress Place, before being moved to the museum in the 1970s.

 

Gemmill’s fountain – at the National Museum of Singapore.

 

Another G R Lambert print from the late 1800s. Originally Commercial Square, it was named Raffles Place by the Municipal Commission in 1858.

 

By the 1900s Raffles Place was well developed into a commercial and banking centre. This postcard view of Raffles Place in the 1930s shows several banking institutions established around in the square such as (from left to right): Mercantile Bank of India, Banque de l’Indochine (French Bank) and Yokohama Specie Bank (YS Bank in Meyer Chambers).

 

Preparations for war, 1941. A machine gun pillbox seen in front of a John Little’s Building fitted with brick barricades.

 

Air raid wardens are dousing an incendiary bomb in Raffles Place in 1941 as part of a regular weekly mass demonstration to make Singaporean’s bomb conscious and informed (source: Library of Congress – no known copyright restrictions).

A bomb damaged Raffles Place following the first Japanese air raid on Singapore on 8 Dec 1941.

 

Raffles Place in the 1950s, by which time stores such as John Little – established in the 1840s and Robinson’s, founded in the 1850s, were already very well established and were household names.

 

Plans for a garden at Raffles Place were first announced in Nov 1963 during a State Government policy address made by Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof Ishak to the Legislative Assembly – the first with Singapore a State in Malaysia and the last ever. Work commenced on what was to be a 150 car capacity underground car park topped by a roof garden in July 1964. By the time LKY opened the carpark and roof garden in Nov 1965, Singapore was an independent country. LKY expressed his disappointment that the car park had to be elevated a metre above the ground for ventilation and access and observed that some had likened one end of the structure to Lenin’s tomb. He also noted that there were also suggestions that “we might perhaps repose the precious remains of some of our more distinguished citizens in one end of this square”.

 

Mr David Ayres’ capture of Raffles Place in 1966, which made its rounds around the internet in 2012. The photograph shows the roof garden and looks towards the northern end of the square with the Chartered Bank Chambers on Battery Road at the far end (source: David Ayres on Flickr).

 

Another northward view – this one in 1969 courtesy of Mr Kim Hocker (Kim Hocker Collection).

 

The five-foot-way along John Little’s Building in 1969 (Kim Hocker Collection).

Trishaw riders outside Oriental Emporium at Raffles Place in 1969 (Kim Hocker Collection).

 

A view of the car park from street level with a staircase to the roof garden (Kim Hocker Collection).

 

The Malacca Street end of the car park and its location today.

A view towards the north end with MRT construction work, 1987 (National Archives of Singapore).

 

A northward view today. The John Little’s Building is replicated on the main entrances to the MRT.

 

A southward view of Raffles Place today.

 

The Singapore Land tower (R) – where the rescue of the crane operator took place in 1980.

 

One Raffles Place – which occupies the site of Robinson’s and Meyer Chambers.


 





The public bathing pagar at Katong Park

14 01 2020

Katong Park is where a last bastion of a 1870s coastal defence fort, built quite foolishly on sand, can be found. Once fronting the sea, the former defensive position turned recreational space, was also where a bathing pagar – the first to be established by the Municipal Commission for public bathing – was to be found.

Children at the bathing pagar at Katong Park, 1969 (Kim Hocker Collection).

The construction of the pagar – an enclosure extending from the sea shore originally made of wooden stakes – came on the back of the commission’s thrust to provide public facilities for sporting pursuits (see: A short history of public Swimming Pools in Singapore and Parting Glances: the boxing gym at Farrer Park) in the 1920s and 1930s. The original public pagar at Katong was opened by Mr William Bartley in December 1931 – in the same year that Singapore’s first public swimming pool, built using the disused service reservoir at Mount Emily, also opened.

Another view of the pagar in 1969 (Kim Hocker Collection).

Private bathing pagars were especially common then. They were constructed primarily to keep bathers safe and keep the sharks outs and were found at seaside homes and hotels, and at private swimming clubs. A shark attack in 1925, which resulted in the death of an unfortunate bather, Ms Doris Bowyer-Smyth, prompted the Singapore Swimming Club to erect its pagar soon after.

A bathing pagar seen in the sea in front of Beaulieu House, which had been a private seaside residence before it was acquired for the construction of the Naval Base in the 1920s (photo: National Archives of Singapore).

The Chinese Swimming Club’s Bathing Pagar.

The Katong Park pagar,  which was concretised in the 1950s, stood until work on reclamation started in 1971. All that now remains to remind us of the seaside – the reason for Katong Park’s coming into being in 1928, is the last bastion of Fort Tanjong Katong.


Fort Tanjong Katong

Among the first set of instructions given by Raffles to Farquhar upon the establishment of Singapore as an East India Company trading post was to have a defensive position in the Tanjong Katong area – at Sandy Point or Tanjong Rhu. The thought of a fort was in fact broached from time to time in reviews conducted of Singapore defences, but it wasn’t until 1878 that a coastal battery at Tanjong Katong would be established with a strengthening of coastal defences in the face of a possible Russian threat.

The sandy base meant that the fort’s high range finding tower moved with each firing, not only requiring a recalibration of the range finders with each firing but also made them impossible to use when the tower shook. The fort, built at sea level, also acquired a reputation for being a “wash-out fort” and was decommission in the early 1900. The fort’s southeast bastion, which were uncovered several times following the conversion of the grounds of the fort into Katong Park were once again uncovered in 2004 and can now be found at a corner of Katong Park.

Fort Tanjong Katong Source: Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

 

Fort Tanjong Katong’s southeast bastion.

 

Another view of Fort Tanjong Katong’s southeast bastion.

 

The area where the sea – and the pagar was.


 





Preparing for the harvest festival

12 01 2020

One of the great joys of living in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Singapore, is the array of festivals wonderful festivals that bring life and colour to the streets. Just as Chinatown prepares to welcome the Chinese New Year this January, we see Little India come to life for the Tamil harvest festival Pongal. Besides the annual light-ups, the two ethnic precincts also feature crowded street bazaars with the festival essentials on offer.

