A face that I still see

9 04 2012

One of my favourite roads to take a journey on in Singapore is a stretch of Mandai Road that has got to be one of the more gorgeous drives in Singapore. It is a stretch that takes you past an area that is reminiscent of an older world at its junction with Sembawang road, around a bend where the road starts to rise northwards to an area where a short stretch of it runs along a body of water that in reflecting the colours of the setting sun takes on the appearance of a magical world. It is a drive I have enjoyed for four decades now – my first encounters with the stretch dating back to the end of the 1960s when the road was diverted around what had been a newly expanded body of water – what then was Seletar Reservoir (now Upper Seletar Reservoir). Those first encounters had been ones that would have involved a visit to the area around the large dam that contributed to the reservoir’s expansion – then a manicured area that offered some wonderful views of the reservoir not just from the top of the 20 metre high dam, but also the panorama one got of it from the top of a newly constructed lookout tower which still stands today.

The lookout tower at what is today Upper Seletar Reservoir Park.

The area which later was developed into a park and the expanded reservoir, was opened by HRH Princess Alexandra in August 1969. The work to expand of the capacity reservoir which traces it origins back to the 1920s, resulted in an increase in its capacity from a previous expansion in 1940 by some 35 times, giving the northern fringe of Singapore’s Central Catchment Reserve a large and very picturesque body of water. This was made possible by the erection of a larger dam across the Seletar valley which required a part of Mandai Road to be diverted. The reservoir started its life as a temporary source of water supply which was developed out of an abandoned effort in the 1920s to build a third impounding reservoir on the island. Work on that was halted when it became apparent that it was feasible to draw on the abundant sources of water across the Straits in Southern Johor with pipelines to feed much-needed resource integrated into the construction of the Causeway. It was in 1940 that the reservoir was made a permanent one having its capacity expanded to feed the island’s growing population.

The expansion was made possible by constructing a larger dam across the Seletar valley.

The expansion of the reservoir in 1969 increased the capacity of Seletar Reservoir by some 35 times.

The work which commenced in 1967 to expand the reservoir, also allowed its position on the northern fringe the Central Catchment Reserve to be exploited to provide a recreational area around it with access to large parts of it possible by road. Besides the park with its now iconic tower that was constructed, plans were also drawn up to use an area to the north-west of the reservoir for a zoological gardens what is today the highly acclaimed Singapore Zoo.

Upper Seletar Reservoir seen here along Mandai Road is one of the more scenic areas of Singapore takes on a magical glow during the sunset.

The setting of the sun over Upper Seletar Reservoir.

It is for the climbs up the lookout tower that I would look forward most to on my early visits to the area, my first visit being in October 1969 on the evidence of photographs that I have taken of my sister and me. It wasn’t however only the tower that occupied me during my visits to the park – the slope of the dam was a constant source of delight with the grasshoppers that seemed to thrive in the grass that lined the slope. The slope – or rather the road that ran down from the top of the dam where the tower is along the slop of the dam was also where I once, in the foolishness of youth, responded to a dare to go down the road on my roller-skates. Finding myself gaining momentum after setting off, it was probably fortunate that I decided not to go through with the dare and managed to pull out of it by turning into a turn-off not far from the top of the slope. Sliding across the rough surface as I lost my balance in turning off at speed, I was bloodied and bruised with abrasions that ran down the entire length of my right leg and a little embarrassed, but quite thankful that I had decided not to go through with the dare.

Adventures of a five-year-old around the lookout tower at Seletar Reservoir (now Upper Seletar Reservoir) Park not long after it first opened in 1969.

The road down from the top of the dam. I made an attempt to roller-skate down the road (which then did not have the gate we now see across it). I managed to turn at a turn-off to the car park (seen just beyond the gate).

The park today is one that I still frequent, not so much for the tower which does still somehow fascinate me, but for the escape it offers from the concrete world that I find myself now surrounded by. And, in those escapes that I take, it is comforting to find that in a Singapore where the relentless winds of change have rendered many places of my childhood for which I had a fondness for unrecognisable, the area beneath the changes it has seen in the four decades that have passed, is a face from that world that I still am able to see.





Getting a piece of the Pye (television and the history of television in Singapore)

27 12 2010

Television is one of those things we seem to take for granted these days, along with the many conveniences of life that we see and use. Television runs for 24 hours a day now, and now offers a vast array of entertaining programmes from the popular Korean dramas, documentaries, children’s programmes, reality shows and live sports broadcasts all in crystal clarity through means such as cable and satelite – a far cry from what it was like in its early years when it offered a few hours of evening entertainment in warm and fuzzy black and white. By the time I came along, television had taken root in Singapore, preceding my own arrival by about a year and a half, and by the time I began to appreciate television, the likes of one of the first ever soaps, Peyton Place had taken Singapore by storm, as well as popular series such as Combat! which I never failed to catch an episode of, were names that we associated television with. The evening’s news and the newsreels that followed were also popular with viewers as was Sesame Street, which was first screened in the year I started school, 1971, as well as the many movies, including the Pontianak and P. Ramlee ones that helped entertain my maternal grandmother. There were also some of the other programmes that somehow caught my imagination, among was one that featured the energetic Jack LaLanne, and another which had the amusing Soupy Sales making an appearance in “What’s My Line”.

