The Japanese school at Waterloo Street

27 04 2016

The Middle Road area, despite it transformation over the years, is still where reminders of the colourful chapters of its history await discovery. At one end, hints of one chapter can be found in its stars – the stars of David decorating the David Elias building, which tell us of the days of the Mahallah, home to the diaspora of Baghdadi Jews some of whom feature prominently in Singapore’s history.

A passageway into the past.

A passageway into the past.

For another migrant community the stars on Middle Road might have shone on, the Japanese, the reminders are less obviously Japanese.  These also take the form of old buildings, two of them.  One is the former Middle Road Hospital, which has its origins in the Japanese Doh-jin hospital. The other can be found just off Middle Road, at 155 Waterloo Street. Used as the National Arts Council (NAC) run Stamford Arts Centre since 1988, the building or rather, cluster of buildings, originally had been the Japanese community’s elementary school.

The buildings now housing the Stamford Arts Centre were put up to house an elementary school for the Japanese community in 1920.

The buildings now housing the Stamford Arts Centre were put up to house an elementary school for the Japanese community in 1920.

A conserved building since 1994, the original buildings had been erected in 1920 with the support of the Japan Club or what would be the equivalent of the Japanese Association today. The existence of the club, which was founded in 1915 and the school, was perhaps an indication of the growing presence of the Japanese, many of whom established themselves in the area around Middle Road, which was the community’s Chuo Dori or Central Street.

The Japanese Elementary School in its early days.

The Japanese Elementary School at Waterloo Street. The three-storey extension was added in 1931 (source: The Japanese Association).

The extension block today.

The extension block today.

The origins of the school were in the classes a teacher Mr. Miyamura first held in 1912 in a room in the Toyo Hotel, which was on Middle Road. From a group of some 26 to 28 students (accounts differ), enrollment quickly grew. This saw the school moving to Wilkie Road in 1915, before it was to find a permanent home at Waterloo Street.

The first anniversary in 1913 of the school started by Mr. Miyamura. Mr Miyamura is seen seated in the front row.

The first anniversary in 1913 of the school started by Mr. Miyamura. Mr Miyamura is seen seated in the front row (source: The Japanese Association).

Known as the Japan Elementary School (日本小学校) during its days at Waterloo Street, the school was one of the community’s focal points. Several notable personalities were reported to have visited the school, including two of the late Emperor Showa’s (Hirohito) brothers. Prince Chichibu, visited in 1925 and Prince Takamatsu, who visited with his wife, the Princess Takamatsu, came in 1930. The school was also where the community held a memorial service for Emperor Taisho (the visiting princes father) in 1927.

The Main Hall (on the second floor of the main building) in 1927.

The Main Hall (on the second floor of the main building) in 1927 (source: The Japanese Association).

The school was closed at the outbreak of hostilities in 1941, before being restarted as the Syonan First Peoples’ School during the occupation. Taken over by the British Military Administration after the surrender in 1945, it was used temporarily to house a recreation centre for soldiers, the Shackle Club, when that was made to vacate the de-requisitioned John Little’s building in January 1947. The Shackle Club occupied the premises very briefly, and moved in July 1947 to fleet canteen at Beach Road so as to allow the buildings to be made available to Gan Eng Seng School (Gan Eng Seng’s own building had been damaged during the war). Stamford Girls School, which was formed in 1951, was next to move in, spending a lot more time on the grounds than its intended occupant and vacating it only in 1986.

As the Shackle Club, January to July 1947.

As the Shackle Club, January to July 1947.

As the Stamford Girls’ School, 1972 (source: URA Conservation Portal).

Time, it seems, is now being called for the arts centre – at least in the form we have known. A report carried in the Today newspaper last week, tells us of the departure of its tenants in anticipation of its closure for a much needed revamp scheduled to start at the end of the year. A reminder not just of the Japanese community, but also of the post-war drive to extend the reach of primary education to the growing population of children in Singapore, it would be nice to see the charm and laid back atmosphere of it spaces – often lost in the modern day refurbishment of many conserved buildings, somehow retained.

Students and staff posing at the back of the school (it appears that this was taken before the extension was added) – (source: National Archives of Singapore).

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The back of the main building today.