In Little India, the Pongal is especially colourful with displays of pongal clay pots, produce representing the harvest such as sugarcane – adding much flavour the area around Campbell Lane – where the street bazaar is set up in the days leading up to the festival. There is also a chance to see livestock in the form of cattle and goats, which are brought in for the celebrations each year.

The celebration of the festival proper, begins with the eve – the last day of the Tamil month of Margazhi, which falls on 14 January of the western calendar and carries on for three more days. A description of the festival is  provided by Mr Manohar Pillai in a post on the Facebook Group “On a Little Street in Singapore“:

Pongal is the biggest and most important festival for the Tamilians, since ancient times and transcends all religious barriers since it signifies thanks giving to nature and domestic animals. Cattle, cows, goats, chickens are integral part of a farmer in India. It is celebrated for three days in Tamilnadu starting from 15th to 17th January. Vegetarian food will be served only in Hindu households. Thanksgiving prayers will be offered to the Sun, Earth, Wind, Fire, Water and Ether, without these life cannot be sustained on Mother Earth. The celebrations comes on close to the harvest season which just ended and Jan 15 is the beginning of the new Tamil calendar.

Clay Pots are used to cook flavoured rice with traditional fire wood in the open air and facing the early morning Eastern Sun. The Sun’s early morning rays are supposedly to bring benevolence to the household. The cooked rice is distributed to all the members of the household and with it the festivities begins. Everyone wears new clothes and very old and useless clothes are burnt the previous night.

The next day the farmer turns his attention to the animals especially the Cattle and Cows.

The third day all people celebrate it with gaiety and grandly.

More on the festival and how it is celebrated in Little India can be found in these posts:


More photographs taken this year:


 





The beca in Singapore

5 01 2020

Deployed these days to take tourists for a ride in both literal and metaphorical sense, the trishaw was a mode of transport many in Singapore relied on in the past. A pedal powered mini-taxi on three wheels, the beca, becak or sa leng chia – as it was commonly known – was convenient as a means to get about town, the market, work, school, and for my maternal grandmother … to get to Kampong Jawa (the Arab Street area) to stock up on supplies of bedak-sejuk and batik sarong-sarong from Indonesia.

A Singapore trishaw, seen in 2017.

There have been several suggestions on when the beca first made an appearance in Singapore. The very first designs of the three-wheeled passenger carrying vehicle took the form of a crude cycle pulled or pushed bath-chair, appearing not long after the 1880 introduction of the jinrikisha, ricksha, or rickshaw to the streets of Singapore. One example is seen in an 1886 advertisement placed by Cameron, Dunlop and Co. for a “Upton Park Passenger Tricycle” invented by Mr. C. E. Read of Upton Park, London. Another variation is described by an article in the 21 May 1892 edition of The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser as a “cyclesha”, “bicycle jinrikisha” or “bicycle bath-chair”, manufactured by Humber Cycles. The device consisted of a brown wicker bath-chair on two wheels with a bicycle attachment behind and was thought of as the “jinrikisha of the future”.

An 1886 advertisement for the No. 2 version of “Read’s Upton Park Passenger Tricycle”.

In August 1912, patents for a “pedal jinrikisha” in the Straits Settlements (and subsequently  in the Federated Malay States and Johor) were granted to Messrs. Christopher Pilkington and St. V. B. Down. This version – with the passenger seated in front and pushed by a bicycle – was similar in fashion to the Humber “bicycle bath-chair”. A prospectus issued by a company set up in early 1913 by Mr. Pilkington for the commercialisation of the invention described this “pedal jinrikisha” as consisting of an “improved jinrikisha body fitted to a wheeled machine propelled by pedals, with free wheel and geared for hilly as well as level roads … with the driver seater behind the passenger so as to cause no inconvenience to the passenger”. The contraption also featured pneumatic-tyres for comfort and efficient brakes.

An 1886 advertisement for the No. 1 version of “Read’s Upton Park Passenger Tricycle”.

It would not be until April 1914 that the first pedal jinrikishas or “pedalshas” hit the streets. Fifteen were licensed on 9 April, Maundy Thursday, for a nine-day trial period and put into service on Good Friday. Although the pedalshas seemed to have much promise, nothing came out of the trials. The Registrar of Vehicles, the rather portly Mr. W. E. Hooper, would be taken on a ride on one on Easter Sunday 1914 when it was reported that the “sha” changed shaped considerably as the 15½ stone (98½ kg) municipal official climbed on board. The less than impressed Mr Hooper pointed to several areas for improvement, chief among them the difficulty the rider had in turning the vehicle – which he felt would cause a great deal of trouble on the crowded streets of the municipality.

Penang’s first trishaw, introduced in 1936.

The next the municipality would hear of pedal propelled rickshaw would be in 1936 – when the introduction of a Chinese designed version of the vehicle, referred to as a “trishaw”, hitting the streets of Rangoon before making an appearance in Penang. Although there were attempts to also bring these trishaws to Singapore, the move fell through as the Municipal Commission felt that the vehicles were unsuitable for use on the congested streets of Singapore.

A trishaw in Penang, 2009.

A (non-tourist) trishaw in Malacca in 2014.

While the idea did come up for discussion in 1941 with a proposal put forward to license up to 150 “pedal rickshas” a year – two-thirds of which were to be offered to rickshaw owners to take their vehicles off the streets, it would be the Japanese who would lay claim to setting in motion the move to have rickshaws replaced by trishaws for the “alleviation of the lot of the ricksha puller”.  The first ten “ricksha-cycles” – manufactured by the Syonan Tricycle Co. based in Orchard Road 0 were put into service on 7 August 1942 during the Japanese Occupation. Described by the Syonan Shimbun of 8 August 1942, as “a bicycle to the left of which a metal frame is attached”, with a “trellaced (trellised?) wooden floor placed on the metal frame on which a cane settee rests” – it would appear that this version of the trishaw was quite similar to what is seen in modern day Singapore. The aim of the Japanese authorities was to put some 350 trishaws – also referred to during the occupation as “sanrinshas” or tricycles – on the streets of Singapore.

Fares for Rickshaws and Trishaws published in 1942.

 

SINGAPORE: SIGHTSEEING. 8 AND 9 SEPTEMBER 1945, SINGAPORE.

A trishaw carrying two sightseeing British sailors from the reoccupying forces down High Street in September 1945. Source: Imperial War Museums © IWM (A 30587).