Peyton Place - one of the original Soaps, took Singapore by storm.

Combat! Introduction ... Combat! was one that I never missed an episode of!

I suppose television back in those days can be said to have had a similar impact on society and on children of my generation as much as the internet and other forms of the modern media are having on the children of today. It certainly played a part in shaping my life and interests that I had in life. Besides the programmes that we got each day, one of my deepest impressions of black and white television as it was in my formative years, was seeing the newsreel of Mankind’s first landing on the moon. By the time I had gotten to watch that, my parents had already moved on to their second television set, a 21 inch locally produced Setron set, which I remember gave excellent service right up to the days just before the Christmas of 1973. That was the year just before colour television was introduced in Singapore and why I remember that was how we had the television tube replaced on Christmas eve and it being Christmas eve, my parents invited the repairman to stay for some refreshments, during which time the newly replaced tube imploded, leaving us with a television-less Christmas.

The Jack LaLanne Show!

Soupy Sales in 'What's My Line'

During a recent chat about the early days of television with my parents, the subject of their experience with their very first television set came up. It was in the early days of television in Singapore that they had bought that set, one selected based on the best picture quality out of a row of sets displayed at a shop, which my mother remembered as a 14 inch table top Pye (up to that point – I had not even heard of the brand) – one which my mother said gave no end of problems. It cost them what might have been considered to be a large sum of money in days when there often wasn’t much spare cash to go around to enable one to indulge in the simple luxuries in life. That was when they were still renting a house in the former Kampong Chia Heng, off Moulmein Rise and being the first ones with a television in the kampung, by the time they sat down to watch their first programme on television, news had spread across the kampung and they had the company of people that they did not even know in the living room of the rented house!

What my parents' first television might have looked like - a Pye 17" Television from the 1960s.

Reading up a little on the introduction of television in Singapore, I was able to find out that television, Television Singapura, was launched to the masses at 6 pm on the 15th of February 1963 by the then Minister of Culture, the late S. Rajaratnam. The first evening’s programme schedule was to have lasted an hour and forty minutes, and included a short film on Singapore, a cartoon, the news, a half an hour feature, and a variety show, ending transmission. For the pilot service, transmission was scheduled for an hour or so each day for six weeks, before a four hour regular service was launched by the then President, Yusof Ishak on the 2nd of April that year before being extended to six hours a day later in the year which also saw a second channel being launched. At the introduction of television, some 2400 television sets had been sold. To reach out to the masses, television units were also installed in public areas such as Community Centres. The television brands that were on sale at that time included household names which I was familiar with from the 1970s including Grundig, Normende, Telefunken and Sierra, which we don’t really hear of these days and the sets had cost between S$350 to $1200, with screen sizes ranging from 14 inches to 23 inches. Colour television was introduced to Singapore in 1974, with a pilot service being run from 1st August of that year, with two hours of colour programmes shown each weekday and four hours each weekend. 1974 was also the first year in which the final of football’s World Cup Finals, held in West Germany that year was telecast live, and football fans actually got the additional treat of watching in full and vivid colour the marauding orange shirts of Holland take on the white shirts of hosts West Germany in a pulsating match on 7th July 1974 (prior to the actual launch of the pilot service). It was reported that within the three days prior to the finals, 1000 colour television sets had been sold – and my father was among those who bought one just to be able to catch the finals in colour.

The finals of the 1974 Football World Cup was the first live World Cup .





The Man on the Moon, 21 July 1969

11 07 2009

I was in kindergarten at the end of a decade of both hope and despair. It was a traumatic decade for Singapore, with its merger with the Federation of Malay States and its subsequent independence, racially motivated disturbances and the news of the intended pull out of British forces to cope with – not that I was old enough to remember any of that. The world itself had its fair share of earth moving events – the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers, Prague Spring, the student riots in France, the leap at altitude by Bob Beamon that stood as a long jump world record for 23 years, the Cultural Revolution in China, and much closer to home, the war in Indochina. There were the events that I would remember on a personal level: moving to Toa Payoh; the birth of my sister; our first telephone; watching my hero Vic Morrow on Combat – the theme music of which still rings in my head. What was possibly the event that caught my imagination was man setting foot on the moon on 21 July 1969 (20 July 1969 US Time). I recall the sense of anticipation which gripped my family, my father in particular in the days leading up to the launching of Apollo 11 and to the eventual “one small step for man”. For weeks after, many of my friends in kindergarten and I were caught up in the excitement of the event, watching the delayed footage on the evening newsreel on TV,  living out the moment in the games we played, building make believe rockets outlined on the floor with building blocks, and counting down the moment to blast off. For maybe a half year after, my heroes were Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

My grandmother, who would have been close to 70 at that time, had some difficulty in comprehending how man could walk on the moon, the moon being some heavenly body of which she had many superstitions of.

Capturing the Historic Moment Down Under

Capturing the Historic Moment Down Under


View from Eugene Oregon

View from Eugene Oregon

Some clips related to Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon:

http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/alsj/a11/a11v_1092338.mpg
http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/alsj/ktclips/ap11_armstrong.mpg
http://161.115.184.211/teague/apollo/audio/ap11_17_One_Small_Step.mp3








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