Parting Glances – Stamford Arts Centre

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Cate Blanchett visits a gem of an exhibition in Singapore

23 04 2016

A gem of an exhibition – literally, Van Cleef & Arpels: The Art and Science of Gems, opens at the ArtScience Museum today.  Brought in by the famed Parisian house of high jewellery, with the participation of the French National Museum of Natural History, the drool-worthy exhibition see over 400 of Van Cleef & Arpels’ exquisite works of love as well as 250 minerals from the Natural History Museum’s extensive collection.

Model of the Varuna Yacht, c. 1907.

Model of the Varuna Yacht, c. 1907.

Founded in 1906, the Maison’s beginnings is in itself a work of love, following on the 1895 marriage of Estelle Arpels – the daughter of a dealer in precious stones to Alfred Van Cleef, the son of a lapidary and diamond broker. Together with Estelle’s brothers, they opened their first boutique at 22 Place Vendôme – an address that the house maintains to this day in serving a clientele that has over the years included the likes of Maharajahs, Queens, Princes and Princesses.

A replica of the crown created by the Maison for the coronation of Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran.

A replica of the crown created by the Maison for the coronation of Empress Farah Pahlavi of Iran.

The house’s rich history is one of the main themes of the exhibition, an introduction to which is given to visitors as they enter. The entrance is also where one of the Maison’s iconic pieces and one of my favourite pieces at the exhibition, a pendant with a flying bird carrying a huge 96.62 carat yellow diamond once owned by Polish opera singer and socialite, Gianna Walska, is showcased. The piece, commissioned by the then new owner of the diamond in 1971 to celebrate the birth of her son, adorned the cover of the Van Cleef & Arpels catalogue in 1972, where it was seen flying over the Place Vendôme. The piece is also transformable – a feature in many of the house’s pieces with the bird becoming a pair of winged earrings and the diamond worn as a pendant.

An iconic masterpiece, Van Cleef and Arpels' Bird Clip and Pendant, which features a 96.62 carat yellow diamond once owned by Polish opera singer Gianna Walska, greets visitors to the exhibition.

An iconic masterpiece, Van Cleef and Arpels’ Bird Clip and Pendant, which features a 96.62 carat yellow diamond once owned by Polish opera singer Gianna Walska, greets visitors to the exhibition.

Beyond the bird that flew over the Place Vendôme, the exhibition proper is arranged across eight galleries, which are all full of delight and discovery, seven of which have displays of Van Cleef and Arpels’ creations arranged according to seven themes: Couture, Abstractions, Influences, Precious Objects, Nature, Ballerinas and Fairies and Icons.   Each gallery also contains a parallel exhibition relating to the science of precious stones and feature gems and minerals from the French National Museum of Natural History’s renowned collection. These are arranged according to eight themes, representing the Earth and the seven major principles critical to the formation of precious stones: Pressure, Temperature, Transport, Water, Oxygen, Life and Metamorphism.

A 21,560 carat blue topaz crystal from the French National Museum of Natural History's collection.

A 21,560 carat blue topaz crystal from the French National Museum of Natural History’s collection.

One of the largest uncut black diamonds to be found.

Also from the French National Museum of Natural History’s collection – one of the largest uncut black diamonds to be found.

A diamond encrusted in a stone.

A diamond encrusted in a stone.

Amongst the seven galleries, one that I found particularly interesting was Influences in which the fascination Europe had with the orient that started in the 1920s, is seen in the pieces on display – some of which are very recent creations.

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Griffon Clip, 1971 with amethysts, coral, emeralds, diamonds on gold.

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Dragon vanity case, 1923.

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Dragon mystérieux clip, 2013 featuring garnets, emeralds, Mystery set rubies, sapphires and diamonds on gold.

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Carpe Koi bracelet watch, 2014.

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Table Clock, 1957.

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Egyptian Inspiration Bracelet, 1924, which features sapphires, rubies, emeralds, onyx and diamonds on platinum.

An especially delightful gallery is Ballerinas and Fairies, featuring ballerina clips that were born out of Louis Arpels’ passion for dance dating back to the early 1940s. The dainty and exquisitely crafted clips feature gemstone laden tutus  – which have grown shorter with time. The clips also have very fine details in the rose-cut diamond faces crowned with headrests of precious stones and gemstone dancing shoes.

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The dainty Ballerinas and Fairies clips will delight any visitor.