The Japanese “initiative” wasn’t quite as successful as envisaged. Rickshaws continued to ply the streets during the occupation even as trishaws grew in numbers and in popularity. By the end of the war, trishaw numbers grew to some 4000 and there were however some 3500 rickshaws still in use. It would only be in the years that followed the war that the jinrikisha would disappear completely – with the Municipal Commission announcing in mid-1946 that it would not renew expiring rickshaw licenses. This saw the trishaw rule the streets – at least as a non-motorised form of fare carrying transport – from 1 May 1947.

A Singapore Airlines advertisement depicting the Singapore Girl on a trishaw.

The rapid growth of the motor vehicle, rising affluence and a significant improvement in public bus services, would lead to the demise of the trishaw as a means of getting around in the 1970s and if not for the interest that the trishaw draws from tourists, the once ubiquitous trishaw would like much of the Singapore I had grown to love as a child, have become a thing of the past.

A trishaw on the streets of postwar Singapore (Fullerton Square / Battery Road).

 

 





Celebrating France in Singapore

16 11 2019

The contributions of the French to Singapore cannot be understated. Their connections go back to Raffles’ arrival in 1819. With him on the Indiana were two French nationals, Pierre-Médard Diard and Alfred Duvacel, naturalists whom Raffles met in Calcutta – whose renderings and documentation of the region’s flora and fauna were among the first to be made. The French would bring Catholic missionaries – responsible not just for building churches such as the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, but also schools that are now well established.

Much later, it was towards the French that Mrs Pamelia Lee of the then Singapore Tourist Promotion Board would turn to for conservation expertise – resulting in the involvement of Chief Architect and Inspector of Historical Monuments in France, Mr Didier Repellin, in the restoration of No 53 Armenian Street – an effort that would extend to conservation projects such as CHIJMES and the structuring of our heritage strategy.  This cooperation was celebrated on Armenian Street this morning – as part of the commemoration of 30 years of conservation in Singapore as part of Architectural Heritage season and in conjunction with the French cultural festival Violah! – for which, a plaque was unveiled by His Excellency, Mr Marc Abensour, the Ambassador of France to Singapore and the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s Ms Hwang Yu-Ning, Chief Planner and Deputy CEO.

Also unveiled today is an exhibition of twenty photographs from Mr Paul Piollet collection of close to 1000 photographs donated to Singapore on the National Museum front lawn. Taken over three decades from the 1970s, the photos are a record of life and a way of life of a Singapore in transition. The many images of wayangs, the life that went on backstage, elaborate Chinese funerals and of life on Singapore’s living streets, boats and maritime exchanges with the Indonesian Archipelago are full of life. Many also show streets filled with children – something we seem to see a lot less of in the Singapore of today. The exhibition runs until 16 December 2019.

Paul Piollet’s images of the maritime trade with Indonesia – in this case showing bakau poles being offloaded – capture a world now lost to us.


Mr Didier Repellin, Mrs Pamelia Lee, His Excellency Mr Marc Abensour, and Ms Hwang Yu-Ning.

Mr Kelvin Ang, Mr Alvin Tan, Mr Didier Repellin, Mrs Pamelia Lee, His Excellency Mr Marc Abensour, Ms Hwang Yu-Ning and Mr Liu Thai Ker.

The plaque unveiled this morning.

Mr Paul Piollet, His Excellency Mr Marc Abensour, and Ms Hwang Yu-Ning on the National Museum Front Lawn.

Mr Paul Piollet with His Excellency Mr Marc Abensour on the National Museum Front Lawn.

Mr Paul Piollet presenting a book of his photographs to His Excellency Mr Marc Abensour.

Exhibition panels for Mr Paul Piollet’s photographs.


Video mapping by French Artist Julien Nonnon – inspired by the work of Diard and Duvacel, “Revisiting Diard and Duvacel” on Armenian Street from 8 to 11 Nov as part of Violah!


 





Orchard Road’s last shophouses

10 11 2019

Built close to a century ago, the last of Orchard Road’s shophouses stand as a reminder of a time before Singapore’s shopping mile was mall-ed. Comprising four delightful structures at numbers 14 to 38, each a gem of eclectic architectural expression, they also serve to remind us of the rubber trade inspired hopes and aspirations of the decade that followed the end of the Great War. The row, which features three notable edifices and one, no 38, which often goes unnoticed, was acquired by the State in the 1980s following a 1978 gazette for acquisition and gazetted for conservation in November 2000.

The conserved row.

The east end of the row is marked by the cry for attention that the former Malayan Motors showroom is. Designed by Swan and Maclaren’s DS Petrovich, it replaced the Morris and Rolls Royce dealer’s earlier showroom and represented a progression in showroom designs. A length of windows on each side of a projection in its façade provided natural illumination to its upper floors where its upper level showroom was served by a ramp to the ground floor. A scalloped semi-circular gable (if one can call it that) at each end of the roof drew attention to it.

The former Malayan Motors showroom seen in 1984 (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

Completed in 1927, the former showroom can also be thought of as a marker of Orchard Road’s motoring days. Fuelled by the expansion in the rubber market here during the Great War, the demand for the motorcar had risen three-fold between 1913 and 1918, leading to a proliferation in the area of motorcar showrooms, and workshops (several over the canal at what is now Handy Road ) by the 1920s. Vehicle assembly was also introduced and Singapore’s first assembly plant – for Ford – opened in the area with a production capacity of 12 cars a day in 1925. The showroom was built by the Wearnes brothers who also brought in the Fords, which they sold via another dealership, Universal Cars. Besides Morris and Rolls Royce, other brands that the Malayan Motors showroom would have dealt with were Rover and Studebaker.  The showroom made its last sale in August 1980, following which Malayan Motors concentrated its business at its Leng Kee branch. Following its acquisition by the State, the showroom was renovated in 1988 for use by the Singapore Manufacturers’ Association as SMA House. It has been used by MDIS, a private school, since 2002.

The former MidFilm House, then and now.

Another interesting building is the Dutch-gabled former Midfilm House (Middle East Film Building) at no 22 to 24 next to the showroom. This dates back to 1921 and was put up by Middle East Films Ltd, a pioneering distributor of films in Southeast Asia. The building, which is Orchard 22 today, also served as temporary premises for Malayan Motors when its showroom was being rebuilt in 1926-27.

22-24 Orchard Road in 1984 (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

What is probably now the icing in the cake for the row is the somewhat art deco and possibly modern-classical no 26 to 36 next to the former Midfilm House, which since June 2019, is the resplendent Temasek Shophouse. Built  in 1928, it stands on the site of six older shophouses – three of which had each been acquired by Chee Swee Cheng in 1926, and the other three by E Kong Guan from 1925 to 1926. Both Chee and E had roots in Malacca and were tapioca and rubber planters. Chee was also known to have substantial interests in opium and spirit “farming” in North Borneo and a landowner, who held several properties in Singapore. He is associated with the abandoned villa at 25 Grange Road, Wellington House, often incorrectly referred to as the Chee Guan Chiang mansion – after Chee’s son by a second marriage.

The Temasek Shophouse.

It was Guan Chiang who had the 3-storey 26 to 36 Orchard Road co-developed with E – based on plans drawn up by Westerhout and Oman in 1927. The new building’s interior spaces were split down the middle for each of the two owners, with E’s side being the western half numbered 32 to 36. An office space and store was laid out on each side of the ground floor. The upper floors of each half, each contained a 2-bedroom apartment.

No 26 to 36 in 1984 with the Art Furniture Depot and Sin Sin Furniture occupying the ground floor (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

The office spaces found use as showrooms, both initially occupied by The Art Furniture Depot in 1929. It was this store that the building would have the longest association with. The store gave up one of its showrooms in the early 1930s in the face of the Great Depression. The vacant unit would became the Eddystone Radio showrrom in 1933 and after the war, Sin Sin Furniture’s. Both furniture stores moved out around 1986 when the building was acquired by the State. Following this, substantial modifications were made to the building’s interiors so that it could house Pisces Garments Department Store with escalators, lifts and a mezzanine level were put in. The department store, which opened in 1989, morphed into PMart in 1994.

 

The current transformation has opened up the back of no 26 to 36, giving a full view of it.

The current transformation followed on the award of a tender launched in 2017 to Temasek, on the basis of the quality of concept that it had put forward.  The 18-month refurbishment effort that followed reversed several of the interventions of Pisces and gorgeously and sensitively restored the building, earned a 2019 URA Architectural Heritage Award for restoration. The overhauled interiors now feature a double-volume event space with a green wall featuring native plants. That is – in the context of today – not complete without a social-enterprise café. As an alternative to the street entrance, the garden – which the knocking of a boundary wall at the back has opened up – provides a very nice back door. The back is also where a pair of conserved concrete spiral staircases attached to the building’s rear – perhaps one of the tallest now seen – can be admired together with the equally impressive back façade. Offices, co-working spaces, meeting and function rooms – with native birds as themes, offices, a meeting space on its roof garden and space to accommodate its partners complete the picture.

Shophouses beyond the east end of the row – leading to an expunged street named Dhoby Ghaut – that have since been demolished (courtesy of Henry Cordeiro).

Fresh, innovative and a joy to behold, the Temasek Shophouse brings Temasek Trust and its beneficiaries Temasek Foundation and Stewardship Asia Centre under one roof – with the aim to serve as an incubator of social and philanthropic in initiatives promoting community collaboration and advancing sustainability. It brings, if not for anything else, an injection of purpose to that the conserved row now sorely lacks.

The event space and its green wall.


More photographs of the Temasek Shophouse

A co-working space on the mezzanine.

Another view of the event space and the café.

One of the native bird themed meeting spaces.

Up on the roof.

The rooftop meeting room.

Offices for one or its sustainability partners – which makes furniture out of recycled material.

A pantry within an office space.

A balcony and on of its spiral staircases at the building’s rear.

A balcony overlooking Orchard Road and Dhoby Ghaut MRT Station.

A close-up of the Corinthian capitals of the classical-esque columns on the building’s front façade.

Another view of the front balcony.

And another of the rear spiral staircase and balcony.

A downward view to the back garden from one of the spiral staircases.






The Class VIII Government quarters at Haig Road

26 10 2019

Built as government housing by the Public Works Department (PWD) in 1951, the cluster of 42 simple two-storey houses off Haig Road in the news this week, are representative of the period of austerity they were built in. Originally 48 units, arranged in 8 rows of 6 (1 of which has since made way for a road project), their design was a departure from the housing that the government had provided its officers with prior to that. Given a “Class VIII” designation, the two-bedroom units housed junior officers of various departments, including Broadcasting, Civil Aviation, Education, Postal and Telecoms. The quarters line streets named after common trees, Tembusu, Gajus (cashew), Binjai (a type of mango), and Beringin (weeping fig).  

A 1951 PWD Photograph.

The construction of the quarters was part of a PWD effort that also saw the erection of three schools over a 12 ha. site. The unique quality of the development was reported by the Singapore Free Press, who in a June 1951 article, made the observation that “there would be nothing like this when it is completed”. The schools that came up with the housing were two primary schools Haig Boys’ School, Haig Girls’ School, and a secondary school, Tanjong Katong Girls ‘s School.


The houses today

The houses have been rented out by the State on short term (2-year) tenancy agreements through managing agent Knight Frank, with 34 units currently tenanted. Despite the short term nature of the arrangements and the age of the properties, the very attractive rents (I have been advised that the median rate is $2700/- per month for the 100 square metre built-up area units) make the houses an appealing proposition. A walk around the neighbourhood will reveal the varied tenant mix this has attracted, as well as the condition that some of the houses are in. Feedback has been given by some tenants on leaking roofs and choked toilets, pipes and drains.

The southern section of Jalan Tembusu.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA), who maintains the property on behalf of the State, will be carrying out extensive repair and upgrading works from January 2021. This will address the issues raised and ensure that the properties are in good condition for the longer term and will include electrical, plumbing and roof works. SLA has been engaging tenants individually since April 2019 on this, and has permitted an extension to existing tenancy arrangements to the end of 2020. The works are expected to be completed at the end of 2021 and existing tenants who are interested in returning once the works are completed will be able to register their interest to rent the property, which will be let out at prevailing market rates.