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Another area worth dwelling (not that the others aren’t) has to be the last gallery, Icons. Here is where several the icons  of the twentieth century ranging from royalty and to stars of the silver screen, have icons of the Maison created for them, displayed. This part of the collection includes several pieces made for the Duchess of Windsor, Princess Faiza of Egypt and starlet turned princess, Grace Kelly of Monaco.

A 1929 collaret created for Princess Faiza of Egypt - on display for the very first time.

A 1929 collaret created for Princess Faiza of Egypt – on display for the very first time.

There are also several programmes being held in conjunction with the exhibition to look forward to including a talk at 2pm today on gemology and artistry. Punlic guided tours are also available on 23, 24, 29, 30 April and 2, 6, 8 13, 15, 20 and 27 May, 3, 10 , 17 and 24 June. A workshop on gemstones is also being held. The exhibition runs until 14 August 2016. More information on the exhibition, as well as a downloadable audio app, can be found at: The Art and Science of Gems website.

A surprise visitor to the exhibition - the beautiful Cate Blanchett.

A surprise visitor to the exhibition – the beautiful Cate Blanchett.

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The wild rose minaudière, 1938, inspired by a cigarette box.

The wild rose minaudière, 1938, inspired by a cigarette box.





More northern light

19 04 2016

Another dramatic show of light captured along Singapore’s northern coast, this one after sunset at 7.18 pm on the 15th of June 2014. The view is towards the Shell Woodlands jetty and across the Straits of Johor over to Johor Bahru. The point at which this was captured is in the are of Woodland Waterfront where the Royal Malaysian Navy maintained their main naval base, KD Malaya, until 1979.





Northern light

17 04 2016

The dramatic show of light at sunrise, as seen from the north of Singapore at 6.54 am on 16 April 2016.


Some information on the area:





Lessons from the tuck shop

12 04 2016

A guest post by Edmund Arozoo, now of Adelaide, but once of Jalan Hock Chye and Montfort School:


Greetings from Adelaide!

I started to write my memoirs of life in a kampong more than fifteen years ago but did put it on the back burner numerous times. However through Facebook I was fortunate to become friends with persons with similar interest in Singapore’s nostalgic past. On my visits back to Singapore I was privileged to meet and chat with two bloggers who have inspired me not only to contribute with posts and comments on fb but also rekindled my interest to finish what I had started. I like to extend a big THANK YOU to Jerome Lim and Lam Chun See. I also found Chun See’s book “Good Morning Yesterday” an inspiration. Here is a snippet that I penned recently that I like to share on their blogs. 


For the past month or so I have been watching an interesting TV series – “The Brain”. This series from China showcases the unbelievable potential of the mental abilities of the contestants.  Witnessing their mental recall capabilities was jaw dropping for me!  Fast approaching seventy my memory recall does pale in comparison – only a slight fraction of theirs indeed.

Often I do question my memories of the “old days”.  I deliberately left out the adjective “good”. I acknowledge that life was simple but challenging then, especially for those of us from humble beginnings. Reading the many posts and comments on the various Facebook group pages, I realised that there are many out there who remember their own “rustic” years. However nostalgic emotions sometimes do tend to colour our memories. Maybe we were young and saw things through childhood innocence.

The Montfort School tuck shop (1985 Montfort School Annual / Montfort Alumni-Singapore Facebook Page).

The Montfort School tuck shop (1985 Montfort School Annual / Montfort Alumni-Singapore Facebook Page).

Perhaps too as kids we were protected by our parents, who in their little ways tried their best, as we were growing up, not to make us feel that we were poor.  I may be wrong but I also feel that the society then was different. I don’t recall being snubbed by “the rich”. Maybe we knew our places and accepted each other.  A leveller at that time if I recall correctly was the beach.  The rich would drive their cars right up to the beaches like Tanah Merah, Changi etc . The other families would arrive by bus with their home cook meals and simple unchilled drinks etc.  But all the kids would have the time of their lives till it was time to return home either by car or bus, all sunburnt.

Changi Beach in the 1960s, when you could drive your car right up to the beach.