Part of the demolished row at the northern section of Jalan Tembusu.

 

One of the units that is in a relatively better condition.

 

The southern section of Jalan Tembusu – its proximity to East Coast Road and its shops and eating places also makes the houses an attractive choice for short term rental.

 

The meeting of Haig Road and the southern section of Jalan Tembusu.

 

The house have both front yards …

… and back yards that allow tenants to grow fruit tree and daily use items.

 

One of the since demolished units – seen in 2018.

 

Another unit from the northern section of Jalan Tembusu. The units feature living and dining spaces at ground level and two bedrooms on the upper level. Access is provided by a well-lit staircase arranged in the extended part of the house.

 

A vacant unit in relatively good condition.

There are signs of water seepage in quite a few of the units.

Ventilation openings – an essential part of the tropical architecture of old – is very much in evidence.


A look around the unit that is probably in the worst condition among the 42

The inside of a unit that will require a quite a lot of work to be done on it.

There seems a fair bit of water seepage from the roof of this unit – as is evident in the condition of the ceiling boards.

 


 

 

 

 

 

 





A new garden of Silly Fun

11 10 2019

Set in a 50-hectare area that once contained Han Wai Toon’s Silly Fun Garden – or “The Garden of Foolish Indulgences” as coined by Dr. Lai Chee Kien in an essay published in Global History, NParks’ latest nature park – Thomson Nature Park is now opened. Complete with ruins of the Hainanese village of which Mr. Han’s “garden” was an extension of, guests at the park’s opening also included many of its former residents.

The residents included a racing legend Mr. Looi. The Looi’s ran Looi Motors, a motorcycle shop that was located at the current road entrance to the park, along with Thai Handicraft and the family of Mr. Han Wai Toon. More on the Hainanese village, the area’s rambutan orchards and the Silly Fun Garden (where a stash of valuable works of Chinese painter Xu Beihong including “Put Down Your Whip”, which fetched a record price for a Chinese art work of US$9.2 million in 2007 and “Silly Old Man Moves a Mountain“ – sold for US$4.12 million in 2006), can be found at :

With the granddaughter of Han Wai Toon, Rose, who has authored soon-to-be-launched book on Han Wai Toon’s orchard.

Mr Desmond Lee, Minister for Social and Family Development and Second Minister for National Development, with a motorcycle racing legend Mr. Looi, whose family ran Looi Motors, a motorcycle shop and a Thai Handicraft shop close to where the entrance to the park now is.

Bricks salvaged from the remnants of the village, used to cover potholes in the existing road. NParks did as little intervention as possible and repaired the village roads, originally built by the villagers, for use as trail paths.

A blue-rumped parrot seen in the park. The park is rich in fauna and is a key conservation site for the critically endangered Raffles’ Banded Langur.

 

Entrance to the home of the Hans – the family behind Hans Cake Shop.


More photographs from this morning’s opening:





The formal surrender of Japanese forces in Southeast Asia in photographs

17 09 2019

The end of the Second World War came with the announcement made by Emperor Hirohito of Japan on 15 August 1945, it would take a few weeks for Japan’s formal surrender – first on 2 September 1945 on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay and in Southeast Asia at the Municipal Chamber of Singapore’s Municipal Building (City Hall and now the City Hall Wing of the National Gallery Singapore) on 12 September 1945.

A wonderful set of photographs of the surrender in Singapore – plus a couple from the arrival of a delegation of Japanese senior officers to discuss the surrender in August 1945 in Mingaladon Airfield in Rangoon, popped up on On a Little Street in Singapore. The photographs, which were posted by Ian Hepplewhite and were part of his father’s collection, are shared here with his kind permission.


Formal Surrender of Japan in Southeast Asia, 12 September 1945

(Lord Louis Mountbatten, Supreme Allied Commander of South East Asia Command, received the formal surrender of the Japanese forces in Southeast Asia from General Seishirō Itagaki on behalf of Field Marshal Count Hisaichi Terauchi, the Supreme Commander of Southern Command of the Japanese Imperial Army)

“This is the series of pictures I have of my father’s showing the Japanese surrender to Mountbatten. I do have other images of Singapore from that time people may have already seen” – Ian Hepplewhite, on On a Little Street in Singapore.

3325DDC2-B321-40BB-962F-20DB16AF09E2

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.


Mingaladon Airfield, August 1945

Japanese senior officers arriving at Mingaladon airfield in Rangoon (Yangon) Burma (Myanmar) to discuss surrender – shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.

Japanese senior officers arriving at Mingaladon airfield in Rangoon (Yangon) Burma (Myanmar) to discuss surrender – shared with the kind permission of Ian Hepplewhite.


 





Discovering the former Kallang Airport (a repeat visit on 21 Sep 2019)

9 09 2019

A Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets visit organised with the support of the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).

Update : Registration is now closed as all spaces have been taken up.

More information on the series of State Property visits can be found at this link: Discovering Singapore’s Best Kept Secrets.



Constructed on land reclaimed from the swampy Kallang, Rochor and Geylang river estuary, Kallang Aerodrome impressed Amelia Earhart enough for her to describe it as being “the peer of any in the world” when she flew in just a week or so after the aerodrome opened.

As Singapore’s very first civil airport, Kallang was witness to several aviation milestones. This included the arrival of the very first jetliner to Singapore. The visit, which provides the opportunity to view the site through a guided walk and a short sharing of Singapore’s early aviation history, is supported by the Singapore Land Authority. There will also be the opportunity to have a look at and into the former airport’s lovely streamline-moderne former terminal building, and go up to its viewing deck and control tower.


When and where:

21 September 2019, 10 am to 11.30 am

9 Stadium Link, Singapore 397750

Registration:

Participants must be of ages 18 and above.

A unique registration is required for each participant (do note that duplicate registrations will count as one).

Registration shall be made using the form at this link (now closed).

A confirmation will be sent to the email address used in registration to all successful registrants one week prior to the visit. This email will confirm your place and also include instructions pertaining to the visit. Please ensure that the address entered on the form is correct.

The Streamline Moderne Terminal Building of the former Kallang Airport.


 





37 Emerald Hill Road to be conserved

30 08 2019

It seems that three buildings of the former Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (SCGS) campus at 37 Emerald Hill Road is to be conserved. The campus, used in the interim by Chatsworth International School, features two buildings from the early 20th century as well as the additions of more recent times.

The Song Ong Siang Block, the newest of the buildings that the URA proposes to conserve.

A view over Emerald Hill Road, much of which was gazetted as a conservation area in 1989. The former SCGS was not then included in the conservation area.

The three buildings, assessed to be of high historical and architectural significance, are the Main Block built in 1925, the Principal’s House built in 1930, as well as the Song Ong Siang Block. Built in 1956 and fronting Emerald Hill Road, the Song Ong Siang Block is named after one of the school’s founders, and has served as the face of the school for many. The older buildings were designed by architecture firm Messrs. S. Y. Wong and Co. – the architects for the New World – on English and American principles”.

Once an area in which a jungle of trees that yielded a spice that was worth more than its weight in gold, the area is now dominated by a concrete jungle put to use in mining the gold of the new age.

Founded in 1899, the school occupied a site at the corner of Hill and Coleman Streets (now occupied by the extension to the Central Fire Station) prior to moving to Emerald Hill late in 1925. It is regarded as a pioneer in the provision of education to Straits-born Chinese girls. The Emerald Hill site, previously owned by Dr. Lim Boon Keng, was bought for a sum of 50,000 Straits Dollars in 1924 by the Straits Settlements Government for the school. The school was granted a 99-year lease for the site in exchange for the its Hill Street premises, and occupied the site until it moved to Dunearn Road in 1994.

The 1930’s built Principal’s quarters.

The school, which was renamed Emerald Hill Girls’ School in the early part of the Japanese Occupation, was said to have also been used as a comfort station. This has not been verified, although it is known that several other buildings in the area were put to such use. The Sakura Club, was one known comfort station at Emerald Hill Road. Another, the Nanmei-Soo, which was identified as a comfort station in Goh Sin Tub’s “The Nan-Mei-Su of Emerald Hill, was reportedly more of a ryotei  – a restaurant. The Nanmei-Soo reportedly employed hostesses to provide services beyond serving food and drink. This operated out of the ex-Hollandse Club at 30 Cairnhill Road.

The front view of the Main Block, built in 1925.

The decision to conserve the three buildings, comes on the back of a community effort driven by former students of SCGS, “Keep 37 Emerald Hill“. The effort saw various proposals put forward for the reuse of the buildings in a manner that the history of the site is not lost.

The main block as seen from the back.

Another view of the front of the Main Block.

The Song Ong Siang Block.

The Main Block as seen from the Song Ong Siang Block. The Lee Kong Chian Block, an addition in the 1970s seen on the right of the Main Block is not one of the three being proposed for conservation.

Stairway in – if I remember correctly – the Song Ong Siang Block.

Another view towards the Lee Kong Chian Block.

The Principal’s Quarters.


 





The Jacksons of Sembawang

30 07 2019

Sembawang is one of just a few places in Singapore in which still holds the charm of a bygone era. The modern world, dominated by the sea of concrete is however, knocking increasing at its door; its latest convert being the the wonderful settings that lent context to (old) Admiralty House. The National Monument, built as the home of Commander of the huge British naval base in 1940, has seen the isolation it was provided with taken away in the effort to provide residents in the area with a sports and community hub. Similarly threatened with modernisation is the area by the coast just east of Sembawang Park and once an area of idyllic seaside villages where the villages of the new world have started to take root. One project that quite thankfully bucks the trend is the recently announced dementia-care village at Gibraltar Crescent. Currently the subject of a URA tender exercise, the village will make use of existing structures inherited from the days of the naval base and (hopefully) preserve some of the environment that the structures now find themselves in – at least for a 30-year period following the award of the tender.

A window into the past.

A quiet area of seemingly typical colonial residences,  a closer examination of the buildings of Gibraltar Crescent will reveal that they are actually quite unique even if they bear quite a fair bit of resemblance to and have many of the features of the residences that have come to be described as “black and white houses”. With the exception of a building that served as the former Dockyard Theatre or the “Japanese Theatre”, the longer than typical structures are raised on concrete columns of a height sufficient to permit a person to walk comfortably underneath the floorboards. Wood is also the main material on the buildings and masonry seems to have been used quite sparingly and used, besides in the supporting columns, in wet areas and in the ground level service structures. Quite interesting because of the wood featured in the buildings’ exterior walls, the structures tended to look more black than white in the days of the naval base as black bituminous paints that weatherproofed the wood.

A view towards the former Dockyard Theatre – a uniquely built structure along Gibraltar Crescent. It is the only large building along the street that is not raised on columns.

There are quite good reasons for the features adopted in the buildings, which were among the first to be erected by the contractor for the naval base, Sir John Jackson & Co, for the purposes of housing its European staff. Known as The “Jacksons” for this reason, they were completed in mid-1929. Features found in other “black and whites”, such as the raised supports, generous verandahs and openings, pitched roofs and wooden floorboards, kept the interiors cool, airy and bright. Although now among the oldest “permanent” residences in the former naval base, as well as being the first to have been purpose built, the buildings were intended as quasi-permanent residences and hence the extensive use of wood.

The Jacksons are raised on concrete supports and feature wooden walls except in the service areas and wet spaces.

Two “Jacksons” under construction in April 1929 (online at National Archives of Singapore).

It is also interesting to note how the various residences, while similar in appearance, have been laid out in what seems to be two distinct arrangements. One type seems to have had more of a layout with more common spaces and was perhaps used to house the lower ranking staff. This design has a centrally arranged service area and besides the access staircases at the back has two arranged at each end in the buildings’ front. The other design seems to have been subdivided into individual units, each with a service area and with what appears to have been an access staircase at both the front and the back.

A unit with a layout that lends itself to a more dorm-like use.

A Jackson which would have been subdivided into three individual units – each with its own service area.

Reports relating to the construction of the base, point to it being one of the largest engineering projects in the world at the time. The contractor employed a daily average of 3,000 coolies and had at least 30 European staff at any one point supervising through the 8 year period (from 1928 to 1936) over which the main contract was executed. The reports point to some 23 residences were built for European staff, along with numerous coolie lines. The residences were eventually handed over the the Admiralty and several among the 23 survived including the structures that are now the subject of the tender survived the war.