Having spent twelve years in the same school I should have more vivid memories of my school days. But all I have are snippets here and there and a few photographs as reminders. But what I clearly remember is that the majority of my schoolmates came from similar “rustic” backgrounds. Personally I was taught not to feel sorry for the limited “pocket money” I took to school each day being often reminded that some of my classmates had to contend with so much less. Looking back I often chuckle when I recall that if you dropped your coins through the holes in your pocket that were caused by the marbles you carried – the response would be “tough”. You learnt the hard way to cherish the few coins you were given. When the time came for school fees to be paid, the notes were carefully wrapped in a knot tied at the corner of a handkerchief. This was to ensure we did not lose the money easily.

For sure there would have been more memorable moments of those carefree schooldays but I cannot recall as much as I would like to. However there is one incident that has always been dominant in my mind and I am reminded of it whenever I witness poverty either first hand or on TV.

This occurred while I was in primary school. It was a normal “recess” break and the “monitors” or prefects were diligently performing their duties to ensure order and that we were safe in getting our hot meals to the tables in the tuck shop / canteen.  We were all having our meals when suddenly there was a shout followed by a commotion.  Looking out we saw the prefects running out and chasing a student. They soon caught him and brought him back to the canteen. Then we realised what had happened.

A school tuck shop typical of the old days (National Archives photograph).

The student was a classmate and his family if I remember correctly had a farm in Ponggol. On that day he did not have any money for a meal and probably did not even have breakfast at home. Unknown to us, this perhaps could have been the norm for him for most of his school days. But on that day the pangs of hunger overcame him and drove him to snatch a large triangular “curry puff” from the Indian stall that also sold bread, Indian cookies and of course our favourite “kachang puteh”.

Another of the Montfort School tuck shop (1985 Montfort School Annual / Montfort Alumni-Singapore Facebook Page).

Another of the Montfort School tuck shop (1985 Montfort School Annual / Montfort Alumni-Singapore Facebook Page).

As he was brought back to the canteen I witnessed the humiliation on his face and that expression I will never never forget! He was made to face the Indian stallholder probably to apologise and perhaps make arrangements for reimbursement for the curry puff. This was witness by everyone in the canteen.

A triangular curry puff.

A triangular curry puff.

What ensued always stands out from this unfortunate incident. I witness compassion. The Indian kachang puteh man, who possibly was by no means rich, looked at the poor unfortunate boy and saw the anguish on his face. Then in a typical Indian manner with a slanted twist of his head and a wave of his flat palm rolling at the wrist he signalled that it was okay – he did not want any payment and allowed the boy to keep the curry puff. The boy was then marched to the principal’s office and what happen after I cannot recall.

Earlier Montfort School tuck shop (Montfort School Alumini Facebook Page)

A tuck shop at Montfort School from earlier times but not the one Edmund has his lesson in (Montfort Alumini Singapore Facebook Page).

These are two striking lessons I learnt from this unfortunate incident that I will always remember.  Firstly how hunger can drive good persons to do things in desperation. I can understand when I read about people doing things they normally would not do, when they become desperate especially on seeing their children crying in hunger.

On the other side I also learnt that day that you do not have to be rich to be compassionate, understanding and benevolent. Perhaps this is in fact the essence of the “kampong spirit” that in our memories was prevalent in those days. I must confess that I often chuckle when I read of attempts to recreate this spirit which I feel was lost with the eradication of kampongs. It was the environment of the rustic surrounds and first hand observation of the everyday struggles of most families that were the basis of this spontaneous compassion. Observing the elders of the household – our parents, grandparents etc. and their empathy for the neighbours perhaps also does flow down and shape our own behaviour towards others. In addition experiencing the kindness our neighbours extended to our own family completes the cycle of goodwill.

The whole world has changed and with the current abundance of affluence and affordability the plight of those in need are often not obvious. The average person cannot relate to this and thus perhaps the spontaneous responses that were around in the past are not forthcoming. These are my perceptions. I may be right or completely wrong so I will leave you, the reader to make your own judgement. In my heart I will always cherish the lessons I learnt in the tuckshop.

Edmund Arozoo

April 2016


 





The charcoal shop

11 04 2016

I was reminded of the charcoal shop, a sight I would come across every now and again in my childhood, when I stumbled upon one on the old streets of Ipoh about five years ago.

Occupying the ground unit of an old shophouse and with walls and floors darkened in varying degrees by carbon dust, the shop bore many similarities with the ones that I remember; the only clues of the time and the place were in the more modern looking implements used to sort, weigh and pack the charcoal and the sacks and bags that the charcoal was being packed into.