The front of one of the Jacksons with projections that would have served as staircase landings.

An exception may have been the Dockyard Theatre, the site of which, based on older maps seems to have been occupied by another of the “Jacksons”. Thought to have been constructed during the occupation – hence the references to it as the “Japanese Theatre” – the multi-use hall is built on a ground-level platform of concrete and is also built primarily of wood. The theatre was used as a to hold live performances including pantomimes and performances by the Naval Base Singers, as well as serving as a hall in which badminton was played in the period after the war until the British pull-out in 1971.

One of two access staircases at the rear in the first type of residence.

The verandah of the second type with privacy screens at what would have been the boundaries of the individual units.

Inside one of the residences.

Inside one of the residences.

Inside one of the residences. 


News related to the tender for the dementia care village:


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





The Owkang Chicken Sellers

8 06 2019

Unforgettable memories of the sights and smells of buying Fresh Chicken and Other “Chicken” Memories.

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


Images do stir up emotions. Some are like flashcards that jolt our memories transporting us back in time. For me in recent years, one particular image did just that. Browsing the net, I came across pictures of the memorial sculpture at the site of the previous Simon Road Market in Hougang – the sculpture of a chicken seller and the female customer. This triggered many childhood memories of the “sights and smells” associated with this particular trade and other “chicken” memories. And I wanted to view the sculpture in real time as well as photograph it so that I could use my personal image(s) when I do a post on this subject. I would thus not be infringing any copyright issues.

On my recent trip back to Singapore I caught up with a good friend Rasiah Sabai, a schoolmate and a fellow Jalan Hock Chye kampong “kaki” from way back. I had mentioned to him my quest to visit the sculpture. So meeting up at Serangoon MRT station we caught the train to Kovan station and took a walk down memory lane.

An old Singapore Street Directory map of 6 ½ milestone Upper Serangoon Road.

Starting from Lowland Road we tried to mentally picture where the old Empire Theatre would have stood and where our favourite hawker stalls once were situated. As we headed for the sculpture we recollected and tried to pinpoint where “Daily Bookshop” would have been and the various provision shops, radio/electrical shops and coffeeshops that were past landmarks. Memories of watching the first TV broadcasts standing along the fivefoot path outside the radioshop also came back.

We then stroll down towards the sculpture and I took lots of pictures. Then we did a loop right up to Lim Ah Pin Road, crossed Upper Serangoon Rd and on to the junction and entered Tampines Rd up to where old Jalan Hock Chye was. Both of us were reminiscing as we walked.

An edited picture of the Roadside Sculpture near where Simon Road Market once was.

Since then I’ve been keen on documenting my “chicken” memories. It has been over a month since I have returned back to Adelaide and it is time to do just that. My mind fast rewound back to the days when we kampong kids were similar to the “chooks” that grazed the kampong compounds. We were indeed like the kamong ayam – the original “KFC” – Kampong Free-range Chickens (children).

Free range rooster in our compound.

Most of my neighbours reared poultry. For chicken rearing, the start would be to visit one of the two chicken incubator shops just past the junction of Upper Serangoon Rd and Tampines Rd in the easterly direction towards Ponggol. These shops had huge incubators that could hold tens if not hundreds of eggs. And as kids if we were fortunate to pass these shops at the right time it was hard not to fall in love with the recently hatched yellow little darlings that were placed in flat wicker trays/baskets prior to being sold. Many a kampong chicken started life that way and were reared for their eggs or groomed for their eventual destination of the pot. I do remember carrying a few of these yellow furry bundles of joy home in the brown paper bags that were in prevalent use then.

These small yellow bundles of joy when brought home were literary hand fed by us kids and we watch them grow to hens and roosters. Thus when it was time for them to be slaughtered and readied for the pot it was traumatic for us as they had become almost pets. Oh the trauma. I will come back to this later as nothing overrides the memories of buying live chicken from the chicken sellers in Owkang.

The chicken sellers our family patronised were located at an unsheltered area quite close to the canal running alongside the start of Tampines Road. This canal ran alongside the Simon Road market and travelled underground under Upper Serangoon Road.

The area where these poultry sellers operated seemed in areas remanet of floors of old buildings as some parts of the ground were cemented and there were also remnants of wall edges.

Usually on Sundays as our family made our way to attend the early morning Mass at the Church of the Nativity from Jalan Hock Chye we walked along Tampines Road. After crossing the road, a small pedestrian bridge would take us to the area of the poultry sellers and then through a small alleyway we would emerge on Upper Serangoon Road which we had to cross to get to the side of the market to catch the transport that would take us to church. This alleyway had a number of makeshift stalls that sold different merchandise, a mini bazaar indeed. Only two stalls remain clear in my memory the one that sold clothing material and clothes and the “You Tiao” hawker who sat almost on ground level in front of a huge wok of boiling oil armed with his pair of long chopsticks busily turning the twirls of dough for the ever long queue of customers waiting for their orders to be ready.

It was this early morning walk negotiating the path between the poultry sellers that was mind blowing. In the dimly lit environment we would catch sight of some unscrupulous sellers force feeding chickens with sand and small stones or pebbles. This was so that these live chickens sold would weigh heavier and this would increase their selling price. These were the sellers mum would avoid and if I remember correctly we had a regular seller whom she always went to. But still there were precautions that she and other mums took to lessen the chances of being short changed when buying live chickens and we kids were often deputised to assist.

The sequence of buying life chickens those days was in this order:

  1. the chicken was chosen from amongst the many from the wicker baskets they were in. This was to ensure they were not sickly or perhaps even dead.
  2. the selected chicken(s) were weighed and their price bargained.
  3. the selected birds were tagged and placed in another basket.
  4. from this basket the chickens were removed slaughtered and de-feathered
  5. the “naked” carcass with the metal tags still attached were placed one side for collection.