The charcoal shop -this one seen in Ipoh in 2010, was once a common sight in Singapore.

The charcoal shop, this one spotted in Ipoh in late 2010, was once a common sight in Singapore. The shop has since stopped operating.

Shops such these were commonplace in days when charcoal fired just about anything. From stoves and clothing irons in homes, to the ovens and furnaces of commercial establishments, the reach of charcoal then exceeded beyond that of gas and electricity. Demand fell with resettlement and redevelopment, electricity and gas were more suited for use in the public housing units the population was being moved into, and the use of charcoal was reduced to the occasional barbecue, and to the rare occasions when the charcoal stove would be dusted off for the making of festive snacks. From a high of 300 shops, the numbers were reduced to about a hundred by the time 1980 had arrived. Those that did survive, were to disappear over the two decades that followed.

The shop's interior.

The shop’s interior.

Besides the supply of charcoal for domestic use, trade in charcoal in Singapore also extended to a thriving import and export business. Based initially in the Rochor area, the trade moved to Kampong Arang at Tanjong Rhu when Nicoll Highway and the Merdeka Bridge were built. With the clean-up of the Kallang Basin reaching their final stages in the late 1980s, the trade was to be moved once again, this time to Lorong Halus (more information: The curious ridge of sand which runs from Katong to Kallang Bay).

Little remains of the charcoal trade today. Like many of the trades that added life and colour to our world, it has since been replaced by the grey of the economy of the new age; remembered only by a few, whose memories will soon fade.





The red tongued dog reinterpreted

7 04 2016

Unveiled last night – a limited edition of Ang Ji Gao (红舌狗) as Guinness Foreign Extra Stout has come to be known locally.

Hokkien for “Red Tongued Dog”, Ang Ji Gao is a reference to the wolf mark placed that has been found on Guinness Singapore edition’s labels since the 1880s. On sale for a period of two months or whilst stocks last, the labels for the limited edition’s bottles and cans will feature a reinterpretation of the red tongued wolf mark. Created by local artist Ben Quek, the mark is being decorated with illustrations of what Ben sees as all things Singaporean. Among the illustrations Singaporeans will identify with are those of the red plastic chair now found in many of Singapore’s coffee shops and one of the most commonly used expressions when it comes to good food and drink, “shiok”.

Presenting the limited edition Ang Ji Gao.

Presenting the limited edition Ang Ji Gao.

Interestingly, the wolf mark points to the manner in which Guinness first arrived on our shores; not as Guinness but as Blood’s Brand stout in the 1860s distributed by Blood, Wolfe and Company- a Liverpool based bottler.

Wolf Brand 1922 Advert

Branding for the now famous stout had then have been left to bottlers, who also established the distribution networks that gave the stout a worldwide reach. Blood, Wolfe and Company, who had networks that spread to British controlled Southeast Asia and Oceania, re-branded the stout as Wolf Brand in the 1880s using now well recognised red-tongued wolf’s head as its mark. The use of animals would then have been common in trade marks as they allowed for easy identification and recognition by a then largely illiterate populace. The wolf’s head mark had become so identifiable in Singapore that when Guinness reclaimed the distribution and branding of its Foreign Extra Stout in the 1950s, it decided to keep the mark on its labels.

Blood Wolfe Neck Label 1896 (source: Guinness Singapore Facebook Page).

Blood, Wolfe and Company Guinness Stout Neck Label 1896 (source: Guinness Singapore Facebook Page).

The launch of the limited edition also coincides with the production of a coffee table book, for which Guinness has collaborated with Humans of Singapore. Titled “Men of Singapore”, the book features 25 stories of men who embody the values of generousity, authenticity, innovation, courage and supportiveness. The book, which will be made available in the public libraries, will also be given out during promotions and contests on the Guinness Singapore Facebook Page.

Showing at the Projector last evening.

Showing at the Projector last evening.

Guinness will also be running promotions during the period with up to $60,000 worth of home furnishing vouchers up for grabs. Under three tabs Simply purchase Guinness Foreign Extra Stout bottles in coffeeshops or cans in supermarkets for a chance to win. More information on this can also be found on the Guinness Singapore Facebook Page.
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