Besides the knowledge of the additional weight increase through sand and stones, we were also schooled to scrutinise the actual weighing process. The daching was the prevalent weighing machine then. These hand held scales could be manipulated through a slight of hand. Whilst the thumb and index finger held the string that was the fulcrum and all eyes were focussed on the pointer at the opposite end of the balancing rod, we were always told to be aware of the little finger that would sometimes be used to covertly tilt the scales in the sellers favour. In the commotion of balancing a squawking, struggling chicken hanging from the dachin the action of the little finger could increase the sale price by a few cents.

It was a well-known fact as stated by K S Neoh in his blog post – Weighing In On The “Dacing”: 

It was also widely known that sellers sometimes manipulated the implement to cheat customers either through deft handwork ………..

The use of the little finger to tilt the scales (adapted from the picture by K S Neoh).

As mentioned above, once the chickens were selected, weighed and the sale price negotiated, the birds were tagged with metal numeric tags around their necks for identification of ownership and placed in a separate wicker basket. It was the responsibility of us “deputies in short pants” to ensure that “our” birds were not switched.  Thus we stood in the midst of all the activity while our mums went across to the Simon Road market to do their marketing for the various chicken dishes she had in mind.

Who can forget the sight of the assistant(s) reaching into the “sold” basket grabbing one of our birds, plucking away at the feathers around the throat region then with a swift action of a knife  slit at the exposed skin Then holding the bird tightly, manoeuvre the neck above a bowl so that the blood could be collected. The grip had to be secure or else you would literally witness the scene of chaos of a “headless chook” running around.

Once the bird was limp and lifeless, it would be dipped into a basin of boiling hot water and quickly removed and the de-feathering would commence. Throughout this ordeal the birds would still be wearing their identification tags. Once completely naked the birds would be place into another basin and when all of our purchases were ready they would be place in our market baskets and their tags removed.  Then us deputies then had the honour of helping our mums by carrying the basket of “naked” chickens home all the time eyeing the edges of the “you tiao” wrapped in newspaper that mum had bought. It was a nice reward for our services and would complement the cup of hot coffee she would make when we got back home.

I do not think those who have been deputies would ever forget the sights and smell of buying fresh chicken then. The smell of spilled blood, wet feathers and chicken poo are not easy to forget .Now we just decide which tray we want to buy or point to the supermarket staff the pieces that we want.

Coming back to our own chickens as I mentioned it used to be traumatic because of the attachment through hand feeding them when they were littlies as well as watching them grow.  The adults would try and shield us from seeing the particular bird being chased and restraint, slaughtered, etc. It was sometimes hard to sit and have a meal of what was once close to us. But those days we had to eat whatever was on the table or go without a meal.

Those hens that were layers normally had longer lives as nothing beats the taste a freshly laid egg. It was when they stopped laying then it was time for the chopping board.

An occasional bonus was when a neighbour’s hen would take a short flight over our fence and come into our compound. Then observing where she was scratching the dirt and which bush she would nestle into, we would wait for the usual clucking to announce that she had laid an egg. And sometimes out of habit she would return to grace us with more free eggs.  Those were the days too when we could bring our eggs to the various hawker food vendors and get them to include the eggs in the dish at no extra cost rather than pay more if he had used his own eggs. I do not think the present day hawkers at the Hawker Centres or Food Courts would entertain this now.

Thank you Rasiah! Our walk down memory lane took us back in time as we tried to pin point where our favourite hawker stalls were especially the good ones. We had lots of laughs during that warm afternoon walk delving deep into our memory banks and tagging fond memories of people, faces and names to sites and locations still standing. But the sights and smells associated with the chicken sellers was a re-run hard to forget.

Edmund Arozoo  

June 2019


 





Memoirs of Nanyang – a Nanyin Musical

24 05 2019

It is wonderful what Siong Leng Musical Association is doing to help keep memories and culture alive not just through their promotion of Nanyin (南音) – “music from the South”, but also through their attempts at cross-disciplinary productions that make Nanyin and the various perfomance genres involved much more relatable to the modern day audience.

Their most recent attempt “Memoirs of Nanyang” brings together the cultural practices of two ethnic groups and three different cultures – a mixed that is a reflection of the mixing and intermingling of races and cultures that have made Singapore and much of the “Nanyang” what it is.

The production, which will also provide the audience with a sense of nostalgia through its musical repertoire and costumes, is commissioned by Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre. There will only be one performance on 25 May 2019 at 2.30 pm and tickets are still available at https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/csccce2019.


Ticket giveaway

I have one (1) pair of tickets priced at $28 each for the performance tomorrow (25 May 2019) to giveaway.

First reader to drop me an email before 7pm today (24 May 2019) with your full name gets your hands on the pair of tickets. The winner will be notified by return email.

Update: the pair of tickets was given out at 12:47 pm



A Sypnopsis 

Memoirs of Nanyang – a Nanyin Musical

A Siong Leng Musical Association’s production commissioned by Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre.

One photograph, two ethnic groups, three different cultures – this is the unique label of the Peranakan Chinese.

In the course of preserving their culture, the Peranakan Chinese, with a typical pioneering spirit, headed West in search of greater knowledge and more advanced technology Upon their return, they put their knowledge to good use and have played key roles in the enrichment of the Peranakan culture.

The performance highlights the bold fusion of Nanyin and Peranakan culture, as well as Siong Leng Musical Association’s courageous spirit to innovate and explore new horizons for their art form. We are privileged to feature the works and successors of three cultural medallion recipients, Mr Yip Cheong Fun, Mr Teng Mah Seng and Mdm Som Bte Mohd Said.

Audiences will be treated to a unique harmonisation of Nanyin, Malay cultural music and Mandarin pop, which lets them experience the deep elegance of Nanyin and the boundless artistic ambit of music.

Following the thoughts and emotions of the two generations, an immigrant came to Nanyang for a better life and married a local Malay woman. Since then, his business flourished and he had a comfortable and happy family. In spite of his success, his heart still thinks about his family in his hometown day and night, wanting to reunite with them. Realizing it may be impossible, he is deeply saddened and unable to accept the reality.

To make him happy, his grandchildren discussed how to combine two polar genres: Nanyin and today’s music. This interesting and bold attempt at fusing Nanyin with different music genres such as Malay music and Pop, helped them to create a new style of song that showcases multiculturalism and their strong spirit. This spectacle portrays the happiness of a family after reunion, leading a blessed and fulfilled life together.